The largest city in the Algarve, Faro is often largely ignored by overseas visitors, who fly into its airport and then head immediately for a resort town elsewhere along the coast.
For those interested in good food, history and local culture, however, Faro has a lot to offer—and just because it doesn't have long stretches of sand within walking distance doesn't mean there aren't good beaches nearby.
Accessible by bus, ferry, taxi or private car, the extra effort you put into getting to the beaches around Faro pays off in the lack of crowds. In some cases, you'll have the entire place almost to yourself, even in high season when other parts of the Algarve are crammed with people.
Here are five of the best beaches in and around Faro, all within roughly half an hour's travel time from the city.
Praia de Faro
Unsurprisingly, the most popular beach around Faro is also the closest and easiest to get to. Praia de Faro runs for several miles along the ocean side of Ilha de Faro, one of the three sandbar islands close to the city.
Accessible from Faro by car, bus, and in summer months, a ferry, the central section of the beach is the busiest and most built-up. Shops, bars, restaurants and people proliferate in this area. For a quieter experience, head toward the eastern end.
Popular parts of the beach are patrolled by lifeguards during summer, although given the very cold sea water in the area (60 F/15.5 C at most), you're more likely to spend your time working on your tan or enjoying a drink at one of the local bars than braving the waves for very long!
Ilha da Culatra
For a much quieter experience, head to Ilha da Culatra instead. The small community of Farol lies on the western edge, and the lighthouse after which it's named is clearly visible from the mainland.
With rolling dunes, golden sand, and calm waters, it's an idyllic and peaceful place to spend the day.
There are no roads on the island, but a sandy walking trail runs along the beach between Farol and the village of Culatra. This is the perfect spot for a seafood meal freshly caught by the local fishermen.
The island and its beaches are accessible only by ferry. A regular service runs from Faro to Farol from June to September, and there's a year-round ferry from Olhão that calls at Culatra as well. Water taxis are also available.
Ilha da Barreta / Ilha Deserta
Officially known as Ilha da Barreta, the larger island to the west of Culatra is called Ilha Deserta (Deserted Island) by almost everyone. If you prefer your beaches unspoiled by development or other people, this is the place to go. Nobody lives on the island, and few tourists make the effort to visit.
A boardwalk runs along part of the five miles of sandy beach, although you won't need to walk far to get a spot to yourself. A ferry runs from Faro during summer, costing around 10 euros for a return ticket.
Note that the last service leaves at 5:30 pm—make sure you're on it unless you fancy an expensive private speedboat ride back to the mainland.
There's a single restaurant on the eastern edge of the island, beside the ferry jetty. It serves drinks, snacks and full meals at inflated prices, and rents sunloungers and umbrellas nearby.
Praia da Armona
East of Culatra lies Ilha da Armona, with its beach of the same name. Ferries run to the island from Olhão every fifteen minutes during summer. To get to Olhão, take one of the buses or trains from Faro that run regularly throughout the day.
It's about a 15-minute walk from the jetty to the beach, which stretches eastward for several miles. Due to the relative difficulty of getting to the island, it sees few tourists, and you'll usually have large areas of sand entirely to yourself.
As with most of the beaches in the area, the water is very clear and cold, with golden sand and low dunes around much of the island. When you're in need of refreshment, a few bars and restaurants are available in the island's only village.
Limited accommodation is available on the island, which makes it an interesting, quiet alternative to staying in Faro for a night or two.
Praia da Quinta do Lago
At the western end of Ilha da Faro sits Praia da Quinta do Lago, a stretch of golden sand most notable for the 1,000-foot wooden footbridge that connects it to the mainland, and protects the delicate wetland ecology underneath.
The start of the footbridge is accessible by car and is around a half-hour drive from Faro. If you're feeling energetic you can walk the two miles along the sand from Praia de Faro instead, but it's only advisable in cooler months!
There's a restaurant on the beach at the end of the footbridge, and lifeguards on duty during summer. While it never gets particularly busy, walking a few minutes away from the footbridge pretty much guarantees a space to yourself.