The city of Olhao is located in the eastern part of the Algarve, not far away from the capital of Faro, and is the largest fishing port on the Algarve coast. Similar to the other Algarve cities and resorts Olhao is rich with Moorish-style houses, however having been a port city for so long, it also shows influences from Africa thanks to its commercial links to the northern African coast.
Although the city was first mentioned in a document in 1378, it only became an important town during the 19th century, however it was sufficiently important in the 17th century to need the building of the fortress of Sao Lorenco in 1679 to protect it from pirate raids. Our short Olhao guide will try to give you a bit of an idea of what to expect from this town of many faces.
We said many faces because depending on where you approach it from, Olhao, Portugal will look different. For instance if you approach it from the side where the fishing port is located, it will look very industrial, and hence not extremely attractive to tourists. However if you’re driving to Olhao along the water front road then you’ll get a different view altogether. You can use Olhao transfers from Faro Airport to get here right from the airport.
The waterfront is extremely important to Olhao, as such there are actually two market building situated side by side which you simply have to visit, even if you’re not interested in purchasing anything, the atmosphere and the vibe of the markets will mesmerize you. If you do want to purchase something well then there will be no shortage of fresh fish and sea food, alongside locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.
Of course this is the Algarve so you can’t have any large gathering of human beings without the specter of cafes and restaurants being somewhere close-by. The market halls are surrounded by many pavement cafes where you can sit down, relax, have yourself a wonderfully refreshing beverage and enjoy the view of the boats moored along the water. If you’re so inclined you can find a nice jazz cafe from which you can just watch people mill around the place and the boats in the immediate distance.
Much as it is with the rest of the cities and town of the Algarve, Olhao too has an old, historic heart. The Old Town is mad eup of old buildings which used to be merchants’ homes featuring wrought iron balconies as well as carved stonework and tile decorations as is customary around these parts. This offers an interesting contrast to the modern, industrial look of the port area.
The Praca da Restauraca is home to the church of Nossas Senhora do Rosario which was built in 1689 with contributions from the local fishermen, it’s interesting to note that at that time, this was the only stone building in the city. It is still a very graceful building featuring a Baroque facade.
The building located behind the church is the Compromisso Maritimo – the fishermen’s mutual society, founded back in the 18th century – nowadays is also the home of the local Olhao city museum.
There’s yet another church located at the back of the Compromisso Maritimo, this time it’s a 17th century one, the Nossa Senhora da Soledade. The entire area around these buildings feature narrow, cobbled streets and a wide variety of shops and of course the ever-present pavement cafes which are perfectly located to get a nice break from the sightseeing.
While we are talking here about a fishing town, Olhao doesn’t actually have a beach because it is located on the Ria Formosa system of lagoons, however the ferry services can take you to wherever you’ll want to reach nearby. Another option would be to employ some Olhao car hire services and just drive for yourself to wherever you want to go in case you want to visit near by cities like Faro or Tavira.
There are obviously many things to see and do here, and let’s not forget that you will be on the Algarve coast, the weather will most likely be wonderful and the people welcoming, also the surrounding countryside can offer a lot of interesting places to see and adventure in.