How to live like a local in Faro, Portugal

Heading to the Algarve? This coastal region of Portugal has some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches, but we’re also in love with Faro, the Algarve’s capital. Ryanair’s decision to launch a new route from Luton is proof of the city’s popularity, and it’s high time for the low-down on this beautiful destination.

Banner image credit: istockphoto.com/sergoua

Seafront chic

Marina of Faro, Portugal

Image credit: Carlos Duarte

Locals love raising a toast to their beautiful city at one of the marina’s bars. “The area around the marina is one of my favourite places,” says local business owner Inês Martins, founder of Faro’s Rosa Chock Boutique. “I love to take a stroll around the area with my son, followed by a drink on the terrace of one of the bars. It’s a wonderful place.” There are several fantastic seafood restaurants here, and the nearby palm tree-filled Jardim Manuel Bivar is a great place for a post-dinner stroll.

Succulent seafood

Succulent seafood dish with shrimps and mussels

Image credit: Carlos Duarte

While Faro maybe compact in size, it’s got an incredibly diverse food scene. Seafood reigns supreme, but there’s some delicious tapas on offer too. “There are several restaurants which I love,” reveals Inês Martins. “Petisqueira 3 em Pipa, on Rua Brites de Almeida, has the best appetisers. Aperitivo, on Rua Conseleiro, is a brilliant wine and tapas bar, and Zé Maria, on Faro Island, has the best fresh fish.”

Retail therapy

Faro certainly caters for your holiday-shopping needs. The open-air Forum Algarve is one of the city’s biggest shopping centres. Rua de Santa Antonio, Rua de Francisco Gomes and Rua de Portugal are some of Faro’s busiest shopping streets. However, for something a little quirkier, head to the independent boutiques in Galerias Faro. If you’re shopping for souvenirs, take a look at the locally-made baskets or traditional Portuguese embroidery.

Island life

Ilha Deserta Island is located off the coast of Faro

Image credit: Animaris

Faro’s a city with a buzzing nightlife, a picturesque old town and a string of beautiful beaches, but it’s also worth venturing further afield. Regular ferry services connect the city with nearby islands, including Ilha Deserta, a seven-kilometre-long chunk of land easily accessible from Faro. It’s a popular destination for wildlife lovers and you can visit it on organised wildlife tours. “The best thing about summer in Faro is hopping over to Ilha Deserta and Faro Island to soak up the sun,” says Tim Robinson, Faro resident and owner of the Fazenda Nova Country House hotel.

Magnificent museums

There’s plenty of opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in local culture too. One of the most popular museums is the Museu Municipal de Faro, which was inaugurated in 1894. The museum’s priceless exhibits include busts of Emperor Hadrian which date back to the third century. “It’s my favourite museum,” says Helga Cruz, who works for the Algarve Tourism Bureau. “It’s located in a former convent and it’s full of mystery and heritage.” I’d also recommend a visit to the Maritime Museum, with its intricate models of sailing boats, and the Museu Regional do Algarve, which focuses on the region’s handcrafts.

Europe’s prettiest pavements

Faro’s old town (known as Vila Adentro) is the jewel in this Portuguese city’s crown, and it’s incredibly well-preserved. Enter via the Arco da Vila, a stunning stone archway which forms part of the original city walls. “Everyone should take time to walk through the walled old city,” says Helga Cruz. “This is where you’ll find the famous shopping street, Rua de Santo António, with its Portuguese tiling and Calçada Portuguesa (traditional Portuguese pavements).”

Time to dine

Restaurant in Faro

Image credit: Carlos Duarte

Faro’s cuisine is all about hearty, yet healthy, dishes made with local ingredients. One of the most traditional dishes is bacalhau (pronounced bakel-yow), which is salt-dried cod. Chicken is also incredibly popular – order a spicy frango piri-piri to see what all the fuss is about. Another must-try dish is feijoada, a thick stew made with beans and pork. What about dessert? Leave room for pasties de nata – a sweet custard tart sold in most restaurants.

When to go

April to July are the sunniest months in this region of Portugal where temperatures reach around 30°C. July and August, however, can be incredibly busy, and the beaches tend to be crowded at the height of summer. If you’re keen to avoid the stifling summer heat, but want to avoid the rain, May and October are the ideal months to visit. The rain tends to fall between November and March. The sea remains warm until autumn but bear in mind that many outdoor pools will be closed before June and after September.

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