Silves - the oldest city in the Algarve - Portugal

Silves, the oldest city in the Algarve

Silves is a small town in the south of Portugal and is considered the oldest city in the Algarve. What are the best things to do in Silves? Find out now.

About Silves

Silves is a city with approximately 10,000 inhabitants in the south of Portugal, in the Algarve. It is an old fortified city and you can see that immediately when you arrive: on the hill in the middle of the city is an old castle. The city has a long and turbulent history. During the Moorish rule (eighth to the thirteenth century) the city was called Xelb or Shilb and at that time, more than thirty thousand people lived here. It was a big city!

The city was attacked and conquered several times and at the end of the twelfth century and has been called the Baghdad of the West for a while. In 1242 the city was conquered by Paio Peres Correia and the current Silves arises.

Now Silves is mainly known as one of the most beautiful places in the Algarve and people mainly live from tourism (and fishing and cork). When you walk through the city you see many traces of the past. Every street corner tells a different story.

The best things to do in Silves

Despite the fact that Silves is only a small town, there are plenty of fun things to do in Silves. What are the most beautiful sights? These are the 10 best things to do in Silves.

Visit Silves Castle

The Silves Castle (Castelo de Silves) stands out when you arrive in town and is the largest Islamic structure in the Algarve. It is a national monument and you can visit it. You can take a walk on the castle walls (the views are beautiful!) and various exhibitions can be seen in a number of towers. There is also a cafe in the courtyard, where you can enjoy a drink on the terrace.

Walk across the Ponte Velha (Old Bridge)

Entering the city from the south, you have a car bridge and a pedestrian bridge over the Arade River. The pedestrian bridge is called the Ponte Velha (although it is also called the Ponte Romana de Silves) and dates from the fourteenth century. Until the 1960s, this was the main access road to the city.

Ponte Velha in Silves

Visit Silves Cathedral

Silves Cathedral was built at the end of the thirteenth century on the remains of the mosque. It is a large building with many Gothic and Baroque elements. In the church you will find several tombs of important bishops and famous inhabitants of Silves.

Silves Cathedral

Please note: you have to buy a ticket to visit the cathedral (€1.50 in November 2021). In addition, it is often closed around lunchtime. So visit the cathedral in the morning or in the afternoon.

Get lost in the old streets

Around the cathedral and the castle are many beautiful narrow streets where you can get lost. Take your time and wander around here for a while. You’ll discover one beautiful place after another.

Visit Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves

Would you like to learn more about the history of Silves? In the city center, you will find the archaeological museum where you can view various archaeological finds. You can also walk on a section of the old city wall at the back of the museum. Most notable is the ancient well in the center of the museum.

Visit Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves

Walk through the old city gate

Right next to the archaeological museum you will find the old city gate (Torreão das Portas da Cidade). An impressive building that used to be part of the great city wall. Now it is especially nice to walk through it and discover the cute square Praça do Município next to it.

Torreão das Portas da Cidade in Silves

Discover the best cafes and restaurants

Portugal is a great country for food lovers. And in Silves, you’ll also find some great cafes and restaurants. You will find most restaurants on the R. Elias Garcia and the R. Policarpo Dias. These are a few recommendations:

  • Mosaiko – Very nicely decorated restaurant and a cozy terrace.
  • Alentejo Com Pão – very small place with local delicacies. You can go here for some tapas and drinks.
  • Segredo dos Mouros – a nice hidden restaurant where you can enjoy delicious food or just have a drink in the sun on the terrace.

Have a picnic in the park

Do you feel like going on a picnic? Parque da Cidade Silves is a great place to do that! The park is beautifully situated on the river, there are many benches and you have a nice view of the city from here. Are you traveling with children? Then you will also find a nice playground here.

From the park you have a beautiful view of Silves
From the park, you have a beautiful view of Silves.

Visit Praca Al-Mutamid

Another nice place to relax is the square Praça Al-Mutamid. Tall palm trees, benches, and a pond full of art works. In the street on the north side, you can also view some cool street art.

Take a boat trip on the Rio Arade

In the Middle Ages, the Arade River between Portimão and Silves was a major trade route. Would you like to make this trip too? That is possible! During a three-hour tour, you will sail from Portimão to Silves and back again, stopping at various beautiful places along the way.

How to get to Silves?

Would you like to visit Silves during a holiday in the Algarve? You can visit the town by car, by public transport or during a tour.

By car

Silves is easily accessible by car from various towns in the Algarve.

  • From Portimão it is a 20 minute drive to Silves. Take the N125 east and exit onto the N124 to Silves.
  • From Albufeira it is a 30 minute drive. You can use both the A22 (note, this is a toll road) and the N269.
  • It is about a 35 minute drive from Lagos. You can take the A22 (toll road) or the N125 and N124.

There are several parking lots in Silves where you can park (for free). The largest parking lot can be found in Parque Ribeirinho de Silves.

Travel to Silves by public transport

Although public transport in the Algarve is not as well organized as in other parts of Portugal, you can easily reach Silves by public transport. From Portimão and Albufeira, buses go to Silves almost daily and you can also reach Silves by train from Lagos and Faro. From the train station, you have to walk 20 to 25 until you are in the center of Silves.

Look for bus times on the Eva website and train times on the CP website (you can also buy a ticket here).

Visit Silves with a tour

Are you staying in the Algarve and don’t have a (rental) car or don’t feel like using public transport? You can also visit Silves with a tour. For example, you can go on a great day trip to Silves, Caldas, and Monchique from Lagos, Portimão, or Lagoa (including wine tasting!) and visit Silves from Albufeira during this wine tour.

Where to stay in Silves

Silves is a beautiful and relaxing place to stay for a couple of days and luckily there are also plenty of great places to spend the night in Silves. How about for example:

  • Ponte Romana – guest house right next to the old bridge with a friendly host.
  • Mosaiko 5 Suites – beautiful and colorfully decorated suites. Right in the center of Silves.
  • Quinta Tapada Do Gramacho – traditional farmhouse (completely restored) with swimming pool in the hills, about 5 km from Silves.

Would you like to see the possibilities and prices yourself? Check for an overview.

Book a trip to the Algarve

Do you fancy a trip to the Algarve? These websites are useful for booking your trip.

  • For a holiday in the Algarve you fly to Faro and continue your trip from there. Check Skyscanner to find the cheapest tickets.
  • Prefer sustainable travel? Traveling by train is of course also possible! You can reach Portugal by train from everywhere in Europe. It might take a while, but it’s a great and relaxing way to travel. Check Rail Europe for timetables and prices.
  • A rental car gives you complete freedom during a holiday in the Algarve. Check Discover Cars and Rental Cars to find the best deals.
  • You can book a lot of fun tours in the Algarve. For example, jeep safaris, kayaking, or boat trips to see dolphins. Check Get Your Guide for all possibilities and prices.

Read more about the Algarve and Portugal

Are you going on holiday to the Algarve? Here are a few great travel guides to prepare:

Fodor’s Essential Portugal

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Algarve

On this website, you can also find a lot of information about a trip to Portugal. For example, check out these articles:

In addition, I regularly share fun travel stories and tips for the most beautiful destinations in my monthly newsletter. Subscribe here.

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As a girl from a small town in the Netherlands, I always dreamed of traveling. I thought it would always be a dream, but nowadays, I travel 6 to 8 months a year and I hike thousands of miles on the most beautiful hiking trails. On this website you can read all about my favorite destinations.

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