Loulé is a traditional market town located approximately 18km north of Faro. It’s a small town that even in the summer manages to avoid much of the hustle and bustle of the Algarve. Well, except for one day of the week. Each Saturday morning its traditional fish market merges with a local farmers market. Fresh fruit and veg vendors line the streets outside of the market while the inside is equally busy. It creates a hectic working atmosphere that can be a tourist activity in itself. The rest of the town is small, historical and makes a wonderful day trip. Especially if you’re looking for a trip and some culture away from the busy beaches of the Algarve during the summer season. If you’re looking for the best Loulé guide you’re in the right place!
When to Visit Loulé?
Our advice would be to visit on a Saturday morning. You’ll catch all the excitement of the farmers market, fish market and nearby gypsy market. For those that appreciate a less hurried visit, then any other day during the week will be a good option.
How to Get to Loulé?
Loulé is a well-located town with several transport options nearby. With good road access and both frequent buses and trains but as always, a few things to think about. The bus station is located very centrally, but the train station might surprise you. Despite being called Loule Train Station, it’s 6km away so factor in a taxi or a local bus if you’re coming by train. Buses are available and operated by EVA. Albufeira to Loulé costs €9.00 for a return trip, Faro to Loulé costs €6.80 for a return trip. If you’re driving, car parking is abundant. The small historic streets are free but they’re typically Portuguese; cobbled, cramp, and often occupied with the locals parked all over the place. A large graded car park is available at Rua do Matadouro 25, it’s also free and within easy walking distance to the town centre.
How to Get Around Loulé, Portugal?
Loulé is a small town and almost everything is within easy walking distance. If you are venturing further to some local sites or a small hike, then a car, taxi or bus will be needed. Uber is reliable in the centre of Loulé and there is a selection of local taxis available.
During the morning, most people choose to start their visit at the Mercado Municipal de Loulé in the centre of town and that’s where our guide to Loulé starts. The distinctive domed building is hard to miss. We recently wrote about an ‘Algarve e Schweppes’ sign, so look out for a great example of this on the wall of Café Havaneza if you’re coming from the bus station. If you’re arriving in the morning head inside to see a variety of local goods and the quite famous fish market.
Market – Mercado Municipal de Loulé
It’s perhaps Loulé’s most impressive piece of architectural heritage, the art-nouveau Mercado Municipal. It’s a 1908 revivalist neo-Arab construction with four domes at each of its four corners and four gates on each of its four sides. With its striking raspberry-red roof, domes, and Arabic features contrasting against cream-coloured walls it certainly stands out. Inside you’ll not only find the famous fish market, but also stalls selling a wide variety of goods. If you’re looking for local gifts to take back home, you’ll find plenty of options here, honey, spices, jams and even local wines to name a few.
Camara Municipal de Loulé
After exiting the main entrance of the Mercado Municipal head down Praça da República. It’s a wide street filled with bars, coffee shops, restaurants and local boutiques. If you’re still looking for a souvenir there’s several of the more high-end variety souvenir shops selling typical Portuguese pottery and tiles. As you walk down the street, you’ll soon come across the Camara Municipal de Loulé. It’s an 18th century building that dates to the golden era of Portugal’s history. The stately building dates to 1842, but only became the town hall when it was purchased by the municipality in 1884. To the right of the town hall you can see a large section of the old city walls. To the far right of the Camara is also an old city archway that leads into the cobbled old town. Keep a look out for Loulé’s distinctive purple and white flag too!
Antigo Convento do Espírito Santo
Not far from the town hall is an opening that leads to a large public square. The distinctive pink building is the old Convent of Espírito Santo, the convent also houses the municipal art gallery in its neoclassical cloister. Towering over the convent and located right in the centre of it is a single 45m tall Pine tree (a Norfolk Island pine to be precise). This tree is the tallest landmark in Loulé and can actually be seen from almost everywhere.
Coffee in Loulé
The main high street of Praça da República has a great variety of coffee shops and local boutiques. If you need a pick up following the market than anywhere a long this road is worthy of a coffee break and to people watch. Our two favourites in this part of town though, are Café Calcinha and Atelier dos Mimos. Although there are plenty of other coffee shops and pastelarias around if these are too busy.
Café Calcinha dates to 1929 and is the oldest coffee shop in Loulé, it’s modelled on a Brazilian coffee shop of the same era. In 2017 it underwent a considerable restoration when the art-deco interior and Brazilian wood features were restored to their original glory. Sitting outside is a bronze statue of António Alexio, an early 20th century poet and former customer. The café itself is steeped in both local politics and history, originally a place for the rich local bureaucrats and businessmen to escape. Alexio’s poetry transcended class barriers and he was tolerated inside the café. The café would eventually allow the poor to enter, but would keep the class barrier by splitting the seating area in half! Only during the 1960s would women be allowed to enter. It might not serve our favourite coffee in Loulé, but its local history and atmosphere is second to none. Also of note, it’s also one of the few cafés open on a Sunday if you’re visiting on this day.
Atelier dos Mimos
Unlike the grand and touristy Café Calcinha, Atelier dos Mimos offers the traditional and no-nonsense pastelaria experience directly opposite. It’s a rather plain looking Portuguese coffee shop from the outside but step inside to a bright and fresh interior. It has a wide variety of teas and fresh juices (our favourite is the orange, beetroot, apple, ginger and carrot, and their chicken tosta is the best in town). If you’re looking for low sugar or gluten free pastries they have these too! If you want something more substantial, both of these coffee shops also serve a selection of traditional Portuguese dishes as well as soups, quiches and pastas, all at very reasonable prices.
Castle of Loulé – Castelo de Loulé
Turning left at the end of Praça da Republica and heading along Rua da Barbacã will lead you to Loulé’s famous castle. As with most castles in the Algarve, this one dates back over 700 years to the reconquest period. The castle was built on the remains of a previous Muslim fortress under the instructions of King Afonso III in 1249. Only three defensive towers and the connecting walls remain but they provide a great focal point. Both how they impose on the old town, and as a reminder of past more violent times. The rest of the castle and its walls have reportedly been used in many of the nearby buildings – as was often the case, the recycling of bricks and material was common throughout the ages.
Municipal Archaeological Museum of Loulé
Within the walls of the castle is the Municipal Archaeological Museum of Loule. It’s a small but well curated museum with some interesting exhibits on Moorish and Roman life in Loule, and the medieval kitchen of the castle, well worth its small entry price of €1.62.
Directly opposite the castle is a pair of artisanal shops and is our first mention of some traditional industry in Loulé. Casa Brava makes artisanal cosmetics and is widely known for their olive oil soaps made in their own workshop. Next door is a traditional coppersmith, walking past this on a week day will give you a front row seat in coppersmithing. You’ll see some traditional copper goods like light fittings and cataplanas being hand made and many items are available to purchase.
Historic Streets and Medieval Old Town
Between the castle and the Igreja Matriz is the medieval old town. It’s a small area of many cobbled streets that head in seemingly random directions. Small workshops, artisan studios and as always in Portugal, many many coffee shops fill these narrow streets. During the week you’ll find many of the old wooden doors open and be able to see lots of traditional working industry. Cobblers, woodworkers, potters, tile painters and woodworking make up the beating heart of the old town. It’s easy to get lost in this corner of Loulé, but that’s also the best way to explore it. Hidden on Rua Vice Almirante Cândido dos Reis is the back entrance to the convent if you missed or skipped its entrance on the high street.
Church of St. Clemente
After winding your way through the historic streets we think it’s a good idea to head to Igreja Matriz de Loulé ou Igreja de São Clemente. The Church of São Clemente is the oldest church in Loulé and again dates from the 13th century reconquest period. The church’s most notable feature is its bell tower which was a minaret of the former Mosque that the church was built on top of! It’s 22.7m tall and 4.2m across and is an imposing feature on the local landscape. It’s been used as a bell tower for the church since the 13th century.
Adjacent to the Church is the beautiful park garden Jardim dos Amuados. In the heat of the summer the tall trees and palms offer some shade and a place to cool down. At the far end of the garden at the lookout, you can look down and see the garden is actually built on top of a section of the historic stone walls of Loulé. After leaving the church and its garden it’s a short walk back to your starting point. If you’ve followed this guide to Loulé through, you’ll have come full circle and find yourself back at the Mercado Municipal which completes our guide. Keep on reading to find out the best restaurants in Loulé, and a unique pastry.
Folhado de Loulé
Like many towns and regions in Portugal, Loulé has its very own pastry, Folhado de Loulé. It is a delicious combination of flakey pastry and a sweet but light egg custard. We know what you’re thinking, and no, this is nothing like a pastel de nata. It’s quite different and a deliciously light and crispy alternative. If you can really call a layered pastry filled with an egg cream “light”. It’s perfect for an afternoon snack with a coffee, or a even a light lunch on the go!
You’ll find them in lots of pastelerias in Loulé, but the original and the best can be found at LouléDoce. They’re a local bakery that are credited with the revival and preservation of the unique pastry, following its original and historic recipe from the early 1900s.
Best Restaurants in Loulé
Restaurante Churrasqueira Jolibela – Rua Camilo Castelo Branco 17, 8100-610
Traditional Portuguese Churrasqueira serving Piri Piri Chicken. It’s a no-frills restaurant that delivers great food at competitive prices. It’s usually very busy with a good mix of locals, expats and tourists. It’s worth a stop especially if you haven’t had traditional Piri Piri Chicken yet! The menu starts at around €5 for basic Piri Piri chicken and goes up from there with lots of other meat dishes available.
O Pescador – Rua Jose Fernandes Guerreiro 54, 8100-598
Right next to the fish market is a great place to try some of the fresh fish you saw while visiting the market. O Pescador is a local’s favourite with a simple interior, reasonable prices and simply great grilled fish.
Café Q – Rua Vice Almirante Candido Reis, 8100-606
Nestled into the historic old town is this little paradise. Its Instagram worthy courtyard is enough of a reason to stop by, but head inside for some fantastic food. It serves both traditional Portuguese and Afro-Luso (áfro-portuguese) fusion food with a very simple menu. On the menu when we visited was a fantastic Mozambique curry.
Brooklyn Burger – Rua a Voz de Loulé, 8100-522
For a small town Loulé has more than its fair share of burger restaurants. Our favourite one has to Brooklyn Burger or Brooklyn – Hamburgueria Artesanal to give its full name. It’s a little out the way of the main tourist areas, but its burger is definitely worth the walk! Starting at €8 for a burger and fries its reasonably priced too.
Events in Loulé
For a small town, Loulé has its fair share of world-famous events. During these events the population tends to swell well above what the local area can handle so it’s best to book accommodation way in advance or stay slightly further away and travel into Loulé.
Ending on Shrove Tuesday every February, Loulé Carnival is one of the biggest annual events in the Algarve region. It’s locally known as one of the oldest carnivals and has been held for over 100 years. The town shuts down around noon each day and the carnival starts at 3pm. With the streets closed the party starts and continues well into the early hours of each morning. In recent years the carnival has featured satirical floats as well as the traditional and it’s all in good humour.
Around the 21st June of each year is Med Festival. During this festival Loulé’s historic old town is closed off and stages for live music pop up in many of the vacated car parks and open spaces. Arts, craft and food stands spill into the historic streets, even many of the houses and workshops are turned into temporary bars and clubs. World music, food and culture are celebrated in Algarve’s biggest summer festival. You have to buy a ticket for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but on the Sunday its closing night it’s free entry for everyone.
Noite Branca (White Night)
On the last weekend of August another event takes place. Noite Branca or The Festival of the White Night. It’s a festival to celebrate the end of the summer months and a return to normality for the region. On the 31st August thousands of people both young and old take to the streets dressed in white in this free event hosted by Loule Municipality. The streets are again closed off to vehicles and live music, stages, food and, arts and craft can be found everywhere. This is one of the nights you can’t miss if you’re in the Algarve on this date.
We really hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide to Loulé and that it inspires you to visit. If there’s something you think we’ve missed, get in contact with us or leave a comment below.