It’s not hard to see why the remote Portuguese archipelago of the Azores is known as the Hawaii of Europe. Volcanic landscapes, crater lakes like Sete Cidades, hot springs such as Terra Nostra Garden and pristine coastline characterise the landscape – it’s tailor-made for adventure holidays that include hiking, quad biking, sea swimming and dolphin watching. Here are the most beautiful places to visit in the Azores, Portugal.
A 45-minute drive east of Sao Miguel island’s capital Ponta Delgada, the village of Furnas occupies one of the planet’s most active geothermal areas. One of its top attractions is the 200-year-old Terra Nostra Garden, where you can bathe in therapeutic natural minerals in a hot thermal pool, then wander between centuries-old trees feeling fully relaxed. In the village itself, check out the neogothic Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Alegria (Church of Our Lady of Joy) and, just down the road, La Casa Invertida – an upside-down house that has to be seen to be believed.
In addition to the Terra Nostra Garden, you can also soak in Furnas’s Poça da Dona Beija hot springs complex. Set in lush gardens and named after a Brazilian soap opera that aired in Portugal in the 1980s, it consists of several open-air pools with standard temperatures of 39C (102F), plus on-site showers and changing rooms. The iron-rich waters are said to ease circulation problems, stress and skin irritations.
In the middle of the island of Faial is a volcanic crater 1.5mi (2km) wide and 400m (1,312ft) deep, blasted by an eruption some 400,000 years ago. The Caldeira – also known as the Cabeço Gordo, meaning ‘fat mountain’ in Portuguese – can be circumnavigated by a rim-top hike of 5mi (8km), where you’ll meet its resident grazing cows and take in unbroken views of the neighbouring islands of Pico, Sao Jorge and Graciosa. That’s if the weather plays ball – conditions can change quickly here, so pack layers and bring a waterproof.
Sete Cidades Lake sits on the northwestern tip of Sao Miguel and is the largest body of water in the Azores. It occupies a volcanic crater 2.5mi (4km) long, 1.2mi (2km) wide and 350m (1,148ft) deep, which hold the famous Blue and Green Lakes. According to legend, these were formed by the tears of a shepherd and princess forbidden from marrying by a tyrannical king. Head to the Boca do Inferno and Vista do Rei viewpoints for the best vistas of the natural teardrops.
Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1983, Angra do Heroísmo is the capital of Terceira and the Azores’ oldest city. It played a vital role in Portuguese trade with the East Indies throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, and provided a haven for sailors escaping storms and pirates. Its top historical attractions include the 16th-century San Sebastian Fort – part of which now houses a four-star hotel – the Praça Velha town square and the twin-towered, blue-and-white facade of the 18th-century Igreja da Misericórdia.
Sounding like something from Game of Thrones, the Lagoon of Fire lies at the centre of Sao Miguel’s Agua de Pau volcanic complex, in the middle of the island. It was formed around 5,000 years ago – making it one of the Azores’ youngest volcanic offspring. It last erupted in 1563, so it’s safe to take on the 8.6mi (11km) return hike to the top. It starts on the coast in Agua d’Alto: follow the dirt track off the EN1-1A road, just past the Segredo Waterfall.
Ticked off just about every hike on an Azores volcano? Then head to the Algar do Carvão in Terceira and take a walk inside one. First explored in 1893, this 90m (295ft)-deep chimney was created around 3,200 years ago, as molten lava drained from the upper rim into a subterranean chamber. A staircase has now been built into the cavern, so you can descend into its depths to marvel at the stalactites hanging from the roof, the dense vegetation covering its almost-vertical walls and the underground lake.
Head to the island of Pico to trek to the top of Portugal’s highest mountain, Mount Pico – which is 2,352m (7,713 ft) above sea level. Whether you’re following a guide or going it alone, start at the Casa da Montanha Visitor Centre, where some easily missed steps mark the trail’s starting point – ask inside the centre if you can’t find it. From there, a series of numbered, wooden poles indicate the way to the summit, navigating potentially ankle-snapping terrain. Climb with your hands and feet for the final ascent and allow between five and eight hours for the return hike.
The Capelinhos lava fields are part of the Capelo volcanic complex, on Faial island’s westernmost extremity. Now a blackened wilderness, this was the site of a volcanic eruption that began in September 1957 and lasted for 13 months, obliterating hundreds of houses and displacing around 40 percent of the island’s residents – many of whom ended up emigrating to the United States. A walking trail to the summit starts at the interpretation centre, where you’ll also find the scorched remains of the lighthouse – you can climb it for a small fee.
A circular hiking route of 4.6mi (7.4km) leads to the top of Monte Brasil, a dormant sea volcano connected to Angra do Heroísmo. Starting in Relvao Park, the trail takes you past the late 16th-century Fortress of St. John the Baptist and the early 17th-century St Antonio Chapel, before winding through forests to the 250m (820ft) Pico do Facho viewpoint. At the volcano’s southernmost tip, the Vigia da Baleia provides an unbeatable spot for whale-watching. Allow around 2.5 hours for the return walk.
For help planning your itinerary, we’ve compiled a list of all the reasons why you must visit the Azores, including the top things to see and do while you’re here. And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, choose one of the best hotels or opt instead for a more luxurious resort in the Azores, all bookable with Culture Trip.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.