Olhão is a major port and actually the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It is full of character with Moorish-style houses,an influence from the commercial links with Africa. Although Olhão only really became a town of note in the 19th century, it was first mentioned in 1378. At this time it would have been a very small fishing settlement of a handful of people, living in huts made of wood, reeds and straw on the beach. By 1679 it was important enough to need the building of the fortress of São Lorenço to defend it from pirates.
Olhão is a town of many ‘faces’ – if you approach from the fishing port side it looks, and is, very industrial and, unless you are particularly interested in fishing boats and warehousing it doesn’t look very attractive. However, around the corner from the dock the road runs along the water front and there is a long, very pleasant, paved promenade with cool gardens (Jardim Pescador do Olhanense) to escape the heat of the sun. If you are driving to Olhão there is plenty of parking along this water front road (Avenida 5 de Outubro) but do remember to get your pay and display ticket from one of the machines.
There are two market buildings side by side along the water front, which are a ‘must visit’ for the huge variety of extremely fresh fish and sea food straight from the port and the vast array of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Olhão is well known for it’s fish market, in particular and if you haven’t got anywhere to cook some yourself, then try one of the numerous local cafes along the roadside nearby – you won’t be disappointed!
The market halls are surrounded by pavement cafes and it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the view of the boats moored along the water front in Olhão Marina and the sand spit beach ilhas of Armona and Culatra just a short distance off shore behind them. We have enjoyed lovely afternoons in Olhão, where we walked along the water front and through the gardens, sat outside a jazz cafe watching the boats, people cycling around and local people going about their day.