Tavira is a city located on the eastern part of Portugal’s south coast and is arguably the most beautiful city of the Algarve. Traditional white washed houses, narrow charming streets, a sky which only rarely exhibits clouds and a river that crosses the city make this a lively and fresh municipality.
Founded by the Phoenicians between the 8th and 6th centuries b.c., of which one of the old city walls still remains, Tavira was constantly disputed by different tribes due to its geographical proximity to Spain and its prosperous fishing harbour, being subsequently under the realm of Romans and Moors. It would only be conquered by Christians in 1242 by the Order of Santiago, an Iberian religious and military order in charge of fighting the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula as well as to protect the pilgrims of the Path of Santiago. During the Portuguese Discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries, Tavira would become the most prosperous city in the Algarve, being strategically crucial to assist in the defence of the Portuguese fortresses in North Africa.
Tavira is nowadays a cosmopolitan city attracting thousands of tourists every year. Marvellous nearby beaches of white clear sand and a calm and warm sea make this a popular beach destination which along with its historic buildings, decorative churches and charming plazas combine for the perfect holiday for all sorts of groups and families.
Where to stay?
Tavira offers plenty of accommodation choices in different areas.
Historical centre – The historical centre of Tavira is where a lot of hostels, hotels and houses for rent are located. Walk through the cobble stone streets and pass by the traditional regional houses. The historical centre is also where the River Gilão crosses the city, which can be properly appreciated from the old Roman Bridge.
Barrocal and Serra – This area offers housing in rural areas and the type of accommodation consists in agro-tourism or country houses, among others. This mountain range area will allow you to explore a different part of the Algarve, one that is usually highly underrated.
Convento da Graça – This 16th century convent has now been turned into an inn and is classified as a Historical Inn. This beautiful building with meditation gardens is ideal for those looking for a relaxed and peaceful holiday. The inn is located in the historical centre of Tavira, in walking distance to the Roman Bridge and 15 minutes away from Tavira’s island.
Camping park – The camping park is located on Tavira’s Island and can also be a fun and different type of accommodation. The park tends to be quite full in summer attracting plenty of tourists and backpackers from all over the world. The ferry ride to the island along the river is really pretty and the island itself is breath-taking, having the majestic river on one side and a soothing translucent sea on the other.
Mobile home areas – Mobile home and caravan owners have not been forgotten by the municipality and there are areas suited to welcoming these houses on wheels with the appropriate infra-structures.
In case you are travelling with your pet there is also an excellent animal hotel where you can rest at peace knowing your pet is being properly taken care of.
What are the beaches like near Tavira?
Praia da Ilha de Tavira – This is the most popular beach in Tavira. It is located on the Island of Tavira, right in front of the city, and you have to take a ferry through Rio Gilão and Ria Formosa Natural Reserve to reach it. The ferry ride is nice and peaceful and will prepare you for the beauty of the beach. Be advised though that because it is the most popular beach in Tavira, especially during summer, it can sometimes be hard to catch the ferry. The camping park is also located right next to this beach meaning that all the campers use this same beach as well which may end up feeling too crowded sometimes (but if that is the case, just walk a few metres to one side or the other to get rid of the people).
Praia do Barril – This beach is located in the middle of Tavira’s Island and to be reached you must first cross a small bridge and then you can either walk the last one kilometre of the track or you can take a train. The course is really pretty and it will give you the opportunity to explore and learn more about the flora and fauna of Tavira. The train is also a fun option since the train has no windows allowing you to breathe into the nature of the island while also contemplating the rich biodiversity of the island. The beach itself is a little corner of paradise with white clear sand and a warm and calm sea.
Praia de Cabanas – East of Tavira’s Island there is the Island of Cabanas, a narrow but extensive portion of sand. The beach is located in front of the small fishing town of Cabanas. Because it can get a bit windy this beach is recommended for practicing sports like windsurf or sailing. The access to this beach is done through a short ride on the charming fishing boats.
Praia da Terra Estreita – Also located on Tavira’s Island, this beach is an extension of Praia do Barril. This beach is more isolated and discrete than the others, meaning you are able to enjoy the quietness of the rousing waves and the sounds of the storks far from the massive crowds of tourists that visit Tavira every year.
Praia Naturista – This beach, located at the far end of Praia do Barril, is a nude beach. An area where people can be in contact with the wildness of the beach, away from civilization. This beach has a magnificent view over the rest of Ria Formosa and some other islands in the Algarve.
Which beaches next to Tavira have a Blue Flag?
All Tavira beaches, except for Praia Naturista, have a Blue Flag and lifeguards and, as you can see from the map below, there are plenty of other beaches located close to Tavira with a Blue Flag.
Blue Flag means that the beach has been assessed based on environmental standards, water quality and beach cleanliness, and also on important facilities including toilets and lifeguards.
In the Algarve, lifeguards usually work from July 1st to September 30.
What is there to do in Tavira?
Tavira Municipal Museum – Split into several sections such as the Islamic nucleus which documents the relevance of the medieval Islamic period in Tavira through a set of findings of several archaeological excavations developed in the last years, this museum intends to preserve, expose and to investigate the rich cultural patrimony of the city of Tavira. The high point of the permanent exhibition being exposed in the museum is Tavira’s Vase, the controversial object that has been dividing the international community due to there not existing any similar Islamic piece in the world.
Mercado da Ribeira – The charming and charismatic market of Tavira surely deserves a visit. The building was built in 1887 and it hosted the municipal market, where the local merchants conducted their business, until 1999. Its most distinctive elements are the double gates in wrought and cast iron, the decorated pediments, the cornice and balustrade that finish the facades, as well as a series of small ceramic elements that punctuate them.
Roman Bridge over River Gilão – This bridge is known by the inhabitants of Tavira as being from the Roman period, however that sparks great controversy as the bridge suffered a lot of constructions and repairs in the medieval ages and later in the 17th century, which is why some historians are reluctant in stating that it is in fact a Roman bridge. What is true however is its emblematic importance to the city, having witnessed most of its crucial events. It is over this bridge that during the dynastic crisis of 1383 – 1385, after king Dom Fernando I, defenders of the cause of Mestre de Avis, future king of Portugal, battled and defeated Spanish invaders.
Castelo de Tavira – Tavira’s Castle was initially built by the Moors in the 10th century a.c. on the top of Santa Maria’s hill. Its walls suffered renovations under the realm of king Dom Afonso III and Dom Dinis in the 13th and 14th century. After losing its defensive value, the castle was used as a cemetery during the first half of the 19th century, being particularly useful when an epidemic of cholera killed a big part of the city population.
Forte de São João da Barra – This fortress was built in 1670 to protect Ria Formosa and the access to the harbour of Tavira. Its history is documented on top of its entrance doors. The blueprint forms a four-pointed star having bastions at the angles. The coat of arms stands on its main arch and the fortress is surrounded by a moat.
Tavira is famous for its large number of religious monuments which translates the city’s deep religious sensibility. Out of the many chapels, churches and convents that exist in Tavira, two buildings stand out:
Convento de Nossa Senhora da Graça – This convent was an initiative by the king Dom Manuel I as a way to thank God for the fact that the Moors lifted the siege of Arzila, an old Portuguese territory in North Africa, which is why it exhibits a manueline architecture style. It was the biggest convent in the region of the Algarve and in 1862 it was extinct and turned into a factory. The building has recently been renovated. The main gate stands out with its symbols of the Discoveries era.
Igreja da Misericórdia de Tavira – Built between 1541 and 1551, this is the most notable building of the renaissance era in the Algarve and its main constructor was André Pilarte who also worked in the famous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon. The church, of Renaissance style, is constituted by three naves, its ceiling is supported by eight columns finished by Renaissance capitals. Its decoration features a set of blue and white tile panels from the 18th century.
Jardim do Coreto – Visiting Coreto’s Garden can also be a fun day for the whole family. This is indeed the oldest garden in Tavira with its gazebo being built in the North of Portugal, in Porto, and having to be carried to Tavira by sea in 1890.
It is also possible to go for a walk or a bicycle ride in Via Algarviana, which has over 240 kilometres and passes by Tavira, play golf, try kitesurf or windsurf, go for a fishing day, doing birdwatching, go for a boat ride, try canoeing and diving, among many other activities.
What is the best time of the year to visit Tavira?
Summer – Tavira is most crowded during summer because of its perfect weather with shiny days and pleasant sea water. The city lights up during this season with many live spectacles taking place across the city. It is also common for many bars, restaurants, museums and other types of attractions to run for longer hours. Be advised though that during this season prices tend to rise.
Winter – Tavira is quite a popular touristic destination during winter due to its worldwide known golf courses. The absence of rain through most of the season and a pleasantly warm weather makes this one of the best places in Europe to play golf during the cold months. This means that even though it is not high season, prices of hotels and other attractions will not be significantly lower as it happens in other cities of the Algarve.
Autumn/Spring – With the Algarve becoming a popular destination during non-summer months, most of its attractions like waterparks and even boat companies are extending its working schedule to start and finish its activity before and after the months of June to August. Tavira is no exception and this might be a good opportunity to explore Tavira and enjoy the sunny weather away from the hordes of tourists.
What is the weather like in Tavira?
Tavira has a warm and temperate climate.
The average annual temperature is 17.4ºC. The hottest month of the year is August with an average temperature of 24ºC and the coldest month is January with an average temperature of 11.6ºC.
July is the driest month of the year with the amount of precipitation being close to 1 mm, far from the 79 mm of precipitation in December.
The following graph shows the monthly average temperatures and the monthly rainfall average for 2017.
What are the best places to eat in Tavira?
The municipality of Tavira is rich in gastronomic knowledge and flavours which diverge from the interior to the coast. In the mountains we find recipes traditionally made from cereals and meat. Closer to the sea we find a culinary know-how based on seafood such as: fish, molluscs and crustaceans.
D’Gusta – The speciality of this restaurant is tapas. It is not easy to get a reservation as this is a very popular restaurant for tourists and people from Tavira as well. The food is marvellous and its presentation sublime. Because it is a high end restaurant it can be slightly expensive.
Restaurante O Castelo – With a lovely staff and a pleasant atmosphere this charming local restaurant offers some delightful meat dishes, which is its speciality. Try the melon with prosciutto as an entrée and ask for picanha as the main dish.
Aquasul – Professional staff and a beautiful dining room make this a very popular destination for tourists and for Spanish people who don’t mind crossing the border to try the local specialities. The wine selection is limited but of good taste.
Álvaro de Campos Restaurante – This restaurant inherited its name from the heteronym of one of the most famous Portuguese poets – Fernando Pessoa – and just like its lovely verses that delight anyone who reads them, this restaurant offers delicious food with a beautiful presentation. Its staff are nice and welcoming, the wine superb and the deserts are a new and pleasant experience for the senses. Definitely worth a visit.
What are the best places for a night out in Tavira?
Families –Santa Lucia Bar located on the left bank of Gilão River with its outdoor esplanade and live music is a great place for a night out with the whole family. Other places suitable for families looking to enjoy Tavira’s nightlife are The Golden Club or The Snack-Bar Marina in the area of Cabanas.
Couples – Couples wanting to experience the best of Tavira’s romantic nightlife will surely want to head to the Nomad Lounge Terrace Bar, the Arcada Cocktail & Wine Bar and the Hello A&D.
Groups of friends – Tavira’s nightlife is a very lively one with big parties on their biggest clubs such as The Meeting Room and the brand new Echo. There are also plenty of pubs and sports bars suitable for a fun crazy night with your best mates.
How far is Tavira from…?
Faro’s airport – 40 km (approx. 35 min drive)
Albufeira – 70 km (approx. 50 min drive)
Portimão – 90 km (approx. 1hr drive)
Sagres – 140 km (approx. 1hr30 drive)
Vilamoura – 50 km (approx. 40 min drive)
Lisbon – 300 km (approx. 2hr45 drive)
Seville – 175 km (approx. 1hr50 drive)
Spanish Border – 30 km (approx. 25 min drive)
All distances have been rounded up.
Where are the bus station and train station?
The bus station in Tavira is located in the following address: street Chefe António Afonso 6, 8800-411 Tavira.
Tavira also has a train station which is located at Largo de Santo Amaro, 8800-703, Tavira.
Both the train and bus stations are busy stations which allow you to catch a transport to most cities in Portugal and even some cities in Spain.
How much is a taxi from Faro’s Airport to Tavira?
The price of a taxi from Faro’s Airport to Tavira, for one passenger, is usually around 40€ each way (80€ return). In case you decide to pre-book the price drops to around 35€ each way (70€ return).
If it is a private taxi or a van the price will tend to be higher, however, depending on the number of people it carries it might end up being cheaper per person.
Please note that if the trip takes place during the night, the price will be higher because a special night rate is charged.
You might also like our article – Tavira: A first-timer’s observations