Sited on the broad estuary of the Rio Arade, Portimão has made its living from fishing since pre-Roman times, but today it’s a sprawling modern port of around forty thousand people. Few of Portimão’s buildings made it through the 1755 earthquake – the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição is a rare survivor, retaining a fourteenth-century Manueline door, though most of the church was rebuilt in the late seventeenth century. The surrounding streets are pleasant enough, filled with shops selling lace, shoes, jewellery, ceramics and wicker goods, while the main shopping streets are around the pedestrianized Rua Diogo Tomé and Rua da Portades de São José.
The most attractive part of town is the riverfront, where a series of squares – Largo do Dique, Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes and Praça Visconde de Bivar – are filled with outdoor cafés by gushing fountains. Heading up the river and under the road bridge you’ll find a series of open-air restaurants serving inexpensive grilled-sardine lunches. The narrow streets just back from the bridge – off Largo da Barca – are Portimão’s oldest, with more than a hint of their fishing-quarter past.