Exploring the Coastal City of Faro, Portugal

Faro is the capital and one of the most popular destinations in Portugal’s southern Algarve region. Once a fishing village known as Ossonoba and dating at least back to Roman times, Faro today is a popular holiday spot for tourists and locals alike. The cafés along the sea are nice and the shopping is plentiful and relatively inexpensive. While I can’t vouch for its nightlife (it’s supposed to be good, especially along the waterfront), I can point out some of the better historical attractions that one should see. For other types of info about the city, check out some of the links at the end.

Sites to see in Faro, Portugal

With its high-rises, hotels, crowded beaches in summer and bustling shopping plazas, Faro is a pretty modern city. That’s partly due to the fact that much of the city was conquered and destroyed many times, plus it suffered greatly from the devastating earthquake that struck the region in 1755. Thus, there are not that many old, historical buildings remaining save for what’s in the Old Town neighborhood of the city.

Old Town (Cidade Velha)

Walking around Faro’s Old Town is probably the number one thing to do in the city. Here you’ll find cobblestone streets lined with fragrant orange trees, colorful cafés and old-style houses. Many of the city’s main attractions can also be found here including the Sé Cathedral and the Archaeological Museum (see below).

Old Town Faro on the waterfront

The great thing is that this part of the city is easily accessible by foot. The most common way to enter is via the Arco da Vila, a 19th-century gate that was founded during the period the Moors ruled the city. In fact, many of the buildings have their foundations dating back to that time, some even further to the Roman era! Most of what you see now though is post-1755 earthquake.

The main part of Old Town Faro revolves around Largo do Sé, a square lined with orange trees and next to the Paço Episcopal, or the Office of the Bishop. The main church here is the Sé Cathedral (see below) though the Church of São Francisco and 17th-century Church of Nossa Senhora do Pé de Cruz are also worth stopping by.

Honestly though, the best thing to do here is simply to walk around on a warm, sunny day, stop by and eat in one of the cafés and people watch to your heart’s content.

Sé Cathedral

Yes, it seems as if every Portuguese city of any significance has a grand “Sé” Cathedral. That’s probably because when the Portuguese kings reconquered the region, they wanted everyone (especially the Moors) to know that the Christians were back in town. Thus, they renovated any existing mosques and converted them into churches. This is essentially what happened in the case of Faro’s Sé Cathedral.

Located in the Old Town of the city, the Sé Cathedral (when open) is nice to wander around in. The interior contains some cool azulejos (traditional Portuguese blue and white tiles) adorning the walls as well as an 18th-century organ with some sort of Chinese motifs on it. Outside is the old medieval bell tower and a terrace which offers a nice view of the sea.

Largo da Sé, Faro

Archaeology Museum (Museu Municipal)

Archaeological museum

The museum is a piece of history in and of itself. It used to be a 16th-century convent but was transformed in 1894 into a history and archaeological museum. That makes it one of the oldest of its kind in all of Portugal. The most amazing exhibit here is a 3rd-century AD Roman mosaic of the god Neptune. Other objects in the collection include several Roman-era statues, objects from Portugal’s Moorish period and galleries with several Renaissance paintings.

Official Museum Website
Largo Dom Afonso III, Faro

Lethes Theatre (Teatro Lethes)

Once a Jesuit college, Lethes Theatre now hosts many popular plays and productions for residents of the city. The exterior is nothing to write home about but its ornately-decorated interior is another story. Unfortunately it’s not always open to the public and sometimes there are no productions for months. However if you are there when it is open, it’s definitely worth a peek inside.

Official Lethes Theatre Website
Rua da Portugal 58, Faro, Portugal

Ramalho Ortigão Maritime Museum

This is an impressive one of a kind maritime museum with three themed galleries. There are many exhibits containing scaled-model vessels including everything from medieval caravels, galleons, modern warships, fishing boats and more. One section contains navigational tools including maps, charts and astrolabes. It’s a fitting museum for a nation that historically has prided itself on its seafaring expertise.

Carmo Church (Igreja do Carmo)

Carmo Church; photo from Wikicommons

This is one of Faro’s more impressive churches, if not only for the two bell towers that flank its façade. Inside is an altar that glistens in something called Brazil “gold leaf” along with ornately decorated, baroque-style walls. The most interesting thing about this place is right behind it: the Capela dos Ossos, or chapel of bones. It is here that the remains of 1,250 monks and their arrangement along the walls and even the ceiling and displayed. The meaning behind this is to remind the viewer of the transitory nature of life.

Rua da Comunidade Lusíada, Faro, Portugal

Galería do Arte Arco

Getty Images

It’s not the artwork of this gallery that make it special, but the view! Nested atop the old city walls of the city, the Galeria do Arte Arco contains some of Portugal’s best contemporary art with awesome views of Faro’s Rio Formosa lagoons. Along with visiting exhibits, the gallery features a collection of vintage toys from around the world.

Rua do Arco, Faro, Portugal

Arco do Repouso and Chapel

This is an arch whose construction dates back to the Moorish rule of Faro. Legend has it that King Alfonso III rested here after routing the Moors from the city in March of 1249. Within the arch is a small chapel, probably built to commemorate the occasion.

Other Areas of Interest

These may not be essential to see but are worth the visit, time permitting.

Ethnographic Museum (Museu Ethnográfico)

The Ethnographic Museum contains interesting exhibits depicting how life in the Algarve has evolved over time. There are ceramics, farm objects and an impressive library of photographs showing the traditional life of the people who have made this region their home.

Praça da Liberdade 2, Faro, Portugal

Jewish Heritage Centre

The Faro Jewish Heritage center is an interesting and somber reminder of Portugal and Spain’s past intolerance towards other faiths. Before the Inquisition that saw the conversion, expulsion and sometimes even the execution of all non-Catholics in Spain and Portugal, the city of Faro had a thriving Jewish community. Though that community is gone, another must of arisen due to an 18th-century Jewish cemetery and synagogue (now mostly abandoned) that are located here. The center contains a small museum that tells the story of the Jewish community in both Faro and region as a whole and contains a facsimile of a 1487 Torah, the first printed manuscript to be printed in Portugal.

Estrada da Penha, Faro, Portugal

Igreja de São Francisco

On the outside it may not look like much, but the interior of this church is filed with beautiful azulejos that depict the life of St. Francis. The church also features a polychrome panel that shows the coronation of the Virgin Mary.

And there you have it, a quick look at fabulous Faro, Portugal.

Sources and Further Reading:

Faro, Portugal: An Algarve Tour Guide

EZPortugal Guide to Faro (contains nightlife info)

Faro Uncovered

Faro’s Best Contemporary Art Galleries

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