With only a few days to visit the beauty of Portugal, which city offers the most for your visit? Faro is a great starting point to make day trips in the Algarve region. Lisbon is a grand city with much to see all in one place.
Faro with a population of around 440,000 is much smaller in size compared to Lisbon. It’s quiet and quaint but doesn’t offer enough entertainment for more than a couple of days.
Lisbon is bustling and full of energy with a population of around 500,000 city residents. If you include the outer metropolitan area, it jumps up to just over 5 million, making it a much larger destination to visit.
Faro is a small town within the beautiful Algarve region, known for its beaches and natural scenery. Faro itself is not a holiday resort but has its charm and history. Lisbon is a large city with astonishing hilly historic districts that are very walkable, with countless sights and great nightlife.
Both cities offer very different experiences, but both have nearby places to go for a day trip. The natural beaches accessible from Faro are best enjoyed during the summer. Lisbon and its surrounding towns offer a unique perspective into Portuguese culture, architecture, and history.
The coastline of Portugal, and views of the shimmering sea and crystal clear waters are why tourists love to travel to this area.
Faro or Lisbon: what travelers say
- Lisbon is much larger than Faro, nearly ten times the size, which means it comes with much more to see if you don’t wish to leave the city.
- Faro is a great place to relax in a calm atmosphere with a good number of restaurants, surrounded by local culture. Lisbon is much busier.
- Faro is a great starting place to visit other locations in the area. Because there is no beach in Faro, moving around the Algarve is required to access the great beaches.
- Cities such as Tavira and Lagos, easily accessed by bus or train, offer beautiful beaches, a lively local atmosphere, and interesting historic buildings and sights.
- In the old part of Faro, behind the restored city walls is an attractive area that offers shopping and dining without traffic. The bigger stores are in the outer part of the city.
- Travelers recommend exploring the rich historical districts of Lisbon, taking its old trams, seeing the incredible viewpoints over the river, and tasting the lively nightlife.
- From Lisbon, unique towns like Sintra (fairy-tale sights), Cascais (upscale resort), Sesimbra (fishing village), and others are well worth visiting.
- Visitors seeking wildlife and nature love exploring the Rio Formosa Natural Park near Faro, and taking boat tours, especially in the autumn.
- Some travelers prefer the city of Faro and the Algarve region over Lisbon in the summer months, warmer and less crowded during that time.
- If you are planning to stay for more than three days, Lisbon offers more local sites than Faro, but Faro with its international airport is an excellent way to access the beauty of southern Portugal.
Faro is a great place to wander through the small city streets in a relaxed atmosphere. In the historic center, you can find many of the town’s best sites to visit without the noise of traffic.
Moving around the city is easily done using affordable public transportation. Trains and buses allow you to see many places in Faro quickly and on a reliable schedule. If you prefer a private service, taxis are readily available to bring you to where you wish to go.
A great way to explore Faro is by renting a bicycle. The city has a good number of dedicated routes for bicyclists. Tourists and locals alike enjoy this great feature of the city.
To get outside of the city and see the Algarve region, the train is an efficient and convenient option. The train station is located near the city center. There are also many car rental places in Faro.
If you are up for climbing steep and narrow streets, Lisbon is a great place to walk around and enjoy the historic buildings, and different neighborhoods, with fantastic views of the city.
To access the public transportation system with buses, trams, and metro lines, get the rechargeable Viva Viagem card. This is a particularly good way to see all of Lisbon’s best sites.
The taxis in Lisbon are quite affordable compared to other European cities and can be found almost anywhere. You also have the option of taking an Uber or Bolt to get around and save money, especially at night.
To experience Lisbon in an easy, eco-friendly way there is a bike-sharing program called Gira. There are many pickup locations conveniently placed all around the city.
Vibe & people
Faro is a small and pleasant working city. It is quite near the coast, but it is not considered a holiday resort as the city itself doesn’t have real beaches. Most of the coastal part of Faro is a protected area encompassing the marshes and islands of the Ria Formosa lagoon.
You can see most of Faro in about a 30-minute walk. The center of the city is a modern and welcoming area to take a stroll, with shops and restaurants. The older part of the city is not as busy, with interesting historic buildings and medieval walls.
One of the intriguing things about Faro is the omnipresence of storks throughout the city. You can see nests with stork chicks on the roofs of houses, churches, and even in rather unexpected places. You can often hear the clacking of their beaks even from the balcony of your room.
In the summer, the Algarve region is quite busy and populated due to its amazing beaches. Many visitors to the Algarve arrive through the Faro international airport, so some spend at least a night in Faro. The spring and fall periods are a lot quieter and less crowded, which also has its charm.
What makes Lisbon very unique is its wonderful architecture, with colorful buildings, and small winding cobblestone streets, that traverse up and down seven nearby hills. You can find excellent views from many points above the city, with the Tagus River below.
Some of the best neighborhoods to explore are Bairro Alto, Chiado, and Alfama. Each one has its own distinctions and vibe, but all have a really welcoming atmosphere full of energy. The friendly locals are always willing to help visitors along their way.
A great place to take a stroll is in the waterfront area on the promenade, next to the Tagus River.
There are a series of trams in Lisbon for seeing the historic parts of the city such as Alfama, Baixa, and Graça. The most popular is Tram 28 which works its way through the oldest parts of the city on narrow streets. It feels like stepping back in time when you jump aboard.
Sights & culture
The Old Town of Faro offers the city’s historical sites, along with museums, shops, and Roman-era structures. Unfortunately, much of the history of Faro and the Algarve was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 1755.
The Faro Municipal Museum offers insight into the history of Faro and surrounding areas, with displays of prehistoric artifacts and contemporary art.
Many visitors are drawn to Faro because of the nearby Ria Formosa Natural Park. It’s a protected natural area where nature lovers can see a see diversified mix of wildlife, birds, and marine plants. Boat tours are available in the lagoon.
The Faro Cathedral is very impressive. Built during the 13th century, it features a mix of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance architecture.
Another church worth visiting is the Igreja de São Francisco, made in the Baroque style, displaying intricate wood carvings and gold decorations.
Fans of the macabre will surely enjoy Capela dos Ossos. It’s a small chapel with human skulls and bones as decorations on the walls and columns. Truly a creepy experience.
In the Faro Jewish Heritage Center, learn about the history of the Jewish community in Faro and the Algarve region.
Belem Tower was built in the 16th century and is one of Lisbon’s most important landmarks to visit on the Tagus River.
The Jeronimos Monastery, also built in the 16th century, displays intricate carvings and beautiful gardens. It is an exquisite example of Portuguese Gothic architecture.
On top of one of seven hills is the Castelo de São Jorge. A magnificent structure with great views of the city and the Tagus river.
The Alfama neighborhood is known for its narrow streets, colorful historic buildings, and traditional Portuguese tiles. Great place to explore on foot. The Chiado and Bairro Alto neighborhoods are also attractive and intriguing areas to walk through.
Praça do Comércio is a grand plaza on the waterfront surrounded by beautiful arches, statues, and fountains.
The Santa Justa lift, in the center of the historic area of Lisbon, offers wonderful views of the city from atop, from there you can see Carmo Convent and the Castle of São Jorge.
The Lisbon Cathedral was constructed in the 12th century. It combines both Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles.
Palácio de São Bento is the home of the Portuguese parliament, an enormous building with beautiful gardens all around.
The Coach Museum in Lisbon features beautifully preserved coaches and carriages from the 16th to 19th centuries.
There is also the national tile museum inside a former convent. Here you can see a grand collection of 15th-century Portuguese tiles. If you are into contemporary art, visit the Berardo museum located in Belem.
Nature & outdoors
In just a few minutes’ drive from the city center, you can go to Faro Island and the Estuary of the Ria Formosa Natural Reserve, a peaceful area full of wildlife.
The beaches outside of Faro feature beautiful rugged cliffs and rock formations. The water is crystal clear, a great spot for swimming and snorkeling. Praia da Ilha Deserta, Praia da Culatra, and Praia da Quinta do Lago are some of the most popular beaches.
Explore the stunning coast near Lisbon. A great way to see all of the beauty in this area is by car. Head towards Ericeira.,
The Arrábida mountains are just south of Lisbon, where you can find the Parque Natural. Nearby Sesimbra is another amazing coastal city. There are many restaurants and hotels right next to the popular beach. A great place to spend the afternoon or evening.
Food & nightlife
At night, the Faro Marina is a relaxing place for a walk with many cafes, bars, restaurants, and ice cream. It’s a family-friendly area, that includes a children’s playground, with concerts and dancing in the summer.
In Faro city center, you can walk down the historic Santo António street and Rua do Prior, known as “Crime Street”. Don’t be worried about the name, it’s a safe area with great nightlife. There are many shops with regional products, cafes, bars, and restaurants.
In the Old Town, you’ll find many cafes, bars, and restaurants, some of them with nice views of the nearby Rio Formosa Natural Reserve.
For a fun night out start at the well-known Columbus Cocktail and Wine Bar, then break loose at clubs like the Prestige Dance Club, Twice, and the First Floor.
The Portuguese are famous for their grilled meats, fresh seafood, and delicious pastries. A great place to try them all is at the Time Out Lisbon food hall, a busy atmosphere filled with traditional dishes of all sorts.
Near Rossio Square at the top of Rua do Sapeteiros, you can find simple Portuguese dishes at affordable prices at A Licorista O Bacalhoeira. Try a variety of tasty fresh fish dishes in a restaurant that the locals love.
Book a table ahead at Ze do Cozido, a small local restaurant with great food, and an excellent wine list, at affordable prices.
Another local restaurant to check out is Cataplana da Gina. Cataplanas is a signature Portuguese dish cooked and served in hammered copper or stainless steel cover.
Portugália on Almirante is a friendly and cheerful place in an old historic building. It was frequented in the past by the intelligentsia, including Amália Rodrigues. Great food, but it comes at a bit of a higher price.
The Bairro Alto neighborhood is where you can find the nightlife of Lisbon. You can grab drinks and walk down towards the Caid do Sodre River where you will find a lively area with many bars.
In Lisbon, don’t miss the legendary pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart) which you can get at the acclaimed Confeitaria Nacional in Bairro Alto – there’s also a new branch next to the Torre de Belém with outdoor seating and wait service.
Lisbon offers an exciting and vibrant nightlife, with no shortage of bars and clubs to choose from. For the clubbing scene, head to The Expo, or Parque das Nações (Park of Nations).
To really enjoy the culture of Lisbon, visit one of the many Fado houses. These are small restaurants that normally feature a unique blend of live music while you dine.
The Forum Algarve is a huge modern open-air shopping center with 100 shops, 20 restaurants, five cinemas, and a supermarket. With ample parking, you can easily spend an afternoon or evening here and not see it all.
The historic district of Chiado is a good area with many local and international fashion stores.
In the Baixa district of Lisbon, you can find local shops and traditional Portuguese markets.
The most exclusive shopping in the city can be found at Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon’s most high-end shopping avenue with some fine boutiques.
What once was an industrial complex, the LX Factory is a trendy cultural hub, with a variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Another trendy neighborhood in Lisbon is the Príncipe Real, where you can find some fancy shops, small boutiques, and a local food market.
If you’re looking for something different, there is a street market at Martim Moniz. Here you can find different foods, clothing, electronics, and other household items in an outdoor setting.
The 3HB is a well-regarded five-star hotel in Faro, with spectacular views of the city and sea from terraces and the outdoor infinity pool. The hotel has a sauna, indoor pool, gym, two restaurants, and a bar.
Casa Lusitania is a villa with a wonderful outdoor swimming pool and a large open garden. Guests here feel at home, with great views of the sea.
Senhor Gigi is right in the city center. It’s an affordable way to feel like a local, staying right in the center of the action. This hotel is very well-rated by its visitors because of its great location.
The Golden Beach Guest House & Rooftop Bar is located outside of the city in Praia de Faro, one step away from the beach. With a rooftop bar and jacuzzi, it’s a great place to unwind after sightseeing in the area.
Olissippo Lapa Palace is a 5-star hotel overlooking the Tagus River. It was built in the 19th century and you feel like you have traveled back in time. It features a spa, a sauna and Turkish bath, and indoor and outdoor pools.
Nau Palacio do Governador in the Belem district has a great location. There is a spa and wellness center, an indoor and outdoor pool open year-round, and large gardens to lay in the sun.
The hotel Myriad, next to the Targus River and the Torre Vasco de Gama, is one of the most recognizable hotels in Lisbon with its modern sail-shaped design. It offers a unique location and astounding views. The hotel has a Michelin-starred restaurant at the top of the tower and a Sayanna Wellness center with views of the river.
For a truly unique experience in Lisbon, you can stay at the Homeboat Company Parque das Nações. This highly-rated accommodation allows you to stay in a houseboat right in the marina with spectacular views. Guests adore this location and rave about their stay here.
A popular resort town near Faro is Albufeira, about 30 minutes away by train or car. It is a good place to spend the day on the beach, eat at one of the nice restaurants in the old town and have a drink in one of the many pubs before heading back to Faro.
If you are seeking a picturesque town with historic architecture, Tavira is a great way to get out for the day. Only 30 minutes from Faro, visit the historic castle and the Roman bridge in the morning, and lay on a nice beach just outside the city in the afternoon.
Silves is an old historic town an hour from Faro. It’s known for its beautiful Moorish castle in the old part of the town, which can be visited during the day. There is also a Gothic cathedral, and several restaurants and shops.
Lagos is a pretty historic town with a stunning Fortress in the center and a nice marina on the river. It’s only an hour away from Faro. Lagos has beautiful beaches with crystal-clear waters that are also great for surfing.
A bit further away from Faro, about 1.5 hours, is the coastal town of Sagres. Enjoy breathtaking views on top of the rocky cliffs on the edge of the sea, then work your way down to several beaches with colorful scenery in both directions.
Vilamoura is an upscale resort town only 20 minutes from Faro. There are resort hotels, some of the best golf courses in all of Portugal, a large marina, a number of places for fine dining, and high-end shops.
Just north of Lisbon, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage town worth a visit and even an overnight stay. Most travelers agree that visiting the stunning colors of the Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors, among others, is a fairy-tale-like experience.
Cascais, an upscale and popular coastal town, is accessible by a short train trip from Lisbon. Here you can find wonderful beaches and a charming historic center with sea-front restaurants and shops.
South of Lisbon is the fishing town of Sesimbra. It’s known for its long beautiful beaches and great fresh seafood. It’s also conveniently located near Arrábida Natural Park, great for day trips.
Óbidos is about an hour north of Lisbon. A large medieval wall surrounds the town. Wander through narrow cobblestone streets, and see stunning houses decorated in color. It is easily accessible by train from Lisbon.
The historic town of Setúbal is about an hour south of Lisbon. It’s very near the Serra da Arrábida Natural Park, and Troia Peninsula. Spend a relaxing day exploring this stunning natural area of Portugal.