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Olhão: The Best Things to See and Do in Olhão Portugal [2024]

Olhão is a traditional fishing town in the east Algarve , Portugal. It’s a great town to explore and is perfect for a day trip to experience some of the real Algarve. Olhão does have a reputation of being a more rugged working town, than a tourist destination. However, you’l find plenty to see and do to keep you busy.

Olhão is also on the door step of the Ria Formosa , and has great transport links to the wider region and some of the more traditional beauty spots. The commercial centre has a warm atmosphere spread across several lively streets. The biggest fishing port and fish market? Well that results in fresh fish daily and some of the best fish restaurants in the Algarve! Read on to find out everything there is to see and do in Olhão, Portugal.

How to get to Olhão, Portugal?

Olhão is only 10 minutes from Faro by car on the N125. If you’re using public transport, Olhão is served regularly by bus from Faro. Unless you’re visiting from the coastal east Algarve, buses will usually originate in Faro to get to Olhão.

The main services are operated by EVA, now under the brand of  Vamus . Faro to Olhão (63), and Faro to Vila Real de Santo Antonio (67). If you’re visiting from the east Algarve then the number 67 departs the towns of Tavira, Monte Gordo, and stops at Olhão before returning to Faro. Alternatively, the train is also a good option as Olhão has a station on the regional line in the Algarve. If you’re coming from Faro, it’s just two stops east from Faro’s central station. The regional line has multiple stops across the Algarve so this is a good route if you’re coming from major towns like Albufeira, Loulé and Tavira.

Olhao Algarve

What to See and Do in Olhão

Olhão has several main areas to explore, its waterfront and parks, its historic quarters and further out into the Ria Formosa. We’ll start with the historic waterfront that has several unique attractions!

The Municipal Market – Olhão Mercado Municipal 

In a prominent spot on Olhão’s waterfront is the large twin red brick buildings of Olhão’s Mercado Municipal.  The municipal market is made up of two identical rectangular buildings. The eastern one is the fish market, while the western is the fruit and vegetable market. The first market in Olhão actually dates back to 1866.

Like many other markets during this time, you could only really describe it as a simple shed. In 1912, it was decided Olhão needed a proper municipal market to serve its growing population. Taking advantage of the impetus of progress dictated by the Republic, the City Council promoted the construction of the two markets that exist today. They were inaugurated in 1915. On Saturday mornings, visitors to the market can experience a much larger farmers market. Local farmers and producers exhibit and sell their products directly on the streets around the market building.

Olhao Market Place

Was Olhão Municipal Market designed by Gustave Eiffel?

Interestingly, you will hear lots of people claim Gustave Eiffel designed the Olhão Market buildings. Yes, the very same Gustave Eiffel behind the Eiffel tower, and in Portugal the Ponte Maria Pia in Porto. Multiple blogs, Instagram posts, local hotel websites, and even Wikipedia continue to list Olhão Mercado as one of his works. However, this is simply not true.

The official listing on the Portuguese register of Patrimonio Cultural does not list him as the architect or designer. Just to make sure we reached out to both the Municipal Archive of Olhão and the Municipal Museum and both confirmed that Gustave Eiffel did not design or build the municipal market buildings. They are attributed to José Lopes do Rosário who in 1910 held the position of Chief of Studies and Construction of Roads and Public Buildings in the Eastern Algarve.

Olhao Mercado Municipal

Caíque Bom Sucesso

Behind the municipal market on a small pier you’ll find a replica of a boat called the Caíque Bom Sucesso. This type of boat is called a caíque and the name translates to Good Luck in Portuguese. The story of this boat? The original, a small vessel at 20m long and 5m wide would make the treacherous journey across the Atlantic from Olhão all the way to Brazil in 1808.

It’s a particular point of pride and a major event in the town’s history. The background of this story is the French occupation of Portugal in the early 19 th century. At the beginning of June 1808, a small uprising in Olhão, would envelope the whole of the Algarve. By mid-June, following a series of small land battles and naval engagements by the simple fisherman and farmers from Olhão had united the major towns of Faro and Tavira.

Bom Sucesso Olhao

Soon after, the whole region declared the expulsion of the French. On the 7th July, a small group of fishermen in a small boat would depart Olhão to tell the exiled Prince Regent the good news. It would take them nearly 3 months, but they arrived in Brazil on the 22nd of September. On their arrival in Rio de Janeiro they would be greeted by the Prince Regent João VI. Who would be informed about the popular uprising being led by Olhão. To congratulate the fisherman and the people of their success, the king would designate Olhão a Vila. Officially giving it the title of Vila de Olhão da Restauração. This separated Olhão and its township from Faro allowing it set up its own municipal offices and granting it many freedoms.

Our Lady of Rosary Church – Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário

Within a short walking distance from the municipal market you can find the main church of Olhão. Officially called the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário or Our Lady of the Rosary Church in English. It was built between 1698 and 1715, supposedly from the donations of local fisherman and their guild. The highlights on the inside are the roof decoration a beautiful fresco and an image of Nossa Senhora do Rosário and the Baroque altar piece. On the rear of the church, you can find the chapel of Nosso Senhor dos Aflitos. This was the place where the fishermen’s wives would pray on stormy days for the safety of their husbands out at sea.

Olhao Church

Municipal Museum of Olhão

Across the street from the Olhão’s main church you will find the Municipal Museum of Olhao . It’s housed in the former Casa do Compromisso Marítimo. A building that dates from the 18th century and was initially meant to support fishermen. This museum has a small collection of archaeological materials and information about the history of Olhão spread across three exhibits. The three exhibits cover some Roman history, Maritime history and the importance of salt production in the area. Unfortunately, the museum is only in Portuguese, so if you’re Portuguese is lacking you might not get to find out too much. However, the entrance is free if you want to see some of the exhibits.

Olhao Museum

Parks and Street Art in Olhão

Olhão has several large open spaces that form nice parks and places to rest or enjoy some open space. On either side of the market buildings are two of these parks. One is called Jardim Pescador Olhanense and the other one is called Jardim Patrão Joaquim Lopes. Although less parks and more just open spaces away from crowds they do have some nice focal points in the form of ceramic tiled benches. These ceramic tiles depict historic events of Olhão like the voyage of the Bom Successo. Elsewhere in Olhão you’ll also find some interesting statues depicting local folktales and stories. As well as large murals showing the industrial history and heritage of Olhão.

Mural Olhao

Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, Olhão

The Ria Formosa is a lagoon system that stretches 60km along the coastline of the Algarve, approximately Faro all the way to Manta Rota. It’s a tidal lagoon system that’s made up of peninsular land, barrier islands, tidal inlets, beaches and wetland. It is home to a variety of wildlife and an important habitat for many migrating birds. Due to its unique habitat, it’s classified as a protected area that’s governed by the ICNF, Portugal’s natural heritage body. The headquarters of the park are located just 2km east of Olhão in Quinta Marim. It has as a small visitor centre, a circular walk with informational signs, and a tide mill that’s now a museum. It’s not only seabirds and marine life, if you’re looking carefully you might also spot some very rare chameleons among the trees! It costs €3 to enter and your fee supports the infrastructure and the ICNF.

Ria Formosa

Explore the Ria Formosa Natural Park on Your Own

If you’re more of a self-guided person, then there are several other routes to experience the Ria Formosa without using the visitor centre above. A short walk to the west of the market buildings will lead you to a small area of the lagoon. It’s popular with dog walkers and runners and gets you upfront to several abandoned saltpans and behind them several that are in use. You’ll see both machinery and hand harvesting of salt at the right time of year. Among the abandoned saltpans you’ll see an array of wildlife, foraging birds and lots of crabs. It’s also a beautiful spot to watch a sunset.

A second option is a specific wildlife watching tour of the Ria Formosa and its islands by boat . There are several available from Olhão. These will take you through the channels, and usually let you spend an hour or two roaming some of the islands around Olhão before bringing you back to the town.  Bigger boat trips with lots of people can be around €10 per person, while small groups and smaller boats can be organised for €30 per person. The trips range from a couple of hours to full day tours with lunch included.

olhao tourist information

Is there a beach in Olhão, Portugal? A guide to Olhão’s best beaches!

Unfortunately, there is not a beach directly in Olhão. However there are several beaches within walking, driving or even a ferry ride away.

Some of these beaches are actually regarded as some of the most beautiful in the Algarve. We’ll start with the closest, Praia dos Cavacos. The area around these beaches is typically beautiful as they are all part of the natural park. They’re excellent places to spot local wildlife in the marshes and saltpans around the beaches. Particularly worthy of note is the variety of wading birds that scan the silt as they hunt for food with their long beaks. You can expect to see black-winged stilts, pied avocets, black-tailed godwits, little stints, white storks, flamingos and various members of the heron family. just behind the beach.

Praia dos Cavacos

The first and simplest to get to is Praia dos Cavacos. It’s approximately 6km east from the centre of Olhão. It’s possible to walk there, but it’s a long walk along a small but busy stretch of the N125. So, it’s probably better to take local transport. If you’re driving, it’s marked as Estacionamento Praia dos Cavacos on Google Maps.

When you arrive you’ll find a small but pleasant man-made beach facing the cool waters of the Ria Formosa. As well as the beach, an area is sectioned off for swimming. Other than this though, there are no beach facilities and no lifeguards. As it’s on the lagoon, its shallow, with barely any waves, so still safe for family swimming. A short walk to the west will lead you to an abandoned tide mill that makes an interesting focal point for a walk while trying to spot some wildlife!

Praia da Culatra

Culatra Island or Ilha da Culatra , is one of the sandbar islands that is located just south of Olhão. The island is still part of the Ria Formosa natural park and is one of the barrier islands that shelters the lagoon waters. It’s a 20-minute ferry ride to reach Ilha da Culatra from Olhão.

On Culatra you’ll find a relatively undeveloped village with no paved roads and a few cafés and bars. On the south side of the island is the long stretch of golden sand that makes up Praia da Culatra or just Culatra beach. Opposite, on the northern side you’ll find the lagoons, pools and seagrass meadows that are a habitat for local wildlife. As well as the village and its facilities, Praia da Culatra is also served by a beach bar that offers all the usual beach facilities for a day at the beach.

Deserted Praia da Culatra

Praia da Armona

To the east of Ilha da Culatra is the second sandbar island in the vicinity of Olhão, Ilha da Armona, or Armona Island . It’s another short ferry ride this time to the east of Olhão. The ferry dock leads directly into the small streets of Ilha da Armona where you’ll find several, bars, cafés and small shops. Here you can find refreshments and your typical beach gear before going to the beach.

There are two official beaches on Ilha da Armona, Praia da Armona Ria and Praia da Armona Mar. Praia da Armona Ria faces the Ria Formosa and is right next to the ferry dock. Praia da Armona Mar is perhaps the most stunning beach and faces the ocean. It’s a long stretch of white sand that stretches for several km. In fact this stretch of beach becomes Praia da Fuseta at the other end of the island.

olhao tourist information

To get to either of the islands you’ll need to use the passenger ferry or a water taxi. Typically, a one way fare on the ferry is €1.85 for adults, and €1.10 for children.

Island hopping in Olhão ?

If you want to visit multiple islands in a single trip then we can really recommend taking a private boat trip. These trips can be private or small group and will take you to each island for several hours, usually with a stop for lunch. It’s not quite as relaxing as a full day on the beach, but it will give you a chance at seeing a lot of the Ria Formosa in a short space of time! Prices for a private boat tour start around €45 a person , but they can be customised.

Island Ferry

Best Restaurants in Olhão , Portugal

Vai a Volta – Offers great atmosphere in a small restaurant that only serves grilled fish. Once seated, you’re given a small starter of bread, olives, and tuna paste. Then a mixture of potatoes, salad and açorda. After this a plate of fresh grilled fish, that includes salmon and mackerel will be brought to your table. At this point they’ll keep bringing a selection of fresh grilled fish to your table until you tell them to stop. At €12 it’s incredible value and a great experience. The restaurant gets very busy so get there early!

Mare Shrimp & Stuff – If you didn’t guess from the name, specialists in shrimp and seafood dishes in a cosy environment. It’s located just off the main street. Although pricier than everything else, their traditional cataplana is exceptional!

Indian Hut Restaurant – Tucked away in a narrow street just of the main road this restaurant offers some delicious food and is perhaps one of the best Indian restaurants in the east Algarve. We can highly recommend either the Goan style fish curries or a Saag. Indian hut also has a selection of vegan and vegetarian options if you’re looking for something vegan in Olhão.

Cha Cha Cha – Another small and friendly restaurant slightly hidden away from the main street. Specialising in local tapas/petiscos style food. It’s proudly local and serves a selection of salads, fresh fish and meat dishes. Desserts that are gluten free too, if that’s a dietary requirement of yours. Unfortunately, cash only, so bear that in mind before visiting!

Grilled Fish in Olhao Portugal

Events in Olhão

Festival do Marisco – Every year in August (2024 has not been announced yet), the Festival do Marisco takes place in Olhão. It is a festival dedicated to all types of seafood and typically the local specialties. There is a wide variety of music, local acts, and an arts and crafts market for entertainment once you’ve had your fill of seafood!  

Pirata Festival – Yes, a festival dedicated to pirates. The festival was brought back in August 2022 after several years of postponing due to the pandemic. The festival itself might be based more on your Disney pirates and fancy dress, then historical pirates. But it’s still a great celebration of local culture, food and music. And a great excuse to dress like a pirate if you want!

Somewhere to Stay in Olhão?

Olhão is perfect for a long weekend of relaxed sightseeing so here’s our favourite places to stay! Every budget is catered for and you’ll find luxury hotels and delightful guest houses or apartments for you to base yourself at. You can find the full list of available accommodation here .

Should you visit Olhão, Portugal?

Olhão is a great place to visit to experience the real coastal Algarve. With enough things to see and do to fill a day trip, and with enough to see and do to fill a longer weekend or more it’s a great place to spend a weekend or longer. With some beautiful beaches in easy range, it’s great for a beach holiday to!

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Olhão tourism guide, how to get there and where to stay

Mercado de Olhão, Algarve

Olhão grew as a major fishing port in the 20th century, but it already was a sizable village in the 1600s. The fishing tradition goes back to Roman times, as revealed by traces of fish salting factories in the area. Today, it’s famous for having the Algarve’s largest fish market , and, unlike many former fishing towns in the region, a significant percentage of its residents still works in the fishing industry. The tourism industry is also flourishing, as the city is the gateway to islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park . The popularity of the beaches on these islands grows every year, and there are regular ferries from the port.

The narrow streets of the largely-pedestrianized center lead to a couple of whitewashed churches topped by stork nests , and are lined with cube-shaped houses with rooftop terraces, said to have been inspired by North African architecture. On the waterfront is a number of seafood restaurants with outdoor seating, attracting tourists throughout the year. Each August (usually on the second week), the city hosts the lively “ Festival do Marisco ,” or “seafood festival,” offering fresh seafood and live entertainment for several days.

Tourist Attractions in Olhão

Olhão Market

Olhão Market

Built in 1916, this large market is Olhão’s main attraction besides the beaches . It’s where locals go each morning for fresh produce and the catch of the day, and where tourists go to experience a typical Portuguese fish market and see all kinds of fish. It’s made up of two identical red brick buildings (pictured at the top of this page; one for the fruit and vegetables and the other for the fish), surrounded by outdoor cafés. The best day for a visit is Saturday, when there are extra stalls selling traditional products from the region.

Avenida 5 de Outubro

Museu Municipal, Olhão

Municipal Museum

A building from 1771, which originally housed services for the local fishermen (such as a pharmacy and a butcher shop), is now a small museum explaining the history of Olhão . There are permanent displays of archaeological finds, as well as temporary exhibitions related to local culture. Outside is a monument inaugurated in 1931, to celebrate the men who led the revolt against Napoleon’s troops in Olhão, in 1808.

Praça da Restauração

Igreja Matriz de Olhão, Olhão

Igreja Matriz de Olhão

Facing the Municipal Museum, in the same square, is Olhão’s main church and most significant monument . It opened for services in 1715, but was only completed in 1722, thanks to donations from the local fishermen. The interior is surprisingly rich, with five gilded chapels reflecting the baroque style of the early 18th century and a ceiling decorated with a fresco.

Capela do Senhor dos Aflitos, Olhão

Capela do Senhor dos Aflitos

Right behind the Igreja Matriz is this large chapel with a tile panel on the façade depicting Christ on the Cross. It’s where many locals go light a candle and say their daily prayers -- a tradition that started with fishermen’s wives on stormy days, hoping for their husbands’ safe return from the sea.

Avenida da República

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Soledade, Olhão

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Soledade

When it was built in the early 1600s, this was Olhão’s first stone building. At that time, the city was a tiny community with nothing but fisherman huts. It’s a modest church, featuring a small dome and an altarpiece with an image of St. Lucy. Its rooftop is a favorite spot for storks to build their nests .

Travessa do Compromisso

Caíque Bom Sucesso, Olhão

Caíque Bom Sucesso

Anchored at the marina by the market, this is a replica of a boat that took a group of 17 local fishermen to Brazil in 1808 . These men crossed the Atlantic to inform King João VI, who had escaped to Rio de Janeiro when Napoleon invaded Portugal, that the people of Olhão had managed to kick out the French. Measuring 20 meters in length and 5 meters in width, it’s hard to believe that such a small boat made such a voyage. It took three months, but it made it to its destination, and the king rewarded the fishermen by making Olhão a town independent from Faro.

Jardim Pescador Olhanense, Olhão

Jardim Pescador Olhanense

Next to the market, on the waterfront, is this park which serves as a meeting point for locals and as a stage for cultural events. It preserves an old bandstand and benches decorated with tile panels illustrating episodes from local history , like the revolt of the people of Olhão against the French and the arrival of the Bom Sucesso boat in Rio de Janeiro.

Mural, Olhão

Murals on Rua Manuel Tomé Viegas Vaz

The façades of the former canning factories in the center of Olhão have been completely covered with murals. They depict scenes of local life in the heydays of Olhão’s fishing industry, and are in black and white, giving the impression of old photographs.

Ilha da Fuseta, Olhão

Beaches and the Ria Formosa Natural Park Interpretation Center

Olhão’s beaches are in islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. To know more about this protected area, head to Quinta de Marim. The site is a little neglected, but you’ll be able to follow paths and boardwalks through 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles), observing different animal species in their natural habitat, and also get to see an archaeological site with Roman remains from the 4th century. This is also the breeding center of the Portuguese Water Dog, a breed made famous when U.S. President Barack Obama chose it for the White House dog (he ended up having two, a male and a female). In a renovated chalet, that belonged to a former mayor of Olhão, visitors can know more about environmental protection, through exhibitions and events held in an auditorium. For the beaches, see the Olhão beaches guide .

How to Get to Olhão

Olhão Train Station

Olhão is 15 minutes from Faro , heading east on road N125. It’s just 10 minutes by train, and there are about a dozen departures per day (check the times at the cp.pt website). Buses (numbers 63 and 67, operated by Vamus ) also connect the two cities, taking between 20 and 25 minutes. The bus terminal in Olhão is on Rua General Humberto Delgado, in the city center. If you’re coming from Tavira , the drive takes about 25 minutes, heading west on highway A22 or road N125. The train from Tavira also takes about 25 minutes, and there are also a dozen departures per day. It’s also possible to take Vamus bus 67 from Tavira, but it takes about 40 minutes and there are very few services per day, so the train is the most recommended option.

Hotels in Olhão

Real Marina Hotel & Spa, Algarve

Real Marina Hotel & Spa

The best hotel in Olhão is located on the waterfront, and many of its spacious rooms face the sea, as does the outdoor pool . There’s also an indoor pool that’s part of the spa. At the two restaurants , you have the choice of local or international cuisine. The ferries to the islands, as well as the city’s famous market, are a short walk away.


Pure Formosa Concept Hotel, Algarve

Pure Formosa Concept Hotel

It’s right in the center, on the main avenue, and offers a great 360-degree panoramic view over the city from the rooftop terrace , where there’s a bar and a swimming pool . The 67 double rooms feature a contemporary minimalist design, as do the common areas such as the breakfast room.


Villas Marim, Algarve

Villas Marim

Located just outside the city (about a 10-minute drive from the port), these villas are quite beautiful, mixing the traditional and the contemporary in the architecture and décor. They have two, three, or four bedrooms, and are a good value for those traveling in a group or as a family. An outdoor swimming pool is accessible to all guests.


Zenit Guest House, Algarve

Zenit Guest House

This guesthouse has double rooms and an apartment , some of them with a terrace or balcony. Conveniently located in the Old Town, close to the market and the pier, it’s an excellent option for those on a budget .


Hotel Cidade de Olhão, Algarve

Hotel Cidade de Olhão

Found close to the train station and the center of town, this is a highly-rated 3-star hotel. It opened in a renovated building in 2016, and features a contemporary interior, an outdoor pool , studios with fully-equipped kitchenettes , and double rooms.


Stork Hostel, Algarve

Stork Hostel

If you’re looking for a hostel in Olhão, this is the one. It’s right by one of the city’s historic churches, and named after the storks seen on the monument’s rooftop. You can almost touch their nests from the hostel’s terrace , where guests relax in the sun. Inside, there are double rooms with private bathrooms and dorms with shared bathrooms .


BJB Alojamentos, Algarve

BJB Alojamentos

The wonderful rooftop terrace , the central location, the cleanliness and the welcoming staff, all make this one of the favorite places to stay in Olhão. It offers rooms of different sizes and a 2-bedroom apartment.


Octant Vila Monte, Algarve

Octant Vila Monte

Just a 15-minute drive from Olhão, this is one of the most beautifully-designed hotels in Algarve. It’s a romantic farmhouse with a boho-chic style , divided into 55 rooms and surrounded by beautiful gardens. There are two outdoor pools and a refined restaurant serving regional cuisine.


Casa Modesta, Algarve

Casa Modesta

Less than 15 minutes from the center of Olhão, this is another highly-rated and tastefully-designed property. It consists of two buildings with nine rooms with private terraces , and serves breakfast using fresh local products, some of them from its own organic garden.


Complete Algarve Guide

Where to stay.

Top 10 Hotels

Beach Hotels

All-Inclusive Hotels

Hotels with Pool

Romantic Hotels

Design & Boutique Hotels

Luxury Hotels

Best Hostels

Budget Hotels

Family Hotels

Best Apartments

What to See and Do

Top 10 Attractions

Top 10 Places to Visit

Top 10 Monuments

Best Caves and Cliffs

Romantic Places

Algarve in Winter

50 Best Beaches

Nude Beaches

Secret Beaches

Surfing Beaches

Gay Beaches

Albufeira Beaches

Alvor Beaches

Carvoeiro Beaches

Costa Vicentina Beaches

Faro Beaches

Lagos Beaches

Olhão Beaches

Portimão Beaches

Sagres Beaches

Tavira Beaches


Algarve Transportation

Faro Airport

From Lisbon

Other Portugal Destinations

Lisbon Beaches

Places in Algarve

Armação de Pêra

Cacela Velha

Castro Marim

Costa Vicentina

Monte Gordo

Quinta do Lago

Ria Formosa Natural Park

Vale do Lobo

Vila Real de Santo António


The best independent guide to the Algarve

Olhão, Portugal; a tourism guide for 2024

Olhão is a traditional and characterful fishing town in the central region of the Algarve. The town has a pretty waterfront, a busy fishing harbour and a maze of cobbled back streets within the fishermen’s quarter. Olhão opens out onto the calm waterways and lagoons of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, while to the south are the sandbar islands of Ilha da Armona and Ilha da Culatra, with their beautiful beaches.

Olhão is one of the only towns within the Algarve where the primary focus is not tourism; this is a busy fishing town, with a hardworking people. Olhão is also a comparatively new town; the first stone building was only constructed in the late 17th century, and the Nossa Senhora church dates from 1715.

This lack of historic sights and working town appearance may deter certain tourists, but this is a shame, as Olhão is the most authentically Portuguese town in the Algarve. The restaurants and cafes are filled with Portuguese, the traditional fishermen’s houses are owned by locals, and the predominant language heard is Portuguese.

This article will provide a tourist guide to Olhão, and includes a tour of the town along with details of the main tourist attractions. Related articles: Algarve introduction - Faro guide – Tavira guide

Highlights of Olhão

Mercados de Olhão

The Mercados de Olhão - The daily fish and fresh produce market housed in the neo-Arabic styled covered market.

Ilha da Armona Olhão island

The Ilha da Armona – The sandbar island south of Olhão, which provides pristine sandy beaches and kilometres of deserted coastline. The island is reached by ferry from Olhão harbour.

Bairro dos Pescadores Olhão

The Bairro dos Pescadores - The traditional fishermen district of Olhão, with its unique cubic house and authentic Portuguese atmosphere.

Parque Natural da Ria Formosa  Olhão

The Parque Natural da Ria Formosa – The saltwater lagoons and protected waterways with extensive bird and marine life. The area can be explored by boat tour, kayak or the nature trails that lead from Olhão.

Olhão for a day trip

Olhão makes for an enjoyable destination for a day trip. The town has a range of unique tourist attractions, and the atmosphere of Olhão is very different from the major resort towns in the Algarve.

The main sights of Olhão can be seen within two hours of sightseeing, and the day could be extended by visiting the beaches on the Ilha da Armona or the fishing community on the Ilha da Culatra.

Another option is to explore the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. There are boat tours that depart from Olhão harbour, or there are pleasant hiking trails around the Quinta de Marim, where the visitor centre is situated.

For your day trip, it is very easy to travel to Olhão as it is served by the Algarve regional railway.

Below is an interactive map for a suggested day trip to Olhão. The green route is a suggested tour of Olhão town, while the yellow route is a 3km trail around the Quinta de Marim. ( Note: zoom out to see all of the points)

Sights: 1) Avenida da República 2) Nossa Senhora do Rosário church 3) Nosso Senhor dos Aflitos chapel 4) Museum of Olhão 5) Olhão town hall 6) Praça Patrão Joaquim Lopes 7) Mercado de Olhão 8) Jardim Pescador Olhanense 9) Bom Sucesso boat 10) ferries to Armona and Culatra 11) Olhão fishing harbour 12) Fishing murals 13) Fishermen’s district 14) Quinta de Marim 15) Tidal mill museum

Jardim Pescador Olhanense

The Jardim Pescador Olhanense and Olhão waterfront

Museu Municipal de Olhão

The small Museu Municipal de Olhão details the history of the town

A holiday to Olhão

Olhão is not a conventional holiday destination, such as Albufeira , Lagos or Vilamoura . Olhão is a fishing town, with a charming historic centre but equally some very bland and dilapidated areas. The other aspect about Olhão is that there are no beaches within walking distance and a ferry must be caught to travel to them.

If you are on a touring holiday, Olhão can make for a good base to explore the central Algarve region, with day trips to Faro, the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and Estoi.

Olhão holiday score rating

Olhão beaches

The beaches of the Olhão region are found on the southern side of the two sandbar islands, the Ilha da Culatra and Ilha da Armona. These two islands can be reached by the ferry services that depart from Olhão harbour.

The beaches extend along the entire length of the two islands, and offer over 10km of golden sands and calm seawaters. As the beaches are protected by the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, they have a pristine setting, surrounded by sand dunes and beach vegetation.

The beaches of Culatra and Armona tend to be very quiet, especially when compared to other beaches in the Algarve. On the Ilha da Culatra is a traditional fishing village, while Ilha da Armona is a tiny village filled with holiday homes. If you are on holiday in or near Olhão, these beaches will not disappoint.

Ilha da Armona beach

There are quiet section of beach on Ilha da Armona

Olhão to Armona ferry

It is a 20-minute ferry ride from Olhão to the Ilha da Armona

Sights of Olhão

Olhão market.

Olhão market is the vibrant heart of Olhão, and is divided between two neo- Arabic red brick buildings. The eastern covered market houses the largest fish market in the Algarve, and is packed with stalls selling fresh fish from the previous night’s catch.

Within the western building is a fresh produce market, and the varied stalls sell locally grown fruit and vegetables, flowers, breads and regional handicrafts. Surround both markets are a selection of cafes and bars.

The market is open Monday to Saturday (closed Sunday). On Saturdays, there is an additional market that fills the stretches around the covered market. Further details can be seen on the market’s website: mercadosdeolhao.pt

Olhão market

The covered market building was constructed in 1915 and celebrates the Moorish history of the region

The Bom Sucesso boat

Moored at Olhão harbour is a replica of the “Bom Sucesso” fishing boat. This small boat and seventeen fearless fishermen managed to navigate from Portugal to Brazil, in 1808, using only the stars and a rudimental map.

The fishermen made this perilous voyage to Brazil in order to send a message to the exiled king João VI, about the defeat of Napoleon’s army in the Algarve. The tiny boat of just 20m in length, which was designed for sardine fishing, managed to sail a journey of over 5,500km.

This heroic act was rewarded with Olhão being given the status of a town, freeing it from the rivalry between Faro and Tavira. The replica of the Bom Sucesso is open to the public and free to enter.

Bom Sucesso Olhão

The replica of the Bom Sucesso fishing boat

The cubist houses

The fisherman’s quarter (the Bairro dos Pescadores) is warren of narrow cobbled alleys and whitewashed houses.

The houses of this area were constructed in a cube shape, with one or two stories, and flat terraced roofs. The roof terraces and flat roofs provided an unimpeded sight of the harbour and allowed the fishermen’s wives to watch for the safe return of their husbands. The design was inspired by Moroccan architecture and are referred to as “cubist” houses.

The fishing heritage of Olhão has been captured in a series of beautiful wall murals that line the old canning factory, on the Rua da Fábrica Velha.

cubist Olhão

The cube shaped houses in the fishing district

The Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário

The Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário is a late 17th-century Rococo styled church that stands at the centre of Olhão. The church’s construction was funded by donations from the fishermen and their families. The bell tower is open to the public (€1.00 admission) and provides wonderful views over central Olhão.

To the rear of the church is the Capela de Nosso Senhor dos Aflitos. Historical, the families of fishermen came to this small chapel to pray for their safe return or to mourn the loss of loved ones.

Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário Olhão

The simple white-washed façade of the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário

Capela de Nosso Senhor dos Aflitos Olhão

The Capela de Nosso Senhor dos Aflitos

The Parque Natural da Ria Formosa

The saltwater mudflats, tidal lagoons south of Olhão are protected by the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.

This sandbar and saltwater lagoon ecosystem is an important habitat for birds and small aquatic life. There are numerous wading birds (such as Egrets, Ibis and Spoonbills), and it is a vital resting point for birds migrating between Europe and Africa. The calm waterways are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of seahorse (long-snouted and short-snouted seahorse), and there are even rare Pond Turtles.

The “natural park” designation also safeguards traditional methods for fishing for shellfish and limits the extent of tourist development along the coastline. The park’s head office is in the Quinta de Marim, and from here is an enjoyable 3km route that encompasses all the different ecosystems (mudflats, pine forest and sand bars).

Parque Natural da Ria Formosa Olhão

The calm waterways of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa

Olhão, Faro or Loule?

Olhão, Faro and Loule are all popular day trips in the central Algarve region. Faro is a historic city, Loule is a market town and Olhão is a busy fishing port.

In our opinion Faro is the best destination for a day trip as it contains more and varied sights. Olhão is better than Loule as it offers both a pretty waterfront and a charming fishman district. Related articles: Faro guide – Loule guide

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15 Things To Do In Olhão Portugal: Sun, Sand & Local Secrets

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If you are looking for things to do in Olhão, Portugal, then you have come to the right place. Located just under 10 km from the city of Faro , Olhão is a county with 5 towns — Olhão, Quelfes, Pechão, Fuseta, and Moncarapacho — that sits on land that stretches throughout the nationally protected Ria Formosa to the Barrocal of Algarve.

olhao tourist information

Don’t have time to read the whole article?

One of the most unique experiences in Olhão is visiting an oyster farm where you’ll taste fresh oysters paired perfectly with crisp wine. ↳ Book this experience here.

When people come to the Algarve, they often go west, stopping at popular towns like Albufeira, Portimão, and Lagos. And although these towns each have their own unique charms, they can get quite busy, especially over the summer season .

Enter Olhão, a charming small Algarve town that offers the quintessential Algarvian allure but with an intimate, local charm — a serene escape from the bustling crowds, where traditions run deep and authenticity thrives.

But what are some of the things to do in Olhão, Portugal? Before we get into that, let’s dive into some basics.

Where is Olhao?

Olhão is situated in the eastern part of the Algarve in southern Portugal. Nestled on the coast, it’s a town that’s tightly connected to the sea and its rich fishing traditions.

From Faro airport, Olhão is a mere stone’s throw away, approximately 10 km (6.2 mi) . If you plan on exploring more of the Algarve, Albufeira is around 45 km (roughly 28 miles), Lagos is approximately 80 km (around 50 miles) from Olhão, and Tavira is 28 km (roughly 17 miles).

Lastly, If you are coming to Olhão from the capital, Lisbon is around 278 km (or about 173 miles).

How to Get To Olhao

Going to Olhão Algarve? The best option is renting a car, especially if you want to explore the Algarve at your own pace. For car rentals, I always recommend Discover Cars, as they often give you the best deals.

However, if you aren’t too keen on driving, there are two other options. The first is taking a Flixbus . The bus leaves from Lisbon (Oriente) and will take you to Olhão, specifically, Av. Operarios Conserveiros. It takes around 3. 5 hours.

The second option is the train from Lisbon (Entrecampos) to Faro . The trip takes around 3.5 hours. From Faro, you’ll have to take a taxi or an UBER to get to your final destination.

15 Things to Do in Olhão, Portugal

So whether you take a bus, train, or car, once you get to Olhao, you’ll realize that there are plenty of Olhão things to do. What are some of those things? Let’s dive right into our list.

☀️ Before we start: Olhao does not have any beaches. If you want to go to the beach, you’ll have to take a ferry or a water taxi to one of the nearby islands.

1. Explore the Town of Olhao

olhao tourist information

Olhão might be small, but there’s no shortage of charm here. Dive straight into its narrow streets in the Barreta Quarter and the Levante Quarter. On your stroll, you’ll want to pause at the Casa Dr. Bernardino da Silva and the Igreja Matriz (Mother Church).

But one of the true highlights is the municipal market on Avenida 5 de Outubro, right near the waterfront. This market is split into two impressive buildings: one for fruits/vegetables and another, the fish market, which stands out not only for its offerings but also its architecture.

olhao tourist information

Rumor has it that the ironwork of the fish market building has ties to the Eiffel Company — the same genius behind the Eiffel Tower. Whether it’s true or not, it adds to the allure. The market is open every day, except Sunday, from 07:00 – 13:00.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

2. go island-hopping.

One of the things to do in Olhão is to visit the island of Farol and visit the beach and lighthouse

Spanning the coast from Faro to Cacela Velha and brushing right past Olhão, Ria Formosa Natural Park is an expansive lagoon system renowned for its wildlife, beaches, and five barrier islands. Among these, Armona, Culatra, and Farol (Lighthouse) islands stand out as Olhão’s neighbors.

Ilha de Armona offers pristine beaches, a perfect spot for relaxation. Culatra, on the other hand, is home to restaurants, a beach, and an oyster farm. Ilha da Farol is famed for its commanding lighthouse, a beacon for mariners, and a sight not to be missed. It also has a beach and restaurants.

How can you get here? First is the ferry , but be prepared as it might take 45 minutes to reach your destination, and if the tide’s not in your favor, the return can stretch to 1h15. If you’re looking for a quicker and more private journey, water taxis are available . They’ll set you back roughly 45 euros (50 USD) for three people each way.

a man standing next to a water taxi in Olhão

And if you’re in for a detailed exploration, consider booking a tour for a comprehensive island experience. I recommend this Ria Formosa – Boat tour to the 3 Islands: Armona | Culatra Island | Lighthouse , which is one of the rated tourist attractions in Olhao Algarve with over 700 5⭐️ reviews.

3. Eat Fresh Oysters On Culatra Island

hand with an oyster in it, visiting an oyster farm is one of the things to do in Olhão

Wade into the waters and experience firsthand the art of shucking, guided by seasoned farmers who’ve mastered the craft. You’ll witness the journey of these marine treasures, from spotting baby oysters in their nurturing phase to understanding their growth patterns.

olhao tourist information

But the real joy lies in the tasting. Fresh from the sea, indulge in the creamy and salty goodness of these oysters, perfectly paired with a sip of refreshing Portuguese sparkling wine. It’s not merely a tour ; it’s a hands-on, unforgettable gastronomic experience.

↳ Book this private OYSTER FARMING CULATRA ISLAND experience here.

4. Walk around the waterfront  

olhao tourist information

Anchoring Olhão’s bustling life is its vibrant waterfront. If you are looking for food or a glass of Portuguese wine, this is the place to be. From seafood delights to classic Portuguese tapas, options there is something for every type of foodie. Where to eat in Olhão—I personally recommend Terra i Mar .

olhao tourist information

If your appetite leans more toward history, take a leisurely stroll to admire the myriad of boats and pause at the ‘Caique Bom Sucesso fishing boat replica. This isn’t just any boat. In 1808, daring fishermen from Olhão sailed it to Brazil, breaking news to King João IV about their victory over the French.

5. Visit Fuseta

olhao tourist information

Fuseta, a gem on the eastern Algarve coast, promises a blend of nature, culture, and serene beachside relaxation. Just a short drive from Olhão, this tranquil fishing village offers sandy beaches facing the calm waters of the Ria Formosa lagoon.

A ferry ride will take you to the barrier islands with pristine Atlantic beaches. Meander through the town’s old quarters, and you might stumble upon locals mending their fishing nets, a sight that captures Fuseta’s deep maritime roots. Don’t leave without trying the freshly grilled seafood in one of the waterfront eateries, a perfect end to your visit.

Quick Tip: Fuesta is close to the ocean, meaning that you can reach the beach without having to take a boat. You can also hire kayaks. You can also take a full-day trip around Fuseta.

6. Go On an Olive-Oil Tasting

olhao tourist information

For centuries, olive trees have graced the landscapes of the Algarve, bearing fruits that yield the golden elixir. Among its renowned producers stands Monterosa , nestled in Moncarapacho near Faro.

Established in 1969, Monterosa is a gold medal–winning olive oil producer. Visitors are welcomed into the heart of its operation, from strolling through orchards rich with history to understanding the meticulous process that ensures unparalleled quality. Even if you don’t do a tour, you can still shop at the onsite shop to buy oils to take home.

Remarkably, every olive at Monterosa is handpicked and swiftly pressed , preserving its essence. A visit here isn’t just a tour; it’s an immersion into the craft of olive oil making, culminating in a tasting. If you time your visit for autumn, you’ll witness the orchard buzzing during the picking season.

7. Take Part in A Cataplana Cooking Class

olhao tourist information

The Cataplana is not just a dish — it’s an embodiment of Algarvian culture. Cataplana is typically made with a mix of fresh seafood, sausage, and vegetables and seasoned with herbs and spices, cooked in a unique clam-shaped cookware of the same name.

During this Catapalana Cooking Class , you’ll first meet your chef of the day at the famous Olhão market to handpick the freshest ingredients, each telling a tale of the region’s maritime abundance and Moorish influences.

After a quick walk, you’ll reach the chef’s kitchen. Together, you’ll use the ingredients you picked to make a three-course meal. Depending on the weather, enjoy your handcrafted dishes on the scenic rooftop or in the elegant dining area.

↳ Looking for more Olhão food experiences? Book them here.

8. Go On A Dolphin-Watching Tour

olhao tourist information

Starting from Olhão’s marina, seasoned skippers take you on specialized boats built for optimal viewing . As you venture into the Atlantic, they’ll share insights about dolphin behaviors and the region’s marine ecology. The Ria Formosa Natural Park nearby serves as a stunning backdrop, its lagoons and barrier islands hosting diverse birdlife.

This experience is not just about seeing dolphins but understanding their importance in the larger marine ecosystem of the Algarve.

9. Seven Hanging Valleys Guided Hiking Day Trip

olhao tourist information

When in the Algarve, the Seven Hanging Valleys hiking trail is an unmissable gem. Starting from Olhão, hop on a transfer that’ll whisk you straight to nature’s masterpiece. Your first stop? The fascinating caves of Algar Seco. As you tread, let the awe of rugged cliffs and secret caves envelop you, with your guide ensuring you don’t miss a beat.

Glimpse the famous Benagil Cave and keep your eyes peeled for playful dolphins and majestic seabirds soaring above. Your trail will climax at the ever-vibrant Praia da Marinha. Here’s the cherry on top: savor traditional Portuguese delights before you comfortably drive back to Olhão.

10. Go On Bird-Watching Tour

olhao tourist information

The Ria Formosa Natural Park, with its sprawling wetlands and tranquil lagoons, is a sanctuary for birds. Here you’ll find over 200 species of birds, some of which are very rare or endangered. See birds like white storks, little egrets, spoonbills, and grey plovers.

Looking for a more immersive experience? Consider booking this 2-hour Bird Watching Guided Boat Trip in Ria Formosa from Faro Algarve .” On this intimate tour, limited to 10 participants, you’ll explore the park’s wonders on a traditional painted saveiro boat. Led by knowledgeable guides, the journey offers a blend of history, nature, and sheer beauty.

11. Enjoy A Beach Breakfast or Sunset Picnic

There’s something truly magical about dining by the sea, especially in the picturesque town of Olhão. Opt for a beach breakfast at a prime beachside location . This private tour offers a tailored menu and itinerary catering to both families and couples.

Alternatively, choose a sunset picnic. Savor traditional local snacks in a handpicked Algarvian spot as the sun sets. After soaking in the views, return to Olhão Marina by boat. This is a great option for a romantic evening, a get-together with friends, or simply appreciating the Algarve’s natural beauty.

12. Visit the fisherman’s quarter (Bairro dos Pescadores)

olhao tourist information

Within the heart of Olhão lies the Bairro dos Pescadores or Fisherman’s Quarter . Wander its meandering cobbled alleys, and you’re met with a sea of whitewashed, cube-shaped homes resembling the enchanting medinas of Morocco. These structures, with their flat roof terraces, were ingeniously designed for a heartfelt reason: to allow fishermen’s wives a clear view of the harbor, waiting for the safe return of their loved ones from the sea.

This unique architecture reveals a blend of Algarvian and Arab influences, a testament to the fishermen’s maritime travels to Moroccan coasts. Furthermore, their intricate lacy chimneys add character, branding Olhão as a notable cubist city.

13. Take a Picture of the Town’s Murals

olhao tourist information

As you meander through Olhão, the town’s history is painted vividly on its walls. Particularly around Rua da Fábrica Velha, murals come alive with tales of a bygone era: fishermen navigating their boats, women meticulously cleaning fish, and bustling scenes from the canning factories.

A prominent board in Largo da Fábrica Velha marks the site of the Algarve’s pioneering canning factory, an industry that once breathed life into the local fishing scene and reshaped Olhão’s trajectory. Commissioned by the town council and crafted by four dedicated artists using historical photos as their muse, these murals encapsulate Olhão’s rich heritage.

14. Find all the Legends of Olhão

olhao tourist information

In Olhão, the Path of Legends tells tales steeped in mystery and enchantment. One is about Floripes , a beautiful woman who’d visit an old man named Ze. Curious, Juliao waited one night and met the enchanting Moorish maiden. She revealed an ancient curse, hinting at a brave act by the sea to free her. But Juliao engaged to another, hesitated. By dawn, Ze vanished, believed to be taken by Floripes to distant shores.

olhao tourist information

Another story talks about a Big-Eyed Boy . He’d show up on dark nights, and when fishermen tried to help him, he became too heavy to carry. He, however, no longer appears. Some say a woman named Moura Felipes took him away. Finally, the legend of Arraul depicts a survivor from Atlantis who, after being swallowed by a whale and deposited ashore, created barrier islands to protect the beloved land that is now Olhão.

15. Shop local artisans in the town

Dive deep into Olhão’s artisanal scene right in the heart of the old town. At Ze e Maria , discover a curated selection of Portuguese-crafted ceramics, textiles, and more, including the standout Casa Cubista range. These terracotta pieces, crafted in Alentejo, take inspiration from Olhão’s Cubist charm.

For a different vibe, step into Pinta Roxa , half shop, half local artist gallery. Then, let your eyes wander over intricate patterns at Mosaic Olhão , a studio specializing in bespoke mosaic artworks. Round off your artisanal journey at Atelier Zea , a haven for art enthusiasts.

Where To Stay in Olhão Algarve

olhao tourist information

There are plenty of places to stay in Olhão, depending on your needs and your budget. I personally stayed at the Real Marina Hotel & Spa ( I wrote a review about it here ), and can’t recommend it enough. However, here are a couple of other options:

  • Real Marina Hotel & Spa | Rating: 8.5 out of 10: This luxury 5-star hotel has it all, including a great price-value ratio. It is within walking distance of all major attractions while still offering plenty of things to do onsite. It also has one of the best continental breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Prices start at € 113 per night ↳ Book your stay at the Real Marina Hotel & Spa.
  • Pure Formosa Concept Hotel | Rating: 9 out of 10: Nestled in Olhão, the 3-star Pure Formosa Concept Hotel is a modern gem built in 2021. Conveniently located near major attractions, its amenities offer unmatched comfort. Prices start at € 85 per night . ↳ Book your stay at Pure Formosa Concept Hotel
  • Hotel Cidade de Olhão | Rating 8.8 out of 10 . Located in the heart of Olhão, Hotel Cidade de Olhão presents a blend of modern comforts and a prime location. Guests can unwind by the outdoor pool, relax on the sun terrace, and indulge at the bar. Each room boasts modern décor, air-conditioning, soundproofing, and a flat-screen TV. Some even feature balconies for added views. Prices start at € 67 per night . ↳ Book your stay at Hotel Cidade de Olhão.
  • Quinta dos Poetas Nature Hotel & Apartments | Rating 8.9 out of 10 . Located in Olhão’s scenic countryside, Quinta dos Poetas offers a serene escape. Boasting a vast outdoor pool, lush gardens, lakes, and a fitness trail, it’s a nature lover’s retreat. For those seeking added privacy, separate apartments with full kitchenettes, spacious terraces, and private parking are available. Prices start at € 130 per night . ↳ Book your stay at Quinta dos Poetas Nature Hotel & Apartments.

A Little Bit Of Background History

olhao tourist information

Olhão, often regarded as the Algarve’s fishing capital, has deep roots intertwined with the sea. Its origins date back to the Moorish era, with its narrow streets and unique cubic houses bearing testimony to its ancient architectural influences. The town flourished in the 17th century as a prominent fishing port, and this maritime legacy remains evident even today.

The famous Revolt of Olhão in 1808 marked a pivotal point in the town’s history. Locals valiantly resisted the Napoleonic occupation, and their bravery led to the expulsion of French troops from the Algarve. This victory is still celebrated with pride during the annual Seafood Festival, blending history with the town’s enduring love for the ocean.

olhao tourist information

Its close proximity to the Ria Formosa lagoon has also played a significant role in shaping Olhão’s identity, turning it into a haven for birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, and those seeking tranquility by the water.

Things to do in Olhão Portugal: FAQ

olhao tourist information

Is it worth visiting Olhão Portugal?

Absolutely! Olhão is a gem in the Algarve with its rich maritime history, distinctive architecture, and vibrant marketplaces. Its close proximity to the Ria Formosa Natural Park and its authentic atmosphere make it a worthwhile destination.

What is Olhão known for?

Olhão is renowned for its bustling fish markets, unique “cubist” architecture influenced by North African designs, and its deep connection to the Ria Formosa lagoons, a haven for birdwatchers.

olhao tourist information

Does Olhão have nightlife?

While Olhão isn’t a major nightlife hub, it does offer a selection of cozy bars and restaurants, especially along the waterfront, perfect for a relaxed evening.

How far is Olhão from the beach?

Olhão itself is a coastal town. While it doesn’t have beaches within the town center, a short ferry or boat taxi ride will take you to the pristine barrier islands of Ria Formosa with stunning beaches.

olhao tourist information

How safe is Olhão?

Olhão, like most parts of the Algarve, is generally safe for visitors. While it’s always good to practice common travel precautions, tourists can feel secure while exploring the town and its surroundings.

Final Thoughts: Things to do in Olhão Portugal

Olhão offers an enticing blend of history, culture, and nature that’s hard to resist. From its unique architecture and maritime tales to its vibrant markets and proximity to the Ria Formosa, there’s no shortage of fascinating things to do in Olhão.

Whether you’re seeking a laid-back coastal escape or eager to immerse yourself in the local way of life, this town has something for every traveler. As you plan your next adventure, don’t overlook the multitude of things to do in Olhão, a true gem in the heart of the Algarve.

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Yvonne Ivanescu is the founder of Now in Portugal and Now in Rio Swim, an ethical and sustainable swimwear company. She is a writer, editor and marketer with over 10 years of experience.

Storytelling is her second nature and she wants to share the magic of Portugal with the rest of the world.

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  • An insider’s guide to Olhao: our favourite town in the Algarve
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The i-escape blog / Lucy Richardson

By Lucy Richardson, Editor

Introducing Olhao, a bustling seaside town near Faro that’s loved by us for so many reasons: the food, the beaches, the authenticity, the affordability. Here’s everything you need to know…


This former fishing village, now a major fishing port, offers a glimpse into authentic Algarvian life. We love Olhao precisely because it’s not your typical tourist resort. It’s an unpretentious, affordable, working town with a Moorish-influenced centre, a sprawling fish and produce market, and a busy marina where ferries hop across to the unspoilt island beaches of the Ria Formosa lagoon. It has cute boutique hotels, serves up some of best seafood in the Algarve , and is easy-peasy to get to from Faro Airport: a 15-minute drive along the N125, or two stops on the train from Faro’s central station. What’s not to love?

olhao tourist information

A brief history

Olhao’s big moment came in 1808 when the O Caíque de Bom Sucesso vessel sailed from here to Rio de Janeiro, its crew tasked with informing the exiled Portuguese King João VI that Napoleon’s army had retreated. As a reward, the town was granted a royal charter and was developed as a fishing port and canning centre. And so began its growth.

After this, trading links with North Africa led to an infiltration of Moorish architecture: geometric houses with open roof terraces and minaret-inspired chimneys flooded the town’s centre, and today, they still stand in their beautiful cubic form.

What to see in Olhao

olhao tourist information

Visit the island beaches

From Olhao marina, a quick (and cheap) ferry or taxi boat ride will whisk you to the unique island beaches of the Ria Formosa. The pristine white sandbars of this sheltered turquoise lagoon are breathtaking. Shores are untamed and beautiful, largely deserted save for a few clusters of simple seafood restaurants, holiday homes, and cute and colourful houses where a handful of islanders live – population: circa 50. It’s pleasingly laidback with hints of the Caribbean.

From Olhao, you’ve a choice of three island beaches: Armona (the closest – 15 mins), Culatra or Farol. Together they offer over 10km of sand, accessed via boardwalks that take you across wild dunes and scrubland inhabited by birds and reptiles. If you choose Farol, have lunch at  MarAmais beach hut, a laid-back shack with a shady terrace looking straight out to sea.

Boat trips through the lagoon’s protected wetlands are a great way to see the coast. These full-day excursions usually include two island stops, with time for lunch and a chance to plunge into the glassy waters from the boat. Don’t forget your snorkel!

olhao tourist information

Browse Olhao market

The vibrant mercado is the beating heart of Olhao. Spanning two enormous red-brick buildings on the seafront promenade, it’s a hub of activity from dawn ‘till dusk, Mon-Sat. The eastern building houses the largest fish market in the Algarve, re-stocked each morning with the dawn’s fresh catch; tuna, sea bass, cod and anchovies are common in these parts.

In the western building is the produce market, selling fruits and veg, flowers, breads and handicrafts. This is where local restauranteurs source their ingredients, which you can sample at their eateries lining the perimeter of the market. Try delicacies like dry-cured tuna muxama, or Folar de Olhao, a sticky Portuguese bun topped with honey, orange, cinnamon and sugar – those from Kubidoce Café and Bakery are heavenly (as are the Portuguese tarts).

Saturdays are the biggest trading days, when a farmer’s market brings additional stalls, overflowing with everything from baked goods to pottery, budgies to bunnies.

olhao tourist information

Explore the historical sites

Take a look inside the 17 th -century Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary), whose bell tower you can climb, and the adjoining chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos, where offerings and prayers are made for the town’s fishermen.

Across the cobbled square is the Museu de Cidade, which houses a small but interesting collection of archaeological finds, embroidery, model boats and black and white photos documenting Olhão’s past.

See the street art

Introducing Olhao’s edgy side. The town is a reputed street artists’ hub, and many of the old, whitewashed buildings are cloaked in beautiful murals, with vivid colour decorating their crumbling facades. Wander along the Rua da Fábrica Velha, in the Barrio do Levante neighbourhood, and you’ll see quirky paintings created by a quartet of urban street artists. They tell the tales of the town’s history, each piece inspired by an old photograph of Olhao – everything from factory workers to life at sea. Some of the people depicted in them are still residents here today. Very cool.

olhao tourist information

Come for the seafood festival

Did we mention how great the seafood is here? If you need more convincing, come for the annual Festival do Marisco, which takes place every August along the seafront in Jardim Pescador Olhanense. It’s a celebration of the region’s cuisine, with pop-up food stalls and a line-up of musical entertainment. David Guetta performed here in 2015.

Take a day trip

For a stretch of the legs, head 3 kilometres out of town to the Quinta de Marim, a coastal wilderness of woodland, freshwater lagoons and salt flats. Start at the educational centre, and follow the 3km nature trail through the protected landscape. Bring some binoculars to spy on the wading birds – you might see flamingos and, if you’re lucky, rare purple gallinules.

If the coast is more your thing, there’s plenty more to see. Rather conveniently, there’s a railway station in the middle of Olhao, so hop on a train to neighbouring Fuseta, a 5-minute journey, to spend the day on its stunning island beach. A little further along the line is Tavira, another of our favourite fishing towns in the Algarve.

olhao tourist information

Where to eat in Olhao

With fish this fresh, it’s no surprise that Olhao’s best restaurants are seafood-orientated. One of the best places to sample the catch of the day is around Avenida 5 de Outubro, the road that runs along the seafront. Here, restaurants spill onto pavements, and fish comes straight from the market. Maré Shrimp & Stuff does the juiciest prawn dishes – try the red prawn bisque. Or for a modern twist,  See Sea Sim  seafood restaurant, in the new marina, is great for sunset drinks before your fishy feast.

A few streets up from the coast, Chá Chá Chá sits on the corner of a cute cobbled street where bougainvillea climbs the whitewashed walls. They serve Portuguese-style tapas, incorporating lots of fresh veggies and cheeses, plus larger plates of meat, fish, seafood and salad. For pudding, head next door to  São Gelados , which does a mean selection of velvety ice creams.

Super hungry? Vai e Volta offers a knockout all-you-can-eat fish barbecue for the very reasonable price of EUR 15 per person!

For drinks, The Zona Cocktail Lounge  has glorious views out to sea and towards the marina. And for evening entertainment, Cantaloupe Cafe has live jazz performances.

olhao tourist information

Where to stay in Olhao

Some of the town’s bijou cubic houses have been artfully transformed into pretty boutique hotels, with original features carefully restored to retain their Moorish charm. And because Olhao isn’t your typical tourist town, rooms are very reasonably priced.

olhao tourist information

Convento has one of the most beautiful inner courtyards we’ve seen, all hand-painted blue tiles, graceful white columns, climbing foliage and grand wooden doors. There’s a distinctly Moroccan feel to the hotel, with stylish rooms leading off the courtyard. A little pool on the roof terrace completes the Moorish look.

Rooms from GBP 95.

2 Casa Rosa Villa Hotel

olhao tourist information

Equally stylish Casa Rosa Villa Hotel occupies a handsome pink-fronted building and has a funky blush colour scheme throughout. It also comes with a sparkling pool in its courtyard, and a roof terrace for morning yoga.

Rooms from GBP 91.

3 Olhao House

olhao tourist information

Set in what was once a fish warehouse, Olhao House is a great option for a family of 3-4 or a couple wanting extra space and privacy. It’s elegant and minimalist, with two double bedrooms upstairs, a stylish kitchen-diner downstairs, a leafy shaded patio with a heated plunge pool, and a roof terrace with long views across the town’s rooftops.

House rental from GBP 164/night.


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