Visiting the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal offers many tempting excursions. Some of the top attractions include Benagil Caves, Sagres and Cabo de São Vicente, and the modern-day capital of the Algarve, Faro. But head a little inland, and you will find a traditional Portuguese city that’s been half-forgotten to time.
Once the hub of trade along the Arade River, Silves saw visitors such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Vikings, and Moors pass through its city gates. But due to the river silting up in the 13th century, Silves was abandoned in favour of Faro, leaving its narrow winding streets and historical features protected from the passage of time.
Though not as popular as Sagres with visitors, Silves has a rich Moorish past and plenty of things to discover. The city is small and walkable, but you can easily spend a whole day here. You might also notice that it’s a lot cheaper than the touristy coastal towns, with authentic Portuguese food that’s typical of the region.
Silves used to be the Arabic capital of the Algarve. Between the 9th and 12th centuries, it thrived as a hub of trade and culture. Set in a prime position by the Arade River, Silves was once a key trading city vital in the export of goods from the region, such as minerals, cork, wood, figs, oranges, and fresh fish.
Today, the city has a small population of around 37,000 residents. One of the main reasons to visit Silves is that it has the best-preserved Middle Age castle in the Algarve. It also has a beautiful cathedral, delicious cafes, and a friendly local feel.
One of the main reasons to visit Silves is the huge red-sandstone Fortaleza sitting high on the city’s skyline. But is Silves Castle worth visiting on a day trip? The answer is absolutely.
With entrance costing just a few Euros you can wander around this old Moorish stronghold, uncovering its dark past and glorious views of the city below. The castle saw many sieges, battles, and much bloodshed during the 12th and 13th centuries when the Moors fought tooth-and-nail with the Christians from the north.
The castle's well-preserved defensive walls, turrets and gates remain impressive today - though many of its artefacts have been moved to the nearby museum.
If you are lucky enough to visit Silves in August, you might catch the week-long medieval fair. The annual event sees locals dress up in costume, street food vendors on every alleyway, and plenty of entertainment for everyone.
Opening hours are from 9 am – 8 pm in summer, and times may vary in winter.
A combined ticket to the castle and Municipal Archaeology Museum costs €2.80 for adults and €2.20 for children/concessions.
The next stop on your day trip to Silves might be Sé Catedral de Silves. It’s well-known as one of the best-preserved gothic cathedrals in Southern Portugal, and has stood on top of the remains of a Moorish mosque since the 12th century.
Silves was the religious centre of the Algarve right up to the 16th century, so it's easy to understand why this building was so elaborate. The grand sandstone cathedral is laid out in the Latin cross style, with Gothic accents and architectural influences throughout.
A highlight is the tombstone of King John II that lies inside, shrouded by the mystery of his suspicious death in 1495.
The cathedral is closed on weekends, but it is open to visitors from 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 6pm on weekdays (excluding holidays and special events). Entry to the cathedral is €1 per person.
Be sure to visit the Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves (archaeological museum) to uncover more of the city's history. It covers much of Silves past, dating all of the way back to the 2nd century BCE, and continues right up until the present day. The museum is located directly opposite Silves Cathedral and can be visited with a combination ticket from the castle.
Stop by at Torreão da Porta da Cidade, one of three gates that once protected the city along with a kilometre-long wall. The square opposite is one of the liveliest spots in town, full of buzzing cafes and locals going about their day.
Then, cross the Ponte Romana Bridge, named as it was the site of the only Roman bridge in the city, to the south of the river for fantastic views of the city’s whitewashed walls topped by terracotta roofs and the imposing castle.
If you still have time, head to the marble-carved Cross of Portugal (Cruz do Portugal) on the north-eastern side of town.
Tours can be organised from most nearby towns, including Lagos, Portimão, and Albufeira. Many include stops at local wineries or at nearby attractions like Monchique.
Tickets for the main attractions in Silves aren’t available online, so simply pay at the door when you arrive - there’s no need to pre-book.
This 4-hour guided tour to a local family-owned winery offers a great slice of Portuguese hospitality, followed by a guided visit to the historical town of Silves on a small group tour - from € 60 per person.
Combine attractions with this full-day tour to Silves, Caldas de Monchique and Fóia. Enjoy the natural wonders at the Thermal Spa of Caldas de Monchique, before pressing onward to Fóia, the highest point in the Algarve region - from € 79 per person.
An alternative option is to travel by boat. This Silves and the Arade River History Tour takes place on a solar-powered boat, offering an eco-friendly and pollution-free choice for travellers visiting from Portimão. The tour takes around 4.5 hours, with 1.5 hours free to explore Silves - from € 40 per person.
If you choose to go alone without a tour, there are several options via public transport, but hiring a car offers the easiest way to explore the area.
Silves train station lies on the main line and has regular connections to all of the major coastal towns. However, it is located 2 kilometres outside of the city so you will need to walk or take a taxi to reach the centre.
The main bus stop is on the southwestern side of town. Just keep in mind that there is no main bus station and buses can be irregular and challenging to navigate as a tourist.
If driving yourself, follow the A22 and take Junction 6 to the N124 North. Narrow streets and limited parking mean that it’s best to avoid driving in the historic centre, but there is a large car park on the southwestern side of the old town.
Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing where to eat in Silves. For a quintessential Portuguese lunch, you can’t beat Café da Rosa. With homemade pastries like the irresistible Pastel de Nata on offer, and simple tables and walls covered in intricate Portuguese tiling, it’s the perfect place to unwind for a while.
For something a bit more substantial, the seafood on offer at Marisqueira Rui is some of the best in town, while A Tasca qu'era do Joãozinho offers a fantastic vegetarian menu. Another option is to head to Rua da Cruz de Portugal for a selection of open-air cafes with great views right along the river bank.
If you want to try as many local foods as possible the Mercado Municipal (traditional market) is an unmissable stop on your Silves itinerary. It takes place between Monday and Saturday from 7 AM to 2 PM, and brings together a collection of local producers, bakers, and artisans.
Like much of the Algarve, summer is the busiest time to visit with the peak season running from July into September. But there is usually still plenty of room to park and ample space to get around in Silves.
Saturday is a great day to visit as there is a weekly farmers market in the morning, while both the museum and the castle remain open on Sundays and Mondays (unlike some of the other attractions in many of the smaller towns in the Algarve).
If you wish to enter the cathedral, it's good to know that it’s closed on weekends.
Last Updated 15 October 2023