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If you’re planning a trip to the Algarve and looking for the best things to do in Tavira, you’ve landed on the right page! Tavira is an enchanting town that’s widely recognized as a must-visit location in the Algarve area. Despite its small size, Tavira maintains its genuine ambience and offers numerous hidden treasures to discover. You’ll find cultural and historical landmarks, breathtaking beaches, and mouthwatering cuisine, making Tavira a destination that caters to all interests. Don’t miss the chance to add this gorgeous spot to your itinerary when exploring southern Portugal.
Tavira: History and Culture
Tavira is an important place both culturally and historically. Located on the Algarve coast and straddling the Gilão River, Tavira had been a hub for commerce and a key port in the Algarve. The town was an important centre for tuna fishing and salt making.
This ancient Roman city has unique monuments that date back centuries. The old historic centre is home to churches built in the 16th and 17th centuries (including the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo and the Misericordia church) and magnificent mansions. Tavira has fascinating museums, including the Islamic Centre and the Municipal Museum.
Things to do in Tavira
Visiting the lovely town of Tavira is a must – it’s the perfect relaxing and sun-filled getaway option. The town centre is filled with charming streets you will love exploring. There are many small restaurants and cafes where you can stop and enjoy a drink. You can admire some of the most beautiful views over the city’s roofs, flower gardens and the Castelo de Tavira by taking some small streets heading towards the Igreja de Santiago.
Here are some of our recommendations on Tavira’s best things to do.
Wander the streets of Tavira Old Town
What to do in Tavira? The first thing to do in Tavira is a stroll in the city centre. Why? Because Tavira is a picturesque town with colourful streets. The streets are charming and typically Portuguese, with washed clothes hanging from the balconies. While walking the streets, be sure to have your camera ready, as there will be many photo opportunities, especially as you wander through the narrow, cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses. Some buildings are coloured or covered with azulejos, the typical Portuguese mosaics (look at Rua Almirante Cândido dos Reis). Be sure to look at the colourful door knockers (in the shape of hands).
Visit Castelo de Tavira
The Castelo de Tavira (castle) is an important site to explore when visiting Tavira. It allows you to immerse yourself in the city’s history, as the Moors built it during their occupation of the town from the 8th to the 13th centuries. Inside the ramparts, you will be welcomed by a magnificent garden. Wander around the hibiscus trees and other lovely scented flowers, or find a place to sit down and relax.
You can climb the steps leading to the walls and walk along them, do note that if heights bother you, there’s no protection. You have a panoramic view of Tavira, the Gilão River and the surrounding area from the top of the walls. Climb the octagonal tower to see the view of the rooftops with their particular design. Access to the castle is a little hilly but very charming. For better accessibility, please use the tourist train.
Go shopping for Algarvian souvenirs
Tavira is a great place to get some souvenir shopping done. There are lots of shops selling handmade gifts and crafts. So, if you fancy buying something special to take home, head to O’ Arco, Armazém Português, Casa das Portas or some of the quaint shops located in the old town. The shops sell anything from traditional Portuguese ceramics, bags and Portuguese tile placemats.
Cross the picturesque Roman bridge
Walking across the Roman bridge is one of the things to do in Tavira. The bridge is only Roman in name since archaeologists believe that it dates from the Moorish era, around the 12th century. However, it was previously said to be built during the Roman occupation. The current structure dates back to 1667; however, a flood in 1989 caused the bridge to be partially destroyed, and after being renovated, it is now for pedestrian use only. The picturesque, cobbled bridge linked two sides of the town over the Gilão River and is one of the top photo spots. The bridge connects Praça da Republica to the busy district full of restaurants.
Stroll along the Gilão River
The banks of the Gilão River are delightful for strolling, and there are plenty of benches where you can stop and watch the world go by. You can also sit at one of the many restaurant terraces and plan what to do in Tavira for the rest of your trip. If you happen to be still in Tavira during sunset, the banks of the river offer the best view.
Head towards Jardim do Coreto (Bandstand Garden), a pretty yet lively small park. A lovely ice cream shop is there, so be sure to get one while enjoying the pleasant atmosphere. The old market, Mercado da Ribeira, is located there as well. Nowadays, it houses shops and restaurants.
Enjoy a panorama over the roofs of the city of Tavira
Tavira offers some good vantage points where you can admire the town. The centre of Tavira consists of a cluster of buildings, many sheltered beneath terracotta tiles with ornate railings, balconies, and various church spires. Tavira’s roofs have a particular design as they have no flat ends but all four sides of the roof slope downwards. These peculiar arrangements of Moorish origin are known as Telhados de Quatro Águas – roofs of four waters.
As mentioned above, the best view of Tavira is from the walls of its old Moorish castle, which rises out of a cluster of houses and gardens. Don’t hesitate to take a seat by the bench and contemplate the surroundings; you will feel well and content.
See Tavira through the Camera Obscura in Torre de Tavira
If you are spending enough time in the city, one of the fun things to do in Tavira is to visit Camera Obscura. As well as the castle, it is one of the perfect vantage points to see all of Tavira’s roofs. It is located at the top of Torre de Tavira, a converted water tower, which provides a 360 degrees panoramic view of the town. Images of Tavira are projected thanks to mirrors and lenses. Entry is €5, and you learn about the town’s history through a virtual guide.
Admire some of the many churches in Tavira
Tavira is famous for having more churches than any other town in Portugal. With 37 churches, you can locate them quickly. Among the churches open to the public and worth seeing is the Igreja da Misericórdia which boasts a majestic Renaissance door, an impressive interior with some exquisite 18th-century azulejo blue and white tiles and a beautifully-carved gold altar. Culture and architecture enthusiasts will love discovering this 16th-century religious building for its spectacular architecture and intricate features.
Another church to visit is Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo. Located behind the castle, the church is built on the site of an old mosque. Like most buildings, the 13th-century church was damaged during the 1755 earthquake, so it was rebuilt but not until the 19th century. It’s one stunning piece of architecture in one of the town’s most charming areas.
Stroll the pretty gardens in Tavira
The lovely Tavira is a delight to explore. Streets and gardens are filled with pretty flowers and aromatic plants. A peaceful garden to stop by and appreciate simple beauty is Jardim do Largo Dr Jorge Correia. It is located opposite the Santa Maria do Castelo church. In front of the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda church, you can find a small garden called Jardim da Alagoa which has a trapeze-like shape and hosts plants from Europe and other continents.
Watch the world go by at Praça da República
The Praça da República is the heart of Tavira. Designed like an amphitheatre, the square is the main gathering place for people. Tourists and locals alike spend time there enjoying the atmosphere and the occasional live music by street performers.
The big square is pedestrian-only, and just like many squares in Portugal, it is decorated with pattern tiles and a pool with small fountains. You will find the Tavira Tourism Office, the Town Hall, and many restaurants and shops.
Explore Tavira’s Museums – the best thing to do on a rainy day
Tavira is blessed with great weather all year round. However, if you happen to be visiting on the days, the sun has traded places with clouds and rain, fear not. The town has many buildings where you can shelter from the rain, including museums. The Islamic Centre, known as Nucleo Islamico Museum, is worth visiting. This fascinating museum is dedicated to the town’s Islamic past and offers a unique insight into Tavira’s rich cultural heritage. Visitors learn all about the town’s history through exhibits of Islamic artefacts.
The other museum worth visiting is the Tavira Municipal Museum, housed in the beautiful 16th-century Palácio da Galeria. The museum is a great place to learn about the region’s rich and varied heritage, culture and history. Visitors will come across a number of different exhibits.
If you want exciting things to do in Tavira, consider the Núcleo Museológico da Pesca near Quatro Águas. The museum allows visitors to learn all about the tuna industry and its importance in the region before it collapsed. Through the visit, you will see photographs as well as models. Anyone travelling with kids will love the Centro Cienca Viva de Tavira. This science centre offers interactive experiments kids can do during their visit.
Go on a boat tour of the Ria Formosa Nature Park Lagoon
It would be a shame to visit Tavira without exploring the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve (Ria Formosa) simultaneously. The lagoon is the ideal place for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers. This natural park, located south of Tavira and counting many small islands with beaches, is home to a diverse array of fauna and flora, especially pink flamingos, kingfishers and storks. You can join a guided birdwatching tour if you want to see the birds in their natural habitat.
Stretching over 60 kilometres, the lagoon offers many things to do, including hiking, boat trips, bird watching and more.
Sunbathe on Ilha de Tavira
Whether you are in Tavira for a day or more, visiting the Ilha de Tavira (Tavira Island) is one of the best things to do in Tavira. Getting there is simple. A return by ferry to the beach costs €1.90/£1.55 from the town centre (summer only) or €1.50/£1.25 from Quatro Águas, the nearer lagoon. For less than €2 and 20 minutes, you will be able to swap the city for the golden beach and clear waters.
The island is one of the many coastal beaches part of the Ria Formosa Natural Reserve. Even during the high season, the island is open enough. Praia do Barril, with its crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches, is a perfect choice for an excellent spot to sunbathe. Praia do Barril is where the Anchor Cemetery features over 100 anchors, a testimony of the town’s former tuna fishing industry. Take the tourist train or walk for about 15 minutes to get there.
There are also some facilities on the island, such as restaurants and cafes, but nothing beats a picnic. Sunbathing on the beach without adequate protection is not recommended. The cooling sea breeze can be very deceptive.
Visit the Tavira Salt Marsh
While in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, consider visiting the salt marshes. A visit to the salt basins, known as Salinas de Tavira, is a unique experience. Salt has been produced in the Algarve region for centuries; therefore, salt pans are part of Tavira’s culture and history. Thanks to its closeness to the Atlantic Ocean, the bonus of the sun and wind and the expert hands of the workers, Tavira produces some of the purest quality salt. “Flor de Sal” is known to be the finest. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn all about the history and how salt is made. As well as walk the 7km trail that takes people around the salt pans.
Taste some Portuguese pastries
Tavira is a walkable town opposite the hilly Coimbra and Porto. That being said, sightseeing is tiring. There is nothing better to take a break from exploring than stopping by a cafe. Coffee culture is important in Portugal; you will find restaurants/bakeries at every corner of Tavira. Since Tavira is blessed with sunny weather all year round, make the most of it and sit by one with a terrace.
To accompany your preferred drink, there are lots of pastries and cakes. Of course, there is pastel de nata; however, Portuguese pastries continue further. You must visit a bakery or pastry shop to see the extent! Padaria Vila Doce, Tavirense, Bakary Porto Nova, Café Veneza and Pastelaria Tavira Romana are good places where you can try local cakes such as pastel de nata (egg tart) or morgado da serra (almond cake).
Restaurants for all tastes
The towns of the Algarve are packed with good restaurants serving traditional dishes, and Tavira is no different. The coastal town is a great place to taste some freshly caught seafood. Restaurants that overlook the river are expensive and touristy, so best avoided.
- O Tonel – Traditional restaurant serving Portuguese dishes.
- Petisqueira Belmar – This restaurant is a lovely place for tapas.
- Casa de Simao – Friendly local restaurant offering local dishes.
- Pausa – Modern tapas restaurant serving a fusion of international dishes and local specialities.
- Pousada de Tavira – Restaurant, with a Mediterranean-inspired menu, in a former convent. Pousada is an excellent choice for a fancy romantic dinner.
Where to Stay in Tavira
Most of Tavira’s visitors are day trippers; however, a good amount makes the city their base for their trip in the Algarve. The quiet town is perfect for a relaxed holiday or a long weekend city break. Regarding accommodation, you will find a good range of hotels and apartments for all tastes and budgets. Here are some of the options:
- Pousada Convento de Tavira: This luxury boutique hotel in a former 16th-century convent is a great base for your stay in Tavira. Situated right in the city centre, getting to most attractions on foot is perfect. It offers excellent service, fine rooms with marbled corridors, stone staircases and a pool.
- São Paulo Boutique Hotel – SPBH: Perfect location, right in the city centre. This beautifully decorated boutique hotel offers excellent service and a cosy atmosphere with a little patio and pool.
- Quinta de Santa Margarida – Charm Country House: Lovely hotel is located a little from the town centre. Offers excellent service with a pool for a relaxing swim.
- Hotel Vila Galé Tavira: Modern, large, bright, Arabian-style hotel with airy rooms and a good-sized swimming pool.
Visiting the Surroundings of Tavira, Algarve?
Practical Information about Tavira, Algarve
How to get to and around Tavira
Tavira has a good transport link connecting to the other towns in the region. The easiest way to get to Tavira when travelling outside of Portugal is to fly into Faro airport, which is 30 kilometres away. From there, you can take a train, a bus, a taxi or rent a car. The 20-minute shuttle bus to Faro Bus Terminal costs €1.70/£1.40, and from there, it is an hour’s bus ride (€4.20/£3.45) to Tavira. Driving is an excellent option as it allows you to connect with the rest of the Algarve and cities such as Lisbon. Having said that, you don’t need a car to get around Tavira; the town can be explored easily on foot. DiscoverCars offers great affordable car rental options.
Tavira station is moments away from the town centre. Look out for the life-size statue waving to his partner at the train station entrance.
Is there a beach in Tavira?
Yes. Although Tavira is not on the coast, the town is connected to the Ilha de Tavira, which has about 10 km of pristine sandy beaches. Praia de Tavira is the closest beach, accessible by a short boat ferry from the Town Centre.
What is Tavira known for?
Tavira is known for its town centre with many historic buildings, its Roman bridge, the Tavira castle and many ornate churches such as Igreja da Misericórdia.
When to go to Tavira
Tavira is a charming town that can be explored throughout the year. For the best experience, I suggest visiting during the shoulder seasons, which are March to May and September to November. The weather is pleasant during these months, and the town and beaches are less crowded. Additionally, restaurants and hotel prices are more affordable. On the other hand, the city tends to be more crowded from June to August.
How long should you stay in Tavira?
If you’re on a road trip in Southern Portugal or the Algarve and have limited time, consider spending a day in Tavira to experience its charm. However, two days would be ideal as it allows you to explore the town centre and enjoy the beaches fully. This guide highlights the activities and sights to see in Tavira if you have only one day.
Travel Tips and Resources
Here are some of my favourite travel tips and resources.
- Flights: I’m all about snapping the best deals when it comes to booking flights. Therefore, I use Google Flights and Skyscanner to get the best deals each time. I use AirHelp to receive compensation for delayed and cancelled flights.
- Trains: I love using Trainline to book trains within Europe.
- Accommodations: Booking.com and Agoda are my favourite sites for great hotels and private home deals. They both offer a wide range of hotels, including luxury accommodations and private homes.
- Car Rentals: When it comes to travelling to remote destinations, renting a car is ideal, for these, I love renting cars through Discover Cars. They offer some great options for affordable rentals, and their customer service is one the best.
- Tours and Experiences: Visiting a new place also means getting to experience and do many things. I usually book tours via GetYourGuide or TripAdvisor. If you like doing things solo, WeGoTrip offers audio tours and excursions.
- Travel Insurance: Travelling without proper travel insurance is not recommended. I always travel with one. Use VisitorsCoverage to compare and get the best travel insurance policy for you.