Faro, Olhão & the Ria Formosa

From Faro up to the Ria Formosa

Faro, capital of the Algarve

Although Faro is the administrative capital of the Algarve and even the largest city in southern Portugal, it certainly does not belong to the most visited places. Almost all holidaymakers in the Algarve arrive at Faro airport, but only few tourists stay in Faro or even visit it during their holidays. We think this is unjustified, because Faro also has a lot of history, culture, but also hotels and nightlife to offer.

Most buildings in the old city were destroyed by the earthquake in 1755, but the Cidade Velha (old city) of Faro remains a very nice neighborhood. The fortification walls surround the old part of the city and have remained virtually unaffected.

The Porta da Vila (also called Arco da Vila) is one of the most famous historical buildings in Faro. Above the gate you can see the marble-made statue of the Italian Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of the city. The arch was built around a 11th century gate in the form of a horseshoe and is a unique monument in the Algarve. Within the city walls is also the cathedral Sé de Faro.

This beautiful cathedral brings together different architectural styles and was built in the 13th century. You will see both gothic elements and renaissance and baroque. Only the Portico tower and two cross chapels remain of the old church. The chapel Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres is beautifully decorated with cut, old azulejos.

The former convent Nossa Senhora da Assunção was transformed into an archaeological museum, the highlights of which are a Roman floor mosaic and a collection of Moorish oil lamps. Be sure to check out the Moorish scale with the inscription 'Allah' and the 16th-century Italian paintings. From this Galeria de Arte Arco you have a magnificent view over the Ria Formosa.

A well-known church in Faro is the 17th-century chapel Nossa Senhora do Pé da Cruz. Here you will find beautiful gilded carvings, a series of oil paintings with pictures from the Old Testament as well as an 18th century crucifix made of azulejos.

Because Faro is also a well-known university city, students give the new part of the city a vibrant nightlife and a distinguished artistic heritage. Neat historic buildings stand next to modern museums (such as the Museu Maritimo) and atmospheric bars. You can taste the best traditional dishes in one of the numerous restaurants.

The Igreja do Carmo (Capela dos Ossos) is an excellent example of a church with Baroque decoration, gilded with Brazilian gold leaf. However, the church is best known for its sinister collection of skeletons: the walls of this church are covered with the skulls and bones of a thousand monks.

The Faro belonging Ilha do Faro (Faro Island) is one of the series of dune islands that are part of the Ria Formosa. This beautiful elongated island lies on the sea side of the airport and can be reached via a bridge next to the airport. This island is very popular (and therefore very busy) in the summer.

Olhão, the hometown of the Algarvian fish

Olhão is one of the busiest fishing ports in the Algarve and therefore also offers excellent seafood restaurants. Olhão is also the largest producer of canned tuna and sardines. The first factories for the sardines and tuna cans were founded in 1882. Fishing has always been the most important income of Olhão and this can also be seen everywhere. For example, the 17th century church was built with donations from local fishermen.

OIhão is also known for the old traditional fishermen's houses. These are white cube-shaped houses with flat roof terraces and a facade staircase. The bridge over the railway offers a nice view of these houses. The architecture of these houses is of Moorish style. Olhão always had excellent trade relations with North Africa in history.

From the bell tower of the church Igreja Matriz you have a beautiful view of the entire city and its surroundings (including the Ria Formosa - see below).

Try to go to Olhão on a Saturday, because then you can visit Olhão's large fish market on the boulevard next to the river. And no worries, there is not only fish available in the pavilions of the market building, but also other handmade products such as lace, basketwork, sausages and even touristic souvenirs.

Olhão is also an excellent starting point to explore the Ria Formosa Natural Park. After all, several trips and ferries leave for the small dune islands off the coast (most of which are uninhabited). The sailing times to these islands are around 10 to 20 minutes and during the summer months these islands with long beaches are the ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.

One of the seven natural wonders of Portugal

The Ria Formosa is one of Europe's most important lagoon landscapes in. The sand dunes, salt pans, marshes and the vast freshwater lake form a refuge for all kinds of animal and plant species. The lagoon area extends over more than 60km. The area starts a little west of Faro off the coast of Vale de Lobo and ends at Manta Rota in the eastern Algarve. In Quinta de Marim, just 3km from the city of Olhão, there is a visitor center with lots of information about the possible walks and boat trips through this area.

The 3.2km long walk São Lourenço is one of the most beautiful routes through the park. You will meet the salt marshes and the freshwater lagoons. From shelters you have a magnificent view of the oasis. The Roman salt basins were used for salting fish, which was later shipped throughout the Roman Empire.

The Quinta do Lago route takes you past two ecosystems: a forest with many parasol and marine pines and the marsh. You will also find kennels for Portuguese water dogs. This unique dog has webbed feet on his legs. Other animals that may be spotting are the crabs, where the male one has considerably larger scissors than the other, the harmless viper snake, the Mediterranean chameleon and birds such as the purple moorhen, flamingo, blue magpie, little tern, the hop and so much more. You can also take a bike ride or explore the Ria Formosa by boat.