Things to do in Tavira

Some call Tavira the ‘City of Churches’ – there are 37 of them in total, including the Igreja da Misericórdia with its palatial interior. We know Tavira as one of the prettiest and most authentically Portuguese cities in the Algarve, all shady plazas fringed with al fresco restaurants, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses decorated with traditional blue-and-white azulejo tiles.

This small, coastal city in the eastern Algarve, a 45-minute drive from Faro, is separated by the Rio Gilão/Séqua where it meets the Atlantic. The river is spanned by a seven-arched Roman bridge (though it was actually built during Moorish times). At low tide, you can look over the side and see people digging for shellfish in the mud.

Attractions in Tavira include admiring the views from its ruined hilltop castle, exploring the nearby Ria Formosa Nature Park, walking and cycling in the area, and tucking into the fresh seafood at the city’s many excellent restaurants. Find out more about what to do in Tavira with our guide.

Walking & cycling

Tavira makes a fantastic base for walking holidays, both coastal and inland. These are typically guided small group trips, and you’ll return to Tavira every afternoon. Tavira also sits on the long-distance Ecovia do Litoral cycle trail that runs the length of the Algarve. Whether getting around on two feet or two wheels, this kind of trip is a great way to get a feel for the region’s cultural heritage at a relaxed pace.

Explore Ria Formosa Nature Park

Tavira is a gateway to the Ria Formosa Nature Park. This 60km-long ribbon of marshes, islands and lagoons extends all the way from Faro to the border with Spain, and is something of a paradise for birders. White storks and flamingos delicately pick their way through the waters, bending their narrow necks to pick out fish and crustaceans.

Several of the islands, including the Ilha de Tavira, have gorgeous beaches with all the amenities you need to spend a day there comfortably. And while the best way to enter the reserve is by ferry, there are lots of traditional fishing boats around that now take visitors on tours.

Take in the views from the castle

Or, indeed, from one of several other landmarks around Tavira. The small castle here dates to Moorish rule in the 11th century – as do most castles in the Algarve. It was damaged by the 1755 earthquake, but you can still enjoy some fine panoramas of the city and the nearby nature reserve from its battlements.

There are also excellent views from the bell tower of Santa Maria church, once the largest mosque in the Algarve and located just outside the castle gate. Or go to the ‘Tavira Eye’ – the camera obscura in the old water tower is one of the most popular lookouts in Tavira, and also fills you in on the city’s history.

Head to Tavira’s beaches

There are several beaches in Tavira, most of them Blue Flag, and lifeguarded from July to September. The main Tavira beach is the Praia da Ilha de Tavira in Ria Formosa Nature Park. Its calm waters and wide, golden sands are easily reached by ferry (a 20-minute journey running every 30-60 minutes). Arrive early to avoid the queues between July and August.

Further along the island is Praia do Barril, where the old tuna cannery buildings have been converted into bars and restaurants. This is one of the quietest beaches in the Algarve, even in the height of summer. If you don’t mind a bit of a walk, you can have the soft, white sands all to yourself. The ‘Cemetery of Anchors’ – dozens of them buried in the sand – is a nod to the area’s fishing heritage. There’s a nudist beach at the far end.

Praia de Cabanas is named for the little huts where fishermen keep their equipment. Reached by a short water taxi from the boardwalk of Cabanas, a small fishing town, this island beach can get a bit windy so it’s popular for sailing and windsurfing. Fishing boats pulled up on the sands can be hired to explore the wider Ria Formosa Nature Park – the Ilha de Cabanas is one of the reserve’s barrier islands, protecting it from the Atlantic Ocean.
Travel Team
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Our travellers also ask...

Is Tavira lively?

Tavira retains more of a traditionally Portuguese ambience than some other more tourist-oriented cities in the region. The nightlife here is laid-back, and often centred on eating out. Seafood, especially octopus, dominates the menus at Tavira restaurants and the cataplana stew, cooked in a spherical pot, is a speciality. Dine al fresco around the historic Praça da República and watch the world go by.

Another highlight of a stay in Tavira is a wander around the Saturday market, where you can mingle with local people as they browse stalls for the weekly shop. There is plenty of fish and seafood straight off the boats, along with traditional marzipan sweets of all colours.

Can you walk to the beach in Tavira?

The best way to get to the Tavira beach is by taking the ferry from the city centre. It’s about 20 minutes to Ilha de Tavira, and you’ll be dropped right on the main beach from where you can easily walk further afield to find space if necessary. There are several beaches, as well as bars and restaurants, on the island and the ferry service is regular and reliable.

When should I visit Tavira?

This is a very popular Algarve destination, and summer (July and August) gets very busy, so the best times to visit Tavira are usually May to late June and September to late October. However, the weather – as with the rest of the Algarve – is reliably sunny pretty much all year round. Even in winter, you can get away with a waterproof jacket and some warm jumpers. There are still plenty of things to do in Tavira between November and March, though some bars, restaurants and shops will be closed and the ferry services around Ria Formosa Nature Park will be more limited.

Responsible Travel would like to thank VisitAlgarve for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: jackmac34] [Intro: Marc Ryckaert] [Explore Ria Formosa Nature Park: Carlos Pinto] [Head to Tavira’s beaches: Vitor Oliveira] [Can you walk to the beach in Tavira?: OsvaldoGago]