Nestled in the heart of the Algarve, Faro often stands in the shadows of its more tourist-centric neighbours, but it holds its own as an authentic and captivating introduction to Portuguese charm. As the administrative capital of the Algarve region, it is unfortunately bypassed by many visitors due to its proximity to the airport, as they rush off to the well-known coastal towns like Albufeira, Lagos, and Vilamoura.
What sets Faro apart from many of the Algarve’s bustling resort towns is its undeniably genuine Portuguese ambiance. Faro boasts a picturesque marina, beautifully curated parks, and vibrant plazas that invite leisurely strolls. Enclosed by medieval walls, the “cidade velha” or old town, tells tales of a tumultuous past, marked by invasions and natural calamities, through its harmonious blend of architectural styles. Among its alleyways, visitors can discover everything from intriguing museums and historic churches to the slightly macabre yet fascinating bone chapel, all punctuated with the gentle hum of local life from its numerous street-side cafes.
Additionally, the nearby Ria Formosa lagoon and pristine beaches amplify Faro’s appeal for those seeking an extended weekend of exploration and relaxation.
Where to Stay
What to Do
Explore the Old Town
Faro’s old town, or “Cidade Velha,” is a captivating tapestry of history and culture, offering visitors a journey through time with every step they take. Enclosed by ancient defensive walls that have stood since the Roman and Moorish dominations, this part of Faro invites exploration with its labyrinth of cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings, and tiled façades.
The Arco da Vila, a neoclassical archway, serves as a grand entrance to the old town, hinting at the treasures within. Central to the old town is the Sé Cathedral, an imposing structure that bears witness to various architectural styles, from Gothic to Renaissance, owing to the multiple restorations it underwent following pirate raids and earthquakes. From its tower, you can see panoramic views of Faro and the Ria Formosa lagoon.
Nearby, the Palácio Belmarço, an elegant Renaissance building, once the home of a noble family, now hosts art exhibitions and cultural events.
As you wander further, you’ll encounter picturesque squares adorned with orange trees, such as the Largo da Sé, and intriguing sites like the Capela dos Ossos at Igreja do Carmo.
Capela dos Ossos & Igreja do Carmo
Nestled within the vibrant streets of Faro lies a site that beautifully encapsulates the city’s rich history and its deep spiritual undercurrents – the Igreja do Carmo. This magnificent 18th-century baroque church is not just an architectural marvel with its intricately carved facades and golden altars, but also a home to one of the most intriguing chapels in all of Portugal – the Capela dos Ossos or the Bone Chapel.
The Capela dos Ossos is both a haunting and mesmerising space. Adorned with the bones and skulls of over 1,000 monks, the chapel serves as a contemplative reminder of life’s fleeting nature and the inevitability of death. The very walls seem to whisper the chapel’s poignant message, “Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you,” urging visitors to reflect upon the transient nature of existence. This juxtaposition of beauty and mortality creates a uniquely profound experience for visitors, making it a must-visit in Faro.
The Igreja do Carmo is a shining jewel in Faro’s rich tapestry of historical landmarks. Commissioned in the second half of the 18th century by the powerful bishop Dom António Pereira da Silva, its construction is a testament to the Baroque architectural style that flourished during this period in Portugal. Distinguished by its magnificent twin bell towers and intricate façade, the church is a blend of both aesthetic allure and historical significance.
The interior showcases exquisite gilded woodwork, traditional Portuguese azulejos (ceramic tiles) depicting religious scenes, and several ornate chapels, each dedicated to different saints. A fine example of religious artistry, the main altar features sculptures of Mount Carmel and the prophet Elijah. Additionally, the church houses a notable organ, dating back to the late 18th century, celebrated both for its intricate craftsmanship and its mellifluous tones.
Visit a Deserted Beach
The Algarve is renowned for its beaches, but for those seeking tranquility and a genuine connection with nature, the deserted beaches, like Ilha Deserta, stand out as true gems.
Ilha Deserta, or “Deserted Island,” offers an unparalleled experience of solitude and untouched beauty. Located just a short boat ride away from Faro, this island is part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park and remains one of the Algarve’s least populated spots. Its expansive stretch of golden sand is set against the backdrop of clear azure waters, making it an ideal haven for sunbathing, swimming, and introspective walks.
With no permanent residents or infrastructure, save for a single eco-friendly restaurant, the island truly lives up to its name. The untouched dunes, rich birdlife, including the rare purple gallinule, and the rhythmic sound of waves crashing onto the shore make visiting Ilha Deserta a unique experience — a sublime escape from the world’s hustle and bustle, where visitors can embrace the sheer beauty and serenity of nature in its purest form.
Daily ferries are available, setting sail from Cais das Portas do Mar in Faro, conveniently situated near the city’s marina. The ferry service is operated by local company, Animaris; you can refer to their website for the latest timetables and contact details. Pre-booking your tickets online is recommended, not only for convenience but to ensure a spot on your desired trip. Typically, the journey lasts around 35-45 minutes.
The standard public ferry comfortably accommodates up to 96 passengers and is equipped with restroom facilities. For those seeking a more intimate and speedy transit, private speedboat shuttles or personalised boat tours are also available.
Museu Municipal de Faro
The Museu Municipal de Faro, also referred to as Museu Arqueológico, stands as a beacon for those with a penchant for rich historical tapestry. Nestled within Faro’s old city, this museum is just a stone’s throw away from the iconic cathedral, making it a convenient addition to any historical tour of the city.
The structure itself, a former monastery dating back to 1540, exudes an aura of antiquity, with its main two-story edifice and a serene courtyard garden evoking stories of the past. Delving deep into Faro’s archaeological narrative, the museum boasts an extensive collection, with the Roman mosaic floor depicting the god Neptune as one of its crowning jewels. This particular mosaic was fortuitously discovered in close proximity to the museum.
Beyond its Roman treasures, the museum offers insights into the Moorish era that significantly shaped the region’s history. Additionally, the upper levels of the establishment frequently host art exhibitions, marrying ancient history with contemporary creativity, further enriching the visitor’s experience.
The Ria Formosa
The Ria Formosa is a shimmering labyrinth of lagoons, marshlands, and barrier islands stretching along the Algarve coast, and embarking on a trip from Faro offers an intimate glimpse into its unparalleled beauty and ecological significance. A designated natural park, this tidal estuary is a haven for diverse bird species, making it a paradise for ornithologists and nature enthusiasts alike.
As visitors glide over the tranquil waters on traditional boats, they’re often graced with sights of flamingos gracefully skimming the lagoons, or the lively fiddler crabs scuttling on the mudflats. Apart from its rich biodiversity, Ria Formosa enthrals with its unique cultural tapestry, as traditional salt pans and ancient fishing techniques still thrive, providing an authentic snapshot of the an Algarvian way of life.
Algarve Rock Brewery Tour
Located a short distance from Faro, Algarve Rock is a testament to the growing craft beer demand in the region, and a brewery tour here is an enlightening dive into the intricate world of artisanal brewing. Beyond just a tasting session, the tour provides visitors with an intimate understanding of the beer-making process, from selecting the finest grains to the art of fermentation and barrel ageing.
The passionate guides, often the brewers themselves, are eager to share their knowledge, blending science, art, and a touch of Algarvian charm. Amid the gleaming vats and the unmistakable aroma of brewing malt, guests are treated to samples of the brewery’s signature beers—each one offering a unique taste of Portugal’s growing craft beer movement.
Faro Cathedral, locally known as Sé de Faro, stands as an emblem of the city’s rich tapestry of history and architectural influences. Nestled within the cobbled streets of Faro’s old town and encircled by ancient defensive walls, the cathedral dates back to the 13th century and bears marks of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.
It was originally constructed on the site of a Roman temple, and later a Moorish mosque, epitomising the various civilisations that have graced the city. Inside, visitors are greeted by intricately carved woodwork, traditional Portuguese azulejos (tiles), and impressive gilded altarpieces.
However, it’s not just the interiors that captivate; ascending to the cathedral’s bell tower offers panoramic views of Faro, the Ria Formosa lagoon, and beyond. The lush cloister gardens and the richly decorated chapels further make the Faro Cathedral a must-visit for anyone exploring the cultural heart of the Algarve.
Faro Marina presents a picturesque waterfront setting that blends the city’s historical charm with the natural allure of the Algarve. Situated at the heart of Faro, the marina acts as both a gateway for seafarers exploring the region and a tranquil spot for visitors and locals to unwind.
Yachts and fishing boats dot the waters, juxtaposed against the backdrop of Faro’s historic buildings and modern esplanades. Bustling with activity during the day, the marina is lined with cozy cafés, seafood restaurants, and esplanades, making it an ideal location to savour the Algarve’s coastal ambiance. As evening falls, the marina takes on a serene glow, making it a favoured spot for leisurely strolls and capturing picturesque sunsets.
What to Eat
Faro, while not boasting its unique culinary delights, offers a gastronomic journey through the broader spectrum of Algarvian and Portuguese flavours. The region’s natural bounty and culinary traditions weave together to create dishes that resonate with both locals and travellers alike.
Start with the tantalising piri-piri chicken (frango assado), a staple of Algarvian cuisine. This spice-marinated chicken dish owes its flavours to African influences, and its blend of spicy chilli with aromatic seasonings makes it an unforgettable treat.
For those who appreciate the fruits of the sea, the Algarve’s coastline serves up a wealth of options. Cataplanas, a seafood stew named after the clam-shaped copper pot it’s cooked in, combines fish, shellfish, and aromatic spices in a rich, flavorful broth. But perhaps the region’s most exquisite marine offering is the Ria Formosa oysters. Delicate, briny, and utterly fresh, they capture the essence of the Algarvian seascape. And no visit would be complete without savoring the local fish, especially the grilled sardines, which, when in season, become a favoured treat in many coastal towns.
For those with a sweet tooth, the Algarve offers Doces finos do Algarve, intricate marzipan sweets crafted into shapes like fruits, animals, or flowers and often filled with egg yolk-based fillings. The harmonious blend of almond and sugary delights is a testament to the region’s Moorish past. Moreover, no trip to Portugal would be complete without indulging in the creamy custard tarts known as pastel de nata. These flaky pastries, crowned with a caramelised sugar crust, have won hearts worldwide. Although these originate in Lisbon, just about every pastelaria in Faro will serve them.
And as you wind down your meal, take a moment to sample medronho, the local spirit distilled from the fruit of the strawberry tree. Its warming, smooth finish is the perfect ending to a culinary exploration of Faro and its environs. Medronho is often served as a shot after a meal, but it can also be the base for other drinks, such as cocktails.
Read more about what to eat in Faro.
- Flying: Faro has its own airport, Faro Airport, which is situated just 15 minutes from the city centre. You can easily get to and from the airport by taxi, Uber, bus, or by renting a car.
- Train: Faro is on the train line and from Faro Train Station it’s possible to get to destinations like Lisbon and Porto as well as other towns on the Algarve like Tavira, Lagos, and Portimão. For tickets and timetables, see cp.pt.
- Bus: Buses connect Faro to other towns on the Algarve as well as destinations that are further afield like Lisbon and Porto as well as destinations in Spain like Huelva and Seville. For local buses, visit Vamus.pt. For longer distance coaches, both within Portugal and to Spain, see Rede Expressos and Flixbus.pt.
- Driving: Thanks to both the A22 toll road and N125, it’s easy to get to Faro from anywhere on the Algarve. The drive from Lisbon to Faro takes just under 3 hours.