Considered the westernmost point of Europe, the Azores is an archipelago of 9 volcanic islands in the blue immensity of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is worldwide recognized for its scenery of natural beauty, blessed with stunning landscapes of lakes, green meadows, volcanos, geysers and hot thermal waters. It is also funnily known for having a massive herd of cows, being commonly said by locals that the Azores have more cows than people.
The Azores is also characterized for its picturesque towns, full of colourful character and cobbled squares that bring the Renaissance and Discoveries period back in time.
The world’s recognition of the immeasurable value of the Azores dates back decades ago. In 1983, UNESCO named the Historical Centre of Angra do Heroismo, in the island of Terceira, as World Heritage, and, in 2004, the Landscape of Pico Island Vineyard Culture, in the island of Pico.
The first references to the island’s settlement date back to the 14th century. Under the command of Prince Henry, the Navigator, the Azores were discovered by the Portuguese, that claimed their rights over it. The active settlement only started later and was shared between the Portuguese and the Flemish over two centuries. It is even said that the particular Azorean accent has its roots in the French language.
Fun Fact: the Azores is the only place in Europe that grows green tea!
On Terceira Island, the World Heritage town of Angra do Heroísmo is steeped in history. It has served as Portugal’s capital twice, even so for brief moments. In the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Discoveries period, it was an important port of call of the Indies and fleets coming from Africa. The ships laden with gold, silver, and spices brought prosperity to the city at the time, which led to the construction of splendid palaces and elegant streets full of colourful buildings and churches.
Angra presents its history with grace and elegance through its colorful streets, that contrast with Atlantic’s bright and peaceful light. There are also plenty of buildings with beautiful façades across the town, being the most emblematic ones: Igreja do Santíssimo Salvador da Sé (Cathedral), Igreja da Misericórdia (Church), MAH – Museum of Anga do Heroísmo and Palácio dos Capitães Generais (Palace).
Other landmarks of the city are the dark walls of the powerful fortress - Fortaleza de São João Batista - and the monuments, which have been cherishing art treasures for centuries.
The prominent Monte Brazil is also one of the main attractions here. It consists of the remnants of a volcano covered with an extensive green area, where you can have a beautiful view over the glimmering sea horizon.
In Pico Island, there is a mountain that emerges from the sea, with vineyards planted in black lava fields. It is the highest mountain in Portugal, 7713 ft above sea level, which is more than twice the elevation of any other peak in the Azores.
Mount Pico is a volcano that stands out on the island’s scenery! Its cone of lava inside its main crater is constantly venting steam, showing off its volcanic nature. The climb to the top is one of the most sought-after activities to do in the Azores, as the view at the highest point is breathtaking. Although the trekking can be tough, it is rewarded to arrive and see all the unique panoramic views which, on a cloudless day, praise you with the additional perk of a glimpse of Graciosa and Terceira islands, also part of the central islands group.
Pico Mountain is located in Pico Island, a mineral-rich lava soil area with a hot, dry climate. The island has been experiencing a surge in grape growth over the last decades, especially of the Verdelho type. Hence, the extensive fields form the unique “Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture”, elected World Heritage by UNESCO in 2004.
The iconic Lagoa das Sete Cidades - Lagoon of the Seven Cities - is a twin lake formed in the crater of an inactive volcano in São Miguel Island. Named one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, the view you get of this lagoon along its footpaths packed with delicate French Hydrangeas is absolutely astonishing and stands out from the rest of the views in the Azores archipelago. In fact, for being one of the landmarks in the Azores, Lagoa das Sete Cidadades was classified as Protected Landscape of the Rede Natura 2000.
The Lagoon is composed of blue and green lakes, connected by a narrow strait, that jointly flows into a single natural water reservoir, the largest one in the Azores. There is a legend associated with the explanation of the existence of two different colours within the same lagoon. It says that the lagoon owes its colours to the tears of the young and beautiful Princess Antília and her true lover. One day, the daughter of the king of this Azorean land was taking a walk through the fields and met a shepherd whom she fell deeply in love with. Her father wanted her to marry a prince, forbidding the princess from seeing the shepherd again but still conceded her a final meeting with him. On this farewell day, the princess, with her blue eyes, and the shepherd, with his green eyes, cried so much that they ended up creating the two lakes - the blue and green.
Giving its incredible natural beauty, the Azores have a huge amount of outdoor sports and activities to do. There are plenty of options for you to enjoy nature to the fullest and even get a bit of a sense of adventure.
The rich fauna of the archipelago offers a wide range of activities. Whale and dolphin watching is a very popular attraction since these marine mammals can be easily spotted in the area. The variety of bird species this island hosts is also incredible, making bird watching a practice that can be done in all of the Azores islands. You may find a large number of migratory birds coming from America and Euroasia.
Another main attraction to animal lovers is scuba diving. In the Azores, there is a diverse underwater fauna that spans tiny invertebrates to huge pelagic fish and marine mammals.
If you are not so keen on animals, there are plenty of other options. Hiking is an often practice in all islands, living up to all the sightseeing footpaths the islands comprise. The Azores is also a good spot for surfing, mainly São Miguel, which hosts the World Surf League in Ribeira Grande beach. Azorean beaches are also good spots for snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming, and much more.
There is also a venture offer for real adrenaline enthusiasts. In the Azores, you have the unique chance of flying over the volcanic craters in Furnas island or the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, in São Miguel. Over the last years, the island of São Miguel has become a hotspot for paragliders worldwide.
Furnas is located on the island of São Miguel, at a 50 km distance from Ponta Delgada. It is gifted with its volcanic phenomena, which can be seen through the hot springs, thermal pools, and geysers.
On the eastern side of the town, is where the volcanic phenomena are mostly alive. Here you can find the steaming geysers and the hot springs – so-called fumaroles – throwing therapeutic mud and mineral water used for today’s modern spa therapies. The largest and nosiest hot spring of the island is called Caldeira de Pêro Botelho. Caldeira de Polme is equally fascinating, as it often tends to expel out large clouds of grey dust.
The hot springs on the lake’s northern shores are also a place where locals come to cook a typical Portuguese dish named cozido – a rich meat and vegetable stew boiled underground in a huge pot for five to seven hours. This is a local practice that has been enduring for generations.
In Faial, you can find the most colourful marina in the world. Horta Marine is a beautiful area filled with moored yachts and a beautiful exhibition of paintings on the marina walls, made by the visiting sailors. This tradition carried out for generations turned the marina into an open-air art gallery.
It is the 4th most visited marine in the world, being an almost mandatory stopover for sailboats traveling from the Caribbean towards the Mediterranean. The marine is also a meeting point for many international boat races.
In the marine, you can also find the mythical Peter Café Sport. It is a multi-faceted place, being not only a sailors’ bar, but also a post office, a currency exchange office, a scrimshaw museum, and, above all, a place where you are welcomed for a restful moment during your stopover.
Ponta Delgada is the economic capital of the Autonomous Region of the Azores in Portugal. It is located in São Miguel, the biggest and most populated island in the Azores.
The city started by being a small fishing village, that eventually became the main port of São Miguel Island. The town began to grow and, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the churches, convents, and houses were built forming the emblematic historical centre.
Nowadays, Ponta Delgada is a city with a rich economic and social life. It embodies a rich history of over five centuries with the typical cosmopolitanism of a city and the peacefulness of Azorean life.
Nearby São Miguel Island, there is a small volcanic islet, around 500 meters away from the coast, which was formed as a result of the crater of an ancient submerged volcano. It is considered one of the main tourist attractions of the São Miguel island, especially since one of the stages of the Red Bull Cliff Diving was held there.
Classified as a Nature Reserve, the walls of the islet’s crater are covered with endemic vegetation, having a natural pool in the midst of it, with an almost perfect circular shape that is linked to the sea through a narrow channel. This natural pool is excellent for swimming and snorkeling. The small opening of the pool faces the coast of the São Miguel island, which prevents the bustling sea waves from entering and helps to keep the water warmer than outside. There is also a lovely beach on the islet, great for sunbathing and spending the day.
Transport in between the islands
If you are planning on island-hopping around the Azores, it is recommended to do it by plane. SATA/Azores Airline is the only airline that caters to inter-island flights in the Azores. There is also the option of taking the ferry. This ferry service is called Atlântico Line and it only operates between the central and western groups of the islands. Usually, traveling by ferry is only recommended for short trips (e.g. Faial to Pico or Corvo to Flores), as the currents and waves can be rough on some days.
Getting around the Azores
There are bus routes covering the whole area of the main towns of the major islands, however, buses are not 100% reliable, as they don’t stop by so often. Additionally, these routes were mainly designed for local transportation, so they rarely get to the best points of interest.
Taxis and Uber are easily spotted dotted around the island but can get a little expensive, especially on bigger islands such as São Miguel. On the other hand, car rentals are available on all the islands and are usually cheaper. They are frequently used among tourists and usually the preferable way to get around on the various islands.
Every island in the Azores has commercial airports, but only 4 islands have flights to mainland Portugal and 2 of them operate international flights as well. Joao Paulo II Airport (PDL) in São Miguel Island has regular daily connections to Porto and Lisbon, as well as flights to the United States, Spain, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, amongst others.
Lajes Airport (teR) on Terceira island has daily connections to Porto and Lisbon, but also international flights to the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Pico Airport (PIX) on Pico island and Horta Airport (HOR) on Faial island only have direct flights to Lisbon.
Azorean beaches are a true landscape dream of volcanic origin. With soft, warm sand and beautiful blue waters, there are 40 beaches in the Azores distinguished with the European blue flag for their environmental and quality standards.
Here we highlight the best 5 sandy beaches in the Azores:
Santa Bárbara, near Ponta Delgada, in São Miguel Island, is the most prominent dark sandy beach on the island, home to one of the stages of the World Surf League;
Praia do Porto Pim is a pristine beach located on the southernmost point of Faial island;
Praia Formosa is a golden sand beach with rocky cliffs in the backdrop, located on Santa Maria island;
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo is a sacred beach for bodyboarders and surfers located in São Jorge
Praia da Riviera is located on Terceira island and it is popular for its bird colonies, giving it a wild feel
It is not just the astonishing landscapes of the Azores that make your trip or relocation worth your while. The archipelago’s flavours are absolutely delightful.
As expected, fish is a common dish across these islands. Some specialties are Chicharros which is fried mackerel, often accompanied by rice and vegetables, and Caldeirada de Peixe, which is a fish stew. However, if you don’t like or eat fish, there are plenty of other options. Cozido and bife à Alcides are other Azorean dishes much appreciated. With literally hundreds of bars and restaurants scattered around the Azores’ islands, it is difficult to choose where to go. Here are some of our recommendations:
Vale das Furnas
Associação Agrícola de São Miguel
The weather on the islands is usually warm. The summers (from April to September) are quite hot and dry whilst the winters (between October and March) can be quite cool but never very cold, as the temperatures usually never drop below 10°C. Rainfall happens very often throughout the whole year, and the weather can be very unpredictable, being a common saying that, in the Azores, you have all seasons in one day.
Markets in the Azores are great places to shop, either for fresh, local foods or for unique gifts and souvenirs. Each island has its abundance of market stalls; you are bound to find one on a walk around the area, especially on Sundays.
If you would like more mainstream and high-street retailers, then Parque Atlântico is the best place for you. Located in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel Island, this shopping mall holds 104 different stores and a giant supermarket.
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