Top Things to See and Do in the Azores, Portugal

Veu da Noiva is a stunning waterfall to visit on São Miguel island
Veu da Noiva is a stunning waterfall to visit on São Miguel island | © Sergey Dzyuba / Alamy Stock Photo
Nina Santos

Lisbon is frequently named as one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, but the Portuguese Azores islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, may be the best summer destination. Home to Mount Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, stunning coastline and lake-filled caldera like Sete Cidades, there’s plenty to keep even the most ambitious traveller busy. Here’s our guide for a trip to the Azores.

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Go whale watching

One of the most unforgettable experiences for the whole family includes sailing through the Atlantic in search of these majestic marine mammals. Most of the islands have guided tours available, but São Miguel may be the easiest – it’s the largest of the nine islands – with companies in Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca do Campo. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, too.

Order a meal cooked in volcanic soil

In São Miguel’s village of Furnas, locals take slow cooking to a whole new level. Pots of cozido (meat-and-vegetable stew) are lowered into the volcanic ground, where they cook all day. Many local restaurants, such as Caldeiras e Vulcões, take orders in advance – it’s recommended to call the day before – so don’t wait for dinnertime to place an order.

Swim in geothermal pools

Before eating the cozido in Furnas, head to Terra Nostra Park or Poça da Dona Beija and soak in the hot geothermal pools. These two spots are just a couple of the many hot springs on the islands, which promote health benefits including improved circulation, reduced stress and healing skin conditions. The only caution is against wearing light colours in the geothermal pool at Terra Nostra, as the naturally yellow-brown water can discolour bathing suits.

Hike Mount Pico

Pico, the second-largest island, is home to Portugal’s highest mountain. Trekking to an altitude of 2,351 metres (7,713 feet) isn’t one for novice hikers, especially as most of the terrain is rocky – but the views at the top of Mount Pico are spectacular if you’re up to the challenge. It’s definitely an activity to plan in advance.

Eat lapas

Eating seafood is a must in the Azores. Many restaurants source ingredients straight from the ocean and ordering lapas (limpet clams) is particularly special. A Tasca is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the area to try the delicacy. Caught off the rocks, they can be eaten raw or grilled – the latter (lapas grelhadas) are served with butter, garlic and a drizzle of lemon. Found all over the Azores, lapas are among the most popular oceanic treats, and the largest lapas can be found on the westernmost islands of Flores and Corvo.

Relax on a horse-drawn carriage ride

The pretty towns and villages in the Azores will make you feel like you’ve travelled back through time, so embrace that feeling and explore a city by carriage. Many of the most popular locations, such as Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira and Ponta Delgada in São Miguel, offer these experiences, which can be booked on the day.

Attend a festival

From religious to musical and even maritime themes, the warmest months are when the islands come alive with festivals, with each island having its own event calendar. Festa do Divino Espirito Santo (the Holy Ghost Festival), is the most popular festa, celebrating the third person of the Godhead – a day where somebody is named empress or emperor for a day.

Try stand-up paddleboarding

For a full-body workout and a chance to spend time on the water, book a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) excursion. The lakes provide calm yet spectacular environments to try this – and organised trips on the ocean are available as well. You can rent a board and kayaks at Garoupa Canoe Tours.

Visit the beaches

In a destination like the Azores, finding a local beach to spend a day in the waves or on the sand isn’t difficult. A few great beaches include Praia Grande near Ponta Delgada, Praia Formosa in Santa Maria, and Ribeira Quente in São Miguel. Thinking of going for a swim? Water temperatures reach highs of 23C (73F) in summer, but drop down to 17C (62F) in winter.

Visit Sete Cidades

Head west in São Miguel for one of the most dramatic and famous views in the Azores: the crater and lakes at Sete Cidades. This is another top location for hikers and the stunning scenery is perfect for photographers. Book a guided tour for advice on where to begin or how best to explore the area.

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