48 Hours In: Faro

The capital of the Algarve has much to offer visitors, including an atmospheric old town, lively bars and great fish restaurants. Cathy Packe explores Portugal's south coast gem



Click here for
48 Hours



In...Faro map

Why go now?

Faro is often treated as a mere gateway by sunseekers heading towards the beaches and golfers heading for the fairways. But the capital of the Algarve is a delightful destination in its own right, with plenty to offer for a short break – especially in September, when the weather is still warm but most of the crowds have gone home.

Touch down

Links are excellent: Aer Lingus (0870 876 5000; aerlingus.com) from Gatwick and Belfast; Bmibaby (0905 828 2828; bmibaby.com) from Birmingham, Cardiff and East Midlands; British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Gatwick; easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet. com) from Belfast, Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Newcastle; Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) from Exeter; Flyglobespan (0871 271 9000; flyglobespan. com) from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow; jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) from Blackpool and Leeds/Bradford; Monarch (08700 40 50 40; flymonarch.com) from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester; and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Bournemouth, Prestwick, Stansted and East Midlands.

A taxi from the airport to the city centre costs around €12 and take s about 10 minutes. Buses 14 and 16 (00 351 289 899 740; eva-bus.com) take a little longer, and run roughly once an hour from outside the terminal, depositing passengers on the street across the road from the bus station (1). Tickets can be bought on board, and cost €1.65.

Get your bearings

Faro's focus is the harbour; everything else is within easy striking distance. To the north is the railway station (2); east is a pedestrianised quarter, full of shops and cafes; to the south is the original walled city. To the west, beyond the airport, is the beach area, Praia de Faro – a long sandy spit that faces out towards the Atlantic. You can get reach this stretch of seaside from the centre on the airport buses, 14 or 16, and staying on until the end of the line, a journey which takes about 25 minutes from the harbour.

The tourist office (3), handily located at the bottom end of Rua da Misericordia (00 351 289 803 604; visitalgarve.pt), opens 9.30am to 7pm daily.

Check in

Faro's two main four-star hotels dominate the harbour area, and there is little to choose between them in terms of facilities or cost. The Hotel Eva (4) at Avenida da Republica 1 (00 351 289 001 000; tdhotels.pt) has double rooms for as little as €102, including breakfast, although until the end of September, expect to pay €150.

Close by, at Praca Don Francisco Gomes 2, the Hotel Faro (5) (00 351 2899 830 830; hotelfaro.pt) offers double rooms from €103, €151 in high season. These rates include breakfast, as well as a boat trip into the Ria Formosa Natural Park. A highlight is the rooftop bar and restaurant, which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The hotel is installing a small spa, to be in operation by next summer.

Three blocks inland, with an excellent location and an attractive interior courtyard, is the Residencial Algarve (6) at Rua Infante Don Henrique 52 (00 351 289 895 700; residencialalgarve.com). En-suite doubles with air-conditioning start at €48, including breakfast.

Take a hike

Explore the old walled city. Start by making your way through the imposing Arco de Vila (7), a 19th-century replacement for the original, ninth-century gateway. The wall, large sections of which still surround the old city, was built by Muslim conquerors anxious to repel an attack by a Christian army.

Stroll up the street in front of you to reach the heart of the area: the cathedral, or Se (8). The original temple dates from the 13th-century and was built on the site of the Roman forum of Ossonoba. The €3 admission to the complex includes entrance to the cathedral itself, the museum of religious artefacts and relics upstairs, the bone chapel in the courtyard and the stumpy bell tower, the 68 steps of which lead to the best view in town: a panoramic vista that encompasses the red tiled roofs of the town, boats bobbing in the estuary, distant planes landing and taking off and, on the horizon, the beaches of the Algarve. The cathedral opens only 10am-1pm on Saturdays, but 10am-6.30pm from Monday to Friday (until 5pm from October to March).

Outside, leading off a sprawling square, is a choice of cobbled streets, all offering fascinating glimpses of everyday life: courtyards, pots of flowers, washing hanging out to dry.

Wander down the Rua do Trem, stopping perhaps to look at the current exhibition of paintings in the Galeria Trem (9) (00 351 289 804 197) at the far end, and to breath in the smell of sardines, grilling over a barbecue, which often wafts across the square from the Taberna Modesto (10). From here the city slopes gently down towards the sea. Turn left and admire the most impressive section of the walls, and the Arco do Repouso gate (11).

Lunch on the run

You may already have been enticed by the barbecued sardines at Taberna Modesto (10): fish, potatoes, salad, dessert and a drink set you back just €12. If not, stay in the old city and grab a table at the Cidade Velha (12), tucked against the walls of the cathedral, for a good selection of omelettes, salads and sandwiches.

Cultural afternoon

Before you leave the old city, head towards the Largo do Don Afonso, named after a 13th-century king whose statue dominates the square. Here you will find Faro's cultural highlight, the Municipal Museum (13) (00 351 289 897 400). Located in a former convent built around a lovely Renaissance cloister, it contains exhibits related to the city's Roman and Islamic heritage.

The museum opens 10am-7pm Tuesday to Friday (until 6pm October-May); and 11.30am-6pm at weekends, 10.30am-5pm in winter. Admission €3.

Window shopping

The pedestrianised centre of Faro is also its commercial hub. At its heart is the Rua San Antonio, whose fashion offerings include branches of Zara and Mango at opposite ends of the street. But for a real local experience, head to nearby Praca Ferreira de Almeida and the Supermercado Garrafeira Rui (14) (00 351 289 821 586). Although it has a few groceries, it stocks an astonishing collection of Portuguese wines, the cheapest selling for almost nothing, the most expensive costing around €4,000 for a bottle of port. The owner will point out his oldest bottle, a madeira made in 1795, and will also advise on interesting and unusual wines to buy.

An aperitif

The locals come out late – typically 10pm onwards – for an evening's drinking, which is likely to take place in one of the many bars in Rua Conselheiro Bivar or the neighbouring Travessa Jose Coelho. But if you prefer your drinks to be served a little earlier, order a well-chilled white port, a typically Portuguese aperitif, from a harbourside bar: either the Clube Naval (15), or the ice cream parlour close by, both of which have lovely views of the harbour and the city.

Dining with the locals

There is no shortage of good restaurants in Faro. For fish, try the long-established Faro e Benfica (16) (00 351 289 821 422), overlooking the harbour, where main courses cost around €14. In the old town, the Mesa dos Mouros (17), near the cathedral, serves cataplana, the Portuguese speciality, whose name describes the cooking dish and the meat or seafood steamed inside it. And for a typically local experience, it is hard to do better than the popular Adega Nova (18) at Rua Francisco Barreto 24 (00 351 289 81 34 33), where main courses start at around €6.

Sunday morning: go to church

The Igreja do Carmo (19) is a wonderfully ornate baroque structure, whose prominent twin towers dominate the skyline. Mass is held here every Sunday at 8.30am. But you will need to visit on a different day if you want to see the church's most curious attraction. In a courtyard, accessible by going through the vestry, is the bone chapel, a small sanctuary whose walls and ceiling are studded with human skulls and bones in acknowledgement of man's mortality. The chapel opens 10am-1pm Monday to Saturday, and 3pm-6pm Monday to Friday (until 5pm in winter); admission costs €1.

Out to brunch

There are few better places to contemplate the day ahead than the Cafe Coreto (20), on the water's edge in front of the Jardim Manuel Bivar. A hearty breakfast omelette will cost you €7, scrambled eggs on toast cost €7.50.

Take a ride

To reach the beach at Praia de Faro you could hire a bike from the office on the ground floor of the Clube Naval building (15) (00 351 918 720 002; formosamar.pt) on the harbour. Alternatively, there is sometimes a bike-rental kiosk at the bottom of Rua 1 de Maio (21). Charges start at €2.50 an hour, €12 for a day. The ride out to the beach takes about an hour at a fair pace.

The Icing on the cake

The sand spit and islands that protect the coastline around Faro comprise the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a marshy area teeming with birdlife. This can be explored by taking a trip on one of the traditional wooden boats used until recently by the local fishermen.

Trips are operated by Maritimo Turistico (00 351 918 779 155), and offer a variety of options. For a brief glimpse of the area, take the 45-minute trip into the estuary, which costs €10.

Longer excursions depart daily throughout the year, and offer the chance to stop at the uninhabited Ilha Deserta, as well as the island of Culatra, with its lighthouse and small settlement of fishermen's cottages. Tickets can be bought from the office on the ground floor of the Clube Naval building (15). Boats depart from the jetty by the Porta Nova (22).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project