The biggest city in the western part of the Algarve, Portimão is a major tourist destination set on the broad estuary of the Arade river (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.
It was once the hub for sardine processing, but the industry collapsed during the recession of the 1980s.
Portimão is now very much a town thriving on tourism, leisure and retail business.
The high season runs from the end of June through to September.
Portimão is 66 kilometres 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 will 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 selling holiday mementoes.
You will find lots of wicker, lace and embroidery products, as well as earthenware.
The river area 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’s history, the award-winning Portimão museum is a must-visit.
The museum is housed in a former 19th century fish-canning factory, is located on the city’s waterfront, and 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 river entrance.
All the buildings overlooking the marina are coloured in ochre or terracotta – a wonderfully vibrant sight.
There are plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and nightclubs here, and 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 three kilometres south of the main town. Praia da Rocha is virtually a tourist destination in its own right.
If you want a section of beach providing 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 quite different from the Old Town of Portimão.
The modern, purpose-built area of Praia da Rocha is packed with hotels, bars and restaurants, and is a hugely popular tourist resort.
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 is a boat trip for everyone in Portimão: from tours of the caves to dolphin-spotting, powerboat rides to “pirate” booze cruises – and fishing trips.
There are also registered dive schools and plenty of water sports on offer.
Just five kilometres offshore from Portimão harbour is 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, a historical town that 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; while 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 Portimão, is Penina, which was the first proper grass golf course in the area.
North of Portimão is the Alamos course and its sister, Morgado.
Between Praia da Rocha and the coastal village of Alvor, you will find Alto Golf.