The second largest city in Portugal's Algarve region, Portimão has a distinctly local vibe. Once a hub of the fishing industry, today that spirit is kept alive with colourful maritime street art, a museum in a 19th-century cannery and the always-present smell of barbecued sardines wafting through the streets of the scenic old quarter. Just a short stroll away from the beach party zone of Praia da Rocha, it's the perfect blend of culture and seaside relaxation.
The Algarve gets around 300 days of sunshine per year, and hostels in Portimão make the most of that with their outdoor areas. You can relax with a glass of local wine on a terrace, cool off by hopping in a swimming pool or grill up some piri piri chicken on the barbecue. Most Portimão hostels are housed in typical Portuguese whitewashed villas, with gardens and balconies. Many offer free Wi-Fi, and some also put on a free breakfast or have a shared kitchen to save your euros.
Downtown Portimão is a warren of winding lanes, cobblestone streets and tile-clad mansions. The Ribeirinha waterfront promenade passes lots of terrace cafés before reaching the Ponte Velha (Old Bridge), where you'll find traditional restaurants serving grilled sardines. Down towards the coast, Praia da Rocha has energetic nightlife and a huge sandy beach. The fishing village of Ferragudo is a short ferry ride across the Arade River, with an arty feel and plenty of small restaurants and quirky boutiques.
Portimão market is the place to pick up local produce and souvenirs like aguardente de medronhos, a fiery liquor made from wild strawberries. The beaches near Portimão are wide and sandy. For calm waters, take the 10-minute taxi ride to Praia Grande (Big Beach) near Ferragudo. A river cruise to the region's medieval capital, Silves, makes for a good day trip. The hilly town is capped with a huge Moorish castle with views across the rugged countryside.
Faro Airport is the closest airport to Portimão, about 45 minutes away by car. If you're not hiring a car, you can take a public bus into Faro from the airport and hop on a train from there. Portimão railway station is just on the edge of the city centre, about 5 minutes' walk from downtown. The city is small enough to get around on foot, and there are public buses and trains to other towns in the Algarve.