White dome above a tiled roof
History,  Monday walks,  Portugal

Faro’s old town: sights and impressions

Some of my best memories of my previous visit to Faro were of exploring the streets of the Old Town especially around the beautiful Cathedral. I was keen therefore to revisit favourite spots and discover new ones.

So after breakfast on our first morning we walked through the Arco da Vila, its ridges dotted with storks’ nests. I’ll share our explorations with Jo for a Monday Walk in an area she knows far better than I do!

Archway through a white painted stone building
The Arco da Vila

Large bird on a nest
Storks’ nests on the Arco da Vila

Cobbled streets lined with houses with faded paint

In Faro’s old town

Window with green shutters in a wall with peeling paint

Statue of a man with a crown

Statue of Dom Afonso III

Statue of a man with a crown

Nossa Senhora da Assunção

After a stroll around some of the picturesque streets we came to the municipal museum. This is housed in the former convent of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, which nowadays houses the Faro Municipal Museum. The building dates from the first half of the 16th century. I’d read that the old monastery cloisters were worth seeing, in addition to some of the Roman artefacts in the museum; so we paid the modest 1 euro (seniors’ rate) to go in.

I loved the worn animal gargoyles in the cloisters and the views of the rococo dome (in my feature photo above).

The mosaic of Oceanus was the star exhibit in the museum itself. I was fascinated by the examples of a very early (pre-Roman) Tartessian language of the Algarve region; and we both liked the works in a temporary modern art display.

Close up of man wearing sunglasses with reflected scenes
Me reflected in Chris’s sunglasses, just before I spilled my coffee!

By the time we left we were ready for another coffee. We found a sunny spot outside the Cidade Velha restaurant where I recalled having eaten dinner with the VT crowd four years ago.

The cappuccinos were good; but unfortunately my glass fell out of its metal holder when I tipped it up, spilling hot coffee all over me! The one good thing was the relative proximity of our little apartment, allowing me to go back to change my clothes.

The cathedral

That done we returned to the old Town to visit the cathedral. Although not large it dominates the Largo da Sé in the heart of the old town. A flautist was playing rather beautifully on its steps, collecting money to help refugees in Ukraine.

Man playing the flute sitting on stone steps
Flautist on the cathedral steps

The cathedral dates originally from the mid 13th century (completed 1271 and expanded about 50 years later). It was built on the site of a Moorish mosque; Faro was the last part of the Iberian Peninsula to be liberated from the Moors, in 1249. That mosque had been built on the remains of a Visigoth cathedral and that in turn on those of a Roman forum. This therefore has been the heart of the city for hundreds of years.

The original Romanesque-Gothic structure was damaged in a raid by the English in 1596 and further and more badly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, which left only the tower gate and several of the chapels still intact. Today the cathedral shows rather a mix of architectural styles, with Baroque predominating.

Inside the cathedral

There are some gloriously ornate chapels, the rich gold offset by the traditional blue and white azulejos. It was rather dark in places and of course I didn’t use flash, so some of the photos are rather noisy but I hope worth sharing regardless.

We climbed the stairs to the choir loft from where you get an excellent view of the cathedral as a whole and a close-up look at the organ.

Further up the steps we checked out the small cathedral museum, with a collection of beautiful church vestments, silver chalices and other items, some relics (including the forearms of St. Boniface!), wooden statues of saints and other assorted items.

Back at ground level we wandered around the small cloister area with a couple of chapels leading off it. One of these is an 18th century ossuary.

Small statue surrounded by arches of brick and bones
The ossuary chapel in the cloisters
Worn gargoyle against a building with a tiled roof
Gargoyle in the cathedral cloisters

It was just outside this that we spotted a cute chameleon on a palm leaf in the small sunny courtyard. I’ve shared him before but can’t resist including him again!

Small green reptile on leaves
Mouth closed, and …
Small green reptile on leaves
… mouth open!

Our admission ticket also included the tower. I’d been up on my previous visit and knew it was a fairly easy climb and worth it for the great views. You can look down on the peaceful Largo da Sé immediately below you, lined with its orange trees; and then raise your head to look beyond this and the pretty tiled roofs of the old town to the lagoon of the Ria Formosa beyond. You can also get a good close up look at the bells and at the inner workings of the clock, encased in glass.

Looking over houses to water with boats and small islands
Rooftops of Faro and the Ria Formosa lagoon
Tiled roofs and white chimney pots
Roof tops and chimneys

By the time we’d finished exploring the cathedral it was lunch time, bringing our morning’s wanderings to an end.

I last visited Faro in April 2022 when the vast majority of these photos were taken; a couple however are from my 2016 visit


  • touristify

    I couldn’t agree more! Faro’s Old Town has a unique magic to it. I adored the Faro Cathedral and the Arco da Vila. Such rich history! Have you tried any of the local cuisine? I had the most amazing seafood dish at a family-run restaurant there. Also, any tips for exploring the surrounding Algarve region? I’m planning to visit soon and would appreciate any recommendations. 🍽️🌞

  • wetanddustyroads

    You have captured the “oldness” of the old town wonderfully Sarah! And lovely pictures in the Cathedral … and the chameleon looks as if he’s painted on the leaves!

  • Alli Templeton

    What a wonderful way to spend a morning! A stork’s nest is something you don’t see every day, so that must have been a treat (along with that gorgeous little chameleon!), and the cathedral looks to be a fascinating place to wander around. Not sure I’ve ever seen quite so much gold as in that Chapel of the Holy Sacrament – it must have been almost overwhelming to stand in. A fascinating post, Sarah, illustrated superbly as ever. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Alli 🙂 The storks nest all over Faro. The naturalist on our boat tour of the lagoon told us that they aren’t migratory here – the climate is mild enough nowadays for them to stay all year.

  • Forestwood

    This is the second time I have flipped through this post and took my time to examine the photographs more closely on the desktop pc. Glory be – I have not seen such ornate altars/naves/chapels. Such embellishment with gold and baroque swirls are captivating and reinforce my desire to visit Portugal one day! Thanks for giving us an insight into the delights to be found in Faro. Is it a large town?

  • Annie Berger

    The stork, the cathedral interior, the gargoyles – loved them all but these won me over! Would love to visit Faro someday after seeing it twice now through your lens and evocative text.

  • restlessjo

    You forgot to mention that if you stand in one spot for more than 10 minutes a plane will soar past your head with an ear splitting noise. All part of the character of this city, which I really do love, Sarah. Thanks so much for walking with me!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      That’s very true 🙂 I actually had planes in some of my shots but not any I used here. It didn’t bother us at all but maybe if we lived here it would. We do actually live close to the Heathrow flight paths but far enough away from the airport that the planes are somewhat higher and we only occasionally really register the noise.

  • Heyjude

    It’s funny how we love the dilapidation in foreign countries, but would be horrified if our houses looked like that. Love all the gargoyles. I would love that building. Not so much the cathedral, I’m not a fan of ornate churches. Faro looks like a nice place for a long weekend.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, that’s very true – it’s photogenic but I definitely wouldn’t want my house to look like that! Interestingly the cathedral as a whole doesn’t come across as madly ornate (see the overall photo from the choir loft) but some of its side chapels certainly are.

  • Easymalc

    I must have been living under a stone. I never realised that you could find chameleons in Faro. Wonderful photos as usual Sarah 🙂

  • Yvonne+Dumsday

    Thanks so much for that trip down Memory Lane – especially meaningful for me as my first experience with VT and so, the first time of meeting you.

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