What to see and do in The Azores
Located almost 1,000 miles from the European continent, the nine islands of the Azores, an archipelago that makes up part of the Portuguese territory, are a land of volcanoes, luscious greenery, crystal-clear lakes, mysterious caves, rare wildlife, and rich history. A short, direct flight from the UK, the mild subtropical climate here makes Azores holidays an unbeatable choice throughout the year, with hassle-free visa requirements for visitors meaning that a passport is all that's needed to enter the country. Compared to many other destinations, these islands remain authentic and unspoilt, making them a great choice for travellers looking to get away from the traditional ‘tourist’ beach experience. The Azores offer a never-ending plethora of travel experiences for couples, families, honeymooners, groups, and all-round outdoor enthusiasts, so if this destination is on your travel radar, get planning before the islands become too popular!
Planning a holiday to the Azores with one of Evaneos' carefully-selected local travel agents will not only allow you to choose exactly what you want to include in your holiday itinerary, but will also give you direct access to all the best things to do and best places to visit, whether you’re looking to take in the most popular tourist attractions and activities or head off-the-beaten-track. Above all, local travel agents can be your on-the-ground support for everything, from restaurant tips to emergencies. With so much to see and do in the Azores, from bubbling hot springs to sun-soaked vineyards, a local agent is undoubtedly the best way to pinpoint what you would like best and to ensure that you don’t miss it.
Best things to see and do in the Azores
First and foremost, if you're still in the early stages of planning a holiday to the Azores, you'll want to start by narrowing down your choice of which of the nine islands to visit; São Miguel, São Jorge, Flores, Santa Maria, Pico, Corvo, Faial, Graciosa, or Terceira. Each island has a wealth of sights and natural or geological wonders to feast your eyes on, so you'll most likely want to opt for an island-hopping adventure to cover more bases while you're there. To give you an idea of what awaits you ahead, here’s a quick travel guide of what to do and see in each of the islands in the Azores:
- São Miguel Island: as the biggest and most popular island in the Azores, São Miguel is the obvious choice for first time visitors who want to see a bit of everything during their trip. As well as boasting interesting museums, beautiful churches, and delicious local cuisine of seafood and fresh fruit, São Miguel offers a number of activities for families and adventure lovers, from water sports like surfing, kayaking, and sailing, to guided hikes through its three spectacular crater lakes and caldeiras (natural hot springs). The breath-taking Sete Cidades Massif also sits on Sao Miguel Island. These two lakes lie next to one another, one blue and one a brilliant green colour in the bowl of a volcanic crater. You can easily trek to the summit and walk around the rim to see views out over the exquisite island and its neighbours, before relaxing on a volcanic sandy beach. A honeymoon in the Azores is a great excuse to enjoy all of the sites that can be found here, and São Miguel is a popular destination where newlyweds can relax in a luxurious hotel near the Poca da Dona Beija, taking a dip in the hot springs in between activities.
- São Jorge Island: the word 'fajãs,' sloping platforms of land formed by collapsing cliffs or lava flows, is synonymous with the tiny island of São Jorge. Adventure activities, trekking trails, and water sports are some of the many things to do on a holiday here, and bathing off in the glistening waters of Fajã dos Cubres Lagoon always goes down a treat with children if you're planning on travelling as a family.
- Flores Island: perhaps the perfect island for travellers or budding photographers looking to get slightly off-the-beaten track and immerse themselves in rugged nature. Located within the North American Plate, a trip to Flores is like stepping back in time to a wild prehistoric era, with the island littered with cascading waterfalls like the Cascata do Poço do Bacalhau, rolling hills, and mammoth rock formations. You can either take a day trip here or spend a solid few days exploring the island, but either way, with so many things to do on your doorstep in Flores, you'll want to spend the entire time outdoors.
- Santa Maria Island: most commonly coupled with a stay on São Miguel Island, Santa Maria is hailed for having some of the Azores' most beautiful beaches. If turquoise water and sun-soaked sand is your thing, you'll fall in love with Santa Maria's picturesque coves and rock pools which are often enjoyed with a glass of locally-produced wine or liqueur. For those intrigued by the history and geology of the Azores, Santa Maria is actually the first of the Azores' islands, estimated to be around 10 million years old. Known as being the scuba diving capital of Europe, snorkelling and diving excursions are also popular activities in the Azores, and Santa Maria has no shortage of spots like Formigas and Dollerabat, which are sure to impress first timers and professional divers alike.
- Pico Island: within the centre of the Azores, the most common reason to include Pico on your trip itinerary is to take on the challenge of trekking to the top of Mount Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal. The views from the top are well worth the day-long trek, extending up into the clouds and standing at around 2,350 metres. The entire route is marked out by special poles at 50 metre intervals and the climb itself is neither specialist nor particularly tricky, meaning that most people will be able to tackle it and enjoy the incredible feeling of achievement as they look out over the surrounding islands that can be seen on a clear day. Travellers opting for a more relaxing holiday, sit back on the terrace of your beach-side hotel room with some a glass of wine from one of the UNESCO-listed vineyards on the island, like the ones found in the region of Criação Velha. The vines here are unique in that they grow on the basalt lava rocks, benefiting from both the sunny climate and rich volcanic soil. Alternatively, sign up for a whale-watching tour to catch a glimpse of the majestic whales and dolphins that call the island of Pico their home.
- Corvo Island: marked by steep cliffs and the remains of a dormant volcano, the 'Island of the Crow' is the smallest island in the archipelago. Authenticity, seclusion, and serenity are the main attractions of in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of this tiny island that's home to around 400 inhabitants. Accommodation is cosy but limited, so if you're looking for a romantic escape away from other tourists, Corvo is probably the island for you. Birdwatchers will also be able to set off on amazing guided birding tours to photograph endemic species like American vagrants and the Azores Bullfinch.
- Faial Island: nicknamed the 'Blue Island,' not because of the striking azure coastline around the island, but because of the colourful, hydrangea-covered houses you'll see everywhere as you travel around the island, sailors and boat or yacht fanatics will be in Heaven in Faial (or 'Fayal'). The island might only be a detour or short stop on your trip itinerary, but most travellers usually spend a day there visiting the postcard-perfect, sprawling emerald-green crater of Lagoa da Caldeira.
- Graciosa Island: while Faial takes the spot as the 'Blue Island,' its neighbour, Graciosa, is referred to as the 'White Island.' Think rural countryside meets island paradise; peaceful vineyards, red-topped windmills spinning upon a backdrop of picturesque wheat fields, and an 18th Century church overlooking the sea. Culture seekers will feel right at home here, with ample historical sites to visit, while adventurous travellers can set their sights on Furna Do Enxofre, a mysterious volcanic cave nearly 50 metres high. Stalactites and a cold water lake await you on a guided cave tour, along with Europe's biggest volcanic dome.
- Terceira Island: last but by no means least, Terceira is home to some of the best activities and experiences that the Azores have to offer. Among them, the Angra do Heroismo, a stunning port and city which was once a vital stop-off point for expeditions to the New World. You could spend a good few days enjoying the 18th Century architecture here that was built following the styles of buildings in Portugal at the time, as well as the island's rich history. Active visitors won't want to miss a diving tour to discover the ancient shipwrecks lurking under the island, or an excursion to the volcanic chimney of Algar do Carvão. Lava tubing is the perfect activity for kids and adventure lovers. Descend into a tube and enjoy incredible views looking up at the sky from this giant tunnel. At the very bottom, you'll find stalactites and a totally clear lake.
For the best tips, information, and inspiration to plan your holiday to the Azores, ask the experts: Evaneos' hand-picked local travel agencies based there. As well as providing unparalleled local knowledge including access to hidden gems and advice on how to avoid tourist-traps, they'll organise the trip of a lifetime for you based around your needs and interests.
Best time to visit the Azores
Deciding when to go to the Azores is a decision that will depend on where you plan on going and what you plan on doing during your time here. November, December, January, February and March are all months that constitute this archipelago’s rainy season, and whilst the rain is by no means excessive, those not wanting to get wet should avoid visiting during these months. June, July, August and September, on the other hand, are the dry summer months here and bring with them warm seas, therefore perfect conditions for diving and snorkelling.