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Discover the best things to do in Faro
A quick overview
What to see? The capital of the Algarve region has many sights, and nearby is a lot to see and do.
Costs? From free upwards.
Where? Faro is located in southern Portugal.
Worth it? Yes! Besides a lovely centre, there is much to see and do in nature. It’s a must-see city when in Algarve.
A little bit of history about Faro Portugal
History enthusiasts will have a great time in Faro. Faro is the largest city in the Algarve region and one of the biggest in southern Portugal. Nowadays, Faro is the region’s capital, but before 1755 it was Lagos (since 1577). Faro has been habituated for many years, though and even in Palaeolithic times, humans settled in this area. You can imagine the city has a long history, and many things happened here.
The Phoenicians once colonised Faro when the area was still known as Ossonoba. Afterwards, the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines and Moorish left a footprint. It was even a short-lived princedom in the 9th century, and the name slowly changed to Santa Maria. King Afonso Henriques III defeated the Moorish, and Portuguese independence happened in 1143. The Portuguese called the town Santa Maria de Faaron or Santa Maria de Faaram, closer to the name we know the city as today.
The nature reserve Ria Formosa has always been important to the settlement, and it made most of its income by exploiting salt. At the start of the Portuguese Age of Discovery, Faro blossomed as a commercial centre. Throughout the centuries, Faro got bigger and bigger, and it ultimately became the region’s capital. Nowadays, there are many things to do in Faro, so let’s dive in!
Things to do in Faro
Faro consists of an old city and a newer area, each with several highlights to visit. Cidade Velha is the old part of the city, and in the historic quarter, you’ll find the oldest sights. The outskirts and Marina de Faro is modern and very close to Ria Formosa. Let’s discover Faro’s main attractions to optimise your stay!
Stroll around Faro Old town (Cidade Velha)
Like many historic European cities, the main attractions are located around Faro Old Town (known in Portuguese as Cidade Velha). And with a history of more than 2000 years, there is a lot to discover in Faro! Enjoy colourful homes with wooden shutters and Portuguese architecture. Faro Old Town’s charm also offers some good photography spots in the city, and most historic sites can be found in this part of town. So take your time to discover the cobbled streets and the many alleys in the Old Town, and discover Faro for a few hours or even a few days.
Faro is surrounded by defensive city walls, which you can still see today. You’ll notice many different architectural styles and highlights in this area, such as the Sé Cathedral in Faro, the 18th-century Bishop’s Palace (Paço Episcopal de Faro) and the stunning Town Hall. Just walking around Cidade Velha is one of the best free things to do in Faro.
Faro’s Old Town walking tour
Faro’s Old Town walking tours are a beautiful way to visit the city. Your guide can tell you all the ins and outs of the history of Faro, and along the way, you’ll see the city’s main highlights. You can even join a walking tour with food tasting! Perfect to learn more about local history and traditional dishes.
Admire Arco da Vila
One of Faro’s main attractions in Cidade Velha is Arco da Vila, a monumental archway built on medieval gateways (Portas da Rainha) to the city. It was commissioned in the early 19th century by Bishop Francisco Gomes de Avelar and created by the Italian architect Francisco Xavier Fabri. Arco da Vila is one of the best examples of Italian neoclassical design in the Algarve and Portugal.
The arch was inaugurated in 1812, and it’s been a monument since 1910. In the niche of Arco da Vila, you can discover a statue of Saint Thomas of Aquino (the patron saint of Faro), and inside, you will find a horseshoe-shaped portal. It was once part of the old Muslim walls and is still an exquisite example of Moorish architecture. You can see many permanent stork nests on top of the building, and if you’re lucky, the storks as well. For some reason, they like building their homes next to the bell tower.
Igreja do Carmo and the iconic Bone Chapel (Capela dos Ossos)
Carmo Church (Church of the Third Order of Our Lady of Monte do Carmo) is a beautiful church in the Faro known for its stunning architecture. The 1719 double-tiered baroque church was damaged during the 1755 earthquake, but the exterior reconstruction was completed in 1878. Carmo Church’s interior is covered in gold and is richly decorated! It’s a prime example of Portuguese Baroque architecture and a must-see in Faro. However, Carmo Church’s remarkable bone chapel (Capela dos Ossos) attracts most visitors.
The bones and skulls of more than 1200 Carmelite monks are displayed in the bone chapel and are scattered across all surfaces in various geometric shapes. The bodies were exhumed in 1816 and came from a nearby cemetery. You can access the bone chapel through the church, and it’s open daily apart from Sunday. A visit to the church will take around 20 minutes; in summer, it might be a bit busier with tourists. You can buy your tickets easily at the entrance of the church. Besides Capela dos Osses being slightly creepy, you’ll enjoy seeing the building’s many altars and stunning baroque facade.
Faro Cathedral on Largo da Sé
Another stunning church in Faro is the cathedral, built on an old mosque from the Moorish period in the 13th century. Igreja da Sé, or Igreja de Santa Maria, is one of the most important structures in Faro Old Town and one of Faro’s main attractions. Faro Cathedral is located at Largo da Sé in the city’s heart. It is believed the Church of Santa Maria de Faro was built on the foundations of an early Christian basilica and a mosque. Construction of Faro Cathedral started in 1251 and has seen many changes over the years. In 1596 it was burned by English troops, and the 1755 earthquake also destroyed some parts of the church.
Since then and in the present day, not many things changed, so Sé de Faro is an excellent example of the Algarve’s 17th and 18th centuries architecture. Inside Faro Cathedral, you can check out the altarpiece, Chapel of Saint Lenho, and the tomb of the founding bishop. You can also visit a small museum with religious relics, and the cathedral in the Old Town is one of the most famous Faro tourist attractions. Tip: if you have the opportunity, climb the bell tower! The view from the top is fantastic, and you can see the whole city and the Natural Park from the top!
Rua de Santo António
Rua de Santo António is the main street in Faro, where you’ll find most clothing stores and restaurants. It runs from the harbour, and Jardim Manuel Bivar and the bustling and lively street always has things to do. Catch some live music or enjoy the many street performances. If you don’t want to spend money and prefer free things to do in Faro, it’s still an excellent area for window shopping and enjoying the atmosphere. It’s a pedestrian street only and a great spot to buy some souvenirs for home.
Shopping at Forum Algarve
For those who like shopping, Forum Algarve is a must-visit spot. Forum Algarve is a shopping centre with an outdoor area and air-conditioned indoor shops. You’ll find more than 125 stores here to buy clothes and souvenirs. You can choose from more than 25 restaurants if you fancy a bite to eat. There is a supermarket, your children can play at the playground, and you can watch the latest blockbuster at the multiplex cinema (Cinemas NOS). There are also fun events throughout the year at the open-air space, such as live music, music concerts and Christmas markets.
Manuel Bívar Garden
For a quiet moment in Faro, you can visit the Manuel Bivar Garden, close to the harbour. It’s a small garden with colourful flowers, palm trees and benches. It´s a perfect spot in the shade to enjoy an ice cream or a refreshing drink and take a break. Beautiful buildings surround the park, and your kids will have a great time at the playground. If you’re waiting for your boat trip from Faro Marina, this is a lovely place to sit.
Alameda João de Deus Garden
If you want to visit another park, you can explore the Alameda João de Deus Garden or Jardim da Alameda João de Deus. It’s the largest park in Faro and a little oasis of peace. Your kids will enjoy the playground and the small petting zoo. Chances are you’ll spot some peacocks, swans and other stunning animals in the garden! If you need a short break from all the things to do in Faro, this place is perfect!
Take the tourist train
Are you curious about the highlights in Faro but need help walking long distances? Then the Hop On Hop Off City Tour in Faro is perfect! When you travel to Faro with kids, it’s an easy way to get around also. The Hop On Hop Off train drives through the Old City, Zona Comercial da Baixa de Faro, and passes the lagoon, Ria Formosa. You can get off the tourist train at several stops, such as Igreja da Misericórdia, Teatro Lethes, Igreja do Carmo, and Jardim Manuel Bivar. Your ticket is valid for the whole day, so perfect during your visit to Faro! The audio commentary will provide more information about Faro; if you stay seated, the tour will take 45 minutes.
Faro’s marina is the perfect spot to stroll along the water. You’ll see many lush yachts as well as fishing boats. When visiting Marina de Faro, you can visit Museu Marítimo Almirante Ramalho Ortigão. It’s a small museum with only three rooms, but you’ll learn more about the fishing history of Faro. Many things, such as fishing objects, ship models, and navigational instruments, are also on display.
The Faro Municipal Museum
If you’re a history buff, visiting the Faro Municipal Museum or Museu Municipal de Faro is a good idea. You’ll learn more about historical civilisations and Faro’s history. The Archeological Museum is within walking distance of the Old Town and Largo da Sé. The museum is located in the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of Assumption Convent), and the building alone is well worth a visit! It was the second-oldest museum in the Algarve. The name was changed in 1894 to Museu Archeológico e Lapidar Infante D. Henrique to celebrate the 5th centenary of the navigator’s birth. The collection used to be in the Town Hall building but moved to Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção.
Inside the Faro Municipal Museum, you’ll see artefacts from Roman, Moorish and medieval periods and religious artworks from the 20th century. The mosaic of the sea-god Oceanus is one of the highlights during your visit, as well as the 16th-century building. If you like history, this is one of the best things to do in Faro Old Town!
Algarve Life Sciences Center
Another great museum in Faro is the Algarve Life Sciences Center (Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve in Portuguese). The museum is in a former power station with permanent and temporary exhibitions. It’s very educational for all ages and one of the many fun things to do in Faro for kids. Ciência Viva do Algarve offers guided tours, and in the scientific areas, you’ll learn more about physics, geology, meteorology, and volcanism. Experience the feeling of an earthquake, learn more about the planets and visit the aquarium representing the environment of the Ria Formosa.
A unique building in the city centre is Belmarço Palace! It’s a remarkable example of Revivalist architecture, and the building was once private property. Thankfully, it’s now open to the public and a great spot to take pictures. Check out the courtyard, the blue and white panels, and walk around the beautiful structure.
Nearby things to do in Faro
Not only is Faro great to visit, in the area is even more to see. Faro is, therefore, a great spot to stay a few days to discover more in the eastern Algarve.
The Roman Ruins of Milreu
For even more of Faro’s history, you can visit the Roman Ruins of Milreu (Ruínas Romanas de Milreu in Portuguese). The historical sights are located just outside town and date back to the 1st century! The ancient ruins were occupied between the 1st and 11th centuries and inhabited by families of high social and political status. Milreu was once a luxurious village that contained a temple, a mill, and many commercial buildings. The city was richly decorated with mosaics and got many upgrades over the years.
At the Interpretation Center, you’ll learn a lot more about the ruins, and you can see replicas and a model of how they used to look. Most of the ruins of Milreu are heavily damaged, but you can still see the thermal spa, including ancient bathing pools, buildings such as small shops and a mausoleum. Tip: enjoy a virtual guided tour of this monument, free of charge, at the Apple Store through the Milreu – Story Trail application for iPhone and Ipad.
Visit the stunning Palace in Estoi
Close to the ruins of Milreu, you’ll discover the tiny civil parish Estoi. Here you’ll find the Garden of the Palace of Estoi (Jardim do Palácio de Estói), one of the most beautiful places nearby Faro. The mansion was built in the 1800s and combines Rococo and Romantic styles. Palace of Estoi is a hotel nowadays, so you’re at the right place for an exclusive stay in Faro! The rooms are modern, but the palace has impressive ceilings, colourful frescoes and mosaics. The building was abandoned for many years, but José Francisco da Silva restored the stunning palace. Even if you don’t spend the night here, it’s worth visiting the gardens.
One of the best fun things to do in Faro with kids is visit Aquashow Waterpark. It’s an immense outdoor water park which is open every summer. Aquashow Waterpark is the place to be if you like a splashing day with many slides and adventures. There are several themed spaces with many attractions. And on rainy days in Faro, you can enjoy visiting Aquashow Indoor Waterpark. Discover Adventure Island, slide down the Black Hole or enjoy a relaxing moment in the Spa. There are special babies and kids pools, and the relaxation pools are fabulous for adults. Book your skip-the-line tickets and ensure your spot!
Discover Ria Formosa Natural Park
Nature lovers will enjoy a visit to Ria Formosa Natural Park, it’s one of the most popular things to do in Faro! You can board a catamaran or boat from the harbour to discover this stunning natural area. The estuary is a labyrinth of islands, marshlands, salt flats, canals, and beaches. It’s a whopping 60-kilometre-long lagoon that birds and other wildlife love. It is a protected area, and a guided tour is the best way to discover Ria Formosa. A guide can tell you everything about the diversity of ecosystems, animal life and bird species. You might even spot some fishermen with their Portuguese Water Dog, a breed that originates from the Algarve.
Fishing has always been important to the area, and the estuary is also used to extract salt. If you make your own plans to visit Ria Formosa, you can start your visit at the Marim Environmental Education Centre (Centro de Educação Ambiental de Marim CEAM). There are several exhibitions where you’ll learn more about the wildlife in the Algarve region. Check the excursions and tours above if you prefer a guided boat trip.
Spend time on one of the islands
From Ria Formosa, you can already see that islands surround Faro! For example, the uninhabited island Ilha Deserta has unspoiled, unpopulated beaches. There are lifeguard services, and you can rent a beach chair and umbrellas. Or explore Ilha do Farol and Ilha da Culatra (the same island) with a 6-kilometre-long beach! You can take a Hop-On Hop-Off boat from Faro to reach the islands and enjoy a relaxing day in the sand dunes and sun. Other islands to discover are Ilha da Barreta, Ilha de Tavira, and Ilha da Armona.
Beaches in Faro Portugal
Most people visit the Algarve coastline to enjoy a relaxing beach holiday, and thankfully Faro has many pristine beaches to choose from. So if you need a break from all the things to do in Faro, visiting a beach is a welcoming change. From the city, you can easily reach Praia de Faro, which is located on Ilha de Faro (Faro Island). The golden sand beaches are perfect for spending the day in the sun and swimming! But there are many more beaches to explore! Favourites are Praia da Ilha da Culatra, Praia do Farol, Praia dos Hangares, Praia da Barreta, Praia da Barrinha, and Praia da Quinta do Lago! So don’t forget your swimwear and enjoy a refreshing day in the ocean! A day at the beach is, of course, one of the best things to do in Faro!
Water and outdoor activities around Faro
The beaches around Faro are also perfect for fun water activities! Many things are possible such as wakeboarding, jet skiing, horseback riding, paragliding, parasailing, paddle-boarding, and surfing. It’s nice to relax for a day on the beach, but there is a lot to do for those who can’t sit still!
Tip: For the full guide to amazing surf camps in Portugal, click here!
Visit nearby towns and cities
The Algarve region has a 150-kilometre-long coastline with plenty of seaside towns and nearby cities to explore. Favourite places in the Faro area are Tavira, Castro Marim, and Loulé. Perfect for a day trip! Travel off the beaten track ad explore more of the Algarve’s mainland. Villages like Alcoutim, Alte, and Monchique are lovely hidden gems! If you like more hustle and bustle, visiting Albufeira and Porches, where you discover vibrant nightlife is worth visiting.
Further west from Faro, you will find cities like Lagos and Silves. Faro is located more towards the Spanish border on the east side of the Algarve. But it’s a great location to discover the whole region and many sights nearby.
Just outside, Faro is a great place to visit with older children. You’ll drive a fun circuit with three different go-kart tracks at Karting Almancil Family Park. The activities are suitable for kids three years and older. Courses are designed for specific ages and levels of experience.
Play Golf (or minigolf!)
Golfers love the Algarve, and many golf courses are nearby Faro. Some recommendations are San Lorenzo Golf Course, Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, and Golf Vilamoura. Are you travelling with young children? Then it’s fun to visit the MiniGolf Adventure Park in Albufeira.
Excursions and tours from Faro
There are many fun things to do in Faro, but you can also enjoy many excursions in the surrounding area. Faro is centrally located, and as it’s the largest city along the Algarve coast, you can expect many tour operators offering excursions. Let’s take a look at some popular ones. Several group excursions exist, but a private tour is also an option.
The Benagil Caves at the Algarve coastline
The Benagil Caves are one of the most visited places in the Algarve and one of the most famous landmarks. The cave is known as Benagil Cathedral, and you can only get there by boat or kayak. If you want to visit Benagil, it´s best to book this ahead of time to ensure your spot. If you like to see the cave with fewer people, you can enjoy a kayak tour around sunrise to ensure there aren’t many people yet. You can also book boat tickets on the spot, but you might have to wait a while before visiting the caves. If you book a tour from Faro, the excursion will last around 3 to 6 hours, depending on the itinerary and whether you visit alternative beaches and places. It´s a favourite place to visit from Faro and only takes a few hours!
A buggy, quad or jeep tour
A fun way to explore the surrounding areas of Faro is by taking a buggy, quad or jeep tour. This will be an exhilarating off-road in the Algarve countryside and a great way to explore stunning landscapes.
Wine tasting in the Algarve
Portugal is known for its wine, and a wine-tasting experience is on the wish list of many. Visit Quinta da Tôr, for example, a renowned winery in the Algarve region where you can taste several wines. This winery is close to Loulé, a town worth visiting when you have time.
Loulé Rock Salt Mine
Another great excursion will take you to the Loulé Rock Salt Mine. Underneath the earth, you’ll discover ancient geological rock formations, and the guide will tell you more about the history of the rock salt mine. The salt mine is a whopping 230 meters deep and hidden under the city of Loulé. You’ll receive a helmet, flashlight and reflective vest, and this adventure is great with kids!
What better way to see and watch dolphins than in their own habitat? Step on board a small boat that will bring you to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Different species live around Ria Formosa and the Algarve, and the chance is high you will spot some dolphins on your trip! But keep your eyes open as there is much more wildlife to discover. You might see turtles, many birds and even (harmless) sharks! The onboard marine biologist will tell you many stories about the wildlife in Faro’s waters.
Discover Algarvian dishes
When it’s time for a bite to eat, you’ll have plenty of options in Faro. Enjoy traditional Algarve and Portuguese cuisine and order a seafood cataplana, sardines or caracóis à Algarvia (cleaned snails with herbs of tomatoes). You´ll also see plenty of fresh seafood on the menu. Aljezur is known for its sweet potato, served with many meals. Or try Conquilhas Algarve Style, clams that are caught at Ria Formosa.
For a sweet treat you can try queijinhos de amêndoa (an almond sweet) or queijo de figo (with figs). Those who like something more substantial can try a Medronho, a fruit brandy from Medronho berries. It’s an excellent way to end a meal, but it’s pretty strong, so be warned!
Lively nightlife in Faro
Is it worth visiting Faro during the night? Faro has many excellent restaurant options, cosy rooftops with stylish bars and a vibrant nightclub scene. Many are located near Baixa (the city centre), and others are in the Old Town. Conselheiro Bivar becomes a hot spot for locals and tourists when the sun goes down. You will find numerous restaurants and bar outlets on this lovely avenue, and have a fantastic atmosphere. Or enjoy a drink at O Castelo, a bar, restaurant and club in one! Other recommendations are Lodo Osteria, Columbus Cocktail & Wine Bar, and Aperitivo Bar. If you like dancing, enjoy a night at Prestige Dance Club or Havana Club.
Where to stay in Faro?
When visiting Faro, you can also enjoy staying for a few nights. Especially the Old Town is a stunning place to stay, and there are plenty of hotels in this area. Affordable places to stay at are Hotel Faro & Beach Club, Hotel Ibis Faro Algarve and Lemon Tree Stay. For a luxurious experience in Faro, you can enjoy staying at 3HB Faro, AP Eva Senses, and The Modernist. Even with the beaches nearby, staying in a hotel with an outdoor pool is excellent! For a complete overview of hotels and apartments in Faro, check the below map.
How to get to Faro?
Faro has an international airport, and chances are you arrive by plane. Many European cities offer direct flights to Faro so you can enjoy the golden sandy beaches of the Algarve coast. But as you can see, there are many things to do in Faro besides the golden sands. The easiest way to get around the Algarve coastline is by renting a car. There are some toll roads in the region, but by car, you can visit most hidden spots, small seaside towns and enjoy the barrier islands. Most tourists rent a car for convenience, and the extra cost will give you a lot of freedom. You can rent a car in Faro or at Faro Airport.
Public transport around Faro
Faro has an extensive public transport network, and bus routes are available. You can take the Proximo Bus from Faro Airport, and if you stay in Albufeira, Portimão or Lagos, the Aerobus is perfect. Overall, Faro is a very walkable city, and you can use taxi services like Bolt and Uber for short distances.
Faro also has a train station, and you can check Comboios de Portugal for routes and current timetables. You can explore most of the Algarve coast by train and also travel to cities like Lisbon. The train station is located just outside of the Old Town. It’s about 5.5 kilometres away, so if you travel with luggage, you might want to take a bus or taxi to the train station in Faro.
Absolutely! Faro is often overlooked, but there are many things in Faro to see. Discover the Se Cathedral in Faro, the Bone Chapel, and visit the beautiful Ria Formosa nature reserve. The city is small but has plenty of sights.
Faro is the capital of the Portuguese Algarve region and the largest city in southern Portugal. With a century-old history and proximity to the Ria Formosa, it's a must-visit city in the Algarve.
It depends as both cities are great! Faro is located in the eastern part of the Algarve and is often overlooked. And although it gets busy in summer, it might be slightly quieter in Faro. If you want to visit Ria Formosa and discover some Spanish towns during your holiday, Faro is perfect. Lagos is ideal if you enjoy the rugged coast at Ponta de Piedade.
You can see most sights in the Old Town in one day. But if you like to explore the Ria Formosa and nearby sights, staying three nights or more is recommended. Faro is also a great location to explore the rest of the eastern part of the Algarve.
Faro is often overlooked and shouldn’t be. People land at the international airport in Faro and often travel straight to the location where they stay. The city has much to offer, though, and is worth visiting for one or more days. Faro is the perfect location to discover Ria Formosa’s natural reserve. Visit the beaches along the Algarve coastline, enjoy excursions or explore the many things to do in Faro. Some highlights are the Arco da Vila, the city walls, Faro Cathedral, and Capela dos Ossos.