Faro travel tips: Where to go and what to see in 48 hours

More than just a gateway to the beaches of the Algarve, this compact city is also about to enter festival season. Harriet O'Brien gets in the spirit

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Faro's festa season starts soon, kicking off with the Ria Formosa Seafood Festival (26 July-5 August), continuing with FolkFaro (16-24 August), with the annual candy and dried fruit fair running alongside (17-26 August). These are the real deal: traditional Algarve events that don't pander to tourists.

Faro, gateway to Portugal's most popular holiday area, is oddly bypassed by visitors. The throngs arriving at Faro airport almost invariably head straight for the Algarve's beaches. But they're missing out: Faro is one of the region's most entrancing spots, with a charming old town and a wealth of natural riches in the Ria Formosa lagoon area.

Touch down

Faro is served from the UK by a host of airlines including British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com), Ryanair (0871 246 000; ryanair.com), Monarch (0871 940 5040; monarch.co.uk), Jet2 (0906 302 0660; jet2.com), Thomas Cook (0871 230 2406; flythomascook.com), Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com), Norwegian (0843 3780 888; norwegian.com/uk) and Thomson Airways (0871 231 4787; thomsonfly.com).

The airport is about 5km west of the centre which you'll reach by taxi for around €12 or by bus for €2.22 – municipal Nos 14 and 16 (00 351 289 899 700; proximo.pt) run to the main bus station (1) roughly every 50 minutes, taking 20 minutes (no service on Sundays).

The Independent Travel Offers: Our favourite All Inclusive Algarve holiday

Get your bearings

Faro's pretty centre curves around a colourful marina. To the south is the tiny old town, or Cidade Velha, its Moorish and medieval walls embracing an oval of cobbled lanes. Directly west, lie the outlying wetlands of Ria Formosa. The railway station (2) and bus station (1) are to the north. To the north west is the University of the Algarve, adding a lively vibe in term time.

The tourist office (3) at Rua da Misericordia 8-12, is next to Arco da Vila, the old town's northern gateway (00 351 289 803 604; visitalgarve.pt; weekdays 9am-6pm, summer weekends 10am-5pm).

Check in

Overlooking the marina, Eva Hotel (4) at Avenue da Republica 1 (00 351 289 001 000; tdhotels.com), is a modern four-star that with sleek white lobby, 134 bedrooms, pool and panoramic restaurant has the most extensive hotel facilities in the centre. Doubles start at €73 including breakfast.

Just off central Faro's pedestrian shopping area, Hotel Santa Maria (5) at Rua de Portugal 17 (00 351 289 898 080; santamariahotelfaro.com), is small, cosy and good value, with doubles priced from €59 with breakfast.

Or for style and luxury combined with Portuguese panache, base yourself a short distance from Faro at one of the country's most elegant pousadas. Palacio de Estoi (00 351 210 407 620; pousadas.pt) at Rua Sao Jose in the village of Estoi (6), is about 9km north of central Faro. This Neo-Rococo palace with chandeliers, mirrors, impressive stucco work and formal gardens – as well as a wonderful infinity pool – has doubles from €120, including breakfast.

faro map

Click here to see a bigger image of the map

Day One

Take a view

Complete with cloisters, gilded woodwork and 17th-century tiles, the cathedral (7), or Se, on Largo da Se (00 351 289 807 590; Monday-Friday 10am-6.30pm; Saturday 10am-1pm; €3) was built on the site of a Roman temple.

The original 13th-century church here was all but burnt down by British troops in 1596 and most of the current building took shape after a major earthquake in 1755. Entry includes access to the bell tower from where you'll get a great view of Faro's rooftops. The most sublime look over the sparkling channels and islets of Ria Formosa.

Take a hike

Visitors to Faro should begin with an amble around the old town. From the cathedral (7), head to the 19th-century Arco da Vila gateway (3), a grand structure that replaced a ninth-century portal. As you approach, look up to the bell tower which is adorned with storks' nests.

Walk down Rua do Municipio; opposite the cathedral (7) is the elegant, 18th-century Episcopal Palace. Saunter past it and along Rua da Porta Nova to the former harbour area (8). Head down Rua do Trem and along Rua Nova do Castelo to see the remaining part of Faro castle (9) that in the 19th century became a distillery.

Follow Rua do Castelo. Turn right along Rua do Repouso passing the striking, 16th-century Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao, now the Archaeological Museum (10). Before leaving the old town by the Repouso gateway (11), pause outside the charming 18th-century chapel of Nossa Senhora do Repouso.

Lunch on the run

Faro's smart three-storey market (12) is a 10-minute walk north east of the old town. It opens 8am-2pm daily except Sundays, with stalls selling vegetables, fish, cheese, Algarve honey and more. O Palhacinho (00 351 289 824 980) is a popular market café with soup for €2.50 and big plates of croquettes for €7.

Window shopping

Between the indoor market and the old town is a small pedestrian zone lined with cafés and shops such as Mango and Antonio Manuel Modas (stocks Hugo Boss and Escada) on Rua de Santo Antonio (13).

Such tourist shops as exist here sell genuinely hand-made local products: for lace, handbags, cork mats and the like, head to Casa do Arco (14) on Rua da Misericordia and Carminhos Artesanato on Rua de Santo Antonio.

There's a good range of wine at Garrafeira Rui (15) at Praca Ferreira de Almeida. For serious retail therapy make for Forum Algarve (00 351 289 889 300; forumalgarve.net) on the western outskirts at Estrada Nacional 125 (16), where you'll find Zara, Timberland, Massimo Dutti and more.

An aperitif

Bar Columbus (17) at Praca Dr Francisco Gomes 13 (00 351 917 776 222; barcolumbus.pt) is the most happening venue in downtown Faro. Grab a seat on the arcaded terrace and order a signature, minty mojito.

Dining with the locals

You're in for a treat at Tertulia Algarvia (18) in the old town at Praca Afonso III (00 351 289 821 044; tertulia-algarvia.pt). Set in a restored heritage property, this is the project of a small group of friends who wanted to develop a centre for Algarve culture. After some years of planning they achieved their goal last year: Tertulia Algarvia runs workshops, exhibitions, performances and more as well as offering a shop, café and restaurant.

Don't be deterred by the modest looking ground-floor bar area: head up the spiral stairs to find a first-rate restaurant serving Algarve specialities such as octopus cataplana (a casserole dish; €36 for two) and grilled tuna with coriander xarem, a sort of maize risotto (€11.50).

Make an entrance: Arco da Vila Make an entrance: Arco da Vila Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

Sublimely elegant Igreja do Carmo (19) presides over Largo do Carmo, a short walk north-east of the marina (00 351 289 824 490; www.ordem-do-carmo.pt). The riot of gilt inside this 18th-century building makes a glorious backdrop to mass at 9am. The church is also notable for a chapel in the grounds constructed from human bones. The ossuary comprises the remains of about 1,300 monks buried in a cemetery on the site . It is one of several notable bone chapels in Portugal, and is surprisingly unghoulish. But you'll need to return on a weekday to see it (chapel open Monday-Friday 10.30am-12.30pm and 2-5pm; €1).

Take a ride

A boat trip to Ilha Deserta in the Ria Formosa Natural Park wetlands is a breathtaking experience. You pass along shimmering channels between sandy islets; see species of bird and plants found nowhere else; and you might spot dolphins and whales further out. Guided 40-minute tours on a catamaran are run by Animaris (00 351 918 779 155; animaris.pt) departing daily from Porta Nova (8) at 11.30am and 4pm, with a choice of return journeys from Ilha Deserta between 2.30pm and 7pm (€25 for the round trip).

Out to brunch

Spectacularly set on the sweeping sands of Ilha Deserta with views across the coast, Estamine restaurant (00 351 917 811 856; ilha-deserta.com) is a chic, environmentally conscious option with a focus on Algarve dishes, especially seafood. The menu – and prices – depend on what fishermen have delivered that day, from clams and cuttlefish to grouper and tuna. Leave room for a desert, such as the (very) gooey chocolate fondant.

Cultural afternoon

Catch the 2.30pm or 4pm boat back and you'll have time to visit the serene Archaeological Museum (10) at 14 Praca Afonso III (00 351 289 897 419; cm-faro.pt; weekends 11.30am-6pm; Tuesday to Friday 10am-7pm; €2) in the old town. Wander this former convent's cloisters with a striking Roman mosaic as well as other Roman remains, along with Moorish artefacts and Baroque paintings.

Icing on the cake

Step through the doorway of Galeria da Se (20) (00 351 289 826 156) at Rua da Porta Nova 6, and you're in a different world. Part shop, part studio, this is a haven of antique tiles painstakingly restored by owner and master craftsman Joaquim da Silva Carneiro. Galeria da Se is generally open daily in the summer (9.30am-1pm and 3-5pm).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little