Loulé is a city of contrasts, where mountains meet the ocean and old monuments blend in with modern buildings. Over 70.000 people live in Loulé’s municipality, the largest in the Algarve, stretching from the north of the region all the way down the coastline.
Right in the city centre stands the local market, a Neo-Arab building which has been stocking up locals with fresh produce for more than a century. Other important attractions include the Conceição Chapel and the Castle of Loulé.
Loulé is also known for its premier golf courses , considered some of the best in Europe, which are located on the south end of the region. Below are some of the best things to do in the centre of Loulé, including family-friendly activities and local festivals.
First off on our tour is the city’s most striking landmark — the local market. The Mercado de Loulé has been around for more than a century, and while its architecture is not the same as it was when the market was first founded in 1908, its purpose remains unaltered — to promote local commerce.
The main attraction is definitely the fish. Chopped salmon heads, dry codfish and still-pretty-much-alive crabs, the market offers a great selection of seafood, and fishmongers have been Loulé’s idols for decades. You’ll also find people selling local crafts, such as honeypots and cork bags. Saturdays are the best day to visit the market as there are more stalls open, and the market extends into the streets.
From the market, head to the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. This small chapel was established in the mid-17th century. It may seem modest on the outside, but step inside, and you’ll unveil its treasures. The walls are entirely covered with blue and white tiles, and right at the bottom lies a gilded altar embedded with a series of religious figures. The see-through glass on the floor allows you to contemplate an Islamic door from the 2nd century found during excavations.
After lunch, check out Loulé’s Municipal Museum to learn more about the region’s past. The museum is divided into different hubs spread along the district. The main hub in Loulé’s city centre shows a traditional kitchen in the Algarve during the mid-20th century. It features a variety of old kitchen utensils like boards for bread-making, copper pans, and a millstone often used to make corn flour, among other items.
Right behind the museum is the Castle of Loulé. This Moorish building was rebuilt during the 13th century as a fortress, and it’s now one of the city’s main attractions. The original settlement dates back to the 2nd century A.C, when the city was occupied by the Romans. Today, part of the castle’s walls blend with the surrounding buildings.
Continue walking towards the Igreja de Clemente. The church stands out with its circle window and triangle-shaped doorway. It was established in the 13th century and restored in the 16th century. Much like the Nossa Senhora da Conceição chapel, this church also has a golden altarpiece at the rear of the room with a few statuettes. Nearby is also a bell tower whose features resemble the Muslim minarets.
After exploring the church, stop by the Artcatto Gallery, one of Loulé’s contemporary art galleries. Artcatto is usually only open during the week, but you can request to visit on other days too. The founder, Gillian Catto, is a big name in the London art scene, where she ran her own gallery for more than three decades. Now living in the Algarve, Catto hosts exhibitions with national and international artists, drawing many art enthusiasts to the city.
Settle down at the historic Café Calcinha, open since the 1920s. The poet António Aleixo was one of the café’s frequent customers. He wrote several of his poems here, and now there’s a statue of him outside. Be sure to try the folhado de Loulé, a traditional puff pastry sweet filled with custard cream.
End the day at Loulé’s Municipal Park. The park is open 24 hours a day, making it the perfect spot for an evening stroll. It has an area for picnics, mini golf, a children’s playground and a walking circuit of around 800m.
Vilamoura: Drive south from Loulé, and you’ll reach this bustling resort town. Vilamoura is home to a lively marina, golf courses, and a casino. There are also beautiful beaches to explore, which stretch to nearby Quarteira.
Faro: The capital city of the Algarve is just a 30-minute drive from Loulé. Besides being the entry point to the region, Faro offers plenty of attractions, including a charming old town, museums and churches.
Loulé offers plenty of attractions for families, from cultural sites to beaches and water parks. Visiting the city’s market is a great way to introduce kids to the local cuisine. For a bit of history, you can tour the medieval castle and enjoy the panoramic views from the top.
If you have a car, you can drive further south to find even more activities. Around Almancil is the AquaShow Park, a water park featuring a variety of water slides and pools, and Karting Almancil, where kids can enjoy a go-karting experience. Of course, you can also stick to the coast and relax on the beaches near Quarteira and Vilamoura, which belong to the Loulé district. Alternatively, you can practise your golf swing together at the Family Golf Park.
Loulé’s traditional cuisine is very much based around seafood. You’ll often spot restaurants serving cataplana, a traditional stew featuring fish, clams and mussels. Grilled sardines are also a popular dish, as well as the galinha cerejada de Loulé, chicken served with rice and other cuts of meat.
If you head inland, you’ll encounter heartier meals such as the cozido, a stew made with a mix of meats and vegetables and the chickpea stew. Below are some of the best restaurants in the centre of Loulé:
Bocage: This local restaurant has been serving traditional Algarvean fare since 1984. Grilled dishes are Bocage’s speciality. Whether it’s meat or fish, there is a grilled version of pretty much everything on the menu. They also have daily specials.
Artigo Três: Hiroshi and Shogo are the faces behind this traditional sushi bar next to Loulé’s market. The market is an incredible source of fresh fish and seafood, which are essential ingredients in Japanese cuisine. Sit near the bar and watch the chef carefully assemble your meal.
Cafezique: Portuguese food with a contemporary twist is the essence of this spot, led by Chef Leandro Araújo. The space is divided into several sections, from the wine cellar on the lower floor to the casual outdoor terraces. Order a few dishes to share or get the tasting menu with curated wine pairings.
Bica Velha: This family-run restaurant stands out with its rustic stone interior. The menu changes with the season, but usually includes a mix of meat and seafood options. Most of the wines on offer are produced in the Algarve.
Loulé Jardim Hotel (3 stars): This hotel is conveniently located next to the city’s main attractions. Breakfast is included in the stay and served in a lush indoor patio. Other facilities include a lounge bar and a rooftop pool.
The town of Loulé is located inland, but the district also encompasses seaside locations such as Vilamoura, Quarteira, Garrão, Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago where you’ll find a variety of beach resorts.
The best time to visit Loulé is around May and June. During these months, the average temperature is around 20ºC to 25ºC. Summers here tend to be dry and hot, with temperatures reaching up to 30ºC in July. This is a good time to enjoy the beach and catch some of the local festivals. You can still enjoy a few sunny days in the fall, but there is more chance of rain as you move into winter.
Carnaval de Loulé: The most popular celebration in Loulé is the
carnival. This three-day event takes place in February around Avenida
José da Costa Mealha. Colourful float parades, people dressed in
costumes, dancing and music performances are a few things you can expect
to see during the event.
Festival Internacional de Jazz: Jazz lovers can attend Loulé’s jazz
festival around July, an event that has been held in Loulé since 1995.
You’ll listen to a mix of classic jazz music and other music genres like
funk and blues.