15 Things To Do In Olhão Portugal: Sun, Sand & Local Secrets


If you are looking for things to do in Olhão, Portugal, then you have come to the right place. Located just under 10 km from the city of Faro, Olhão is a county with 5 towns — Olhão, Quelfes, Pechão, Fuseta, and Moncarapacho — that sits on land that stretches throughout the nationally protected Ria Formosa to the Barrocal of Algarve.

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One of the most unique experiences in Olhão is visiting an oyster farm where you’ll taste fresh oysters paired perfectly with crisp wine. ↳ Book this experience here.

When people come to the Algarve, they often go west, stopping at popular towns like Albufeira, Portimão, and Lagos. And although these towns each have their own unique charms, they can get quite busy, especially over the summer season.

Enter Olhão, a charming small Algarve town that offers the quintessential Algarvian allure but with an intimate, local charm — a serene escape from the bustling crowds, where traditions run deep and authenticity thrives.

But what are some of the things to do in Olhão, Portugal? Before we get into that, let’s dive into some basics.

Where is Olhao?

Olhão is situated in the eastern part of the Algarve in southern Portugal. Nestled on the coast, it’s a town that’s tightly connected to the sea and its rich fishing traditions.

From Faro airport, Olhão is a mere stone’s throw away, approximately 10 km (6.2 mi). If you plan on exploring more of the Algarve, Albufeira is around 45 km (roughly 28 miles), Lagos is approximately 80 km (around 50 miles) from Olhão, and Tavira is 28 km (roughly 17 miles).

Lastly, If you are coming to Olhão from the capital, Lisbon is around 278 km (or about 173 miles).

How to Get To Olhao

Going to Olhão Algarve? The best option is renting a car, especially if you want to explore the Algarve at your own pace. For car rentals, I always recommend Discover Cars, as they often give you the best deals.

However, if you aren’t too keen on driving, there are two other options. The first is taking a Flixbus. The bus leaves from Lisbon (Oriente) and will take you to Olhão, specifically, Av. Operarios Conserveiros. It takes around 3. 5 hours.

The second option is the train from Lisbon (Entrecampos) to Faro. The trip takes around 3.5 hours. From Faro, you’ll have to take a taxi or an UBER to get to your final destination.

15 Things to Do in Olhão, Portugal

So whether you take a bus, train, or car, once you get to Olhao, you’ll realize that there are plenty of Olhão things to do. What are some of those things? Let’s dive right into our list.

☀️ Before we start: Olhao does not have any beaches. If you want to go to the beach, you’ll have to take a ferry or a water taxi to one of the nearby islands.

1. Explore the Town of Olhao

The Olhao municipal market

Olhão might be small, but there’s no shortage of charm here. Dive straight into its narrow streets in the Barreta Quarter and the Levante Quarter. On your stroll, you’ll want to pause at the Casa Dr. Bernardino da Silva and the Igreja Matriz (Mother Church).

But one of the true highlights is the municipal market on Avenida 5 de Outubro, right near the waterfront. This market is split into two impressive buildings: one for fruits/vegetables and another, the fish market, which stands out not only for its offerings but also its architecture.

Rumor has it that the ironwork of the fish market building has ties to the Eiffel Company — the same genius behind the Eiffel Tower. Whether it’s true or not, it adds to the allure. The market is open every day, except Sunday, from 07:00 – 13:00.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

2. Go Island-Hopping

One of the things to do in Olhão is to visit the island of Farol and visit the beach and lighthouse
One of the things to do in Olhao is to head to Farol Island, famous for its beaches and beautiful lighthouse

Spanning the coast from Faro to Cacela Velha and brushing right past Olhão, Ria Formosa Natural Park is an expansive lagoon system renowned for its wildlife, beaches, and five barrier islands. Among these, Armona, Culatra, and Farol (Lighthouse) islands stand out as Olhão’s neighbors.

Ilha de Armona offers pristine beaches, a perfect spot for relaxation. Culatra, on the other hand, is home to restaurants, a beach, and an oyster farm. Ilha da Farol is famed for its commanding lighthouse, a beacon for mariners, and a sight not to be missed. It also has a beach and restaurants.

How can you get here? First is the ferry, but be prepared as it might take 45 minutes to reach your destination, and if the tide’s not in your favor, the return can stretch to 1h15. If you’re looking for a quicker and more private journey, water taxis are available. They’ll set you back roughly 45 euros (50 USD) for three people each way.

a man standing next to a water taxi in Olhão
A boat with the name Culatra written on it
The view from the top of the lighthouse on Ilha do Farol

And if you’re in for a detailed exploration, consider booking a tour for a comprehensive island experience. I recommend this Ria Formosa – Boat tour to the 3 Islands: Armona | Culatra Island | Lighthouse, which is one of the rated tourist attractions in Olhao Algarve with over 700 5⭐️ reviews.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

3. Eat Fresh Oysters On Culatra Island

hand with an oyster in it, visiting an oyster farm is one of the things to do in Olhão
This oyster experience can only be done with a guided tour, but it is 100% worth it and is one of the best day trips from Olhão.

Wade into the waters and experience firsthand the art of shucking, guided by seasoned farmers who’ve mastered the craft. You’ll witness the journey of these marine treasures, from spotting baby oysters in their nurturing phase to understanding their growth patterns.

But the real joy lies in the tasting. Fresh from the sea, indulge in the creamy and salty goodness of these oysters, perfectly paired with a sip of refreshing Portuguese sparkling wine. It’s not merely a tour; it’s a hands-on, unforgettable gastronomic experience.

Book this private OYSTER FARMING CULATRA ISLAND experience here.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

4. Walk around the waterfront  

The Caique Bom Sucesso is an important site to see when walking along the Olhão promenade.

Anchoring Olhão’s bustling life is its vibrant waterfront. If you are looking for food or a glass of Portuguese wine, this is the place to be. From seafood delights to classic Portuguese tapas, options there is something for every type of foodie. Where to eat in Olhão—I personally recommend Terra i Mar.

If your appetite leans more toward history, take a leisurely stroll to admire the myriad of boats and pause at the ‘Caique Bom Sucesso fishing boat replica. This isn’t just any boat. In 1808, daring fishermen from Olhão sailed it to Brazil, breaking news to King João IV about their victory over the French.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

5. Visit Fuseta

One of the things to do near Olhão Portugal is to take a quick trip to Fuseta.

Fuseta, a gem on the eastern Algarve coast, promises a blend of nature, culture, and serene beachside relaxation. Just a short drive from Olhão, this tranquil fishing village offers sandy beaches facing the calm waters of the Ria Formosa lagoon.

A ferry ride will take you to the barrier islands with pristine Atlantic beaches. Meander through the town’s old quarters, and you might stumble upon locals mending their fishing nets, a sight that captures Fuseta’s deep maritime roots. Don’t leave without trying the freshly grilled seafood in one of the waterfront eateries, a perfect end to your visit.

Quick Tip: Fuesta is close to the ocean, meaning that you can reach the beach without having to take a boat. You can also hire kayaks. You can also take a full-day trip around Fuseta.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

6. Go On an Olive-Oil Tasting

For centuries, olive trees have graced the landscapes of the Algarve, bearing fruits that yield the golden elixir. Among its renowned producers stands Monterosa, nestled in Moncarapacho near Faro.

Established in 1969, Monterosa is a gold medal–winning olive oil producer. Visitors are welcomed into the heart of its operation, from strolling through orchards rich with history to understanding the meticulous process that ensures unparalleled quality. Even if you don’t do a tour, you can still shop at the onsite shop to buy oils to take home.

Remarkably, every olive at Monterosa is handpicked and swiftly pressed, preserving its essence. A visit here isn’t just a tour; it’s an immersion into the craft of olive oil making, culminating in a tasting. If you time your visit for autumn, you’ll witness the orchard buzzing during the picking season.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

7. Take Part in A Cataplana Cooking Class

The Cataplana is not just a dish — it’s an embodiment of Algarvian culture. Cataplana is typically made with a mix of fresh seafood, sausage, and vegetables and seasoned with herbs and spices, cooked in a unique clam-shaped cookware of the same name.

During this Catapalana Cooking Class, you’ll first meet your chef of the day at the famous Olhão market to handpick the freshest ingredients, each telling a tale of the region’s maritime abundance and Moorish influences.

After a quick walk, you’ll reach the chef’s kitchen. Together, you’ll use the ingredients you picked to make a three-course meal. Depending on the weather, enjoy your handcrafted dishes on the scenic rooftop or in the elegant dining area.

Looking for more Olhão food experiences? Book them here.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

8. Go On A Dolphin-Watching Tour

Starting from Olhão’s marina, seasoned skippers take you on specialized boats built for optimal viewing. As you venture into the Atlantic, they’ll share insights about dolphin behaviors and the region’s marine ecology. The Ria Formosa Natural Park nearby serves as a stunning backdrop, its lagoons and barrier islands hosting diverse birdlife.

This experience is not just about seeing dolphins but understanding their importance in the larger marine ecosystem of the Algarve.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

9. Seven Hanging Valleys Guided Hiking Day Trip

© Detoured Studio

When in the Algarve, the Seven Hanging Valleys hiking trail is an unmissable gem. Starting from Olhão, hop on a transfer that’ll whisk you straight to nature’s masterpiece. Your first stop? The fascinating caves of Algar Seco. As you tread, let the awe of rugged cliffs and secret caves envelop you, with your guide ensuring you don’t miss a beat.

Glimpse the famous Benagil Cave and keep your eyes peeled for playful dolphins and majestic seabirds soaring above. Your trail will climax at the ever-vibrant Praia da Marinha. Here’s the cherry on top: savor traditional Portuguese delights before you comfortably drive back to Olhão.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

10. Go On Bird-Watching Tour

The Ria Formosa Natural Park, with its sprawling wetlands and tranquil lagoons, is a sanctuary for birds. Here you’ll find over 200 species of birds, some of which are very rare or endangered. See birds like white storks, little egrets, spoonbills, and grey plovers.

Looking for a more immersive experience? Consider booking this 2-hour Bird Watching Guided Boat Trip in Ria Formosa from Faro Algarve.” On this intimate tour, limited to 10 participants, you’ll explore the park’s wonders on a traditional painted saveiro boat. Led by knowledgeable guides, the journey offers a blend of history, nature, and sheer beauty.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

11. Enjoy A Beach Breakfast or Sunset Picnic

There’s something truly magical about dining by the sea, especially in the picturesque town of Olhão. Opt for a beach breakfast at a prime beachside location. This private tour offers a tailored menu and itinerary catering to both families and couples.

Alternatively, choose a sunset picnic. Savor traditional local snacks in a handpicked Algarvian spot as the sun sets. After soaking in the views, return to Olhão Marina by boat. This is a great option for a romantic evening, a get-together with friends, or simply appreciating the Algarve’s natural beauty.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

12. Visit the fisherman’s quarter (Bairro dos Pescadores)

Within the heart of Olhão lies the Bairro dos Pescadores or Fisherman’s Quarter. Wander its meandering cobbled alleys, and you’re met with a sea of whitewashed, cube-shaped homes resembling the enchanting medinas of Morocco. These structures, with their flat roof terraces, were ingeniously designed for a heartfelt reason: to allow fishermen’s wives a clear view of the harbor, waiting for the safe return of their loved ones from the sea.

This unique architecture reveals a blend of Algarvian and Arab influences, a testament to the fishermen’s maritime travels to Moroccan coasts. Furthermore, their intricate lacy chimneys add character, branding Olhão as a notable cubist city.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

13. Take a Picture of the Town’s Murals

As you meander through Olhão, the town’s history is painted vividly on its walls. Particularly around Rua da Fábrica Velha, murals come alive with tales of a bygone era: fishermen navigating their boats, women meticulously cleaning fish, and bustling scenes from the canning factories.

A prominent board in Largo da Fábrica Velha marks the site of the Algarve’s pioneering canning factory, an industry that once breathed life into the local fishing scene and reshaped Olhão’s trajectory. Commissioned by the town council and crafted by four dedicated artists using historical photos as their muse, these murals encapsulate Olhão’s rich heritage.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

14. Find all the Legends of Olhão

The Big-Eye Boy

In Olhão, the Path of Legends tells tales steeped in mystery and enchantment. One is about Floripes, a beautiful woman who’d visit an old man named Ze. Curious, Juliao waited one night and met the enchanting Moorish maiden. She revealed an ancient curse, hinting at a brave act by the sea to free her. But Juliao engaged to another, hesitated. By dawn, Ze vanished, believed to be taken by Floripes to distant shores.

The legend of Arraul
the legend of Floripes

Another story talks about a Big-Eyed Boy. He’d show up on dark nights, and when fishermen tried to help him, he became too heavy to carry. He, however, no longer appears. Some say a woman named Moura Felipes took him away. Finally, the legend of Arraul depicts a survivor from Atlantis who, after being swallowed by a whale and deposited ashore, created barrier islands to protect the beloved land that is now Olhão.

Things to do in Olhão Algarve

15. Shop local artisans in the town

Dive deep into Olhão’s artisanal scene right in the heart of the old town. At Ze e Maria, discover a curated selection of Portuguese-crafted ceramics, textiles, and more, including the standout Casa Cubista range. These terracotta pieces, crafted in Alentejo, take inspiration from Olhão’s Cubist charm.

For a different vibe, step into Pinta Roxa, half shop, half local artist gallery. Then, let your eyes wander over intricate patterns at Mosaic Olhão, a studio specializing in bespoke mosaic artworks. Round off your artisanal journey at Atelier Zea, a haven for art enthusiasts.

Where To Stay in Olhão Algarve

A picture of the Real Marina Hotel & Spa, a 5-star luxury waterfront hotel.

There are plenty of places to stay in Olhão, depending on your needs and your budget. I personally stayed at the Real Marina Hotel & Spa (I wrote a review about it here), and can’t recommend it enough. However, here are a couple of other options:

  • Real Marina Hotel & Spa | Rating: 8.5 out of 10: This luxury 5-star hotel has it all, including a great price-value ratio. It is within walking distance of all major attractions while still offering plenty of things to do onsite. It also has one of the best continental breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Prices start at € 113 per nightBook your stay at the Real Marina Hotel & Spa.
  • Pure Formosa Concept Hotel | Rating: 9 out of 10: Nestled in Olhão, the 3-star Pure Formosa Concept Hotel is a modern gem built in 2021. Conveniently located near major attractions, its amenities offer unmatched comfort. Prices start at € 85 per night. ↳ Book your stay at Pure Formosa Concept Hotel
  • Hotel Cidade de Olhão | Rating 8.8 out of 10. Located in the heart of Olhão, Hotel Cidade de Olhão presents a blend of modern comforts and a prime location. Guests can unwind by the outdoor pool, relax on the sun terrace, and indulge at the bar. Each room boasts modern décor, air-conditioning, soundproofing, and a flat-screen TV. Some even feature balconies for added views. Prices start at € 67 per night. ↳ Book your stay at Hotel Cidade de Olhão.
  • Quinta dos Poetas Nature Hotel & Apartments | Rating 8.9 out of 10. Located in Olhão’s scenic countryside, Quinta dos Poetas offers a serene escape. Boasting a vast outdoor pool, lush gardens, lakes, and a fitness trail, it’s a nature lover’s retreat. For those seeking added privacy, separate apartments with full kitchenettes, spacious terraces, and private parking are available. Prices start at € 130 per night. ↳ Book your stay at Quinta dos Poetas Nature Hotel & Apartments.

A Little Bit Of Background History

Olhão, often regarded as the Algarve’s fishing capital, has deep roots intertwined with the sea. Its origins date back to the Moorish era, with its narrow streets and unique cubic houses bearing testimony to its ancient architectural influences. The town flourished in the 17th century as a prominent fishing port, and this maritime legacy remains evident even today.

The famous Revolt of Olhão in 1808 marked a pivotal point in the town’s history. Locals valiantly resisted the Napoleonic occupation, and their bravery led to the expulsion of French troops from the Algarve. This victory is still celebrated with pride during the annual Seafood Festival, blending history with the town’s enduring love for the ocean.

Its close proximity to the Ria Formosa lagoon has also played a significant role in shaping Olhão’s identity, turning it into a haven for birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, and those seeking tranquility by the water.

Things to do in Olhão Portugal: FAQ

Is it worth visiting Olhão Portugal?

Absolutely! Olhão is a gem in the Algarve with its rich maritime history, distinctive architecture, and vibrant marketplaces. Its close proximity to the Ria Formosa Natural Park and its authentic atmosphere make it a worthwhile destination.

What is Olhão known for?

Olhão is renowned for its bustling fish markets, unique “cubist” architecture influenced by North African designs, and its deep connection to the Ria Formosa lagoons, a haven for birdwatchers.

Does Olhão have nightlife?

While Olhão isn’t a major nightlife hub, it does offer a selection of cozy bars and restaurants, especially along the waterfront, perfect for a relaxed evening.

How far is Olhão from the beach?

Olhão itself is a coastal town. While it doesn’t have beaches within the town center, a short ferry or boat taxi ride will take you to the pristine barrier islands of Ria Formosa with stunning beaches.

If you want to go to the beach, Ilha do Farol, or Lighthouse island is a great option

How safe is Olhão?

Olhão, like most parts of the Algarve, is generally safe for visitors. While it’s always good to practice common travel precautions, tourists can feel secure while exploring the town and its surroundings.

Final Thoughts: Things to do in Olhão Portugal

Olhão offers an enticing blend of history, culture, and nature that’s hard to resist. From its unique architecture and maritime tales to its vibrant markets and proximity to the Ria Formosa, there’s no shortage of fascinating things to do in Olhão.

Whether you’re seeking a laid-back coastal escape or eager to immerse yourself in the local way of life, this town has something for every traveler. As you plan your next adventure, don’t overlook the multitude of things to do in Olhão, a true gem in the heart of the Algarve.

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