Most restaurants will have sardines on the menu but the best time to go and eat sardines has to be during the annual Sardine Festival held in Portimão every year in August.
The exact date of the Portimão Sardine Festival changes each year but it is usually at the start of the month and runs for about nine or ten days. In 2022 the festival will be taking place between August 3 and August 7 but check each year with the Municiapl Câmara of Portimão to make sure you are in the area at the right time.
Thousands of people from all across the Algarve visit the Sardine festival each year not just to eat some fresh sardines grilled in the open air but also to watch live entertainment and pick up bits and pieces from the various stalls dotted around the area.
The festival takes place along the waterfront in Portimão starting from the museum at one end and continuing all the way along the redeveloped waterfront up to the old bridge and starts usually at around 7pm.
During August it is normally still very hot at 7pm so most people come down to the area later in the day when the sun has gone down the entertainment is starting. There is no rush to get there too early as the festival is open until 1am and that gives people plenty of time to be able to enjoy a sardine meal and the entertainment before it closes.
There are 8 restaurants serving up sardines at the festival and 2,500 seats at tables for everyone to be able to get a space but even with this many seats it can be tricky at peak times to get a table for the whole family so it is best to send one person to save the seats while the others fetch the food for the smoothest experience!
The restaurants are open from 6.30pm until 11pm and not only serve sardines but also Portuguese tapas dishes and other snacks for anyone who is not a fan of sardines including Portuguese cheeses and chouriço sausage.
After the food the event is all about the entertainment and as well as craft stalls, children's entertainers and sweets stalls there are the main stages. Show cooking demonstrations, live fado music, comedians and some big names in the Portuguese pop and rock world all come to this summer festival with live entertainment usually starting at around 10pm.
The festival is not a free event but it does not cost too much especially if you opt for family tickets. If you buy your tickets early then you can get a small discount (until mid July) but after that then the tickets cost €16 for a family of four for the night or €5 per person. Other tickets are available that last fo the duration of the festival but for most people one day will be enough. Children under the age of ten do not have to pay an entry fee.
Tickets can be bought at the event itself or before the event from the tourist office on Rua 5 Outubro in Portimão or from the exhibition park in Portimão.
Because the event becomes very busy it can be difficult to find a parking space in Portimão near to the event unless you arrive very early. If you are able to take a taxi to the event it may be better as then you will not have the struggle of finding a space. Many people do also opt to park up on the Lagoa side of the river and then walk across the old bridge across the river into Portimão - this can often work well but the walk is quite a distance and is not suitable for anyone with mobility issues.
As from 2012 the Sardine Festival of Portimão has had a new look and the event is now recognised as one of the very important festivals of the Algarve and is therefore backed by the Algarve tourism board.
This event is one that really plunges you into Portuguese culture headfirst and it is a great place to try sardines for the first time.
It is well worth making a trip to the sardine festival at least once while you are in the area - just be ready to fight your way through the thick smoke of the sardines as they are grilled!