What to do in Portimao

Located between the Alvor estuary and the Arade river, Portimao is one of the largest cities in the Algarve.

In the 19th century, the city played an important role in the fishing industry but in the 20th century, fishing gave way to tourism. And for you, the tourist planning to visit the town, this means there is plenty for you to see and do! It is a perfect place to stay on your Algarve holiday!

Here’s our guide to what to do in Portimao, where to stay, and where to eat!

What to do in Portimao

The streets of Portimao are lined with shops and plenty of places to eat, drink, and learn about the history of the area. But if you aren’t sure where to start planning your itinerary, here are a few things you should definitely try to include in your visit!

Visit the Beach

The Algarve, and Portugal in general, is known for its incredible beaches. And for visitors to Portimao, there are three truly spectacular options right nearby!

Praia da Rocha

Considered one of the best beaches in Portugal, Praia da Rocha is definitely worth a visit. Surrounded by red cliffs and covered in golden soft sand, the water entrance is shallow making it perfect for children. But, the beach still generates enough waves to be a great spot for water sports like bodyboarding.

You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas if you’ve got lounging on the mind or for something more active, rent a jet ski or take a banana boat ride.

At night, the bars, restaurants, and clubs come to life and turn this popular beach into party central.

Três Castelos

Right “next door” to Praia da Rocha is Três Castelos. This beach is a favorite with the locals and it isn’t hard to see why. The beach is clean and the waters are calm and clear. This is an ideal place to throw down a towel and relax in the warm Algarve sunshine.

Três Castelos and Praia da Rocha are connected through a passageway carved in the rock formations on the eastern edge of the beach. This means that if you are feeling like a nice walk on the beach, you can explore the length of both beaches.

Like Praia da Rocha, there are many restaurants and cafes along the beach and along the promenade on the top of the cliffs.

Praia de Alvor

About a 20-minute drive from the city center is Praia de Alvor. This beach stretches for miles and is covered in impossibly soft white sand and the water is crystal clear.

It can get crowded here, especially in the summer, but given its size, it is always possible to find a spot.

The beach is backed by dunes which are a part of the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve and a lagoon formed by the Alvor river. There is a boardwalk that extends over these dunes called the Alvor boardwalk. The boardwalk is 3km long and will take you through the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve. While talking this walk, look for some of the bird species that call the Nature Reserve home! If you make it all the way to the lighthouse at the end of the boardwalk, you will be treated to fantastic views of Alvor and Lagos.

There are many cafes and restaurants near both the beach and the boardwalk should you require a little bite to eat.

Explore the Caves

One of the most incredible things about this area of the Algarve is the natural caves and rock formations.

Portimao is situated perfectly to see some of the most famous, and breathtaking, caves in the region.

Whether you take a catamaran or a boat tour, the Benagil Sea Cave is a must-see. If you’d like to explore the cave up close and personal, either look for a tour that allows you to get off the boat and enter the cave, or book a tour on a stand-up paddleboard. Many boat tours will just pull up inside the cave but not let you get out.

Another option is to combine a dolphin watching tour with a sea cave tour! From Portimao, it is possible to book such a trip. You’ll go out for about 2.5 hours with a local guide who will explain what you are seeing and generally show you a good time. 

If you’d rather not take a boat, you can drive to the Benagil Sea Cave. You can explore the formations from above or head down the beach where you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, or swim the distance in order to reach the cave entrance. Swimming is only recommended if you are a strong swimmer and the sea conditions/weather is calm. Currents can be strong and conditions can change quickly.

Visit the Museum of Portimao

This museum first opened in 2008 in an old sardine canning factory. Exhibits detail the history of fish canning in the region. You can learn about fishing and canning in Portimao and its historical significance to the town. This is an award-winning museum that should be on your to-do list.

See the Ocean Revival Water Park

If you are looking to enjoy some time in the ocean, Ocean Revival Water Park is your chance!

Four decommissioned warships were deliberately sunk off the coastline, creating a large artificial reef. 5kms from the harbor in Portimao and 30 meters deep, this reef is great for those hoping to go scuba diving.

For the most enjoyable experience, book an outing with a local center, club, or diving school certified by the park. The park has itineraries and routes mapped out so you can carefully explore each one of the ships.

It’s only been about 7 years since the warships were sunk so it will take some time for the reef to really grow and thrive but what’s there already is something truly incredible!

Visit Alcalar

You’ll have to travel out of the city for this one (about 11 km) but it will be worth the drive. Alcalar is a collection of megalithic monuments arranged atop a hill. These burial mounds date back 5000 years! At the center is a necropolis built from schist that houses galleries and tombs.

There is an interpretation center on site that offers an illustrative history and can provide a little bit of context for the structures you’re seeing.

Go out on the Town

Portimao has one of the best nightlife scenes in the Algarve.

Most of the actions is centered around “the strip” that runs behind Praia da Rocha. This resort area is pretty small though so most of the bars and clubs are within walking distance of one another, making it easy to find one that best suits your needs and your vibe.

Spot 3 is a bar right on the beach that has an outdoor terrace so you can take in a glorious ocean view while sipping your cocktails.

If the bar scene isn’t your thing, pay a visit to the Hotel Algarve Casino. Aside from casino gaming, there are often live performances, entertainment, as well as several restaurants to choose from.

Go Skydiving

For those who want an adventurous holiday, go out for a tandem skydive. The Aerodrome is in Alvor so it’s only about a 15-minute drive away and for the type of adrenaline rush you’ll get, it’s worth it!

With a tandem dive, you are paired with an experienced instructor who will pull the parachute for you so all you have to do is strap in and enjoy! If you want a unique way to see the Algarve coast, this would be it!

Where to Stay in Portimao

As a resort town, there are many great places to stay in Portimao.

Bela Vista Hotel & Spa

Bela Vista Hotel and Spa is truly special. This beachfront property is in a 1918 Moorish-style mansion. Not only does it provide breathtaking scenery, but it also provides comfort and luxury in a historic building!

With spa facilities, an outdoor swimming pool, and a restaurant with one Michelin star, this hotel is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a little luxury after a long day of touring Portimao and the Algarve.

Jupiter Algarve Hotel

Located across the street from the beach, the staff at the Jupiter Algarve hotel are friendly and the rooms are clean, spacious and bright.

The hotel has both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a sauna, a spa, a gym, and 24-hour room service. The staff at Jupiter are always ready to help you get the most out of your stay!

Where to Eat in Portimao

Portimao is known as the sardine capital of the Algarve so be prepared to see this local delicacy popping up on menus all over the city. But even if you aren’t interested in sardines, Portimao is loaded with many delightful dining experiences.

Maria do Mar

If you are into sardines or want to really sample local fare, this restaurant is for you.

This place specializes in canned fish (primarily sardines, tuna, and mackerell) and has over 300 varieties to choose from. The is paired with bread, salad, and wine. It may not sound like much but you’d be shocked at how varied (and delicious!) canned fish can be! This restaurant pays homage to the fish canning history of Portimao and to be honest, you won’t have an experience like it anywhere else!

Restaurante Casa da Tocha

This restaurant is very popular with locals which, as most travelers know, is a very good sign.

Serving traditional Portuguese fish, meat, and tapas, the food is packed with flavor. The restaurant is small but it has a large wine list, making it the perfect place to enjoy a quiet, authentic meal.

Pizzeria Volare

If fish and local cuisine isn’t something you’re after, this place makes the best pizza in Portimao. Serving truly authentic Italian food with great service and reasonable prices, it’s hard to say no. AND, Pizzeria Volare is located on Praia da Rocha making it a convenient stop after a day playing in the sand and surf!

Portimao is one of the most popular destinations in the Algarve. For help planning your trip to the Algarve, reach out to us. We specialize in making sure that your vacation exceeds your wildest expectations!