Olhão (pronounced Ol-ee-how) is the largest fishing port in Algarve Portugal. It’s located right next to Faro, the region’s capital. With its temperate Mediterranean climate, Algarve is a popular tourist destination both in summer and winter. Mild winters make this the perfect place to escape the cold and enjoy some sunshine, which is exactly what we did! So what are the best things to do in Olhao and is it worth it to visit Olhao with kids?
What do you do when someone offers you a week free accommodation in Portugal? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have to think about it very long. My parents decided to rent an apartment in Olhao for a month in December and January and asked if my little world traveler and I wanted to come stay for a week. Of course we did! I was a bit excited about flying solo with our little man for the first time, but I had nothing to worry about. After all, he’s a pro.
- 1 Things to do in Algarve
- 2 Top things to do in Olhao Portugal (with kids)
- 3 Getting to Olhao Algarve Portugal
- 4 Getting around in Olhao
- 5 Conclusion: Olhao with kids, yes or no?
Things to do in Algarve
The Algarve, in the south of Portugal, is an attractive region to visit. Best things to do in Algarve? Relax on one of the many beautiful beaches, drive along the stunning coastline, discover the rich history of the region, enjoy the many restaurants and beach bars and visit cute little fishing towns. The summer months are usually very warm and dry and in high season (July and August) it can get quite crowded. If you have the option to travel outside school holidays, late spring or early fall might be a better choice. It will still be warm enough to enjoy the beach, but much more enjoyable to go sightseeing.
Top things to do in Olhao Portugal (with kids)
Of the many places to visit in Algarve, Olhao should definitely be on your list. It’s a great little town to stay for a few days or to include in your list of day trips from Faro. Easy access to the Ria Formosa nature park and a nice promenade, combined with a lovely old town make this a perfect holiday destination in Portugal. Olhao itself doesn’t have a beach, but the lovely golden beaches of barrier islands Culatra and Armona are only a ferry ride away.
Discover Olhao old town
Olhao’s old town is full of character. Wander around the maze of tiny streets and soak up the atmosphere. From traditional fisherman’s houses with their unique tiled walls to the large murals (check out the large black and white ones near the Pingo Doce supermarket!), from the many sculptures to the cute little pastelaria’s (pastry shops) and neighborhood cafe’s. See if you can find the many stork’s nests on top of the higher buildings or chimneys. Don’t forget to check the cute white Our Lady of the Rosary Church, there’s at least one stork at the foot of the cross on the roof.
Wander around Olhao fish market
Prominent landmarks, the two red Olhao market hall buildings can’t be missed when you’re walking around. One houses the famous Olhao fish market, the other one is a permanent fruit and vegetable market. Both are worth a visit. Our son loved pointing out all the weird fish he saw on display and was amazed by the enormous offer of fresh fruits and veggies. This second market hall is also a great place to score some teas, teas and other local products to bring home as gifts. Once a week on Saturday there’s also a large farmers market on the square outside the market halls. All the nearby terraces are full and there are many bargains to be had.
Eat fresh fish in Olhao
With such a large fishing port and fish market, Olhao is one of the best places in Portugal to eat fresh fish. Sitting on the promenade you see the fishing boats coming and going all day. It doesn’t get fresher than that! Pick your fish or seafood of choice from the iced display at one of the many restaurants and have it prepared the traditional way, barbecued with salt and lemon. If your kids enjoy fish, this is definitely a treat!
Find the playgrounds at Olhao promenade
As mentioned before Olhao doesn’t have its own beachfront, but it has a nice promenade. Along the promenade are lovely gardens that offer some much-needed shade in the hot summer months. The promenade offers two playgrounds for kids, one near the ferry terminal and one opposite the police station. They aren’t huge but have some nice climbing structures and a slide. Our little boy enjoyed playing there, especially when there were some other kids around and they could play together. All along the boulevard, you’ll find wooden benches so you can sit and relax while watching the fishing boats come and go.
Go on a guided boat trip in the Ria Formosa National Park
As it was quite cold the first days we were in Olhao, we decided not to do a boat trip around the Ria Formosa, although there were a few on offer when we were there. But in the summer months, a guided boat trip in the Ria Formosa is definitely one of the top 10 things to do in Algarve. The Ria Formosa is the second most important wetland for aquatic birds in Portugal, so a birdwatching tour from the water is a special treat. Dolphins are also found off the southern coast of Portugal and a dolphin watching tour is a great way to spend some quality family time. The best time to spot dolphins in the Algarve is between June and September. You can also do Olhao boat trips to discover the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa.
Discover Olhao’s beaches
While Olhao itself doesn’t have any beaches, the beautiful golden beaches of Culatra Island and Armona Island are only a ferry ride away. The ferry from Olhao to Armona Island takes about 15 minutes and it takes about 30 minutes to get from Olhao to Culatra Island. If you’re on a budget, taking the ferry is just as much fun for your kids as a guided boat tour. Our little world traveler thought it was quite an adventure! Ilha da Armona is closer by and said by many to be their favorite, but we enjoyed the more authentic feel of Ilha da Culatra better. I imagine Armona will be very busy in the summer months, it has a campground and many holiday homes. Once on the islands, it’s very easy to get around even if you’re using a stroller. It’s a bit of a walk (about 15 minutes) but there are boardwalks all the way to the beach on both Olhao islands. While the ferries do run, operating times are much less frequent in the winter months.
Getting to Olhao Algarve Portugal
By far the easiest way to reach Olhao Algarve is to fly into Faro airport and take a taxi from there (taxi fare should be €20-25 one way). You can pre-arrange your Faro to Olhao transfer, but if you’re not arriving during the night and need the peace of mind, there’s no need. There’s also a bus and train connection between Faro and Olhao. Faro’s bus and train station are only a few minutes apart and quite close to the airport.
Getting around in Olhao
The narrow streets of Olhao’s old town are easiest to navigate on foot. Everything you need is within walking distance, a large supermarket (Pingo Doce), restaurants, promenade. On the promenade you can also rent bikes, which seems like a great affordable option if you want to go exploring a bit more. Of course, it’s also possible to rent a car and drive along the stunning Algarve coast. For the best Olhao car rental deals head to Faro airport. Ferries to Ilha da Culatra (Culatra Island) and Ilha da Armona (Armona island) depart from the ferry pier on Olha’s promenade.
Conclusion: Olhao with kids, yes or no?
That’s easy…. YES! If you’re in the area, Olhao is definitely worth visiting with your kids. Whether you’re staying at Algarve’s capital and looking for things to do near Faro or if you’re looking to spend a few days on the Portuguese coast, Olhao has quite a lot to offer. We especially enjoyed visiting and exploring the islands and wandering around Olhao’s quaint old town. Because Olhao doesn’t have a beach front, it’s less overrun with tourists. It’s a bit less polished and feels much more authentic than many other little towns in the Algarve.