Top Things to See and Do in the Azores, Portugal

The crater and lakes at Sete Cidades provide one of the Azores' most dramatic and famous views
The crater and lakes at Sete Cidades provide one of the Azores' most dramatic and famous views | © Carlos Duarte / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nina Santos
3 September 2020

Lisbon is frequently named one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, but the Azores Islands, off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, may be the best summer destination. Mountains, coastline and lake-filled caldera, there’s plenty to keep even the most ambitious traveller busy. Here are a few ideas.

Whale Watch

Natural Feature
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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.

Order a meal cooked in volcanic soil

Restaurant, Bar, Portuguese, $$$
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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.

Swim in geothermal pools

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People bathing in the thermal pool of Terra Nostra Garden. Parque Terra Nostra. Furnas. Sao Miguel
© Jorge Tutor / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Hike Mount Pico

Natural Feature
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Mount Pico from Faial island, Azores, Portugal
© Jorge Tutor / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Eat lapas

Restaurant, Portuguese, $$$
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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.

Relax on a horse-drawn carriage ride

Architectural Landmark
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Historic centre of Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Terceira, Azores islands, Portugal
© Mauricio Abreu / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Attend a festival

Architectural Landmark
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Holy Spirit festivities in Ponta Delgada. Sao Miguel island, Azores islands, Portugal.. Image shot 2006. Exact date unknown.
© Gaspar Avila / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

These recommendations were updated on September 3, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.