The Algarve coast of Portugal runs from the Spanish border at Ayamonte to the Cabo de Sao Vicente on the continent’s most south-westerly tip. It is one of Europe’s most popular summer holiday destinations and its mild winter climate golfers from around the world to its many top-class golf courses. Cruise ships visiting the Algarve arrive at the Portimão Cruise Terminal which is well located to allow passengers to explore the Eastern or Western Algarve on shore excursions or simply to chill-out at the nearby resort of Praia da Rocha.
The Port of Portimão has long been associated with the shipbuilding and fishing industries with a history which can be traced back to Phoenician times. Today’s visitors can observe the comings and goings of the fishing fleet from the port’s stylish waterfront which is home to a number of excellent seafood restaurants.
Getting to the Cruise Port of Portimão
Cruise ships visiting the Port of Portimão sail a short distance up the Arade River beyond the spectacular cliffs of Praia da Rocha then dock at the cruise terminal. Some larger vessels anchor just offshore and passengers are transported to the dock by tender. From the modern cruise terminal at the port it’s a pleasant 1.5km walk into the centre of Portimão. Shuttle buses and taxis are also available.
Any cruise passengers who are beginning or ending their cruise in Portimão will arrive or depart through the airport of Faro Airport which lies 7km west of Faro City. Passengers can take a bus or taxi to Faro train station from where there are infrequent and slow services to Lagos with a stop in Portimão. The journey takes approximately 90 minutes. Another public transport option is to transfer from the airport to Faro bus station then take a bus along the coast to Portimão.
Neither public transport option is convenient for cruise ship passengers who are travelling with large suitcases so a taxi or private transfer to Portimão cruise terminal is recommended. The drive is 75km long and takes just under an hour.
What to Do Close to Portimão Cruise Port
Portimão: Many cruise ship passengers arriving at the Portimão cruise terminal will be arriving on overnight journeys from Lisbon. Standing on the west bank of the Arade River in the centre of town, new arrivals can easily stroll around this charming town and take a coffee break at one of the riverside bars which overlook the town’s colourful fishing vessels.
Just a 10-minute walk along the river to the north of the cruise terminal leads to the Museu de Portimão which is housed in a former sardine canning factory. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area and is well worth a visit. Close to the museum is the Cais Vasco da Gama pier which is the departure point for popular boat trips on the Santa Bernarda Pirate Ship.
Ferragudo: A little further afield is the small fishing village of Ferragudo which lies across the river from Portimão and is accessible by water taxi. Whilst its main tourist attraction is the Fort of São João de Arade, many people head across the river simply to enjoy a seafood lunch at one of the town’s fine restaurants overlooking the estuary.
Praia da Rocha: The popular holiday resort of Praia da Rocha lies just 2km south of the Portimão Cruise Terminal and can be reached on foot. The resort is located on a clifftop overlooking a spectacular beach which is home to some fascinating rock formations. Cruise ship passengers who decide to stay close to Portimão during their time in port can easily pass their time at the beach in Praia da Rocha and will have plenty choices of places to enjoy lunch before returning to their ship.
Shore Excursions From Portimão
Excursions Along the Western Algarve
A popular shore excursion from Portimão Cruise Terminal heads west out of town to the former fishing village of Alvor before continuing on to the sandy beaches of Lagos and finally, to Sagres which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean from Europe’s most south-westerly point.
Alvor: The charming village of Alvor with its cobbled streets and whitewashed houses lies just 6km west of the cruise port. The highlight of its historic centre is the church of Igreja do divino Salvador which dates back to the 16th century and is the only building which survived the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The Castle of Alvor wasn’t so fortunate, but its remains are another local attraction. Just south of the village is the Praia de Alvor which is a popular beach destination.
Lagos: This former capital of the Algarve was important to the growth of the Portuguese colonial empire in the 15th and 16th centuries before it too was largely destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake. Located 24km west of the Portimão Cruise Port, visitors can take a stroll around the remains of its ancient castle and walls as well as what was Europe’s first slave market. Lagos also has access to some beautiful sandy beaches of which Meia Praia to the east of town and Praia Dona Ana to the south are amongst the best. A highly recommended boat trip from Lagos is to the Ponta da Piedade rock formations to the south which represent one of the Algarve’s most striking geological features.
Sagres: A further 32km beyond Lagos leads to the remote town of Sagres where Prince Henry the Navigator set up the world’s first School of Nautical Sciences in the 15th century. Famous students would include Ferdinand Magellan, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Vasco da Gama. Day trippers to this outpost will often have to endure wild winds off the Atlantic as they visit the 15th century Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress), Fortaleza do Beliche (Fort of Santo António de Belixe) and Cabo de Sao Vicente which is the most south-westerly point in Europe. It was from this rugged coastline in the 15th century that Portuguese sailors led by Prince Henry set out to discover the New World during Portugal’s Age of The Discoveries.
Algarve Travel Guide
We took a drive from Huelva in Spain as far as Sagres on the Western Algarve. This article provides a summary of some of the coast’s main attractions.
Excursions Along the Eastern Algarve
Heading east on a shore excursion from Portimão Cruise Terminal leads to a whole different Algarve experience which includes a number of attractive destinations. Highlights include the charming town of Silves, a number of popular beach resorts, the city of Faro and the historic fishing village of Tavira.
Silves: Standing on the banks of the Arade River, some 20km north-east of the cruise port, the historic town of Silves became part of the Emirate of Córdoba under Moorish rule. As such it served as one of the region’s most important towns from the 8th to the 11th century. With a history dating back to the Phoenicians, visitors can see numerous remnants of its long history such as the Moorish Castle of Silves, a 13th century Gothic cathedral that houses tombs of Crusaders and an archaeological museum where tools originating from the Stone Age and Iron Age are preserved.
Lagoa and Carvoeiro: To the south of Silves and just 12km east of of the Portimão Cruise Terminal is the town of Lagoa which is centred around the parish church of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz (Church of Our Lady of Light). The Convento do São José is also worth a visit. Just 6km further south is the popular beach resort of Carvoeiro which has developed out of what was historically a charming fishing village. Visitors to this stretch of coasline have access to around a dozen attractive beaches including Praia Nova and Nossa Senhora da Rocha which are separated by an outcrop of rock on which the Nossa Senhora da Rocha chapel is built. These two beaches are connected by a tunnel carved through the rock.
Heading along the coast from Carvoeiro towards Faro it’s well worth visiting the Benagil Caves (Algar de Benagil) near Carvalho Beach before passing through a number of popular holiday resorts including Armação de Pêra, Albufeira, Quarteira and Vilamoura. These resorts are home to some excellent beaches and first-class tourist facilities.
Faro: The city of Faro which lies 73km from Portimão is the administrative capital of the Algarve. Its international airport is the gateway to the region’s holiday destinations with few tourists taking the time to discover the city. Those who do visit Faro will not be disappointed thanks to its historic centre which is surrounded by ancient walls. Originally built by the Romans, these walls also feature Moorish archways and enclose a group of ancient religious buildings. Among these is the Sé de Faro, a handsome cathedral which had previously served as both a mosque and a Roman forum in previous times. A Bishop’s Palace dating back to the 18th century also stands in front of Cathedral of Faro.
Faro’s archaeological museum is well worth a visit and is located inside a 16th century convent. The Nossa Senhora do Carmo church likewise has an interesting, although somewhat morbid feature, which is a chapel lined with the bones and skulls of over a thousand monks. Traditionally a seaport and fishing town Faro has a beautiful waterfront with an attractive marina and provides visitors with easy access to some lovely beaches such as Praia da Ilha de Faro and Ilha da Barreta.
Tavira: Located east of Faro within 40km of the Spanish border, Tavira is one of the Algarve’s most architecturally spectacular destinations. Dating back to around 2,000 BC Tavira is an historically significant place, first seeing the settlement of the Phoenicians, then the Tartessians, and then the Romans, until it was held by the Moors between the 8th and 13th centuries and later re-conquered by the Portuguese in 1242. Moorish influence remains in evidence even though the town was mostly re-built after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The whitewashed houses and buildings are designed with Moorish roofing and doors which make the town a very charming place to visit.
One of the main landmarks of Tavira is the so-called “Roman” bridge which is actually really Moorish in design and origin. This bridge connects the two sides of the city over the Gilão River which cuts across Tavira on its way to meet the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Tavira has many other landmarks including the Palácio da Galeria which serves as a cultural centre and a total of 37 churches which were all built in the 18th century. Most notable amongst them are the Misericórdia, which is the town’s main church, and Santa Maria do Castelo. This particular church is located on the site of a former mosque and is famous for housing the tombs of Dom Paio Peres Correia and his seven knights.
The Gilão port was of great importance back in the 17th century as it supported the shipping of dried fish, salt and wine in those days. Now the area is home to a number of restaurants which are a great place for lunch during a shore excursion along the Eastern Algarve. The best beaches in the vicinity can be found on the island of Ilha de Tavira which is accessible only by ferryboat.