The 15 best sights in Faro – description and photos

15 Sights to see in Faro

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The capital of the southern Portuguese region of the Algarve is a versatile city in terms of tourists. It attracts people for a variety of reasons. As a coastal city, Faro allows you to enjoy the eternal joys of sea, sun, wonderful beaches and excellent seafood.

On the other hand, the historic architecture of the old town, with its quiet old town full of sights hiding inside its ancient walls from the hustle and bustle of the world, is a delight for the visitor. Whatever your interests or tastes are, you’re sure to find something to see in Faro.

Faro Cathedral

Faro Cathedral

Faro Cathedral.

This cathedral was opened in 1251, only two years after the city was conquered from the Moors. This explains the militant appearance of the cathedral’s facade, which is dominated by a square Gothic tower.

This tower, which you can climb to admire the streets of Faro and the lagoon, is the few that have survived from the mid-13th century to the present day.

The rest of the building has undergone significant alterations since it was almost completely destroyed by the English attack in 1596. In the XVII-XVIII centuries the interiors of the cathedral were decorated with luxurious gilded wooden panels and colorful azulejos which were gaining popularity then.

Address: Faro Cathedral, Largo da Sé, Faro, Portugal.

The Arch of the Da Vila

Da Vila Arch

Da Vila Arch.| Photo: Morgan Davis / Flickr.

This opening in the wall surrounding Faro dates back to Moorish times, and when you walk through the gate, you can see the 1,000-year-old masonry.

But the Arco da Vila didn’t get its modern look until 1812, when Italian architect Francesco Saverio Fabri rebuilt the gate leading to the Old City, giving it a striking neoclassical look.

The upper part of the entrance is decorated by a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, located in a niche. Above the sculpture is a beautiful pediment with balustrades, spires and a bell tower on top of which storks have built their nest.

Address: Arco da Vila, Rua da Misericórdia, Faro, Portugal.

Old Town

Old Town

Old town.

The old town is very different from the rest of Faro. Time stands still in this quiet and fuss-free enclave: whitewashed houses with terracotta tile roofs, intimate little squares with intimate little restaurants, and the calçada, Portugal’s famous mosaic tiled sidewalk.

Be sure to check out the beautiful square in front of the cathedral, where rows of orange trees grow. The episcopal palace on this square is the former residence of the bishops of Faro and dates back to the 16th century. Exhibitions are sometimes held inside the palace and even if there is nothing like it at the moment, take a peek inside to see the oriental style library and tiled staircase.

Address: Cidade Velha, Praça do Afonso III, Faro, Portugal.

Island beaches

Culatra Beach

Culatra beach.

The outer islands of the lagoon can only be reached by boat, so their golden sandy beaches are not besieged by crowds of eager swimmers and sunbathers.

On the island of Ilha da Culatra, away from the lighthouse and small isolated communities, you won’t find any signs of life on calmer days.

You can see Ilha da Culatra or, for example, Ilha Barreta (also known as Ilha Deserta) during a guided boat tour. If you want to spend the whole day on the beach of one of the islands, you can arrange for a motorboat ride there and back at a specific time.

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Address: Praia da Culatra (Mar), Portugal.

Excursion train

Excursion Train

Sightseeing train.

The Comboio Turística, or Tourist Train, offers visitors to Faro a new way to explore the city. Departing from Jardim Manuel Bivar, across from the marina, this train passes Faro’s most memorable sights. The circular route takes about 45 minutes.

Passengers on the sightseeing train will be able to see both the streets of the Old Town and modern Faro. This trip is ideal for parents of small children, the elderly, and those whose feet are tired from long walks, because it allows to get acquainted with the capital of the Algarve region in the most comfortable mode.

Address: Faro Train Station, Largo da Estação, Faro, Portugal.

Carmo Church

Carmo Church

Carmo Church. | Photo: Paola Farrera / Flickr.

This Portuguese Baroque church, built in the mid-18th century, is one of the most valuable historical monuments in the Algarve. The region’s best sculptors were hired to make its gilded wood ornaments.

Examine the stained glass windows and mosaics inside before descending into the eerie church crypt. The latter deserves a separate mention.

In the Capella dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), dating back to 1816, you’ll see the bones of more than 1,200 monks brought here from the Carmelite cemetery. The bones and skulls that “decorate” the walls and the vault of the crypt are there to remind the faithful of the ephemeral nature of human existence.

Address: Igreja do Carmo, Largo do Carmo, Faro, Portugal.

Faro Municipal Museum

Faro Municipal Museum

Faro Municipal Museum.

The Faro Municipal Museum is one of the oldest museums in the Algarve. It opened in 1894 and was timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the birth of Henry the Navigator. In 1969, the museum moved to its current sixteenth-century building, formerly the convent of Nossa Senhora Assunção.

The main part of the museum’s collection belongs to the Roman period: you will see several stones with engraved inscriptions, a mosaic from the second century and a pair of marble busts of the Roman matron Agrippina and the Emperor Hadrian. The rest of the exhibits are mostly works of religious art collected in dissolved monasteries and churches in Faro and its surroundings.

Address: Archaeological and Lapidary Museum Prince Henry the Navigator, Praça Dom Afonso III, Faro, Portugal.

Walls of Faro

Walls of Faro

Walls of Faro. | Photo: Vitor Oliveira / Flickr.

The walls, which even today continue to surround the compact Old City, are of primitive, pre-Roman origin. In Roman times, they were reinforced. Later, during the Moorish period, they had to be rebuilt twice, in the ninth and then the twelfth century.

The Moorish phase gave us the Arco do Repuso (Gate of Rest), which, surprisingly enough, still stands. It is one of three gates used in medieval times to enter the city. The other two, Arco da Porta Nova and Arco da Vila, are also still standing.

Address: Muralhas de Faro, Largo de São Francisco, Faro, Portugal.

Naval Museum of Admiral Ramalho Ortigao

Admiral Ramalho Ortigao Maritime Museum

Naval Museum of Admiral Ramalho Ortigao.

Don’t you want to know what life was like in the Algarve before the region became an important tourist destination? And the Algarve lived solely by the sea.

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The Admiral Ramalho Ortigao Maritime Museum, founded in 1931 and located in the Port Authority building, will tell you about it.

Here you will discover the marine life of this region, such as tuna, squid and sardines, and the history of Faro’s once thriving fishing industry, as well as all kinds of navigational instruments and ship models.

Address: Museu Marítimo Almirante Ramalho Ortigão, Faro, Portugal.

Praia de Faro

Praia de Faro Beach

Praia de Faro Beach | Photo: Vitor Oliveira / Flickr.

This beach is very close to the airport, and to get there you can take the bus that serves the airport and runs from the center of Faro.

Praia de Faro, like the beaches of the Ria Formosa Islands, is a seemingly endless strip of untouched golden sand washed by the sea waves. This beach is wild and civilized at the same time.

On the one hand, there are mini-hotels and bars in its busier spots, so you won’t lack for amenities. On the other hand, those who value privacy won’t have to walk too far to end up in a deserted area.

Address: Praia de Faro, Faro, Portugal.

Roman ruins of Milreu

Roman ruins of Milreu

The Roman ruins of Milreu.

On this hillside, less than ten minutes from Faro, hundreds of years of history are waiting to tell you their story. And that history began in the 300s AD when a luxury Roman villa was built here.

Today, alas, little is left of it. The foundations and ground floors of many buildings, however, remained. You can see a wonderful mosaic with fish motifs, which looks almost untouched by time.

The estate also had agricultural facilities such as oil and wine presses and even a temple, which in the 500s was turned into a Christian place of worship. Later Moors also used the site, the remains of a Muslim cemetery being evidence of their “occupation”.

Address: Milreu Roman Remains, Estoia, Portugal.

Estoia Palace

Estoia Palace

The palace of Estoia.

Next to the Roman ruins is a luxurious palace built in 1840. Its style can be described as an imitation of Rococo: inside you will find frescoes framed with many stucco decorations, and in the terraced gardens, a monumental staircase and a pretty pavilion decorated with blue and white azulejo tiles.

The whole place had been neglected and dilapidated for many decades, but a few years ago the palace was carefully restored and reopened. Now it serves as a historical hotel. You can visit it not only as a hotel guest, but also as a guided tour of the palace and its splendid gardens.

Address: Pousada Palácio Estói, Rua de São Jose, Faro, Portugal.

Living Science Center

Living Science Center

Living Science Center.

If you’re relaxing with your restless children and it’s raining in the morning and you can’t go for a walk, head to this science and entertainment center whose exhibits are capable of engaging young inquiring minds. There’s a sensory pool with fish and shellfish that live near the Ria Formosa.

Children will be offered to hold a scorpion or a tarantula (and you’ll find that your children are braver than you adults!). There are also exhibits on astronomy, tectonic plates and earthquakes, kinetic energy and tides, all of which are introduced to serious scientific issues in an easy, interactive way.

Address: Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve, Rua Comandante Francisco Manuel, Faro, Portugal.

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Forum Algarve Shopping Centre

Forum Algarve shopping center

Forum Algarve Shopping Center.

Just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate, the large shopping and entertainment center on the western outskirts of Faro is another option.

This is a mix of Zara, Bershka, Fnac, Oysho and Pull & Bear, the brands that are now all over Europe.

The mall also has a large food court and a multi-screen movie theater. By the way, a very useful feature of Portuguese cinemas is that almost all films are available with English dubbing and Portuguese subtitles.

Address: Forum Algarve, Faro, Portugal.

Theater Lethes

Lethes Theater

The Lethes Theatre.

Tourists will be amazed by this little Italian gem in the middle of Faro. The building once housed a Jesuit college, but fate had foreseen a different role – to be a concert hall, and in 1845 the curtain rose here for the first time.

In 1860s the auditorium was enlarged, and in 1901 it was further reconstructed – on the upper floor there were four tiers of boxes with many wrought iron balconies. For its sumptuous interior, the Lethes Theater has often been described as “a miniature replica of La Scala.

The rich classical atmosphere is still felt here today. However, lack of funding has meant that the once extensive program of theatrical productions and concerts has been very much reduced. Today, unfortunately, Lethes is often closed for several months at a time.

But the historic venue has not been abandoned and forgotten, and actors and musicians still perform here from time to time. It is unlikely that you will be lucky enough to catch a performance, but you can ring the bell above the front door and the gatekeeper might let you in for a peek.

Address: Teatro Lethes, Rua de Portugal, Faro, Portugal.

Faro (Portugal): sights

Landmarks in Faro, Portugal

Faro is the southernmost city in mainland Portugal, a port and resort and the administrative center of the Province of the Algarve. It is nestled on the shores of the Gulf of Ria Formosa. According to one version, the town was named after the 47-metre lighthouse (faro, but in Spanish!) of the island Ilha da Barreta near the town. The choice of seasons to visit Faro is determined by personal preferences. Most tourists are attracted by beach holidays in summer. The peak season is in May. In early autumn you can still swim in the sea. Exploratory holidays are most comfortable in spring and autumn.

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Date of foundation of Faro: 1266 г.
Population of the city: 64,560 (2011).
Area of the city: 201 km².

Natural Park

The city is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Ria Formosa Natural Park consisting of dunes, lagoons, salt lakes and marshes. Dense thickets of spartina are a refuge for many species of birds including pink flamingos.

Nature Park

Ria Formosa, a picturesque protected lagoon

This is also where migratory birds stop in spring and autumn. Sea salt has long been mined on the territory of the reserve. Nowadays, there are aqua farms for the cultivation of shellfish for export. In the nature park in large aquariums you can observe the inhabitants of the sea depths.

Beaches

A mild subtropical Mediterranean climate and 300 days of sunshine a year are complemented in Faro by beaches with fine golden sand. Praia de Faro is located on the island of the same name, connected with the city by a road bridge. The length of the island beach is 7 km. This sandy beach is awarded with a Blue Flag and has all the necessary tourist infrastructure. The descent into the water is gentle, but you can’t joke with the strong ocean waves, so children need constant supervision.

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Beaches

Odeixe Beach in Portugal

There is a beach and on the uninhabited island Ilha da Barreta or Ilha Deserta, as the locals call it. From Faro you can reach it only by sea – by ferry or cab boat. On this island you can imagine yourself as a Robinson. However, the only restaurant on it still exists, so that tourists who get here will not have to hunt. The restaurant workers arrive on the island by the first boat and leave by the last.

The Arch of the City

The main entrance to the old town is the beautiful church-like arch of the Arco da Vila, built in 1812 on the initiative of Francisco Gomes do Avellar, the local bishop who did much for the town. The pediment of the arch, called the Arab Gate, gradually develops into a belfry. In the niche of the portal above the entrance is a marble statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of Faro.

City Arch

The Old City Arch (Arco da Vila)

On entering the gate there are paved streets with white 18th-century houses on which relics of the Romanesque walls are preserved in fragments.

The Cathedral

On Largo da Sé, the local Sé Catedral de Faro is located on the Cathedral Square. Built in the 13th century after the conquest of the city from the Moors, it was extensively renovated in the 18th century, so its facade is a combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. The bell tower, the main portico and the two side chapels have been preserved from the original Gothic. To the south there is a by-passable roofed gallery from the end of the 17th century.

Cathedral

The Cathedral (Sé Catedral de Faro)

The inside of the Cathedral is divided into three aisles separated by columns. The main chapel and side walls are covered with 17th century tiles. A beautiful organ made in the 18th century is conspicuous.

The square in front of the cathedral is dominated by a monument to the aforementioned Bishop Francisco Gomes do Avelar, who spearheaded reconstruction following the Lisbon earthquake.

Address: Largo da Sé 11, 8000-138 Faro The Cathedral is open daily from 10-17:30. Entrance ticket costs 3 EUR. Buses 14 and 16 go to it from the peripheral parts of the city.

Bishop’s Palace in Faro

Not far from the Cathedral is the Paco Episcopal de Faro, built at the end of the 16th century. The distinctive facade features true Portuguese tesouro pyramidal roofs.

Bishop's Palace

Paco Episcopal de Faro

The Lisbon earthquake caused considerable damage to the building. At the same time as it was rebuilt, it was enlarged. The surviving interior of the palace with the extensive use of the famous azulejos tiles on the walls and staircases dates back to this time. What attracts the eye is the altarpiece in the chapel and the large number of bookcases in the Chinoiserie style, a form of Orientalism. Since the Bishop’s Palace is the current residence of the head of the provincial diocese, it can only be viewed as part of a prearranged tour.

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Church du Karmu

The wooden church of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo was founded in the early 18th century by the local bishop.

Do Carmo Church

Church of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo

A few decades later, it was restored and in the next century the interior was extensively decorated. The altar, sacristy and organ stand out in particular. The church even began to be called “gold” because of the extensive use of gold leaf in the decoration.

Do Carmo Church

Church of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. View from the inside

To be fair, the church is better known for the Franciscan Capela dos Ossos, which was built in 1826. The church reminds visitors of the mortality of earthly life. The bones and skulls of the Carmelite monks are embedded in the walls and ceiling of this necrophiliac attraction. Above the entrance to the Osuc Chapel, an optimistic inscription reads: “Our bones are waiting for yours”.

The church is located in Largo do Carmo square. The building is open daily, except Sundays, from 10 to 17 (Saturday until 13) hours with a break at 13-15. A fee of 1 EUR is charged only for the dubious pleasure of seeing the Chapel of Bones.

Church of St. Francis

Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco is part of the 17th century monastery of the same name.

Basilica of St. Francis

Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco

The modest facade of the church hides a splendid Baroque interior. Blue and white ceramic tiles of azulejos cover the walls and ceiling of the church. The mural on the ceiling depicts the scene of the coronation of the Virgin Mary in heaven. The plots on the walls relate to the life of St. Francis. They are interspersed with pictorial paintings on the same theme. Another impressive peculiarity of the interior is the abundance of gilded wooden decorations. The altar is especially beautiful.

Basilica of St. Francis

Church of St. Francis. View from the inside

Central Street of Faro

Not far from the harbor is the central street of the city, Rua do Prior. It has beautiful tiles and is lined with many stores, restaurants and places of entertainment. The street has no more than three stories, which makes it really cozy.

Central Street

Estoia Palace

The spectacular palace of Palácio de Estoi, designed by Domingos da Silva Meira, is just 11,5 km from Faro.

Estoia Palace

This beautiful Rococo style building from the 17th century is admired for its exquisite details and color scheme.

The palace’s interior is just as magnificent as its facade.

Estoia Palace

Inside the palace, there are paintings and examples of antique furniture

The park surrounding the palace is decorated with sculptures, columns and decorative pools. On the lower terrace of the park is a tiled pavilion with a copy of the sculpture “The Three Graces” by the famous Italian sculptor Antonio Canova of the 18th century. The mosaic floor of one of the rooms of the palace from Roman times, the “ruins of Mireu”, is preserved in the park.

It takes 24 minutes and 2-4 EUR to get from Faro to Palacio de Estoi by bus #33. A cab will cost much more – about 15 EUR.

Conclusion

Faro is more than an ordinary beach resort. There are interesting historical sights in the city.

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