Below are some detailed questions about renting a car in Faro, and in particular to answer the question of whether or not it’s worth doing.
For our quick summary, please see our general Faro car hire advice page.
Who is renting?
Car hire in Faro might have a reputation for being astonishingly cheap during the off-peak season, when many younger travellers who don’t have kids will often visit, but any saving on the car-rental fee can easily be offset by having to pay young driver’s surcharge.
However, train travel in Portugal isn’t that cheap or versatile, with only one major trunk line out of Faro. In particular we’ve never found any really low price long distance services.
Any decision about whether or not you ultimately need to hire a car in Faro is still more likely to be based on a question of convenience and whether or not you can get to the sort of places you want to visit without a car, so price alone might not be the deciding factor anyway.
Yes, renting a car in Faro generally makes sense if you are travelling with small children. Public transport is perfectly adequate for travelling along the coast and travelling between the major resorts. However, there are also plenty of buses which will help you move around within the resorts. Having a hire car is going to be a lot more convenient if you actually want to go anywhere else.
Yes, senior citizens are well catered for on the Algarve, and there’s no particular reason to suggest it’s not worth renting a car, providing you are under the maximum age limits set by each rental company.
How many people
Generally, it’s not going to be a question of how many people you need in the car in order to justify the cost of car rental; it is simply going to be a question of whether or not you can visit Faro without a car and still see and do as many things. Generally, our view here is that you can’t.
What is your general attitude to driving?
I / we prefer to drive
YES! If you generally prefer to drive when you are on holiday, then Faro is the kind of place where you’ll probably just rent a car without even thinking about it. Even if you don’t need a car in Faro just to get between different holiday resorts or to travel along the coast, if you are a driving enthusiast, then there are some great coastal road trips that you can take if you head in the direction of Lisbon.
The Algarve is well suited to day trip circuits from any of the main coastal resorts, just as it’s also suited towards driving long distances and touring around.
The only major drawback is that even if the base price of the car-rental during the off-peak season is astonishingly cheap, Faro car hire prices really do tend to rise sharply during the summer. The difference between the lowest and the highest prices we have found that the same economy car rental at Faro airport is a factor of 8. This is one of the highest peak/off-peak ratios of any destination.
I prefer not to drive
Even if you usually prefer to get around without a car, the Algarve is the sort of destination where you are going to struggle to be able to see the same things that you would otherwise be able to see with a car. Having said this, we would stop short of saying that you “absolutely” need a car in Faro, a description we would give to only a very small number of places in Europe, and an even smaller number of Mediterranean destinations (perhaps only to Pula or Rijeka in Croatia). Faro is still very high up this scale, with a rating of 9/10 as opposed to the full 10.
This is largely because of the extremely poor rail network in the Algarve, and the limited number of bus connections to support it.
Even though you do have the option of taking a coastal train to Lagos (westbound) or Villa Real (eastbound), as well as the intercity service to Lisbon, all options are very poor in terms of service frequency.
Local buses might connect the major resorts, but the road network and service frequency on the whole is still very poor.
The Algarve is a popular year-round holiday destination, but although it’s geographically very close to the Costa del Sol, the overall quality of public transport is significantly poorer than you might be used to in and around Malaga.
I’m a rail enthusiast
If you usually prefer to get around by train, and then to use local buses as a supplementary option, then you will probably find that the Algarve isn’t the sort of holiday destination that you will particularly enjoy.
However as an alternative option, we would recommend having a two or three centre holiday in Portugal instead, and simply starting your trip in Faro before heading up north. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to spend a few days on the Algarve without a car, but if you generally prefer to explore places by train, then we would strongly recommend heading up to the Portuguese capital Lisbon first, and then continuing onwards to Porto, and then flying home from there.
Although there is a much wider choice of flights into Faro, both Lisbon and Porto still have a good network of flights to many places across Europe.
Another huge advantage of travelling around Portugal by train instead of hiring a car and trying to do the same is that you don’t have to worry about one-way rental charges.
Alternatively, you could base yourself for a few days in the compact town of Faro itself, rather than in one of the more sprawling modern resorts elsewhere on the Algarve. From here, you could easily make a day excursion by train to Lagos, and you could also walk along the coast, or take the local ferry if you prefer.
You could then head east, and if you simply wanted to move at a more leisurely pace, you could take the train as far as Villa Real, and then head back to Faro.
A more interesting option would be to keep heading east, first by taking the foot ferry to Ayamonte in Spain (typical hourly service, journey time around 15 minutes). You can still do that in a day trip, and then head back to Faro, but why not take the bus onwards to Huelva, from where you have access to the full Spanish rail network?
A natural continuation would be to head straight to Seville, and then from here you can head back to the coast at Cadiz via Jerez. From Seville, you can also continue on a fast AVE train to the stunning city of Cordoba. From here, you can either keep heading in the same direction and end up in Madrid, or you can take a service which will reverse here and end up in Malaga on the Costa Del Sol. From Malaga, you can easily reach many of the nearby holiday resorts by train. You will also have easy access to a wide range of flights from Malaga airport.
- Ayamonte ferries: http://www.infoayamonte.com/index.php/useful-info/ferries
I prefer to get around on foot
It is easy enough to walk around the main tourist resorts on foot, as driving speeds are generally kept quite low, cars are kept out of many town centres, and drivers are usually respectful of pedestrians. It is also easy in some places to find coastal walking paths which you can access without having to worry about driving or taking a bus to the start of the route.
However, the Algarve (and the town of Faro in particular) is the sort of place where you can also get caught out trying to walk between different places, but then being stuck at a highway junction where you can’t cross. Always make sure you are using a reliable map to check the local footway conditions.
Beyond the main resorts, having a hire car is certainly useful to access hiking trails, but it’s not completely essential. Choose your walking route carefully and then you will be able to combine it with public transport, and you could also have the advantage that if you do it this way round, you don’t have to walk in a circuit or double back just to get back to your car. This is especially useful (and usually fairly easy) when you are walking along the coast.
The Algarve is popular with road cyclists, largely due to the weather. It does not have a particularly good network of protected cycle paths.
When are you going?
Faro car-rental prices are very susceptible to seasonal variations, especially either side of the school summer holidays. The demand for Faro car hire is also heavily influenced by the weather, or at least expectations of the weather, so although the Algarve is popular year-round, it’s not as desirable for winter sun as Madeira or the Canary Islands.
Generally, our recommendation would be that the best value bet on the Algarve is usually to hire a car in Faro for the whole period of your stay, rather than just for some of the time. This is because when averaged out throughout the year, Faro car hire is still usually very good value, and it’s much more competitive at the airport than it is if you hire a car in resort.
In some other destinations, we might recommend hiring a car just for a day or two, and in some places we advise this to avoid high parking charges just as much as we do to save on the rental itself. In the Algarve, none of this really applies – you can usually expect your holiday property to include overnight parking, whereas it would be a false economy to suggest going all the way back to the airport just to pick up a car and use it for a couple of days – unless you are actually staying in the town of Faro.
Also, renting a car for a shorter period means that it’s more hassle to worry about returning it with exactly the right fuel levels, and we have still found some car-rental quotes here where you will be expected to return the car empty, or simply forfeit the value of any fuel that you leave in the tank when you return it.
In many cities, renting a car in an urban location can be significantly more expensive than hiring it at the airport, but this is generally not the case on the Algarve, even if you will expect to pay a slightly higher daily rate if you hire your car in resort.
Where are you staying?
Look this up – for example, where are the backpackers hostels, and then look up some of the five-star resorts and the sort of facilities they provide
Generally, if you are staying in downtown Faro, then this is the one place where you probably won’t worry so much about not having a car, because this is the hub for all main public transport routes.
Outside main resorts
If you are staying on the edge of, or outside any of the main resorts, then this is simply going to push your need for a car up even higher!
If you are looking to fly into the Algarve and then generally to tour around Portugal, then the most obvious way to do this is in a hire car. However, you do also have the option of touring by bus or train, especially if you are heading in the direction of Lisbon.
Given that the geography of Portugal is such that there is one main trunk route running north to south for both road and rail travel, it makes a certain amount of sense to consider touring by train, because that way you can see everything in a sequence and then head home from Porto without having to either return to Faro to drop off your rental car, or having to pay expensive one-way rental fees.
You can also travel into the southern Spanish province of Andalusia by coach from Faro, typically by heading towards either Seville or the coastal city of Cadiz first. Travelling into Spain by coach gives you the advantage that you won’t have to worry about one-way rental or cross-border car hire fees.
Yes, Faro is an ideal place from which to start a Portuguese Road trip. You have the natural advantage here that you have a huge choice of inward flights from throughout Europe, combined with a very competitive car-rental market. Since any road trip around Portugal is likely to incorporate the Algarve anyway, you might as well start here and then make your way up north.
You could also consider a much tighter driving loop that sticks mainly to the Algarve and then works inland to include cities like Sintra and Coimbra.
Another option to consider is whether or not you want to drive into Spain from Faro, or alternatively whether you prefer to pick up a rental car in Malaga or any other city along the Costa del Sol and then do vice versa?
Taking a rental car between Spain and Portugal should usually be easy enough if you are renting from one of the major global car hire providers, but you can expect to pay a cross-border fee, typically around €6 per day.