If you’re looking for spectacular coastlines and beaches with a dash of authenticity, look no further than Faro, Portugal’s southernmost city and capital of the sun-soaked Algarve region. A hybrid of sorts, Faro perfectly balances beaches and nightlife with a range of historical and cultural gems without losing its distinctly Portuguese feel.
Situated two and a half hours’ drive south of Lisbon within the dramatic setting of the Rio Formosa lagoon, it’s possible to trace the city’s history as far back as prehistoric times, whilst it has since seen the influence of Roman, Moorish and even English cultures. The lagoon’s sandy banks protected Faro from the earthquakes and tsunamis of the 18th century that damaged many of Algarve’s major settlements such as Lagos. This cemented its place as a regional capital, and paved the way for its present day status as a vibrant centre for nightlife (helped by the city’s 8,000-strong student population), tourism and culture.
Here’s our pick of the top 5 things to do if you’re planning a trip down south to Faro and the surrounding area.
Enjoy the coastal highlights
Faro sits in the centre of Portugal’s south western tip, making it an ideal starting point if you rent a car in Faro with easyCar and want to explore the stunning and dramatic coastline that flanks the city on either side. Characterised by miles of striking golden cliffs, crags and coves, the splendid coastline has ample supply of beaches and natural reserves, perfect for those looking to lounge their worries away in an idyllic and peacefully natural setting. The Algarve coast has managed to avoid the commercialism that dominates so many maritime retreats.
Go island hopping
Take a day trip to the popular Ilhas Desertas (desert islands in case you were wondering). Here you’ll find exquisite white sandy beaches and emerald green waters that helped fuel the country’s tourism boom of the 1960s. For those on a tighter budget, we recommend the nature tour for €25 that guides you around the Rio Formosa lagoon either by speedboat or ferry, and offers a range of activities from hiking trails to a taste of Algarvian gastronomy (the Portuguese staple Bacalhau never disappoints).
If you’re looking to find the perfect secret beach then jump into your rental car and road trip around the surrounding coast, which is dotted with sheltered sandy paradises that prove less crowded than in other parts of the country.
Sample the old town charm
As with many ancient Portuguese cities, Faro sits within Moorish walls erected in the 9th century. For a regional capital, Faro is relatively small, with a population of just over 65,000, yet this doesn’t retract from its buzz. Those looking for typically European street-side cafes and cobbled streets will enjoy the historic centre’s cosy feel. Locals are welcoming and the buildings are typically modest and elegant.
Fresh seafood is widely available and proves to be great value if you’re used to UK prices, with local favourites such as razor clam risotto or Algarve-style stuffed squid definitely worth a try. If you prefer your food to come from dry land then don’t worry, meat is very popular, with braised partridge proving a delightfully unique alternative to your everyday steak.
Soak up the culture
Culture aficionados should check out the Archaeological Museum which houses prehistoric and Roman artefacts, as well as Museo Municipal that showcase the works of local painters from the 16th to 20th centuries.
Moving on from the Municipal sample the Galeria do Arte Arco, the go-to gallery for any visit to the city. The beauty of the Portuguese-focussed artworks featured in gallery is beaten only by the beautiful panoramic views from the medieval city walls.
Enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle
No summer escape would be complete without a healthy dose of beachside cafes and bars. Use your al fresco table as a vantage point from which to take in the sights and sounds of the locals ambling past. NoSolo Agua Portimão combines poolside chic with all night partying under tall palms, and is located between Lagos and Faro, ideal if you’re planning a longer stay and want to explore the length of the coast.
If lower key cafes and bars are more your thing, the popular Colombus bar offers all your favourite cocktails in against the backdrop of a waterside setting, whilst WAX sits directly on the beach and combines delicious cuisine with modern, stylish decor.