I recently spent three nights in the city of Faro situated in the Algarve region of Portugal. This is my guide to the best things to do in Faro.
In early March 2023, I spent a lovely and relatively relaxing three nights in Faro, Portugal’s southernmost city courtesy of Jet2holidays. You can read in detail about our first family holiday with Evelyn here but this post is dedicated to the best things to do in Faro to help you plan your next visit.
Faro is the capital of the Algarve region of Portugal and its airport serves as the entry point for all visitors to the area. Most visitors head straight down the coast to more popular holiday destinations such as Albuferia or Lagos or straight to the many golf courses that the Algarve is famous for. Faro therefore is often overlooked and underrated.
In my opinion, Faro is the perfect destination for a weekend city break. Not one of those city breaks where you’re in a mad rush to see everything and you return home more worn out than you were when you arrived. No, Faro is a small city where you can take in all it has to offer at a much more relaxing pace. From its palm-tree lined marina to the cobbled streets of the Old Town, Faro is a fascinating place that I can’t recommend enough.
I also found Faro great for travel photography and you can check out my On The Streets post where I simply let my photography do the talking here.
18 BEST THINGS TO DO IN FARO, PORTUGAL
Spot Faro’s Famous Storks
You’ll probably hear the clatter of the storks before you see one so don’t be alarmed! Storks are basically a gigantic heron and you can find them safe and secure in their nests atop many buildings across Faro including the Arco da Vila and Palacete Belmarço (worth a look if only for the beautiful architecture!).
Hunt Out Street Art
Across Faro you’ll end up stumbling into many ultra-cool piece of street art and I’d highly recommend taking some time to just explore the back streets to find some of the hidden pieces. So that you don’t leave disappointed, you can find the one of the old man and the lemons on Rua do Pe da Cruz, the tiled portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi on Rua Dona Teresa Ramalho Ortigao and the iconic corner piece on Rua de Sao Pedro.
Stroll Around the Old Town
My favourite thing to do when visiting any city for the first time is to just wander and get lost. There’s no better place for that than in Faro’s Old Town which, whilst relatively small, will charm you with its cobbled streets, pastel coloured walls, fragrant orange trees and its traditional Portuguese taverns.
There’s a lot of history contained within this small section of Faro. The Moors were responsible for the thick city walls but you’ll also find the Cathedral here which dates back to the 13th century following a conversion from a mosque.
Walk Through the Iconic Gates of the Old Town
You will almost certainly enter the Old Town on your wanders around Faro through either the Arco de Vila or the Arco do Repouso; both of which are the iconic gates of the Old Town. Arco de Vila takes the crown for me; a picture perfect archway through the thick medieval city walls. Arco do Repouso isn’t nearly as impressive but at the traditional tavern, Cantinho, you can sit and watch life pass you by as tourists and locals alike pass through the gateway.
Faro’s Cathedral, Igreja da Santa Maria, is situated in an orange tree lined square within the Old Town. As I mentioned above, the cathedral dates back to the 13th century and contains several different chapels inside which are all well worth spending a few minutes each admiring before making your way up to the bell tower. Some of the best views of Faro and the Ria Formosa Natural Park from right here atop the Cathedral.
Igreja do Carmo / Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones)
Another of Faro’s ‘big hitters’, the Igreja do Carmo and its secret Chapel of Bones are certainly two of the best things to do in Faro. The official name of this beautiful church is the Church of the Third Order of Our Lady of Monte do Carmo; a bit of a handful. Perfectly symmetrical from outside, you can really appreciate the efforts that went into building this church but just wait until you get inside. The interior is as intricate and detailed as I have ever seen, you will truly be amazed.
Head through the church for the Capela dos Ossos, the Chapel of Bones, in which you’ll find thousands of skulls and bones of monks making up the walls. A bit creepy yes especially when you realise that the window at the back looks out on a school and the local children must think its funny to get the attention of unsuspecting visitors and just stare. Freaky.
Tiled Floors & Tiled Walls
Tiles, or ‘Azulejos’, are synonymous with Portugal; with their history and their culture. Everywhere you turn not only in Faro but across the country as a whole, you’ll find beautiful tiles adorning buildings, floors, pretty much anywhere and everywhere. One of the best things to do in Faro is to admire the tiled floors of the main street, Rua de Santo Antonio, and upon nearly every building you walk past.
Sticking with the tile theme, make sure you visit Paço Episcopal opposite the Cathedral. Faro’s best azulejos are right here. This has to be one of the most beautiful staircases I’ve ever seen. The staircase alone is worth the €2.50 but you’ll also find more tiles upstairs and plenty of religious artefacts and artwork.
Eat Francesinha at Xic
Francesinha is a must-eat sandwich originally hailing from Porto but one that has found itself being served up across Portugal. Not for the faint of heart, two slices of toasted bread are filled with more meat that you think possible and melted cheese before being drowned in a special tomato and beer (yes beer…) sauce. Faro’s best Francesinha is said to be at Xic, extremely popular with the locals, and I can say for certain that it lived up to expectations. We ordered the Xic Special which includes ham, sirloin steak, chorizo, egg, sausage, bacon with a shrimp on top for good measure and a side of fries. One was more than enough to share between two!
Cocktails at Columbus
This has got to be the best place in Faro for sundowner cocktails. With your eyes set west, you can watch the sun slip beneath the horizon past the marina and past the cute plaza. I loved sitting here sipping my cocktail with little Evelyn wanting to nip across to the little playground to show us just how much she loves swings! The cocktails were fantastic and all based on different countries around the world; the Amarguinha Sour was my favourite.
Feast on Pastel de Nata
Any trip to Portugal wouldn’t be complete without fueling yourself with the infamous Pastel de Nata; an egg custard tart dusted with cinnamon. I set myself up every day with a few for breakfast from the 3HB Faro Hotel which may have been favourite of the whole trip. I also felt the ones from Pastelaria Padaria Centeio were good too!
Faro Municipal Market
I find one of the best ways to immerse yourself in local culture is to head to the municipal market and get stuck right into daily life. Grab some local cheese and cured meats from one of the many stalls, some freshly baked bread or fresh fruit. There are hundreds of counters within this indoor shopping mall with small coffee shops dotted around the outer edges. Plus, for the Wes Anderson Fans, this building definitely gives off some Accidentally Wes Anderson vibes.
Faro’s Mermaid Sculpture
On the marina’s edge, best seen at low tide, you’ll find Faro’s mermaid sculpture which is something that must be seen. It’s a little odd with the poor mermaid having a sort of shell or a conch (if that’s the right marine based word?) for a head!
Not too far away, you’ll also find the I Heart Faro sign if you wanted to grab a quick photo alongside it; just like everyone else in the queue!
Relax in the Jardim da Alameda
The Jardim da Alameda is an oasis in the middle of Faro. If you’ve got children, I’d recommend taking a walk out to this palm tree and banana tree lined park for a little play in the park and to watch the peacocks roam around. Even if you don’t have children, it’s a lovely little green space to relax in when the city streets get a little too hot.
Gama Rama Art Gallery
The Gama Rama Art Gallery is located down a narrow side-street and is, in my view, a must-visit place in Faro. There are four studios for resident artists plus regular exhibitions on within the gallery itself. The shop is full of handmade pieces, like pottery and mugs, and artwork from local artists. We could have bought so much more but we settled on two coffee mugs, a unique map of Faro and a small, post-card sized, piece of artwork of a beautiful Portuguese building standing alone. The artwork reminded me strongly of The Wonder Years’ song ‘It Must Get Lonely’ so I couldn’t not buy it and it now sits proudly on my bedside table.
I like that Faro has not succumbed to numerous high rise buildings but everyone loves a good view so when that’s combined with a refreshing drink atop a rooftop bar, we’re all winners. The best rooftop bar in Faro can be found atop the Eva Senses Hotel on the marina but I’d also recommend the Habito Restaurant within the 3HB Hotel too.
Eat Petiscos at Se7e Pedras or A Venda
The menu at Se7e Pedras changes regularly but everything we had was cooked to perfection. We loved the padron peppers, a lentil dish, potatoes with a horseradish creme and slow cooked Portuguese pork in a bao bun. A Venda is much more traditional both in the decor and its offerings; think chestnut croquettes, roasted pumpkin and lots of pork dishes.
Pier de Faro
Head to the other side of the marina, cross the coastline train tracks and head down the boat ramp, or Pier de Faro, where you should take in the beauty of the lagoons that separate Faro from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also a great place to watch the planes coming in to land!
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