Besides relaxing by the pool or on the beach, the Algarve has a lot to see, below are just a few suggestions.
Once a rich and powerful city, Silves today is a sleepy town lying in the foothills of the Serra de Monchique mountains. Believed to have been founded by the Phoenicians, its cathedral and ruined red sandstone castle remind visitors of its rich and industrious Moorish past, which came to an end after a three-month siege in 1189.
Silves boasts the best-preserved castle in the Algarve. Built on the site of the 11th-century Palace of the Verandahs, its turreted walls dominate the town and provide panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. Built on the site of a former mosque, the town's 13th-century Gothic cathedral contains a number of Crusader tombs and a jasper statue of Nossa Senhora da Conceicção, believed to date from the 14th century. The archaeological museum located downhill houses Stone and Iron Age tools and surgical instruments from the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries. Asside from the historical interest, Silves is a lovely town to visit with meandering cobbled streets littered with street cafes, craft shops and restaurants.
The town of Portimao is essentially commercially orientated and was the main shopping town of the Algarve during the 1970's and 1980's. Portimao has an active cultural department and there are always different events hosted throughout the year. The Municipal Museum is housed in an old sardine canning factory and here regular exhibitions are hed to cover art, history, and general culture, all of a local and national content.
A Marina was recently opened adjoining Praia do Rocha and this adds the facinating sight of the many boats at anchor and plenty of bars and restaurants in which to pass the evening. The new bridge is so well balanced in design that is can be seriously considered among the most attractive to be built in Portugal in the 19th Century. On the river front near to the square there are many cafes to choose from and boat tours and deep sea fishing trips can be booked.
The town of Monchique has changed little by the 20th Century invasion of tourism. It lies in the saddle created by the two high hills, Foia and Picota, the former reaching to 902 metres above sea level. The inhabitants of this town have retained its rustic atmosphere with steep cobbled streets and small dark doorways housing various artisan trades. There is a neglected 17th century Franciscan monastery which overlooks the town and visitors can enjoy panoramic views over the countryside.
The 16th Century Parish Church has excellent examples of Manueline craftsmanship around its doorway. The surrounding area flourishes on the production of cattle, pigs, cork and wood. Another important local product is "medronho" which is the name of a strong schnapps style of drink made from distilling the fruit from arbutus bushes. Foia and Picota are excellent locations from which to see dramatic views of the coastal plain to the south and to the western Atlantic coast.
Essentially now an important tourist town, there are still many architectural signs of its ancient past such as a building dating back to 1445 which is recorded as being Europe's first building used as a slave market. Attached to the famous 17th Century "gold" church of Santo Antonio, there is a small museum of regional items. There are several interesting statues erected to the famous figures of the past that are associated with the history of Lagos, such as Dom Sebastiao in the main square. A more recent statue commemorates the Algarve's only Saint, Sao Goncalo de Lagos who died in 1422.
The town's more recently constructed Marina presents a lovely picture and offers permanent mooring but also full of yachts passing from the Mediterranean and America. At the entrance to the Harbour is the "Forte da Bandeira" which was constructed in the 17th Century. Near to the centre of the town is the Cultural Centre which houses various exhibitions and culturally related events during the year. In the Marina visitors will find different boat tours, yacht hire and deep sea fishing outings which can be booked.
The old part of the town is particularly attractive, surrounded by Roman walls and boasts a spacious open square and a 13th Century Cathedral that faces the 18th Century Episcopal palace. The "golden" church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo is claimed to be the best example of gold leaf woodwork in Southern Portugal. It also contains the macabre spectacle of a chapel lined with the bones from over 1200 monks.
Faro is also the home of the Ria Formosa Lagoon, a nature reserve of over 17000 hectares and a stopping place for hundreds of different birds during spring and autumn migratory periods. Faro also now boasts the shopping centre, Forum Algarve, with many clothes, household and food outlets.