The town is located on the northern shore of the inner lobe of the Bay of Cádiz, on the site of the ancient Roman settlement of Portus Gaditanus. An ancient trading post, it is probably the oldest settlement on the Bay of Cádiz. It owes its modern name to the fact that it was rebuilt in 1488 by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Puerto Real can boast of handsome public squares and broad well-constructed streets; it also has an attractive town-hall building, a bullring, and a remarkable 16th-century church, which was constructed in the Gothic style.
Puerto Real borders the towns and cities of San Fernando to the southwest, Chiclana de la Frontera to the south, Medina Sidonia to the southeast, Jerez de la Frontera to the north and northeast, and El Puerto de Santa Maria to the northwest.
A good portion of the periphery of Puerto Real lies within the Bay of Cádiz Natural Reserve, an area known for its salt marshes; the reeds of the marshes are the raw material for weaving mats that form the walls of cages in fish-farming enterprises (pisciculture). These wetlands, composed of lagoons as well as salt marshes, welcome, in the spring and autumn, huge flocks of migratory birds en route to their new seasonal homes. Also, on the outskirts of Puerto Real, there are several notable pine forests, among them, Las Canteras (the Forest of Quarries) and La Algaida (Mare's Meadow Forest). Because of its forests and estaurine marshes, Puerto Real is sometimes called the "green lung" of the Bay of Cádiz. The San Pedro river, an arm of the Guadalete river, flows along the northwestern edge of the town, separating Puerto Real from neighboring El Puerto de Santa Maria. Puerto Real is united to Cádiz by the José León de Carranza Bridge, named for a former mayor of Cádiz. As of 2007, a second bridge was planned.
Other remarkable aspects of Puerto Real's geography are the many kilometers of gorges, ravines, and artificially-created footpaths that traverse the municipality. Among them is a long green corridor, constituting one end of the Two Bays Trail that unites the two large bays of the province of Cádiz, the Bay of Cádiz and the Bay of Algeciras.
There are also two concentrations of population within the municipal limits of Puerto Real that are not contiguous with the central part of the city; they are called the District of Jarana and the District of the San Pedro (river).
The Spanish monarchs decided to build a new "royal" port city on this site because they wished to become personally involved in the lucrative trade that had developed with North Africa. Powerful nobles already dominated all of the other ports of western Andalusia (Cádiz, Huelva, and, to a lesser extent, Seville). From the time of its founding, Puerto Real's prosperity was closely tied to the fortunes of these other Spanish ports, especially Cádiz, which soon grew rich from its commerce with America.
In 1820, there was a popular liberal revolt in Spain, led by the constitutionalist and patriot, Rafael del Riego y Nunez (1785-1823), that sought to reinstate the liberal constitution that had been proclaimed in 1812. This revolt led to the imprisonment of King Ferdinand VII in Cádiz and the convening of the liberal Cortes in that city. An international conference of monarchist powers, the Congress of Verona, in October 1822, deputized France to secure Ferdinand's release and restore absolutism in Spain. The invading French army, known as the Hundred Thousand Children of St. Louis (France's patron saint), took Madrid, and, on 7 April 1823, laid siege to Cádiz from positions in Puerto Real and nearby San Fernando. Initially, French artillery barrages failed to cause the fall of the city. Riego's forces held the strategic Fort San Luis on the island of Trocadero at the extreme south end of the Bay of Cádiz, between Cádiz and Puerto Real. When the fort's defenders succumbed to a French assault on 31 August 1823, Trocadero was lost, and so, in effect, was the liberal cause. The remaining defenders of Cádiz, smarting from their loss at the Battle of Trocadero and despairing of the possibility of reinforcement, sued for peace. They made an agreement that resulted in the release and reinstatement of Ferdinand VII. In exchange, the liberals secured promises of an amnesty for their fighters and for the members of the dissident Cortes; the agents of the king also agreed to the establishment of a form of constitutional monarchy where the principles of the 1812 constitution were supposed to be respected.
In the process of besieging Cádiz, the French succeeded in destroying a large part of Puerto Real, including its water delivery and sanitation systems. Perhaps it was because of these events that Puerto Real was regularly beset by epidemics throughout much of the nineteenth century.
Another reminder in Puerto Real of the time of the French invasion is the Cortadura canal that allows passage across the base of the peninsula of Cádiz. The canal is not a natural waterway; it was constructed by the Spanish in an attempt to prevent the French artillery from drawing closer to the walls of the city.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Puerto Real experienced an industrial boom, thanks to the creation of modern shipyards by Antonio López. New technological advances and the new industries drastically modified the appearance of Puerto Real. To make room for the new shipyards and warehouses, a working-class neighborhood, Matagorda, was leveled, but new neighborhoods, like the River San Pedro and Marquesado districts, sprang up.
Puerto Real is a city with an economy based almost exclusively on industry.
Lacking fine beaches, Puerto Real has turned its attention inland. For that reason, the city's efforts at tourism-promotion mainly emphasize "rural tourism" activities, like golf, horseback-riding, walking, hiking, bicycling, and nature sightseeing. The local countryside has become a prime asset, and now Puerto Real builds hiking paths and golf courses rather than ocean-going tankers. The situation is much the same in other communities of the Bay of Cádiz area, like San Fernando, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Cádiz itself.