Portimao Car Hire
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Portimão is a charming Portuguese town in what was a centre of shipbuilding, sardine fishing and fish processing in the Western region of the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region. Today, the town’s industry mainly comprises tourism, retail, and leisure. The Algarve region is renowned for its pristine beaches and these have helped make the region a top vacation destination: an estimated 23 million tourists visit Portugal annually, and about 7.1 million of these go to the Algarve. Portimão has a population of 56,000 but it retains a low-key feel, far removed from the vibe of touristy resort towns ̶ not to worry though, if you need some nightlife then Praia da Rocha (also very popular) is just 3 km south of Portimão.
The Algarve region has been inhabited since the Stone Age, as evidenced by megalithic standing stones and millennia of history. Like a lot of Europe, Portugal was under Roman occupation followed by Visigoths, Moors, and many others. There are extensive Roman ruins and structures scattered throughout the region, and as the Algarve is also quite bijou, it’s custom-made for great day trips from the comfort of your car. Portugal is a safe country with good public services and so is popular among expats from the UK and elsewhere, as well as tourists. Portimão is full of café-strewn airy plazas connected by chic shopping avenues and of course—Portugal is a devout nation—a number of churches. After a walking tour of the city, get out into the Algarve by car!
Portugal is cheaper than the UK in general, and so is car hire specifically. Hiring a Volkswagen Up or another mini-size starts at €4 per day in off-peak times, even a compact Renault Megane (which seats 5) is only €11 a day, while a roomy 7-seater like the Ford Tourneo is just €22 a day! Book your hire car with Enjoy to explore Portimão and the stunning Algarve by air-conditioned, independent travel – but first, here’s a bit more on this charming destination.
- Airports and Access: Portimão is served by Faro Airport (FAO), also known as Algarve Airport, situated just west of the city of Faro and 51 km from Portimão. It became a hub airport (including for Ryanair) in 2010, with the high season from March to October and nine million passengers use it annually. Access from Algarve/Faro Airport to Portimão is by the A22, taking around 50 minutes along Portugal’s Southern Atlantic coast.
- Famous Portimão: Portugal has produced many famous people over the years like Ronaldo, Vasco De Gama and Magellan to name just a few, while Portimão’s famous progeny include footballers Pedro Delgado and Fabio Nunes. The Algarve has always been popular with foreign footballers too (some Premiership clubs hold their summer camps in the vicinity).
Guide to Portimao
The Algarve and Portimão have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and successive armies and immigrants shaped the culture, people and landscape of this unique place over thousands of years. The Cynetes or Conii were the pre-Roman people of this region, and the mouth of the Arade River on which Portimão lies was a commercial port for Carthaginians, Phoenicians, and Greeks. The Algarve is peppered with prehistoric and Roman remains ̶ temples, villas, mosaics, bridges and much more. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 410 AD, the Visigoths occupied the area until the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which started in 711 AD and ended with their defeat and ejection from the area in 1249. The Moors were Muslims who made a huge contribution to Portuguese language, culture, architecture, agriculture and cooking, as they did elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Renaissance Portugal developed a global trading Empire, and from 1595 to 1808 the Algarve was a semi-autonomous region until unification into Portugal in 1910.
Beaches, Caves, Coves
From Praia dos Caneiros on the eastern edge of the River Arade, to Beach Torralta along the southwestern Atlantic shore, there are more than 20 beaches in the Portimão area alone. Praia do Amados and Praia de Rocha may take top spots among the beaches in this area, but it’s hard to choose as there are so many.
City and Culture
Portimão is famous for the pottery and painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles called azulejos, which are typical of the Algarve, and there are plenty of places to browse or buy some gorgeous examples in towns like Porches or Loulé. Portimão has so much more though ̶ a fresh produce market, wine-tasting in the Quinta do Frances winery, the Castle of São João hewn into white and pink rock, the marina, public parks and green spaces, not to mention churches.
Sports and Pastimes
Portimão has more than enough to entertain active visitors. Try Escape One Algarve, which is an ‘escape room adventure’ wherein you must solve puzzles and clues to get out. Furthermore, keep the younger family members distracted for hours in the Parque de Juventude, where there’s a bike track, pond, and play area with ducks. Although overshadowed by its Vilamoura big brother, Portimão marina is pleasant and well-equipped ̶ check out the famous Clippers on their round-the-world yacht race!
Thanks to its enduring popularity, the population of the Algarve, normally 450,000 people, becomes a million in high season. The main city is Faro, and along with Portimão these are the two most populous Algarve cities. Portimão used to be a fishing and shipbuilding centre, but is now a tourism gem with many nearby beaches. The city’s old and previously lively fishing quays have been transformed into a serene promenade which continues to the pretty tree-lined plazas of the old town. Historically fascinating, yet there’s nevertheless the variety of lovely cafes and great seafood you expect in Portugal. The inland of the Algarve is less developed, as are the rockier cliffs and coastal areas on the north-western Atlantic coast. The name ‘Algarve’ comes from the Arabic Al-Garbh, roughly meaning ‘West Andalus’.
Portimão is perhaps less known as a visitor destination, particularly in the shadow of Albufeira, Lagos or Vilamoura and the like. However, it’s a beautiful holiday base and the Algarve is compact, so wherever you fancy for an excursion is reachable in a few hours.
What to do in Portimao
Portimão is packed with history ̶ the Museu de Portimao celebrates the once-thriving sardine industry, but there’s a lot more local history besides (from there you can stroll up to the Ribeirinha then try some fresh produce at the daily Mercado de Portimão). Continue your historical excursion by visiting Nossa Senhora da Conceição (‘Our Lady of Conception’), the city’s main church which sits atop the town’s highest point in all its white, Manueline splendour. The original Gothic building, completed in 1476, was mostly destroyed by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 except for a gate and gargoyle.
This being the Algarve, there are beaches aplenty and all kinds of watersports. The westerly areas of Sagres, Carrapateira, and Aljezur draw surfers of every stripe, year round, while Portimão itself is known for sailing due to its calm waters (especially compared to the wilder northwest coast). There’s something for everyone in the Portimão coastal regions, from paddle boarding and scuba diving to whale-watching and jet skiing.
Party time and family fun
Portimão is rather more sedate than its noisier sibling Praia de Rocha, but serene doesn’t mean dull. Nevertheless, if you want to party properly, head to Praia de Rocha. It’s only 3 km from Portimão so is well within taxi distance (do not drink and drive!)
Eating out in Portimao
Portimão has eateries to suit any palette or budget, and there are plenty of wine-tasting/food & drink/food & culture tours available, not to mention the seafood selection on offer (literally everywhere!) Let’s sample a few of Portimão’s best restaurants and cafes:
First on our list is Vista Restaurante at the Bela Vista Hotel & Spa overlooking the golden sands of Praia da Rocha. Touted as the home of fine dining in Praia da Rocha and offering amazing ocean views to match the Michelin Star cuisine, reservations are essential and prices aren’t cheap, but the dishes you can expect here include Bairrada piglet with egg, spinach, mushrooms and São Jorge cheese, for a mouth-watering example. One of the first hotels in the Algarve (built in 1918), the nautical-style interior is fascinating too.
According to the Michelin Guide 2020, Don Sebastião is ̶ ‘A pleasant and interesting option, where the cuisine is traditionally Portuguese, well presented and copious, with fresh fish presented at your table before being prepared. The impressive wine cellar features no fewer than 75 different ports.’ Prices here are very reasonable, starting at €30.
For seafood, look no further than Ocean, a stylish sea view restaurant in the town of Porches. One of only two restaurants in the country to win two Michelin stars, the cuisine at Ocean is typical of the region and perfectly paired with wines (and ports, obviously) recommended by knowledgeable staff. The catch of the day with caviar and watercress is sublime, as is the Wagyu beef with garlic, sorrel and thyme. Bring your wallet!
Meanwhile, Alvor is the quintessential Portuguese fishing village, and Sereia is the equivalent in seafood cuisine. Try the scallops in champagne sauce, or seafood pâté and fish soup.
Dunas Beach Restaurant (Alvor) sits overlooking shining white sands in a beautiful wooden building with outdoor deck. Great for oysters, octopus, and piri-piri chicken baguettes, it also has a great children’s menu.
Transport in Portimao
Portimão is served by Faro Airport (FAO), also known as Algarve Airport, which is situated just west of the city of Faro, 51 km from Portimão. Enjoy partners not only with global brands like Avis, Hertz, Sixt and Dollar at the airport (to name just a few), but also with established local providers who have the local expertise to deliver hassle-free car hire.
Buses and Trains
Generally, public transport everywhere in Portugal is safe, clean, cheap, and efficient. Typically, bus routes in the Algarve run services between 7AM and 8PM year-round, seven days a week, with buses operating until later in summer. Buses run every 30 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays until 2PM. On Saturday afternoons, and all day Sundays/holidays, all services are reduced to one per hour. Trains are similar – safe, cheap, and reliable and Portimão has a lovely 1920s station, although some of the surrounding buildings are rather dilapidated.
Driving Around Portimão
The Algarve’s size makes it ideal for exploratory summer drives!
Here’s just a tiny sample of our best drives around/from Portimão:
Silves is the ancient capital of the Algarve, and it’s only 20 minutes by car (via N125 and N124-1). A Moorish stronghold between the 9th and 12th centuries, it was a maritime trading centre with boats travelling down the Arade River (in which Portimão also lies) to North Africa. There are splendid historical sights here, including the majestic Castelo de Silves, from where the Moors ruled all of the Algarve, the Portas de Cidade de Silves, a remarkably intact remnant of the once impregnable city walls, and the Museu Municipal de Arqueologia, Sé Catedral de Silves and Igreja da Misericórdia de Silves ̶ there’s plenty to keep visitors enthralled for hours. Consider going by boat, with guided trips going from the northern end of the Ribeirinha (harbour side).
Praia de Benagil (Benagil Beach) is just 25 minutes by car from Portimao, along the A22. It has a small pretty beach, but its main attraction is the famous caves (known as ‘Benagil Sea Caves’). It’s near the world-famous Praia de Marinha (voted one of the best beaches in Europe according to the Michelin Guide) and these caves are simply awe-inspiring. Hire a boat, kayak, paddle board or guided boat from Portimão or Albufeira to fully experience the caves from the water.
Vilamoura is a sophisticated and modern resort which is famed for its golf courses, luxury, celebrities and large marina (the largest in Portugal). Spread over 2,000 hectares, it’s one of Portugal’s most popular holiday spots and one-third of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Algarve luxury resorts (Quinta do Lago and Val do Lobo being the other two). ‘Vilamoura’ commonly refers to the area or resort rather than a specific town or village. It’s very much geared to the luxury traveller in parts but is also the Algarve’s top nightspot.
Vila Nova de Milfontes is in the Beja Region in the wild northwest Algarve. This is our longest drive but it’s worth it (also it’s not that long ̶ 90 minutes from Portimão via the N120). The towering cliffs of Cape Sardão and the natural solitude of Praia de Farol are the town’s hottest sightseeing spots. There’s history and culture aplenty in the town too ̶ visit the Fort des Milfontes, or meander through the lovely public gardens.
Drive on the right-hand side of the road in Portimão. The speed limits are 120 km/h on the motorway, 100 km/h (60 mph) on expressways, 90 km/h (50mph) on other roads and 50 km/h (30 mph) in built-up areas. Also:
Drivers must carry an international driving licence, passport, insurance documents, MOT certificate if the car is more than three years old, and car hire documents.
Speed traps are the norm, so don’t be tempted to speed (even though the locals probably will!).
Using your phone while driving is illegal.
Be aware of the possibility of rock falls and other road hazards in rural areas.
Top Tips when hiring a car in Portimao
● Research Car Rental Companies: Before your trip, take the time to research different car rental companies in Portimao. Look for reputable companies that have good customer reviews and a wide selection of cars.
● Check multiple websites or use price comparison platforms to find the best rental car deals in Portimao. This way, you can compare prices, vehicle options, and any additional perks or discounts available.
● Book in Advance: To secure the best hire car at a competitive price, it's advisable to book in advance. This way, you can avoid last-minute availability issues and potentially benefit from early booking discounts.
● When booking a hire car, be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully. Look out for any hidden charges such as additional fees for fuel, insurance, or mileage restrictions. It's essential to have a clear understanding of the total cost before finalizing your reservation.
● Earn Points or Rewards: If you're a member of a loyalty program or have a credit card that offers rewards, check if you can earn points or receive any benefitsby going for a portimão car hire. This way, you can maximize your savings or enjoy additional perks during your trip.
● Choose a Convenient Location: Consider renting a car from a location in or near Portimao city centre. This will make it easier for you to pick up and drop off the car, saving you time and transportation costs.
● Maximum Flexibility with Rental Duration: If your travel plans allow for flexibility, consider adjusting your hire car dates. Sometimes renting a car for a longer period can lead to lower average daily prices. However, be mindful of any cancellation policies or fees associated with changes in your reservation.
● Explore Surrounding Areas: Portimao is not only a vibrant city but also a gateway to various attractions and natural landscapes. Renting a car will provide you with the freedom to explore the nearby fishing centre, scenic drives, and other points of interest at your own pace.
● Consider the Average Price: The average price of rental cars in Portimao can vary depending on the season, demand, and the type of car you choose. Keep this in mind while planning your budget and selecting the most suitable vehicle for your needs.
● Rental Car Return: Ensure you understand the process for returning the rental car. Familiarize yourself with the drop-off location and any specific instructions from the rental company to avoid any confusion or potential penalties.