As part of our contingency plan to deviate from Seville, Spain and avoid crossing borders more than necessary during COVID, we ended up taking a train from Porto down to Faro.
When To Go
We left the northern city on a Saturday morning and departed Faro on Tuesday, essentially giving us a weekend in the capital of the Algarve. I thought this was a wise-decision – my thinking being that the locals would work during the week and spend time near the beach areas on the weekend. I was mistaken.
If you are coming down to the region, you’ll find most places are closed on weekends, leaving the area relatively quiet. For the younger crowd, there is a strip of bars that gets pretty lit in the evening, which you’ll probably find yourself walking through to get to dinner as almost all restaurants close between lunch and dinner (usually 3pm – 7pm), so make sure you have plans to address any hunger.
There are three main methods of transportation in the city – bus, train, and air. Thankfully, the bus and train stations are very close to one another, on the west side of the town by the marina. They are an easy 20 minute walk to the central shopping district and where you’ll find plenty of accommodations. The airport is a quick drive away.
The train station offers both national and regional routes, allowing us to arrive from Porto, depart for Lisbon, and go on a quick day-trip all from the same place without having to find a new location.
What To Do
I highly recommend getting your internal compass set by getting a quick lay of the land. The city is incredibly walkable with only a handful of busy streets to cross. Assuming you’ve arrived via one of the aforementioned stations, you’ll likely pass by the marina first where you can see an armada of boats, some of which can whisk you away to nearby islands for a beach day.
The next thing you’ll notice is the Arco da Vila, symbolizing the entrance to the Old Town. Here, you’ll find one of my favorite things about Portugal – a blend of Moorish, Roman, and Byzantine influence. The archway pivots from these typical architectural styles with an Italian neoclassical structure that replaced the original Arab archway after the 1755 earthquake.
Spend an hour or two here seeing some buildings of historical importance and admire the azulejo mosaics near the main gates that tell stories of the city’s history.
We explored Old Town as the beginning of a self-guided walking tour I had found that took us to a few key landmarks. The next step took us west, past the main shopping district where we stopped for a latte to give us a little juice for our walk. Portugal doesn’t have much in the way of sugar-free options, but Splenda seemed to be plentiful if you need a little bit of sweetness in your coffee.
The walking tour continued on to a few churches that gave me loads of Wes Anderson vibes, but the most impressive of them was the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. The inside is ornately decorated with gold and there are various niches, statues, and paintings to admire. However, the most interesting part of the church lies behind the backdoors…
Through a small garden and cemetery, you come across the Capela dos Ossos, the Bone Chapel. The walls and ceiling are lined with the skulls and bones of over 1,000 monks that tended to the church. It’s an incredibly fascinating site.
That evening, we took a train to one of the nearby beach towns, Olhão, which I wrote about in this post.
When traveling, one of the best things you can experience is local cuisine. While all of Portugal is known for its plentiful seafood, Faro and the Algarve offer a unique dish called the cataplana. It comes in a variety of options, but is named after the tagine-shaped, copper pot that its served in.
After making the journey from our Airbnb over to a restaurant called Chefe Branco, we were seated and given what I can only describe as the absolute greatest cataplana-based service that I think can be given. Our
waiter, server, host, friend had clearly been doing this for a very long time as his routine was impeccable. He rearranged our table and tableware no fewer than fourteen thousand times as he made sure we had new cutlery between courses and the wine glass was at the perfect reaching distance. This was seriously a legendary man.
The cataplana we ordered was a blend of clams, prawns, octopus legs, peppers, and onions in a tomato-y sauce. It’s hot, it’s filling, it gives different textures and smells, it’s delicious. Oh, and the crispy bread that you can dip into the sauce and soak up all of that goodness… Ugh, my mouth is watering just typing this.
When you see a menu say it’s for two people, they mean it. We did our absolute best to defeat the metal bowl of yum, but we had reached the last hole on our belts and just narrowly avoided needing to be rolled back to our accommodation. What I’m trying to say is – don’t miss out on this.
For our last day in Faro, we actually woke up before the sun and took off down the road (about halfway to Lagos,) to hike the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. You can read about that experience in my last post.
Overall, Faro provided a nice break between the busier Porto and Lisbon destinations; however, I’d reevaluate when I visited, opting for a warmer, more beach-friendly time of year to visit.
Have you been to the Algarve? What part and what did you like? If not, would you like to go? Let me know in the comments below.