The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Faro is an historic and culturally rich city that boasts a variety of fascinating tourist attractions.
Sadly, Faro is often overlooked, thought of only for its airport, but spend time in Faro and you will discover a charming Portuguese city.
The delightful historic centre (the Cidade Velha) of Faro is encircled by ancient city walls and contains a gothic cathedral, the Paço Episcopal palace and pretty cobbled streets. Outside of the city wall is a modern city centre, with pedestrianised shopping streets, scenic plazas and a variety of restaurants and bars.
To the 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 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.
Related articles: Introduction to the Algarve – Top 10 Algarve
The fishing harbour in Faro
Highlights of Faro city
• The Gothic Se cathedral
• The neoclassical Arco da Vila gate, set within the ancient Moorish city walls
• The macabre bone chapel, lined with the bones of over 1,000 monks
• The peaceful Jardim Manuel Bivar plaza overlooking the fishing harbour
Highlights of the Faro region
• A boat tour of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
• The deserted beaches of the Ilha Deserta
• The small fishing community on the Ilha da Culatra
• The village of Estoi with the Palácio de Estói and Ruínas de Milreu Roman ruins.
• The bustling summer beach resort of Praia de Faro
Related articles: Top 10 Faro - Faro Beaches
The view from the top of the Se cathedral over the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
Faro is one of the most popular day trips of the central Algarve region and if you are on holiday in Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira we highly recommended a visit.
Contained within Faro are numerous historical monuments, while the city has a distinctive Portuguese atmosphere, and is very different to the hectic resort towns. A typical day trip to Faro would spend half of the day exploring the Cidade Velha and half in the new city, which would also include the Bone Chapel.
The historic centre of Faro, as seen from the water
Below is an interactive map for a day trip to Faro, highlighting the major sights of the city and a suggested route.
Major sights: 1) fishing harbour 2) Jardim Manuel Bivar 3) Igreja da Misericórdia 4) Arco da Vila gateway 5) Porta Nova 6) Se Cathedral 7) City hall 8) Faro Museum 9) Arco do Repouso 10) Rua de Santo António (shopping street) 11) Igreja de São Pedro 12) Igreja do Carmo 13) Bone Chapel
An alternative day trip is to join a boat tour of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, to visit the fishing community of Culatra island or the deserted island of Ilha Deserta.
For a day trip to Faro, travel is easy as a regular bus service connects Faro to the towns of the central Algarve (Albufeira, Quarteira and Vilamoura) and a train serves the eastern Algarve (Olhão and Tavira).
Our Opinion: The market town of Loule and the fishing port of Olhão are also popular for day trips. In our opinion, Faro is the better destination for a day trip as it boasts more varied sights and more to see.
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
The Arco do Repouso gateway leading into the Cidade Velha
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.
Tourist advice: Faro has no beaches which are within walking distance of the city centre, this is not a city for a beach holiday.
Faro 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 the Faro region are some of the least crowded in the Algarve, but 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!
The city walls of Faro date from the Moorish era and encircle the entire Cidade Velha
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.
Related articles: 3 days in Faro
The Arco da Vila is the gateway to the historic quarter
Faro city should not be considered as a beach holiday destination. The beaches of Faro are found on the southern side of the three sandbar islands (Ilha de Faro, Ilha Deserta and the Ilha da Culatra), which shelter the mudflats 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. In the summer it is filled with Portuguese tourists.
Praia de Faro, just a short bus ride from Faro
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.
Related articles: Faro beaches
The deserted beaches of the Ilha Deserta
Generally, most tourists book their accommodation within 300m of the Jardim Manuel Bivar plaza and the Doca de Faro. 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 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.
Useful public transport websites include:
• Comboios de Portugal (trains) - www.cp.pt/passageiros/en
• Eva regional (regional buses) - https://eva-bus.com/
• Rede Expressos (intercity buses) -https://www.rede-expressos.pt/
(links open new tabs)
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.
The Algarve regional train is slow…
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.
Related articles: Faro airport to Faro city
The number 16 bus heading to Faro bus station
Popular 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.
An alternative day trip is to the pretty village of Estoi. Found in Estoi is the pink Estoi Palace, the finest example of Rococo architecture in the Algarve, while just outside of the village are the Milre Roman ruins, of a once-grand villa
Related Articles: Day trip to Estoi – Loulé guide
The beautiful azulejos tiles of the Palácio de Estoi gardens
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.
The Capela Dos Ossos