Silves Travel Guide

Silves is the historic capital of the Algarve. It was possibly founded during the Roman times and has also been a part of the Emirate of Córdoba (Imārat Qurṭubah), a medieval Islamic Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. The balance of power changed hands many times in the town's history and in 1242, the town was taken from the last Muslim King Ibn Afan by Paio Peres Correia, Grand-Master of the Order of Santiago.

Silves Castle

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The town declined in importance gradually with the city of Faro taking over the important role of administration of the Algarve area.

It was only in the 19th century did Silves begin to regain its importance, this time around as the hub for the country's cork industry. But the Portuguese General Strike of 1934 and the events that happened in response to that  effectively closed the town's cork industry. But the resilient town underwent a gradual renewal and is a thriving town today. Silves draws in visitors from all across the globe because of the amount of history attached to it. It is a town where the past merges with the present and it has become a cultural hub in the Algarve region of Portugal.

Beautiful view in Silves

What to see and do in Silves

Silves is the perfect town for a day trip. The historic centre of the town is compact and all of the town's main sights are located around the town centre. You can easily explore everything on foot.

The city of Silves in Portugal

With a town map picked from the Tourist Information Centre, you can make your way around the beautiful cobbled streets of Silves, visiting all the major attractions.

The Roman Bridge (Ponte Romana De Silves)

As we drove into Silves, the first ancient structure we spotted was the Ponte Romana bridge.

While it is referred to as the Roman Bridge, the construction is not that ancient. According to historical sources, the architecture and the seals the bridge displays point to a medieval construction, more likely around the middle of the 14th century.

Featuring five round arches and with three-sided pyramidal troughs for support, the bridge is made of Silves sandstone and is around 76m long.

The Roman Bridge in Silves, Portugal

Unfortunately, the bridge had non-maintenance issues and looked in poor condition. When we visited we saw a sign forbidding people from crossing the bridge.

The Turret of the City Gate (Torreão da Porta da Cidade)

In addition to the Silves Castle, the town's defences included three lines of ramparts (defensive walls that encircled the main structure to protect it from enemy attacks). Today, what remains of these ramparts is a few stretches of the defensive wall and the City Gate. The City Gate was one of the four gates that gave access to the old Muslim medina.

Portas da Cidade de Silves

Built around the 12th or 13th century, in a construction style similar to what is seen in Morocco, the Turret of the City Gate has withstood the ravages of time, to stand strong even today.

Right in front of the Turret of the City Gate is a pillory that is one of the few pillories that have been preserved in the Algarve and a small square with a water feature.

Square in front of the Tower of City Gate in Silves

Silves City Hall

Located close to the Turret of the City Gate is the Silves Town Hall (also referred to locally as Camara Municipal de Silves).

The City Hall in Silves

While it may look simple and unassuming from the outside, the interior of the building tells a different story. The interiors are beautiful with stunning arches and two staircases leading to the upper level where offices are located. The colorful tiles add the distinctive Algarvian charm.

Inside the Silves City Hall

Inside the Silves City Hall

The main lobby of the building has a skylight which allows plenty of natural light into the building.

Inside the Silves City Hall

Silves Cathedral (Sé Catedral de Silves)

Built in the 13th century, on the site of the Moorish Grand Mosque, the Silves Cathedral is considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the Algarve. The 1755 earthquake in the region destroyed much of the building but it was rebuilt and a number of alterations were made later on as well.

Like most of the other buildings in the region, the cathedral is built with red sandstone and this blends the cathedral in the town's landscape yet sets it apart because of its Gothic style.

Silves Cathedral in Portugal

There is a nominal fee to enter the cathedral. And once inside, you will notice that there are different architectural styles inside.

There are a number of altars and altarpieces inside - Altar of the Pieta, Altar of Our Lord of the Steps of the Cross, Altar of Calvary and the Celebration Altar.

Inside the Silves Cathedral in Portugal

Inside the Silves Cathedral in Portugal

It is a small cathedral but it remains one of the most important Gothic buildings in the Algarve.

Silves Castle (Castelo de Silves)

Undoubtedly the most important landmark in the town is the Silves Castle.

Silves Castle

Made of red sandstone blocks and taipa (a mixture of mud, chalk, lime and gravel that is very strong and hard wearing), the castle has 11 square towers, two of which are fortified outposts. Silves Castle is said to be one of the best preserved of the Moorish castles in the whole of Portugal.

The castle was built by the Moors who held the Algarve (Al-Gharb) region from the 8th to 12th centuries. At this time, Silves was the capital of the region and a centre of trade and culture. The region witnessed a lot of turmoil and battles when the Moors and Christians from the north fought over this important town. The castle changed hands several times and in the 1700s witnessed two major earthquakes that damaged it greatly. It was only in the 1940s that the restoration of the castle began. Even today, excavation and restoration work is in progress.

Today, when you visit the castle you can walk along an 'archaeological route' that shows traces of two palaces destroyed and abandoned in the mid-13th century.

With the castle's courtyard are a number of subterranean structures and two cisterns as well (the Cistern of Moura and the Cisterna dos Cães) that would have supplied water to the castle.

Pictured below are the vaulted Moorish windows of the Palace of Balconies.

The vaulted Moorish windows of the Palace of Balconies in Silves Cathedral

If you walk along the parapets at the top of a castle wall, you get beautiful views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

View from Silves Castle

Also, while walking along the castle wall, you will come across a small room. It houses a number of items like pots, jugs, spearheads and more. All of these were found during the excavations at the site.

Artefacts inside the Silves Castle

There is a small entrance fee to see the castle from inside, but it is totally worth it.

Archaeological Museum (Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves)

Opened in 1990, the Archaeological Museum in Silves is built around the Poço-Cisterna Almóada, a 12th-century well that was discovered during archaeological excavations in the 18th century.

Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves

The museum's main collection includes artefacts and objects that were unearthed during the excavations. You will find objects from different ages - the Paleolithic, the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, the Roman Period, the Medieval Period and even the modern period.

The museum is open daily (except December 25th and January 1st) from 10am to 6pm. You can purchase the ticket just for the museum or club it with the Castle ticket to get some savings.

Street Art - Painted Electricity Boxes

In addition to traditional street art, in Silves urban art takes on the form of painted electricity boxes. It is a part of a project that is being promoted by the Municipality of Silves, where a number of electricity boxes across the city have been painted by artist Meire Gomes to increase interest in art in the municipality, as well as improving the quality of the urban space.

Street Art - Painted Electricity Boxes in Silves

The project, which commenced in 2016, was a part of the commemoration of the International Day of Educating Cities and was later extended to the rest of the parishes.

Today, as you walk down any street in Silves you will come across these colourful electricity boxes often featuring monuments, iconic characters, Portuguese art or architectural details from Silves and the wider Algarve region.

Shopping in Silves

The shopping scene in Silves mostly comprises souvenir shops that sell local products such as ceramics, Portuguese tiles, items made from cork, clothing, accessories and more.

As you stroll along the main shopping streets of Silves, you will come across shops like Al Gharb that stock ceramics, colorful lights, natural olive oil soaps, carpets and more.

Art and Crafts shop in Silves

Portugal is the biggest cork producer in the world and no wonder there are many shops dedicated to cork items. We came across this shop called 'Cork Shop' which had a whole load of accessories made from the finest Portuguese cork. The shop stocked everything from cork wallets & handbags to cork placemats & coasters and from cork jewellery to cork belts.

Cork Shop in Silves

In between your shopping spree of picking up Portuguese souvenirs, you can sit down and refuel yourself at one of the many cafés and restaurants dotted along the main shopping street. The ambience is lively and you can easily while away your time, savouring the delicious local delicacies while people watching.

Eateries in Silves

How to get to Silves

We were based in Albufeira during our trip to the Algarve and had a car at our disposal (we booked our hire car from here). From Albufeira it is a 30 minute drive to Silves. And there is ample free car parking in Silves at the Parque Ribeirinho Car Park (5HM5+X5 Silves). The car park is conveniently located, close to the historic centre of the town and a very short walk away from the Silves Tourist Information Centre. After parking our car, we walked to the Tourist Information Centre where a very friendly lady shared information about the town, its top attractions and other things to see & do in Silves.

The Praça Al-Mutamid square and park in Silves

Definitely, the best way to get to Silves (from any location) is by hiring a car. If travelling by car, here are the approximate journey times from nearby, popular towns - from the pretty village of Alte (35 minutes), from Faro (50 minutes) and from Lagos (35 minutes).

If you plan on travelling by public transport, EVA Transportes' Bus No 17 runs between Albufeira and Silves. It is a 45 minute journey and the tickets are reasonably priced. However, the frequency of the bus is an issue; as there is a bus only every 4 hours.

There are buses from other major towns in the Algarve to Silves as well.

Once in Silves, all the sights can be accessed on foot. It is a pedestrian-friendly town and you don't need a car to explore the town.

Sculpture in Silves

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