Faro and the Eastern Algarve

Though we could have selected any number of towns as our base to explore the eastern Algarve, a local recommended Faro to us as a still-open-and-active winter location. We arrived in Faro by Flixbus from Seville, Spain, where we had been visiting with family.

It was a bit of a walk with our suitcases into town (we could have hailed an Uber or Bolt car) but not uncomfortable since it was fairly flat (unlike Porto or Lisbon). We had booked accommodation right in the center (highly recommended spot–see TripBits, below).

We weren’t expecting much from Faro–just a good location from which to visit other towns and the Ria Formosa–but we found it to be quite enjoyable in itself. The old town is pedestrian friendly with many shops, restaurants, and bakeries. The marina and castle are in town and you can take a short bus ride to the beach or board any number of tour boats or ferries (in season) to get to some of the nearby islands.

We finally managed to take in a fado (traditional Portuguese music) concert at O Castelo, a restaurant/bar/venue right by the castle, and we enjoyed a sunset drink on the rooftop patio of LAB. Because it was winter, a lot of the street life was absent, but we could see how it would be quite vibrant with the cafes and bars spilling onto the patterned paving tiles.

Faro tiles (calçadas)

Olhao and Ria Formosa

Algarve from Faro east is entirely different geographically from the Algarve to the west of Faro. Instead of the grand cliffs and beaches of the west, the eastern end is surrounded by the Ria Formosa Nature Park–170 square kilometres of water channels, islands, salt pans, beaches and shellfish beds. In this area, most of the sandy beaches are accessed by ferry or tour boat (you can drive or take a bus across a little bridge to Praia do Faro). Ria Formosa is considered to be one of the most important wetland sites on earth, with more than 200 bird species that are either permanent residents, spend winters here, or rest during migrations.

Since it was off-season for our visit, there was no ferry running from Faro to Ilha do Farol, a close and popular spot to visit in the Ria Formosa. A few tour boats were making trips, but we decided to use the public system instead. We took a quick train ride to neighbouring Olhão, walked through town, caught a ferry to Culatra on Ilha da Culatra, walked across the island, stopped for a drink at the one open beach cafe, and then walked along the beach to Farol before catching a different ferry back to Olhão and the return train to Faro.

Walking through Olhão

On the ferry to Culatra

Culatra to Farol

A sidewalk leads out of the little commercial area of town through a section of bungalows and then connects with a boardwalk for the rest of the walk across the island. In winter, at least, there is just one business at the end of the boardwalk–a cute little beach bar serving drinks and snacks (ask for the key to the little washroom back on the boardwalk). The provided chairs and umbrellas made it a lovely spot to stop and enjoy the ocean view. From there the walk along the beach to Ilha do Farol took about 45 minutes (we were not in a hurry). Once in town, we walked across the island’s point to locate the ferry dock and then tried to find something to eat as we had not packed food with us (there’s a tip here–don’t expect to find open restaurants in January). Finally, we found one little out-of-the-way café on the opposite side of the point (back near the lighthouse) that served us a gigantic toastie sandwich (1/4 of the sandwich was almost like a whole normal sandwich).

Leaving Farol

The ferry schedule, at least in January, is limited, so we had to be aware of the schedules and how each transport connected to the next. We caught the 9:55 train to Olhão, the 11:00 ferry to Culatra, the 16:00 ferry from Farol back to Olhão, and the 17:29 train back to Faro. This schedule worked out really well and was almost the only option. We had quite a bit of time to wait in Ilha do Farol, so could have taken more time at the beach bar or on the walk between towns. We covered 12 kilometres or about 17,500 steps on that day.


We arranged a rental car from the Faro airport (a 30-minute bus ride from town) for our penultimate day so we could do a day trip and then return the car to the airport the next morning to catch our flight. Since the car rental was incredibly cheap we added an extra day before so we could visit a few more towns. Once we had our car, we drove from the airport east to Tavira and then worked our way back slowly. (It is also easy to take a train from Faro to Tavira.)

Tavira is positioned along the coast and includes part of the Ria Formosa, but the main part of the town is a little bit up the Gilão River from the ocean’s edge. We parked near Praça Dr. António Padinha across the river and then walked the arched Ponte Romana de Tavira (or ponte antiga–old bridge) to explore the town. The current bridge, built on the foundations of a first-century Roman crossing, feeds pedestrians right to Praça da República, the main plaza.

Water is very important to Tavira’s history and there are interpretive signs throughout town speaking to the topic. The old pump station has been turned into a tiny museum. An old water tower stands atop a hill and has been converted into Camera Obscura – Tavira Eye. It was closed when we were there, but it would have been a fun way to get a great view over the city and to learn about its history and culture. In the same area as the tower is Castelo de Tavira, which is now just a pretty walled garden. We were able to climb up the walls to view the city from above.

We returned across the river for lunch and to pick up our car. There are plenty of restaurants near the praça (plaza) and it’s a little quieter on that side of the bridge.


Fuseta is a small parish of about 2,000 people on a tiny corner of land (in 2013, Fuseta merged with Moncarapacho and the combined town of Moncarapacho e Fuseta is much larger at about 9,000 residents). The town faces a quiet inlet but also borders the ocean. It has its own beach on the mainland as well as the beach on the Ria Formosa lands a short boat ride away. There is lots of free parking along the inlet roadside, a large lot suitable for vans and caravans, and a large campground near both the inlet and beach making this a popular recreation spot. Cafes and bars at the beach were busy on the sunny mid-January day we visited.


We had time for just a quick stop in Loulé in the late afternoon just as everything was closing down. After seeing the beautiful market building, I would have loved to have a bit more time to visit and see what it is like inside. Though the market is open Monday to Saturday, 7:00-3:00, Saturday might be the best day to go to see it in full swing with stalls spread into the streets.

We were in time to visit what is left of Castelo (castle) de Loulé. The quaint museum attached to the castle hosts a historic kitchen and other exhibits.

Because Loulé is inland, it hasn’t been affected by the resort-town esthetic. It’s a colourful, quiet town with plenty of shops, restaurants, and streets that we think would be worth more time than we gave to it. It is a quick and easy visit from Faro.

Mértola (Alentejo)

Since we had extra time in Faro and to try to reduce the driving in the next leg of our trip, we chose to take a day trip north to the southernmost stop on our planned Alentejo loop (covered in the next post). We took the non-toll route, zigging and zagging up into the mountains.

We arrived to a clear blue sky, but that didn’t last long. As we walked through this hilly town, the clouds and mist closed in.

We parked in a lot just over the bridge that crosses the Guadiana river. The city’s welcome sign was just across the road and featured several animal sculptures demonstrating the importance of wildlife to the area. We walked through town parallel to the river and up to the castle and nearby excavated ruins. The 30-metre-high keep tower has been reworked into a multi-storey museum and we were able to climb right up to the top for a beautiful view of the valley, rivers, and bridges.

Cacela Velha

Cacela Velha is almost at the eastern end of the Ria Formosa, so we made a quick stop on our return journey from Mértola. At the east end of the Ria Formosa the beaches are close enough to the mainland that you can walk across depending on the tide level. The sand strips that are the praias, or beaches, change shape with the winds and tides. Had it been warmer, it would have been wonderful to swim in the clear, protected water.


  • Seville to Faro: Flixbus €10.99 each. Flixbus does not go right into the central Faro bus depot (terminal rodoviário); rather, it stops about a kilometre north on the highway. Rede Expresso buses use the terminal, so might be a better choice.
  • Faro accommodation: 7 Styles Apartments by Raspberry Cascade. They don’t seem to have a website, but have a good web presence on every booking site possible, it seems. This is a purpose-renovated building with seven little apartments, each decorated to a particular theme (Vintage, Morocco, Nordic, etc.). The owner and host, Dulce, was delightful and customer service was very special. Our one-bedroom suite overlooked the street–in January there was a little daytime activity but it was still quiet at night. €542.62 including taxes for 7 nights.
  • Olhão:
    • Train, Faro to Olhão: €1.45 per person each way
    • Ferry: €1.85 Olhãoto culatra, €2.20 Farol to Olhão
  • Bus to Faro airport: Look for Line 16 out in the big bus parking area at the Faro bus terminal (not inside the terminal building). Pay cash on board, €2.25. The driver makes change.
  • Car rental: Pick-up and drop-off at the Faro airport, two days, € 21.96 total through KLM partner CarTrawler. A huge free parking lot near the castle made it easy to park overnight.

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