Faro is the largest city in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, and home to a main airport hub (Faro International Airport) that brings visitors to the busy resorts stretching along over 200 kilometers of Portuguese coast.
While Faro is seen as a transit point for tourists seeking sun, sea and sand it has its own valid appeal and attractions including unique Moorish architecture, the quaint Cidade Velha (Old Town) and a busy marina.
Faro’s vast history has resulted in a footprint of magnificent Moorish buildings that are best seen by wandering the paved streets of Old Town. Enter via Arco da Porta Nova to the Vila Adentro, partially surrounded by the remains of the ancient castles walls. Wander the cobbled streets to Largo da Sé, the square lined by orange trees that is fringed by the Bishop’s Palace and the Faro Cathedral.
Built in the 14th century, Faro Cathedral was damaged greatly by both British troops in the 16th century and an earthquake in 1755 and rebuilt. The interior is beautifully decorated in marble, tile work and gold leaf but the real draw card is the view from the bell tower.
A short walk from the marina, head to the Igreja do Carmo (Carmo Church) with ornate decorations including a gilded altar. If you can stomach it, at the back of the church is the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) that is lined with the bones of 1245 monks.
Go shopping on Faro’s main shopping street Rua de Santo António where you can buy some of the beautiful azulejos ceramic tiles or hand painted pottery.
Join a boat tour (you can book this at the Arco da Porta Nova, one of the main arches at the edge of the Old Town) and cruise to the Ria Formosa Natural Park, an important network of ecosystems home to many bird and marine species.
In the evening, drop into Taberna da Sé for ocean-fresh seafood kebabs and a glass of Portuguese port or head to a throbbing club for the latest music. Surprisingly, cover charges and drink prices are reasonable for a Mediterranean resort as Faro has a large student population. Make a beeline for Rua do Prior for a wide variety of bars and clubs.
Participate in one of Faro’s many annual festivals including the Seafood Festival in late July-early August, FolkFaro music festival in August or the traditional Feira da Santa Iria that is celebrated in October with fairground rides and entertainment.
Driving in the Algarve region is easier than much of Portugal, as there are less toll roads and good signage so there are plenty of options for day trips from Faro.
Monchique is located 84 kilometers from Faro and best reached by car as there are no direct buses or train links. The town is a great base to discover the Serra de Monchique mountains popular for walking trails, and if you fancy a relaxing break you can visit the spa town of Caldas de Monchique that is famed for its therapeutic hot springs.
Estoi, just 11 kilometers from Faro city centre, is an important area of Roman ruins. Visit the Roman ruins of Milreu with wine press, baths and mausoleums and the dusky pink baroque Estoi Palace.
Situated a short drive east from Faro, the town of Olhão is one of the Algarve’s main fishing ports. Admire the whitewashed houses with rooftop terraces in the Old Town, before stopping by the lively fish market. Pause for a break at the Canteloupe Café overlooking the marina, then take a 15-minute ferry ride to the Ilha de Armona to claim your spot on the deserted beaches.