Portugal City Travel Guide: Olhão
Olhão, just 10km south east of Faro on the Algarve coast, has been transformed into a major beach resort in recent years with visitors flocking to the splendid beaches of Ilha da Armona and Ilha da Culatra, both short ferry rides away.
Until recently Olhão was a sleepy fishing port best known for its colourful fish and vegetable markets and a remarkable sea journey. It was from Olhão in 1808 that the small O Caíque de Bom Sucesso sailed across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro to inform the exiled Portuguese King João VI that Napoleon's army had left the country. As a reward the town was granted a royal charter and developed as a fishing port and canning centre. A replica of the famous vessel is moored in the harbour to commemorate this extraordinary feat of navigational skill.
Olhão's other major attractions include the cubist style architecture of the old town which was developed through trading links with North Africa. Most visitors to Olhão take in the lively red brick fish and vegetable markets right on the sea front and wander the white-washed old town, which includes the 17th century Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary) and the adjacent chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos where the wives and families of sailors would gather to pray for their safety. Look out for the votive offerings of baby dolls and plastic arms and legs within the iron grille.
Across the cobbled square from the church is the small but interesting Museu de Cidade with its exhibits of folk crafts, archeological finds and old black and white photographs.
The tourist information is tucked away on Largo Sebastião Martins Mestre around the corner from the museum.
Extending along the seafront are two narrow gardens: Jardim Pescador Olhanense and Jardim Patrão Joaquim Lopes. The former is the site for the annual Festival do Marisco which has grown to include food stalls as well as some biggish names in music. The latter leads to the ferry terminal to Ilha da Armona and Ilha da Culatra and is lined with stalls selling clothes and souvenir items.
The main attractions in Olhão for the majority of visitors are the sun, sea and sand of the islands of Armona and Culatra in the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Separate ferries ply out to the islands.
Ilha da Armona
Armona is the nearest just 15 minutes away. From the ferry terminal it is a 15 minute walk along a path lined with holiday bungalows and bougainvillea bushes to the dry sand dunes and beach on the other side of the island. Sun loungers with an umbrella can be hired for the day. A long walk along the beach will bring you to Praia da Fuseta opposite the small fishing port of Fuseta.
Ilha da Culatra
The ferry to Ilha da Culatra takes 35 minutes to Culatra, still a working fishing port and then a further 10 minutes to Farol, from where it is a short walk to the excellent beach close to the lighthouse. Again sun loungers with an umbrella can be hired for the day. In the summer season boats sail to Farol from Faro.
Olhão Tourist Office
Largo Sebastião Martins Mestre (tel. 289 713 936)
Places to see around Olhão
There are a number of interesting places to see within easy traveling distance of the center of Olhão. Quinta da Marim (Centro Educação Ambiental de Marim) is an educational center and HQ of the Ria Formosa Natural Park with a natural trail through the dunes and salt flats. Visitors can learn about the ecology of the area and the rare Portuguese Water Dog. There are also five Roman period salting tanks and one of the last remaining tidal mills in Portugal. The 60 hectare site is 3km by local bus east of town close to the Parque de Campismo e Caravanismo de Olhão south of the N125.
Close to the peaceful village of Estoi, north west of Olhão, are the remains of a 1st century AD Roman villa and bath complex - the Ruinas de Milreu. The nearby Palacio de Estoi was built in the late 18th century and is now a lovely Pousada.
Getting to Olhão
There are abundant scheduled, charter and no-frills flights to Faro, the nearest airport to Olhão from all over Europe. Portugalia and TAP Fly from both Porto (via Lisbon) and Lisbon. There are TAP flights to Lisbon and Frankfurt and Easy Jet and Ryanair flights to multiple destinations throughout Europe.
The rather grimy and graffitied Olhão Station is a short walk from the center of town off Rua Combatentes de Grande Guerra. Four trains a day leave from Lisbon on about a three or four-hour journey to Faro from where it is a short journey from Faro Station on a local train to Olhão.
From the west, take Route 125. From Spain, get onto N125 going west. Car hire is a popular and economic way to enjoy the Algarve.
There is a bus every hour from Lisbon to Faro, taking 3 hours, 15 minutes to four hours. There are local buses from Faro to Albufeira, Lagos, Olhão, Portimão and Vila Real de Santo Antonio (via Tavira). EVA bus company runs a service to Sevilla in Spain via Olhao, Tavira, Vila Real de San Antonio, Ayamonte and Huelva.
There are presently a number of buses leaving daily from Faro's bus station near to Faro train station and arriving at Plaza de Armas bus station in Seville, Spain. Depending on the season buses depart at 8.20am, 8.25am, 1.55pm, 3.35pm and 5.05pm arriving at Sevilla's main bus station at 1pm, 11.45, 5.45, 8.00 and 10.15pm respectively.
The 8.20am departure from Faro leaves all year round (except 25 December and 1 January). The 8.25am, 1.55pm and 5.05pm departures run from 26th June-6 September. The 3.35pm departure runs every day from 7th September to 26th June (except 25 December and 1 January).
NOTE - the 8.25am and 1.55pm departures from Faro do NOT stop at Olhão. So buses to Seville from Olhão leave at 8.40am, 3.55pm and 5.25pm depending on season. It is 20 minutes by bus from Faro to Olhão.
There are several buses from Olhão to Lisbon often with a change in Faro. The journey takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes. Departures are at 6am, 8am, 10.30am, 1pm, 4pm and 6.30pm. The buses are equipped with WiFi.
Check the EVA website (www.eva-bus.com) for the latest departures, journey times and prices.
From Faro Airport
There are trains from Faro to Lagos to the west and Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Spanish border that pass through Olhão. There are buses to various destinations from the airport and it is 20 minutes to Faro. A taxi should be under 15 Euro to Faro, 60+ Euro to Lagos and 30+ Euro to Tavira. Please note these prices are estimates.
Book Hotel Accommodation in Olhão
The luxury option in Olhão is the huge Real Marina which opened in 2010 and has helped to transform the town into a popular resort. The five-star facilities include a spa, indoor pool and restaurant. Self-catering apartments and villas adjacent to the hotel can also be rented such as the Marina Village Apartments and Apartment Flamingo. For cheaper, more traditional accommodation try Alojamento Local Bela Vista, AL - Alojamento Local Pension Bicuar with its spectacular roof terrace and views or the two star Hotel Armona.
See here for a full list of accommodations in Olhão.
Avenida 5 de Outubro along the sea front is the main place for al fresco dining with a number of fine seafood restaurants to choose from. Menu favourites include charcoal grilled tuna and sword fish. A Bote at number 122 is both popular and well-established. O Livramento at number 160 is also recommended. On Praça Patrão Joaquim Lopes, Restaurante Sabores da Ria sits in the pretty square with outdoor tables. Close to the red brick market buildings, Cafe Gelvi serves delicious ice creams. For a change from the local cuisine, try Indian Hut on Rua Vasco da Gama, 2 for Indian food or Restaurante Chinês Jing Shan for Chinese food on Avenida 5 de Outubro, 112.
There are a few bars behind the market with tables facing the water including the friendly Cais Club (Tel: 965 554 732) at the back of the building selling fruit and vegetables. Also here on the corner is another fine bar, Cantaloupe, known for its occasional live jazz.
List your restaurant/bar/hotel contact Advertising
Most hotels and guest houses in Olhão have their own WiFi. You can also get online using the WiFi at Cantaloupe (see above).
Local football teams
S.C. Olhanense are the local team and play their home games in the rather dilapidated Estádio José Arcanjo north of the railway track to Faro north of the Real Marina complex.
Founded in 1912, S.C. Olhanense won a Portuguese championship in 1924 but are presently a yo-yo club between the second and first divisions of the Portuguese leagues.
The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade.
Get more weather information for Portugal