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Faro sightseeing, sights, activities and things to do and see
Faro is often overlooked and underrated as a destination but there is a lot to love about this ancient and vibrant city. Faro has a delightful walled old town, great shopping and is the gateway to the Ria Formosa Nature Park, with its deserted islands and pristine beaches.
There is a surprising amount to do and see in Faro and this guide will detail the most popular activities for a holiday or short stay. For those tourists who are visiting Faro as a day trip and seeking details of the main tourist sights in the city should view this guide – A day trip to Faro.
The city walls of Faro
Popular activities for a holiday to Faro
Exploring the old Town
Faro’s extensive history is reflected in the varied sights and monuments of the old town, and a half day can be easily spent exploring this delightful section of the city. The historic centre is encircled by ancient city walls, and once entered via the decorative Arco do Vila gate cobbled streets lead up to the gothic Se Cathedral, Paco Episcopal Palace and the Nossa Senhora convent.
The historic centre of Faro
Visit the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
The Ria Formosa nature park protects the mud flats and salt water lagoons between Faro and the sand dune islands. These sheltered waterways are a haven for migratory birds, small marine life and supports small fishing communities who use traditional and sustainable fishing techniques.
The best method to discover the region is via a boat tour, which depart from Faro marina and visit the sand bar islands. Other enjoyable ways to explore the Ria Formosa include guided kayak tours, bird watching trips or even snorkelling in the shallow waters close to the islands. For a guide to the boat tours and the Ria Formosa please click here.
The Ria Formosa tidal flats
Don’t forget the beaches
Faro has no beaches which are within walking distance of the city centre but they are situated on the southern edges of the sand bar islands that surround the Ria Formosa Nature Park. Of the islands the Praia de Faro beach is most accessible as it is connected by a bridge and regular bus service to Faro. The Praia de Faro is popular with Portuguese tourists, who flock here during the summer and there is a plethora of cafes, holiday homes and restaurants close to the bridge.
Praia de Faro is a great sandy beach very close to the airport
To truly escape the summer time crowds travel to the Ilha Deserta (the deserted island) for one of the quietest beaches of the Algarve (see next section). Other good beach islands include Farol and Culatra, which also has a traditional fishing community. For a full guide to the beaches of Faro please click here.
The Ilha Deserta
The Ilha Deserta is a remote sand bar island south of Faro, which has some of the most pristine and unspoilt beaches found in the Algarve. There is no tourist development on the island, and along the 9km shoreline of sand dunes and golden sands there is just a single building, an exclusive restaurant.
Portugal’s most southerly point, the Cabo de Santa Maria, is situated on the Ilha Deserta and is marked by a monument of sea debris and drift wood. There is a pleasant 2.5km walk from the harbour to the Cabo de Santa Maria through the sand dunes of the island, while on the lagoon side there is calm waters filled with small marine life ideal for snorkelling.
A Faro ferry on the way to the Ilha da Culatra
The Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones)
The most macabre but truly unique sight of Faro is the Capela dos Ossos, the chapel of the bones. This small chapel is lined with the bones of monks that were exhumed from Faro’s graves and their skulls look down and tourists from the walls and ceilings. The chapel has the bones of more than one thousand monks who were buried in the graveyard.
A skull in the Capela dos Ossos
Excursion to Estoi
Estoi is a delightful village 10km north of Faro which is famed for its beautiful pink palace (Palacio de Estoi) and the Roman ruins. The Palace of Estoi dates from 1909 and was a sumptuous private residence with beautiful gardens filled with classical azulejos tiles. The palace has been returned to it’s former glory, after years of neglect, by converting it into an exclusive hotel but it can be stilled visited.
The beautiful azulejos tiles of the Palácio de Estoi gardens
The Roman ruins include a mansion (Villa of Milreu) and a small temple, within the complex are wonderfully preserved mosaics, partial due to house be built over the original Roman building! For a guide to day trip to Estoi please click here.
A traditional Portuguese house was built on top of the Roman Villa
Day trips from Faro
Faro has excellent public transport and from the city it is possible to visit almost the entire Algarve. Interesting day trips to the east include the historic city of Tavira and the fishing port of Olhão, both of which can be reach via train. To the west is the exclusive resort town of Vilamoura and the modest resort of Quarteira, these are connected to Faro by bus. Inland is the market town of Loule, with its popular Saturday gypsy market, and is again reached via bus. The number of varied day trips from Faro means that it could be used as a central base from which to explore the region and fill an extended holiday.
The town hall of Loule
Faro Shopping and Café culture
Faro is a large cosmopolitan city with shops, cafes and restaurants designed for Portuguese clientele, not tourists on holiday. The best place to embrace the café culture, and also do a bit of shopping is along the pedestrianised Rua de Santo António.
Cataplana is a declious sea food stew