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Faro, Portugal Tourism Guide - Updated for 2018
Faro is a fascinating city, which combines an extensive history, interesting tourist attractions and an abundance of Portuguese charm. Sadly, Faro is often overlooked, considered purely for its airport and being the main point of entry to southern Portugal, but for those visitors who spend time in Faro will discover a wonderful and captivating city.
A gate in the city walls leading to the harbour
Within Faro, there is a delightful historic centre that is encircled by ancient city walls, while the pretty city centre is filled with pedestrianised shopping streets and peaceful plazas. By day there is an unhurried ambience about the city, with old men playing dominos in the plazas, but by night there is a surprising buzzing and social nightlife to Faro.
The Ilha Deserta (the deserted island), just a short ferry ride from Faro
The city is also the gateway to the Ria Formosa nature park, a series of saltwater lagoons and mudflats, which are a haven for migratory birds and wildlife. Beyond the Ria Formosa are three sandbar islands, which are the location of Faro’s pristine beaches, along with traditional fishing communities.
Faro is a diverse and intriguing city, which provides an authentic Portuguese experience, and deserves to be visited. This article will provide an introduction to Faro, either as a day trip or part of a holiday.
Quick overview of Faro
Why visit Faro?
Faro has a very different atmosphere to the busy and hectic resort towns of the western Algarve. The city is very scenic, especially within the old walled town and the area surrounding the marina.
Faro boasts more historic monuments and buildings than many other Algarve towns, while the pleasant shopping zone is lined with open-air cafes and designed for Portuguese shoppers. Departing from the small harbour are tours of the Ria Formosa nature park, and ferries to the deserted beaches on the sandbar islands.
Faro as a day trip
Faro makes for an interesting day trip for those visitors who are based in the resort towns of Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira. There is a lot to see in Faro, and the city is connected to the coastal towns by inexpensive and reliable public transport.
A typical day trip to Faro would divide the day into two, spending half the day exploring the old town and half the day on boat tour of the Ria Formosa. For those who do not wish to join a boat tour, there are sufficient sights and attractions in Faro to fill a full days sightseeing. For a guide to a day trip to Faro please click here.
Both Loule and Faro are popular day trips from the central Algarve region, and it is our personal opinion that Faro is the better excursion as there are more varied sights and tourist activities in Faro than Loule.
Faro for a holiday
Faro makes an enjoyable, if slightly alternative holiday destination. The city is ideal for those types visitors who wish an authentic Portuguese experience, in preference to seven days spent on the same beach. Faro offers history, culture that is set in a relaxing environment, while for the more independent traveller the whole of the Algarve can be easily explored.
Faro is a major city so there is a wide range of cafes, restaurants and bars, and many of these are aimed for Portuguese customers, offering traditional food and exceptional value. Hidden within the city is some excellent nightlife of bars and clubs, again aimed for Portuguese patrons, and the nightlife hub is centred around the Rua do Prior (two streets from the bus station).
The main advantage of a holiday to Faro is that it makes a great central base from which to explore the Algarve. The excellent and inexpensive public transport means that the entire Algarve can be easily travelled to. Charming Tavira is only a 40-minute train journey to the east, exclusive Vilamoura is 30 minutes by bus to the west, or even Lagos at the very western edge of the Algarve is 1h30 by direct train.
The Ria Formosa National Park, as viewed from the cathedral
The Faro region has some of the finest and quietest beaches of the Algarve, but unfortunately they are not within walking distance of the city, requiring either a bus or ferry journey. If you are after a purely beach holiday, then there are much better destinations in the Algarve. The city of Faro is not that well-suited for families and often the central Algarve is a better choice.
Tourists new to Faro must understand that it is a major residential city, and not some beautified or manicured resort town. Some sections of the city are dilapidated and run down (but are perfectly safe), and are unfortunately on the main bus route into the city, which often gives a very bad first impression of Faro. This opinion always alters once the historic centre and harbour are found!
A seagull waiting for the fishing boats to return.....
Where to stay in Faro?
Generally, most tourists book accommodation which is 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 includes all of the main tourist sights, bus/ train station and restaurants. As for hotels; the new refurbished 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.
The Algarve is expecting a sell-out 2018 season, and this is based on the 2017 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. For a guide to the best accommodation of Faro please click here.
How long to Spend in Faro?
There are three different suggested lengths for a visit to Faro, either one, three or seven nights. The one-night stay is suggested for visitors who arrive on late flights and need a short stopover before heading to their final destination. Faro can be easily explored in a single day and makes for an interesting introduction to the Algarve.
The Ilha Deserta (the deserted island), just a short ferry ride from Faro
A stay of three nights is enough time to fully explore Faro and provides time to discover the Old Town, the Ria Formosa national park, the Praia de Faro beach and a visit to the pretty village of Estoi. This length of visit is ideal for visitors who are touring the Algarve and for a guide to a 3-day stay in Faro please click here.
The seven-day suggested holiday length is for those visitors who wish to explore the Algarve via Faro’s excellent public transport and want to have a pleasant city as a central base. From Faro it is possible to take day trips to Olhao, Tavira, Loule, Albufeira and Vilamoura.
Faro as the Algarve’s transport hub
Faro airport, the main airport of the Algarve, is located 7km to the south-west of the city, while in the city are Faro bus and train station. Regional services that cover the entire Algarve depart from Faro bus and train station. Unfortunately, these regional services do not pass by the airport, therefore all visitors heading to their final destination via public transport will first have to travel to Faro city.
What is Faro’s best Beach?
The best beach of the Faro region is the Praia de Faro, the 5km stretch of golden sands that extend along the seaward side of the Ilha de Faro. The Praia de Faro has low-key tourist development, with relaxed cafes and small beach bars - surprising considering it is less than five minutes from Faro airport. During the summer season, the central section of the beach can get very busy, but a short walk along the coast will provide much quieter beaches. There is a direct bus service from Faro city to the Praia de Faro and for a complete guide to Faro beaches please click here.
The beautiful Praia de Faro
How to Travel from the airport to Faro?
There is very limited public transport from the airport to Faro city. There is a single bus service that departs every 30-40 minutes from 6am until approximately midnight; for a guide to this bus service please click here. A taxi from the airport to Faro will cost 10-15 Euro and there will be an additional charge for large luggage. The taxi ride is only 10 minutes to the city centre and there is no real need to pre-book a taxi transfer from the airport to Faro city.
The number 16 bus in Faro bus station
What is the best day trip from Faro?
Our favourite day trip from Faro, after spending a day on the Praia de Faro beach, is to visit the pretty village of Estoi. The pink Estoi Palace is the finest example of Rococo architecture found within the Algarve, while the carefully maintained grounds contain beautiful Azulejos tiles.
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. For a guide to a day trip to Estoi please click here.
The beautiful “azulejos” tiles of the Palácio de Estoi gardens
What’s the best-hidden Sight of Faro?
The strangest sight of Faro, which is hidden away from the main tourist route, is the Capela Dos Ossos, the bone chapel. The bones of the overcrowded cemeteries were stored in the small chapel that is located within the Carmo church complex. These bones were incorporated into the designs of the chapel, with skulls lining the walls – very strange and creepy.
A skull in the wall of the Capela dos Ossos