Silves is a delightful and traditional Portuguese town of historical importance.
During the Moor’s rule of the Algarve, (700-1200ad), Silves was the capital of the entire region.
The huge redbrick castle, the city walls and defensive gates are remnants of this once defensive stronghold.
As Silves is over 15 km from the nearest beaches, it’s not really a holiday destination for couples and families seeking the sun, sea and sand commonly associated with the Algarve.
More mature travellers, or anyone interested in Moorish history, may enjoy a longer stay in Silves.
Silves is set 18 km north of Portimão.
The best way to travel here is by one of the traditional fishing boats, which sail up the Arade River from Portimao or Praia da Rocha.
The tours usually allow 2-3 hours in Silves before returning.
You can easily travel to Silves using a rental car.
There is plenty of parking at the main car park situated at the southwest corner of the town.
Don’t try to drive into the centre. The maze of narrow streets aren’t designed for traffic.
There are also multiple bus connections for those without a rental car, and a train service runs from Lagos and Faro (though the 2km walk from the station to the town isn’t great, as it follows a major road with less than adequate footpaths).
Silves is approximately 62 km from Faro airport; the journey takes around 40-50 minutes by car.
By far the biggest tourist attraction in Silves is the imposing redbrick castle. Dominating the skyline, the 12th century fortification actually dates back to the 7th century.
Fierce battles and an extended siege make interesting factual stories from the castle’s history.
Inside the castle there are extensive archaeological excavations.
Walk the parapets and admire the wonderful views of the town from the battlements.
A hidden gem
Something you won’t find in many of the guide books about Silves is the vantage point from the hill on the opposite side of town.
Take the road to the train station, which leads from Silves via the Ponte Romana Bridge and head up the hill.
From here there are wonderful views of the orange rooftops of Silves and the castle.
As well as the castle, there are a number of other interesting historical aspects of the town to see. Don’t miss Se cathedral, the Ponte Romana bridge, the ancient city gate, and the 15th century Cruz de Portugal.
Se Cathedral is one of the Algarve’s most impressive cathedrals, with a largely unaltered Gothic interior showcasing elegant vaulting, beautiful windows and fine tombs.
It’s well worth spending a few hours wandering around the winding, sleepy streets to discover the delights of this charming town.
Silves medieval festival
Lasting over 10 days in mid-August, the Silves Medieval Fair attracts many visitors to watch a series of historical re-enactments and jousting tournaments.
The 9-day festival pays homage to the Christian reconquest era.
Lots of people dress up in medieval costumes and there is dancing, juggling and all sorts of street entertainment.
Many of the narrow, cobbled streets are turned into a medieval market place with trestle tables, hay bales, barbeques and spit roasts.
You’ll need to purchase a wrist band to access the Fair.
There are lots of atmospheric cafés and restaurants scattered throughout the town.
The star choice for foodies has to be Restaurante O Barradas. Set in a converted farmhouse, owners Luís and his German wife, Andrea, take pride in sourcing organic fish, meat and seasonal vegetables and fruit. You can expect fine wines here as the owner is also a winemaker.
Another popular place to eat is Recanto dos Mouros, which serves up hearty food at a reasonable price.