During my one week stay in Algarve I couldn’t miss Faro, the capital of the region. Faro is an average size town with modest number of around 61 000 inhabitants. The city is a cultural centre of Algarve with historical churches and grand mansions, very good gastronomical offer, cute boutiques where you can buy high quality artisanal souvenirs, marine from where the sightseeing boats to Ria Formosa departure as well as many small streets and charming corners where you can observe the daily routine of local people.
Faro is not a busy town and I think that one day of exploration is fine. The town doesn’t have a beach, however, the city is very well-connected with most important towns in Algarve so it can be a good base if you want to discover the region using public transport. You have both trains and buses which can get you to Lagos, Tavira, Albufeira and many other charming places, from the marina located close to the old town you can also take a boat excursion to watch the wildlife of famous Ria Formosa lagoon.
If you are planning your trip to Algarve check out this post where I write about my one week itinerary which allowed me to admire both historical towns as well as natural sites without much rush.
In this post I will write about my relaxed day in Faro and what I have seen.
I arrived to Faro late morning by train from Loule and directed my first steps to the old town. If you’re arriving from the train station, most probably you’ll enter the historical part of Faro through Arco da Vila which is a neo-classical gate standing next to remains of Moorish city walls. On the top of the archway you can’t not notice few huge stork nests with the birds standing inside of them and observing the area. From time to time one of them flies in direction of the lagoon to get some food, in March we saw the stork babies sticking out their heads towards parents to get their own portion of frogs ;). Personally, I find that storks are one of the symbols of Faro, their nests are also located in very strategic places close to historical sites (many just on the monuments ;)).
You will find stork nests all over Faro and often hear the birds’ characteristic clatter. The storks were one of the most enchanting surprises in the city and you can spot even local people looking up and smiling fondly when observing the birds.
When you take your own dose of photos of storks, cross Arco da Vila and continue straight ahead to get to the main square with the 13th century Faro Cathedral and 17th century Paço Episcopal.
When on the main square check out the charming restaurant behind the cathedral for some refreshments when overlooking the area. They serve there a very good fish soup which I recommend. The tables outside are just in front of very representative building of Faro city hall.
Part of the square is lined with orange trees, during my visit some of them were blooming, and some already had fruits, the sweet scent of orange white flowers was very soothing.
I don’t understand why it is allowed to park cars in the area, at some points it was really plenty of cars which were obstructing the view of the historical sites. The old town is so small and streets so not adjusted to car traffic that it really should be a pedestrian zone.
After checking out the main square I suggest just walking along the narrow streets of the old town, you will find here many restaurants serving traditional Algarvian dishes, if you haven’t tried before, search for places offering cataplana which is a seafood stew (you will find many versions of them in different restaurants, choose the seafood and/or meat mix according to your preferences).
Some of the streets will lead you to gates close to the promenade which is not exactly on the oceanfront but close to the islets forming Ria Formosa. The promenade continues along the railway going into direction of Tavira, Olhao and Vila Real de Santo António which are perfect one day trips to be taken another day. The towns are rather small so you can easily see two of them the same day. Check out the ticket options in the train station, I saw one day and 2 days passes for unlimited travel on regional trains operating in Algarve region and decide if the deal is interesting for you.
I went for a one day trip to Tavira, check out my post to see my experience in the town.
On the promenade you will observe many locals strolling with their dogs, there are also few cute bars where you can have a stop or just remember this spot for later in the afternoon 😉
The promende will lead you to Faro’s marina which you have already seen if you came to Faro by train. From the harbor you can take a boat excursion to Ria Formosa, consider this option especially if you’re an avid birch watcher. If you are determined to have your trip, I suggest subscribing for a specific hour (ask before which excursions are already confirmed) when on your way to the old town in the morning and then come back for your time slot.
The old town and the marina are not the only sites worth visiting. You can stroll along very nice elegant streets that can be accessed from the harbor or Arco da Vila in direction of Carmo Church with famous Bone Chapel. Have a relaxed walk and enter the cute small souvenir shops, many of them sell authentic artisanal products which will be excellent souvenirs or gifts from Algarve. You many want to consider the traditional Portuguese jewelry, handmade pottery, tiles (some of them have a cork under and are perfect coasters for hot cups), Algarve is also famous from its aloe cosmetics, cork products, salt and canned seafood, you will find all these in those little shops.
The streets are filled with bars and restaurants frequented also by locals so it’s a good place to observe life of residents in Faro. I am a huge fan of antique shops and flea markets and I found two interesting antique stores around. In all mentioned places the sellers spoke very good English.
If you’re in the area I strongly recommend visiting Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo) which is an 18th century monument with a spectacular Bone Chapel with its walls covered by skulls and bones of monks. Absolutely impressive place! When walking through the small garden inside the complex you can hear the clatter of storks which is so lovely in Faro. The same as in the case of Paço Episcopal, the entrance is paid and you need to check opening hours since there is a break in the middle of day (the church reopens later, during our visit at 3pm).
Walking slowly and visiting the above sites took me few hours and I finished the general sightseeing in late afternoon. I used the rest of the time to come back to souvenir shops with items I’ve decided to buy, revisited the streets which I found particularly enchanting and stopped for some refreshments in the brewery frequented by locals. As you see, all very relaxed.
In the evening we went for traditional cataplana, I chose the version with squids. I find Faro a town having really great restaurants and I think that if you want to try some traditional dishes this is a perfect place. The fair amount of these restaurants ensure the competition of prices, you also have here local people coming for occasional dinner so the quality is also meeting their standards, I avoid typical tourist spots which often elevate the price but offer mediocre food.
Since Faro doesn’t have its own beach, I didn’t choose it for my hotel base, since I wanted to be able to wake up and go for a morning walk along the ocean just after my breakfast. However, if you’re more into visiting the charming towns and fishing villages, Faro is a perfect choice since it’s well connected. You can also easily drive or get to the beach using public transport. Faro is also a very good choice if you want to have a lively atmosphere in the evening after you returning from your day trips. In the evening you can walk in the calm old town, choose from many restaurants offering good quality seafood dishes, attend a fado concert and I’m sure the closer to the season, the more attractions are prepared for visitors to enjoy the city.