The biggest city in the western province of the Algarve, Portimão, is a major tourist destination set on the broad estuary of the river Arade (Rio Arade).
Unsurprisingly, this bustling commercial centre is home to one of the best shopping scenes in the whole of the Algarve.
Portimão, with a population of more than 40,000, is a sprawling port town made up of an interesting blend of old and new.
Portimão was once the hub for sardine processing, but the industry collapsed in the recession of the 1980s.
Portimão is now very much a town thriving on tourism, leisure and retail.
High season runs from end of June through to September.
Portimão is 66 km and less than an hour’s drive west from Faro Airport. It’s a 19-minute bus journey from Lagos.
Many of the hotels offer a shuttle service from the airport.
Alternatively, there are independent coach shuttles you can book, or private car transfers.
Avoid picking up a taxi at the airport – it’s the most expensive way to travel. If you must take a taxi, it’s best to pre-book.
The old town
In Portimão’s central square, you’ll find the church of the former Jesuit College (Colégio dos Jesuítas), which is well worth a visit.
This is one of the most important religious buildings in the city, and although the original building was devastated in the 1755 earthquake it has been beautifully restored.
This majestic church is the biggest of its kind in the Algarve.
The old town is a maze of pretty cobbled streets, dotted with little handicraft shops from which to buy holiday mementoes.
You’ll find lots of wicker, lace and embroidery products, as well as earthenware.
The riverfront is the most attractive part of the town.
Along the quayside you will find well-tended gardens and a series of pretty squares with fountains, filled with outdoor cafés serving up grilled sardine lunches, local soups, and bean and whelk stew (a Portuguese speciality).
The further away from the marina you head, the less busy and touristy the squares become.
If you are interested in the local area history, then the award-winning Portimão museum is well worth a visit.
The museum is housed in a former 19th century fish-canning factory and is located on the city’s waterfront.
The museum showcases the social history of the city across eight themed galleries.
The marina is situated at the eastern end of Praia da Rocha, next to the entrance of the river.
All of the buildings overlooking the marina are coloured in ochre or terracotta.
They are in themselves a sight to see.
There are plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and nightclubs here, and there are always the exclusive yachts to admire.
Praia da Rocha beach
As with most resorts along the Algarve, the beaches here are superb.
Portimão’s main beach, Praia da Rocha, is located about 3 km south of the main town. Praia da Rocha is virtually a tourist destination in its own right.
If you want a section of beach giving refuge from the hustle and bustle of the main resort, head to the south end of Portimão (at the bottom of Avenida São Lourenço da Barrosa). It’s a beautiful stretch of beach and much quieter.
Praia da Rocha is very different from the old town of Portimão.
The modern, purpose built area of Praia da Rocha is packed with hotels, bars, restaurants and is a very popular tourist resort.
The sea fort
At the eastern end of Praia da Rocha are the remains of a 17th century fort, Forte da Santa Catarina.
The terraces here offer great views of the beach and the river.
There’s a boat trip for everyone from Portimão. From tours of the caves to dolphin spotting, powerboat rides, and pirate booze cruises, as well as fishing trips.
There are also registered dive schools and plenty of water sports on offer.
Just 5 km offshore from Portimão harbour lies the Ocean Revival Underwater Park, the world’s largest artificial reef structure. The site is accessible to trained divers.
A popular day trip is to take a boat up the Arade River to Silves.
This historical town has one of the best-preserved castles in the Algarve.
Portimão is one of the best shopping areas in the region. There are retail parks and shopping malls galore, as well as countless street traders lining the waterfront.
If you love shopping, the state-of-the-art Aqua Mall is a must-visit. The main shopping streets are the pedestrianised Rua Diogo Tomé and Rua da Portades de São José.
Also, be sure to check out one of the Lojas Chinês (Chinese shops). These emporiums sell everything from trailer wheels to knitting wool and curtains, and there are three fabulous (probably the best in the Algarve) Lojas Chinês in close proximity to the waterfront.
There are four impressive golf courses in the immediate area. Designed in the sixties by the legendary Sir Henry Cotton, and just outside of Portimão is Penina, which was the first proper grass golf course in the area.
Between Praia da Rocha and the coastal village of Alvor, you’ll find the Alto Golf Course.