Olhão is a very small, traditional Algarve fishing town in Eastern Algarve, Portugal. My travelling buddy and I stumbled upon it by accident, to be honest. She was sick while we were in Seville, so, as a result, our previous Algarve plans had to be scrapped. The cute boat house with a shared, tiny bedroom and rooftop deck was adorable, but clearly would no longer work. She needed a private space with some sort of balcony to rest up and relax. We had 4 days to fill before we caught the train to Lisbon and she needed rest for that.
Olhão Sort Of Fell Into Our Laps
I sat up until past midnight, searching for a place for us to stay the following night. The only place that met all of our needs on such short notice was in a town called Olhão just 10km west of Faro. Worst case scenario, we could rent a car and explore the Algarve from there if we didn’t like it. At any rate, it would mean we had lodging and my friend could recuperate so I booked it. Despite our uncertainty, both of us fell in love from the moment we stepped out of the taxi.
The town is centred around the fish market on the waterfront. Every weekend, people come from all over to buy produce, honey, seafood and crafts at the market. However, during the week, it’s pretty quiet. The market becomes a place for locals to gather, drink coffee, gossip and catch up with each other. What’s more, once it hits about 10am, you will see more beer than coffee but is that a bad thing?
The little old town feels distinctly Moorish with very square houses, flat roofs, brightly colour doors and gorgeous tile work. With plenty of restaurants, cafes and little shops, this is clearly NOT a place to come looking for a boozy party vacation. It’s a great home base to explore the Algarve and I found it the perfect mix of laid back days doing nothing much with some beach days thrown in and fewer tourists than the rest of the coast.
Beaches Require A Lovely Ferry Ride
From Olhao, ferries take you to the beaches on the sandbank islands of the Ilha da Armona or Ilha de Culatra. Armona is much busier of the two, with lots of seasonal rentals and tourists. Because of this, we stuck to Culatra. Get up early, pack your Turkish Towel and sunscreen and ferry to the Ilha de Culatra. You walk through the tiny village and continue along a long wooden boardwalk until you are rewarded with one of the prettiest beaches I have seen in Portugal.
There might not be dramatic rock formations like in the Western Algarve, but there are also fewer people. Just rent a chair and umbrella, buy beer and basic snacks at the tiny snack bar. Locals bring their own chairs and coolers on trollies and set up camp for the day. The ferry ride just adds to the experience.