The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Faro is a historic and culturally rich city that boasts a variety of fascinating tourist attractions.
Sadly, Faro is often overlooked, considered only for its airport, but if you spend time in Faro, you will discover a charming Portuguese city.
Found within the historic quarter (the Cidade Velha) is a Gothic cathedral, the Paço Episcopal palace and the decorative Arco da Vila gateway. Outside of the city walls is a vibrant city, with pedestrianised shopping streets, characterful plazas and a wide variety of restaurants and bars.
To the south of Faro is the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, a series of saltwater lagoons and waterways, which is an important ecosystem for migratory birds and marine life. On the seaward side of the Ria Formosa are three sandbar islands, and these are the location of Faro’s pristine beaches.
There is a lot to like about Faro, and it makes for an enjoyable day trip or destination during a touring holiday of the Algarve. This article will show you why you should visit Faro and how to get the most from the city.
Related articles: Introduction to the Algarve – Top 10 Algarve
Largo da Sé – The delightful, cobbled plaza at the heart of the historic quarter of Faro. Standing on the Largo da Sé is the ancient cathedral, the bishops palace and city hall.
Parque Natural da Ria Formosa – The saltwater lagoons and sheltered waterways along the coastline of Faro. Join a boat tour to discover the wildlife of the nature park or hire a kayak to paddle the calm waters.
The Ilha Deserta – The Deserted Island has a 6km coastline of pristine sandy beaches, which includes the Cabo de Santa Maria headland, the most southern point of mainland Portugal.
Capela dos Ossos – A macabre chapel that stands in the grounds of the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church, and is decorated with the bones of 1,200 monks.
There are many excellent tours and activities in Faro. The Parque Natural da Ria Formosa and the Ilha Deserta are often the focus of these tours, as they can only be reached by boat. Some of the best activities provided by GetYourGuide include:
• A boat tour of Ria Formosa visiting two islands and a traditional fishing community
• A nature tour of the Ria Formosa on a solar-powered boat
• A dolphin watching tour departing from Faro harbour
Faro is the best day trip of the central Algarve region, and is highly recommended if you are on holiday to Albufeira, Vilamoura or Quarteira.
Contained within Faro are numerous historical monuments, and the city has a distinctive Portuguese atmosphere, which is very different to the resort towns.
Insight: Other popular day trips of the central Algarve region include the market town of Loule and the fishing port of Olhão. Faro is the better destination for a day trip as it boasts more varied sights and has more to see.
It takes four hours of sightseeing to fully see the city. The first half of the day should be spent exploring the Cidade Velha, and the second half in the modern section of the city, which includes the Bone Chapel (Capela dos Ossos).
Boat tours of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa are typically full day activities, but there are shorter tours if you wish to include it in your day trip.
Faro is the main transport hub of the region, and there is excellent public transport (both train and bus) to the city (details later). If you are driving, there is a large car park to the southeast of the Cidade Velha (GPS: 37.011799, -7.932085).
Below is an interactive map for a suggested day trip to Faro. The green line shows a walking tour of the city, which starts from the bus station. (Note: zoom out to see all of the points)
Sights of the tour: 1) Faro Marina 2) Manuel Bivar plaza 3) Igreja da Misericórdia (church) 4) Arco da Vila (gateway) 5) Porta Nova 6) Se Cathedral 7) Câmara Municipal (City Hall) 8) Faro Museum 9) Arco do Repouso (gateway) 10) Rua de Santo António (shopping street) 11) Igreja de São Pedro 12) Igreja do Carmo 13) Capela dos Ossos
Sights around Faro: 14) Cabo de Santa Maria 15) Ilha Deserta 16) Culatra fishing village 17) Forum Algarve (shopping centre) 18) Start of the N2 road*
Beaches: 19) Praia de Faro 20) Praia Da Ilha Deserta 21) Praia do Farol 22) Praia da Ilha da Culatra
*The N2 is the scenic road that extends along the entire length of Portugal, and is popular for road trips and biker-trips.
Insight: If you have a car and are limited by time, Faro and Olhão can be combined in a single day trip. An alternative option to maximise your time is to join an organised tour, which provides a knowledgeable guide and the opportunity to meet fellow tourists.
Highlights of the day trip
Faro Marina - here moors a mix of fishing boats and pleasure craft, but the height of the boats is severely restricted due to the railway bridge at its entrance!
Arco da Vila - The decorative Baroque gateway which was constructed over the original Arabic gateway, and leads into the Cidade Velha. The towers of the Arco da Vila are a favourite nesting site for Faro’s Storks
Porta Nova is the tiny gateway that leads down to the waterfront and the “Cais de embarque de Faro”, where the ferries and boat tours depart from.
Rua de Santo António – The characterful shopping street of central Faro
The view from the top of Faro cathedral, with views over the city and the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa
Igreja do Carmo – This grand Baroque church was funded by the spice trade from Brazil, and in the rear courtyard is the Capela dos Ossos
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.
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 at 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.
Insight: Faro has no beaches which are within walking distance of the city centre, and a bus (to the Praia de Faro) or ferry (Praia Da Ilha Deserta) must be caught. Faro is not a destination for a beach focused holiday.
Faro is a good base from which to explore the Algarve by public transport. 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.
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 day, three days or a week.
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 centra, 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.
The Arco do Repouso gateway leading into the Cidade Velha
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 Faro and Eva Senses Hotel 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 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), and cannot be walked to.
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. This is surprising considering it is less than a five-minute drive from Faro airport.
There is a direct bus (route 16) from the Próximo Bus Station (in Faro) to the Praia de Faro beach; this route also serves the airport.
Praia de Faro, just a short bus ride from Faro
The Ilha Deserta, as the name implies, is a deserted sandbar island, that can only be reached by boat. The southern sandy coastline is known as the Praia Da Ilha Deserta and provides over 6km of empty beaches. Midway along the beach is the Cabo de Santa Maria, the most southerly point of Portugal.
A wooden boardwalk weaves along the northern side of the island and passes through the non-descript beach scrub vegetation. The Praia Da Ilha Deserta is a unique beach but the cost and inconvenience to travel here mean the Praia de Faro is often the better choice for a beach day trip. For a beach day trip to the Ilha Deserta, see this boat tour.
The Ilha da Culatra has similar beaches to the Ilha de Faro and on the northern side of the island is the traditional fishing village of Culatra. On Ilha da Culatra, the main beaches are the Praia da Ilha do Farol and the Praia da Ilha da Culatra. Farol beach is next to the lighthouse and is closer to Faro. Again, a ferry is needed to travel to the Ilha da Culatra, so for most beach day-trippers, the Praia de Faro is the better destination.
Related articles: Faro beaches
The Cabo de Santa Maria is marked by a driftwood and sea-waste monument
Faro airport is the main international airport of southern Portugal, and is situated 7km southwest 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 connects directly to the airport. Therefore, if you wish to head to your holiday destination using public transport, you will have to travel into Faro city first.
The Algarve regional railway, slow but inexpensive
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 €15-20. Uber operates in the Algarve, but there can be high demand during the summer months. The price for a private transfer (with a driver waiting at the airport for you) to Faro, is from €25 and more details can be found here.
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