Things To Do In Olhão Portugal: Unveiling the Charms of Sun, Sand & Secrets
CURIOUS ABOUT OLHÃO, ALGARVE?
If you’re seeking activities in Olhão, Portugal, you’ve landed in the right spot. Nestled approximately 10 km from Faro, Olhão comprises five towns within the nationally protected Ria Formosa and extends to the scenic Barrocal of Algarve – a unique blend of nature and culture.
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Embark on an unforgettable journey by visiting an oyster farm in Olhão. Indulge in the exquisite pairing of fresh oysters and crisp wine, a distinctive experience that can be easily booked to enhance your stay.
While many flock to popular Algarve towns like Albufeira and Lagos, Olhão stands as a serene escape from the summer crowds, offering an authentic Algarvian experience with a local charm that runs deep.
So, what awaits you in Olhão, Portugal? Let’s delve into the essentials.Table of Contents
Navigating Olhão: Your Travel Guide
Planning a trip to Olhão Algarve? Opt for the flexibility of a rental car, with Discover Cars being my recommended choice for the best deals. For non-drivers, consider Flixbus or train options from Lisbon, each offering a distinct scenic route to your Olhão adventure.
Locating Olhão on the Map
Positioned in the eastern Algarve of southern Portugal, Olhão embraces its coastal identity and deep fishing traditions. From Faro airport, it’s a mere 10 km journey, offering proximity to other Algarve gems like Albufeira, Lagos, and Tavira.
For travelers arriving from Lisbon, Olhão is 278 km away, promising a rewarding escape from the bustling capital.
Unraveling Olhão’s Historical Tapestry
Olhão, hailed as the fishing capital of Algarve, bears a rich history dating back to the Moorish era. Its narrow streets and unique cubic houses are testament to ancient architectural influences, flourishing as a prominent fishing port in the 17th century.
The Revolt of Olhão in 1808 marked a crucial chapter, as locals resisted Napoleonic occupation, triumphing and celebrating annually at the Seafood Festival. Close ties to the Ria Formosa lagoon have shaped Olhão into a haven for nature enthusiasts and tranquility seekers.
Exploring Olhão: 15 Captivating Activities
Whether arriving by bus, train, or car, Olhão promises an array of activities. What’s on the agenda? Let’s dive into our curated list.
1. Uncover Olhão’s Myths
Delve into Olhão’s rich myths, from the Big-Eyed Boy who once appeared on dark nights to the survivor from Atlantis, Arraul, who shaped the land. Each tale adds layers to Olhão’s cultural tapestry, offering a unique perspective on its history.
2. Savor Fresh Oysters on Culatra Island
Step into the waters and engage in the art of shucking, led by seasoned farmers who’ve mastered the craft. From spotting baby oysters to savoring their creamy goodness paired with Portuguese sparkling wine, this hands-on culinary experience on Culatra Island is a must-try.
Enhance your journey with a private OYSTER FARMING CULATRA ISLAND experience.
3. Discover Olhão’s Charms
Despite its size, Olhão exudes charm in its narrow streets, notably in the Barreta Quarter and the Levante Quarter. Take a leisurely stroll and make stops at landmarks like Casa Dr. Bernardino da Silva and the Igreja Matriz (Mother Church).
Don’t miss the municipal market on Avenida 5 de Outubro, near the waterfront. Divided into two impressive buildings for fruits/vegetables and fish, the fish market’s architecture sparks intrigue, with rumors linking it to the Eiffel Company. Open daily (except Sundays) from 07:00 – 13:00, it’s a must-visit.
DISCOVERING OLHÃO’S HIDDEN TREASURES
4. Embark on Island-Hopping
Spanning from Faro to Cacela Velha, the Ria Formosa Natural Park is an extensive lagoon system celebrated for its wildlife, beaches, and five barrier islands. Armona, Culatra, and Farol islands, adjacent to Olhão, stand out for their unique offerings.
Explore Ilha de Armona’s pristine beaches, indulge in Culatra’s restaurants and oyster farm, and marvel at Ilha da Farol’s iconic lighthouse. Accessible by ferry or water taxi, these islands offer diverse experiences, or opt for a comprehensive tour for an in-depth exploration.
OLHÃO AND BEYOND: EXPLORING SURROUNDING GEMS
5. Explore Fuseta
Fuseta, a coastal gem near Olhão, seamlessly blends nature, culture, and tranquil beachside relaxation. A short drive away, this fishing village beckons with sandy beaches along the calm waters of the Ria Formosa lagoon.
Venture on a ferry to reach barrier islands with pristine Atlantic beaches. Explore the town’s old quarters, catch locals mending fishing nets, and savor freshly grilled seafood in waterfront eateries. For a different experience, try kayaking or embark on a full-day trip around Fuseta.
DISCOVERING OLHÃO’S WATERFRONT
6. Stroll Around the Waterfront
Olhão’s lively waterfront is the heart of the town’s bustling life, offering an array of dining options. From seafood delights to Portuguese tapas, Terra i Mar is my personal recommendation. If history intrigues you, admire boats and pause at the ‘Caique Bom Sucesso fishing boat replica, a symbol of Olhão’s victory over the French in 1808.
CULINARY ADVENTURES: OLIVE-OIL TASTING
7. Indulge in Olive-Oil Tasting
Explore the centuries-old olive trees that grace the Algarve landscape, with Monterosa in Moncarapacho near Faro standing as a distinguished olive oil producer since 1969.
Step into the orchards, witness the handpicking process, and delve into the meticulous olive oil-making craft. Even without a tour, the onsite shop allows you to take home their award-winning oils. A visit to Monterosa isn’t just a tour but an immersion into the art of olive oil making, complete with a tasting experience, especially delightful during the autumn picking season.
MARINE ENCOUNTERS: DOLPHIN-WATCHING
8. Experience Dolphin-Watching
Embark on a dolphin-watching adventure from Olhão’s marina, guided by seasoned skippers on specialized boats designed for optimal viewing.
Learn about dolphin behaviors and the marine ecology of the region as you cruise through the Atlantic. The backdrop of Ria Formosa Natural Park adds to the charm, with its lagoons and barrier islands providing a habitat for diverse birdlife. This experience goes beyond dolphin sightings, offering insight into their crucial role in the Algarve’s marine ecosystem.
CULINARY JOURNEY: CATAPLANA COOKING CLASS
9. Immerse Yourself in a Cataplana Cooking Class
The Cataplana isn’t just a dish; it’s a reflection of Algarvian culture. Comprising fresh seafood, sausage, and vegetables seasoned with herbs, this delicacy is cooked in a distinctive clam-shaped pot.
Join a Cataplana Cooking Class where you’ll meet your chef at Olhão market, selecting the freshest ingredients that narrate tales of maritime abundance and Moorish influences in the region. After a brief stroll, you’ll craft a three-course meal in the chef’s kitchen, enjoying it on a scenic rooftop or in an elegant dining area, weather permitting.
For more culinary adventures in Olhão, book experiences here.
10. Discover Seven Hanging Valleys with a Guided Hiking Trip
While in the Algarve, embark on the Seven Hanging Valleys hiking trail, starting from Olhão. A transfer whisks you to this natural masterpiece, exploring the fascinating caves of Algar Seco and marveling at rugged cliffs and secret caves guided by an expert.
Spot the renowned Benagil Cave, keep an eye out for playful dolphins, and relish traditional Portuguese delights at Praia da Marinha. Conclude your trail with a comfortable drive back to Olhão.
EXPLORING OLHÃO’S HERITAGE
11. Dive into the Fisherman’s Quarter (Bairro Dos Pescadores)
Within Olhão’s heart lies the Bairro dos Pescadores or Fisherman’s Quarter. Roam its cobbled alleys, surrounded by whitewashed cube-shaped homes reminiscent of Morocco’s medinas. These structures, designed with flat roof terraces, tell a story of fishermen’s wives awaiting their loved ones from the sea, blending Algarvian and Arab influences.
This unique architecture echoes the maritime travels of fishermen to Moroccan coasts, with intricate lacy chimneys defining Olhão as a notable cubist city.
NATURE’S WONDERS: BIRD-WATCHING EXCURSION
12. Embark on a Bird-Watching Tour
The Ria Formosa Natural Park, a haven for birds, hosts over 200 species, including rare and endangered ones. Witness white storks, little egrets, spoonbills, and grey plovers on a 2-hour Bird Watching Guided Boat Trip in Ria Formosa from Faro Algarve, offering an intimate exploration of the park’s wonders on a traditional painted saveiro boat led by knowledgeable guides.
SEASIDE DELIGHTS: BEACH BREAKFAST AND SUNSET PICNIC
13. Relish a Beach Breakfast or Sunset Picnic
Experience the magic of dining by the sea in Olhão with a beach breakfast at a prime beachside location. This private tour offers a tailored menu and itinerary for families or couples.
Alternatively, opt for a sunset picnic. Indulge in traditional local snacks at a chosen Algarvian spot as the sun sets. After soaking in the views, return to Olhão Marina by boat, creating a perfect setting for a romantic evening, a gathering with friends, or simply appreciating the natural beauty of the Algarve.
EXPLORE LOCAL ARTISTRY: OLHÃO’S ARTISAN SCENE
14. Discover Local Artisans in the Heart of Olhão
Immerse yourself in Olhão’s vibrant artisanal scene nestled in the old town. At Ze e Maria, unearth a carefully curated collection of Portuguese-crafted ceramics, textiles, and more, featuring the standout Casa Cubista range inspired by Olhão’s Cubist charm.
For a different artistic vibe, explore Pinta Roxa, a hybrid shop and local artist gallery. Then, let your gaze wander over intricate patterns at Mosaic Olhão, a studio specializing in bespoke mosaic artworks. Conclude your artisanal journey at Atelier Zea, a haven for art enthusiasts.
15. Capture the Town’s Murals Through Your Lens
As you wander through Olhão, witness the town’s history vividly painted on its walls, especially around Rua da Fábrica Velha. Murals depict scenes from a bygone era: fishermen navigating boats, women cleaning fish, and bustling canning factories.
Notable murals around Largo da Fábrica Velha mark the site of the Algarve’s pioneering canning factory, a historical industry that shaped Olhão’s trajectory. Crafted by four dedicated artists using historical photos as inspiration, these murals encapsulate Olhão’s rich maritime heritage.
If you’re looking for accommodation in Olhão, consider a stay at the Real Marina Hotel & Spa (read my review here), a fantastic option within walking distance of major attractions. Additionally, explore these alternatives:
- Quinta dos Poetas Nature Hotel & Apartments | Rating 8.9 out of 10. Nestled in Olhão’s scenic countryside, Quinta dos Poetas offers a serene escape. Featuring a vast outdoor pool, lush gardens, lakes, and a fitness trail, it’s a nature lover’s retreat. For added privacy, opt for separate apartments with full kitchenettes, spacious terraces, and private parking. Prices start at € 130 per night. ↳ Book your stay at Quinta dos Poetas Nature Hotel & Apartments.
- Pure Formosa Concept Hotel | Rating: 9 out of 10: Built in 2021, the 3-star Pure Formosa Concept Hotel is a modern gem in Olhão. Conveniently located near major attractions, it offers unmatched comfort. Prices start at € 85 per night. ↳ Book your stay at Pure Formosa Concept Hotel
- Real Marina Hotel & Spa | Rating: 8.5 out of 10: This luxury 5-star hotel has it all, including a great price-value ratio. It is within walking distance of all major attractions while still offering plenty of things to do onsite. It also has one of the best continental breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Prices start at € 113 per night ↳ Book your stay at the Real Marina Hotel & Spa.
- Hotel Cidade de Olhão | Rating 8.8 out of 10. Located in the heart of Olhão, Hotel Cidade de Olhão presents a blend of modern comforts and a prime location. Guests can unwind by the outdoor pool, relax on the sun terrace, and indulge at the bar. Each room boasts modern décor, air-conditioning, soundproofing, and a flat-screen TV. Some even feature balconies for added views. Prices start at € 67 per night. ↳ Book your stay at Hotel Cidade de Olhão.
Frequently Asked Questions About Olhão, Portugal
How Secure Is Olhão?
Olhão, akin to most parts of the Algarve, is generally considered safe for visitors. While it’s wise to follow typical travel precautions, tourists can explore the town and its surroundings with confidence.
Is Olhão Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! Olhão stands out in the Algarve with its rich maritime history, unique architecture, and lively markets. Its proximity to the Ria Formosa Natural Park and authentic atmosphere make it a wonderful destination worth exploring.
Does Olhão Have Nightlife?
While Olhão isn’t a nightlife hotspot, it does offer cozy bars and restaurants, particularly along the waterfront, providing a perfect setting for a laid-back evening.
What Is Olhão Known For?
How Far Is Olhão From The Beach?
Olhão is a coastal town itself. Although it lacks beaches in the town center, a short ferry or boat taxi ride will transport you to the pristine barrier islands of Ria Formosa, featuring stunning beaches.
Concluding Remarks: Exploring Olhão, Portugal
Olhão offers an alluring blend of history, culture, and nature that’s simply irresistible. From its distinctive architecture and maritime narratives to its lively markets and proximity to Ria Formosa, Olhão presents a myriad of fascinating experiences for every traveler.
Whether you’re in search of a laid-back coastal retreat or eager to immerse yourself in the local way of life, this town caters to every traveler’s preferences. As you plan your next adventure, don’t underestimate the multitude of captivating activities in Olhão, a true gem in the heart of the Algarve.