Exploring Medieval Algarve – Best Things To Do In Silves

Last Updated on 06/06/2023 by secretmoona

Silves, the historical capital of the Algarve region, is located inland from the coastline. This charming town is rich in history and influenced by both Roman and Moorish cultures, which is reflected in its many historic features. Despite its small size, Silves is a lively destination with a bustling market, preserved castle, various arts and crafts shops, cosy cafés, and authentic traditional restaurants. Continue reading to discover the top things to do in Silves.

Silves Portugal - Pink azulejos

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A brief history of Silves

Silves is a town with a long history. Named “Silbis” in Roman times, the city became “Xelb” during the Arabs’ occupation. From the 7th to the 12th century, Silves was the capital of the small Muslim kingdom of the Algarve.

During that time, the town developed itself with a port which eased trading with Mediterranean and African countries, shipyards and a castle. However, the 13th century saw the city experience a steep decline. With the trading stopped, Silves slowly loosed its reputation of cultural and economic capital favouring Faro. 

All this history means that today there is a great architectural richness showing this complex cultural heritage. Even though the earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of the Moorish architecture, the castle of Silves is one of the best-preserved architectural monuments in the Algarve.

Best Things to Do in Silves on a Day Trip

Silves is an ideal destination for a day trip. The town’s historical centre is conveniently small, with all the main sights within walking distance. You can easily explore the area on foot with the help of a town map from the Tourist Information Centre. Take in the beauty of Silves by strolling along its charming cobbled streets and visiting all the major attractions.

Stroll the streets of Silves Old Town 

Silves old town centre is a charming place to explore. The beautiful narrow cobbled streets adorn a square garden with flowers and palm trees. You will find many restaurants, shops selling local products and crafts, and art galleries. Shopping in silves for souvenirs is a good option.

Silves is a relaxing town where people take their time to appreciate their surroundings. As Silves is built on a hill, walking around might differ from other coastal towns. Take a break from walking at a café and soak in the atmosphere. 

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the painted electricity boxes. They are everywhere and depict symbols of Silves, such as storks or corks.

Enter Silves Old Town through Torreão da Porta da Cidade de Silves

Another remnant of the medieval era is the impressive Torreão da Porta da Cidade (city gate). Constructed around the 12th or 13th century, it is the remaining four entrances of the town’s former walls. Outside the gate, you will find a section of medieval pavement dating back to the 14th century. 

Appreciate the Sé Catedral (Cathedral)

Things to do in Silves - Appreciate the Sé Cathedral

The cathedral known as “Sé de Silves” was constructed around 1189 on the location of a Muslim mosque. During the 15th century, it was built in the Gothic style with red sandstone. 

Unfortunately, it was destroyed during a well-known 1755 earthquake. Afterwards, it was rebuilt in a Baroque style with a Latin cross plan featuring an 18-metre nave. You can still see the Gothic elements, such as the pink granite columns, vaults, and gargoyles. It’s a beautiful masterpiece worth admiring, especially the contrast between the Algarve whitewashing and the red sandstone.

Today, the cathedral is a must-see attraction located moments from Silves Castle. Entry is just €1.50 but worth the price. 

Step Back in Time to Silves Castle and its fortress

Considered the most well-preserved castle in the Algarve, Castelo de Silves, also known as Silves Castle, is one of the main attractions, if not the best things to do in Silves. Dating back to the Moorish period, Silves’ red sandstone fortress can’t be missed. After all, the Al Hamra Castle (the red one) was built at the highest point of a hill.

Things to see in Silves - Silves Castle garden

The highlight of the visit to the castle is the walk along the ramparts and the stunning panoramic views it offers of the city and countryside. Silves castle is well preserved, even though it was severely damaged like the rest of the region in 1755. Only a little remains from the original castle, but a visitor centre houses several items like pots and jugs found during the excavations at the site. There is also a lovely little garden with fountains to relax or snack in the coffee shop.   

Portuguese king Sancho I  at entrance of Silves castle
Portuguese King Sancho I

At the castle entrance, there is a statue in honour of the Portuguese king Sancho I, who, in 1189, conquered Silves for the first time from the Muslims, although the town was only definitively conquered by the Christians in 1242.

Admission fee: €2.80 or €3.90 for a joint ticket (Castle + Municipal Museum of Archaeology). Opening hours: Summer – 9am to 8pm / Winter – 9am to 5pm.

Learn about Silves’ history at the Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves 

Following the visit to Silves Castle, continue your discovery of the history of Silves by visiting the Archaeological Museum of Silves. This small museum on several floors is divided into pre-historic, Roman, Moorish and Portuguese periods. 

The museum is built around the Poço-Cisterna Almóada, a 12th-century Moorish well discovered in the 18th century. Visitors can find remains, including artefacts, ceramics, jewellery and coins from pre-historic times to the Muslim occupation. 

The museum is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm and is closed on 25th December and 1st January. Admission: €2.10 or €3.90 if combined with a ticket for the Castle. located at Rua da Porta de Loulé 14.

Shop at Mercado Municipal de Silves

One of the must-see attractions in Silves is the local market, which is open every day until 2 pm except Sundays. Silves market offers a feast for the senses, with various colourful produce and tempting aromas. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and sample traditional treats. The market offers multiple fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, bread, and locally produced goods, all at affordable prices. For a livelier experience, visit the Mercado Municipal de Silves on a Saturday.

See Igreja da Misericórdia de Silves

Igreja da Misericórdia de Silves - Manueline portal - Silves Portugal

Just opposite the Sé Cathedral is the 16th-century Igreja da Misericórdia. Although the church has a simple facade, it has a beautiful Manueline portal. This church is classified as a “monument of public interest”. 

Take part in the Silves Medieval Fair 

If you are in the Algarve during August, consider visiting Silves for the Medieval Fair. The city transforms into a ten-day medieval wonderland, with processions, street theatre, and tournaments. For more information on the exact dates, check out this Facebook page.

Ponte Romana Bridge de Silves

Things to do in Silves - see the Roman Bridge

The Roman Bridge, known as Ponte Romana, is a historic landmark in Silves. The bridge is for pedestrians only. It was built in the 15th century and is on the Arade River. If you’re driving to town, you might come across this charming bridge. However, if you don’t, it’s worth taking a slight detour to see it. 

The bridge’s origin is unclear (there was no mention of a bridge during medieval times), but it adds to the medieval charm of Silves. The area surrounding the bridge is beautiful and perfect for a stroll. You may even catch a glimpse of some storks during your visit. These tall birds are impressive to watch flying or simply resting in their nests. They can be found everywhere in town: chimneys, towers, spires, trees, lamp posts.

Go on a boat trip

One of the fun things to do in Silves is go on a boat tour. The Arade River crosses Silves, spans around 75 kilometres and runs past the cities of Lagoa and Portimão. Embark on the Silves and Arade River History Tours to learn all about the history of the former capital of the Algarve. Boat trips start in Portimão near the ruins of the old Convent of São Francisco. The cruise takes visitors along the inland of Portimão, the fishermen’s town of Ferragudo, to the historic Silves. 

Discover the Casa da Cultura Islâmica e Mediterrânica

Another cultural thing to do in Silves is to visit the House of Islamic and Mediterranean Culture. The centre exhibits all of the Mediterranean and Arabian origins of the town. Built in the town’s former slaughterhouse, the building displays a fine example of the region’s neo-Arab architecture. This is a top attraction for anyone wanting to gain a more profound knowledge of the town’s cultural heritage. 

Have a coffee break at Café DaRosa

Where to eat in Silves - Café DaRosa

When it comes to taking a break from sightseeing, then Café DaRosa is where you need to head to. Located on a pretty square, Largo do Município; the café is one of the most authentic in Silves. The inside is decorated with traditional white and blue azulejos tiles. Make the most of the big terrace during the summer and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. 

Why not sample the traditional pastel de nata with lemon tea or Algarvian coffee? If you feel peckish, choose something more consistent, like a salad or sandwich. 

Practical information – Silves Portugal

The Silves Tourist Information Centre is located near the Roman Bridge. The friendly staff is on hand to help should you have queries about the town and other things to do and see in Silves.

How to get to Silves

Silves can be reached by car or public transport, but the bus service could be more frequent. Travelling from Portimão or Lagos, you can take the Frota Azul bus service. Albufeira to Silves takes about 45 minutes. I travelled by public transport from Albufeira and took the direct Vamus bus number 17, which cost €9.95 return. If you are based in Faro or Lagos, taking the train would be the best option. Silves station is about 2 kilometres from the historic centre, and you can walk or take a taxi from there. Note that Silves is located uphill so the walk might be tiring. Check the CP (Comboios de Portugal) timetable for train schedules.

Driving is the most convenient way to get to Silves. I recommend parking outside the old town at Parque Ribeirinho Car Park to avoid narrow streets and difficulty finding parking. DiscoverCars is a good option for car rental. Once in town, all attractions are within walking distance, so there is no need for a car.

Where to stay in Silves

While Silves is primarily a destination for day trippers, the medieval town can be an excellent base for those looking for a laid-back vibe or prefer slow travel. Here are some places to stay in Silves:

La Maison Blue Algarve

This blue-tiled building in the historical centre is the perfect choice for a charming and unforgettable stay. This lovely hotel has a huge and comfortable rooms with modern bathrooms, an enclosed courtyard with a pool as well as nearby free parking. Book here

Hotel Colina Dos Mouros

Located on the other side of Silves in a former Moorish castle, this hotel has a beautiful terrasse facing the old city, the castle and the cathedral. It has nicely decorated and comfortable rooms. Book here.

Mosaiko 5 Suites

Lovely accommodation located in central Silves. Stylish and decorated with Portuguese tiles, it features a lovely terrace. Book here.

How long must you spend in Silves?

When exploring Silves, it’s recommended to set aside at least three hours to see the charming town fully. However, a day trip is also a great option if you prefer a more leisurely pace. The historic centre is easy to navigate on foot, but keep in mind that some steep cobbled streets lead up to the castle.

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Where to find the best restaurants in Silves? 

Churrasqueira Valdemar: Located just outside the Silves market, this restaurant specialising in grilled chicken is a winner. 

Restaurante Marisqueira Rui: A market vendor recommended this seafood restaurant, although I did not eat there. If a local recommends it, then it must be good, right? Grilled fish starts from €15. 

Café Inglês: Lovely cafe offering delicious food within a beautiful setting.

Recanto Dos Mouros: If you are looking for authentic Portuguese food, this restaurant is the place. 

Restaurante Ponte Romana: This restaurant is popular with locals. You will find typical Portuguese food such as chicken piri-piri and pork).

When is the best time to visit Silves?

The best time to visit Silves is when you can soak in the experience and not worry about brushing shoulders with other tourists. Luckily, Silves enjoys a warm Mediterranean climate all year round. You can travel all month and have a good time. That said, January and December would be slightly humid and cold. Regarding days of the week, visiting on a Saturday is best since the town is livelier due to the market in the morning. If you don’t mind seeing the busier Saturday mornings, then visit any day of the week. 

If you have enjoyed reading our guide to the best things to do in Silves, please pin the post and reread it later.

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

11 thoughts on “Exploring Medieval Algarve – Best Things To Do In Silves

  1. I’ve always thought of the Algarve as beautiful caves and Mediterranean views. The history of the area in Silves and the surrounds also looks impressive and worth a look. Thanks.

  2. Wow what a fascinating destination. Portugal is on my bucket list but now Silves is on my radar for my visit one day! Beautiful photos. Saving this for a future trip 🙂

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