Gilão River aerial view of Tavira Portugal

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Last Updated on August 19, 2021

Looking for a less-touristy, off-the-beaten path addition to your Portugal itinerary?  I’ve got a contender: the hidden gem of Tavira, Portugal in the eastern Algarve region. Bypass the crowds of Faro and Lagos, and head straight to this charming city on the south coast of Portugal.  With beautiful beaches, a picturesque old town and accessible location, it’s a great choice for where to stay in the Algarve.

Tavira, Algarve is a seaside town that straddles the Gilão River via an old Roman bridge.  You’ll be charmed by Tavira’s winding cobblestone streets, hilltop castle, and abundance of churches.  Golden beaches are just a short drive (or tuk-tuk ride) away. Or head out of town to the Ria Formosa Nature Park for an even more pristine coastline. 

Just east lies the smaller town of Cabanas de Tavira, named for the fishing huts that used to populate its shores; now it’s a laid-back holiday destination. The secluded Cabanas beach is accessible only by a quick water taxi ride, making it one of the least-crowded Algarve beaches.

Tavira’s location, unique accommodation options, and small-town vibe make it a great base for exploring the Algarve region.  Or, you can just enjoy the slower pace of Tavira’s calm beaches, sights and restaurants, and maybe take in a round of golf at a nearby course.  Read on for the best things to do in Tavira, where to stay, and how to plan your trip to this lesser-known Portugal gem.

Gilão River aerial view of Tavira Portugal

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In this Guide to Tavira, Algarve, Portugal

Getting to Tavira | Best Tavira Hotels | Things to Do in Tavira | Restaurants | When to Visit | Hotels & Airbnbs

Best Algarve Beaches: The 10 Must Stunning Algarve, Portugal Beaches

Getting to Tavira, Algarve

The easiest way to get to Tavira is to fly into the Faro airport, which serves the Algarve region and is only about 30 minutes away by car.  There are direct flights to Faro from Lisbon and many other European cities. From Faro, you can rent a car or take a bus or taxi east to Tavira.

Another option is flying to Lisbon and renting a car or taking a bus to Tavira.  Using toll roads, Tavira is about a 3-hour drive from Lisbon. From Seville, it’s only two hours’ drive; but rental car insurance gets a little tricky between countries, so I would only drive from Spain as part of a larger itinerary.

A car isn’t necessary once you get to Tavira.  But if you want to explore the area, having a car gives you more flexibility.  For me, driving in the Algarve was the easiest place in Portugal, because I wasn’t navigating as many narrow winding streets like in Sintra or Porto!

Ria Formosa at sunset
View of the Ria Formosa at sunset

Best Hotels in Tavira: Where to Stay in Tavira

Tavira has so many unique accommodation options that you’ll have difficulty deciding on just one!  Luckily I’ve got three spectacular hotel picks for where to stay in Tavira. I’ll also share some more recommendations at the end of the article including Airbnbs so you have more solid options of where to stay in the Algarve.

(Confession: I had such a hard time deciding on stays, I split my time in Tavira between two hotels – one in town, and one on the beach!)

Pousada Convento de Tavira 

I loved my stay in this rebuilt convent right in the historic center of Tavira.  The former Convento de Nossa Senhora da Graça da Ordem de Santo Agostinho (yes, that’s really the name) from the 16th century is now a luxury boutique hotel.  The pousada has a great central location for exploring Tavira’s center and an onsite spa and restaurant as well as parking.  It’s about a 15 minute walk or a short tuk tuk ride to the Tavira beach.

Where to stay in the Algarve - Pousada Convento de Tavira

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Forte De Sao Joao Da Barra 

This boutique hotel is in a former starfort built in the 16th century to protect Tavira.  Located in Cabanas de Tavira, Forte de Sao Joao was by far one of my favorite hotel stays ever.  The guest rooms and suites are in a new building separate from the main house, and feature modern amenities.  At night, you can stare up at the stars from within the walled fortress. Each morning, enjoy breakfast al fresco on the fort’s ramparts overlooking the sea. The location of Forte De Sao Joao Da Barra is best if you have a car, but you can walk to restaurants in Cabanas. To get to the beach, it’s just a short water taxi away, compliments of the hotel.

Forte De Sao Joao Da Barra - Cabanas de Tavira

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Get more details and photos of my stay at Forte de Sao Joao da Barra!

Pensao Agricola 

This boutique hotel in a 1920’s rural farmhouse is 1.5 miles from both the Cabanas beach and the Fabrica Mar beach.  This is another truly unique hotel stay, with a chic design and rustic setting. If it’s booked, the same owners just opened the hotel Hospedaria a few minutes away. Be sure to check out the stellar reviews of both!

Where to stay in the Algarve - Pensão Agrícola Tavira

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Looking for more gorgeous Algarve beaches? Be sure to check out my guide!

Best Algarve Beaches: 10 Stunning Beaches Of Portugal’s Algarve

What are the best Algarve beaches? These are the 10 most beautiful beaches in Portugal’s Algarve, from secluded stays to luxury getaways!

Read more

Things to do in Tavira, Portugal

Tavira Castle (Castelo de Tavira)

The best view in Tavira is from the old castle, overlooking the city.  The Tavira Castle dates to the 12th century and Moorish occupation. After the Christian reconquest in the 13th century, the castle was refortified to protect the town against raids and pirates. 

Like many other Portuguese cities including Lisbon, the castle and the city were heavily damaged in a 1755 earthquake. Today, the castle is ruins, but you can climb the ramparts and octagonal tower for amazing views all the way to the coast.  The pretty courtyard is also full of flowering trees. Free admission.

view of the courtyard at the remains of the Tavira castle
view of Tavira Old Town
View of Tavira’s Old Town

Tower of Tavira (Torre de Tavira)

The Tower of Tavira is actually a camera obscura, an ancient optical device that uses a convex lens to project an image.  Tavira’s camera obscura projects 360-degree images of the town inside the converted water tower. It’s a little bit of a tourist trap, but it’s also a cool view of the city and an interesting predecessor to the invention of the camera.

Tavira Tourist Train

Tavira has a small tourist “train” (on wheels rather than a track) than runs between the Roman Bridge, Hotel Vila Gale, Quatro Águas (Tavira Island), the Castle, and a few other stops.  The entire loop takes 45 minutes and it’s a fun way to see the sights and get around. You can buy a single trip or all-day pass from the conductor with cash. Departure times are posted at the stops.

a view of a narrow street in Tavira with pink flowers

Tavira Old Town and Churches

Be sure to stroll Tavira’s winding cobblestone streets. Next to the Castle, you’ll find several churches, just some of many in Tavira. The Gothic-design Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo has a tall clock tower remodeled from a former minaret, while the Igreja de Santiago dates to the 13th century.

The most impressive is the Renaissance Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy) with beautiful azulejo tiles. You can also see Fado concerts here.  Many churches are closed except for services or concerts, so visit just before mass to get a peek at interiors.

Phonecian ruins from the 8th century BCE can be found just below the Castelo, as well as Moorish foundations from the 12th century AD and a 17th-century Portuguese mansion.  

Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo in Tavira, Portugal

Nucleo Islamico Museum 

Built around the remains of an Islamic-era structure, this small modern museum has exhibits of Islamic artifacts discovered in Tavira. One of the most important pieces on display is the Tavira vase, an elaborate ceramic work with figures and animals around the rim. 

Roman Bridge  (Ponte Romana de Tavira)

Sources vary on why this bridge is called Roman – some say it actually pre-dates the Romans, but recent archaeological discoveries date its origin to the Moorish occupation.  In any case, this bridge with seven arches has become a symbol of the city. It was rebuilt in 1667, then again after a 1989 flood. Today it’s accessible only to foot traffic.

photo of the Roman Bridge in tavira
Tavira Roman Bridge
The Roman Bridge at night

Republic Square (Praça da República)

This is the central town square of Tavira, also used now as an outdoor amphitheater for events and concerts.  It’s not as crowded as other town centers in the Algarve, which makes it a good spot for a meal or a drink at one of the many cafes.  There’s also a tourist office here.

photo of the main square in Tavira Portugal

Ria Formosa Nature Park

The Ria Formosa Nature Park is a coastal lagoon protected from the sea by barrier islands.  A paradise for birdwatchers, kayakers and nature-lovers, the area is also home to salt pans and shellfish farming.  You can walk or bike through the paths, or take a boat trip to see flamingos and other aquatic birds.

photo of a beach in Tavira
Ria Formosa
Flamingos in the Ria Formosa Nature Park

Tavira Island (Ilha de Tavira)

Tavira Island is part of the Ria Formosa, and is known for being one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the Algarve.  It’s actually home to three long beaches: Praia da Ilha de Tavira in the east part of the island, Praia da Terra Estreita (central beach), and Praia do Barril (west).  All three are rated as Blue Flag Beaches for meeting environmental and sustainability guidelines. 

The waters here are quite calm, so it’s a great destination for families. Lifeguards are also staffed during high season.  Lounge chairs are available for rent, and there are facilities and restaurants available.  To get here, you’ll need to take a water taxi or ferry – get more info here on how to get to Tavira Island.

photo of a deserted beach in Tavira Portugal

Praia do Barril

This beach on Tavira Island stretches for several miles, so even during high season you can find a spot to yourself.  A former fishing village, it has an Instagram-worthy “anchor graveyard” that was once used to secure fishing nets for catching tuna.  One note: there’s also a clothing-optional (naturist) beach here to the west.

To get to Praia do Barril, it’s a long walk from Praia Ilha de Tavira, but it is possible to take a boat directly here.  There are facilities, restaurants and lifeguards during high season.

Praia do Barril - Tavira, Portugal
Praia do Barril anchor cemetery
Anchor “graveyard” Praia do Barril on Tavira Island

Cabanas de Tavira

This small town near Tavira dates to the 18th century, when fishermen began building temporary cabanas (fishing huts) that eventually became permanent residences.  Known locally just as Cabanas, today it’s a growing tourist destination in its own right, thanks to its barrier island and beach which are part of the Ria Formosa. 

Cabanas has a small downtown area of restaurants, shops, and cafes as well as hotels and places to book day tours of the Ria Formosa. The Cabanas beach (another Blue Flag Beach) is one of the least-busy in the region, as it’s accessible only by water taxi or by walking at low tide. 

Where to stay in the Algarve - Cabanas de Tavira
The Cabanas de Tavira waterfront, part of the Ria Formosa lagoon, the Cabanas Beach

Tuk Tuk Tour of Tavira

A popular way to see the sights of Tavira is by a guided tour via tuk-tuk.  You can easily book tours online for 30-90 minutes with different sightseeing options.  

More Tavira and Algarve Guided Tours

From Tavira or Cabanas, you can take tours throughout the Algarve region or even a day trip to Seville.  Here are a few local options departing from Tavira:

Where to Eat in Tavira, Algarve

Tavira’s gastronomy scene reflects its history as a fishing town, with lots of fresh fish and seafood.  Meals begin with a couvert (starter) course as elsewhere in Portugal; keep in mind that there’s usually a per-person charge of a few Euros unless you refuse this course.  You’ll also encounter petiscos, similar to Spanish tapas, a light snack best enjoyed with a local beer or wine.

Many restaurants in Tavira and Cabanas close between lunch and dinner, and reservations might be needed during busy season.  Many are closed on Sunday or Monday also.

For upscale eating in Tavira, try Artefact, which serves dinner plus brunch Thursday – Saturday, including fresh vegetables from its own farm.  No de Gosto is a good place to try local tapas.  For budget eats, try Tasquinha da Paula for traditional Portuguese food in a welcoming setting, Petisqueria Belmar, or Scoop It for lunch and early dinner. 

In Cabanas, don’t miss the spectacular Noelia y Jeronimo (so nice, my mom and I ate there twice!), Mariscos e Petiscos or Restaurante Ideal.

Tavira, Portugal Wines

The Algarve is grouped into four wine-producing regions: Lagos, Portimao, Lagoa and Tavira.  Portugal’s southern coast is protected by mountains that temper the weather. This is in contrast to the neighboring wine region of Alentejo to the north, which experiences very hot summer temperatures.  Be sure to ask at restaurants for local wine options. More information on Algarve wines here.

When to Visit Tavira

Tavira’s high tourist season is June – August, but spring and autumn are also good times to visit.  The beaches will be less crowded, and restaurants and cafes are open year-round.

Where to Stay: More Tavira Hotels & Airbnbs

Don’t forget my top picks listed earlier in this post:

Pousada Convento de Tavira | Forte De São João Da Barra | Pensão Agrícola

Budget Tavira Stays

HI Tavira – Pousada de Juventude

This youth hostel has a great central location and reviews, starting around $16/night with breakfast included.

HI Tavira – Pousada de Juventude

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Formosa Guest House

This charming guest house has views of the Roman Bridge and a shared kitchen, with rooms starting around $50/night.

Formosa Guest House Tavira

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Mid-range Hotels

Tavira House

Tavira House is located in an 160-year old building and has a rooftop terrace with views of the city.  Rates starting around $90/night, with breakfast included.

Tavira House

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Tavira Terrace 

Tavira Terrace has an outdoor swimming pool and location with sweeping views of the city.  Rates starting around $90/night including breakfast.

Tavira Terrace

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Luxury flat for 2 in historical center near river

Located in the historical center, this bright and stylish Airbnb has a modern kitchen, comfy living space, and a private terrace with views of the city.

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Luxury Tavira Stays

Vila Galé Tavira

Vile Gale Tavira is a full-service resort, with indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and restaurant.

Vila Gale Tavira

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Paredinhas Villa Downtown

This 3-bedroom Airbnb private villa sleeps 6 guests and features a private terrace and courtyard.

Where to stay in the Algarve - Paredinhas Villa Downtown - Tavira

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Casa Luz, Santa Luzia

If you’ve got a group, this 4-bedroom/4-bath Airbnb has a private garden and pool and sleeps 8.  Located in the nearby town of Santa Luzia.

Casa Luz

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Be sure to pin this to your travel planning board so you remember where to stay in the Algarve: Tavira, Portugal!

Tavira Portugal - Where to Stay in the Algarve

Looking for more Portugal travel tips?

Have you ever visited a CHAPEL OF BONES? Get my guide to visiting the Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal – including guided tour options from the Algarve.

Don’t miss all my tips for a visit to Evora, Portugal’s “Museum City” on a day trip or getaway weekend!

Want more Portugal beach time? Check out my guide to the top 10 Algarve beaches!

Curious about the nativity sets I brought home from Portugal as souvenirs? Check out my world nativity sets collection!

Chapel of Bones Evora, Portugal + San Francisco Church & Nativities

Evora, Portugal is a UNESCO World Heritage site with so much history! Don’t miss the San Francisco Church, home to the Evora Chapel of Bones and a collection of nativity sets from around the world.

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Things To Do in Evora, Portugal: Visiting Portugal’s Museum City

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What are the best Algarve beaches? These are the 10 most beautiful beaches in Portugal’s Algarve, from secluded stays to luxury getaways!

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Travel Souvenirs: Nativities From Around the World

I fell in love with the Washington National Cathedral’s exhibit of world nativities – and started collecting them in my travels! See photos of my collection and get links to my shoppable Etsy lists of world nativities.

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Adrienne, The Haphazard Traveler

I used to be a hot travel mess, but I got better! I kept the name and now blog my best tips for culture and adventure travel from around the globe. Follow along for travel advice, destination info, and photography from faraway lands - and at home in Washington, D.C.

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