Faro is a more subdued affair than many of the other bigger cities in Portugal, it keeps a distinctly low-key and traditional Portuguese feel. With the airport located on the outskirts of the city, Faro is sometimes left behind by tourists heading to the more picturesque hotspots of the Algarve region. Those that skip, definitely miss out. The old town and its cobbled streets are great to explore, there’s some great museums, traditional architecture, and some unique history. With both the Ria Formosa lagoon and some beautiful beaches nearby it’s perfect for a longer weekend too. Read on to find out everything to see and do in Faro, Portugal.
How to get to Faro, Portugal?
Faro is easily accessible without a car, which means it’s great for a day trip or a weekend break. It has an international airport, and both a central train station and bus station. It being a major regional city and the capital of the Algarve means there are frequent buses and rail connections to all major towns and cities in the Algarve and beyond. The bus and train station are located centrally, but Faro airport is about 10 minutes away from the centre. To get to the city centre from the airport, or vice versa. It’s a quick ride on the local bus, either the no.14 or the no.16. The cost is €2.35 for a single ticket and is operated by Proximo. Taxis are also available at the airport should cost around €10 each way, alternatively it’s around €5-6 to use an Uber.
How to get around Faro?
Faro is a small city and perfectly walkable, all of its major sights and activities are within walking distance of each other. If you want to explore further, maybe the beach, the Ria Formosa or some local hikes, then you might need to use another bus or a taxi. Since 2019, there is a selection of electronic scooters (Bolt, Voi) across the city. They’re easy to use and affordable but they can be uncomfortable on some of the cobbled streets. They’re also not supposed to be used on the paths, so if you’re following the correct rules you will be battling traffic too. If you don’t mind, they are a very fun way of quickly exploring the city and its sights though.
The Complete Guide to Faro
Faro’s idyllic city centre is lined with palm trees and edges on to a delightful marina and is probably the place everyone visits first. It’s a short walk directly east from both the bus and train station. It’s here you’ll be able to witness some local industry. If you time your visit well enough, you’ll see local fisherman loading or unloading their boats, or clam pickers returning. Something interesting, when the tides are high, only the smallest of boats can enter or leave the marina, as the high tides closes the gap underneath the harbour bridge! A short walk around the marina will lead you to a pier that jets out into the Ria Formosa (it’s one of the best places to catch the sunset in Faro).
Arco da Vila Gateway – Faro’s Old Town Entrance
Once you’ve explored the sights and sounds of the marina and Ria Formosa you should head towards the historic Arco da Vila gateway. It’s perhaps the grandest of Faro oldtown’s gated entrances. The impressive structure we see today, was built in the aftermath of the 1755 earthquake which destroyed the former one. It was completed in 1812 by the architect Francisco Fabri who also designed other notable buildings in the region. Inside, it is still possible to see the original Moorish entrance through the walls. It is actually considered one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in Portugal, due to its state of preservation and it being the only remaining example in Portugal. The blue and white tiled sign is a formal declaration that the local church authorities financed the reconstruction post-earthquake and not the local government!
While exploring, keep an eye (or an ear) out for storks and stork nests. You’ll be able to hear their distinctive clacking. They make large and unwieldy nests on many of the rooftops, chimneys and spires of the old city. It’s against the law to move or disturb a nest in Portugal, and with the storks mating for life these nests almost become features of the architecture themselves.
City Walls and Cathedral
Once through the city walls you’ll soon find the orange tree lined courtyard of Largo da Sé, at its centre Faro’s Sé or cathedral. The cathedral itself is a rather mismatched building that is built in a variety of architectural styles. Due to its long history of being sacked by foreign troops and ruined by natural disasters. Each rebuild occurred in a different time period and added its own style to the building. The entrance fee is €2.50 gives you access to the cathedral, its courtyard and its bell tower. The interior of the cathedral is equally mismatched with many notable features like it’s grand 18th Century organ decorated with Chinoiserie motifs. Within the courtyard is the first of Faro’s bone chapels. The bell tower is where the cathedral really shines as an attraction, giving excellent views of the Ria Formosa lagoon, Faro’s marina and its historic rooftops.
Museum Municipal de Faro – Faro’s Municipal Museum
Within the old city and a very short walk from the cathedral is the Museum Municipal de Faro, also known as Museu Arqueológico. The museum is inside a former convent and the main two-story building and courtyard garden date from 1540. The museum covers in detail the archaeological history of Faro, covering its Roman, Moorish and earlier history. One of the standout artefacts is the large Roman mosaic floor of the god Neptune. It was actually dug up by accident during refurbishment of the central train station. As well as the early Roman and Moorish history, it usually houses an art exhibition or two on the upper levels.
Shopping and Eating in Faro City Centre
The city centre and the street of Rua. Dom Francisco Gomes is a small pedestrianised area with an array of cafes, restaurants and shops. Among the main street and several of its side streets offers you’ll find plenty of options for eating or drinking outside and watching the tourists and shoppers go by. You’ll find shops selling local Portuguese crafts, traditional tourist shops and even some high street fashion chains. If it’s your first time in a touristy area of Portugal then ‘O Mundo Fantástico da Sardinha’ will surprise you. It’s a bit of a cultural oddity that gets very busy in the summer season. It’s a small chain of funfair themed shops dedicated to tins of sardines with your birth year on, if it doesn’t sound appealing then perhaps it’s best to carry on.
Igreja do Carmo
Igreja do Carmo is the most popular and most photogenic of Faro’s churches. It’s located in a decorated square of its own Largo do Carmo. A smaller church was founded in 1713, but the larger and more distinctive one today would not be completed until 1878. It’s classically Portuguese coloured and is a fine example of Baroque architecture. Inside you’ll find a matching gold-leaf laden interior. Hidden in its courtyard is its most famous feature the Capela dos Ossos or bone chapel.
Capela dos Ossos – Faro’s Chapel of Bones
The Capela dos Ossos was added in 1816 when the inhabitants of the nearby cemetery were exhumed and interred in the chapel. Every surface in the chapel, except the floor, is entirely covered in the bones and skulls of an estimated 1300 monks. It is one of several notable bone chapels in Portugal, it’s an eerie but fascinating place. You’ll need to visit on a weekday to see it (the chapel is open Monday-Friday 10.30am-12.30pm and 2-5pm). If you’re visiting the area on a Sunday morning, you’ll also be able to visit a traditional farmers market in the same square. You’ll find local fruits, vegetables and sometimes seafood for sale.
Visit the Ria Formosa From Faro
No trip to Faro would be complete without visiting the Ria Formosa. The natural park named one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders. It’s a large coastal lagoon that stretches along the eastern Algarve for nearly 60km. It’s made up of a series of inlets, islands and deep channels that shelter a large area of wetlands and marshes. To experience it fully, then a boat trip into the lagoon is a must. These will take you into many of the channels and usually stop on one or two of the islands or deserted beaches. Full day, half day, afternoon (2-3 hours) and sunset trips can be organised at the marina and you don’t need to leave the city centre to depart. Those a little more adventurous can take a guided kayak tour and take things at a much slower and quieter pace.
Ludo Trail – Hike in the Ria Formosa
If you fancy experiencing some of the Ria Formosa without the expense of a boat trip, there’s the short hike of the Ludo Trail nearby. It’s a 7km graded trail through the western end of the lagoon that can be completed in approximately 3-4 hours. On one side you’ll have the natural lagoon and on the other the man-made saltpans, with both providing a habitat for a variety of birds. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to spot flamingos, spoon bills and widegons foraging as you walk. There is very little shade on the trail so sun cream and a hat is essential during day time hours. Unlike the other options here, you’ll need to take a taxi or get the No. 14 bus towards Praia and hop off at the Ludo stop (€2.35 one way).
Praia de Faro – Faro’s Beach Getaway
Those wanting to combine a short city break with a relaxing beach holiday will find everything they need on Praia de Faro. All the usual beach amenities are provided and it’s a short trip from the city centre (the same no. 14 bus mentioned above). It’s a small community in itself, with a variety of bars, restaurants, shops and even some surfing schools providing everything you need for a beach stay. Towards the car park the beach can get very busy, but those wanting a quieter experience can wonder in either direction of the 9km stretch.
Visit the Village of Estoi from Faro
Estoi is a small village located 10km into the hills above Faro. It’s full of typical Algarve village charm with a matching slower pace of life. The village is mostly famous for three things; its beautiful palace (Palácio de Estoi), its Roman history, and its 15th Century church (Igreja Matriz de Estoi). With both inexpensive and convenient travel options from Faro, it’s a great village to spend a morning or afternoon in. It’s approximately a 20-minute drive if you take a private vehicle. By bus it takes around 25 minutes from Faro’s central bus station. Estoi is the fifth stop on the São Brás de Alportel route that departs from Faro. It costs €3.40 one-way or €6.80 return, with multiple options during the day.
Best Restaurants in Faro, Portugal
With the Ria Formosa and ocean nearby it’s almost a given that you should try some local seafood. For us there are two standout styles to try in Faro. A traditional cataplana or a local tapas style (petisco) restaurant. A cataplana, is a traditional seafood stew served in a copper bowl of two halves that it’s cooked in. The petisco restaurants are our personal favourites and serve typically local dishes but in tapas style. The food is served on small plates as it’s cooked and you share a few dishes between people. This means you can try a wide array of local flavours and dishes.
Our Top Picks and Favourite Restaurants in Faro:
Portas de Sao Pedro. Our favourite dish here has to be the octopus, served with roasted garlic and sweet potato mash.
Petisqueira 3 em Pipa. Petisco Style. The fried squid is divine, so too is the octopus, served with bacon, lime and new potatoes.
A Venda. A local’s favourite, but booking is recommended as it gets very busy. Good choice of meat, fish and vegetables dishes all served petisco style.
If you fancy something different or you’re on a budget than these are two great options:
Alef’s Burger Bar: Fantastic gourmet burgers, definitely on our list for the best burger in Portugal.
Dom Kebab: Calling this a kebab to the English-speaking world is perhaps doing it an immense injustice. Incredible fresh meat of your choice, some great fries, and plenty of salad. All served with a beer or a drink of your choice. Meals start around €6 for a basic kebab and drink so it’s friendly on the pocket too.
Vegan or Vegetarian Options in Faro:
As far as I’m aware there are very few solely vegetarian restaurants in Faro. Although there are a couple of restaurants with good vegetarian options. Papaya, is a small café or perhaps more of a juice bar that serves excellent sandwiches and salads that can be spec’d to your choice. For a vegan option there’s Mel & Limao which has a growing reputation as one of the best vegan restaurants in the area. If you don’t mind vegetarian or vegan food from establishments that also serve meat, then Dom Kebab has excellent falafel and Alef’s burger bar has a fantastic vegan option too!
Events and Festivals in Faro
Although it’s only a small city, Faro has a lively events calendar throughout the year. If you’re looking at visiting around these times it’s well worth to check these events out!
Açoteia – Faro Rooftop Festival June 21st-23rd. It’s a relatively new festival in Faro’s events calendar but a special one. Many of the bars, hotels and even some places that aren’t usually open to the public open their rooftops, some with special and small music acts too.
Alemeda Beer Festival July 5th-7th. Local and regional producers bring their best beers for everyone to enjoy during this weekend festival. With local food and handicrafts available too.
Concentração Motard de Faro 20th-23rd July. Each year some 30,000 bikers travel from across the world to celebrate all things biker during this event. Expect rock concerts, custom bike competitions and parades during this rowdy festival that takes place on the beach. With the large numbers of people visiting it’s recommended to book accommodation well in advance during these dates.
Festival F 4th-6th September. 2020 will be it’s 7th edition. In 2019 it had a record breaking 50,000 visitors during the weekend. Expect big things, music, regional artists in this celebration of Faro and its history.
Feira de Santa Iria – Faro 19th-28th October. A religious festival celebrating Saint Irene that usually takes place over ten days in October. It’s a large fair with rides, concerts, local arts and crafts, and food.
Somewhere to Stay in Faro?
As a major city in the Algarve, Faro has plenty of options of places to stay during your visit. You’ll find everything from hostels, to budget guesthouses, and luxury hotels. Our personal favourite is Hotel Faro, it might just have the best roof top bar and views in the city. Important to say, you don’t have to be a guest to use the rooftop bar!
Car Rental in Faro
If you plan on renting a car while you’re in Faro, read our guide here. It covers everything you need to know when picking a car up in Faro. For a short city break it’s not necessary though!
Visiting Faro Portugal
We hope you enjoyed reading this and it inspires you to visit Faro, Portugal! If there’s something you think we’ve missed in our complete guide to Faro then please let us know. If you’re planning on visiting, or already have leave a comment below!
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