The capital city of the Algarve region, Faro is a rustic but thriving beach town with plenty of history to offer, and one full day here will certainly keep you busy. From the Phoenicians to the Moors to the Portuguese to the Spanish and back to the Portuguese, Faro’s story is long and complex. After surviving centuries of religious conflict, they endured two terrible earthquakes in 1722 and 1755 which nearly leveled the entire city. Most of the touristy downtown is what the Portuguese have rebuilt since then, although some of the oldest structures within the Cidade Velha (Old City) have survived. As you walk through the cobblestoned streets, note the ubiquitous black and white sardine motifs, admire the many beautiful churches, and be sure to check out the town’s grisly ossuaries (bone chapels). After exploring, find a petiscos (tapas) restaurant and enjoy freshly caught seafood or some of the region’s homegrown damascos (apricots). If you have 24 hours to spend in Faro, this itinerary can help you get the most out of your stay.
Morning: Visit the Faro Cathedral and sit in the pews of the Chapel of the Bones
The Cathedral of Faro is one of the city’s main focal points. Commissioned in the thirteenth century and built on Roman foundations, the building retains influence from the Arabs who captured it in Medieval times and the Christians who reconquered it in 1240. Outside the building is a garden lined with chapels, including one constructed with human bones from 1664. After admiring the vast interior of the cathedral, climb the tower’s 64 narrow stone steps for a panoramic view of the town and islands to the south of Faro.
Next, head to Igreja do Cormo. Originally built in 1719 with funds from Brazilian gold mining, it towers above most of downtown Faro, north of the main tourist hustle. It’s got all the hallmarks of your everyday cathedral: wood carvings, Baroque décor, stained glass, the bones of 1200 Carmelite monks. That last bit makes up the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of the Bones), which is Carmo’s main draw. The bones are from a nearby cemetery—in 1816, they were dug up and plastered into the foundations of the church’s spacious chapel. A grisly sign above the entrance warns, “Stop here and consider the fate that will befall you.”
Lunchtime: Take a food tour of Faro
Unless you’re about to walk into some local’s apartment, a guided food tour is the best window into the life of a Faro native. You’ll sample cheeses, snacks, figs, and other Algarve-region delicacies at the Faro Municipal Market. Once you’ve made your rounds there, your guide will show you several off-the-beaten-path restaurants favored by the locals. You’ll sample a few dishes at each and wash it all down with wine selected to compliment each one.
Afternoon: Take a half-day cruise around Ria Formosa Natural Park
Before you do, make sure to snap a pic with the famous Faro sign. In the open space just before you hit the water is the popularly photographed bright red Faro sign. There’s not much to do other than snap an obligatory selfie, but from here you can appreciate the dock of Faro, an extensive walkway along the water. This is also a good place to orient yourself for the beginning of a day exploring the neighborhoods of Faro, or a good launching point for an excursion to the Ria Formosa.
Next, board your boat for cruise around the Faro Islands. You’ll make two stops—Ilha Deserta and Ilha da Culatra—with plenty of free time to explore both. A local guide will offer an in-depth commentary on your surroundings as you sail along Faro’s gorgeous coastline.
Evening: Grab a seafood dinner al fresco
Apart from the Cidade Velha (Old Town), Rua Dom Francisco Gomes is the epicenter of Faro tourism. You’ll find a smorgasbord of eateries here, from fine dining to McDonald’s. We recommend finding a spot serving up some local oysters and fresh seafood. Outdoor dining and a bottle of wine are, of course, the perfect way to end your stay.