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. Olhao Portugal was not on our radar.

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.

Painted Decorative Doors of Olhão

Olhao portugal doors
I have at least thirty photos of the brightly painted, weathered doors in the old town but this one is my favourite. The adorable boat planters are everywhere here.

The Town

Ohao old town
The old town is just a jumble of cobbled streets winding in and out until they meet up on this small, main strip.

My New Idol

Olhao centre square
Meet Floripes, the Moorish woman of legend who wanders the streets nightly looking to seduce fisherman. My kind of gal.

The Views

olhao view
The view from the second level of our apartment was spectacular and this is where we watched the sunset every night with a frosty glass of vinho verde after a lazy day of nothing.

Olhão Food Reflects Life On The Sea

olhao portugal dinner
Freshly grilled fish and sardines at A do Fernando is almost a religious experience. My only regret is that we didn’t get a reservation until our last night here. Next visit, I will just eat here every night.

Getting Around By Boat

taxi ilha de cultura
Travel in style with a local water taxi to or from Ilha de Culatra. The beach was so gorgeous we stayed longer than we had planned and missed our ferry. As a result, we shared this boat with a lovely British expat who has lived in Olhão for 20 years. She shared lots of tips and recommendations for our stay as well as sharing the fare with us.

Ilha de Culatra

ilha de cultura
One of the little homes on Culatra that you pass on your way to the beach. Cultura is a small but very sandy island just beyond the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, only accessible by boat. There are a few permanent residents and a couple of restaurants to grab a bite. The island has no hotels but I have found a couple of these homes on airbnb.

My Walk To The Beach

ilha de culatra
After you walk through the tiny village, you reach this long, wooden boardwalk. This takes you to a 2km stretch of white sand beach. Although it’s a bit busy in summer, we were there in the fall when the weather is still hot and sunny. As a matter of face, there were less than 20 people on the beach at any one time all day.

The Beach Of My Dreams

beach ilha de culatra
See? Nobody around. Just endless white sand, blue waves, clear skies and lots of gin.

Olhão Cafes

Olhão cafe
And finally, you ask what I did all day? In between renting ebikes and going to the beach and eating seafood, I did this. Hours sat looking out at the water with insanely delicious coffee and natas. Throw in a good book while enjoying non stop sunny days averaging 24C in early October.