As the capital of the Algarve and equipped with an international airport, Faro and its Old Town are always easy to add to your Portugal itinerary. Most people just use Faro as a convenient place to fly to and pick up their rental car, but we would recommend you to spend at least a day or two at Faro and visit its Old Town. The old city center of Faro is lined with beautiful buildings, picturesque streets and ancient monuments. You can spend your days in Faro wandering through the Old Town, lazing on one of the nearby sandy beaches and exploring the stunning Ria Formosa nature reserve. Read this blog for the best tips for the Old Town of Faro and learn about the best day trips and sights close to Faro.
Read more: all our blogs about the Portuguese Algarve.
Where is Faro and how to get to Faro
Faro is located on the southern coast of Portugal and in the heart of the Algarve. It is the capital of the region and it is equipped with the main international airport in southern Portugal. Faro is the perfect starting point for any Algarve trip, as it is easy to find a cheap flight to Faro.
Faro is centrally located in the Algarve. It is a 1,5-hour drive west to get to the westernmost point of the Algarve, where you’ll find the beautiful beaches and rocky coast of Sagres. And with a 1-hour drive to the east you to get to the Spanish border.
A rental car is the easiest way to explore the rest of the Algarve. Because of its international airport, Faro is one of the best places in the south to rent a car in the Algarve. A rental car is the easiest way to explore the rest of the Algarve, but if that is not in your budget, Faro is well connected by public transport as well. It has a large train station with a direct train connection to many other destinations in the Algarve. The town is also connected to most nearby attractions – like the Ria Formosa park or the Praia do Faro beach – by bus. Another great option to explore the area around Faro is Uber, as there are many in Faro and they are usually very affordable.
Parking in Faro is also very easy, even if you’re traveling with a campervan like we were last time we visited the Algarve. There is a large free parking lot next to the city walls of Faro. If you’re visiting the Ria Formosa park or the Faro beach, we recommend this parking. We even stayed there for three nights with our van and it is one of our favorite wild camping spots in Portugal.
Map of Faro
Visiting the Faro Old Town
The Cidade Velha inside the city walls
The Cidade Velha is the old town in the heart of Faro. The historic part of Faro is almost completely walled with ancient city walls. The historic center is almost completely walled with ancient city walls. A visit to the historic part of the city thus always starts with an impressive entrance at a picturesque medieval city gate. The most beautiful gate is the monumental Arco do Repouso, though the Arco da Vila is also a beautiful sight.
The old city center is lined with white buildings, protecting the residents from the hot summer sun and creating an idyllic and picture-perfect streetscape. Wander around the Old Town, strolling the white cobblestoned streets while admiring the Portuguese tiles, beautiful doors, colorful flowers and charming vistas.
You will probably pass the Sé de Faro, the cathedral of the city. You can visit the bell tower of the cathedral, which is one of the best things to do in Faro. As the town mainly has low-rise buildings, the tower has amazing views of the Old Town and even the Ria Formosa nature reserve and the airport south of Faro.
Souvenir shopping in Faro
Right next to the Cidade Velha is the new town of Faro with the town’s main shopping streets. If you love to go shopping, you’re happy to find many bigger brands, souvenir shops and small boutiques in this area.
Make sure to visit one of the local stores selling the typical Portuguese decorated canned seafood. Comur Conserveira de Portugal is often mentioned as one of the best places to visit in Faro. The store is beautifully designed with wooden shelves filled with decorated canned sardines, tuna, octopus and other fish and seafood from Portugal. The store isn’t unique though, as you’ll see these souvenir shops all over the country. This is the prettiest one in Faro though and the brightly colored tin cans make the perfect souvenir to bring home from the Algarve.
The Bone Chapel at the Igreja do Carmo
In addition to the cathedral, the Igreja do Carmo is also a popular Faro attraction. Although it is not in the Old Town, most travelers don’t mind making a small detour to visit this unique place to visit in Faro.
It’s a beautiful church with a nice Renaissance facade, but that’s not what draws in its visitors. Behind this cheerful white-yellow facade is a rather sinister place to visit. The bone chapel – or Capello dos Osos in Portuguese – is one of the more quirky attractions of Faro. This chapel is the result over overcrowded cemeteries in the nineteenth century. The monks came up with a creative solution and emptied their cemeteries to make room for ‘new’ bodies. The excavated bones were used to decorate this church chapel. More than 1200 skulls are said to have been used in the chapel.
At the entrance hangs an inscription warning visitors: “Pára aqui a considerar que a este estado hás-de chegar.” A reminder that you too will eventually reach this state.
Best places to eat in Faro
Cidade Velha has a handful of restaurants and especially nice terraces to sit down in the sun after exploring the Old Town. But if you’re looking for more options to eat, head over to the newer part of Faro right next to the Old Town.
For breakfast we recommend Chelsea Coffee & Brunch. We had a delicious and well-priced lunch at Baixacaffé. Make sure that you end up at the right spot if you’re looking for lunch, as there is a coffee shop with almost the same name. If you want a bite to eat in the evening, you will probably end up in Rue Conselheiro Bivar. This is where the most trendy restaurants are located. You can go for Mexican food at Guaka, burgers at Hamburgueria da Baixa or healthy food at The Woods. Stay in this street to have some drinks after dinner.
Where to stay in Faro
Faro is home to many beautiful accommodations. You’ll find nice apartments, cheap hostels, luxury resorts and holiday homes all over town with options for every budget.
If you’re looking for a little luxury and prefer to have a private apartment, we can recommend 7 Styles Apartments in the heart of Faro and around the corner of the Old Town. Each apartment has its own living room and kitchen, making this the perfect home away from home here.
If you prefer a boutique hotel, Faro has plenty of options as well. We can recommend Lemon Tree Stay with a sunny terrace with lemon trees and delicious fresh breakfast, and the sustainable and budget-friendly Sunlight House with beautifully designed rooms and a communal kitchen.
Are you traveling with a motorhome or campervan as we did? We saw some motorhomes spending the night at the large free parking lot next to the city walls, but we believe it is officially prohibited to camp here. We loved staying at this free parking southwest of Faro, which is at the Faro beach and inside the Ria Formosa nature park. If you want to learn about the regulations for camper vans and motorhomes in Portugal, we recommend you to read our wild camping in Portugal blog.
Best day trips from Faro
#1 The Ludo Trail in Ria Formosa Natural Park
The Parque Natural da Ria Formosa is located between the coastal towns of Faro and Tavira in Portugal’s Algarve, which is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal. The west-coastal Algarve is home to orange cliff formations and charming bays with sandy beaches, while the east of Faro features a maze of waterways, islands, and peninsulas. This area is the beautiful Ria Formosa nature reserve.
You’ll find one of the most beautiful and frequented areas of the Ria Formosa just west of Faro, near the international airport and Praia da Faro. The Ludo Trail and the São Lourenço Trail are two popular hiking routes that pass through here. It’s odd to us that they are two distinct hiking routes rather than one continuous trail. The two are in perfect alignment, and they make a beautiful round trip together.
The trails wind throughout the lagoon, with the Ludo Trail concentrating on saltwater swamps and the São Lourenço Trail focusing more on wooded areas and golf courses. The most memorable part of the trip for us was the stretch along the Ludo trails. You may see a lot of water birds while trekking through this marshy and wetland environment. We observed several flamingos in different areas of this Ria Formosa section on each of our two visits. The trail passes a salt production region with salt flats, pink lakes, and huge white salt mountains. It’s a very beautiful and special place in the nature park where you see fewer people than at the swamps.
Read more: the 15 best hikes in the Algarve.
#2 The beaches of Faro
Though Faro is located on the Algarve coast, it is not home to the sandy beaches you’ve enjoyed in Lagos, Ferragudo and Carvoeiro. The closest beaches are a short drive outside the city, located in the Ria Formosa lagoon with its maze of waterways, islands, swamps, dunes, mudflats and beaches.
Praia da Faro is the main beach of the city. It is located on the Peninsula do Ancão, near the Ludo Trail in Ria Formosa. We would recommend you combine a visit to the beach with the Ludo Trail and the Ria Formosa park to make the most of your day. The Faro Beach has (cold) showers and beach bars. You can take a ferry from the Old Town of Faro to Praia da Faro. You could also go by car and park at this parking close to the beach – where we also spend three beautiful nights with our camper van.
The Ria Formosa lagoon has more islands with beaches and visiting them is one of the fun things to do in Faro. There is a ferry connection to Praia da Faro, but also to the island Ilha da Barreta. This island is also called Ilha Deserta because it is uninhabited and it’s mainly the beautiful beach that draws visitors.
The island Ilha de Culatra is the only island near Faro with a small village. The expansive beach is of course the main reason to visit the island. A boardwalk of about one kilometer runs through the dunes along the beach. It’s a lovely stroll with the view of the beautiful island and the beach. The island has a longer hiking trail as well, the 5.6-kilometer Ilha da Culatra Trail.
You can take the ferry from Faro Old Town to both Praia da Faro and Ilha da Barreta, but the ferry to Ilha da Barreta departs from the nearby village Olhao. You could take a water taxi to any of these beach destinations, but they are a lot more expensive than the fairly cheap ferries.
#3 A guided boat tour to Ria Formosa
The Ria Formosa is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Algarve to visit. You can explore it on foot on the Ludo Trail we already mentioned or enjoy the sandy beaches in the area. But this impressive lagoon is best explored from the water and there are many great tours from Faro to enjoy the Ria Formosa.
- Explore the Ria Formosa with a catamaran tour along the islands
- Book a sailing trip and sail for two hours on a private sailboat through the lagoon
- Go for an adventurous tour and make a kayak trip around the nature reserve
- Choose a birding tour on the segway to learn about the special birds in this area and to spot flamingos
- Learn more about the Ria Formosa nature during a guided bike tour
- Go for a boat trip to spot dolphins and maybe even whales and orcas
#4 The Pink Palace of Estoi
The historic village of Estoi is located just north of Faro. As one of the most beautiful villages in the Algarve, it is well worth a visit when staying in Faro. Estoi has a direct bus connection with Faro and is only a 15-minute drive away.
Estoi is a picturesque village, known for its historic center with its medieval streets. In the heart of the Estoi Old Town is the historic and monumental Palácio do Visconde de Estoi. The beautiful palace is truelly remarkable, if only for its unique pink color. It was built at the end of the nineteenth century as a summer retreat for a wealthy Portuguese family. The family opted for a special combination of Neo-Baroque and the extravagant Rococo style, creating a palace that is unique in the Algarve and all of Portugal. Especially impressive are the extensive gardens and the panels with white-blue azulejos. The story goes that the Portuguese king was so impressed with the palace that he decided to give the owner a noble title.
You can’t visit the palace from inside, unless you are staying at the pousada it is nowadays. A pousada is a state-owned hotel in a unique and monumental building of historical significane, like this pink palace near Faro. You can only enjoy the extravagant rococo interior as a hotel guest, but the gardens are open to all visitors. So we highly recommend you to visit both the Old Town of Estoi and the lush gardens of its beautiful pink palace.
#5 The azulejos of the São Lourenço de Matos
Portugal is famous for its white-blue azulejos tiles and close to Faro is one of the best azulejos buildings in southern Portugal. The Igreja de São Lourenço de Matos church is located just west of Faro, a short 15-minute drive from the Old Town.
The São Lourenço de Matos doesn’t look very special from the outside, though it is actually one of the most beautiful churches in the Algarve. If you wouldn’t know what’s inside, you would probably not make a stop to visit it. The white church is built on a hilltop in an otherwise insignificant village.
This apparently simple church is not that plain and normal on the inside. The seventeenth-century church is almost completely covered in azulejos, the blue-and-white tiles Portugal is famous for. The panels are dedicated to the life of Saint Laurentius – Sao Lawrence in Portuguese – the patron saint of this church. The Portuguese cover about every inch of the church, from walls to ceiling. The alter is one of the few parts of the church not covered in azulejos, but it isn’t modest or plain either. It is an extravagant golden artwork that will immedialely draw your attention when entering the church.
As few travelers know about this unique church in the Algarve, you usually get to enjoy this splender without any other visitors. The entrance costs a few euros. Unfortunately it is not allowed to take pictures.