As I stepped onto the cobbled streets of Tavira, Portugal, I felt an immediate sense of enchantment. This picturesque town, nestled along the Algarve coast, is often considered one of the country’s hidden gems. With its historic architecture, pristine beaches, and rich cultural tapestry, Tavira offers travelers a taste of authentic Portugal.
Join me on this adventure as we explore the treasures that await in this coastal paradise.
Before we dive into the sights and experiences of Tavira, let’s take a brief journey into its history. Founded by the Phoenicians and later inhabited by Romans, Moors, and Christians, Tavira’s past is a tapestry of diverse cultures. This historical richness is evident in the town’s architecture, which includes Roman bridges, Moorish-influenced buildings, and Renaissance churches. It’s a town where history whispers from every corner, inviting you to explore its secrets.
Tavira Island, known locally as Ilha de Tavira, is a pristine stretch of coastline accessible by a short ferry ride. With its golden sands and crystal-clear waters, it’s a beach lover’s paradise. Spend your day sunbathing, swimming, or strolling along the shoreline. The island also boasts a variety of beachside restaurants where you can savor fresh seafood while gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean.
- Hours: Ferries run regularly from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM
- Admission: Roundtrip ferry tickets cost approximately €3
Chapel of Sao Sebastiao
Medieval in origin, this chapel was dedicated to the saint considered to be an advocate against epidemics and was built in 1745. The exuberant painting of the interior was carried out, with considerable scenography effects in the ten panels on the life of Stain Sebastian.
Church of the Hospital of Espirito Santo (The Saint Joseph)
The Church of the Hospital of Espirito Santo began being built in 1454, next to the Espirito Santo Hospital in Tavira. The church is commonly referred to as Saint Joseph’s due to a miracle involving an image of the saint that occurred in 1721. An unusual feature of the church is the nave, which is the shape of an uneven octagon based on a Baroque design prototype first used in the Menino Deus Church in Lison (1712).
Visit the lovely Praca Zacarias Gerreiro in front of the church, with beautiful park benches to admire the view.
Church of San Francisco
Located close to the medieval walls, the Church of San Francisco was built in the 14th century at the time of their donation to the religious order of Saint Francis in 1312, under King Dinis. The church underwent major alterations in the 18th and 19th centuries due to two earthquakes and a fire in 1843 that resulted in part of the convent caving in. Of the original church, there are the sacristy and two gothic chapels.
On the interior are the 15th-century statue of Saint Anne and a locally produced 18th-century Baroque-style bell house, a collection of statues and canvases, as well as the Baroque carving on the main altar.
Church of Santiago
The Main Church of Santiago is another historic church that originally dates from the 13th century and was built on an older Moorish structure. The church was also destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and later completely rebuilt.
- Hours: Open daily except on Saturday and Sunday.
Former Convent of Nossa Seinhora da Graca (Our Lady of Grace)
Founded by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1542, the ancient convent of Nossa Seinhora da Graca is one of the sites of what used to be the former Jewish community in Tavira. It stands out as one of the pioneering works of “chao” architecture (Portuguese plain architecture) in the Algarve. In 1749, major building work began, resulting in the renovation of the convent in line with the Baroque style. After the religious orders were extinguished in 1834, the convent was converted for use as military barracks and later as a historical guest house (pousada), which has been in operation since 2006.
Dr. Jorge Correia Park
Between the ancient convent of Nossa Senhora da Graca and the Church of Santiago is the tranquil Dr. Jorge Correia Park. A great place to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy the historical views.
Perched on a hill overlooking the town, Tavira Castle offers a journey back in time. This well-preserved Moorish castle dates back to the 13th century and provides panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside. Wander through its ancient walls, climb the tower for even better views, and let your imagination run wild as you step into the past.
- Hours: 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM (Closed on Mondays)
- Admission: €2
Santa Maria do Castelo Church
Tavira’s main church, Santa Maria do Castelo, is a stunning example of Renaissance architecture. Its intricate altar, azulejo-tiled walls, and peaceful courtyard make it a serene escape from the bustling town. Once a major mosque, it was founded in the 17th century.
The Clock Tower, which is attached to the church, can be seen throughout the old town. The clock tower is said to contain some of the old minarets of the original mosque. Don’t miss the chance to climb the bell tower for breathtaking views of Tavira.
- Hours: 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM and 2:00 PM to 5:30 PM
- Admission: €2
Tavira Museum/Palace Galeria –
Located at the top of Santa Maria, the site of an ancient Phoenician settlement, is the Palace Galeria where you can see some remains associated with the religious practices of these people. The building, of 16th-century origins, preserves in its structure several Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural elements of great heritage interest. It hosts exhibitions that address the history and diversity of Tavira.
- Hours: 9:30 – 13:00, 14:00 – 16:30, Closed on Sunday & Monday
Praça da República
Praça da República, Tavira’s main square, is the heart of the town’s social life. Lined with cafes and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to relax with a coffee or enjoy a meal while people-watching. The surrounding streets are adorned with colorful facades, creating a postcard-worthy atmosphere.
Church of Misericordia
Built between 1541 – 1551, the Church of Misericordia consists of three naves, without a chancel, topped with Renaissance capitals. Its decorations feature a set of blue and white tile panels from the 18th century, which show the 18 Works of Mercy. The main façade is considered one of the best testimonies of the Portuguese Renaissance in the Algarve.
- Hours: 10:00 – 12:30, 14:00 – 16:30
Arco de la Muralla de Tavira
The iconic Arco de la Muralla, a historic wall arch that transports you back in time. This architectural gem, part of the town’s ancient fortifications, stands as a testament to Tavira’s rich heritage. As you pass beneath the arco, you’ll hear the whispers of centuries past, offering a glimpse into the cultural tapestry that defines this picturesque Portuguese town.
The Islamic Museum houses a vast and diverse archeological collection of the Islamic period resulting from the interventions carried out in various locations of Tavira.
- Hours: 9:30 – 13:00, 14:00 – 16:30, Closed on Sunday & Monday
Bridge of Discoveries
Old Bridge over the River Gilão is a picturesque white bridge that spans the Gilao River and offers a beautiful view of the town. Often referred to as Pint Romans or the Roman Bridge, this is probably one of the most recognizable landmarks of Tavira.
The bridge was built around the 13th century and rebuilt 400 years later, during the medieval period. During the Morrish reign, the bridge was part of Tavara’s defensive system. Today, the bridge is pedestrianized, making it a nice walk.
Make sure to check out the waterfront area on both sides of the bridge. Typically it is lined with artesian booths selling a variety of specialty items from Portugal.
- Aqua e Sal – Indulge in fresh seafood dishes with a Mediterranean twist. Don’t miss their grilled octopus or seafood rice.
- Restaurante O Castelo – is a cozy spot serving Portuguese tapas and wines. Try the petiscos (small plates) for a true taste of local flavors.
- O Mauel – Set in a charming garden, this restaurant offers a delightful blend of Portuguese and international cuisine.
The Mediterranean Diet Festival in Tavira
Every year, Tavira comes alive with the vibrant celebration of the Mediterranean Diet Festival. This event, held in late summer, pays homage to the rich culinary traditions of the Mediterranean region. The festival showcases an array of delectable dishes that epitomize the healthy and delicious Mediterranean diet, known for its fresh vegetables, olive oil, seafood, and wholesome grains. Visitors can savor a wide variety of mouthwatering dishes, attend cooking demonstrations, and even participate in workshops to learn the secrets of Mediterranean cuisine. With live music, cultural performances, and a lively atmosphere, the Mediterranean Diet Festival in Tavira is a true feast for the senses and a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the local culture while indulging in the flavors of the Mediterranean.
Where to Shop for Unique Items in Tavira
- Mercado da Ribeira (Ribeira Market): Located at Largo de São Francisco, this bustling market is a must-visit for those seeking authentic local products. From fresh produce to handmade crafts, you can immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of a traditional Portuguese market. Don’t forget to pick up some regional cheeses, cured meats, and artisanal pottery as souvenirs.
- Tavira’s Craft Shops: Stroll along the charming streets of Tavira, and you’ll discover an array of quaint craft shops offering unique handmade goods. Look for intricately painted ceramics, handwoven textiles, and delicate lacework, which are all specialties of the region. You’ll find these shops scattered throughout the historic center.
- Rua da Liberdade Boutiques: This street, often referred to as the shopping hub of Tavira, is lined with boutique stores selling fashion, accessories, and home decor. Here, you can find stylish clothing, jewelry, and decorative items that are often designed by local artisans. The street is easily accessible from the town’s main square, Praça da República.
- Flea Markets and Antique Shops – If you have a penchant for antiques and vintage treasures, keep an eye out for flea markets and antique shops that occasionally pop up in Tavira. These are fantastic places to uncover unique finds like old books, retro furniture, and vintage collectibles. Check with locals or ask at your accommodation for information about upcoming markets.
- Art Galleries: Tavira boasts a thriving artistic community, and you can explore their creations in the town’s art galleries. These galleries often feature paintings, sculptures, and other unique artworks that capture the essence of Tavira and the Algarve. Be sure to visit Galeria Arte Algarve, which is known for showcasing both local and international artists.
- Tavira Municipal Market (Mercado Municipal de Tavira): Located on Avenida Dr. Mateus Teixeira de Azevedo, this indoor market is a fantastic place to find gourmet treats and local delicacies. From artisanal cheeses and chorizo to handmade sweets and wines, you can stock up on unique food items to take home as gifts or enjoy during your stay.
Tavira is a place where history, natural beauty, and culture come together to create an unforgettable travel experience. I hope this guide inspires you to embark on your own journey through this coastal gem, discovering the treasures that await in Tavira, Portugal.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.