By Matt May
The city of Faro in the heart of the Algarve makes an ideal destination for a weekend break, particularly outside the peak tourist visitor period of June to mid-September when you should be able to pick up value for money flights The city has a superb year-round climate, picturesque old town, attractive marina and provides easy access to the beaches of the Algarve.
Unlike much of the Algarve, the city of Faro has generally escaped the large-scale tourist development of the region and is predominantly a working Algarve city. Most of the places of interest for visitors are located around the marina and the beautifully preserved old town.
There is a tourist sight-seeing train which meanders its way around the streets of Faro, and if you don't have a car this provides a good way of discovering the city. You can catch the tourist train at Faro Marina. Below are some of the major tourist attractions in Faro:
If you didn't know it was there, you would probably miss Faro's historic old town. The entrance is tucked away beneath the bell tower close to the marina.
With its narrow, cobbled streets and traditional Algarve town houses leading up the gentle slope to a large town square, the old town is the city's hidden gem. Don't expect to find a plethora of tourist shops, bars and cafes in the old town - there is the odd cafe, but that's about it, the area probably hasn't changed much for centuries.
The citrus tree-lined main square is home to Faro Cathedral and the town hall and is the perfect spot for photo opportunities.
The old town area has plenty of bars and restaurants - O Castello which is in the old town offers "al fresco" dining with fantastic views over the Marina.
Slightly macabre but worth a visit is the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) located at the heart of the old town at the rear of the Igreja do Carmo church. The chapel is lined with the bones of monks who were buried in Faro cemetery and later exhumed due to over-crowding in the burial grounds. Entry to both the church and chapel is worth the €2 entry fee.
Most of the tourist activity in Faro is centred around Faro Marina. Throughout the year, including during the winter months there are several "al fresco" cafes and restaurants which offer the chance to catch some sun and gaze at the yachts of the wealthier members of the city. Prices for eating at the Marina have a bit of a mark-up, so you if you are travelling on a budget may just want to buy a coffee or a beer.
For keen bird-watchers, or for those who want to see Faro from the sea, there are boat trips available from the marina offering various length tours of the Ria Formosa nature reserve which surrounds Faro.
Apart from the purpose built complex at Guia near Albufeira, Faro is probably the best shopping location in the Algarve. The central shopping area which is a 5 minute walk from the marina has a range of designer clothes shops and boutiques. Clothing prices in Portugal are generally more expensive than in the UK.
Forum Algarve is a purpose-built shopping complex located near the Ibis Hotel on the Faro airport road out of Faro. There are several reasonably priced restaurants and fast-food outlets here, and it is a good place to take the children, especially in the unlikely instance that it is raining.
Faro has a large student population, and the main focus of the nightlife here are the bars located in the streets to the front of the Marina (close to the Mcdonalds). If you are looking for a nightclub try Millennium III on Rua do Prior. The busiest nights are Thursdays (student night) to Saturday.
Faro Beach (Praia de Faro) has a several popular bars and clubs which stay open most of the night at weekends.
Faro is located on the estuary of the Ria Formosa, so the city itself is not a beach resort. However, there are excellent beaches just outside the town (near the airport) at Praia de Faro.
The beach area has plenty of bars and restaurants, including the popular Cais 73 which is renowned for its toasted sandwiches. The bars at Faro beach are surprisingly busy even in winter, with Havana Club attracting a younger clientele into the early hours of the morning.
The water at Faro beach gets deep very quickly, so children would require supervision. The sea here can also be a bit chilly as it is Atlantic rather than Mediterranean coastline.
There is limited parking at Faro Beach, but it can get very busy in peak summer (August) and on Sundays throughout the year when parking can be hard to find.
There is a bus service from Faro to Faro beach via the airport and a foot passenger only ferry from Faro Marina.
Faro has an authentic Portuguese covered food market (Mercado Municipal) which is open Monday to Friday and mainly sells local produce including fresh fish from the days catch, meat, Portuguese bread and local cheeses, and a magnificently coloured array of Algarve fruit and vegetables. The market isn't really on the tourist trail but offers an excellent insight into everyday Algarve life.
The market is located close to Faro Hospital, but you will probably need a map to find it.
Generally eating out in Faro is cheaper than in the UK, especially if you are drinking alcohol which is around half the price of the UK. If you are prepared to eat where the locals eat rather than the tourists, you will usually find much cheaper prices. Around Faro Marina prices are higher than if you venture into the local bars and restaurants.
Portuguese wines are fantastically priced, look out for reds from the Douro Valley, and try the Portuguese green wine which is a white with a tint of green and a refreshing fizz.
Faro is around a 45-minute drive from the border with south west Spain. If you have a rental car you can cross at the new bridge which links the 2 countries.
Alternatively, you can take the train from Faro to Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Portugal/Spain border, then the short ferry across to Ayamonte.
Faro Airport is around a 15-minute drive from the centre of Faro. Ryanair and Easyjet operate flights to Faro throughout the year. In winter expect to pay around €100-150 return, with prices up to double this amount in summer.
A few items that it may be worth taking to Portugal include cosmetics, sun cream, euro-adaptors, tea, paracetamol, mosquito repellent (although this is not really needed from November to April).
Protected wetlands at Salgados in the Western Algarve are under threat from a large tourist development.
Please take a few minutes to sign a petition to help protect one of the Algarve's few remaining wetland nature reserves.Sign the petition!