With its international airport, impressive shopping centre and ring of high-rise apartments, FARO has something of a big-city feel. However, the central area is a manageable size, boasting attractive mosaic-paved pedestrianized streets and marina-side gardens, while its university contributes to a nightlife scene, at its most animated during term-time. In summer, boats and buses run from the centre of town out to some excellent local beaches: the closest to town is the generous swathe of sand at Praia de Faro, while a ferry makes the short hop to the village of Farol on the Ilha de Culatra .
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Originally a Roman settlement, the city was named by the Moors, under whom it was a thriving commercial port that supplied the regional capital at Silves. It then became Christian, under Afonso III in 1249, but was largely destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1755 – so it comes as no surprise that modern Faro has so few historic buildings left. What interest it does retain is centred within and around the pretty Cidade Velha (Old Town), which lies behind a series of defensive walls overlooking the mudflats.
The Roman site at Milreu (pronounced mil-rio) is the Algarve’s principal Roman excavation, just south of the attractive town of Estói, 11km north of Faro. The lavish villa that once stood here was inhabited from the first century AD and was constructed round a central peristyle – a gallery of columns surrounding a courtyard. You can also see the remains of one of the oldest Christian churches in the country, which was converted from a former Roman temple in around the sixth century. Southwest of the villa is an impressive bathing complex, with an underfloor heating system and striking fish mosaics – there’s also an apodyterium, or changing room, sporting arched niches for clothes. A small visitor centre shows what the villa would have looked like in its heyday.