Last Updated on September 19, 2020
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 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. The golden beaches of Tavira are just a short drive (or tuk-tuk ride) away, or you can head out of town to the Ria Formosa Nature Park for an even more pristine coastline. Just east, you’ll find 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 (there are many!). Read on for the best things to do in Tavira, where to stay in in the Algarve, and how to plan your trip to this lesser-known Portugal gem.
FYI, this post contains affiliate links, which means I might earn a small commission if you purchase from them, at no additional cost to you. As an Airbnb associate, I earn when you book through my links. Visit my Disclosure Policy for more info.
Getting to Tavira
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!
- Find information on getting to Tavira from other cities in Portugal or Spain
- Im Lisbon, I rented a car from RentalCars.com – click to check prices and availability
- Book an airport transfer from Faro airport to Tavira
Where to Stay in the Algarve: Cool Hotels in Tavira
Tavira has so many unique accommodation options that you’ll have difficulty deciding on just one! Luckily I’ve got three top 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 great options of where to stay in the Algarve.
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.
Forte De São João Da Barra
This boutique hotel is in a former starfort built in the 16th century to protect Tavira. Located in Cabanas de Tavira, it’s 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, and in the morning you can 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 and to catch the water taxi to the beach.
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.
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. The castle and the city were heavily damaged in a 1755 earthquake, like many other Portuguese cities including Lisbon. 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.
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.
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.
Núcleo Islâmico 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.
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.
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 walk or bike through the paths or take a boat trip to see flamingos and other aquatic birds.
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 calm so it’s a great destination for families. Lifeguards are also staffed during high season. You can rent lounge chairs 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.
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. But take 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.
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. Today Cabanas de Tavira (locally known just as Cabanas) is 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.
Tuk Tuk Tour
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
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.
Keep in mind that many restaurants close between lunch and dinner, and that 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.
The Algarve is grouped into four wine-producing regions: Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira. Portugal’s southern coast is protected by mountains that temper the weather, 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 in the Algarve: More Tavira Hotels & Airbnbs
Don’t forget my top picks listed earlier in this post:
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.
Formosa Guest House
This charming guest house has views of the Roman Bridge and a shared kitchen, with rooms starting around $50/night.
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 Terrace has an outdoor swimming pool and location with sweeping views of the city. Rates starting around $90/night including breakfast.
Located in a former convent, this Airbnb has 2 bedrooms/2 baths and a spectacular location on the Ria Formosa.
Luxury Tavira Stays
Vila Galé Tavira
Vile Gale Tavira is a full-service resort, with indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and restaurant.
Paredinhas Villa Downtown
This 3-bedroom Airbnb private villa sleeps 6 guests and features a private terrace and courtyard.
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.
Be sure to pin this to your travel planning board so you remember where to stay in the Algarve: Tavira, Portugal!
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!
Curious about the nativity sets I brought home from Portugal as souvenirs? Check out my world nativity sets collection!
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.
Evora is a UNESCO site with Roman ruins, medieval cathedral & bone church ossuary. Find out all the things to do in Evora, Portugal plus restaurants and historic hotels!
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.