Faro is the capital of Portugal’s Algarve region, situated on the southernmost tip of the country. Known for ancient architecture and charming cobblestone streets, time spent in Faro is never wasted. Even though Faro has fascinating tourist attractions, it’s generally overlooked by most of the visitors who head to more popular resort towns, such as Albufeira and Lagos. From wandering around the Old Town to visiting an old Portuguese palace and a fantastic Bone Chapel, learning about Faro’s history, enjoying the buzzing nightlife, and relaxing on deserted islands, here is a list of the best Faro attractions.
1. Get lost in Faro’s old town
Portugal has many an “old town”; a neighborhood where the collective history is usually older than 2000 years. Since Faro itself was once occupied by the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines and Moors, there is a lot to see embedded within these streets.
Featuring lovely cobblestone streets, important landmark buildings, museums, Roman passages, captivating churches, distinguished tiled houses, lively squares and cosy cafes, Faro’s Old Town is a “city” within the city.
And there are many things to do in Faro Old Town (Cidade Velha).
2. Get yourself to one of Faro’s Islands
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in Faro, you shouldn’t miss one of the sandbars islands as they have some of the best beaches in the Algarve.
You can visit Ilha do Farol, Culatra or Deserta. These natural islands with pristine beaches and crystal-clear water shelter the Ria Formosa Natural Park’s mudflats and are very popular among locals.
Ilha Deserta (Desert Island), my favourite one, is an unspoiled and uninhabited island with quiet beaches. There are some facilities, such as chairs and umbrellas for hire, and lifeguards on duty.
There’s only one restaurant on the island, Restaurant Estaminé, and tables must be booked in advance. If you prefer, bring a cooler bag with some food and refreshments.
Farol and Culatra, which are technically the same island, have beautiful beach dunes that extend along the 6Km shoreline. There’s a small fishing village on both islands, where you can find more infrastructure, including a scenic beachside footpath, which connects the two villages and provides access to the quieter sections of the coastline.
The islands are easily accessed by boat from Faro and perfect to rest.
3. Make your way to the Arco da Vila in Faro
During the 1755 earthquake, the Old City of Faro was partially destroyed. What remains is this glorious arch; a structure that replaced the Arabic gateway that once stood in the same spot. The arch was designed and built by an Italian architect named Francisco Xavier Fabri, and was inaugurated in 1812. On top stands a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of Faro, and right above, there’s a charming bell tower. When you visit the Old Town, you can’t miss the opportunity to admire and walk through Arco da Vila, as it’s one of the best free things to do in Faro.
4. Don’t miss the nightlife in Faro
When the sun sets in Faro, the fun comes out to play. Faro has a vibrant nightlife scene, ranging from rooftops, restaurants, bars and clubs. Most of them are located in the Baixa (city centre), but you can also find some in the Old Town.
The main strip is situated across Conselheiro Bivar, a flamboyant street in the city center. Throughout the Old Town one can also find great spots for dancing and live music! If you feel like dancing, the best options are Columbus, an elegant cocktail bar with excellent drinks, good music, and a striking view of the Old Town; Castelo Bar, which has live entertainment; Associação Recreativa e Cultural de Músicos de Faro, an alternative space that offers live music, parties, and DJ appearances; and Prestige Dance Club, a gay-friendly option to dance the night away.
5. Say a little prayer at Se Cathedral in Faro
Located in Largo da Sé, this church was built in the 13th century. It’s as old as the hills that surround it, though today it is mostly filled with 17th century artifacts.
Somehow, this structure has survived two earthquakes and a massive fire that almost took out the foundation. The original tower and main doorways still stand. The interior consists of three naves divided by columns of the Tuscan order and chapels in Gothic, Baroque, and Mannerism styles, sumptuously decorated with elaborate gilded wood altars and gazed azulejos (Portuguese tiles). You can also visit the cloister with a small garden and chapels, the upper choir, and the Museum of the Cathedral on the upper floor. You can also climb up the bell tower to get a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.
6. Discover the wonder of Algarvian food in Faro
The local cuisine is worth the trip to the Algarve alone. Portuguese food is already an easy comfort, but here on the water’s edge it revolves mostly around delicious, fresh seafood.
Don’t pass up an opportunity for some traditional Bacalhau, and anytime grilled sardines are on the menu, take them seriously! Mixed seafood lovers should look out for a dish called Cataplana de Mariscos (mixed seafood in white wine)… and as always, end things off with a warm pastel de nata.
7. Find the Bone Chapel in Faro
The Algarve has exquisite churches that the public can visit. Amongst the best is Carmo Church, built back in 1719 (yes, it was damaged during the earthquake).
Carmo Church features something a little different. This is where one finds the iconic Bone Chapel. A prayer space lined with the bones and skulls of over 1000 monks formulated into geometric patterns across the walls and ceiling. The Capela do Ossos can be considered macabre and disturbing, but it’s quite exquisite and undoubtedly one of the best Faro tourist attractions. It’s open from Monday to Saturday and costs only 2€.
8. Learn about Faro’s history at the Museu Municipal
One of the top things to do in Faro if you’re interested in history and old civilizations is to visit the Municipal Museum.
Located in the Old Town, within walking distance of Largo da Sé, The Museu Municipal, aka Faro Archeological Museum, is housed within the fascinating 16th century Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of Assumption Convent). Faro Archeological Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, costs only €2, and just the building alone makes the visit worthwhile.
9. Discover the nearby cities and towns
Albufeira, Lagos, Vilamoura, Carvoeiro and Portimão are generally considered to be some of the best places to visit in the Algarve.
But the Golden Coast, which extends for an area of 4.997Km2 (1,929 sq mi), has many other attractions.
And this is the reason that when you’re in Faro, you should take the opportunity to discover the nearby towns and beaches.
If you like history, you should visit Loulé or Silves. If you prefer unique beaches, then don’t miss Lagos, Lagoa, and Portimão; some of the most famous beaches in the Algarve are in these municipalities.
But if you’re more into off the beaten track, my top recommendations are Tavira and Costa Vicentina Natural Park, where you can find a bit of history and gorgeous beaches.
10. Visit the Palácio de Estói
Located in the village of Estoi, 10 Km from Faro, Pousada Palácio de Estói is the unique neo-Baroque and neo-Rococo styles palace with gorgeous French-inspired gardens in the Algarve.
The dusk pink palace features luxury staterooms with frescos framed by moulded stucco, a foyer with antique paintings, glimmering gold leaf and ornate plasterwork commissioned by the palace’s original owner, the Viscount of Estoi, and a delightful pavilion covered in blue and white tiles with majestic stairways. Built in 1840, it was restored recently and converted into a hotel. But if you aren’t a guest, you can still visit some of its saloons for free, walk around the garden and take beautiful photographs.
Faro is the capital of southern Portugal’s Algarve region.
Is Faro worth visiting?
Although most tourists just arrive and depart from Faro, there are many things to do and see, and the visit is totally worthwhile. If you have an early morning flight, you should definitely spend some time exploring the city before leaving the Algarve.
How to get to Faro?
There’s an international airport in Faro and some of the airlines that fly to Faro are EasyJet, Ryanair, TAP Portugal and British Airways.
Best time to visit Faro?
You can visit Faro any time of the year, but the best time to visit it is definitely during the summer and particularly in July and August.
If you don’t like crowds and heat, our suggestion is to go in June or September.
How many days to spend in Faro?
At least a full day. There are many things to do in Faro and if you stay longer, you can enjoy the nearby islands and also take a day trip to Lagos/Portimão/Tavira or Costa Vicentina, which are some of the best places to visit in the Algarve.
How to get around?
If you’re visiting only Faro, you don’t need a car.
But if you want to explore the nearby towns and beaches, you can do it by bus or train, however, it’s easier and much more convenient with a car.
You can hire a car with Rental Cars here at no extra cost to you.