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Faro is the capital of the Algarve in southern Portugal. Many people only know if from the airport; they go straight to a beach resort from the terminal. People who make the effort to visit Faro discover the charms of the town, with a cosy old center and a busy fishing port.
The baroque church Igreja do Carmo was built in 1713. The building has two bell towers and an altar covered with gold leaf. But the biggest attraction of this church is rather bizarre: the Capela d'Ossos (Chapel of Bones). This chapel was built in the 19th century and is decorated with human skulls (over 1200) and bones of dead monks. The chapel was built on the site where once was a cemetery and the human remains from dug graves were used to decorate the chapel. The inscription above the entrance reads: "Pause here and think of the fate that is upon you".
The Sé (cathedral) has a Gothic tower, but especially notable are the tile plateaus in the interior, particularly in the Rose Chapel (Capela do Rasário). Another church with beautiful tile plateaus is the church Igreja de São Francisco.
Located at the port is the Museu Marítimo, where you can see models of local fishing ships and boats that Vasco da Gama used on his trip to India in 1497. There is also a replica of the boat on which the Portuguese travelled up the river Congo.
Where to go with kids on a rainy day? To the Science Museum of Faro! There are all kinds of fun and interactive installations and the museum has a clear division into themes: the sun and light, the galaxy, the green world, the blue world, and chemistry.
Faro has an energetic night life, which is primarily located in and around the Rua do Prior in the heart of the city. There are dozens of cafes, bars, discos and nightclubs. The street comes to life after 10 pm only to rest again in the early morning.
The nature reserve Ria Formosa extends about sixty kilometers along the coast, from Tavira in the east to Ancao in the west. It consists of sand dunes, interspersed with lagoons, swamps and islands off the coast. Bird watchers will definitely enjoy their time here, but you can also take a picnic to this area, away from the crowds on the beaches of the Algarve.
This town of Tavira is indeed worth a visit too. It lies at the confluence of the rivers Segura and Gilão, spanned by an old Roman bridge. A lively fruit and vegetable market is being held alongside the river and at the port you can of course witness the harbor landings and trading of fresh fish, mainly tuna. In front of Tavira is a sandbank with two glorious uncrowded beaches: Praia de Tavira and Praia de Fuzeta. You can only reach these by motorboat. The beach of Santa Luzia, about 3 kilometers from Tavira, is pleasantly quiet too. Tavira is also developing into a golf center; an alternative to the busier golf courses west of Faro.
The market town of Loulé is located fifteen kilometers north of Faro. There are products for sale, made of palm leaves and esparto grass: handbags, baskets, mats and hats. But the craftsmen of Loulé create pottery and utensils too, as well as jewelry of copper, iron and tin. Remember to look up above you in Loulé: have you ever seen so many different and beautifully decorated chimneys in one place?
The fishing town of Olhão, eight kilometers east of Faro, has typical white cube houses, with outside stairs leading to flat roofs. It reminds a bit of the houses in the medinas of North Africa. Climb the hill Cabeça for a good view on Olhão. There are caves with extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites. One of the most idyllic beaches in the Algarve is the beach of Ilha de Armona. During the summer months a ferry departs to this island every hour.
In the region of the mountain village Monchique you can make beautiful trips. For example the road to Alferce, or the route to the Foia mountain (902 meters and the highest point in southern Portugal).
The whole Algarve is a bustling tourist destination. In the summer months it can be difficult to find a parking space on the street. Most hotels have parking facilities and in order to explore Faro it is best to leave your car at the hotel. However, a car is a very convenient means of transport to explore the countryside of Portugal.
Faro Airport is situated seven kilometers west of the city and is easily accessible by rental car. The exit from the coastal road EN125 is clearly indicated. From the airport there is only one route that leads to the EN125. You can get to most tourist sites in the Algarve are within an hour. To Almancil it takes about 20 minutes, Vilamoura 30 minutes, Albufeira 45 minutes and Portimão an hour.