We think Faro is the perfect introduction to the Algarve and maybe even Portugal. Although it doesn’t quite have hidden gem status, Faro is the often skipped over capital city of the Algarve. The airport is located on the outskirts and because of this Faro is often quickly left behind by tourists heading to the more picturesque hotspots of the Algarve region. Faro keeps a distinctly low-key and traditional Portuguese feel. The old town is wonderful to explore and grab a coffee in and for the culturalists there’s some great smaller museums, traditional architecture, and some unique history and extras. With the beaches and Ria Formosa lagoon on its doorstep it’s perfect for a longer weekend too. This Faro guide will be a useful reference to explore the city or if you’re nearby and fancy a day trip!
How to get to Faro?
It’s possible to both get to Faro and explore it without a car. It has an airport, train station and frequent buses to all major towns and cities in the Algarve and beyond. That said, there’s a few things to bear in mind when considering your transport options. The bus and train station are located centrally, but the airport is about 10 minutes away from the city centre. So you will require a bus or taxi to get into the city itself. If you’re coming expecting a beach then that too requires a small trip to get to as well.
How to get around Faro?
Faro is a smaller city and perfectly walkable. If you want to explore a little further, the beach, the Ria Formosa or some small local hikes, then you might need to take a bus or taxi if you don’t have your own vehicle. New for 2019 is a selection of competing electronic scooters (Flash, Voi). They’re easy to use and affordable but they can be uncomfortable on some of the cobbled streets. They are a very fun way of quickly exploring the city though.
Wetravel’s One Day Guide to Faro!
This will be the first of our ‘1 Day Guides’, a series where each post will be a feature on visiting a town or city for a day trip. These guides will be ideal for those on holiday or visiting nearby who just want to dip their toes into exploring the region in short day trips. Although suggested to explore in one day, each guide will feature extra places to explore should you wish to stay longer or travel further.
Faro’s idyllic city center is lined with palm trees and edges on to a delightful marina and our guide to Faro starts here. It’s a short walk directly east from both the bus and train station. If you’re here early enough, you’ll see local fisherman loading up their boats for the day, or clam pickers returning. A short walk around the marina will lead you to a jetty that leads out into the Ria Formosa (one of our favourite places to sit and watch the sunset).
Once you’ve taken the sights and sounds of the marina and Ria Formosa we suggest a relaxed walk into the old town. You’ll need to head through the Arco da Vila gateway and through the historic city walls. Keep an eye (or an ear) out for storks and stork nests, you’ll be able to hear their distinctive clacking. They make precarious nests on the many 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 inside the city walls you’ll soon find the main orange tree lined courtyard and cathedral. The cathedral itself is a rather mismatched building taking in a variety of architectural styles. Due in part to its storied history of being sacked by foreign troops and rocked by natural disasters. A small entry fee (€2.50) gives you access to the cathedral, its courtyard and its bell tower. The interior of the cathedral is equally mixed up with many notable features like it’s grand 18th Century organ decorated with Chinoiserie motifs. Within the courtyard is a small ossuary or bone chapel that’s unfortunately overshadowed by the ossuary at Igreja de Carmo, but still an interesting focal point. The bell tower is where the cathedral really shines as a cultural attraction though, giving superb views of the nearby lagoon and its inlets, the marina and historic rooftops of Faro.
Museum Municipal de Faro
Culturalists may want to stop at the Museum Municipal de Faro, or also known as Museu Arqueológico. It’s within the old city and a very short walk from the cathedral. It’s housed within a former monastery and the main two-story building and courtyard garden date from 1540. The museum covers in detail the archaeological history of Faro, with one of the standout artefacts being the Roman mosaic floor of the god Neptune dug up by accident nearby. As well as the early Roman and Moorish history, it usually houses an art exhibition or two on the upper levels.
Coffee or Lunch?
After a busy morning exploring the marina and old city it’s probably about time for a coffee break or more substantial lunch break. For this you can head to Rua. Dom Francisco Gomes and many of it’s side streets. It’s a small pedestrianised area with an array of cafes, restaurants and shops. There’s plenty of options for eating outside and watching the tourists and shoppers go by. Following lunch, you may want to have a look around the shops. You’ll find traditional shops selling local Portuguese wares, touristy shops and even some of the larger fashion chains. If it’s your first time in a touristy area of Portugal then ‘O Mundo Fantástico da Sardinha’ will probably jump out at you. It’s certainly a cultural oddity and gets very busy in the summer, but if the novelty of a tin of sardines with your birth year on it doesn’t sound appealing then perhaps it’s best to skip it.
Igreja De Carmo
After meandering through many of the side streets we think it’s best to head towards Igreja do Carmo. It’s perhaps the most popular and most photogenic of Faro’s churches. It’s located in a decorated square of its own (Largo de Carmo). Built between 1713 and 1719 it’s classically Portuguese coloured and is a fine example of Baroque architecture. Inside you’ll find a matching gold-leaf laden interior. Its most famous feature is the Capela dos Ossos or “bone chapel”.
Capela dos Ossos
The Capela dos Ossos was added in 1816 when the nearby cemetery was dug up and the inhabitants placed in the chapel. It is entirely made of the skeletons of those 1300 monks. It is one of several notable bone chapels in Portugal, it’s eerie but not as spooky as it sounds. 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.
For the afternoon you really have two or three options depending on the time of year of your visit. No trip to Faro would be complete without visiting the Ria Formosa, aptly named one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders. It’s a large coastal lagoon made up of inlets and barrier islands that stretch for 60km along the coast. Afternoon (2-3 hours) and sunset (90 minute) boat trips can take you out into the lagoon for some wildlife spotting. You can organise all of these at the at the marina and you don’t need to leave the city centre. During the warmer months a late afternoon on Praia de Faro can also be recommended. Those less inclined towards the outdoors could visit another of Faro’s great museums (Municipal Museum) or perhaps an afternoon shopping if you decided not to stop earlier.
As we mentioned at the very start of this guide, one of our favourite places to watch the sunset in the Algarve is on the pier behind the marina. It can get pretty busy with a range of locals, students and tourists, mingling, drinking and watching the sunset but it’s a great experience. For something a little more fancy and with service there’s several bars around the marina with terraces facing the lagoon, or for something very classy both of the bigger hotels in the center have public rooftop bars (Hotel Faro and Hotel Eva). Castelo is located in the old town and looks out over the historic walls for another fantastic sunset view of the lagoon so there’s plenty of options.
With the Ria Formosa and ocean nearby it’s almost a given that you should try some local seafood. For us there are two stand out styles to try in Faro. A traditional cataplana or a local tapas style (petisco) restaurant. A cataplana, is a rich seafood stew served in a traditional copper bowl of two halves that it’s cooked in. The petisco restaurants are our personal favourites and serve typically local food but in tapas style, the food is served on small plates as it’s cooked and you share a few dishes between people.
Our Top Picks and Favourite Restaurants:
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. The fried squid is divine, so too is the octopus, served with bacon, lime and new potatoes.
Bistro 31. Try the local chauriço that’s served flaming, the fresh local prawns with garlic or any of the cheeses.
If you perhaps 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:
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. Or from the choices above, Dom Kebab has excellent falafel and Alef’s burger bar has a fantastic vegan option too!
Nightlife: We’ll have our nightlife guide to Faro published soon! Bear with us!
Thinking of Staying Longer?
If you don’t fancy cramming all of this into a day trip then Faro is perfect for a long weekend too. There’s a variety of activities that can really enhance your experience of this corner of the Algarve.
Ria Formosa and Islands
As mentioned a boat trip into the Ria Formosa is an incredible experience. With a longer weekend at your disposal you could go for a full day or half day tour. These will take you into many of the channels and stop on one or two of the deserted islands for you to look around. Those a little more adventurous can take a guided kayak tour and take things at a much slower and quieter pace (fantastic for wildlife spotting). These again can all be organised at the at the marina of Faro and you don’t need to leave the city.
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. 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 (€2.30 one way).
Praia de Faro
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 10km stretch.
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.
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!
We hope you enjoyed reading this and if there’s something you think we’ve missed in our guide to Faro, or something you’d like to let us know, get in contact with us or leave a comment below.