The Algarve is much more than just amazing beaches and great weather. Being part of a country with a proud and long history, the Algarve is full of remarkable historical attractions which is why we have decided to gather our top 36 historical attractions for your to discover.
Castle of Aljezur
The Castle of Aljezur sits in a dominant position over the village and the river of Aljezur. It dates back to the 10th century, during the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. Later, in the 12th and 13th centuries, after Christians took back the Algarve, the castle was the target of several renovations with the aim of improving its defensive system. In the 20th century the fortification underwent restoration works, since it was severely affected by the huge earthquake of 1755.
The Church of São Lourenço de Almancil
The incredibly beautiful church of São Lourenço de Almancil, all covered with tiles, is a one of kind building in the Algarve. Built at the end of the 17th century with an incredible altar all covered in gold.
Igreja Matriz de Alvor
The main church of Alvor, built during the 16th century, features a Manueline style, which can be seen in the stunning entrance doors adorned with religious symbols and war scenes. In its interior you can observe six golden altars and tiles of the 18th century.
Igreja da Misericórdia de Alvor
When visiting Igreja da Misericórdia de Alvor do not to forget to pay attention to the details of the pulpit on the left side wall or the spectacular stained glass window that pays homage to the miracle of the roses performed by the Queen Santa Isabel, in which she turned bread into roses. The church was built in the 17th century and still retains a prominent place in the small village of Alvor.
Castle of Alvor
After conquering the territory of Alvor, the Moors found the village poorly defended, which is why they decided to erect a castle over the ruins of an old commercial centre. Once again proving its incredible capacity to build military structures, Alvor Castle resisted the 1755 earthquake which devastated the town of Alvor almost completely.
Capela de Nossa Senhora da Rocha (Armação de Pêra)
Capela de Nossa Senhora da Rocha stands on a peninsula that towers over the sea giving beautiful views. The chapel itself, small in size, white as the lime of the typical Algarve houses, is charming and begs to be visited. Stroll through the chapel on a sunny and cloudless day and we assure you that you will immediately fall in love with the Algarve.
Capela dos Ossos (Armação de Pêra)
The Bones Chapel, in Alcantarilha, near to Armação de Pêra, constitutes a different attraction with an exotic beauty. Attached to Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, the Bones Chapel dates back to the 16th century. Its interior is covered by more than 1500 human bones, which are thought to have belonged to the Jesuits who perished in the region.
Alfanzina Lighthouse (Carvoeiro)
Built in 1920 on a rocky promontory, the Alfanzina Lighthouse, near Carvoeiro Beach, allowed the ships to navigate along the coast and also helped the Algarve fishermen to catch squids at night, by using its light to see where the molluscs hid. The lighthouse is open to the public every Wednesday between 2pm and 5pm.
Forte de São Sebastião (Castro Marim)
During the 17th century, the entire Algarve was subject to a renovation of its defensive system which resulted in the construction of Forte de São Sebastião de Castro Marim. King Dom João IV, afraid of an eventual Spanish invasion after the Portuguese expelled the Spanish from Portugal in 1640, ordered the construction of a fort near the Spanish border in the year 1641.
Faro Cidade Velha
Faro Cidade Velha (Faro Old Town) constitutes the oldest part of the city and it is still to this day surrounded by the ancient walls built by the Moors in the 9th century. Access to Vila Adentro, which is a name also used to describe the oldest part of the city, takes place through the imposing Arco da Vila at the top of which stands the patron saint of the city – Saint Thomas Aquinas.
A great way to explore the Old Town is taking a Segway tour of Faro this is an ideal way to travel around the city and great fun for every member of the family.
Cathedral of Faro
The fantastic Faro Cathedral rises high above the Old Town, the original part of Faro. Its construction began in the year 1251, undergoing further enlargements until it reached the size it presents today. The cathedral features a Gothic style and its highlights are the image of Our Lady, together with the fact that it is always surrounded by flowers, and the superb red organ with representations of Chinese culture.
Igreja Matriz São Pedro (Faro)
The Igreja Matriz São Pedro is a beautiful church with richly crafted altars. The church’s golden interiors add an aura of mystique to the entire religious structure, which was severely affected by the 1755 earthquake.
Igreja do Carmo (Faro)
Igreja do Carmo, named for having been built by the Third Order of Our Lady of Monte do Carmo, was erected at the beginning of the 18th century. Its artistically decorated altar and baroque interior are outstanding. It is at Igreja do Carmo that there is also the famous Chapel of the Bones of Faro.
Bone Chapel (Faro)
After the city’s cemetery was exhausted, it was decided to exhume 1250 bones of monks to build the Bones Chapel of Faro. Inaugurated in 1816, the chapel is now open to the public.
Slave Market Museum (Lagos)
The slave trade was vital for the continuation of the Portuguese overseas expansion, as it financed the caravels of the Portuguese crown. Many of these slaves were first taken to Lagos. From Lagos the slaves were then dispersed throughout the rest of Europe, and Infante Dom Henrique, the main driver of the Portuguese maritime conquests, received a fifth of the selling price of the slaves. The Museum of Slaves of Lagos preserves the memory of one of the darkest periods in Europe through several panels that describe the attempts to integrate these slaves into European society or even their Christian baptisms.
Forte Ponta da Bandeira (Lagos)
Forte Ponta da Bandeira was intended to safeguard the access to the port of Lagos and the eastern part of the city. Lagos, a city which stood very close to the famous nautical school of Sagres, was an important strategic post in the Portuguese overseas domain, which is why the Portuguese crown was so eager to build a new fortress in the area at the end of the 17th century. The defensive structure is surrounded by a moat and a drawbridge allows access to its interior where we can find a charming chapel decorated with tiles.
Castelo de Lagos
The initial date of the construction of the Castle of Lagos remains a mystery, however it is known that the castle underwent several renovations during the medieval period and until the 17th century. The construction of this castle, sometimes referred to as the Governors’ Castle, has contributed to making Lagos the most militarily defended city in the Algarve.
Igreja Paroquial de Santa Maria de Lagos
Located in the Plaza Infante Dom Henrique, right in the centre of the city, the church has a symmetrical construction with an elevated main chapel. The construction of this church began in the year of 1498 and there are still masses being celebrated there today. It is definitely worth visiting this beautiful church.
Igreja de Santo António (Lagos)
Igreja de Santo António de Lagos, although discreet and often overlooked, is in fact one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Portugal. With the exception of the ceiling, where the shield of Portugal is displayed, its entire interior is lined with gold. Dom Joao V, fearing that the soldiers stationed in Lagos had nowhere to pray, ordered that a church would be built to serve as a place where soldiers could express their faith.
Igreja de São Sebastião (Lagos)
The church was built in 1325 undergoing further enlargements until it acquired the size it has today, and it was only in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the main nave was covered with tiles. It is at Igreja de São Sebastião that there is the terrifying Chapel of the Bones of Lagos.
Discoveries Wax Museum (Lagos)
Using the latest technologies to make the visit to the museum an informative experience, the Discoveries Wax Museum tells the fantastic story of the Portuguese Discoveries through sixteen different scenes, providing, in addition to the discoveries themselves, an important historical framework such as the Battle of Aljubarrota and the Treaty of Windsor.
Castle of Loulé
The castle’s construction began in the 8th century, at the time of the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. After the forces of Dom Afonso III took back the town in 1249 the defences of the castle were improved, however insufficiently, since during the crisis of 1383-1385, fearing an attack from Castela, the main tower of the castle was reinforced. The walls of the Castle of Loulé would still be later reinforced during the period of the Discoveries.
Castle of Paderne
It is estimated that Paderne’s Castle was founded by the Almohads (members of Moroccan dynasty) in the second half of the 12th century. The castle includes a quadrangular tower over 9 metres tall that still exists nowadays. The two cisterns of the castle give testimony to the two periods of occupation of the castle: the Islamic and the Christian.
Igreja Matriz de Portimão
Built on the walled perimeter of Portimão, Igreja Matriz de Portimão was unfortunately severely affected by the 1755 earthquake, being forced to undergo renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries. This beautiful church deserves to be visited because of the set of styles that brings together the Baroque, the Rococo and the Manueline, fruit of the several reconstructions that it has undergone over the years. The Late Gothic portal of the entrance, where women and musicians’ statues are visible, was influenced by Mosteiro da Batalha, an influence that can be observed in the rest of the building.
Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuítas (Portimão)
The somewhat extravagant aspect of the exterior of Igreja do Colégio dos Jesuítas, with its yellowish tones, contrasts with its sober interior where we can find the tomb of Diogo Gonçalves. This was the man responsible for the construction of the church. Once, fleeing from a storm at sea, Diogo Gonçalves found refuge in Portimão’s harbour which lead him to order the construction of the church as a way to thank God for his help.
Portimão Museum is a very interesting museum that documents the history of the foundation and development of the city of Portimão. Using the latest technologies to provide an interesting and informative visit, Portimão Museum is a mandatory visit to all those wanting to better understand how society organised itself in Portimão and the Algarve. As a testimony of how committed the museum is to preserving the city’s historical sites, the museum is located in a former Sardine canning factory and includes an exhibition of how the factory used to operate.
Megalithic Monument of Alcalar (Portimão)
About 5000 years ago a prehistoric community decided to settle in Alcalar, near Portimão. There they erected trenches and walls and developed a complex society that has fascinated historians all over the world. The way society was structured can be observed by the megalithic tombs that have survived to this day. These tombs display certain details to identify the death of a chief of the tribe or a particularly prominent member of a family.
Fortaleza de Santa Catarina (Portimão)
Built during a period of Portuguese history that the Portuguese wish to forget, the Philippine dynasty, the purpose of this fortress was to safeguard the Arade River as well as the city of Portimão itself. Currently the fort is not used and is open to the public.
It was from Sagres that the first ships embarked on one of the most important periods of world history: the Discoveries. Being in a strategic location, the port of Sagres was frequently attacked by corsairs, leading to the construction of Sagres Fortress, an imposing military defence structure erected in the Promontory of Sagres. Currently the fortress is open to the public.
Castle of Silves
With the shape of an irregular polygon and surrounded by red sandstone walls, Castelo de Silves is a spectacular military structure with more than a thousand years of existence. Built in a dominant position to watch over the entire city of Silves (former capital of the Algarve) and river Arade, the Castle of Silves is the largest castle in the Algarve. The fact that it resisted the 1755 earthquake that devastated most Portuguese cities is a testament to the quality of the Islamic architecture with which the Moors built the castle. Outside the castle there is a statue of King Dom Sancho who captured Silves from the Arabs in 1189.
A great way of sightseeing the city of Silves is taking a River Cruise from Portimão to Silves.
Museu Municipal de Tavira
This very interesting museum, where is exhibited the famous Vase of Tavira, a unique Islamic object in the world that has even been lent to the Louvre Museum for an exhibition, is divided into several pavilions such as the Islamic Mauseological Centre. This museum aims to promote the history of Tavira among the Portuguese and foreigners who pass through the city every year.
Ponte Romana over River Gilão (Tavira)
Although many historians are reluctant to consider that the bridge is indeed Roman because of the multiple reconstructions that it has been subject to, the truth is that the bridge is already a landmark of the city of Tavira rising above the river Gilão that splits the city in two. It was at the top of this bridge that an important battle happened when Spanish invaders were defeated by Portuguese soldiers during the dynastic crisis of 1383 – 1385.
Castle of Tavira
The Castle of Tavira was built by the Moors between the 9th and 10th centuries above the ruins of an ancient Phoenician military fortification of the 8th century BC. The Castle went under renovations several times over the centuries because of the importance of Tavira to the Portuguese crown and because of the constant battles that Tavira faced, having been constantly disputed by Arabs, Portuguese and Spaniards. In the 19th century, after an epidemic of cholera decimated much of the population, the castle was used as a cemetery.
Fort of São João da Barra (Tavira)
The construction of the Fort of São João da Barra was due to the War of the Restoration during which the Portuguese expelled the Spaniards from Portugal. Fearing possible reprisals from Spain, Portugal invested a lot of money in military structures placed near the border with Spain. The high point of this fort is undoubtedly the coat-of-arms that can be found in the main arch.
Convento de Nossa Senhora da Graça (Tavira)
After a troubled Arab siege in North Africa was lifted, King Dom Manuel I, as a form of gratitude, ordered the construction of the convent. Becoming disused in 1862, the convent is nowadays used as a factory. When you visit the convent pay close attention to the gates at the entrance where you can see engravings alluding to the time of the Discoveries.
Igreja da Misericórdia de Tavira
The church of the Misericórdia de Tavira was built during the 16th century and is the most remarkable Renaissance building in the Algarve. The responsible for its construction was André Pilarte, who also participated in the construction of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The church is decorated on the inside with blue and white tiles.