One of my childhood best friends was Portuguese. I was always so jealous when she’d come back all freckle-faced, a colourful braid in her hair and a lunch box full of snacks we don’t get here in the UK. I thought it was so cool that she got to spend her summers in AFRICA (…I wasn’t the brightest child). I, too, wanted to explore Portugal! This desire didn’t die as I grew up, or when I learnt which continent it was in. Now I, a fully grown adult capable of making my own decisions, can go whenever I please! (Which isn’t often because my bank account won’t allow it).
Faro has become my favourite place in the world. Maybe because it’s one of the only places I haven’t done something to embarrass myself, so I don’t feel emotionally scarred when I think of it. Maybe it’s because, compared to Lincolnshire, it’s an actual paradise. Or just maybe it’s because the ‘Pastel de Nata’ (an egg custard to us common folk) are addictive and delicious, with the added bonus of containing ABSOLUTELY NO CALORIES because you’re on holiday. All I know is that I want to be there all. the. time.
Things to do in Faro
I’ve limited this list to just five items because I could easily talk about Faro for days, and that would take the fun out of exploring and discovering more for yourself.
1. Bone Chapel and Catholic Church – €2
I genuinely didn’t think I’d be bothered about the church. I wanted to go straight to the bone chapel – that’s where the cool stuff was! I was so wrong. This church is ridiculously beautiful, and I could’ve spent hours looking at the wood carvings, sculptures and paintings. You can get leaflets at the entrance that tell you everything you want to know about the place. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Out the back of the church is a small garden, which is home to the chapel. Made up of a single room, the walls and ceilings are lined with skulls and bones that were taken from the adjoining cemetery a couple of centuries ago.
Human remains not your thing? There’s also a big fluffy cat that sunbathes in the garden and loves getting attention from visitors. There really is something for everyone!
2. Take a tour
There’s loads you can choose from, like a guided tour through Ria Formosa Natural Park, or take a speedboat to the islands just off the coast of Faro. The length and prices of these tours vary, but the speedboat one I did cost €25 and took up the majority of the day. The guide will take you to each island to explore and then come pick you up to go to the next island and, eventually, back to Faro.
(Speedboat tip: if you have long hair, tie it back. Otherwise, you’ll look like you’ve been electrocuted and have the worst knots you’ve ever experienced. Trust me. I learnt this the hard way.)
‘The Delgaturis’ train tour – 45 mins, €2.75.
Not a real train, but a tourist one that rattles it’s way through the cobbled streets of Faro for 45 minutes while audio is played over the speakers in your carriage explaining the history of the buildings and places you’re driving through. (You might not want to do this if you have a bad back. The ride can get very bumpy.) It’s a good way to see more of the city, and you’ll more than likely decide to walk back to some of the spots you go past to explore them properly. (One of these places for me was ‘Jardim da Alameda João de Deus’. This is a small park that you could walk around quickly, but you wont. Why? Because you have to dodge the peacocks and the chickens, while also wondering what would happen if they left via the wide open gates to cause havoc on the roads outside. I also saw a teenager doing a photo shoot in a wedding dress and a man fall off his segway here. I laughed so hard I almost cracked a rib.)
There are loads of other types of tours too. Like food and wine? There are tours for that. Enjoy whizzing around on a segway while someone tells you about the local history? Yep. There are tours for that too! (I opted out of this. I’m not giving karma any chances.)
3. Visit the islands: Ilha Deserta, Farol and Culatra
A day visiting the islands is perfect if you need a break from people and the pressure of being alive. There are three islands off the coast of Faro that you can get a ferry to: Barreta Island, Farol and Culatra.
Barreta Island is one of the most isolated islands in the Algarve, and is better known as Ilha Deserta (‘desert island’). There are usually only a handful of people scattered along the beach, and it has just one wooden building on it: a restaurant (with bathrooms, so don’t feel like you have to pee in the ocean) that’s open throughout the year.
Farol is almost as quiet as Ilha Deserta. No roads or cars and only a handful of permanent residents (mostly fisherman. You’ll likely see them outside maintaining their boats!) live in the brightly coloured houses. The rest are holiday homes that are empty most of the year. There are a couple of bars and restaurants, and a giant lighthouse.
I haven’t had chance to explore Culatra yet, but I’m guessing it’s equally as peaceful and nice. Apparently you can walk from Farol to Culatra via wooden walkways (they are two villages on opposite ends of the island!) Other than that, I know it has beaches on one side, the lagoon on the other and, again, very few tourists. What more could you want?
4. Praia de Faro
Located on Ilha de Faro, an island easily accessible by bus from Faro city via the airport; you could go straight there after landing, or spend the day there if you have a later flight and nothing else to do. There’s loads of hostels, hotels, shops, cafes, bars and restaurants along the coast, and it’s surrounded by the sea (obviously) and the Ria Formosa Natural Park. The bus doesn’t go onto the island – it stops just before a very narrow bridge (wide enough for one car). There’s a large car park if you decide you want to drive there yourself though.
This place gets a lot busier than the other islands and beaches, mainly because of how accessible it is. In off-season though, it’s still relatively empty. Apparently in summer it can get quite busy, but if you’re willing to walk further away from the cafes and car park, you can usually find a quiet spot to relax.
If you want to go swimming, maybe stick to the other islands for it. The water here is pretty cold year-round, and gets deep quickly. You could do some water sports though, if that’s what you’re into! You can rent jet skis or kayaks, and there’s also surfing and kite surfing. Or, you could do what I did and just try desperately not to get your jeans wet while you paddle in the shallow. (I failed, but luckily they were dry by time we were half way back to the UK.)
5. Shop, eat and drink your way around Faro
Yeah I know, that’s technically three things. I’m totally cheating. I’ll try to be brief!
There’s a maze of streets near the train/bus station and marina that are packed with different shops. You will get lost a few times here. Be sure to check out all the cool graffiti and street art as you explore, like this:
There’s also ‘Forum Algarve’, a big shopping centre with a food court and supermarket inside. It’s not too far to walk (and you’ll see some really cool houses on the way) but it’s also easy to drive to or get the bus! There are free lockers here, so it’s ideal if you have time to kill before flying home.
Even if you don’t do one of the food/wine tours, you’re still probably going to get hungry and/or thirsty at some point of your holiday, yeah?
There are LOTS of restaurants, bars, cafés, markets and shops around for you to wine, dine or pick up some snacks to eat in bed at the end of the night. The Algarve is well known for it’s seafood dishes, but did I try any of them? Nope. Wasn’t in the mood. Didn’t wanna. But if you are, there’s many seafood restaurants to choose from. Let me know how they were, I’ll try them out next time!
Some of the places you should check out include: Álef’s Burger Bar (went here twice in six days), Amore Mio (the best pizza ever), and O Castelo (this bar and restaurant has the best view overlooking Ria Formosa and the ocean). If you want some chocolate to snack on, check out Chocolates de Beatriz (try the dark chocolate with sea salt flakes!) Also, go to the market and get freshly made Pastel de Nata!
These are just a few suggestions for things to do around Faro; there’s plenty more for you to discover. There’s also the option of getting a bus or train further afield for day trips. (Check how close stops and stations are to the main cities/towns or there might be a very long walk ahead of you!)
I hope you love Faro as much as I do! Share your recommendations with me so I have more reasons to go back.