Let’s explore the enchanting city of Faro, which is located in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. Faro serves as the capital of its district and holds the distinction of being the southernmost city in the country. Home to approximately 60,995 residents as of 2021, this hidden gem is a destination worth discovering.
A Glimpse into Faro’s Rich History
Faro, originally settled by the Phoenicians, witnessed various historical transformations throughout the centuries. It thrived as the Roman city of Ossonoba, fell under Visigoth rule in 418 AD, and became a Moorish city in the 8th century. Eventually, it became part of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1249, with King Afonso III constructing protective walls around the entire city, which now encompasses the Old Town. By the 1400s, Faro had emerged as a prominent cultural hub, notable for printing Portugal’s first books. In 1597, the city suffered the pillaging of its treasures by the Earl of Essex during his journey from Spain back to England. Many of these treasures now reside in English museums, libraries (primarily at Oxford University), and palaces. Despite a destructive earthquake in 1755 that nearly obliterated the city, much of the Old Town survived, while other areas were meticulously rebuilt. Finally, in 1834, Faro became the capital of Algarve.
Ideal Time to Visit Faro
Northern Europeans flock to Algarve year-round in search of sunnier and warmer days. However, the period between April and October offers the best weather for beach activities and sunbathing. Faro enjoys a delightful Mediterranean climate with mild springs and autumns, as well as warm summers. While the region experiences some rainy days from November to March, it is one of the driest areas in Europe, boasting abundant sunshine hours. August is the busiest month, but Faro remains less crowded compared to other towns in the Algarve. Late June, July, and early September are highly recommended for a visit.
Top Attractions in Faro
From expansive golden beaches to leisurely strolls through the historic Cidade Velha (Old Town), Faro offers a variety of captivating experiences.
Admire the Sé Cathedral
Parts of Faro’s squat Sé Cathedral date back to 1251. Though it suffered damage from historical events such as the 1596 English invasion and the 1755 earthquake, the cathedral now showcases a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. Visitors can climb the bell tower for breathtaking views of the old town and the surrounding mudflats.
Explore the Municipal Museum
Established in 1894, Faro’s Museu Municipal is one of Portugal’s oldest museums. Housed in a sixteenth-century convent with a picturesque cloister, its notable exhibits include an intact mosaic depicting the Roman god of water, Neptune, and the Four Seasons. The collection also features Roman statues, Moorish artifacts, Baroque and Renaissance paintings, as well as Futurist works by Carlos Porfírio.
Discover the Cidade Velha
The Cidade Velha, or “town within,” is the only part of Faro that has withstood historical tumult. Enclosed by robust walls, this area comprises cobbled streets lined with charming white houses adorned with decorative balconies and tiles. Notable landmarks include the eighteenth-century Arco da Vila (town gate), the Largo da Sé square with its orange trees, the cathedral, and several palaces, including the former bishop’s palace.
Visit the Regional Museum
Faro’s endearing Museu Regional offers an authentic representation of traditional Algarve culture through its collection of agricultural tools, musical instruments, recreated house interiors, and model fishing boats. Vintage black-and-white photos provide glimpses of the town and its beaches before the advent of tourism.
Experience the Chapel of Bones at Igreja do Carmo
For a macabre yet intriguing encounter, seek out the Baroque Igreja do Carmo. Within its premises, the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) can be found, featuring carefully arranged skulls and bones of disinterred monks from the neighboring cemetery, arranged in geometric patterns within an overgrown garden.
Marvel at Igreja de São Pedro
Originally built by local fishermen in the late sixteenth century and subsequently renovated after the 1755 earthquake, Igreja de São Pedro houses an attractive altar adorned with a gilded wooden relief of the Last Supper.
Relax at Praia de Faro
Located southwest of the town and accessible via a bridge, Praia de Faro is the closest beach to Faro. With its long stretch of beautiful sand and a lagoon-facing side, it offers both sea-facing and sheltered areas. Though developed due to its proximity to the airport and town, the beach remains a popular destination, boasting bars, restaurants, and villas.
Explore the Roman Site of Milreu
Situated just south of the charming town of Estói, the Roman site at Milreu is the Algarve’s primary Roman excavation. It features a lavish villa that dates back to the first century AD, characterized by a central peristyle—a gallery of columns surrounding a courtyard. Visitors can also explore the remains of one of the country’s oldest Christian churches, converted from a former Roman temple in the sixth century. The site includes an impressive bathing complex with underfloor heating systems, captivating fish mosaics, and an apodyterium (changing room) adorned with arched niches for clothes.
Take a Boat Trip
Faro’s jetty below the old town walls serves as the departure point for various boat trips, including the highly recommended excursion to Ilha Deserta in the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. Known as Ilha da Barreta, this island offers serene surroundings, a beautiful beach, and minimal development, with only one café present.
Finest Dining and Drinking Establishments
Faro boasts a wide array of dining options, ranging from traditional Portuguese cuisine to international dishes. The city center is dotted with restaurants, while the best bars can be found along Rua Conselheiro Bivar and Rua do Prior.
Rua Conselheiro Bivar and Rua do Prior
The vibrant Rua Conselheiro Bivar and its parallel street, Rua do Prior, are home to Faro’s bars and clubs. These pedestrianized areas come alive around midnight, with patrons spilling out onto the cobbled alleys to revel in the lively atmosphere.
Restaurants North of Rua 1º de Maio
Several clusters of restaurants are located north of Rua 1º de Maio, one of Faro’s bustling roads, including Rua Conselheiro Bivar.
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