Faro is the capital of Algarve region, in the south of Portugal. It has a lot of character and a different atmosphere from the other resort towns on the coast. Most tourists just pass through Faro and quickly go to one of the popular Algarvian resorts without even thinking about the things they could see or do there. But Faro has plenty tourist attractions and it deserves to be discovered.
A bit of the history of Faro
Faro’s history stretches back more than 2000 years. It was occupied by the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines and Moors. The Romans called the city Ossónoba. Under Moorish rule, Faro became part of the Caliphate of Cordoba and followed by the Tarif of Seville.
Later on, in 1249, it was conquered by the Christian king Afonso III. He allowed the Moors to remain in town, if they so wished, and peace was regained. Their quarter, back then outside the city walls, is where the most known shopping streets are now.
The greatest monuments in the old town date from those times. In 1755, Faro was devasted by the same earthquake that hit Lisbon. This, the city offers now a mix of architectural styles.
Is Faro worth visiting?
Do you like picturesque maze-like streets and time worn walls? How about modern marinas, lovely parks, pretty squares, deserted beach islands, museums and churches? In this case, the answer is simple, yes, Faro is very much worthy of a visit. And these are just some of the reasons to spend more time in this city.
How do you get to Faro?
Faro has its own International Airport located just seven kilometers away from the city center. One of the common sights of a walk along the marina is that of an airplane landing or departing. Some of the airlines that fly to Faro are EasyJet, Ryanair, TAP Portugal and British Airways. From the airport, one can take a bus (no. 14 or 16) or a taxi and easily reach the city center. A taxi trip should cost around 12 euros.
You can also get to Faro by train, as we did. The distance between the Portuguese capital and Faro is more or less 280 kilometers. From Lisbon the journey takes around three hours and a half. The trip by car from the Portuguese capital takes almost the same amount of time, if you don’t stop many times on the road.
How to move around and see the best tourist attractions in Faro?
Faro benefits from a well organized public transportation and there are also taxis available. There’s a taxi stop right in front of the train station, in case you don’t want to carry your luggage. In order to reach the popular beach islands, one can take the ferries. If you want to explore the other towns and beaches in Algarve, you can do it by train or bus, but the schedule is not very convenient. In this case, it would be better to rent a car. Check prices here!
What’s the best time to visit Faro?
The high season in Algarve and Faro is July and August. May, June and September also see a lot of tourists. In early spring and late autumn, there are high chances you’ll still have nice weather and moderate prices. Winter is also a good time to visit if you’re not looking for swimming and tanning, but for milder weather than in the rest of Europe. The average temperature is above 10ºC even in January. We were there in October and enjoyed summer temperatures and no rains during our 4 days stay.
How many days should you spend in Faro?
In order to truly enjoy the city, the nearby islands and Ria Formosa, I’d say at least two days. But if you want to use the city as a base instead of the popular resort towns, I fully support this choice. I didn’t particularly like neither Albufeira nor Portimão, but Faro is another story. It’s full of character, things to do and has a pleasant atmosphere. But this is just me. If you do like beach resorts full of tourists, spend one or two days in Faro and move to one of the beach resorts.
Where to stay in order to visit the best tourist attractions of Faro?
Quinta do Lago – this is the most luxurious beach resort in Portugal. It is the optimal choice if you still don’t know whether to choose Faro or another popular resort. This is a 5-star hotel with several distinguished restaurants and a golf terrain.
Hotel Eva Senses – this hotel overlooks the marina and is close to the train, bus station and old town. It also has a rooftop pool and a spa, as well as complimentary breakfast. Transportation to the hotel’s own beach is also offered for free. Its location, close to all the major tourist attractions in Faro, is definitely unbeatable.
Casa Aorta – this is a 15 minutes walk to the city center. The guesthouse is in an Algarvian traditional house and has rooms inspired by famous books. It also features a terrace on the roof where you can enjoy a glass of rose wine. Breakfast is also provided and you can cook your own meals.
What are the best things to do and see in Faro?
We visited the city in 2021 and fell in love with it. Next, discover 17 things to do and see in Faro that I want to share with you. I’ve also made a map of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Faro that you can consult.
1. Walk through the stunning Arco da Vila
Arco da Vila is the monumental gateway to the Old City of Faro, very close to the marina. The neoclassical arch was designed by an Italian architect in order to replace the Moorish one affected by the earthquake in 1755. Parts of the old stonework can still be seen inside, as you enter the old town. On top of Arco Davila stands a statue of the saint patron of Faro, St. Thomas Aquinas, a belfry and permanent stork nests.
2. Wander around the Old Town (Cidade Velha or Vila-Adentro) – best things to do and see in Faro
Captured within the thick walls is a beautiful old town with maze-like cobblestone streets and top landmarks. Cidade Velha is much quieter than you’d normally expect from an old town. Take a walk around and discover peaceful squares, museums, passages, whitewashed houses, cozy cafes and impressive churches.
For centuries most of the town’s population lived within this small enclave for protection against raiders from the see. The focal point of this veritable history book is Largo da Sé or Cathedral Square, an orange trees-lined medieval square home to the town hall, the 18th century bishop’s palace and the 13th century cathedral.
Exploring the Old Town of Faro is one of the best thing to do in the city.
3. Visit Faro Cathedral, one of the main tourist attractions in Faro
While in the Old Town of Faro, one of the best things to do is a visit to the imposing Cathedral of Faro. Igreja da Sé was built in the 13th century, as soon as Faro was reconquered from the Moors. An English attack in 1596 and the 1755 earthquake produced major damages. Parts of it had to be restored and an interesting mixture of architectural styles resulted. It combines Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque features in an harmonical manner.
After seeing the altars collected from different churches in Algarve, pearl icons and other religious artifacts, climb to the original 13th century tower for a splendid bird’s-eye view over the old town and Ria Formosa lagoon. Take your time to observe the Chinese motifs used to adorn the 18th century red organ in the church. You can also take a look around the cloister with a pretty garden and tiny chapels, including a bones one.
4. Learn more of Faro’s history at the Municipal Museum, a great tourist attraction for history lovers
Another one of the best things to do in Faro is a visit to the Municipal Museum. It is located in the Old Town, close to the cathedral, inside a former convent dating back to the 16th century. The collection includes artefacts from the pre-historic, Roman, Islamic and medieval periods, as well as temporary modern art pieces. Out of all those objects from the past, what I liked the most was the enormous mosaic of the sea-god Oceanus from the 3rd century. In 2021, in only cost 2€ to get inside and the building alone, an architectural masterpiece, would have made this price worth it.
5. Check out the Muralhas de Faro
The defensive walls that surround the old city even today where added by the Moors in the 9th century. Besides Arco-da-Vila, there were two more entrances into the fortified town, that still exist today. One of them is Arco da Porta Nova, connecting Vila-Adentro to the sea and the tranquil Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. The second one is Arco de Repouso. Next to this archway, one can see some of the oldest sections of the walls and tile panels recounting how King Afonso III liberated the city from the Moors and claimed it for the Portuguese in 1249.
6. Have a sunset drink with a view – best things to do and see in Faro
There’s no better end to end a day in Faro than sipping a cocktail and viewing the sunset over the lagoon. We did this from O Castelo, a bar and restaurant in the old town with a terrace having a great view. Unfortunately, I feel this place is more about the view. The staff was somewhere between unfriendly and indifferent. I suggest you drink the cocktail and just go somewhere else for dinner afterwards or buy a drink from the store and enjoy it from the seafront below. The sunset is indeed gorgeous, bringing forward hues of burnt orange, vivid red and purple.
7. Go for a walk along the harbour and the promenade – best things to do and see in Faro
Right in Front of Eva Senses hotel, you’ll see the marina of Faro, full of small leisure crafts. Checkout the funny statues on the shore. Wander along the seafront promenade that runs between the old town walls and the Ria Formosa lagoon. The waters are calm due to a row of sandy islands that shelter it from the force of the see. As you pass by the ticket booths, you might want to book a boat trip through the lagoon or to the islands in the distance. But we’ll come back to that later.
8. Relax in Jardim Manuel Bivar
Manuel Bivar Park is considered the center of the city and one of the most emblematic places in Faro. In the late 19th century, when it was created, the garden got the name Jardim do Bacalhau (The Garden of the Codfish) because of it shape. Take a moment to admire the majestic buildings around, especially the Bank of Portugal. The city park is a lively place, surrounded by trees and terraces where locals often meet. Depending on the season, several events, fairs or concerts are organized here. From the park in front of the marina departs a tourist train that makes the tour of the most important attractions in Faro in around 45 minutes.
9. Go shopping on Rua de Santo Antonio – best things to do and see in Faro
Rua de Santo Antonio is a pedestrian alley that connects the old town to the more modern part of Faro. In the past, this was the former Moorish quarter. The street has plenty interesting buildings and traditional shops, as well as an extraordinary calçada portuguesa (cobbled pavement). There are also pastries, cafés and restaurants, in case you need to restore your energy level. Being out of the old town, many tourists don’t get here. But this will not be for long. It will shortly become one of the great tourist attractions in Faro.
10. Visit Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo and marvel at its iconic Bone Chapel
Portugal is full of churches. Just like in Italy, after you visit a few of them, you think twice before entering. That’s why I only mentioned the cathedral until now, even if there are many more beautiful churches and former convents in the old town. But I can’t skip Igreja do Carmo. The twin-towered baroque church is one of the most beautiful churches in Algarve. It was built in the 18th century and dazzles with its stained-glass windows and intricate altars.
It also has a Bone Chapel that displays the skulls and bones of over 1000 monks in different geometric patterns to remind visitors of the transience of life. This is smaller than the one in Evora, but much bigger than the one in the Cathedral of Faro. It might be creepy, but it’s also unusual and one of the tourist attractions in Faro.
11. Take a guided boat tour around Parque Natural de Ria Formosa – best things to do and see in Faro
This natural lagoon is one of the 7 Wonders of Nature of Portugal. Ria Formosa’s maze of canals, marshlands and barrier islands forms an ideal habitat for migratory and native birds. This offers great bird watching opportunities. Sailing through the shallow waters, you will learn about some of their habits. Try to spot flamingos, razorbills, spoonbills, egrets, storks, ospreys, stilts, shanks and the florid purple swamphen.
The sloppy terrain of the lagoon is also populated with shellfish that doesn’t have to travel far to the many seafood restaurants in Faro. Even if you only stay one day in Faro, I’d still strive to fit a boat trip in. This is one of the best things to do in Faro and in the Algarve.
If you don’t succeed to get on a boat or want to see more of Ria Formosa, you can also try a walk around Parque Ribeirinho de Faro. This is accessible on foot from behind the train station and has a footpath, a cycle lane and several bird observation platforms along the water’s edge.
12. Get a nice tan on one of the beach islands – best things to do and see in Faro
There’s the misconception that in Faro you won’t have the chance to go to the beach. However, those sandy islands that protect the lagoon from the force of the sea waters are great for a a few hours or a day of swimming and sunbathing.
I don’t have enough patience to stay for hours on a towel and preferred to book a boat trip around the lagoon with an hour stop at each of Ilha Deserta and Ilha do Farol. This gave us enough time to have a refreshing drink and tan a little bit. Even on an October afternoon the weather was still incredibly hot.
If you fancy an entire day at the beach, you can also get there by ferry, or even by bus no. 16 to Praia de Faro. Before you make your choice, take into consideration that Ilha Deserta is, just as the name says, deserted. This doesn’t make it any less beautiful. But except for a café, you won’t have any shade and there’s nothing else to do than enjoy the unspoiled golden beaches and the crystal-clear ocean. Ilha de Farol is inhabited. It doesn’t have much shade either, but there are some nice gardens, fishermen houses and a lighthouse you can wander around.
13. Visit Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve
A rainy-day activity, this science center located in the old power station features different exhibition, a greenhouse, aquariums, a laboratory and a garden. Several astronomy activities are organized regularly on its rooftop. It’s an interactive museum and small visitors can even learn how to cook with solar energy. Visiting Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve is one of the best things to do in Faro when weather in unkind.
14. Check out Museu Marítimo Almirante Ramalho Ortigão
The Almirante Ramalho Ortigão Maritime Museum shows visitors how life in the Algarve used to be before it became a major tourist destination. On show are tools used for fishing and sailing, marine species off the local shores and artefacts from the great Portuguese explorer times. One of the highlights of the museum is a model of one of the boats that Vasco da Gama used in order to cross the Cape of Good Hope to India.
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15. Eat plenty of fresh seafood – best things to do and see in Faro
When visiting a new destination, besides seeking the best tourist attractions, there’s also the curiosity to taste unique local flavors.
The most famous dish of Algarve has to be cataplana, named after the hinged metal dishes in which the ingredients are cooked over the stove. It usually consists of layers of vegetables, pork belly or chorizo and fish or seafood. In the city center it costs around 50 euro for two persons. Checkout the restaurants tucked down the side streets for better prices. There are lots of variations available.
Other local dishes you should try are Enchidos (smoked sausages), grilled sardines, oysters and caldeirada (a Portuguese fish and seafood stew). Tasting the fresh seafood dishes is one of the best things to do in Faro.
If you don’t have the luck to find caldeirada in the local restaurants or just want to cook it yourself, there are ready to cook packages in the supermarkets for around 3 euro. They usually include pieces of different fish species like cod, hake, flounder or tuna, mussels, squid, clams and some vegetables. Use this recipe and cook it yourself. Bom apetite!
16. Do some last minute shopping in Forum Algarve
For small shops and boutiques, Rua Santo Anto is the best place to go in Faro. You can find anything: traditional souvenirs, books, cork items, jewelry, fashion. The second best place to try, especially if you want to see a different kind of shopping mall or it’s raining, is Forum Algarve. Here you’ll find 100 shops, 20 restaurants, a cinema and a hypermarket. If you didn’t find the perfect reminder of your trip yet, you should be incredibly picky not to find it here.
17. Enjoy Faro’s nightlife
As a student city, Faro also has a vibrant nightlife. There are lovely restaurants, fancy rooftops with life concerts, lively bars and clubs. Most of them are located out of the old town. You can try Conselheiro Bivar street or the area around the marina. A great option, if you feel like dancing is Columbus, an elegant cocktail bar with views over the Old Town.
This was our list of the best things to do and see in Faro. Next time you plan a trip to this region, I hope you won’t rush out of the capital of Algarve as soon as you land. Combine lazy beach days with a cosmopolitan city break in Faro, a tourist destination in its own right. As a coastal Algarvian town, Faro also get its share of tourist attractions: sunshine, beaches, bars and seafood. Besides, the wetlands, islands and natural parks around it are simply wonderful.
Have fun in Portugal!
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