You will undoubtedly have heard of Faro, Portugal, because it is home to one of the country's main airports. However, whilst lots of people fly into Portugal via Faro, they do not necessarily take the time to discover what the town itself has to offer, as they are intent on finding the beaches or other hotspots in the Algarve. Faro certainly has some appealing aspects and the discerning tourist will consider it worth a visit. The harbour is attractive and nearby the pedestrianised shopping area has lots of good places to eat and drink, either with international or local cuisine. Ornithologists amongst you will be interested to hear that the Ria Formosa nature reserve near Faro has a large variety of migratory and domestic birds.
Through the Arco da Vila, built in the 18th century in the Italian renaissance style as part of Faro's regeneration after the earthquake, the old town (Cidade Velha) is where you will find the cathedral (Sé) with good examples of azulejo tiling and the very good Museu Arqueológico, housed in a 16th -century former convent nearby. The Cidade Velha is really all that remains of Faro's history from before the 1755 earthquake. Even before then, the town had such a chequered past of conquests and reconquests that it is hard to see how any buildings survived at all.
The harbour and Cidade Velha have been cleaned up and restored in order to entice the tourists in off the beaches. There are gardens and cafés near the harbour where you can stroll or sit with a drink whilst admiring the rows of yachts. In fact, on a sunny evening you will find that much of Faro's population is doing just that.
In mid-October Faro celebrates the Feira de Santa Iria by erecting a fairground in the northeast of town. There is an international music festival (Festival Nacional de Música do Algarve) that runs from May until July, with performances in towns across the Algarve, not just in Faro. Open-air street entertainment (Animação de Rua) is celebrated from July to September with performances in Faro, Portimão and Albufeira.
Once you have exhausted the cultural possibilities in Faro, go by bus or car out to the Praia de Faro, a huge spit of sand on the Ilha de Faro. It can get crowded in the summer but for a couple of hours of sea and sun it is quite adequate. You can go straight from the airport to the beach, if you wish, as the same buses cover the whole route!
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