A popular destination for sun-seekers from northern Europe and the UK, Faro has a reputation as being an overrun party beach town for much of the year. Visitors who use it as a base to explore the more remote areas of the Algarve in the off-season will experience much more of what southern Portugal has to offer; but those looking for no more than a tan and cocktails won’t be disappointed. In winter, it is a beautiful, peaceful corner of Southern Europe with plenty of sun bleaching the white-washed town with colonial and Moorish-influenced architecture. The people are more friendly than other parts of Europe. Many speak a bit of English, but are very appreciative of any attempts at Portuguese.
The old town of Faro is still protected on the seaward side by the 9th century Moorish walls, constructed on Roman foundations. The main square of the old town, once the Roman forum, is dominated by Faro’s 13th century cathedral (not especially interesting unless for the storks nesting in the belltower).
* Faro Airport. Many package tour and discount airlines arrive from the UK and Ireland, mainland Europe and Canada. There is a large group of Car hire agencies if you turn right after the main exit.
* The Alpha Pendular – a high-speed train, runs at least twice a day to and from Lisbon. About 2,5 hours, €20 one way, €25 on first class. The Inter City trains run more frequently but take a little longer, with more stops – about 3.5 to 4 hours.
There are also reginal trains along the Algarve coast to Lagos.
Car hire is an option for visitors. You can arrange car hire at the airport, however, as with many tourist locations it is wise to arrange your vehicle hire prior to arrival – this can save both money (the airport car rental desks can be far more expensive) and disappointment as availability during peak season may be very limited. Organising it from home before you arrive is now a very simple process with numerous companies specialising in pre-booking car hire in Faro.
Roads can be quite busy, but if you want to see a bit more of the city and indeed the Algarve region then driving by car is an easy option. Driving in the Algarve region is far easier than in the rest of Portugal, there are more non-toll roads and road-signs are plentiful and relevant.
There is a daily bus service from Lisbon and Porto in the north of Portugal, as well as from Madrid and Seville in Spain. A fare from Lisbon to Faro costs 18 EUR and can easily be bought at the bus station just before boarding. This bus station in Lisbon is next to a subway stop called Jardim Zoológico.
Main harbours: Portimao, Faro.
Buses 16 and 14 go around the city and the airport of Faro. Tickets can be bought from the driver.
It can be difficult to find a parking slot in the center. Most of the parking stations near the restaurants and shopping malls are payable. However, there is a huge free parking station next to the ship yard from which tour boats depart.
Walking in the center is enjoyable.
- Fans of automotive engineering will be intrugued by some of the weird and wonderful vehicles on Faro’s streets. These include pick-up trucks with motorcycle front-ends, and various mopeds and micro-cars that never made it across the Channel. Renault 4s, now almost extinct in their native France, are still a common site in Faro.
- If you’re in a macabre mood then check out the Capela dos Ossos in the Igreja do Carmo church. The church contains some wonderful gilded wood carving and a chapel lined with the bones of over 1,200 monks. There is a small admission charge.
The archaeological museum in the nearby, a former 16th century convent, is worth a visit.
- Near the small marina of Faro is a modest maritime museum which displays a number of interesting relics of the town’s maritime history.
- Centro Historico – The Old City, or Cidade Velha, is a well-preserved section of town off the harbor with cobblestone streets and 18th century Portuguese and Moorish-influenced architecture. It is great place for a peaceful and almost private walk back in time in an area that has been virtually untouched by modernity.
- Rio Formosa – For lovers of the natural world, however, perhaps the area’s most enduring appeal is the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature reserve extending to over 17,000 hectares and a haven for dozens of breeding and migratory bird species including black storks, flamingoes, little egrets and even the occasional kestrel and osprey. Otters are also regularly spotted here at quieter periods.
A two and a half hour trip costs €20 (in 2007) and includes a 40 minute stop-over on an island. The boat leaves from a jetty by the Centro Historico.
- Praia de Faro – This beach is several kilometers long and so should never get crowded, even in the height of summer. Most of the beach is gently sloping though it can take a sudden dip in places. There are the usual beach-side stalls and a public lavatory, but no showers. Praia de Faro is just past the airport, the airport bus stops there and costs €1.5 (in 2007). A lot of people with early check-outs and late flights seem to go there on their last day.
- Faro Jewish Heritage Centre, Rua Leao Penedo (In front of Faro Hospital), 289829525. 9.30-12.30 and 14.00-17.00. Oficially established in 1851, the Faro Jewish Cemetery is the only remaining vestige of the first post-Inquisition Jewish presence in Portugal. It served as a burial place for a thriving 60 family community (also known as “Little Jerusalem”). The Jews of Portugal fled the Inquisition from the end of the XVth century and settled in Gibraltar and North Africa. After the devastating 1755 Lisbon Earthquake their descendants have been invited by the Marquis of Pombal to help rebuild the economy. Although the community is long gone, the Cemetery still remains to remind citizens and travellers of its former glory. The Faro Jewish Heritage Centre features over one hundred graves in Sephardi style, with beautifully engraved slabs instead of headstones. Although the land has been purchased by the Jewish community in 1851, the first burial, that of Rabbi Toledano, dates back to 1838. Apart from the Cemetery, there is also a museum, housing many objects linked to the history of the Jews of Faro, like the furniture from one of the two non-existent synagogues of Faro or the facsimile copy of Gacon’s 1478 Pentateuch in Hebrew – the first book ever printed in Portugal! free.
Faro has a thriving trade in both package deal hotels and short-term apartment rental. If that fails, locals have become very comfortable renting out every scrap of space in their homes to desperate travellers. Book months in advance for the high season and note that many places are closed during the low season.
* Pousada de São Brás de Alportel – São Brás, Charming Hotel, 8150-054 São Brás de Alportel, +351-289 842 305/289 842 306 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +351-289 841 726). A charming hotel located in the Algarve mountain range, only half an hour from the coast and near the most famous beaches in Portugal, this has and still maintains the most genuine characteristics of the region’s culture. Near this charming Algarve hotel are some golf courses, such as the Monte Rei, the Benamor and the Quinta da Ria golf course, these are some of the best greens for the practice of golf in Algarve.
* Hotel Eva is a 4-star hotel overlooking the harbor and the Cidade Velha. It is walking distance from everything and is well worth the few extra euro.
* Hotel Faro also a 4-star hotel overlooking the harbor and the Cidade Velha.
* Hotel Ibis Faro, E.N. 125 Pontes de Marchil, (+351)289 893 800.