Vila Real de Santo António is a quiet, pleasant, peaceful place, perfect for those who want to avoid the big tourist clusters of the Algarve. I visited Vila Real de Santo António in the summer of 2021. It was worth it!
VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO
Attracted by the warm waters of the Algarve, we decided to stay there for 3 days in August 2021. To be exact, I had already been there several times during the 90’s. During my adolescence, I used to spend (all) the summer vacations with my father in this part of the Algarve (Manta-Rota to be exact). More than 20 years later, I had little or no recollection of this place. Vila Real de Santo António is not a spectacular town. But it is another Portuguese place with personality and worth visiting. It presents itself sober and dressed in white in a rectilinear layout that stays in the memory. There are several points of interest there. Follow us!
WHERE IS IT AND HOW DO I GET TO VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO?
Vila Real de Santo António is in the Algarve very close to the border with our neighbor Spain. If you are leaving from Lisbon, get ready for a 335 km trip (by freeway). A journey that will take you approximately 3 hours.
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If you leave from Oporto, it is 604 kilometers (more than 5 hours of travel). In this case, it might be better to take a plane (it is faster and cheaper). If this is your option, use this link (SKYSCANNER).
WHAT TO VISIT IN VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO?
MAP OF ATTRACTIONS
STROLL THROUGH THE STREETS AND APPRECIATE THE POMBALINE LAYOUT
Keep your cell phone in your pocket. Walk slowly and aimlessly. The center of Vila Real de Santo António is small. Thirty minutes is enough to get to know and appreciate the main streets of the town. The rectilinear layout of Vila Real de Santo António can be explained by two elements:
- The 1755 earthquake that destroyed not only Lisbon but also the Algarve
- After the earthquake, the construction of the town was led by the facinator Marquês de Pombal (the Távora family will agree with the adjective used). When we visit Lisbon’s Baixa Pombalina and the town of Porto Covo (in the Alentejo), we realize that the rectilinear layout of Vila Real de Santo António was thought up by the same mind.
VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO WATERFRONT
The waterfront in Vila Real de Santo António is very pleasant and beautiful. A beauty that is explained by the proximity of the river, the presence of the garden (which stretches all along the waterfront) and the Portuguese sidewalk that you walk on. Perfect for a walk. I recommend it!
MARQUÊS DE POMBAL SQUARE
The Marquês de Pombal square is wide and pleasant. In August 2021, at night, we found several sales stalls there. A perfect entertainment for those who like to shop in this kind of places. During the summer months, the square also hosts concerts and religious ceremonies. The space is wide, square, ornamented with Portuguese sidewalk and some nice little benches where you can sit and enjoy the environment. I love sitting on these benches and in these squares. Watching people go by and feeling the atmosphere of the places is one of my little pleasures. Right in the center of the square is a 50-foot high obelisk.
VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÔNIO LIGHTHOUSE
The lighthouse is slightly away from the center of the village. But we are talking about a distance that can be covered perfectly on foot. It has been in operation since 1923 and continues to help vessels navigating the river. Its powerful light signal can be seen for a distance of 26 miles. On Wednesdays it can be visited. A good opportunity to climb the stairs (or take the elevator) and soar 40 feet up. From there you can see the vastness of the ocean, the castle of Castro Marim, Andalusia, and a mountain range in the interior of Portugal.
ANTÓNIO ALEIXO CULTURAL CENTER
Located right in the heart of the village, the António Aleixo cultural center is a small space with two rooms. There we can enjoy some temporary exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography. Before being converted into a cultural center, it was a municipal market and before that a barracks. The name of the center pays homage to the great Portuguese writer António Aleixo, one of the greatest names in 20th century Portuguese literature.
VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO CHURCH
It is the only church in the city and is located in the middle of Marquês de Pombal Square. Its construction began in 1774 and took only 2 years to complete. It doesn’t go unnoticed. It stands imposingly in a simple neoclassical style on one side of the square. The temple stands 1.5 meters in front of the other building facades.
If you go there, go inside and take a closer look at the side chapels and the rococo altarpieces.
UNMISSABLE ACTIVITIES IN ALGARVE
ALBUFEIRA: TOUR TO 4 CITIES IN THE ALGARVIO SOTAVENTO (including VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO)
A 10-hour tour departing from Albufeira. An excellent opportunity to discover the Eastern Algarve and get to know the main tourist attractions of Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.
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CRUISE ALONG THE ALGARVE COAST, CAVES AND DOLPHIN WATCHING
A cruise along the Algarvian coast. An appointment with nature and breathtaking scenery! An excursion that includes a visit to the caves and dolphin watching! One of the most sought after and appreciated activities in the Algarve!
Parasailing is an adrenaline activity that can be practiced individually or in groups. In Albufeira, there are several entities that offer the service. It consists of a trip in a boat that pulls a parachute. By moving at high speed, the boat allows practitioners to reach altitudes of 80 meters! This sport provides strong sensations of adventure and freedom, by making the practitioners hover in the air, in the middle of the ocean!
BEACHES NEAR VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO
The town of Vila Real de Santo António does not have a beach (maybe that is why it is less sought after by vacationers). But very close to town you will find plenty of beautiful, high-quality sandy beaches. Here is a map to help you get your bearings! We hope you find it useful.
MONTE GORDO BEACH
Between Vila Real de Santo António and Monte gordo beach is only 3.9 kilometers (7 minutes by car). The beach of Monte Gordo offers a wide sandy beach as far as the eye can see. A clear sand, crystal clear water and, with a little bit of luck, a temperature of 23 or 24 degrees. The only negative point of Monte Gordo beach is… Monte Gordo. The word “horrible” is a euphemism for the type of construction that has been going on there. A landscape tragedy due to the rampant and wild construction that was allowed there during the 80s and 90s. It’s an aberration that has filled the pockets of many Algarve mayors.
It is located 9 kilometers from Vila Real de Santo António (between Cabeço beach and Alagoa beach). Praia Verde, as all the beaches of this territorial strip of the Algarve, presents itself with an extensive, white sand and with a limpid water. It is a watched beach and counts with several beach support services (bars, restaurants, awning rental).
In the middle of its extensive sandy beach, we find some constructions with a very old appearance and that some believe to be from the time of the Romans. But this is false, they are structures that were built during the 20th century at a time when some houses were erected in this location. With the rise of the sea, the village was reduced to these structures.
MANTA ROTA BEACH
15 minutes and 10km separate Vila Real de Santo António from Praia da Manta Rota, the beach where I spent every summer during the late 80s and the 90s. It was and is a beautiful beach with the same qualities mentioned in the previous descriptions (Monte Gordo beach and Praia Verde). It is a very popular beach (as are all the others in this area). It has a very large paid parking lot at the entrance of the beach. I still go there every year, even if only for one day.
ALAGOA BEACH (Altura)
Another beautiful beach with the same natural attributes already mentioned in the previous ones. It has parking spaces (paid), restaurants and bars on the beach. A good option for a family with children. The access to the beach is made through a long wooden walkway that makes it very easy to get to the beach.
SANTO ANTÓNIO BEACH
In a straight line it is the closest beach to Vila Real de Santo António (12 minutes by car and 4.6km separate this beach from the city). I went there in august 2021 and encountered a lot of algae. After searching a bit on the internet, I found many comments mentioning the same problem. It is a less frequented beach than the rest. The persistence of the algae is probably the reason.
VIRTUAL TOUR TO VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO
WHAT TO VISIT NEAR VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO?
From Vila Real de Santo António to Cacela Velha is only 12,8 km, a distance that can be covered by car in about 20 minutes. Cacela Velha is a small whitewashed village situated on top of a cliff. It is one of the last places in the Algarve where mass construction has not triumphed.
40 kilometers and approximately 35 minutes separate Vila Real de Santo António from one of the best beaches in the country, Praia do Barril. Here you will find an extensive and magnificent sandy beach as far as the eye can see. The sea is very crystal clear and the water temperature is almost always higher than in all other Portuguese beaches.
40 kilometers and 35 minutes separate Vila Real de Santo António from Ilha de Tavira. There you will find a fantastic sandy beach that extends along the natural park of Ria Formosa. Quiet, crystal clear, warm waters await you! A perfect place for families with children!
64 kilometers and a 50-minute drive. This is the distance and the time between Vila Real de Santo António and Faro, the capital of the Algarve. Visitors to Faro are surprised by the peaceful atmosphere and the absence of mass tourism. Faro is worth visiting!
HISTORY OF VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO
Vila Real de Santo António was built in 1774 by order of the Marquês de Pombal. Its construction took only 2 years. The town was built near an old settlement called Vila de Santo António de Arenilha which was “swallowed” by the sea during the 17th century. In the 19th century the development of Vila Real de Santo António is linked to the expansion of the canning industry. Fishing was and still is an important economic resource of the region.
At the end of the 19th century the train finally arrives in this little corner of Portugal. This fact made possible the connection of Vila Real de Santo António to the main cities of the Algarve and its consequent development. From the 1970s onwards, as in virtually all towns in the Algarve, tourism has taken on a fundamental role in the economic development of Vila Real de Santo António.