It’s a pity that more people don’t visit Faro, although that is starting to change. The Algarve’s capital city has more going for it than a mere gateway to the beaches and resort towns.
Once you read about the many things to do in Faro and around, I think you’ll agree that it merits at least a day trip. Especially if you are looking for a dose of culture.
Top Picks For Things To Do In Faro
Take this Faro Cultural segway tour. LEARN MORE
Feel the emotion of this Portuguese Guitar Recital. LEARN MORE
Discover the nature and wildlife of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. LEARN MORE
Factor in the nearby nature reserve and beaches and easy access to other Algarve towns and Faro could even be your base for exploring the central and eastern parts of the Algarve region such as Loulé and Tavira.
If you fly into Faro airport you may want to consider hiring a car to explore the region easily and in your own time.
Car hire in Faro airport is straightforward and here are some tips to help your drive go smoothly.
See my suggestions for where to stay in Faro
1. Explore Faro old town
Once inside Faro old town, passing through the 19th century archway called Arco da Vila, it really does feel like you’ve stepped into another century with cobbled streets and quaint whitewashed traditional houses and buildings.
For a fun way of exploring Faro’s historical highlights, check out this 90-minute Cultural Segway Tour.
If you’re on foot, enjoy exploring the streets of the old town, (aka Vila Adentro) and look out for art galleries and quirky shops as you go. There are several small squares within the ancient city walls, most of which have street cafés and restaurants so you won’t go hungry!
Follow the brown and white signs for the Sé (cathedral) and you’ll arrive in a large, eye-catching town square lined with citrus trees. The most imposing buildings here are the city hall and the catheral.
2. See the views from Faro Cathedral
On one visit to Faro, I went inside the cathedral, something I’d put off for inexplicable reasons. Faro Cathedral dates back to the 13th century although it had to be reconstructed after the devastating 1755 earthquake.
Now that I’ve developed a keen interest in azulejos, inlaid marble and carved wood, I found it a treat, especially the floor-to-ceiling tiles in the vaulted side chapels. I hadn’t expected the bone chapel in the courtyard though!
Even if such decorative arts hold no great appeal for you, the view from the bell tower will.
3. Go to a fado guitar recital in a chapel
If you’re not so keen on the mournful singing that often characterises fado, this 45-minute show is a perfect introduction to the world of the Portuguese guitar.
The venue is special, inside the Chapel of the Pregnant Virgin above Arco da Vila. This privileged location also gets you up close and personal with the resident storks nesting in the belltower.
Master guitarist, João Cunhã, puts on a great show, which is entertaining, informative and offers the opportunity to not only touch the Portuguese guitar but also to get up on stage and accompany him.
4. Relax at the marina
Whether you arrive by bus, train or car, you’re most likely to end up near Faro marina. It’s small but attractive, with views over the Ria Formosa estuary and the pretty park of Jardim Manuel Bivar on the other side.
There are a couple of restaurants near the waterfront and a café in the park should you need refreshments before you explore the historical centre of Faro.
5. Delve into history at Faro Municipal Museum
My favourite place to visit in Faro is the Museu Municipal, also known as the Museu Arqueologico. You’ll find it near Arco Repouso, another of the arched entrances to the old town, just behind a statue of King Afonso III.
It’s housed in an attractive 16th century convent with arched cloisters and an inner courtyard garden.
Highlights of the collections include a gigantic mosaic of Oceanus from the nearby Roman ruins of Milreu. I also loved the Arraiolos tapestry that depicts one of the Canticles of Holy Mary, poems written by King Afonso X the Wise in the 13th century.
Local artist, Carlos Porfírio also used legends published in 1898, mostly with a Moorish theme, as inspiration for his paintings, many of which are on display here.
6. Visit the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos)
Although there is a tiny bone chapel in the cathedral, you’ll have to head out of the historical centre to find Faro’s main bone chapel. If you’re looking for unusual things to see in Faro, then this is the place to head for.
It’s housed in the gardens belonging to Igreja do Carmo (Carmelite church). The skulls that decorated the outer entrance to the chapel have long since disappeared but the skulls and bones that were used to build the interior walls are still intact.
Why use human bones as construction materials? Partly because the city’s cemeteries were full to the brim and partly to remind us of our own mortality.
If you’re uncertain as to whether this would be appropriate for children, take a look at this family’s bone chapel experience.
7. Taste local flavours as ice cream
If the bone chapel doesn’t turn your stomach too badly, indulge in a delicious ice cream from Chelsea, a bakery and ice cream shop on Rua Dom Francisco Gomes. Carobs and figs are major crops in the Algarve and I happen to be partial to both so my choice was easy.
In case you’re wondering, carob tastes rather like chocolate.
8. Admire the pretty cobbled shopping streets
Among my favourite Faro attractions are its pretty cobbled pavements. The few shops within the walled old town are largely geared towards foreign visitors but venture into the patterned streets leading off Praça Dr Francisco Gomes near the marina and you’ll see where locals shop.
Among the clothes and shoe shops, hardware and grocery stores, you will also find crafts, gourmet local produce and souvenirs. While there are high street chain stores, others are unique shops that have served the local population for decades if not longer.
9. Spend time on Faro beaches
If you’re mainly looking for a beach holiday, be aware that while there are beaches near Faro city centre you’ll need to take a boat, bus or taxi to get to them unless you choose accommodation right by the beach.
Praia de Faro
Faro’s main beach is 20 minutes away by bus, near the airport. It’s a long, sandy spit, separated from the peaceful Ria Formosa estuary and wetlands by a strip of low-rise buildings. When I went in the morning, there were plenty of fishermen, both in the lagoons and on the beach.
One of the best beaches in Faro, it’s popular with Portuguese families throughout the summer and you’ll find several no-frills beach-front restaurants serving up the catch of the day. Off season, i.e. mid September to mid May, it’s pretty quiet and many restaurants will be closed.
Alternatively, you could take a ferry or catamaran from Porta Nova pier in Faro’s old town to Ilha Deserta. Although it’s not exactly a desert island, especially not in the summer, you should be able to find a quiet spot on the 11 kilometres of beach!
There’s also a boardwalk hiking trail and a popular seafood restaurant on the island.
10. Explore the Rio Formosa Nature Reserve near Faro
You’ll get great views of the lagoon from Faro’s marina and elevated spots such as the cathedral tower. If you’re tempted to get up close and personal with the nature reserve there are several ways you can do this.
This small group tour from Faro takes you to Barreta and Farol Islands before spotting the wildlife in Ria Formosa Natural Park.
I went on this Segway tour which, although not that great for birdwatching, was a fun and non-energetic way of exploring the trails, lakes and salt pans. You can of course walk or cycle along these paths or go on horseback.
If you’d rather be on the water, again, there are options ranging from kayak trips to sunset boat excursions.
Check out my ultimate guide to where to stay in the Algarve for alternative bases
Download a free copy of a useful city map of Faro.
Portugal itineraries designed by Julie
Get a great deal with Rentalcars.com
Get a quote for travel insurance with World Nomads
Shop for my favourite travel essentials via my Amazon Storefront
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Want to pin this for later?
BEFORE YOU GO...
If you're interested in visiting or moving to Portugal, why not get my free insider tips and resources?
These emails include new blog posts and relevant products, services and special offers.
Great blog. I really like Faro as well. I loved the most the old city behind the walls. On Sunday close to the marina you can find a market where you can buy hand made souvenirs and other things.
I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of how beautiful the beaches and the architecture the buildings are. Thanks for sharing this Julie!
I thought you’d like to know that the mosaic of Neptune/Oceanus in Faro museum was only in May this year awarded the status of National Treasure, the highest category. It is the first such piece in the Algarve to be so recognised.
Hi Janet, That’s good to know so thank you for sharing!
Wonderful post and photos. I felt the same about Faro when I went there a couple of years ago and thought it was atmospheric and beautiful, yet as you say, relaxed. I was taken with it I wrote a novel set there (mostly), and in many of the locations you cover. Even the bandstand features! If you follow the link to my blog you’ll get a flavour of it. All the best, Deborah
You’ve certainly piqued my interest, Deborah. On my reading list now!
We’ve been in and out of Faro several times, always on our way to somewhere else. You’ve talked me into planning an excursion into Faro, especially the old town, for a day or two to explore some of its highlights. Thanks, Julie!
Hi Anita, you won’t regret it. It kinda grows on you as well so be prepared for repeat visits 🙂
So enticing! Thank you Julie for your artistic eye evident by your photos. I can almost smell the sea!
Thanks, Cynthia. Much appreciated!
What an enjoyable post, and beautiful, Julie. Thanks for revealing to us those hidden jewels of Portugal. Loved the photos of the tile-clad house.
That’s the sort of house I’d like, or at least one of the many that appeal to me!
Hi Julie, I haven’t been to the Algarve for years. I used to go there but eventually found it too full of foreigners. I like to meet the Portuguese so I started going north instead. However, you’ve won me over for a visit to Faro which, as you imply, is too often just a staging post for people on their way elsewhere. What a mistake. Love your photos.
Hi Margaret, I’m pleased to hear I may have swung you back in the direction of the Algarve after all these years. Hope you enjoy it – I’d obviously suggesting going out of season to avoid bumping into too many holidaymakers.
Pretty comprehensive, Julie. I usually spend the odd day pottering around there and there’s always something to see.
Thanks, Jo. I think it has a nice, relaxed feel to it and is not as tacky as some of the places further west can be.
Great post Julie!
I really enjoy your blog. Haven’t yet been to the Berlingas but after reading this I may visit. Keep up the good work.