Ria Formosa Natural Park
Visible from the air as you fly into Faro Airport, Ria Formosa natural park is a labrynth of canals, islands, swamps and sandbanks. This wonderful park is a haven for migratory birds and has been voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal.
Boat tours around the Ria Formosa waterways typically run for three to four hours. You could easily spend a day split between a boat tour and a few hours on one of the fabulous beaches on any of the three main islands: Ilha do Farol, Ilha Deserta or Ilha da Culatra. The Natural Park is on Faro’s doorstep so it should definitely be on your list of things to do while staying in Faro.
Just an hour’s drive to the west of Faro is Lagos, one of the most popular towns in the Algarve. As well as beautiful beaches, the town of Lagos has a charming historic centre surrounded by ancient Moorish walls, overlooking a picturesque estuary and harbour. Fascinating buildings in the town include the Santo Antonio church, Mercado dos Escravos (Europe’s first slave market) and 17th century Bandeira Fort.
The town has a plethora of cafés, restaurants and bars, as well as a buzzing nightlife. If you are driving, just south of Lagos is Ponta da Piedade, a series of sandstone cliffs considered to be the western Algarve’s finest natural feature. There are some great sea arches, grottos and smugglers caves here, which can all be seen by taking a boat tour from Lagos marina.
Families with children will enjoy a visit to Parque Zoologicode Lagos, where you can see all manner of birds, mammals and reptiles.
If you fancy a break from the beach, a day trip to Loule is a great idea. Loule is one of the most popular places to visit in the central Algarve region. This lively market town with a traditional Portuguese atmosphere is home to interesting historic monuments, a Moorish-inspired covered market (a popular Saturday event), a museum (Museu Municipal), a castle and the beautiful Conceição chapel.
The town has a selection of excellent hotels, restaurants and shops, pretty cobbled streets and tree-lined squares. Buses from Faro take about 40 minutes, making this a perfect place for a day trip. Loule is quite compact and will only take half a day to wander around.
For fitter tourists, a hike up to the Nossa Senhora da Piedade church is challenging but well worth the effort for the panoramic views.
Just half an hour’s drive from Faro, the historic town of Tavira is a must-visit. Tavira is 30 kilometres east of Faro and is connected by both bus and rail services. The journey from Faro to Tavira by bus takes one hour. Extending along the banks of the Gilão River, Tavira is also known as the “Venice of the Algarve” due to its waterways and Renaissance churches.
A joy to explore, Tavira is awash with historic buildings, Islamic-decorated doorways, brilliant azulejo tiling, charming plazas and pretty cobbled streets. It is arguably the Algarve’s prettiest town: an ancient Moorish village steeped in history, with a castle, old city walls, and mosques that have been converted into churches.
The Old Town is conveniently walkable, but you can hire a bike if you fancy going further afield. There are many hotels and some great restaurants, with seafood establishments being especially prevalent. The pristine beaches of Ilha de Tavira are just a short ferry ride away.