If swimming with dolphins, hiking calderas, dipping into hot springs, and the boundless grandeur of nature excites you, then the Azore Islands await.
Like a collection of jewels with nine islands shimmering in the middle of the Atlantic ocean - this far-flung, yet a short flight from Lisbon islet makes for the most enchanting travel destination. Adding more to its appeal? While still close to continental Europe, and part of Portugal, the Azore islands are remote enough that the wild landscape remains unspoiled, the locals curious about those who visit, and the wildlife well protected yet within sightseeing reach. This is Eden on Earth. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
Know Before You Go
Of the nine islands that make up the Azores, there are three main international airports: Horta Airport (HOR), Ponta Delgada Airport (PDL), and Lajes Airport (TER). Ponta Delgada Airport (PDL) is the biggest located in São Miguel, so there will be more flights available to it.
From continental Europe, regular direct flights are available from Portugal in Lisbon and Porto, as well as London, UK. It takes about 2.5 hours to fly from Lisbon.
If you’re planning to pair your Azore Island trip with a Lisbon trip, check out our other itinerary for Lisbon and the surrounding areas here.
Due to the diversity of the Azore Islands environment, you’ll often hear from the locals that you can experience all four seasons in one day. Keeping that in mind, the Azore Islands' temperature is generally mild, with high humidity.
In the winter months, the Azore islands rarely get sunshine (up to three hours a day) however the average temperature rarely goes below 10°C, as well as gets high up to 16°C. If you’re not one for rain, as most activities in the islet are outdoors, it’s best to avoid winter here.
In the spring from April onwards, while the Azore islands still tend to be wet, there are still low crowds with the notorious mild temperature being the norm.
The summer months from July to September, are the warmest and driest season. This makes it the perfect time to visit the Azores, especially if you enjoy swimming. While August is the hottest month of the year with the most daily amount of sunshine (9 hours!), the temperature averages 22°C.
Autumn on the Azore islands can be a mixed bag - swinging from winter winds in the morning to sweltering humidity by the afternoon.
It’s best to have your own means of transportation - as that will give you plenty of freedom to zip between the sparse destinations around the Azore islands. Generally, the limited public transit on the various islands isn’t really reliable.
You can rent a car from each individual island and explore the sublime surroundings. We prefer to rent a car with Rent a Car - as they have multiple locations and various types of vehicles to choose from. However, it’s best to book a car well in advance for the Azores, as there’s a limited amount, especially depending on which season you travel.
What is the best Azores Island to Visit?
The Azores are a collective islet of 9 islands under Portugal.
They can be categorized into three groups:
- The Eastern Group = São Miguel and Santa Maria island
- The Central Group = Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Faial, Pico, and Terceira
- The Western Group = Corvo and Flores island
In this itinerary, the first week will be spent exploring the main big island, São Miguel, and the second week will be spent island-hopping around the Azores. We have a full in-depth itinerary just for São Miguel that you can use here.
Feel free to adjust the itinerary to your interests and the time that you have for your holiday, or to follow it as you like!
Week 1: São Miguel island
Out of the 9 islands in the Azores, São Miguel is the biggest - even though you can drive from one end to the other in just four hours. Though don’t underestimate it - as it’s easy to spend a full 5 adventure-filled days just on São Miguel. That’s why we have a much more in-depth itinerary of São Miguel that you can use here.
The in-depth itinerary covers São Miguel’s capital city of Ponta Delgada, which is also the capital of the Azores. It’s an important trading port that dates back to the 18th to early 19th century with still well-preserved Portuguese colonial architecture.
The city also has an ancient lava tube that travellers can explore underground, called the Coal Grotto, or the Gruta do Carvão. It’s as cool as it sounds since you can walk through the chilled magma tube that snakes its way underneath the city.
São Miguel is also home to various lakes that look like they’ve been imagined from a fantasy novel - such as the stunning emerald green waters of Santiago Lake (Lagoa de Santiago) and the nearby Azul Lake (Lagoa Azul). They’re both in the Sete Cidades, which is the postcard picture-perfect area of the Azore Islands.
One thing to know about São Miguel - is all the must-see viewpoints dotted all around the island. They’re high up yet easy to walk to and give you the most incomparable panoramic view of the area.
In the heart of São Miguel, Fogo Lake is a massive crater that has been filled up with water over time. Picture the film series Jurassic Park and that is just a similar bite to what this nature holds. Then in the southern part of the island, the Furnas Valley is not much of a valley but rather a huge split in a volcanic crater. This is where a lot of São Miguel’s volcanic activity happens - from geysers that you can walk by to the mineral springs and thermal pools that bubble up. The range of diversity in nature that São Miguel offers can be a separate trip itself - since it’s so action-packed. São Miguel definitely not to miss out on in the Azores, and our special itinerary of it covers every corner of the island.
Where to Stay in São Miguel:
Budget - Casa da Matriz
Mid-range - MS Vila Nova
Luxury - Casa da Ilha
Stop 1 - Day 1: Terceira’s capital city, Angra do Heroismo
After exploring São Miguel, the biggest island of the Azores, get out to where most travellers who come to the Azores don’t even reach. We’re talking about the other islands that make up this fantastical archipelago. It’s time for island hopping.
There are two main ways to get to Terceira. The first is by flying domestic with Azores airlines from São Miguel, the second would be taking a ferry from São Miguel’s capital, Ponta Delgada to Praia da Vitoria in Terceira. The ferry passage takes an average of 4 hours and 30 minutes, one way.
This may seem like a long journey just to explore another island in the Azores, but Terceira holds its own magic that makes it worth to be discovered. Like the Portuguese explorers who arrived on this island, they too saw the natural beauty of Terceira worth settling down for. So back in the 15th century saw the first population and since then, the capital of Terceira - Angra do Heroismo, shortened by the locals to Angra, has been classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
It’s a pedestrian-friendly city, with plenty of things to see that make the UNESCO title well earned. If you hear choir singing and the playing of an organ, you may be close to the atmospheric Se Cathedral. In a city with orange rooftops, you’ll easily spot this yellow and white cathedral. It’s the main church of the city, with very humbling simple interiors. This is in contrast to Igreja Da Misericordia, a blue church on the waterfront of Angra which is more detailed and ornamented. If you get to take a look inside, you’ll see the difference - especially with the 200-year-old organ and how glimmering the ceiling and altar are in the gold paint.
Your stroll will continue down Marina d’Angra, where on one side, you’ll see the boats docked in the harbour lined up like ducks and on the other side you’ll see a painting of the town, complete with a serene mountain backdrop. Nearby is the Parque Municipal do Relvão, a public park that connects to São João Baptista Fort, Fortaleza de São João Baptista. The fort hails from the 16th century and has a well-preserved stone bridge that’s built out of multiple arches leading up the main protective gate. From here you’ll get impeccable views of Angra Bay, giving you the same glimpse of what the Portuguese soldiers had back in the day. Around the corner is the Igreja de São João Baptista, which while it’s another church within a mile radius of Terceira, it’s still a delightful sight for architecture lovers.
A lush abode of tranquillity in the middle of Angra is the Duke Of Terceira Garden. There are several layers to this garden, as the expansive ground is filled with tropical plants, succulents and pieces of art that give you the feeling of a nobleman wandering around their own private keep. It’s also right beside the MAH, Angra do Heroismo Museum, which is hosted in an old convent that tells the full history of Terceira.
Where to Stay in Angra do Heroismo:
Budget - Angra Bed & Breakfast
Mid-range - Farol Guesthouse
Luxury - Casa das Arcadas
Day 2: Terceira island from the east to the north to inside a Volcano
It’s time to get out of the city and into the volcanic nature that Terceira is known for! On this day, you’ll drive out to explore the island. Before you embark, keep in mind that there are plenty of steep hills on Terceira, so stay calm as you chug up, and watch out for the cows! There are more cows on Terceira than there are people, so you’ll see them wandering around like they own the place (which, technically speaking in terms of numbers - they kind of do rule the island).
You’ll want to set out early in the morning, especially depending on how much time you have for Terceira and the other islands in the Azores. Driving clockwise on the EN1-2A, you’ll soon arrive to Porto Judeu. It didn’t take long until you realize why Terceira is an active volcano island, especially with Pico Dona Joana, which is a view of a caldera rising out of the sky like a cake with a centre that has collapsed within itself. A short jaunt away is Gruta das Agulhas, a cooled down lava tube that faces the crashing waves of the sea. It’s a secluded area to experience the coast of Terceira before making your way to Piscina Natural do Refugo, a swimming hole that has been shaped by the erosion of the sea. This is a popular spot for locals during the summer, where you’ll often see people laying out on their beach towels by the rim, in between going for swims in the translucent waters.
These naturally made swimming pools are part of this Azores island charm - they connect you out to the sea without the danger of being in the actual ocean. Praia da Salga is another natural pool, with the Ponta das Contendas lighthouse in close distance to the rugged shores.
The coast is filled with plenty of spots to lay your towel or swim, as just a drive further Piscinas Naturais de Porto Martins, is another one of these beloved spots.
From there, you’ll reach the small town of Praia da Vitória where you can have a pitstop at the Gazebo Torch from the Miradouro do Facho. Walking up the stone steps leading up to the “torch”, you’ll have a magnificent view of the orange roof little town, nestled in the bay in front of you. The bronze monument of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a landmark itself, overlooking the area. Praia da Vitória is actually the second largest town on the island, with a gorgeous long stretch of sandy beach to enjoy. You’ll also spot the rooftop of the Church of Santa Cruz, another highlight to see up close if you walk through the town.
After spending the morning on the east coast of Terceira, drive down the EN1-1A across the island to the northern coast. While this may be daunting anywhere else in the world, for this Azores island, it’s actually only a 28-minute drive (22.9 kilometres) from Praia da Vitória!
On the northern coast, Piscinas Naturais Biscoitos is a great spot for snorkelling and taking a dip in the natural lava pool. It leaves you with a sublime feeling that you’re doing this in the Atlantic ocean, on the edge of the island. Here, watching the crashing waves slam into the protective rocks that separate the pool from the wild, makes it hard to pick which natural pool on Terceira is a favourite!
If you’re a fan of wine, there’s a Wine Museum nearby that would complement a day of swimming quite well. It’s family-owned and the entrance is free, so you’ll be able to see the nifty tools the family use to make wine, and the various grapes they grow.
Driving inland, one of the island’s highlights is the volcanic labyrinth of Gruta do Natal. The moment you step through the underground lava tube, you’re cast in an eerie ambience with it’s damp moisture and quiet dripping of water from the ceiling. The eeriness subsides to pure excitement as you may find some parts of the volcanic cavern are tight to squeeze through, which actually adds to the adventure. But don’t worry, you’ll be provided with a protective helmet to explore the tunnels. It’s also well-lit so you can take in the various natural colours of the solidified lava here.
The centre of Terceira may just be one action-packed sight after another since you don’t have to venture far to experience how you’re on an active volcano. At the Furnas do Enoxfre, there are sulfuric vents that steam out smokes along the laid-back trail through the park. Black moss surrounds the steaming vents which cast an otherworldly feeling to any other place you may have been to before. Though, this is actually all a prelude to the most fascinating experience, walking inside an actual volcano!
It’s no common experience (as the only other places this exist is in Iceland and Indonesia), that you can explore what’s really inside a volcano, but Algar do Carvão is that magical possibility in the Azores. As you descend down into the depths of the volcano, akin to the feeling of having taken a step into the wardrobe to Narnia, a world of lush moss and vivid plants unfolds on the rock formations around you. It’s an incredible moment to think that one little opening from above can give way to so much life within this crater. The silica and white stalactites that open around you will cause your whispers to echo, giving way to an intimate feeling between oneself and nature here. From the pits of the volcano after having taken about 300 steps, it’s surreal to look up as your eyes take in what’s left of the volcanic eruption from long ago.
Where to Stay in Terceira:
Budget - Casa do Galante
Mid-range - Hotel Praia Marina
Luxury - White House I
Stop 2: São Jorge island
There are two ways to get to São Jorge from Terceira, by ferry and by flight from Terceira Island Airport (TER) to São Jorge Island Airport (SJZ). By ferry is 6 and a half-hour water journey whereas it’s only a 30-minute plane ride.
Once you arrive in São Jorge, the adventures of the Azores you’re seeking truly unveils themselves to you. São Jorge is smaller than other islands, thus having fewer travellers reaching it, fewer inhabitants and fewer facilities in the Azores. But that is what makes it truly an off-the-beaten-track thrill.
For phenomenal views (and I don’t use that word lightly!), start your adventure off hiking the highest mountain of Pico da Esperança. While it sounds like you’re beginning the day with a bang, the entire route is a pleasant pedestrian trail. Once on top, you’re at the highest peak of the island, at an altitude of 1053 metres. The Atlantic Ocean stretches out before you and the conical silhouette of Pico Island’s mountain across the water makes it feel ever so within reach, yet far away.
São Jorge is known for its trails and hikes, with many options you can choose from that are all relatively close by to each other. Each one gives different vantage points, rewarding you with different viewpoints of the island and the Azores. Fajã d'Além is one of them along the coast, which may be a casual walk for locals who reside there but may be strenuously steep for others. Though what makes this trail so magical is the steep drop-off slope from the island that just plunges down to the rocky shores below. This is the effect of the “fajãs” as a mountain range runs through the island, making it one of the most unique of the Azores.
Down within the remote nooks of the fajãs are little villages and settlements. You’ll see little houses speckled far down by the coast, and one can’t stop to imagine how peaceful it is to live so close to the sounds of the waves. In this special spot, you can also have a swim in the Piscina Natural "Simão Dias", a natural emerald shimmering pool shielded by carved out slices of rocks.
If the ocean looks really tempting, and you love surfing then there’s a paradise here for you at the Fajã da Ribeira da Areia, where people often hit the waves with their boards. Further down the coast, Miradouro da Fajã dos Cubres gives you a spectacular view of the island - looking out at the hills like ripples folding onto one another from the water. For those who aren’t faint of heart - there are various adrenaline-pumping activities along the northern coast too, like canyoning down the cliffside along waterfalls.
The main hike of São Jorge is the loop trail of Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, otherwise known as the Santo Cristo Caldeira hike. A 8.4 kilometres path, it’s about a 3-hour hike that passes through multiple fajãs, vibrant hues of hydrangea flowers, and valleys filled with different run-off waterfalls. During this hike, you’ll get the best of São Jorge. Starting from Serra do Topo, the path will keep descending - going all along the jagged coastline with various species of plants and dramatic geological formations. The trail quickly becomes a zig-zagging switchback, until you reach the bottom to find the town of Santo Cristo. This is where you can have a relaxing swim in the lake, Lagoa da Caldeira da Fajã do Santo Cristo, as well as enjoy the view of the small church Ermida de Santo Cristo. Take this all in with much gusto, knowing that there is no other way to reach this town unless it’s by foot or by ATV - which makes the hike ever more rewarding. The view from down below in Santo Cristo does make one feel small in the world, looking up at the clouds rolling above the green mountains. To complete the hike, continue the trail until you reach the end at Fajã dos Cubres.
Where to Stay in São Jorge:
Budget - AzoresDream
Mid-range - Blue Planet São Jorge Azores - RRAL nº 1341
Luxury - Cabanas da Viscondessa
Stop 3: Pico Island
After São Miguel, Pico Island is the second-largest island in the Azores. Like how many people would draw an island volcano, the distinctive shape of Mount Pico and the island itself can be seen throughout various islands in the Azores.
Now if you’re a wine drinker, this is the island for you. The extremely fertile volcanic soil, with the high elevation of the island, has made Pico known for its wine. The Pico Wine Museum, Museu do Vinho da Ilha do Pico, is a whole museum dedicated to the art of making this fine drink, surrounded by multiple vineyards. A common sight you’ll see in the winemaking process on Pico is how there are stacks of lava stones on various walls all around the vineyards. This is to shelter the grapes from the harsh winds, and over time it has become a UNESCO protected architectural piece.
In the same town of Madalena, after the winery visit, head to Grotto of Towers, locally known as Gruta das Torres. At a length of 5150 metres, it is the largest lava tube in Portugal! This underground subterranean is explorable if you book a spot in advance. You’ll feel like you’re on a full adventure as you’re given a helmet and a flashlight to descend into the depths of the cavern. You’ll be led by a guide that conducts the hour and a half tour in English and Portuguese, taking you through a damp intricate system that was created naturally by a volcano.
If the sun is out, the place to be where the locals love hanging out is the Piscina Municipal da Madalena, which is the Madalena Municipal pool. Though, as this is still the Azores, it’s not just any regular pool - it’s one that sits right on the edge of the ocean giving you clear views of the other islands while you swim.
Just right outside the town of Madalena is the Moinho do Frade, which is an adorable red windmill that looks over the UNESCO protected vineyards all around it. Even if you’re not into wine, the atmosphere is really unique to the rest of the Azores - and the sight is charming with neat rows of grapes amongst the lava rocks.
Undoubtedly the main sparkle of the island is what can be seen for miles around the Azores on a sunny day itself: Mount Pico. While Mount Pico is a dormant volcano, it’s still impressively huge, at 7731 feet. This hike is one of the most essential must-do while you’re in this region of the Azores. It provides the right amount of challenge for a steep terrain while giving the person who chooses to embark on the journey the best views as a reward.
- The hike takes about a 7-hour roundtrip, and it’s better to start as early in the day as possible - since you want to have enough time to enjoy the stops along the way to the summit.
- For preservation and conservation, you have to book your hike in advance on the government website here. This is because only 160 people at a time can be on Mount Pico, with a total of 320 per day.
- As this is the Azores, keep an eye out for the weather. You may be able to experience all four seasons during your hike, or just one constant weather. Pack your day bag accordingly!
- There are 47 very visible and well-marked poles up along the trail to the summit for you to follow.
Three hours into your hike, you’ll see the volcano’s crater but this isn’t the summit yet! When you do reach the very top, you’ll be greeted with what is an absolutely extraordinary view of clouds below you, the vast stretches of the Atlantic ocean, and of course, the archipelago of the Azores. It’s a sight to breathe in, feeling like you’re standing on top of the world as what you’re looking out at seems so tiny in comparison.
When you descend from Mount Pico, you can rest and relax at Lagoa do Capitão, a lake at the foothill of the volcano. It’s a small lake, though one not to be under estimated - as there’s tons of various species of birds to spot, wonderful spots for picnics, and views of Mount Pico and São Jorge, another Azores island. If one of the many cows walk up to you, don’t worry - they’re really friendly!
Where to Stay on Pico Island:
Budget - Adega Do Mirante
Mid-range - Pico Dreams - Sportfish
Luxury - Casa Da Lava
Stop 4: Faial Island
A ferry from Pico Island takes only 30 minutes directly to Faial! Upon arriving on Faial island, one of the first sights you’ll be smitten by is the flourishing amount of hydrangeas in various hues of blue. During the summer, the flowers notoriously cover the island in their petals with the locals nicknaming Faial the Azores’ “Blue Island”.
That’s not all Faial is known for, as even though there are various volcano activities all over the Azores, the most recent eruption came from this island itself. In 1957, in the village of Capelinhos in Faial, the Capelinhos volcano erupted and devastated the coast. Decades later now, what has cooled down and shaped the new land surrounding the infamous Faial volcano has become a piece of the island’s history and dramatic scenery.
You don’t have to go far in Faial to see what makes this island so unique - you can hike around the island’s 2-kilometre wide Caldeira Grande easily. It’s an 8-kilometre circular trail that will give you a literal 360 view of the central Azores region. The feeling of walking on its rim makes you can’t help but compare the large cauldron of a once collapsed volcano to another planet - so similar to Earth yet vastly different in terrain.
Faial is an Azores island that mixes nature and city well with each other. You’ll most likely be based in and around close to Horta, the capital of Faial. It’s a port city that’s on the foothills of Monte da Guia volcano where many sailboats, ships, and passageway makes a stop. Over time this sea traffic was then woven into the city’s nautical aesthetic - from the bustling Marina da Horta that’s filled with restaurants, bars, and shops to the iconic Peter Cafe Sport. It’s a must-visit when you’re in Horta, simply because you’ll be drinking where many sailors and sea captains had a pit stop to get rowdy before continuing their voyage across the Atlantic.
Architectural highlights of Horta are all close by within walking distance of the marina. The main religious sites such as Church of the Holy Savior, Igreja Matriz de Savio Church and Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição all stand out from Horta’s distinctive Portuguese orange rooftop skyline. Then there’s the small but much-beloved city park, Jardim da Praça da República with a red gazebo in the centre.
Looking for a break from hiking? Praia do Porto Pim is one of the more popular beaches in the Azores, frequented by locals. With translucent Caribbean-like waters and fine soft sand, it makes for a lovely spot to throw your towel down and go for a swim. Just watch out for jellyfish!
Now for the best views of Horta as well as part of the Azores? Walk up to Miradouro de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, and you’ll see the coast stretched out before you.
On the other side of this Azore island, which, to be fair is only a 34-minute drive on the EN1-2A (at 28.6 kilometre from the viewpoint) is Capelinhos. Yes, the infamous spot where the most recent volcanic eruption almost buried the lighthouse as well as destroyed many homes over 50 years ago. It’s an eerie feeling walking around Capelinhos - the rest of the island is lush, filled with the warmth and greenery of nature. Yet here the land feels like it’s arid and desolate with its brown dust and lack of plantation. This is all due to the eruption and the ashes that came from it. There’s a museum that’s brilliantly built underground - preserving the barren nature above it while taking you through the history of the tragedy. The concrete interiors of the museum actually give it a post-apocalyptic bunker feel, adding to the legacy of the volcanic eruption.
Where to Stay in Faial:
Budget - Monte da Guia
Mid-range - Porto Pim Bay
Luxury - Pousada Forte da Horta
More Azore Islands
Since there are 9 islands in the Azores, this itinerary only covers São Miguel and some of the central islands; Terceira, Pico and Faial. If you have more time during your trip, each island in the Azores has their own uniqueness and beauty that is definitely worth discovering. However, for a first or second time trip to the Azores, our itineraries are designed to give you enough of a bite-size taste into this fantastical archipelago.
Map of the Azore Islands Itinerary
Curious about all the spots and highlights in this Azores itinerary pinned and planned out? Check out our map of the Azores here: