Lisbon is frequently named one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, but the Azores Islands may be the best summer destination in Portugal. There is plenty to see and do (and eat) throughout the nine islands, guaranteed to keep even the most ambitious traveller busy and beyond satisfied. Here are just a few ideas.
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 (since it is the largest of the nine islands) with companies in Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca do Campo. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, too.
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 the Caldeiras and vulcões, take orders in advance (it’s recommended to call the day before), so don’t wait for dinnertime to place an order.
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 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.
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 are spectacular if you’re up to the challenge. Definitely one to plan in advance.
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. They are caught off the rocks and can be eaten raw or grilled; the latter (lapas grelhadas) is served with butter, garlic and a drizzle of lemon. Found all over the Azores, lapas are among the most popular oceanic treats, but also one of the more unique for tourists. Bonus tip: the largest lapas can be found on the westernmost islands, Flores and Corvo.
The pretty towns and villages in the Azores will make visitors feel like they’ve travelled back through time, so embrace that feeling and explore a city by carriage. Many of the most popular locations, including Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira and Ponta Delgada in São Miguel, offer these experiences, which can be booked on the day.
From religious to musical and even maritime themes, the warmest months are also 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.
For a full-body workout and another way 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.
In a destination like the Azores, finding a local beach to spend a day in the waves or on the sand goes without saying. A few great beaches include Praia Grande near Ponta Delgada, Praia Formosa in Santa Maria, and Ribeira Quente in São Miguel.
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 one that must be visited with a camera. Book a guided tour for advice on where to begin or how best to explore the area.