Although it lacks great monuments and museums, Portimão is worth exploring. Just wander through its colorful streets, stopping at any sight that interests you. The once-colorful fishing boats used to unload their catch here at the port but have moved to a terminal across the river. High-rise buildings ring the area, but the core of the old town is still intact.
Try to be in Portimão for lunch. Of course, you can dine at a restaurant, but it's even more fun to walk down to the harborside, where you can find a table at one of the low-cost eateries. The specialty is chargrilled sardines, which taste like nothing you get from a can. They make an inexpensive meal accompanied by chewy, freshly baked bread; a salad; and a carafe of regional wine. If you're in town in August, stay for the Sardine Festival (dates vary), where the glory that is the Portuguese sardine is honored, lauded, and, finally, devoured.
If you'd like to go sightseeing, you can visit Ferragudo, a satellite of Portimão, 5km (3 miles) east and accessible by bridge. The beach area here is being developed rapidly but remains largely unspoiled. The sandy beach lies to the south, and kiosks rent sailboards and sell seafood from a number of waterside restaurants. In the center you can see the ruins of the Castelo de São João, which was constructed to defend Portimão from English, Spanish, and Dutch raids. There's no need to return to Portimão for lunch.
At Praia da Rocha, 3km (1 3/4 miles) south of Portimão, you can explore the ruins of the 16th-century Fortaleza de Santa Catarina, Avenida Tomás Cabreira, which was constructed for defensive purposes.
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