Simply put, the Azores islands are unlike any other place in the world. They're an ideal vacation destination for those seeking to escape the winter, or to forget about the workaday blues in a hurry. Here are some of the best tours and attractions that these islands have to offer.
Volcanoes and the Azores go hand-in hand: Nearly every volcano to be found on Portuguese soil is set on these islands. There are spectacular clues to their power at a peninsula on Faial that was formed in the 1950s, or in the geothermal activity around the town of Furnas on São Miguel where local chefs use the heat to cook food.
Also on São Miguel are peacefully dormant calderas that have become lakes with ferns, juniper bushes and conifers lining their craters. With all this natural splendour, and a mild subtropical climate, the Azores are an awesome place to be outdoors, hiking, diving or watching the many whale species that congregate offshore.
Lets explore the best things to do in the Azores:
Nothing can prepare you for the majesty of the Sete Cidades Massif on the west side of São Miguel Island.
Here twin green and blue lakes are ensconced in evergreen vegetation and shielded by a massive volcanic crater that rises like ramparts.
This landscape has been shaped by successive volcanic events over the last 38,000 years.
The last eruption might have been as recent as the 1400s, just before the island was colonised.
There’s no lack of vantage points for astonishing views, but make a note of the Vista do Rei lookout on the southern rim next to the abandoned Monte Palace hotel.
From September 1957 to October 1958 the profile of Faial Island changed forever when the Capelinhos volcano erupted.
This gave birth to a whole new island, which then became linked to Faial by an isthmus.
Also, the damage forced 1,800 people to emigrate permanently to the USA, even though there were no casualties.
It’s a bit of a rush to be able to stand on a piece of land where there was just ocean 60 years ago, or see roofs submerged in ash.
Photographs don’t give you a true impression of the awesome dimensions of this new patch of black volcanic desert.
Check out the ruined lighthouse, which has been incorporated into a museum about the volcano.
It wasn’t until the steam age arrived in the 19th century that transatlantic traffic could bypass this essential harbour on the Island of Terceira.
In the 15th and 16th centuries in particular it was a stepping stone for expeditions to the New World.
Angra do Heroísmo is a lovely, animated city with architecture mostly from the 1700s.
Rua da Sé is a treat, with its mosaic pavements and traditional houses with door and window frames painted in bright colours.
Pause for a photo of the cathedral, mill around the shops and get in touch with the rich history at the city’s museum.
On Pico island is the highest point in all of Portugal, the Montanha do Pico at 2,351 metres.
Often seen disappearing into the clouds this stratovolcano can look threatening, and its most recent eruption happened in 1718. But what you might not realise at first glance is that it’s not too difficult to scale, and doesn’t require advanced equipment other than good hiking gear.
You have to sign in at the visitor centre before setting off, and the entire route to the summit is marked by wooden poles every 50 metres or so telling you the elevation.
If you’re fortunate enough to make the ascent on a clear day there’s a clear view of the islands of Graciosa, Faial, Terceira and São Jorge.
Also on São Miguel Island is another stupendous crater lake that is one of the largest bodies of water in the Azores.
Given the tranquillity of this scene, with endemic Azorean flora on the sharp slopes around, it seems impossible that the most recent eruption only took place in 1563. There’s a natural reserve to maintain the unspoiled atmosphere of the lake.
You’ll start by driving up to the rim, which is an adventure of its own around hairpin turns.
And then stop for photos and inch your way down to the shore.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast and try to time your visit for a clear day because the crater is often shrouded in mist.
This mass jutting into the ocean to the south of Angra do Heroísmo is the remains of another volcanic cone.
Given its setting between the city’s Fanal and Angra bays it was just the place for fortifications.
The Fortress of São João Baptista dates to 1567 and is reinforced at the isthmus by five bastions.
Since the 1960s it’s been repurposed as a Pousada de Portugal (a luxury hotel). If you’re up for the walk to the summit you can join the trail directly from Angra do Heroísmo and it won’t take more than an hour.
At the top there’s a monument to Portuguese occupation, gun emplacements from the World Wars and a view of the city to cherish.
In the centre of Terceira you can descend 100 metres into an ancient lava tube.
You’ll be able to enter the magma chamber of a real extinct volcano, and it’s a surreal experience, when you look up and see the sky through the cone high overhead.
The geology of the volcano and the protection of these chambers from the elements have allowed mosses and ferns to give a beautiful green hue to the upper parts of the cave.
Further down the walls are coated with silica stalactites and at the bottom is a huge lake with clear waters.
Our third lake on São Miguel also has something special to help it stand out, as there are obvious signs of volcanic activity on the northwest shore.
On a raised boardwalk you’ll get a good view of the pools and small calderas belching steam.
These small craters are even used by restaurant chefs in the town of Furnas who bring their pots of cozido (meat and vegetable stew) and let them simmer in the hot ground.
If you come around midday you’ll get to see them fishing them out of the calderas.
And after that you may be enticed to head to town to taste traditional food cooked with volcanic activity.
No matter the weather you’ll have a blissful time soaking at this hot spring complex near Furnas on São Miguel.
The pools are fed by a hot spring which emerges in a cave with a temperature of 40°C. Originally people bathed in the cave until it became safer to funnel the water flow into man-made pools, each with a different temperature.
Furnas has made a name from its hot spring, which helps to cultivate the local yam farms.
The pool complex has been updated recently and is fringed by tropical vegetation.
You’ll realise how the landscapes in the Azores are in a constant state of flux at this stunning caldera in the middle of Faial.
Before the eruption to the east at Capelinhos in the 1950s this was a lake like the kind you’ll see on São Miguel.
Now the crater, almost 1.5 kilometres in diameter, is mostly dry, but teems with plant-life and the tone of the greenery changes according to the light and time of day.
The rim of the crater is 400 metres up and can be reached on an eight kilometre trail that is challenging but never arduous if you have the right gear.
On Faial Island is the Azores’ main recreational harbour.
This is a crucial staging post for transatlantic regattas as well as amateur sailors crossing the ocean, so you may be surprised how busy it can get.
People from all over the world end up here, and super yachts are moored across the harbour from tiny craft that can fit one or two.
But what they all share is a sense of superstition: The walls and ground of the quays, docks and breakwaters are plastered with paintings made by almost every captain to pass through, telling you the name of the vessel and date of the voyage.
Not many people can say that they’ve sunbathed on the slopes of an ancient caldera and gone swimming in its crater.
But this is exactly what you can do on this tiny island a kilometre off the coast of São Miguel.
There’s a boat service from the pier at Vila Franca do Campo for the short crossing.
What you’ll encounter on arrival is a partially submerged cone with rich vegetation on its walls.
There’s a lagoon in the middle fed by the ocean on the landward side, and so completely shielded from the ocean currents.
It’s a strange, beautiful spot that fills up quickly on sunny days.
Washed by the full force of the Atlantic and with waves sculpted by the volcanic seabed, the Azores are a surfer’s paradise.
There are point breaks, reef breaks and beach breaks, and healthy swells generated by tropical storms that miss this archipelago by several hundred kilometres to the south.
Every island has a few great spots, but the one with the most, and the best infrastructure is probably São Miguel.
On the north shore, the beautiful volcanic beach Praia de Santa Barbara is served by a handful of surf schools and has hosted World Surf League events since 2010.
In the not so distant past whaling was a source of many livelihoods in the Azores.
And some 25 kinds of cetaceans, both resident and migratory, are happy visitors to these waters.
You can even base a whole holiday around nature spotting as there are expeditions available at every marina, and your chances of seeing something amazing are high.
There are whales and dolphins around the Azores at all times of the year, but some species are seasonal.
In spring sei, blue and fin whales pass through the area, while sperm whales tend to be more visible in the summer.
Given the latitude of the Azores, diving isn’t a year-round pursuit.
But when the water temperatures are higher, from June to October, that volcanic geology and the staggering ecological diversity allow for once-in-a-lifetime dives.
Each island brings something different to the table: Near the old port of Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira there’s an underwater anchor graveyard, while the awesome topography of Pico Island continues beneath the waves with sheer volcanic cliffs.
Off São Miguel there are volcanic canyons at low depth, providing a habitat for octopuses and triggerfish.
Things to Do in Azores
Each of the nine volcanic islands collectively known as the Azores is a unique and beautiful destination worth exploring. Nearly 1,000 miles from mainland Portugal, these remote and picturesque islands are well worth the trip. Let's take a look at the best things to see and do on each island in the Azores.
São Miguel - The largest of all the Azores, São Miguel offers plenty to keep visitors entertained. In the center of the island, you'll find Lagoa do Fogo, a sparkling lake hidden away in the center of a dormant volcano. The views here are breathtaking, and the setting is immaculate. It's the perfect spot for reconnecting with nature. At Terra Nostra Park, visitors while the hours away in a thermal lake, surrounded by gorgeous flowers and trees. The town of Furnas also has hot springs that bubble up from the earth, and occasionally erupt in fantastic geysers. Most come to Sao Miguel to relax, but if you're after something a bit more cosmopolitan, then be sure to spend some time in Ponta Delgada, the island's capital city. Here, you'll find ancient cobblestone streets and historic architecture side-by-side with a thoroughly modern marina, cutting-edge restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife.
Santa Maria - The island of Santa Maria is only a short plane ride from Sao Miguel, and it is definitely worth the trip. The climate here is hot and dry year-round, so it's a great place to escape the winter. Maia and St. Lourenço Bays are two of the island's finest, but golden beaches abound here, and the island has miles of pristine shoreline. The village of Anjos is a must for history buffs: it was a stop on Christopher Columbus's return voyage from the Americas. Santo Espirito village is the very picture of pastoral charm, with its quaint little church and rolling fields.
Terceira - Terceira is the Azores' third-largest island, and there's plenty to see here. At Monte Brasil, hikers are treated to sweeping vistas of the nearby city and the sparkling ocean. The grottoes of Algar do Carvao are lava tubes filled with stunning mineralogical formations, and crystalline pools of water. At Sao Joao Baptista do Monte Brasil, visitors step back in time to an era when the threat of pirate raids was very real. In response, the Portuguese crown commissioned several forts to be built, in order to aid in the islands' defense. This is one of the most formidable forts, and the best maintained. Its ornate porticoes and impenetrable volcanic bastions are definitely worth slotting into your travel itinerary.
Graciosa - This small island is full of caverns to be explored, reefs to visit, and landscapes that simply shouldn't be missed. Active vacationers enjoy hiking to Timao summit, and students of history marvel at the collection contained in the Graciosa Museum, a former warehouse now dedicated to showcasing the relics of the island's whaling and winemaking trades.
São Jorge - On the island of Sao Jorge, sightseers marvel at the beauty of the island's many hiking trails, and stare in wonder at the remains of an ancient church that was buried by volcanic eruptions at Urzelina.
Pico - Pico's coast is dotted with natural swimming holes and sandy beaches. Scuba divers love the crystal-clear waters that surround this island, and whale-watchers embark daily from Madalena, Santo Amaro, and Lajes.
Faial - The "Blue Island" is thusly called because of its abundance of hydrangeas. The Portuguese and Flemish originally settled the island, and many examples of historic architecture can still be found, some of which are partially buried by volcanic activity. Faial is a hotspot for geology enthusiasts, who find the caves and lava arches of Lajinha and Ponta Furada to be quite enthralling. The scrimshaw museum houses more than 100 ornate examples of the craft, and is certainly worth a visit.
Flores - This aptly named island is positively brimming with wildflowers - both native varieties, and others that have been naturalized over the centuries. Other attractions include the hot springs of Aquas Quentes, the waterfalls at Ribiera Grande, and the picture-perfect village of Fajazinha.
Corvo - This tiny island has only 400 inhabitants, but it is still a great place to visit. The Caldiero is the crater left by the volcano that birthed the island. At its bottom are two shining blue lakes, full of tiny volcanic islands. The island is also home to Vila do Corvo, a village where the pace of life is slow and relaxing, and where the locals are helpful and friendly.
What to Expect from the Weather in Azores
The islands of Portugal's Azores archipelago are a popular Portugal vacation destination for many reasons, not the least of which is the wonderful weather you'll find on a trip there. Let's take a look at the Azores weather and climate to help determine the best time to visit Portugal for your planned tours and travels.
The waters surrounding the islands of Azores are kept warm by the Gulf Stream. The best month for swimming is August, when the ocean is the warmest.
The islands' position at approximately the same latitude as Lisbon, Portugal gives them each a very temperate climate. In terms of the general climate, the islands are classified as "dry-summer subtropical."
Average high temperatures from July through October are in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, and they rarely dip below 50 degrees, even during the coldest months (December through March). With an overall average yearly high temperature of 67 degrees, and an average low temperature of about 58 degrees, you probably won't need your parka while on the Azores islands.
The Azores Islands are surrounded on all sides by the mighty Atlantic Ocean, so rainfall is fairly frequent there. No matter when you visit, you'd be wise to pack a rain jacket, just in case. The least rainy month on the islands has historically been July, when average monthly rainfall is just over an inch. June comes in second in terms of average sunny days, and typically receives just under two inches of precipitation. The wettest months are, in order, December, with 5.4 inches average rainfall; November, with just over 5 inches; October; January; and February.
Also, bear in mind that if it's raining on one side of the island you're on, it may be perfectly sunny on the other side. Consider escaping the drizzle by hopping in your rental car, and taking a short drive. Our tips on Driving in the Azores page is a great place to start.
Best Time to Visit Azores
There really isn't a bad time to take a trip to the Azores. Summer is perfect for spending your days on the beach, SCUBA diving, and whale watching. The spring is when all the azaleas are in full bloom, and the air is filled with a truly wonderful fragrance. The autumn and winter months are slightly cooler than the summer months, but not by much. True, you'll experience more rainy days, but you'll also get plenty of sun, and your visit may feel a bit more authentic for the lack of other visitors. Whenever you choose to visit, Azores is truly a paradise any time of the year.