So many visitors miss all that Faro has to offer. For them, Faro is just a stepping-stone to other locations in the Algarve.
Faro steeped in ancient Roman and Arab history is a must visit place. When you are next in the Algarve, do yourself a favor and pay Faro a visit. Before Faro was Faro, it was known in Roman times, as Ossonoba. During the 9th century it was the capital of an Arab/Moors kingdom. The town was then ringed with defensive walls.
Years later Faro's name was once again changed to Santa Maria, then to Harune. Finally in the middle of the 13th century when Faro became part of Portuguese territory it was named by the Portuguese as Faro.
In 1540, Faro was made a city and in 1577 became the site of the Episcopal Sé when the Bishop of the Algarve moved from Silves to Faro.
The Historical Center or 'Cidade Velha' as it is referred to by the locals is the oldest part of the city, situated on the southern side of Faro marina. Faro, capital city of the Algarve, offers so much more than just a landing point in Portugal. The old part of the city is still surrounded by the Roman walls. Faro offers holidaymakers a mix of experiences to suit most travelers: - culture, sunshine, history, and some rather good shopping too. It is a city full of history, great shops, restaurants and cafes aplenty, theatres and galleries, great beaches and the Ria Formosa nature reserve on its doorstep. The central area is really quite compact with everything within easy walking distance.
Rua de Santo Antonio Faro’s Old Town central business district is just like an open-air mall, filled with hundreds of small shops. It is a must stop for that shopping expedition that you have been planning for a while. The difference is that you do not have to walk around in a jail type building so typical of most commercial shopping centers, instead you have plenty of fresh air, loads of street activities, and lots of people milling around.
The one thing well worth exploring is the representation of the traditional Portuguese “Calcada”; the traditional street paving that Portugal is also famous for. The Rua de Santo Antonio has some beautifully crafted cobblestones designs. Take your camera and start clicking. From this street you can detour into its myriad of streets that feed of it. Do so, by going south towards Jardim Manuel Bivar (The Municipal Garden) located near Doca do Recreio.
It is a fantastic walking strip for you alone or for you to enjoy with friends and family. Keep in mind that this garden is a nice place to just stop and do nothing; have a picnic or just watch the people go by, and if you are together with your whole family and with kids, it is a place for children to play safely. Walking through the garden you can see the old Bandstand built with interesting cast iron features dated early 19 century. In addition, you can also enjoy watching all the boats docked at the Marina. It’s at the Jardim Manuel Bivar that you will have the opportunity to watch one of the many events that are organized by the local municipality throughout the year.
It is also a very nice place to go for a well deserved drink after a long day, or for you to stop and take a rest at any of the coffee shops that line the “Porto de Recreio” and the "Doca" (Dock) area.
Next stop is the Maritime Museum, the Main Church and the Arco da Vila. So, how do you get there from where you are in the Jardim Manuel Bivar?
Follow the signs to Hotel Eva, and then turn left into Rua da Comunidade Lusiada, where you find the Capitania do Porto the Faro (Faro’s Port authorities), here you could pay a visit to the Maritime Museum Almirante Ramalho Ortigao, built in 1931.
Thereafter, return to the Jardim Manuel Bivar e on your left you will find the Church of Misericordia built in 1583 by the Bishop D. Afonso de Castelo Branco. It is a beautiful church, having a Greek cross, and many interesting statutes, paintings and murals, for example you could see the “Visitation”, “Royal Flag” and the “Visit to the sick” murals and paintings.
You could stop this half-day tour by stopping at Arco da Vila designed by the architect Francisco Xavier Fabri in 1812. The Arco da Vila is located right next door to the Tourism office. The marble statue located at the top of the Arch represents Saint Tomas de Aquino, and to keep him company you will find some stork nests, and if you are lucky you may even see some baby storks.
Now carry on straight, pass the Arch da Vila (Arco da Vila) and admire on your right the horseshoe Arabic door built in the 11th century. This door used to be the main entrance to the town during the Moors occupation. It is also the oldest arch in the country. Now, continue towards the local municipal building (Pacos do Concelho) where you can see the beautiful white wall carvings on its façade, showcasing the town’s emblem.
Now, turn left towards Largo D. Afonso III where you will find the Faro’s Municipal Museum, the second museum created in the Algarve and one of its oldest, having been launched in 1897. Here you will have an opportunity to observe various expositions. The museum is housed in the old convent of Nossa Senhora da Assuncao, the building of the convent started in 1519. It has one of the first examples of proto-renascence and was one of only five convents in existence in the Algarve.
Once you leave the museum, go back towards the Municipality building and turn left towards Largo da Sé, where you can visit the Cathedral de Santa Maria, built in 1251 after the Christian victory against the moors. The Cathedral, located in the middle of the square, may not look very imposing from the outside, but inside is another story - the intricate gilded carving, decorated tiles (azulejos) and works of art are well worth seeing. It originates from the 13th/14th centuries (although much of the inside decoration is 17th century) and, despite having to be repaired after being ransacked and set alight by the Earl of Essex's men in 1596 and badly damaged in the earthquakes of 1122 and 1755, still has the original doorway and two original chapels.
If you can, take a walk (be warned that it’s a long walk up a tall staircase) to its top tower where you will have the opportunity to see fantastic views of Faro. While you here, you must also pay a visit to the Church of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), which is located right next door to the church.
In the Largo da Sé, you can find the Bishop's Palace (Paco Episcopal) dated from 16 century. This monument has always served as an Episcopal residence, although it is open to the public at times, but because it is still the official residence of the Bishop it is advisable to check in advance. In the Bishop’s Palace you can find paintings by Marcello Leopardi, and a fantastic library with fantastic Rococo tile works. Then continue straight along the front of the palace until the Cais da Porta Nova, where you can catch a boat trip, or just pause to view the beauty of Ria Formosa and why it has been classified as one of seven sacred global sites.
Once you get there, turn left and continue until you reach the castle walls. Carry-on straight, and in front of a fountain you will see on the right the Church of São Francisco. This church covered in gold gilt was founded in the 17 century. This building contains a significant number of images representing the Procession of Ashes and Sorrows.
On leaving the church, go straight ahead and cross the Square to find the “Arco de Repouso” the Repouso Arch built in the 12 century. It is surrounded by two imposing towers and was part of the defense mechanism for the city against attacks by its enemies.
The Arch of Rest (Arco do Repouso) got its name after the conquest of Faro by the King D.Afonso III and the Knights of Santiago. It was through this entrance that they retook the city on 27 March 1249. After visiting this site, continue your tour by turning to your right, where you will find the Palace of Belmarço, dating from the early twentieth century. A wealthy businessman initially built it. Here you will find some fantastic panels covered with handmade tiles of the era.
Now turn right as you leave the palace of Belmarco into Rua Alexandre Herculano, pass the Garden da Alagoa (Jardim da Alegoa) and the Rua Brites de Almeida and carry on until you reach the Largo do Pé da Cruz (The square Largo do Pé da Cruz) where you will find a small church Ermida do Pé da Cruz built in the 17 century in the baroque style. Inside you will enjoy 12 paintings depicting the Old Testament. Don’t forget to visit the back of the church too where you will find another interesting building.
Turn right into Rua João de Deus and carry on until you reach the entrance to the garden located in the Alameda Joao de Deus. It is the biggest green belt in Faro. At the top of the garden you will find a neo-Arab building frontage, the old slaughterhouse, which was restored and today houses the Ramos Rosa Municipal Library.