Why you should explore Faro, the gateway to the Algarve

Where is everyone? It is 3pm, Friday afternoon in Faro and I am standing on the Largo da Sé. The square is nearly empty and I have the Cathedral and the blossoming orange trees all to myself… Strange, since this is supposed to be the main tourist attraction of Faro…
It reminds me of my stay in Málaga, Spain. Both are mainly treated as airport hubs and a quick access to the region’s beaches. A shame, because there are plenty of things to do in Faro for a weekend.

The main sight in the old town is the Cathedral, originally built in 1251. Nowadays only the bell tower and a few chapels remain of the original exterior. The rest has been destroyed during the 1755 earthquake and rebuilt afterwards. You can visit the main courtyard, the cathedral itself with its dazzling gilded carved statues and a museum housing numerous religious objects. The main reason for coming here though are the stunning views across the walled town, all the way to the sea and the lagoon of Ria Formosa!

The old town or Cidade Velha is surrounded by medieval walls and offers different entry gates. Most people enter via the neoclassical Arco da Vila and exit via the Arco de Repouso (Gate of Rest), which according to the legend was the place where  Afonso III, after taking Faro from the Moors, put his feet up and heard mass nearby.
The rest of the Cidade Velha is a pleasant mixture of cobbled streets and picturesque squares.

After exploring the old town, go for a walk on the outside of the medieval walls, along the ferry pier. It makes for a romantic stroll with nice views over the coastal lagoon. At the marina fishermen prepare their boats before setting off into the open waters. A slice of traditional Portugal…

things to do in Faro

Faro doesn’t stop at the old town; outside the walls is the newer, downtown part of Faro, the Baixa area. It is scattered by numerous churches and chapels (ermidas) Few of them are open to visitors and unfortunately the “Capela dos Ossos”, a chapel made of bones and skulls from over a thousand monks, is closed during my visit…

One of the pleasures of visiting Portugal (or any country for that matter) is the food.  Start the evening in a little bar/restaurant that offers a free “petisco”(tapas) with every glass of beer or wine. Or feast on some tasty dishes like “pimentos de piquillo com bacalhau” ( which sounds so much better than small peppers stuffed with salted codfish) and a chickpea salad before heading to another bar for a dish of “chocos grelhadas” (grilled cuttlefish)

The old town is supposed to be beautifully lit at night, so before heading back to the hostel I enter the Arco da Vila for the third time this weekend. As soon as I enter, all traffic noise from outside vanishes, I find my own shadow reflected on the whitewashed walls and all I can hear are my own footsteps. A haunting and spooky atmosphere…

The next day make sure you don’t miss the Ilha Deserta and its beautiful beaches. The ferry sets off amidst the beautiful lagoon of Ria Formosa, a perfect haven  for birdwatching at low tide. Thirty-five minutes later you set foot on Ilha Deserta, or Desert Island. The name is very accurate as the only building is the Estaminé Restaurant, apart from a few fishermen huts. The circular walk starts of on a wooden pathway, amongst flowers and bushes, and finishes along a beautiful stretch of golden sand! If the sun’s out, this is the perfect place for a lazy sunny afternoon with a drink, a book and nothing else!

Have you been to Faro? What were your impressions?

 

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  1. So glad you noticed the best part of my country: the people, the food and the sun. Faro is a great destination indeed, too many tourists in the Algarve for the summer months, but these deserted moments in the city (when everyone’s at the beach) are perfect. 🙂

  2. The thing I remember the most about Faro is the prevalence of white everywhere. It’s such a typical color of the Algarve. Great that you got to explore the Ria Formosa – lovely place. Also, you just reminded me how much I miss Portuguese food 🙂 Good luck!

  3. Pity I never made it to Faro when I lived in Lisbon! It looks a very picturesque and historical town. And the locals seem incredibly friendly. The hospitality is something I really miss about the country!

    • Lucky you! 😉 Yes, I really liked Faro as well. I’ve been in the Algarve and Alentejo region in summer, beautiful indeed, but sooo hot! 🙂

  4. Faro is mooi hè. En zo ‘underrated’. Heel Portugal is prachtig, heel divers ook. We hebben er verschillende keren rondgereisd en telkens andere steden bezocht. Eindigen deden we altijd in Tavira, in de buurt van Faro.

    • Hey Myriam! Bedankt voor je commentaar! Faro is inderdaad de moeite waard! En zoals je zegt, gans Portugal is prachtig! Heb er ook een paar keer een rondtrip gemaakt, het blijft verrassen!