A Guide to the Best Things to do in Silves
Having called Silves my home for the past five years, this hidden gem on the Algarve coast is a delight for those who appreciate architecture and history. To make the most of your visit, plan to spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the town. Here’s your personalized guide to the best experiences in Silves, along with some insider travel tips.
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Insider Tips for Your Silves Visit
For valuable insights and information about Silves, make a stop at the tourist information office. The friendly staff provides ample assistance, and you can also purchase local guides. If you prefer navigating with a map, grab one for just 50 cents.
While parking is usually hassle-free in the European shoulder seasons or off-season (winter), high season (June to September) presents a challenge due to the town’s popularity. Opt for the spacious car park on the South Western outskirts of the old town for a convenient solution.
Before you embark on your trip, be sure to check out our Portugal travel tips guide for insights that can help you avoid common mistakes made by visitors to this beautiful South Western European country!
Unraveling Silves’ Rich History
Rooted in Roman history, Silves once served as the capital of the Algarve. From the 9th to the 12th centuries, it played a crucial role as a trading city under Moorish rule, leaving behind numerous remnants of its strategic past.
Today, Silves boasts the Algarve’s best-preserved medieval castle, offering a unique experience set apart from the coastal towns. The town’s deep historical significance and its inland location provide a distinct charm for visitors.
Must-Do Activities in Silves
Experience the City Gate (Portas da Cidade de Silves)
Immerse yourself in Silves’ history at the Portas da Cidade, a captivating city gate dating back to the 12th or 13th centuries.
Once the primary entrance surrounded by city walls, climb the steps (free of charge) for a panoramic view of the main town square (Largo do Município) and the medieval pavement below, dating back to the 14th century.
Marvel at the Sé Catedral (Cathedral)
Standing as a testament to Silves’ diverse history, the Cathedral, once a Mosque site, sits below the ancient castle amid palm trees. A steep walk from the city gate, this Gothic-style structure from the Middle Ages offers a picturesque view from the castle ramparts, even if the interior isn’t always accessible.
During my visit, I could only appreciate the Cathedral’s whitewashed exterior, and the most captivating view was from the castle’s ramparts.
Explore the Castle
Undoubtedly the highlight of Silves, the ‘Castelo’ (Castle) crowns the town’s highest point, showcasing Arab military architecture from the Middle Ages. Overlooking vineyards, olive groves, and the sparkling Algarve sea, this ancient fortress, possibly dating back to the 2nd century BCE, has a rich history of Roman, Visigoth, and Moorish influences.
For a small fee, you can enter the castle grounds, which not only house a beautiful garden but also offer breathtaking views of the city. A local restaurant within the castle serves authentic food and drinks.
Discover Mercado Municipal
Embrace tradition at Silves’ Mercado Municipal (traditional market), open from Monday to Saturday between 7 AM and 2 PM.
Nestled in an architecturally significant building from Portugal’s dictatorship era, the market is a treasure trove of local goods, including food, drinks, and other products.
Explore Archaeological Wall Remains
Delve into Silves’ hidden gems on rua da Cadeia, where remnants of the Medina wall and Barbican await history enthusiasts. These Almohad-era structures, including pink cobblestones marking the original locations, offer a glimpse into the medieval fortifications of the town.
The Xlib Medina, dating back to Almohad times, reveals the town’s medieval history through the remaining wall fragments and cobblestone markers.
Visit the Archaeological Museum
For an in-depth exploration of Silves’ history, consider purchasing combination tickets for both the museum and castle. Situated opposite Silves Cathedral, the archaeological museum covers the city’s history from the 2nd-century BCE to the present, featuring highlights like an ancient well and insights into the broader Algarve region.
Experience a Vineyard Visit
Escape to the lush green hills surrounding Silves and embark on a short excursion to a nearby vineyard. Immerse yourself in local wine culture at renowned vineyards such as Rota dos Vinhos do Algarve and Quinta de Mata Mouros, where you can savor the local tipple and learn about the Algarve’s winemaking traditions.
Savor Coffee and Pastries at Café DaRosa
Having enjoyed a delicious lunch in Monchique, our visit to Silves centered on experiencing local architecture, history, and indulging in coffee and authentic Portuguese pastries.
Located next to the tourist information office on Largo do Município, Café DaRosa boasts a charming interior adorned with quintessential Portuguese tiling. The sun-soaked terrace offers a delightful view of the historic city gate and a sprinkling fountain, providing the perfect setting to savor the delectable Pastel de Nata pastry.
For those with heartier appetites, the menu also includes salads and sandwiches, making it a perfect spot to unwind and enjoy the local flavors.
Admire the Ponte Romana Bridge
If you’re arriving in Silves by car from the coastline, the Ponte Romana bridge will captivate you. Steeped in history, it stands as the oldest surviving bridge in town and provides a picturesque entry point, adding to the rich historical tapestry of Silves.
Navigating Silves in Portugal
Exploring off-the-beaten-path locations in the Algarve can be challenging using public transportation, so my top recommendation is to rent a car for more flexibility. You can easily compare car rental prices here.
Despite having a train station approximately 1.5 km away from the old town center, Silves is still best experienced with your own transportation, especially if you plan to venture beyond the town. I found combining a visit to Silves with Monchique in the same day to be a convenient and enjoyable option.
If you prefer a hassle-free transport experience, consider guided day trips to Silves from various Algarve towns. Options like a Half-Day Winery Tour and Silves from Albufeira or a combined Monchique and Silves tour are available for booking.
Exploring Silves in Winter (including the Silves Christmas Market)
For those planning a visit during the off-season, particularly in winter, Silves has a delightful annual Christmas Market. Running from the first week of December to the first week of January, this festive village adds a unique charm to the winter experience in Silves.
Choosing Accommodations in Silves
While not the most bustling destination in the Algarve, Silves offers a serene, laid-back atmosphere, making it an ideal off-the-beaten-path retreat for those seeking a taste of rural life in Portugal. Here are some noteworthy places to stay:
La Maison Bleue Algarve: Enjoy an unforgettable stay with features like an outdoor pool, a spa, and some rooms with a terrace.
Common Queries About Silves
Cost-Free Activities in Silves
While the castle may not be free to enter, its exterior remains accessible for admiration. Other cost-free activities include exploring the cathedral and strolling through the charming streets of old town Silves.
Is Silves a Safe Destination?
The touristic areas of Silves are generally as secure as other popular European destinations. However, exercise caution against pickpocketing, a concern prevalent across Europe. I recommend keeping valuables secure and consider using a crossbody bag like these ones.
Population of Silves
As of 2021, Silves is home to approximately 37,000 residents.