If you stand on the far eastern edge of Vila Real you can easily see the Spanish coastline and the bridge over the river that connects the town to Ayamonte in Spain. The bridge was built in the early 1990s and has made a big difference to the congestion in and around the town because people can now drive straight there instead of waiting for a ferry.
Set on the Spanish border, this harbour town is full of history. The original town was demolished by a tidal wave in 17th century and was rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal using a grid layout. There is good shopping in the streets that lead to the Praca Marques de Pombal – the town’s main square lined with lemon trees.
Vila Real is very easy to find your way around, because it is laid out on a grid system. The town was designed that way by the Marquês de Pombal who was keen to apply the latest concept of town planning after the sea had eroded all of the original settlements in the area at the beginning of the 17th century. The Royal charter founding the town, was signed on December 30th 1773, the marking out of the street plan was started on March 2nd 1774 and by August 6th, the Town Hall, Customs House and barracks had already been completed!
At the end of the 19th century the town was a major canning centre for sardines and tuna, and the port was busy with the ships that sailed the Guadiana. It was also the first place in the Algarve to have gas lighting (1886). It is still a thriving community based on fishing, agriculture and tourism.
The main road runs straight from Monte Gordo to Vila Real, and the Avenida da República runs along the front of the town, adjacent to the Rio Guadiana. The riverfront is attractively laid out with trees and water features and there is also a marina where you can watch the boats.
Vila Real has a large town square, 'Praça Marquês de Pombal', which is edged with orange trees and populated with low white buildings, shops, cafes and restaurants. Just behind the square there is a space called the Centro Cultural António Aleixo, which used to be the old market. Today it is used for temporary exhibits and events. There is also a museum, Museu de Manuel Cabanas, where you can go to see the works of a local painter and wood engraver.
In essence, Vila Real is a relaxed and peaceful town and ideal for anyone who likes the quieter side of life, or to escape the stresses from home. It’s beautifully quaint, with lots to see and do, particularly for those who like to potter around and absorb the local culture. Like Monte Gordo, Vila Real is also very flat, so is ideal for walking and cycling.
Vila Real has a lovely open sandy beach, which stretches for several kilometres uninterrupted towards Manta Rota, near to Tavira. At the river end access to the beach is along a narrow road, with some rather large speed bumps in it and very little space to manoeuvre, although there is a small parking area near the end. The better route to follow is signposted through the pine forest between Monte Gordo and Vila Real with plenty of parking right behind the beach.
Vila Real de Santo António is one of three municipalities that make up the 'Baixo Guadiana' region. Vila Real, Castro Marim and Alcoutim, are the three Algarvean Sotavento (eastern Algarve) municipalities that have been collectively coined 'Baixo Guadiana'. Linked by the Guadiana River, these places, with a total area measuring 940km², have become recognised for their beautiful environment, where sun, sea, river, mountain and friendly people coexist. Local fauna and flora characterise both the significance and potential of a region that is extremely important for a sustained ecosystem; this includes many marshes and dunes, which are important habitats for the reproduction of crustaceans and bivalves.
The two protected areas, Ria Formosa Natural Park and the Natural Marsh Reserve of Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santa António span 20,489ha and are abundant with wildlife, with hundreds of different species of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles and plants.
Representing this region and coordinating the aims of the three municipalities, is a non-profit organisation, 'Odiana'. Created in December 1998, Odiana is commited to making its contribution towards the sustainable economic and social development of the region and emphasises its potential and natural beauty. Odiana continually promotes the region through various projects and they give support to every project that contributes to the region's development. (For more information about what is available in the Baixo Guadiana region, visit or contact Odiana in Castro Marim, or the local tourist offices in Alcoutim, Castro Marim or Vila Real).
A relaxing way to see this eastern end of the Algarve (and the western end of Spain) is to take a boat trip along the Guadiana to Alcoutim. It passes through some beautiful countryside and changes from the very flat scenery around Vila Real to a backdrop of rounded hills with lush vegetation and a few houses here and there until you arrive at Alcoutim. Here you can see castles on hilltops on both banks of the river as reminders of the past.
If you haven't visited this area before do give it a try. The water is a few degrees warmer, the beaches are lovely and they certainly can't get crowded! It's probably best for couples or families with younger children as teenagers may find it too quiet, although if they are into watersports there are plenty of activities here for them. It's certainly very popular with older visitors during the 'off season' months - a good dose of sunshine, plenty of places for walking and cycling and lots of restaurants to choose from. It's also only about half an hour from Faro, straight down the A22 motorway.
There are lots of places to explore around Vila Real but one to make top of your agenda is Cacela Velha. It is a very small village with a handful of typically Algarvean whitewashed houses around a Church and a fort situated on the waterfront just past Manta Rota (heading west from Vila Real - it is signposted from the N125). There isn't a lot to do there it has to be said, but the village and the views are truly delightful. There are a couple of restaurants if you want to linger for a while - the one on the right just as you come into the village has an upstairs terrace giving great panoramic views across the beaches of Manta Rota and Monte Gordo to Vila Real all set against a backdrop of lush green countryside. About the only sounds 'disturbing' the total peace and quiet are from the birds and a few chickens!
Here you will find lots of useful information for your holiday in Vila Real de Santo António, in eastern Algarve, Portugal! See how to get to Vila Real de Santo António from Faro Airport by transfer, bus or taxi and how much it costs, print off useful telephone numbers to take with you on holiday and see where the tourist information office is in neighbouring town, Monte Gordo.
Vila Real de Santo António Travel
Plan your journey from the Algarve's international airport in Faro with our Vila Real de Santo António travel information!
Distance from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António: 52 km
Travel from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António by Train: 4,55€ (regional train)
Travel from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António by Bus: 4,95€
Travel from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António by Taxi: 63€ for a 4 seater Mon-Fri 6am-9pm (78€ outside this time and bank holidays); 80€ or 97€ for a 6 seater depending on time.
To get to Faro train or bus station (which are close to each other just before Faro marina) either get the bus from the airport (the stop is right outside the 'arrivals' doors) and will cost you around 1.50€, or get a taxi at a cost of around 10€. To check train timetables visit CP - Comboios de Portugal. (the site is available in English) and select 'Regional and Inter Regional services' to get the timetable for Lagos/Vila Real de Santo António/Lagos.
For bus timetables visit Eva Bus. Again most of it is available in English except the 'frequency' on the tables. (Days of the week: Monday is the 2nd day of the week - '2as'-and Friday is the 6th day. 'Sábado' and 'Domingo' - Saturday and Sunday; 'Feriados' is holidays; 'Diariamente' is daily,). Bus times from the 'aeroporto' to Faro are also listed .
For additional bus timetables visit Frotazul Algarve which covers a limited area of the Algarve.
*We quote Comboios de Portugal (regional) and Eva Transports pricing and prices of the standard taxi firms that work at Faro Airport. Please note that prices may vary.
Useful Telephone Numbers for Vila Real
Emergency Numbers: Dial 112 for Police, Ambulance and Fire from any phone (free)
GNR (Police) Tel: 281 531 004
PSP (Police) Tel: 281 510 780
Bombeiros (Firefighters) Tel: 281 543 202
Nearest Hospital Faro Tel: 289 891 100
Health Centre, Av. Duarte Pacheco, Tel: 281 511 371
Cruz Vermelha Portuguesa (Red Cross) in Faro Tel: 289 899 900
Train Station Tel: 281 543 242
Caapsalgar Taxis Tel: 281 513 245
Pharmacies: Farmácia Carmo, Rua António Capa 17, 8900-246 V.R.S.A. Tel: 281 543 731
Farmácia Carrilho, Praça Marquês de Pombal,1,8900-231 V.R.S.A Tel: 281 543 049
Farmácia Pombalina, Rua José Barão 23-25, 8900-816 V.R.S.A Tel: 281 543 064
Tourist Support Services Tel: 808 781 212
Note: Just remember, if you are calling from a foreign mobile phone in the Algarve, Portugal, you will need to dial 00351 in front of the numbers here.