Next up in our series of one-day guides is a guide to Silves. Silves is the historic capital of the Algarve and retains much of its history and culture. It has one of the best examples of a 13th century castle and its town retains many of its historic features from its long past. Balancing the history and culture are the usual features of Portuguese life. A lively market, arts and crafts, café culture and booming restaurant scene resulting in some of the best food you can find in the Algarve too. If you’re nearby it’s well worth a visit or even worth basing yourself in Silves to visit the rest of the Algarve from.
When to visit Silves?
As with lots of towns in the Algarve, there’s a lively farmers market on Saturday mornings. So visiting on a Saturday can be a good experience. Really though, anytime of the week will be good. Most of the attractions (the Castle and the museum) are open on Sundays unlike in many of the smaller towns in the Algarve. Any day of the week is worth it if you’d like a less hurried visit.
How to get to Silves?
Silves is 45 minutes from Faro Airport if taking the A22 (toll roads). Or approximately 1 hour if you take the scenic route avoiding those toll roads by car. Buses are available from Albufeira (4.50 single/9.00 return). To arrive from other destinations like Faro or Lagos using public buses you’ll have to connect in Albufeira first. The town is also served by train and has its own station. Although its approximately 2km from the town so factor in a walk, a taxi, or local bus service.
A Brief Introduction to Silves and its History
Silves saw its rise to prominence in the Moorish Algarve, where its place alongside Arade river saw it become the economic center of the Kingdom. As a result of its status, it changed hands multiple times between the Crusaders and the Moorish before being fully retained in 1243. The 13th century saw the town experience a steep decline, the Arade river which the town depended on for its vital trade silted up. With large boats no longer able to sail up the river and cut off from North African ports, its wealth dried up. With the economic and cultural capitals moving elsewhere to nearby Faro. Silves experienced a steady decline that lasted long until the 20th century. Perhaps though, this decline is what kept expansion at bay and its historical features so well preserved which makes it the glorious town it is today.
Wetravel’s One Day Guide to Silves
The Old Town
The historic centre of Silves is compact and easily walk able. Just be weary of the many steep cobbled streets – Silves is built on a large hill after all. Within these streets is plenty of history and culture and there are many small art galleries, craft shops and cafés to explore. Keep a look out for the painted municipal electricity boxes. The brightly coloured boxes often include Algarvian symbols like storks or almond trees. They make a nice game to find as many as you can as you explore the many side streets.
Torreão da Porta da Cidade (Tower of the City Gate)
One of the first attractions many people come across is the historic gate and tower (Torreão da Porta da Cidade). It’s an impressive fortification and marks one of the entrances of the town’s former walls. A lively square is adjacent to the gate with several cafés situated around a fountain. It makes a nice stop to appreciate the impressive fortifications and to try and spot some storks from.
Cathedral (Catedral de Silves)
Walking through the gate and continuing up the hill you’ll soon come across Silves Gothic cathedral. The cathedral was built in the 13th century on the site of a former mosque. Striking to many people is the contrast between typical Algarve white washing and the red sandstone from the Silves region. The earthquake of 1755 catastrophically damaged it, which resulted in the loss of its nave and many of its former Gothic features. It was rebuilt in the following century which added Baroque features and a bell tower to its mismatched design. Nowadays, the cathedral is considered by many to be the most important Gothic building in the Algarve. It costs €1.50 to enter the cathedral and is well worth it to see all its contrasting features from the inside.
Castle (Castelo de Silves)
A short walk from the cathedral will lead you to the famous castle. Fortifications in Silves have Roman origins, but the castle we see today was built by the Moors between the 8th and 13th centuries. It costs €2.80 to enter and you can walk along the entirety of its walls and look out from its battlements and towers. The panoramic views are incredible and if you have to visit one thing in Silves this should be it! Not much remains of its original interior, on the western side are some excavations showing some of the original architecture and there is also a café and a visitor center where you can learn more about the castle. The original cistern houses an exhibition – at the time we visited dedicated to the conservation of the Iberian Lynx.
Archaeological Museum (Museu Municipal de Arqueologia)
If you’ve not yet had your fill of history in Silves, then located on Rua Find the Name Out is the rather good Archaeological museum. It’s an excellently curated museum covering the origins of Silves from the Palaeolithic period, through its Roman and Moorish history. The focal point is a preserved 18m deep Moorish well that can be viewed from the top, or from the bottom of a recently unearthed staircase. A combined ticket for €3.90 allows entrance to both the castle so if you’re planning to visit both make sure to purchase one save some money! Normal entry is €2.10 and you can check the most up to date opening times on its website here.
Roman Bridge (Ponte de Silves)
Despite being locally known as the ‘Roman Bridge’, it is actually much younger and dates sometime around 1439. Recent studies have suggested a Roman crossing existed somewhere in the area and its believed that this is how the bridge gets its colloquial name. Interestingly though, none of the available medieval descriptions of Silves mention a bridge. The bridge is built from local stone and comprises of five equal arches spanning the Arade river. At one stage the bridge was much longer, an arch was removed to create space for the modern road you see today. Although its an interesting focal point, and a lovely way to see some nature, don’t get too caught up in its ‘Roman’ naming.
Synonymous with Silves is the images of Storks soaring gracefully over its town and castle. These magnificent birds are over 1m tall and with a wingspan double that, they’re impressive to watch flying. Their nests are impressive feats of engineering and are seemingly built on any tall place or object. It’s against the law to disturb a nest so often the locals will work around or leave in place features with a nest on! In Silves, make sure to keep an eye out for the nests on top of chimneys, spires, pylons and trees. The Storks have a lifespan of up to 35 years, and at around 3-5 years old the chicks will usually return home or somewhere close by to build their own nests. This results in generational groupings of nests of which some can be found in Silves alongside the river.
Our favourite place to admire them is opposite the Torreão da Porta da Cidade. On the small street of Rua Policarpo there’s an intersection. In the middle is a former workshop with an old red brick chimney. This chimney is a great example of one that couldn’t be demolished because of the nesting Storks that had chosen it to be their home! It’s a great location and even modest cameras can take good photos of the pair of storks.
Cruz de Portugal
If you’ve read more than one guide you’ll see that everyone mentions this. However, many guides leave out what it actually is and why you might want to visit. To the non history buffs, this is just a Christian cross in a rather utalitarian carpark on the outskirts of town. It’s a 3m tall limestone cross of uncertain origin. Current research suggests the cross was gifted to the town in the 15th century by King Manuel I. Unfortunately, little else is known about its origins. It incorporates Gothic features although there is some debate if these are Manueline or older. It’s a notable feature for people interested in Portuguese history but not necessarily for everyone.
Best Restaurants in Silves
Away from the touristy coast of the Algarve is the opportunity to get some incredible Portuguese food at a more reasonable price. Writing this small list could have been an article itself (and maybe it will be one day!).
Churrasqueira Valdemar – N 124, Mercado Municipal de Silves, loja 21 e 22
You’ll find many places that people will refer to as a local dining experience, but this is one of those that we really felt it to be true. You’ll be swiftly taken to a table and asked three questions, (mixed salad? Plain or piri-piri chicken? What are you drinking?). If you want extras like bread and olives you’ll have to ask for it! When we last visited we had bread, olives, Algarve carrots and cheese, mixed salad, fries, one piri-piri chicken, two beers, two coffees and it all came to exactly €20. With possibly some rounding from the staff we thought it was very reasonable!
Restaurante Marisqueira Rui – Rua Comendador Vilarinho No 27
Strangely enough, you might find one of the most highly regarded Seafood restaurants in the Algarve away from the coast and inland in Silves. We haven’t been yet, but everyone we’ve spoken to has recommended this place, so it’s definitely on our list! Grilled fish starts around €15 and goes up from there, the menu can be found online here.
Taberna Almedina – Rua Mouzinho de Albuquerque 2
Not far from both of the above options is Taberna Almedina, it’s another casual offering that’s popular with both locals and tourists. With starters and petiscos (tapas) from €7, and mains from €12, it’s reasonably priced too. It also has a small but great vegetarian menu and one of the few restaurants in Silves that offers this, the menu can be found here.
O Barradas – Venda Nova, Silves
If you want Portuguese and you’re looking for a little more than the Churrasquiera experience, then O Barradas might be the best option for you. It’s more fine dining than any of the restaurants listed here and is approximately 5km outside of town. It offers traditional Portuguese food, with local ingredients and a modern twist. (It’s currently the No.2 restaurant in Silves on Tripadvisor). Some of its most popular dishes are the meat kebabs or lamb stew. Starters from around €8 and mains from around €15, its menu can be found here.
Day trips from Silves
Trips from Silves to Armacao de Pera, Carveiro, Benagil Caves and Ferragudo will all give you a strong dose of the famous Algarve coast if you decide to stay in the city! A similar town, with a slightly less historical focus and more commerce is Loule about 40km east. If you liked Silves you’ll love Loule and if you can’t decide then read our guide and visit both!
Events in Silves
At the beginning of each August Silves holds its famous Medieval Festival. Each night between 6pm and 1am, visitors will have the opportunity to experience unique adventures that will take them back in time and give them an insight into the town of Silves during the Medieval period. Some of its most popular events are the medieval jousting and war games. It’s a truly unique festival because of the historical setting. It’s a must do if you’re in the Algarve for any of the ten days the festival lasts.
Like many of the larger towns in the Algarve, Silves also has its own annual beer festival. Local and national breweries are represented with ample opportunity to drink both. As well as the beer, there is a wide range of arts and crafts, street food, workshops, and live music to keep you entertained. If celebrating all things medieval doesn’t sound for you, perhaps a more modern celebration is.
Night Market (Mercado Fora d’Horas)
Every year during Summer, usually on the first Thursday of each month Silves opens its market to visitors at night. “Mercado Fora d’Horas” which simply means “Market outside opening hours”. As well as the late-night farmers market you’ll find local street food, arts and crafts, and entertainment.
We really hope you’ve enjoyed reading our guide to Silves and that it inspires you to visit. If there’s something you think we’ve missed in our guide, get in contact with us or leave a comment below.