Around a 40-minute drive from Faro Airport, Albufeira is pretty much central to the region’s main tourist attractions. In the summer months, it might be known for its hustle and bustle and late-night partying, but it has a charm, and a real history.
FIRST, A BIT OF BACKGROUND
People were living in the Albufeira area during the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. In the 8th century, when the Arabs invaded the peninsula, they claimed the town, changing its Roman name from Baltum to Al-Buhayra, meaning lagoon, from which its current name is derived.
The Moorish occupation was a period of prosperity. The municipality developed important commercial links with North Africa, and the Arabs built a wall to protect the city, as well as Paderne Castle, one of the most important examples of Islamic military architecture in the Algarve.
The 15-16th centuries brought economic development, thanks to the Maritime Discoveries. But then, in 1755, the huge earthquake that rocked Portugal reduced Albufeira to poverty, and it was not until the 19th century that the development of the region, and growth of the fishing and fish canning industry, changed its fortunes.
Until the 1960s, Albufeira was a typical Algarvian fishing village with rows of little white-washed houses and the smell of grilled sardines in the air. It has since become a centre for tourism, and in 1986 achieved ‘city’ status. A mass of apartment buildings, hotels and hostels have sprung up over the years, a stretch of nightclubs and bars along what is now called ‘The Strip’, escalators and lifts down to the sea. But one thing that has remained unchanged is the dazzling beaches that are sufficient reason in themselves to spend time here.
WHAT TO SEE
Old Town: take a walk through the cobbled streets of the old town where much of the original architecture remains. Tiny houses, almost in layers at
different heights, small shops where you can find everything from a sparkly-sleeved dress to painted pottery to designer t-shirts. The main square, years ago home to a regular market, is lined with restaurants and snack bars that work hard to cater to tourists’ tastes, not only in food but also in music and street entertainment.
Igreja Matriz: the main church of Albufeira, built at the end of the 18th century, is one of the most significant examples of neoclassical architecture in the Algarve. On the façade, there are three windows with masonry surrounds and semi-circular arches. Inside, there are four side altars in the neoclassical style on which two late-18th century statues of São Luís and São Pedro can be seen. But the main point of interest in this church is a statue of the patron saint of the city of Albufeira, Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception), in the rococo style, and 2.40 metres in height.
Admission to the church is free.
Igreja de São Sebastião: originally built in the 16th century in the Manueline (Portuguese late-Gothic) style, and rebuilt in the first half of the 18th century. On the façade, there is a doorway in the Baroque style, profusely decorated with volutes. The chapel is a small building with a single nave where a museum of religious art is currently housed, and boasts a significant collection of items from churches in the municipality of Albufeira.
There is a charge for admission.
Albufeira’s Archaeological Museum: here you’ll find a temporary exhibition room and a permanent archaeology exhibition, featuring items representing the history of the municipality from pre-historic times up to the 17th century.
There is a charge for admission.
Archaeological Remains: also located in the Praça da República, next to the Archaeological Museum, are the remains of two houses from the Islamic period of the 12th-13th centuries, which were once the centre of Albufeira Castle.
Clock Tower: located in what was once the local jail, with an interesting decorative structure in wrought iron around the bell. Climb the stairs to the tower for an awesome view of the cityscape.
Monument to Friar Vicente de Santo António:
S. Vicente was born in 1590 in Albufeira. During his studies in Lisbon, he showed himself to be hardworking and intelligent, a good singer, musician, connoisseur of classical languages, designer, student of medicine and fencer. When his parents died, he joined the priesthood and then left
for Mexico and the Order of St Augustine. He went on to preach the Faith of Christ in Japan.
He was imprisoned for two years, tortured for refusing to denounce the Christian faith, caged and led to the final ordeal, the bonfire. On 3 September 1632, he died, shouting “Long Live the Faith of Jesus Christ”.
The monument is located in Largo Jacinto d’Ayet.
Galeria de Arte Pintor Samora Barros: the building of the former Electric Power Station, located in Largo Eng.o Duarte Pacheco, was transformed into an art gallery in 1988, the tiles and exterior motifs designed by the local painter, Samora Barros. Temporary individual or collective plastic arts exhibitions of painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography and others take place in the Gallery, as as poetry recitals and small concerts.
Marina: to the West of the town, you have the marina – surrounded by a colourful collection of apartments, restaurants and shops. From there, several companies offer coastal cruises and dolphin watching trips.
Praia dos Pescadores (Fisherman’s Beach): this excellent beach can be accessed by a tunnel in the centre of the town or via the lift (Elevador do Peneco).
WHAT TO DO
Go to the Strip: If you’ve a love for neon and nightlife, you’ll find an abundance of clubs and bars that cater to every taste of dance music.
Experience water sports: all kinds of water sports
are available along the Albufeira coast, including surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, diving, jet biking, water skiing, banana and rings rides, pedal boats and kayaks. You’ll find a good range of family-orientated water sports at nearby Praia da Oura.
Parque Aventure: between Albufeira and Olhos de Água, this is where to enjoy the outdoor tree-top obstacle course through different routes, bridges, nets, giant slides and much more, plus a paintball battlefield for fabulous fun for both kids and adults.
Salgados: to the west of Albufeira, is the place to appreciate nature. Check out the 5 km boardwalk, which stretches between Praia dos Salgados and Lagoa dos Salgados. Crossing the bridge, you can spot a variety of birds, including pink flamingos, and sea turtles in the water.
Zoomarine: a few kilometres from Albufeira, is open March to October, and makes for a memorable day out: you can watch performing dolphins, seals, sea lions and tropical birds, get wet on the waterslides and wave pools, enjoy 4D cinema, pirate shows and more.
Go to Guia: Enjoy a guided wine tour at Quinta do Miradouro, once owned by Sir Cliff Richard, to taste his multi-awarded wines, which are vinified, matured and bottled on the estate.
There are plenty of shops in Albufeira itself, but Guia is home to one of the Algarve’s biggest retail parks – Algarve Shopping. The two-story mall is packed with branches of well-known chain stores and fast-food diners. And there’s also a multiscreen cinema showing all the latest films in English.
Words: Lívia Mokri