On the east side of Portugal, you’ll find one of the most enchanting towns in the Algarve. Not only is Tavira less visited than other places in the region, but it’s also one that’s stayed true to its traditions.
In Tavira, you still get that local fisherman’s village feels to it when getting lost in the streets and it makes the perfect destination for your south Portugal itinerary.
There are also a lot of great things to do in Tavira which makes it a perfect place to stay for a few days while exploring the Algarve off the beaten path.
Being situated right off Ria Formosa Natural Park makes it the perfect place to combine town life, stunning beaches, and mesmerizing nature and wildlife.
In this post, we’ll look at the best things to do in Tavira so that you can have an unforgettable vacation!
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Table of Contents
Things to do in Tavira
Get lost in Tavira old town and the fishermen’s quarter
The tiled walls of the houses in the fisherman’s quarter are among the Tavira attractions you cannot miss. A stroll through the streets there will give a good idea of what Tavira looked like when it was a busy tuna fishing port.
Tucked away in Tavira old town where you’ll see most of the noteworthy churches like Igreja da Misericórdia and Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo.
Cobbled streets filled with tables and chairs invite for both traditional food and exotic foods from India and beyond so you won’t go hungry!
Stroll along the Gilão/Séqua river
The enchanting Gilão river that elegantly divides Tavira makes for a wonderful walk. In fact, the river changes its name to the Séqua river at the Roman bridge in the middle of town.
Enjoy the elegant Renaissance buildings lining the river and stop by for a coffee in one of the many cafes. There’s a unique and relaxing atmosphere in any city with a river, and Tavira is no different.
You’ll particularly love the sunsets over the Gilão river, especially if you travel to Algarve in winter, as there’s a bigger chance for clouds to color the sky.
Cross the Roman bridge
During your Tavira sightseeing, you’ll quite likely cross the old Roman bridge more than once. Connecting the city on each side of the river, today’s structure was built on top of the remains of a Roman bridge from the 3rd century.
The cobbled bridge has been standing since 1663, but was damaged in a flood in 1989. Since then, it’s been a pure pedestrian crossing taking you from Praça da Republica on one side to the busy restaurant neighborhood on the other side.
See the Tavira salt pans
It’s said that the purest part of the Atlantic in Europe is right here in Tavira and with salt pans where the ocean, wind, sun, and human hands work together, there’s no questioning their salt is exquisite.
It’s well worth taking a guided tour to learn more about the history of salt production in Tavira. The entire Roman Empire benefited from the salt exported from Tavira, now branded as Flor de Sal.
You can also walk the trail that takes you around them which is about 7km where you might see many different bird species.
See wild flamingos in Ria Formosa Natural Park
Ria Formosa Natural Park is a natural environment for flamingos that normally hang out in low water rich in salt. And with Tavira salt pans, you can only imagine that this is a favorite spot for these unique bird species.
You can see large colonies of flamingos most of the year from Cabanas de Tavira to Faro, where you can walk the Ludo trail that’s particularly popular among birdwatchers.
If you want to learn more about these beautiful creatures and their natural behavior, make sure to book a guided tour.
Explore the surroundings by Tuk Tuk
Tavira Castle and gardens
The remains of Tavira Castle surround the well-kept castle gardens that make for a perfect stroll among colorful Hibiscus trees accompanied by the sweet scent of roses.
It’s thought that the oldest part of the castle date back to the 12th or 13th Centuries when the Moors ruled the area. But settlements of Phoenicians are believed to live in the area long before that, in the 7th or 8th Century BC.
In 1239, the Portuguese conquered it and though the remains are scarce, the castle gate and walls still stand strong and offer sweeping views of Tavira.
The entrance is free so whenever you need a break from sightseeing, the gardens make a wonderful place to sit down and relax.
See the city from a different perspective at Camera Obscura in Torre de Tavira
A visit to the Camera Obscura, also named Tavira Eye, is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Tavira.
This incredible experience takes you through a 360 projected view of Tavira while learning about the city’s historic and cultural heritage.
Torre de Tavira is a former water tower and I love how they’ve taken a not so pretty building into use, turning it into one of Tavira’s biggest tourist attractions.
Entry: Adults 5 Euros, Children 3 Euros, Family (2 adults + 2 children) 15 Euros, and reduced tickets for students and those over 65 is 4 Euros.
Have ice cream at Praça da Republica
Praça da Republica, at one side of the Roman bridge, is beautifully surrounded by cafes and greenery with the promenade lining the river.
Built as an amphitheater, it’s the perfect place for people watching and eating ice cream facing the central fountain. This is where a lively ambiance rushes back and forth each day, yet Tavira is serene compared to other places in the Algarve.
But back in the days, Praça da Republica served as a busy market square where slaves, fruit, and fish were traded alongside each other.
Chill in Jardim do Corteo
Take a timeout in Tavira’s oldest public garden, Jardim do Corteo. Situated at the riverfront, it meets the Praça da Republica in one end, while several restaurants are found alongside it.
Grab a bite or a coffee to have at one of the benches while taking in the atmosphere.
Grab a vegan bite at Veganices
One of the greatest finds in Tavira is the vegan zero wast shop Veganices. Here you can buy anything zero waste from solid shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets to grocery store food.
But they also serve super tasty vegan burgers, including Beyond Meat burgers, that you can enjoy at one of the outside tables – if they’re free.
This is a gem that’s worth a visit, not only for vegans! The owners are super friendly and passionate about the planet. You find them just past the Jardim do Corteo.
Take the boat to Tavira island
A Tavira must-see is Tavira island. This is without a doubt the most beautiful part of Tavira, fully emerged in the Ria Formosa Natural Park.
Take a boat from either Tavira Center or Quatro Àguas Dock to spend a day at one of the finest islands in the natural park.
Go to the Anchor cemetery
One of the best things to do in Tavira is to head to the Anchor Cemetary. Abandoned anchors from the tuna fishing era have been collected and placed on the sandbanks off the astounding Barril beach.
If you don’t take the ferry to Tavira island and walk the beaches to get there, you can walk directly there. Or take the tourist train the 1.3 kilometers across the natural park.
Walking along the train line takes about half an hour but it gives you the chance to take in the stunning surrounding saltwater lagoons and sand dunes. And maybe even spot wildlife.
Make sure you don’t leave any trace and leave wildlife alone – this includes feeding them!
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
Dominating the square outside Tavira castle and the Camera Obscura, is the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo, believed to be built in the 13th Century in the same place as one of the largest mosques in southern Portugal.
Today, it’s a national monument and represents the Portuguese reconquest of Tavira from the Moors. The architecture is a blend of Arabic, Gothic, and Neo-Classical, though the most recognizable feature is the enormous clock on the clock tower.
The inside is also beautiful, especially the white and blue azulejos, so typical Portuguese.
Santa Luzia fisherman’s village
Just 10 minutes outside Tavira, you find the enchanting fishing village of Santa Luzia. It’s a true charm to walk around the narrow streets with tiled houses.
There are a few bars and cafes where you can have a coffee or you can have lunch at one of the local restaurants.
Along the waterfront, you can admire the colorful, wooden fishing boats and go for a peaceful stroll taking in the tranquility of Ria Formosa Natural Park at your side.
Pego do Inferno waterfall
One of the most astounding things to do near Tavira is to visit the Pego do Inferno waterfall. Head to Santo Estêvão and from the parking, it’s a short walk to get to the walkway leading down to a magical piece of wilderness.
In the hot summer months, Pego do Inferno gets pretty busy, so if you have the chance to travel in the shoulder season, you might get it nearly to yourself. Especially in spring, it’s beautiful after the rainy season as there is more water in the waterfall.
Cabanas de Tavira
One of the best things to do around Tavira is to visit the enchanting fishing community Cabanas de Tavira.
Back in the early 1700s, when tuna fishing started in Tavira, Cabanas de Tavira was just a cluster of cabins (cabanas meaning cabins in Portuguese) to store tools for fishing.
With time, as tuna fishing grew bigger, more and more fishermen built their permanent homes there.
Get ready for charming, colorful fishing boats sitting on the tranquil Ria Formosa waterfront, and don’t miss out on the São João da Barra Fortress.
Where are you heading next?
Reflections on what to do in Tavira
There is no doubt there are a lot of enchanting things to do in Tavira, Portugal. Not only is it a delightful town to wander around, but there are also amazing natural things to see just outside Tavira town center.
For a relaxing vacation filled with nature and just enough life in the old town, Tavira offers things to do for everyone.
You will likely fall in love with Tavira so much that you will already plan your next trip there.