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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 spend time in Faro, and you will discover a wonderful and captivating city.
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 city is also the gateway to the Ria Formosa nature park, a series of saltwater lagoons and mudflats that 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 will provide you with 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 central and 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.
Related articles: Sights and activities – Faro’s beaches
Faro as a day trip
Faro makes for an interesting day trip, if you are based in the resort towns of Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira. There is a lot to see and do within the city, and it 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 natural park. 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.
Loule and Olhão are other popular destinations for day trips, but it is our personal opinion that Faro is the better excursion. There are more varied sights and tourist activities in Faro than either Loule or Olhão. If you have a car or are time limited Faro and Olhão could 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 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 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!
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 if you arrive on 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 the 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 Ria Formosa natural park, relax on the Praia de Faro or Ilha Deserta beaches, and visit the pretty village of Estoi or the fishing communities on the Ilha da Culatra. Three nights is ideal if you are touring the Algarve and are not rushed for time.
A seven night stay in Faro is designed if you wish to spend your entire holiday based in Faro. This longer holiday makes use of the excellent public transport of Faro to explore the entire central Algarve via day trips, while being based in a cosmopolitan and pleasant city. From Faro it is possible to take day trips to Olhao, Tavira, Loule, Albufeira and Vilamoura, and with longer train journeys Silves and Lagos can be reached.
Related articles: 3 days in Faro
What is Faro’s best Beach?
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, which shelter the lagoons and mud flats of the Ria Formosa natural park.
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, which is very 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.
Related articles: Faro beaches.
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 covers the main tourist sights, bus/train station and popular 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.
The box below displays any hotel deals in Faro and the price for last minute accommodation, as found by Booking.com.
Faro as the Algarve’s transport hub
Faro airport is the main international airport of the Algarve and is located 7km south-west of the city. Faro train and bus station are located in the centre of the city and provide a range of regional routes covering the Algarve and intercity services to Lisbon and the north. Unfortunately, none of these public transport services pass by the airport, therefore all visitors heading to their final destination using public transport will first have to travel into Faro city.
Useful websites: CP trains – Eva regional buses – Rede Expressos intercity buses
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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. There are no shared transfers from the airport to Faro as there is little demand and private transfers are not often offered as the route is too short.
A taxi from the airport to Faro is a more convenient option than the bus. A taxi ride takes around 10 minutes and costs €10-15, with an additional charge for large luggage. Uber operates in the Algarve but for the airport route they have comparable prices.
Related articles: Faro airport to Faro city
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, 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.
Related Articles: Day trip to Estoi
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.