Traditionally an important trading and fishing port, Portimão has now become one of the Algarve’s most popular holiday destinations and a modern city offering fabulous beaches, proximity to the natural beauty of the Alvor estuary and plenty of animation.
The attraction of the area lies in the amazing diversity of its countryside and beaches. Holidaymakers in search of sun and sea will have the choice of longer beaches, such as the much-loved Praia da Rocha, or any one of the smaller, more sheltered ones like Prainha, lying westwards of the city. Many of Portimão’s beaches are framed by the characteristic golden cliffs of the area and feature the stunning rock outcrops that are the delight of scuba divers and snorkellers. Praia do Alvor, the westernmost beach in the Portimão area, is entirely different. Gone are the cliffs and rocks and, in their place, lie the glistening white dunes of the sand barrier that separates the ocean from the lagoons and marshlands of the Alvor estuary.
The protected area around the estuary is a beautiful place to visit. Its marshlands and canals are graced with numerous species of migrating birds and offer a sense of tranquillity that is far removed from the animation of the coastal resorts.
Portimão is a bustling seaside city in which there is plenty to see and do. Beach-lovers will be close to the beautiful Praia da Rocha, where they will find a host of amenities, including water sports rentals, bars, cafés, restaurants and shops. For those wishing to see the sights, the riverfront area is particularly pleasant for a saunter along the promenade to gaze at the passing fishing boats or to stop and sample the favourite local snack (the region’s unique sardines on homemade bread) in one of the city’s celebrated fish restaurants. The area is particularly lively in August when the crowds gather to celebrate the popular Sardine Festival. Boats providing scenic trips up the Arade river also depart from here, giving visitors the chance to admire the changing landscape further inland.
Portimão’s lively nightlife is a far cry from the peace and quiet of the fishing village of old. The marina is the epitome of modern Portimão and has become a favourite summer venue, offering a wide choice of bars, restaurants and nightclubs in very select surroundings. Praia da Rocha is the liveliest area for evening entertainment, its many bars and nightclubs providing all-night partying and its casino drawing many visitors from afar. In the summer, when many of the clubs host world-class DJs, Praia da Rocha becomes one of the most exclusive nightlife spots in the Algarve.
Keen golfers have a number of golf courses to choose from in the surroundings, including Álamos, Morgado, Alto Golf, the Penina courses and Silves Golf.
Places to see
Religious and cultural architecture
Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Church of Our Lady of the Conception)
Built on the highest point of the city, this is Portimão’s main parish church. The only remains of the original 15th century building are a gothic doorway, a gargoyle and buttresses. Noteworthy features are the ornate gilt altarpiece in the chancel, the 16th century Manueline fonts, the 17th century tiles, a 16th century statue of St. Peter and its four renowned ivory and wood crucifixes.
Colégio dos Jesuítas (Jesuit School)
Commissioned by a wealthy local nobleman and donated to the Jesuits, this 17th century building also suffered the effects of the 18th century earthquake and was partially rebuilt. The church in the central part of the building is the largest in the Algarve. The intricate Baroque altarpieces of the chancel and chapel altars are particularly striking.
Fortaleza de Santa Catarina (St. Catherine Fortress)
This 17th century fortress was built to protect the local population from pirate attacks. It was partially rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake and contains a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine. Situated at the entrance to the marina and overlooking the beach and cliffs of Praia da Rocha, it commands beautiful views of the sea and river.
Museu Municipal Manuel Teixeira Gomes (Manuel Teixeira Gomes Municipal Museum)
Occupying what was formerly a sardine canning factory, the municipal museum is named after Portimão’s most famous resident and former president of Portugal, Manuel Teixeira Gomes. Exhibitions include a recreation of the daily activities of the canning factory, artefacts pertaining to the region’s traditional livelihoods, archaeological remains and a section dedicated to the life of the former president.