In the heart of southern Portugal, the Faro district has desert-island beaches, a 13th-century cathedral, a laid-back student vibe, and some of Europe’s best seafood.
If you like the idea of escaping to a remote island paradise (à la Robinson Crusoe) but don’t fancy the whole, death-risking shipwreck thing, then Faro in southern Portugal may have the answer. As well as plenty of bars, galleries, restaurants, and sights, this coastal university-city also benefits from being next to Ria Formosa National Park, home to otherworldly beaches and pristine islands.
Faro Old Town
Faro’s Old Town (Cidade Velha), is surrounded by ancient city walls; the main square (Largo da Se) is home to the small but perfectly formed 13th-century Cathedral of Faro. Other Old Town hotspots include the little streets around Praca Alfonso III (great for tiny bars and Portuguese seafood restaurants), the 18th-century Episcopal Palace, and the Municipal Museum.
The Algarve region can be divided into three fairly distinct areas – East, West, and Central Algarve. Central Algarve is known for its luxury golf courses and party-central Albufeira; West Algarve for cliffs and historic Sagres and East Algarve for long sand dunes and little villages. If it’s beaches you’re after, Faro is actually one of the best places to stay; to the south of the city lies Ilha da Barreta, otherwise known as Ilha Deserta – if you visit you’ll see why. Part of the National Park, this stretch of coast is only reachable via boat; once there it’s like having your very own slice of island paradise. Just make sure you don’t get stranded – unless your Bear Grylls skills are up to scratch.
FIVE THINGS NOT TO MISS IN FARO
- Catch the public ferry to Robinson Crusoe worthy Ilha Deserta, a pristine, deserted stretch of beach with turquoise waters and golden sand.
- Get lost in the petite Old Town (Cidade Velha), home to ancient city walls, and Faro’s 13th-century Cathedral.
- Party with the town’s student population at one of the many bars or clubs along Rua do Prior.
- Sample local seafood and regional specialties; a popular favorite is bacalhau (dried salt cod) or Algarve stuffed squid.
- Get active – Faro’s national park, Ria Formosa (and the surrounding region) is great for hiking, biking, dolphin-watching, water sports, and more.
Free Fun Guides Top Tips
- If you plan to explore the coast, use Faro’s railway, which connects up different Algarve towns.
- Several of Faro’s museums are free on Sunday mornings and closed on Mondays.
- Many restaurants offer cheap, daily menus (menu do dia); keep an eye out for Cataplana de Marisco (seafood casserole) or Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice).
Festival Med celebrates a diverse range of world music, shows, performances, and food. You’ll see everything from fire eaters to dance troupes during this three-day event in Loulé.
- When? 29th June – 2nd July
- Where? Loulé, near Faro
- Price: see the official website for the range of ticket options.
If indecisive is your middle name, you’ve come to the right place. Set in the heart of historic Loulé, three-day Festival Med welcomes world music from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and everywhere in between; the result is eclectic. This festival draws in a huge range of performers from around the globe spanning continents, genres, and styles. So if you’re a reggae-jazz-classical-dance-pop-blues-soul-loving music fan, you’ve come to the right place.
Running for more than ten years, Festival Med welcomes 42 acts over six stages; you can also expect street theatre, dance troupes and pop-up shows. Alongside the musical element, the festival also celebrates international cuisine, handicrafts, and art. There are plenty of food stalls (turn up hungry, southern Portugal is known for its generous portions) plus bars and chill-out areas where you can watch performances with a brew.
This year, the festival will host over 500 hours of music and most of the events will take place in the evening. Lovely Loulé has plenty of bragging rights without the festival – from a Roman castle to a thriving market. Still, Festival Med adds a quirky international vibe to the town and we guarantee even the pickiest of music fans will be kept happy.
- Get there: Take the train from Faro up to Loulé – it takes 10-15 minutes.
- Stay: Find a hotel in Loulé city center to be close to the action.
The Faro district has a subtropical Mediterranean climate with warm to hot summers and mild winters. The coolest month is January with an average temperature of 12 degrees Celsius and the warmest is July at 24 degrees Celsius; the wettest month is November.
When Should You Visit?
June or September for warm, sunny days and fewer crowds.
History of Faro District
Faro’s Ria Formosa lagoon was home to Palaeolithic peoples from around the 4th century BC and in the subsequent centuries it grew in size and prosperity as travelers across the Mediterranean began to use it as a commercial hub. Between the 2nd and the 8th centuries, it came under Roman rule, before being ruled by the Byzantines, the Visigoths, and finally the Moors in 713.
After 500 years of Moorish rule, Faro eventually joined with Portugal when King Alfonso III defeated the Moors in 1249. Since then, the city has become a major trading center and is the capital of the entire Algarve region. Its varied mix of people – including Jews, Muslims, and Catholics – and a large student population, has helped it become the vibrant and diverse city that it is today.
Portuguese is the official language spoken in Faro, although some people also understand Spanish. Major tourist attractions and guides are available in several languages. If you’re interacting with locals, you’ll find many, especially the younger generation, will speak English. The following phrases may be useful:
- Hi: Oi
- Please: Por favor
- Thank you: Obrigado
- Excuse me: Com licença
- Do you speak English?: Você fala inglês
Food & Drink
Meals usually begin with small starters (couvert) made up of bread, olives, pâté, and vegetables. You’ll generally be charged for these (often only a few euros). If you don’t want it, it’s fine to refuse this course. Traditional Portuguese soups (fish, vegetables, or gazpacho) are other entrée alternatives. Given Faro’s proximity to the sea, seafood features very heavily on the region’s menus. Good options to look out for are robalo (sea bass), atum (tuna) and salmonete (red mullet). Other dishes you may come across are feijoada (meat and bean stew) or frango piri-piri (spicy chicken). Make sure you order a glass of vino verde (green wine), which is produced using home-grown Portuguese grapes.
Need To Know
- You can catch buses and trains to Lisbon from Faro’s center.
- Tipping is generally expected in Portugal.
- There are plenty of beaches nearby which can be reached by car or bus – Lagos is particularly popular.
INTERNATIONAL DIALLING CODE: +351
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY
Call 112 for the emergency services operator (police, ambulance, and fire brigade).
Find out about the visa requirements for Portugal here.