The largest city in the Algarve, Faro is the enchanting gateway to the paradise that is southern Portugal. This popular vacation destination is best known for the shimmering lagoons of the Parque Natural Ria Formosa, which are home to a diverse range of wildlife. Step back from the dazzling coastline, and you’ll discover fascinating historic towns with winding paths, hidden passages, and weathered staircases just begging to be explored.
From wildlife spotting adventures and river cruises through natural treasures to thought-provoking museums and some of the most delicious seafood in the world, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Faro. Thanks to the region’s spectacular location, Faro is a great place to visit at any time of year. Temperatures are around 82°F (28°C) in summer and rarely drop below 50°F (10°C) in winter.
With such a fantastic selection of things to see and do, it can be tricky to know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Faro. Add these activities and attractions to your Faro bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful time exploring this beautiful region in southern Portugal!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Faro
1. Seek Out Local Wildlife At Parque Ribeirinho De Faro
For some of the best sights in Faro, spend the day at Parque Ribeirinho de Faro. Spread out over 40 acres of rugged land overlooking the spectacular Ria Formosa, this natural park provides you with a peaceful respite in the middle of Faro’s urban hustle and bustle.
The perfect place for a workout, Parque Ribeirinho de Faro is home to a number of walking, hiking, and cycling trails that loop around the entire park. Keep an eye out as you exercise – you’re almost guaranteed to spot some of the local wildlife hanging out by the water’s edge. If you’d prefer to take things easy, head for one of the observation decks that are in prime positions for animal spotting.
If you’re traveling as a family, make sure you stop by the adventure playground. You can chill in the park’s cafe with a local coffee while watching your little one have fun.
2. Admire The Intricate Façade Of Arco Da Vila
Arco da Vila is one of the most beautiful and photo-worthy Faro attractions. It dates back hundreds of years and was originally created to be a gate to the city’s waterside. In 1812, the gate was given a spectacular Neoclassical redesign, and it’s stayed the same ever since.
The striking landmark was designed by Italian architect Francisco Xavier Fabri who wanted to give the city’s visitors arriving by sea a stately welcome. The remarkable construction features a balustrade, pediments, a belfry, and pinnacles.
Just above the entrance, there’s an inner niche featuring a statue of Saint Thomas of Aquinas. And at the very top, there’s a permanent stork’s nest used by real storks!
A must-visit for history enthusiasts, Arco da Vila dates all the way back to Moorish times. As you walk through it, you can still see some of the original stonework that’s more than a millennium old.
3. Step Back In Time At The Medieval Fair Of Paderne
If you’re planning your trip for around the holidays, you’ve got to check out the Medieval Fair of Paderne. One of the most unique things to do in Faro, this annual festival takes place during the last days of the year and is the closest you’ll get to going back in time.
For four days, the neighborhood of Paderne comes to life with bustling market stalls, arts and crafts fairs, and some of the finest cuisine in all of the Algarve. Every part of the festival has a medieval theme, so expect people to be dressed up in lavish costumes and the entire neighborhood to look centuries old.
The highlight of the festival is the amazing procession that flows throughout the streets. This dramatic parade retells the ancient story of the time when the Letter of Donation of the Castle of Paderne was delivered by King Dom Dinis to the Order of Avis.
4. Learn About Faro’s Past At The Faro Municipal Museum
If you’re unlucky enough to have a bit of bad weather, one of the best things to do in Faro is to spend a few hours at the Faro Municipal Museum. Also known as the Museu Municipal de Faro, this cultural attraction is the second-oldest museum in the Algarve and was officially opened in 1894, on the 500th anniversary of the birth of Henry the Navigator.
The museum is located within the 16th-century Nossa Senhora Assunção convent, which gives the place a spiritual, solemn, and slightly eerie atmosphere. Most of the ancient artifacts on display date back to Roman times, such as important inscribed stones. There’s also a duo of remarkable marble busts depicting Emperor Hadrian and Agrippina.
However, there are some even older pieces. One of our favorite exhibits was a gorgeous mosaic from the 2nd century. There are also many exhibits of religious pieces that have been collected from churches and monasteries throughout Faro.
5. Try Authentic Piri Piri Chicken
Digging into a plate of Portuguese piri piri chicken is one of the best ways to fuel up for some Faro sightseeing. Although no one is quite certain where this drool-worthy chicken dish comes from, it’s hugely popular throughout the Algarve – so much so that you’ll find it in practically every restaurant in Faro.
This local delicacy is made by marinating chicken (normally chicken legs, thighs, drumsticks, or whole chickens) in a fiery hot sauce. African bird’s-eye chilies, which are grown all over southern Portugal, give the chicken its spicy punch. When the meat has absorbed all the delicious flavor, it’s grilled over an open flame until juicy on the inside and chargrilled on the outside.
Churrasqueira o Recife is one of the most incredible places in Faro for piri piri chicken. Here the meat is wonderfully tender and cooked to absolute perfection. It’s also served with unlimited fries and rice, making it a great value.
6. Take A Peaceful Stroll Around Cidade Velha
When you need a break from all the exciting Faro activities, take it easy and enjoy a leisurely walk around Cidade Velha. Also known as Old Town, this part of the city is a fascinating place to wander and soak up the atmosphere.
Worlds away from the bustling urban metropolis of the newer part of the town, Cidade Velha is peaceful, relaxing, and serene. Take a gentle stroll around the neighborhood, and you’ll spot cute whitewashed houses with terracotta tile roofs, secluded plazas with hidden restaurants, and beautiful gardens you wouldn’t expect to find in a place like this.
Make sure you seek out the plaza in front of the cathedral. It’s decorated with lines of aromatic orange trees. But the grandiose palace is the masterpiece. It dates all the way back to the 16th century and was previously used as the residence for Faro’s numerous bishops.
7. Shake Your Hips At The Carnival of Loulé
For one of the most fun things to do in Faro, plan your trip to coincide with the Carnival of Loulé. This spectacular event is celebrated in February or March each year (the exact date changes according to when Easter falls) and is one of the loudest, most thrilling, and most absorbing events you’ll ever attend.
The biggest and best Carnival in the Algarve, the Carnival of Loulé attracts thousands of people who travel from all over the world to let their hair down and party. For two solid weeks, the streets of the neighborhood are filled with people wearing all kinds of creative costumes, singing, dancing, and having an amazing time.
As well as the spontaneous street parties, the Carnival of Loulé also features organized parties, sophisticated balls, theatrical shows, music concerts, exciting parades, and comedy performances. There are food and drink stalls set up all over the place, so you never have to leave the fun to refuel!
8. Experience Science Come To Life At Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve
Spending a day at a science museum may not sound like one of the coolest things to do in Faro, but the Centro Ciência Viva do Algarve is sure to change your mind. An excellent place to visit if you’re traveling with kids, this hands-on, interactive science museum is bursting with things that will intrigue and excite minds of all ages.
One of the most interesting parts of the science museum is the touch pool. Filled with shellfish and fish that live in the Ria Formosa, this pool allows you to get up close with some fascinating creatures and learn more about them. If you’re a little more daring, there’s also an opportunity to hold a tarantula or a scorpion!
The rest of the museum focuses on every other form of science you could think of, from tides, kinetic energy, and earthquakes to astronomy, green energy, and even the Bermuda Triangle!
9. Take A Ria Formosa Catamaran Cruise
Exploring the Ria Formosa from the comfort of a catamaran is one of the must-do things in Faro. The coastline that hugs Faro is a protected nature reserve best known for its spectacular lagoon that stretches on for a whopping 37 miles. The best way to see as much of the lagoon as possible, and all the creatures that call it home, is to sign up for this Ria Formosa Faro Islands Catamaran Tour.
You’ll have the chance to see all kinds of dazzling creatures, from razorbills, storks, and stilts to flamingos, ospreys, and the florid purple swamphen during your adventure.
As well as spotting native wildlife, this catamaran cruise also stops at the mesmerizing islands of Deserta and Farol. Here you’ll have the chance to explore on your own and spot even more intriguing wildlife, including chameleons. Make sure you take your swimming gear – there are loads of secluded beaches with shimmering waters just begging you to take a dip.
10. Dig Into Fresh Oysters By The Sea
Faro is known for its excellent seafood, and the oysters you get here are some of the best in the world. Most of the seafood you’ll find in Faro actually comes from the Ria Formosa. The quality is so high that these oysters are regularly shipped and served in restaurants all over Portugal.
The best place to try oysters in Faro is a marisqueira – this is a niche restaurant that specializes in fresh seafood. Taberna Zé-Zé is an excellent marisqueira that’s well-known for its superb oysters. Here you can enjoy them as part of a gigantic seafood platter, along with delicious shrimp, clams, mussels, and crayfish.
Tascaria Chafariz is another great place for oysters. This restaurant does a decadent oysters gratin with a rich, creamy sauce and crunchy, golden breadcrumbs. If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial, you can also order seafood rice (it’s similar to Spanish paella) which includes all kinds of wonderful seafood.
11. Explore Ancient Ruins At Milreu
For some of the best things to see in Faro, take a trip to Milreu. Just a short drive from the center of the city, Milreu is home to one of the most important Roman sites in all of Portugal. Set on a hill surrounded by gorgeous orange groves, the dramatic ruins date all the way back to the 1st or 2nd century CE.
During their heyday, the ruins were a spectacular peristyle villa complex constructed on a sprawling courtyard. Although experts aren’t sure who owned the magnificent residence, it’s safe to say that it was someone incredibly wealthy with a very high social status.
Despite being in ruins, you can still see some of the dazzling geometric mosaics that decorated the estate. Take a look around, and you’ll stumble upon fantastic nautical motifs. See if you can find the jumping fish in the bathing chambers!
12. Spend A Relaxing Day At The Beach
Break up your Faro adventure by spending a laid-back day at one of the many golden sandy beaches in the area. If you want some real peace and quiet, visit one of the enclaves hidden away on the Ria Formosa’s outer islands. As these bays are only accessible via boat, they’re very rarely crowded. You may even get the entire beach to yourself!
There aren’t any services or facilities at a number of these remote beaches. So make sure you take all the supplies, food, drinks, and shade with you to last the entire day. Some of the islands, such as Ilha da Culatra, have a small local community.
You can easily catch the ferry to Ilha da Culatra from Faro Marina. Alternatively, you can take a guided boat trip to Ilha Barreta (also known as Ilha Deserta), which also boasts spectacular beaches.
13. Check Out The Biggest Sand Sculpture Festival In The World
For one of the top things to do in Faro, plan your trip to coincide with FIESA. The largest sand sculpture festival in the world, this captivating event is held in the nearby town of Lagoa between March and October every year.
Artists from all over the world travel to the festival to show off their incredible sculpting skills. More than 35,000 tons of sand are used every year to make around 90 remarkable sand sculptures, some of which are up to 40 feet tall!
You’ll see all kinds of incredible sculptures, from popular TV cartoon characters and beautiful mermaids to mythological creatures and recreations of famous landmarks. There are so many fantastic sculptures to see that you can rent a buggy to get around and avoid wearing yourself out!
As well as the sand sculpture displays, there’s loads of other stuff going on, too. With dance performances, circus acts, music concerts, and theatrical performances, you’ll be spoiled for choice with things to do.
14. Gaze At The Baroque Architecture At Igreja Do Carmo
If you’re a fan of stunning architecture, one of the most rewarding things to do in Faro is to admire the spectacular Igreja do Carmo. Also known as Igreja da Ordem Terceira de Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo, this dramatic church was built in the middle of the 18th century and has become one of the most important historical monuments in the Algarve.
The magnificent building has all the classic features of Portuguese Baroque architecture. The very best sculptors in Faro were recruited to craft the delicate gilded woodwork. But the most impressive sights are found on the inside.
Step through the entrance, and you’ll have the chance to see fabulous stained glass windows and intricate tilework that will take your breath away. If you’re into unusual attractions, step inside the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). This part of the church dates back to 1816 and protects the bones of more than 1,200 monks.
15. Fall In Love With Javali
The cuisine in Faro is very focused on fish and seafood, but there are some popular meat-based dishes brought over by people from the inland, too. Javali is one of the most loved dishes that you’ll find on almost every traditional restaurant menu you come across in the city.
Javali is the flavor-packed meat of wild boar. It has a rich, much more complex flavor than pork, with a wonderfully firm texture. It’s also surprisingly lean, thanks to the animal’s active life. You’ll find javali cooked in many different ways, from gently simmered in a stew to slowly grilled over an open flame.
O Javali dishes up the finest javali in Faro. This casual cafe-style restaurant specializes in this delicious dish. You can order it grilled, as part of a casserole, as part of a soup – a bunch of different ways! Every day the restaurant dishes up a number of seasonal specials, plus a new way of serving javali.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Faro. What’s your favorite thing to do in Faro?
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