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Tavira activities, sights, things to do and see
Tavira is a delightful Portuguese town that has retained its traditional charm and cultural heritage, while the surrounding coastline offers stunning beaches. The eastern Algarve makes for a much calmer and relaxed holiday destination than the manic and crowded central Algarve but there is still a wide range of excellent sights, activities and things to do in Tavira. This guide will detail the best of these sights and activities and is divided into two; the first section will highlight the most popular activities for a holiday, while the second section will list the major sights, monuments and attractions in Tavira.
Things to do and activities in Tavira
Relax on the stunning beaches of Tavira
The beaches on the south side of the Ria Formosa national park are some of the most beautiful in the region, with soft golden sands that are gently lapped by clean sea waters. These beaches are located on the Ilha de Tavira, an island with a 12km long sandy coastline, which is connected to Tavira by a regular and inexpensive ferry.
This deserted beach is only a 15 minute walk from Praia de Tavira
The majority of visitors tend to stay on the beach closest to the ferry terminal, the Praia de Tavira, and this is the busiest section of beach but with 12km of coastline to choose from there is always space to be found. The two other recommended beaches are the Praia de Terra Estreita and the Praia do Barril, with the later based around a former tuna fishing village. For a guide to the beaches of Tavira please click here.
Exploring the historic centre of Tavira
Tavira was an important Roman and Moorish town and more recently a bustling fishing port. This extensive and varied history is reflected in diverse selection of historical monuments found throughout Tavira. Contained within the old town are over 36 churches, ancient monasteries and the ruins of the Arabic castle. Lining the banks of the Gilao River are grand 18th century mansions, while the cobbled back-streets are traditional tiled and painted houses. Tavira is a very scenic town and an enjoyable day can be spent wandering and exploring the historic centre. The main sights of the town are detailed later in this article.
The castle and the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo church
Discover the Eastern Algarve
Tavira is ideally positioned so that whole of the eastern Algarve can be visited by day trips and all of the major towns are connected by the inexpensive regional train. To the west of Tavira are the towns of Faro, a historic walled city, and Olhao a busy fishing port, while to the east are Monte Gordo, a modern resort town and Vila Real a charming harbour town. From Vila Real it is even possible to cross the Guadiana River and visit Spain. A rental car provides even more flexibility and allows more of the region can be explored, driving in the Algarve is not difficult. For a guide to the best day trips from Tavira please click here.
The Tavira railway is the best way to explore the region
Dining on Fine and Traditional Cuisines
Tavira has a mature nightlife scene, which is focused around long evening meals, with good food and plenty of locally produced wines. During the evening the smell of freshly cook fish fills the historic centre, as tourists and locals alike dine al-fresco, on dishes that are based upon fish caught earlier in the day. One of the most popular dishes of the Algarve is Cataplana, a hearty rice and seafood stew that is served in a large copper pot and is routinely shared between two. Portugal provides exceptional value when it does to eating out and all meals should be accompanied with a locally produced wine, which cost little more than a glass of water.
Cataplana is served in a traditional copper dish
Hire a bike and cycle
Tavira is connected to the Algarve cycle path, a purpose constructed route that is perfectly suited for cyclists of all abilities. This route heads west to the fishing village of Santa Luzia and further onwards to Praia do Barril beach. In an easterly direction the cycle path passes through the sleepy resort town of Cabanas, which has beaches as good as Tavira but much quieter. For the more adventurous the cycle path continues all the way to Monte Gordo and Vila Real, 25km away. As the cycle route is close to the coastline there are no major hills.
Hike to Praia do Barril beach
There is an enjoyable 4-hour hiking route which goes from Tavira to Barril beach and passes through the villages of Santa Luzia and Pedras de El-Rei. The return route can follow the beach to Praia de Tavira and catch the ferry back to central Tavira. This is a very scenic hiking route and a great way to see the region.
The Cemetery of Anchors on Barril beach
Tavira Morning Market
The best location to experience normal Portuguese daily life is to visit the lively morning food market. On sale are a range of freshly caught fish, locally grown fruit and deliciously sweet cakes and freshly baked breads. The market is a noisy and busy affair with sellers promoting their stock while eagle eyed housewife’s search for the best products.
The colorful flower and vegetable section of the Tavira market.
The Ria Formosa Natural Park
The Ria Formosa Natural Park are the mud flats and salt lagoons that lie between the sand bar islands and the main land. This protected region is a haven for bird life while the waters are teaming with small marine life (mainly crabs!). To explore the region there are boat tours that depart from Tavira harbour and walking tours, but tourist able free to wander the area unguided. Found throughout the Ria Formosa are huge salt flats which produce salt in the most basic method, drying seawater under the intense summer sun.
The view from Tavira over the Ria Formosa
Visit the Cinema
There is a modern cinema in the Tavira Gran-Plaza, the large out of town shopping complex and this is a great activity for a wet day. The latest Hollywood blockbusters are not dubbed into Portuguese but will English audio with Portuguese subtitles. The only exception are children’s movies.
Sights, attractions and monuments of Tavira
The partially resorted castle was constructed by the North African Moors when Tavira was an important trading city. Today the castle has been transformed into a decorative garden but the battlements and walls still can be climbed and explored.
The battlements of Tavira castle
The most unique attraction of Tavira is the former water tower which has been converted into a Camera Obscura – a camera that projects the panoramic view of the city into the darkened interior of the water tower.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
The 13th century Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo church was constructed on the site of the Moor’s largest Mosque in the Algarve and the doomed roof originates from the Mosque.
The white washed Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
Igreja da Misericórdia
The Igreja da Misericórdia is the finest example of Renaissance architecture in the Algarve. The exterior of the church is rather bland except for the main Portal but inside there are beautiful azulejos tiles.
The Ponte De Roman
The has always been a bridge crossing the Gilao River at this point since the roman era but the actual pedestrian bridge dates from the 17th century.