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Faro, Portugal Tourism Guide - Updated for 2019
Faro is a historic and culturally rich city that boasts a variety of fascinating tourist attractions. Sadly, Faro is often overlooked, considered purely for its airport, but spend time in Faro, and you will discover a charming and authentic Portuguese city.
The delightful historic centre of Faro is encircled by ancient city walls and contains a Gothic cathedral, the Bishop’s palace and pretty cobbled backstreets. Outside of the walls is the modern city centre, with its pedestrianised shopping streets, scenic plazas and variety of restaurants and bars.
South of Faro is the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, a series of saltwater lagoons and mudflats, which are a haven for migratory birds and wildlife. Along the seaward side of the Ria Formosa are three sandbar islands, and these are the location of Faro’s pristine beaches.
Faro is a likeable city, and its tourist diversity means it will appeal to a wide selection of visitors. This article will provide a tourist guide to Faro, either for a day trip or a holiday.
A quick overview of Faro
Faro as a day trip
Faro is one of the most popular day trips of the central Algarve region, and is highly recommended if you are on holiday in Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira. Contained within Faro are numerous historic monuments, and the city has a distinctly Portuguese atmosphere, which is very different to the hectic resort towns.
A typical day trip to Faro would spend half of the day exploring the old quarter and the second half in the city centre, and this would include the Bone Chapel. For an alternative day trip, you could join a boat tour of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, which visits the fishing community of Culatra or the deserted island of Ilha Deserta.
For the day trip, it is very easy to travel to Faro, as there is a regular bus service connecting Faro to the central Algarve (Albufeira, Quarteira and Vilamoura) or a train service to the east (Olhão and Tavira).
Our Opinion: Loule and Olhão are also popular for day trips, but in our opinion, Faro is the better destination.
Tip: If you have a car or are limited by time, Faro and Olhão can be combined in a single day trip.
Related articles: Day trip to Faro - Ria Formosa boat trip guide
Faro for a holiday
Faro makes an enjoyable, if slightly alternative, holiday destination. The city is ideal if you want an authentic Portuguese experience, in preference to a beach holiday.
The city offers history and culture, along with a varied selection of cafes, restaurants and bars. Being a major city there is decent nightlife and this tends to be aimed for Portuguese patrons, rather than foreign tourists. By day Faro has an unhurried and calm ambience, but by night there is a surprising buzzing and social nightlife.
Faro is a recommended holiday destination if you are a restless or intrepid visitor, as it makes for a good base from which to explore the Algarve. Tavira is only 40 minutes by train to the east, Vilamoura is 30 minutes by bus to the west, and even Lagos at the very western edge of the Algarve, can be reached by a direct train.
The beaches of Faro are some of the least crowded in the Algarve, but unfortunately, they are not within walking distance of the city, and require either a bus or ferry journey to reach them. If you are after a purely beach holiday, then there are much better destinations, such as Albufeira, Vilamoura or Praia da Rocha.
If you are considering a holiday to Faro, you should be aware that this is a major residential city, and not some beautified or manicured resort town. Some sections of the city are dilapidated (but are perfectly safe), and unfortunately are on the main bus route into the city, which gives a bad first impression of Faro. This opinion always changes when the historic centre and harbour are discovered!
How long to Spend in Faro?
There are three different suggested lengths for a visit to Faro; one, three or seven days. The one-day stay is recommended if you arrive on a late flight and need a short stopover before heading to your main holiday destination. Faro can be easily explored in a single day and makes for an interesting introduction to the Algarve, before catching the train or bus to your next location.
A stay of three nights allows Faro and the surrounding region to be fully discovered. This length provides you time to explore historic Faro, tour the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, relax on the Praia de Faro or Ilha Deserta beaches, and have a day trip to Estoi or the Ilha da Culatra. Three nights is the ideal length of stay if you are touring the Algarve and are not rushed for time.
A seven-night stay in Faro is perfect if you wish to spend your entire holiday based in Faro. This holiday makes use of the excellent public transport from Faro to explore the entire central Algarve via day trips, while being based in a cosmopolitan city. From Faro, it is possible to take day trips to Olhao, Tavira, Loule, Albufeira and Vilamoura, and longer train journeys connect to Silves and Lagos.
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The beaches of Faro
Faro should not be considered as a beach resort, as there are no beaches within walking distance of the city centre. Faro’s beaches are found on the southern side of the three sandbar islands (Ilha de Faro, Ilha Deserta and the Ilha da Culatra), which shelter the mud flats of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
The Ilha de Faro has a 5km coastline of golden sands, and this beach is referred to as the Praia de Faro. The Praia de Faro has low-key tourist development, with relaxed cafes and small beach bars, which is surprising considering it is less than a five-minute drive from Faro airport.
The Ilha Deserta, as the name implies, is a deserted island, which can only be reached by boat. Along the tranquil sandy shoreline of the Ilha Deserta, is the Cabo de Santa Maria, the most southerly point of Portugal. The Ilha da Culatra has similar beaches to the other two islands and is also the location of a traditional fishing community, based in the village of Culatra.
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Where to stay in Faro?
Generally, most tourists book their accommodation within 300m of the Jardim Manuel Bivar plaza and the Doca de Faro (GPS: 37.01561, -7.93551). Faro is a compact city and this area covers the main tourist sights, the bus and train stations and popular restaurants. As for hotels; the Hotel Eva and Hotel Faro are both highly regarded, have roof terraces and are centrally located. A recommended cheaper alternative is the Stay Hotel Faro Centro. If you need a hotel close to Faro airport, consider the Hotel 3k.
The map below shows the location of hotels and rental rooms in Faro, and by altering the date to your holiday, the map will display current prices:
Faro for 2019
The Algarve is expecting a sell-out 2019 season, and this is based on the 2018 summer season, when the region reached a record 97% occupancy rate. This popularity of the Algarve includes Faro, and our advice is if you are seriously considering a holiday, book your accommodation now, as it will sell out.
Faro is the Algarve’s transport hub
Faro airport is the main international airport of southern Portugal, and is situated 7km south-west of the city. Faro bus and train stations are located in the centre of Faro city, and departing from here are regional services covering the whole of the Algarve, along with routes to Lisbon and northern Portugal.
Unfortunately, none of these public transport services passes by the airport, therefore all visitors heading to their final destination using public transport will first have to travel into Faro city. Useful public transport websites:
• Comboios de Portugal (trains) - https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en
• Eva regional (regional buses) - https://eva-bus.com/
• Rede Expressos (intercity buses) -https://www.rede-expressos.pt/
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Travel from Faro airport to Faro city?
There is very limited public transport from Faro airport to Faro city. There is a single bus service (€2.35 adult) that departs every 30-40 minutes between 6am and midnight. This bus (route 16) terminates at the Proximo bus station, and is next to the intercity bus station or 200m from the train station.
A taxi from the airport to Faro is a more convenient and faster option, costing €10-15. Uber operates in the Algarve, but there can be high demand during the summer months.
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What is the best day trip from Faro?
Day trips from Faro include; the fishing town of Olhão, the market town of Loulé or the fishing communities on the Ilha da Culatra island.
Our favourite day trip from Faro, is to visit the pretty village of Estoi. In Estoi is the pink Estoi Palace, the finest example of Rococo architecture in the Algarve, while the carefully maintained grounds contain beautiful Azulejos tiles. (Note, the palace is a Pousada hotel).
Just outside of Estoi are the ruins of Milreu, a once grand Roman Villa of which the stone mosaics can still be seen. There is a regular bus service from Faro to Estoi and the village makes for an enjoyable half- day excursion.
Related Articles: Day trip to Estoi
The Capela Dos Ossos
The strangest historic monument in Faro, is the Capela Dos Ossos (Bone Chapel). In this macabre chapel, the bones of 1,000 monks line the walls, and even more disturbing, actually provide the artistic design. The chapel is within the grounds of the Baroque Igreja do Carmo.