1. Praia de Faro
No, not after you’ve been to your hotel, but straight from arrivals! We’re serious. Just follow the road behind the airport, which quickly leads to the Praia de Faro, a wide sweep of sand sprinkled with cafes and bars. Switch straight from travel mode into the more relaxed Faro vibe. Discover more of Portugal’s magnificent beaches with our top 10 guide.
2. Cidade Velha
Dip under the grand Arco da Vila and the cobbled streets of the old city await. There’s a cocktail of architectural styles to admire: the result of numerous earthquakes and British bombardments. Cast your eyes up to find storks nesting in the rooftops. You’ll also find a sprinkling of cafes and bars, with O Castelo our pick. This is not just a bar, café and restaurant, they also stage a range of cultural events and club nights in their courtyard. Or just join the locals enjoying the views out over the lagoon through the floor-to-ceiling windows, with an ice cold Sagres beer in hand.
3. Sé de Faro
The Se, or Cathedral of Faro, is the city’s most beguiling building. It sprouted up on the site of an old Roman temple that later became a Moorish mosque. Today Romanesque Gothic is the pervading style. Peep inside to view the Baroque organ and climb up to the viewing point to remind yourself of Faro’s attractions, spread out prettily below. If you’d been up here in 1596 you’d have been able to spot the Earl of Essex en route to sacking the cathedral.
Opening times: Mon to Fri 10.15am – 5pm, (until 6.30pm in the summer).
Location: Largo da Sé.
4. Municipal Museum of Faro
The Municipal Museum is worth visiting for the building that houses it alone, the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao. Don’t miss the third century Mosaic of the Ocean and the busts of Roman Emperor Hadrian and Empress Agrippina. The museum does a grand job of telling Faro’s story, right up to present day, with the addition of twentieth century artworks from the likes of Carlos Porfírio.
Opening times: Tue to Fri 10am – 6pm; Sat & Sun 10:30am – 5pm.
Location: Praca Dom Afonso III, 14.
Price: €2, Concessions €1.
5. Trem Municipal Gallery of Art
The free Trem Municipal Gallery of Art has brought new life to a slew of old city buildings. It showcases a range of local, Portuguese and international artistic talents with an ever-changing array of temporary exhibitions. They can fill you in on other cultural events happening in Faro too.
Opening times: (Jun to Sep) Tue to Sat 12.30pm – 7pm; (Oct to May) Tue to Sat 11.30am – 6pm.
Location: Rua do Trem.
6. Go church-spotting around Faro
Faro is blessed with an array of whitewashed, azulejo-tiled buildings and none are more impressive than its churches. Our favourites are the Igreja de Misericordia, a sixteenth century church with a feature portico that survived the 1755 earthquake, and the eighteenth century Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, with its hulking twin towers and interior laden with Brazilian gold. Behind it, don’t miss the Capela dos Ossos, which was rather creepily built from the bones and skulls of more than 1200 monks.
7. Feast on fish
Fishermen still eke out a living in the Algarve, although some of the more touristy restaurants in Faro can be average. Head instead to Restaurante Faro E Benfica where you can watch the fishing boats putter by on the Faro waterfront. Let the waiters steer you to the fish of the day, which they’ll let you see first. For something quintessentially Algarvian, opt for the lobster cataplana, a delicious feast of rice, seafood and herbs.
Opening times: Check for seasonal opening hours.
Location: Doca de Faro.
Price: Cataplana for two, €42.
8. Olhao fish market
Gustav Eiffel (yes, that one!) designed the striking red fish market building that sits on the waterfront in the neighbouring town of Olhao. Hop on a train from Faro and you’ll be there in ten minutes. After checking out the frenetic retail frenzy, linger at the stalls where you can taste the wares. At nearby Vai e Volta you can dine on as much freshly grilled fish as you can handle for under 10 euros.
9. Ria Formosa
One of Portugal’s ‘Seven Wonders’ and certainly one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Algarve, this natural park is a haven for wetland wildlife. Formed of salt pans, lagoons and barrier islands, you can hike, kayak or cycle through the park and guided tours are also available from Faro or Olhao. Further east at Fuseta is a recently renovated tidal mill, now home to a tapas bar, hotel (Moinho das Mares), nearby bird reserve and stunning views out over the estuary. Look out for the Purple Swamphen bird and other protected species.
Location: Main entry and information point is in Olhao but the park is accessible from Faro as well.
Price: € 2.60 (extra for tours).
10. Ilha Deserta
The Ilha Deserta, sometimes called Barreta Island, is a sand island in the Rio Formosa National Park that is as deserted as it sounds, save for the local flamingo population. It’s one of the necklace of sandy islands that slip all the way along the coast east towards the Spanish border and great for a cooling plunge, as the ocean never really gets warm, even in summer. Catch the ferry from Faro (30 minutes), or if you’re feeling flash, hire a boat and do a few of the islands in style.
11. Castelo de Silves
Pop over to Silves and you can’t help but notice the castle looming over the town from its lofty vantage point. It’s a bit of a workout to get up to the well-preserved ramparts, which date back to Arab rule during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, though changes were made in subsequent years to produce the Gothic medieval look you can see today. Once you’re there, the view from the top looks out across the Algarve countryside and coast in every direction and the cafe cooks up some interesting homemade cakes if you want to pause for a breather.
Opening times: (Summer) Daily, 9am – 8pm; (Winter) 9am – 5pm.
Location: Rua do Castelo, Silves.
12. Arco da Vila
Guarding the old town of Faro is this commanding gate; some of its walls are Moorish in foundation but the structure has an Italianate, Neo-Classical appearance, thanks to a project led by Bishop Francisco Gomes in the nineteenth century. Watch out for the original Arabic gateway inside the building.
Opening times: 9am – 6pm.
Location: Jardim Manuel Bívar.
13. Centro Ciencia Viva do Algarve
Families will get a lot out of this small science museum and educational zoo, with plenty of live, hands-on exhibits like tarantulas and scorpions that you can get to grips with (if you dare!) There’s also an aquarium containing local species from the lagoon just outside the windows and a greenhouse containing ‘hanging gardens’.
Opening times: Tues to Sun 10am – 6pm.
Location: Comandante Francisco Manuel street.
Price: Adults €4, Concessions €2. (50% discount on Wednesdays after 2pm.)
14. Ilha da Culatra
Home to one of Faro’s best beaches, the idyllic Ilha da Culatra is a island of two halves – the tranquil lagoon side, flanked with sailboats and the oceanfront Praia da Culatra, with its 2km of soft golden sand quietly awaiting visitors weary of the crowded resorts back on the Algarve. Get there by ferry from Faro or Olhao (30 minutes).
15. Palácio de Estoi
A grand scheme created largely by aristocrat Fernando de Carvalhal during the nineteenth century, the gardens at Palácio de Estoi are full of romantic grottos, trickling fountains and decorative blue porcelain tiles. The interior is now a luxury hotel (more details below!) but non-residents are free to wander the grounds and enjoy a coffee with a view, on the balcony of the restaurant. Buses from Faro take around 25 minutes to reach the palace.
How to get to Faro
Fly from London to Faro to get the cheapest fares, with flights from Ryanair, easyJet and Norwegian Air at Luton, Gatwick and Southend airports and Jet2 arranging package deals from Stansted. Non-stop flights also take off from Bristol, Manchester, Belfast and Birmingham.
Faro Airport is right on the southern coast of Portugal, just 4km from the city centre, with bus links to Faro and the rest of the Algarve resorts.