Loulé is one of the biggest cities in Algarve (it exceeds Faro, the regional capital, in population), but due to its inland location, it’s not a major tourist destination like Albufeira, Portimão, Lagos or Tavira on the coast. It’s usually visited on a day trip for its 13th-century castle and famous market, but is not where tourists choose to stay (although it has excellent budget accommodation; see below).
The city is the administrative center of the greater Loulé municipality (or county), which includes a coastline stretching for 13.5 kilometers (over 8 miles). On this coast, about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from the city, are the popular resorts of Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, Vilamoura and Quarteira. The small village of Almancil, with its iconic church, is also part of Loulé. In the countryside are tiny villages that show another side of Algarve, with hardly any tourists. The one most worth stopping at is Alte, which is one of the prettiest in southern Portugal, with a timeless serenity, whitewashed houses with the characteristic chimneys of Algarve, and a small 16th-century church.
Nearby you also have the biggest shopping mall in Algarve, the MAR Shopping. In addition to major international and national brands, this mall has a multiplex cinema, a food court, and an open-air designer outlet.
The main event in Loulé is Mardi Gras, or Carnival, with three days of partying on the streets. It’s the biggest Carnival in Algarve and one of the most famous in Portugal, with a parade of floats, lots of music and people in costumes. Another major event is the Noite Branca (“White Night”), which marks the end of summer (on the last Saturday of August). Everyone dresses in white and gets together on the streets for live music and other entertainment.
Things to See and Do in Loulé
Every castle in Algarve was damaged or completely destroyed by a major earthquake in 1755, but a significant part of Loulé’s survived and was restored in the early 20th century. It’s right in the center of town, and although most of its defensive walls have disappeared, three towers still stand. It was built in the 13th century over a Moorish fortification, and in the former governor’s residence is now a small museum, which is the main branch of the Loulé Museum. It displays artifacts from the region, dating back to the Bronze Age and the Roman and Moorish occupations. Inside is also the reproduction of a medieval kitchen, and in the courtyard you can see a well and an old city gate. For a view over Loulé, climb to the top of one of the towers. For the best view of the castle itself, head to Rua da Barbacã, a street once known for its workshops where it was possible to observe craftspeople working on traditional copper, wood and leather products.
Rua Dom Paio Peres Correia, 17
The local market is an even bigger attraction than the castle. Built in a romantic Moorish style in 1908, it’s where locals get their fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, and where tourists go looking to experience an authentic Portuguese market. It opens every day from 7am to 2pm except on Sundays, and is a major destination on Saturday mornings, when it expands to the exterior with products from the local farmers. Also on Saturday mornings you can catch the open-air “gypsy market” on the western side of town, across from Convento de Santo António, on Rua de Nossa Senhora da Piedade.
Praça da República
It’s believed that Loulé’s main church was built on the site of an old mosque, which stood here until 1249, when the Christians conquered Algarve. It has a plain white exterior with a gothic doorway and a clock tower that might have been a minaret. It’s mostly a gothic construction from the 13th century, with alterations from the 16th and especially from the 18th century, when it was damaged by the 1755 earthquake. The gilded retable and sculptures inside are from the 18th century, and reflect the baroque style of the period. One of the side chapels is an example of the Manueline (Portuguese gothic) style of the 16th century. The church was dedicated to St. Clement, as Loulé was conquered from the Moors on November 23rd, the saint’s feast day. It’s usually open to the public in the mornings (until 12pm) and closed on Mondays.
Largo Batalhão Sapadores Caminhos de Ferro
If you visit just one monument in the Loulé area, make it the church of São Lourenço in the town of Almancil, about 10 minutes away. It’s not very big and looks like an ordinary church from outside, but the interior is one of the most stunning in Portugal. It’s almost completely covered in baroque tile panels, from floor to ceiling. They date from 1730 and illustrate scenes from the life of St. Lawrence.
See the Igreja de São Lourenço Guide.
Located just a few feet from the castle entrance, this small chapel was built in the mid-17th century by King João IV, to commemorate Portuguese independence with the end of the Iberian Union. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Conception, Portugal’s patron saint. Beautifully restored in 2007, its interior is covered with baroque tile panels depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin. The gold-covered altarpiece features an image of Our Lady of Conception in the center.
Rua Dom Paio Peres Correia, 22
This church with a small dome is usually closed, but if you find it open, it’s worth taking a look inside for the gold-covered and finely-carved altarpiece from the 18th century.
Largo São Francisco, 51
In the center of Loulé you’ll notice a spaceship-looking building in the distance. That’s the Nossa Senhora da Piedade sanctuary, which dates back to 1553 and has an 18th-century chapel, but most of the building was erected in the mid-20th century. It’s not a major tourist destination, but is the most popular pilgrimage site in Algarve. Located on a hilltop, it’s often reached on foot by pilgrims. If you’re not devout, the reason for a visit is the view over Loulé and surrounding countryside.
Rua Padre José António Nobre Duarte
The beaches in the Loulé region are known for their quality and safety, proudly flying the Blue Flag and providing access to those with mobility issues. They are:
It’s the best beach by the city of Loulé (it’s 20 minutes away by car) and Algarve’s most exclusive resort. It attracts upper-class tourists, who stay at the luxury hotels and play golf at the world-class courses behind it. It’s part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, and to reach the sand you have to walk over a footbridge. It’s never crowded, so it’s the beach for peace and quiet in the Loulé region. More active visitors can rent jet skis, kayaks and paddles for stand-up paddleboarding. If you like to hike, follow a trail that starts by the parking lot and takes you past marshes, lagoons and pinewoods in the company of different species of birds.
See the Quinta do Lago Guide.
Vale do Lobo is another luxury resort, with opulent villas owned by the rich and famous. Its beautiful beach, backed by red cliffs, also attracts the more affluent tourists, but is a little more accessible than Quinta do Lago. Above it is a cluster of restaurants and bars, often offering live entertainment in the summer.
See the Praia de Vale do Lobo Guide.
Although popular with locals, this beach is never crowded, as tourists tend to stay by the resorts of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago. It’s very calm and has a natural landscape of dunes and a pine forest where families go for picnics. There’s a popular restaurant by the pine trees, and a boardwalk leads to the beach, protecting the dunes. In addition to loungers and wicker parasols, it’s often possible to rent equipment for stand-up paddleboarding. You may also dive when the conditions are right, to see submerged traces of an ancient Carthaginian settlement. Roman fish-salting tanks are also sometimes revealed when the sea washes away the sand on the western end.
See the Praia de Loulé Velho Guide.
The very popular resort town of Vilamoura is 20 minutes from the center of Loulé. The beach stretches for one kilometer (over half a mile) but can get crowded in July and August (for a quieter spot, walk to the left when facing the sea). It has relatively calm waters and a trendy bar, and a short walk away is Portugal’s biggest marina, surrounded by bars and restaurants.
See the Vilamoura Guide.
Quarteira is the more affordable alternative to the upscale Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura. It’s very popular with Portuguese families and the beach is often packed in August. In addition to the lower prices, there’s the convenience of having everything within walking distance. It’s backed by hotels, apartment buildings, and a promenade with restaurants, shops, fitness stations and children’s playgrounds.
See the Quarteira Guide.
It’s right next to Quarteira but the backdrop is made up of pine trees and a lagoon instead of hotels and apartments buildings. It’s quite a beautiful and calm beach, with sunbeds, parasols, loungers and water sports equipment for rent. There’s also a good restaurant with outdoor seating, offering grilled fish and sea views.
See the Praia do Almargem Guide.
Famous Portuguese personalities have chosen this beach over the years, since it provides some peace and privacy away from crowded Quarteira and attracts few tourists. Its natural landscape of dunes is protected by long boardwalks, which go all the way to Quinta do Lago and offer the opportunity to spot different bird species, chameleons and otters. There are two very recommended restaurants on the dunes, for meals with sea views.
See the Praia do Ancão Guide.
Divided into two sections -- Nascente (East) and Poente (West) -- this beach stretches for about one kilometer (about half a mile), and is backed by dunes in the east and cliffs in the west. The dunes are covered with vegetation, while the cliffs are topped by pine trees. It’s mostly frequented by guests of the luxury hotels in the area, but locals also visit for the beachfront restaurants.
See the Praia do Garrão Guide.
How to Get to Loulé
By car, Loulé is about 25 minutes from Faro, 20 minutes from Vilamoura, 15 from Quarteira, and about a half hour from Albufeira. Surprisingly for a major city, it doesn’t have a train station close to the center. The nearest station is named Loulé but is 5 kilometers to the south, so not within walking distance of the tourist attractions. Trains of the Algarve line stop here several times a day (from Faro they take just 16 minutes), but then you have to take a taxi. If you’re relying on public transportation, the best option is the bus. Number 59, operated by Vamus, departs several times a day (less frequently on weekends and public holidays), at irregular intervals, from Faro, and terminates in Loulé 40 minutes later. Number 87 runs between Quarteira and Loulé, taking 30 minutes. There’s also a bus from Albufeira (number 10), but it’s very infrequent, so not recommended for a day trip. The bus station in Loulé is very central, just a 5-minute walk from the market and the castle.
Hotels in Loulé
Loulé Jardim Hotel
This is the best place to stay in the center of Loulé. It scores points not just for the location, but also for being a good value, clean, and having a welcoming staff. On the rooftop is a swimming pool for the warmer days, while on the colder months guests can relax in the lounge with a fireplace. The rooms are decorated in light colors and a contemporary style. The castle is a 5-minute walk away.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Loulé Jardim Hotel
Downtown Loulé Prestige
When you enter the building (down the street from the market) and head to the second floor where this guesthouse is located, you can’t imagine the exquisite interior that awaits you. It’s budget accommodation but decorated like a 5-star boutique hotel. There are just six rooms, four of them with a balcony. Some have a bathtub in the corner, where guests can relax and watch Netflix. It’s recommended for couples.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Downtown Loulé Prestige
Casa Beny 1897 Guesthouse
Located by the castle, this guesthouse occupies a late-19th-century building and recreates the atmosphere of the period through the classic décor of the rooms. It preserves the original stucco ceilings, wooden floors and murals. There’s a shared kitchen and a terrace with a view of the castle towers.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Casa Beny 1897 Guesthouse
It’s another highly-rated guesthouse in a central location, featuring a well-designed interior. It’s divided into a studio and suites, and outside there’s a small swimming pool.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: aleixomor’Aqui
Loulé Coreto Guesthouse
Found just a 5-minute walk down the road from the market, this bed and breakfast is a good value. There are double and twin rooms with private bathrooms, and twin rooms with shared bathrooms. They’re comfortable, clean and decorated with images of Loulé.
SEE PRICES, AVAILABILITY AND MORE DETAILS HERE: Loulé Coreto Guesthouse