Gateway to the Algarve and often overlooked by visitors, the capital city of the southernmost region of Portugal ticks all the boxes on your perfect holiday to-do list. Known for its mild weather all year round and an airport that connects the city to all corners of Europe, Faro’s strategic location lets tourists explore the Algarvian beaches and resorts with ease. The city, though, has much more to offer.
With its 60,000 inhabitants, Faro saw the invasions of the Romans, Byzantines and the Moors before the country became independent in the XII century. This mix of influences can be seen as soon as you enter the old town (Cidade Velha), where a baroque gateway (Arco da Vila) lets you in. Narrow cobbled streets guide you towards the beautiful Sé (cathedral bombed during WWII, that offers stunning views of the city from the top of its tower), surrounded by colorful orange trees that decorate the Largo da Sé, the main square hosting the city hall and bishop’s palace as well.
Not to be missed among the many churches of the city is the Igreja do Carmo (built in 1251 and damaged in the 1755 earthquake), located beside the famous Bone Chapel (Capela dos Ossos): its interiors are fully plastered with the real bones of over 1,200 monks.
Home to the University of the Algarve, Faro boasts museums, theatres and a plethora of cultural events and activities: from the Fado nights (traditional Portuguese music) played at Castelo, within the medieval town walls, to the live concerts and local artists’ performances hosted by the Music Association, based in the grounds of the Old Beer Factory; here tourists and locals alike can enjoy the Feira da Tralha (flea market), art exhibitions and music lessons.
Fancy a bargain? Rua de Santo Antonio is a quaint street with pretty buildings and shiny pavements featuring all sorts of shops – souvenirs, clothing, food and spirits, books and more. The Mercado (market) also has good deals and promotions, as well as the Forum shopping center.
A stone’s throw from the city, easy to reach by bus, is Faro beach: great for surfing, paddling and grabbing a drink. Boat tours depart from Faro Marina to the small islands just off the coast, perfect for sunbathing on a quiet, sandy beach and diving into crystalline waters. Located between the beach and the city, Ria Formosa nature park is rich in wildlife and offers breathtaking sunset views with a salty lagoon scenery that varies with the rise and fall of the tide.
When it comes to food, Faro never disappoints. Local and exotic cuisine can be savored in the dozens of restaurants scattered between the Marina, the Baixa and the old town, along with lively and affordable wine bars and cafes. Our favourites: Biblioteca (literally, library) for sampling medronho liqueur and muscatel surrounded by books and wooden interiors; Chefe Branco for freshly sourced seafood in an informal yet impeccable environment; Woods for watching the sun set over the dock, glass in hand and delicacies on your plate.
BONUS TIP: ever seen a stork, or a stork nest? Look up: you may be able to spot them atop churches and gateways.