When I booked a last-minute break in the summer holidays, I had two requirements; somewhere cheap and somewhere with a beach. It was a trickier brief than you might think when booking last minute in the school holidays but we managed to bag some cheap Monarch flights (before they went bust!) and a lovely hotel through Booking.com for a few days away in Faro, Portugal. It’s somewhere I’d never thought about staying before, as it’s mainly known as just the airport before heading to the Algarve, so I was excited to explore a new city for a long weekend.
Explore the Faro Islands
Faro is located on the edge of the Algarve, a short bus ride from the airport (find more info on the journey here). Although we were looking for a beach destination, it doesn’t strictly have a beach – it’s actually a bus ride away from the town itself. However, it does have access to a variety of islands off the coast which you can head to via ferry. Although you were limited by the ferry times, I loved catching a ferry across to the islands. It had a wonderful chilled vibe, perfect for spotting wildlife and drinking a beer as you headed for the beach.
There are three main islands off the coast of Faro, Ilha de Culatra, Ilha da Baretta and the Ilha Deserta. Ferries run regularly to each island every day, but make sure you pay attention to the timetables as the last ferry back might be earlier than you expect! There can be long queues for the ferry but there is plenty of room, and we found a seat on the top deck every time we travelled. It costs just a few Euros for each trip, which is worth the money for a new island to explore every day.
To explore the uninhabited islands and the Ria Formosa National Park, a boat tour is a must. There are plenty to choose from by the dock, so take your pick. Our boat tour was rather quick and we didn’t choose the best time of day for wildlife, so do your research on the tide times and when you can see the most wildlife. If I went again, I’d spend a little more money and hire some kayaks to explore the islands in my own time. If you’re brave, you can even try and swim across!
Wander the Streets of Faro
As well as the islands, the city of Faro had plenty to explore. It’s smaller than you might expect, but full of tiny winding roads, with white-washed walls, and vibrant flowers. Keep an eye out for the giant crane’s nests, dotted around the city. I’d never seen anything like it before and found them totally incredible!
One must visit is the Carmo Church and the Capela des Ossos, otherwise known as the Chapel of Bones. It costs a couple of Euros to enter and see the remnants of long-dead local monks. I’ve seen chapels of bones before but they are always fascinating. I love imagining the stories of the people who donated their skeletons to creating such a creepy but reverential space!
The Museu Municipal was a bit of a hidden gem we passed and decided to enter on a whim. It cost just 2 Euros to enter and was packed full of interesting facts about Faro. There are Roman mosaics as well of the history of the development of the city. It;s a great way to learn more about the area and while away a few hours away from the heat of the midday sun.
Sample Portuguese Cuisine
We kept costs low by stocking up on breakfast, which was included in our hotel stay, and devouring delicious fresh prawns from the supermarket with bread and cheese for a few Euros each. However there are plenty of places to eat in Faro, with fish being a specialty. Our gem of a discovery was Taberna Ze-Ze, a new restaurant which had been open for just a few months. It served the local specialty, cataplana, a paella like dish in a large pan, filled to the brim with cockles, mussels, prawns and razor clams. The restaurant also offers a large tapas menu and cheap and tasty sangria.
Faro is an underrated city break if you are looking for somewhere a little off the beaten track, it's worth the trip in Summer. It’s a quiet place, especially considering that it is home to the most popular airport in Portugal, but somewhere that I think will get more popular as people start to discover its quiet charm. Have you visited Faro?
The Lowdown: Stay, Eat Visit
Stay at Lemon Tree Stay. This new hotel is a little hard to find but a gem once you’ve got there. It’s close to the centre, offers newly refurbished rooms with a trendy industrial style, includes a varied continental breakfast and has a gorgeous rooftop terrace, perfect for drinking beer and watching the stars.
Eat at Taberna Ze-Ze for local produce, traditional Portuguese dishes and friendly service. It’s tiny, new and sure to be very popular once it becomes better known.
Visit the Museu Municipal for a fascinating hour learning about the history of Faro. As an added bonus, the courtyard looks like something from Dorne; a must for any Game of Thrones fans!