Faro was our first introduction to the Algarve region, as it is for many travelers. Its international airport, the only one in southern Portugal, makes it the gateway to the Algarve. The town’s privileged location offers visitors the best of both worlds: To the east of Faro you’ll find the natural beauty of the Ria Formosa lagoon with its deserted islands, unique wildlife, traditional villages and eco-chic vibe. To the west you’ll enjoy world-class golf courses, golden beaches, red cliffs and plenty of refined entertainment. And at the heart of it historic Faro, the capital of the Algarve, with its charming old town and patterned streets. This diversity makes this city in Portugal one of the most interesting places to stay in the Algarve. Intrigued? Here’s our guide on the best things to do in Faro Portugal, and beyond.
Faro Portugal map
Where is Faro in Algarve? And which attractions can be found nearby? For your convenience, we’ve created a map indicating our selection of things to do in Faro and beyond.
Best things to do in Faro
– Explore the Cidade Velha (Old Town)
Some of the most important Faro attractions can be found within the old city walls. The entrance to the Vila Adentro (Inner Town), one of the most picturesque places in Portugal, is formed by the majestic gate Arco da Villa. Whitewashed houses line the charming cobblestone streets and the fragrant orange trees add a touch of color to the main square. The Largo da Sé cathedral is forms the heart of the Faro Old Town. Inside, you’ll find some beautiful azulejo tiles. Climb the winding staircase for some scenic views over the rooftops, another gate called Arco da Porta Nova and the marina. Another notable building at the Largo da Se square is the Câmara Municipal (Town Hall).
Continue your way along some gorgeous narrow street until you arrive at the statue of D. Afonso III, who conquered the Moors in the 13th century. Opposite, you’ll find the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of Assumption), which houses the Faro Museu Municipal (Municipal Museum) or, in full, the Infante Dom Henrique Archaeological Museum. The collection of oil-based paintings and Roman mosaics is well worth a visit, as is the museum’s peaceful cloister garden. Make your way to the old town’s third gate Arco do Repouso with its built-in chapel Nossa Senhora do Repouso.
– Discover the Ria Formosa Nature Park from the marina
The marina is located in between the Faro historic centre and the 60 km (37 mi) wide Ria Formosa Natural Park. These wetlands encompass an area of about 18 000 hectares (a little under 45 000 acres) and are protected from the ocean by 5 barrier-islands and 2 peninsulas. It’s the perfect starting point to discover the beauty of this natural wonder and its biodiversity. Exploring this fragile ecosystem with its sandbanks, marshes and saltwater lagoons on a boat tour is one of the top things to do in Faro. Visit some of the inhabited barrier islands with pristine beaches, such as the ones at Ilha Deserta (Deserted Island) and Cabo de Santa Maria (the most southerly point of Portugal). Make sure to bring binoculars so you can spot migratory birds like flamingos and spoonbills.
– Free your inner tourist
The popular Faro letters and the tourist train can be found at the Jardim Manuel Bívar, across from the marina. We wouldn’t really recommend the train tour. It crosses different parts of the city that aren’t really that interesting and the bits that are actually worth your time, can just as well be reached on foot. Plus, the best streets for sightseeing are part of a pedestrian zone.
– Explore the newer part of town
The new part of Faro is surprisingly charming, mainly thanks to the beautifully patterned streets dotted with terraces. Many locals like to shop and relax here too so it doesn’t feel touristy.
– Creep out in the Chapel of Bones
You’ll soon reach the most macabre Faro attraction: The 18th century Igreja do Carmo church with its Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). Walls of skulls, perfectly aligned, cover the walls of this bone chapel. The skeletons belong to monks who once lived in Faro but whose remains were exhumed to create space at the cemetery. This is by far one of the most unusual things to do in Faro.
Exciting things to do near Faro, Portugal
– Hit the Beach
While you won’t find any beaches at walking distance from the centre, there are plenty of Faro beaches nearby. The Ria Formosa nature reserve boasts many beaches. The tranquil Praia de Faro is most accessible thanks to a narrow bridge over the lagoon. The remote islands of Ilha da Culatra and Ilha Deserta are home to more picturesque beaches.
Another option is Falesia beach, one of the most popular beaches in Portugal and known for its red cliffs.
– Visit the Palácio de Estoi and its romantic gardens
Just 10 km (6 mi) from Faro, you’ll find one of the most beautiful buildings in Faro history, the Palácio de Estoi. This magnificent pink palace is a prime example romanticism. The 18th century construction and 19th century renovation resulted in an eclectic architecture with neoclassical, neo-rococo and Art Nouveau influences. Every space is a masterpiece connected by stately double staircases or elegant gateways and adorned with azulejo tiled panels, statues and busts. The three levels boast splendid terraces with the most sweeping views over the palatial gardens. These romantic gardens, with their lakes and fountains, reminded us of Versailles.
Nearby, you’ll find the Roman ruins of Milreu, a former vila rustica or country villa around an inner courtyard.
Visiting Estoi Palace is one of the essential things to do in Faro. And the best thing is that you can take all the time you need to admire it in detail because you can spend the night there. It was bought by the municipality of Faro in the late 20th century and turned into a pousada, a luxury hotel in a historical building.
– Take a boat trip along the spectacular Algarve coastline
The Algarve coastline is widely known for its towering cliffs, interesting rock formations, sea caves and golden beaches. No better way to enjoy this amazing landscape than by boat. You’ll notice how the cliffs in the central Algarve look very different from those in the western Algarve. We opted for the comfort of a private motor yacht from the Vilamoura marina and spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the Algarve coastline and enjoying secluded beaches. It was April, so the ocean was still pretty cold but we couldn’t care less.
Take the boat a bit further from the shore and you might spot both common and bottlenose dolphins. Or you can take a wildlife-watching tour with a marine biologist.
– Experience the authentic Algarve in Olhão and Tavira
The eastern Algarve is all about peace, quiet and ecological experiences. The coastal towns of Olhão or Tavira are perfect for a romantic getaway and for discovering the authentic Algarve. Go for long beach walks in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a romantic picnic on one of the Deserted Islands, a stroll through Olhão’s old medina barrio or a scenic bike tour to the Moinhos da Rocha (Pego do Inferno) waterfall.
– Get the celebrity treatment in the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle sounds like music to your ears? Then the area where you’ll want to head evolves around the towns of Almancil and Vilamoura, including the renowned gated communities of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago. The Golden Triangle features palm-fringed lanes, four Michelin starred restaurants (Gusto, Henrique Leis, São Gabriel and Willie’s), luxurious accommodations and sparkling yachts anchored in the Vilamoura marina. It’s also a renowned golfing region thanks to the Dom Pedro Golf in Vilamoura and the ocean view golf courses in Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo.
This area is also perfect for families thanks to the many child-friendly facilities such as a miniature golf, a water park, tourist trains from most hotels, cute ice-cream shops and a wide selection of water activities.
– Discover inland Loulé
Loulé is one of the oldest Algarve towns. It’s located inland, making it less touristic and therefore better represents the local Portuguese lifestyle. Loulé is mostly known for its neo-Classical market hall and its Roman castle in the heart of the town. It’s a great place to spend some time strolling the narrow streets, relaxing by the fountains on the Largo de São Francisco and checking out the quaint shops with their ceramics and cork products.
– Kayak to the Benagil cave
The most popular sea cave along the Algarve coastline is the one in Benagil. The Algar de Benagil (Benagil Cathedral) offers a magical setting thanks to ‘the eye’, an opening in the ceiling that lets the sunlight flood in. This unique rock formation, golden sand turquoise waters are a treat to the eye. Plenty of boat tours frequent this cave but they don’t allow you to stay inside. If you want to spend some time on the beach then you either need to kayak or SUP your way in. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Algarve.
– Explore the western Algarve
Getting to Faro
Many cities in Europe offer fairly cheap flights to Faro Portugal airport. It’s the only international airport in southern Portugal, situated 7 km south-west of Faro city. Make sure to look out the window as you’re approaching the airport because it’s located right next to the Ria Formosa Natural Park. You can see the islands from your window seat.
Upon arrival, it’s recommended to either rent a car or to use one of the Faro airport transfers to the city: Most public transport to all Algarve destinations and even to Lisbon depart from the Faro city centre, not from the airport directly.
Hotels in Faro
The Faro accommodation offer is quite limited. This hotel would be our pick:
An alternative place to stay in the Algarve near Faro is the Golden Triangle. You’ll find many comfortable options there, especially in the area around Vilamoura.
- Portugal’s Leading Resort 2019 (World Travel Awards) Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa. This is where we stayed; very family-friendly with an amazing kids’ club.
- Contemporary luxury at Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort.
- Prime location of The Lake Resort in Vilamoura.
- Crisp apartments of Laguna Resort in Vilamoura.
- Stately residence for families Villa Villa Verde in Vilamoura.
- Fresh and modern Conrad Algarve in Quinta do Lago.
What are your favorite Faro things to do?
Have you been to Faro before? If so, how was your trip and which activities did you include in your itinerary? Other things to do in Faro that you’d recommend? Any Faro hotels that you’d recommend? Or are you considering the Algarve for your next vacation? You won’t be disappointed!
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