Last Updated on 06/05/2023 by mwillerich
Olhão is a former fishing village near the Ria Formosa reserve in the Algarve. The town has managed to preserve itself from mass tourism and thus is the perfect destination for travellers who like to experience authentic Portuguese culture. Olhao (pronounced: olyau) is the biggest fishing port and offers the best fish restaurants. Although small, it offers many things to do and see to fill a day trip or a weekend break. The town centre offers a charming atmosphere with picturesque streets. Here are the best things to do in Olhão, Portugal.
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Things to do in Olhão
Stroll in the Old Town of Olhao
The old town centre is a delight to wander. The Moors from North Africa heavily influenced its architecture. The historic centre, especially the fishermen’s quarter, looks like a medina with its cubist whitewashed houses with flat roofs and terraces. You can say that Olhão, in many ways, resembles the Moroccan seaside town of Essaouira in many ways.
As you stroll along the cobblestone streets, you discover many crafts and souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants with terraces inviting you to pause and take in the atmosphere. If you look closely, you will see little details and works of art dotted around the town squares.
And explore the Fisherman’s Quarter
Olhao’s fishing history dates back to the 17th century. Thanks to the Ria Formosa lagoon, the town was blessed with abundant fish; in 1882, the first tuna and sardine cannery was founded. With the decline of canned production, the town’s factories gradually closed down.
Even with the decline of canneries, fishing punctuates the city’s daily life.
You will be able to see how the men and women of Olhao used to work during the golden days of canned production. Giant murals pay tribute to the fishermen in the Largo da Fábrica Velha in the picturesque.
Visit the Municipal Museum of Olhão
Go visit the Municipal Museum of Olhao (in Portuguese: Museu Municipal de Olhão). Similar to the Museu Municipal de Portimão, this small museum traces the history of the city’s fishing activity. The museum is housed in the Casa do Compromisso Marítimo (Maritime Commission), an 18th-century building. Entry is free, so you have no reasons not to visit.
Relax at one of Olhão’s parks
The town has several green spaces, but if you need to stop somewhere to relax, then head to the Jardim Pescador Olhanense. Located on the waterfront, it is close to the market. The small park is a lovely spot to relax, surrounded by palm trees and grassy areas, you can sit to rest your legs while admiring the views over the lagoon.
Separated by the Mercados Municipais de Olhão, you will find the Jardim Patrão Joaquim Lopes. With a beautiful view over the Ria, this garden is home to various tree species, making it a pleasant place to rest and socialise.
Admire the Azulejos (tiles)
In Portugal, azulejos are everywhere: on the facades and inside houses, restaurants, religious buildings, and even train stations. “Azulejos” is the Portuguese word for tiles. It comes from the Arabic “al-zulaydj“, which means “small polished stone”. The tiles are cut into geometric shapes and painted with very neutral tones. The colours of the small tiles reflect different artistic styles, and you will find, for example, blue, green, yellow and more. While strolling the streets of the old town, you will spot some of these stunning tile designs.
Igreja Matriz de Olhão
Igreja Matriz de Olhão, or Our Lady of the Rosary Church (in Portuguese: Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário), is within walking distance from the municipal market. This impressive building with a whitewashed Baroque facade was built in the 17th century. The interior is also majestic with its gilded altarpiece and fresco paintings. Be sure to check the storks’ nest on the church’s roof. There are plenty of them in the Algarve, and they seem to love building their nests on top of lamp poles and the bell towers of churches. Climbing on top of the church will offer you a beautiful view of the entire fishing district.
Pay a visit to the chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos located nearby. Traditionally, and still today, women will come to pray for men’s safety while at sea.
The Municipal market – Mercados Municipais
One of the top things to do in Olhão is to visit the municipal market (Mercado Municipal in Portuguese). Located near the waterfront, it is recognisable by the red brick it is built with. Initially built in 1915, the Municipal Market of Olhão, consisting of two separate halls, was renovated in 1997.
On one side, you will find fruits, vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, cheeses and charcuterie from the region and on the other side, the fish market. Olhão’s fish market is the biggest in the Algarve so you will find different types of fish, such as sardines, shellfish, clams and octopus.
Around the market, you will find restaurants and cafes where you can stop to get a drink or snack. On Saturdays morning, the outside market sells anything from local goods to accessories and clothes.
Take Part in the Seafood Festival
If you are visiting in August, be sure to be there during the Festival do Marisco, the town’s seafood festival. Olhão has a reputation for offering the best seafood and fish dishes in the Algarve, so it hosts the annual Seafood Festival every August. The festival is a must for seafood lovers as you can enjoy all kinds of shellfish and clams. Even if you are not a seafood person, the festival is a fun experience as it offers entertainment with live Fado music, various exhibitions of local crafts and stalls with traditional snacks, including sweets.
The festival runs from the 9th to the 14th of August. The entrance fee per adult is 7€ per day or €42 for the entire six days. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket offices located on the Festival grounds.
Take a peek at the harbour and fishing port of Olhão
While in Olhão, visiting the marina and looking at the fishing boats are a must. After all, Olhão has the largest port in all of the Algarve. Depending on the time of the day, you can admire the typical fishing boats and observe the fishermen unloading their catch.
The fish caught are put up for sale in the nearby fish market and supermarkets in the country. With more than 350 boats, the marina is also lovely for a short stroll. The views out across the lagoon are spectacular.
The harbour is also where you can get on boat tours around the lagoons of Ria Formosa.
Explore the islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park
The Ria Formosa Natural Park is a 60 km long protected area with unique landscapes and rich fauna. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the islands are not to be missed. Olhão is a port town, so it has no beach. If you wish to spend some time on the beach to work on your tan, you must head to either Farol, Armona or Culatra islands. All the islands within the Ria offer long sandy unspoilt golden beaches where you can drop your towel for the day.
There are daily shuttle boats near the port. Depending on the island, a one-way ticket is just €3.70 for a short journey. Praia da Ilha da Armona (Armona Island beach) is the closest, with white sands and shallow clear water. Even though the names suggest otherwise, Culatra and Farol are on the same island but at different ends. Culatra has lovely golden, sandy beaches with crystal water, while Farol has a small fishing village feel with its namesake lighthouse.
Where is Olhão
The fishing village of Olhão is located 8 km east of Faro, the capital of the Algarve region. It is the largest fishing port in southern Portugal, although it has retained its village charm.
How to get to Olhão
There are a good number of airlines flying to Faro. Ryanair provides several flights per week between various European cities and Faro.
By car: The way to visit Olhão and explore the Algarve is by renting a car. Faro airport is just 15 mins away from the small town.
By public transport: Exploring Olhão without a car is also possible. Once you exit the airport, you can hop on a bus to reach the city centre of Faro, where you can get on a train to Olhão. The journey from Faro to Olhão takes less than 10 minutes and costs €1.45. Buses take about 20 minutes and cost €2.
Taxi/Uber: If you prefer the convenience of a taxi, consider an Uber or Bolt, as they cost relatively cheaper. The fare will be about €15 for a Uber/Bolt against €25 for a regular taxi.
Where to stay in Olhão
If you wish to stay longer to enjoy the atmosphere, there are a couple of good hotels. The city centre and the Fisherman’s Quarter are great places to base yourself. Alternatively, you can consider staying on Armona Island or Culatra Island. Here are some options to choose from:
Real Marina Hotel & Spa: Located opposite the Marina de Olhão, this luxury hotel offers spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the Ria Formosa and the city. There are also several swimming pools, including an outdoor one where you can grab a drink at the pool bar after a swim.
Hotel Cidade de Olhão: This hotel, located in the Fisherman’s district, has terraces to enjoy the view, a swimming pool and bikes to explore the area.
Luz do Algarve: Selection of charming traditional houses and apartments with typical decoration to rent for a weekend or week. All the properties are either located in the historic heart of Olhao or on the marina.
Pure Formosa Concept Hotel: This new boutique hotel only opened in 2021. Ideally located in the city centre, it offers an intimate feel (only ten rooms). The hotel’s rooftop swimming pool provides a 360° view of Olhão.
Where to eat in Olhão
Olhão’s cuisine mainly consists of fresh fish, selfish and clams. Being an important port town, you shouldn’t leave Olhão without tasting some of the local food. Check out TripAdvisor for some other restaurant options.
À Do Fernando: This restaurant offers local specialities with dishes such as octopus, garlic squid or bacalhau (cod)
Vai e Volta: This restaurant’s speciality is grilled fish at reasonable prices.
Restaurant Tera i Mar: This lovely restaurant offers delicious seafood petiscos (Portuguese tapas) with shrimp, octopus, squid, and other fish dishes like the cataplana de marisco or the bacalhau à Brás.
Kubidoce café: How can you visit any Portuguese city without tasting the famous pastéis de nata custard tart?
When is the best time to visit Olhão
Just like many resort towns, summer is the best time to visit Olhão. Warmer weather also means more visitors. That said, summer is best to hit the beaches. If you prefer a smaller crowd, then consider visiting in spring and autumn. Temperatures are still good during these times, plus most tourist attractions are still open. Winter is perhaps not recommended unless you wish to visit to experience the small town like a local.
Is Olhão worth a visit?
Absolutely! Olhão is a picturesque place to visit, especially to experience the natural and laid-back atmosphere of the coastal Algarve. Although small, the town has enough things to see and do to fill a day trip or more. With some beautiful beaches and Faro nearby, the fishing village makes an excellent base for your trip to the Algarve.
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.