The best independent guide to Faro
The best independent guide to Faro
Faro is a historic city, which makes for an enjoyable day trip if you are on holiday within the central Algarve region.
Faro was an important city during the Moor era (9-11th century) and contains a charming Cidade Velha (Old Town) which is encircled by the ancient city walls. In the new town, which was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, are found pleasant shopping streets and scenic plazas.
To the south of Faro is the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, a series of tidal saltwater lagoons and mudflats, which are a haven for migratory birds and wildlife.
Below is a recommended route for a day trip to Faro.
The major tourist attractions along the tour are: 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.
Note: this tour explained in-depth towards the end of this article
All three towns are popular day trips for tourists based within the central Algarve. Faro is the better destination as it has more varied sights and attractions than Loule or Olhão.
The main focus of Loule is the covered market and pretty cobbled backstreets, but this can be fully seen in a couple of hours. Also, the Gypsy Saturday Market in Loulé is very overrated, with many of the stalls selling cheap tat.
Olhão is a busy working fishing town, which has a pleasant waterfront and fishing quarter. Faro offers very similar sights but has the add attractions from the Cidade Velha. Faro or Olhão both provide similar tours of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
Related articles: Loule guide
An alternative day trip combines visiting the city of Faro with exploring the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa or the Ilha Deserta.
The Ria Formosa mudflats and salt waterways are home to small marine life (seahorse, crabs) and numerous wading birds (Egrets, Spoonbills). The region also preserves traditional fishing techniques and supports communities. The Ria Formosa is an important biosystem, but certain visitors may feel it lacks attention-grabbing wildlife or sights.
A secondary option is to visit the Ilha Deserta (deserted island). This island can only be reached by ferry and has almost no development except for one sea-food restaurant. On the southern side of the island are some of the quietest beaches in the Algarve along with the most southerly point of mainland Portugal, the Cabo de Santa Maria.
Half-day tours of the Ria Formosa or the ferries to the Ilha Deserta depart from the jetty close to the Porta Nova (6).
Generally if you are heading to Faro from the west (Albufeira, Vilamoura and Quarteira) it is advisable to catch the bus, as the main train stations are not close to the resort centres.
If you are heading from the east (Olhão and Tavira) it is suggested to catch the regional train. Public transport throughout the Algarve is inexpensive and there are many services to Faro.
When traveling from Albufeira to Faro by bus ensure you catch the express service, otherwise you will find that the whole day is spent on the bus!
There are good roads to Faro but in the city centre the roads are narrow and there are few signs. If traveling by car it is recommended to park in the large carpark to the south of the city just outside of the city walls on the Largo de São Francisco street.
Faro bus and train station are in the same section of the city and are only 200m apart. From both the train or bus station turn right, when exiting the station and head down the road (50m for the bus station, 250m for the train station) to reach the main plaza and marina.
Inside the bus station of Faro
The pedestrian shopping streets around the Rua de Santo António and the Rua de Vasco de Gama provide the best open air cafes and restaurants, which serve traditional Portuguese food and offer a pleasant eating environment. For something different try the Japanese buffet at Diamond Sushi (opposite the bus station).
Most visitors start their tour of Faro in the Jardim Manuel Bívar (as this is close to the bus and train station). This is the relaxing plaza where old men come to play cards and storks build their magnificent nests. The plaza overlooks the small marina, which is limited to the size of boats due to the entrance passing beneath the railway bridge.
The peaceful Jardim Manuel Bívar
The decorative Arco da Vila gate leads into the old town. This gate was designed during the 19th century and is positioned in front of the ancient city walls. Next to the gate is the main tourist information centre of Faro and from here it is possible to pick up a free tourist map of the city.
The 19th century Arco da Vila
The small cobbled street leads to the main square of the old town where both the city hall and Se cathedral are located. The Se name is derived from the words “Sedes Episcopalis” which translated means The Bishop’s seat.
Faro city hall
Visitors to the Se cathedral are able to climb the clock tower and from this vantage point there are fantastic view over Faro and the Ria Formosa national park.
The view from the Se cathedral
The next stage of the suggested route is to take the pretty western gate called the “Porta do sol”. Close to the gate are the ticket sales for the Ria Formosa boat tours. These boat tours will be loved by certain visitors, while others will feel that there is simply not much to see. The boat tours also can stop at the two sand bar islands on the edge of the national park.
The main path around the edge of the city walls
For the suggested tour follow the ancient Moorish walls around to the southern entrance and the site of the old ruined castle. The North gate road leads to the rear of the cathedral and the interesting Museu Arqueologico. The most impressive gate to the old city is located on the eastern gate and this is conveniently close to the Museu Arqueologico.
The Porta do Sol Gate
The pretty Palacete Belmarço plaza leads north into the shopping district and is an ideal location for lunch.
A skull in the wall of the Capela dos Ossos
For the afternoon it is either recommended to join a boat tour or to visit the Igreja do Carmo and the bone chapel. The small bone chapel is lined with the bones that were exhumed from the cities graves and is one of the strangest sights of the Algarve.