Hawaii of Europe. A place for everyone. Combination of cultures. Fast-changing weather. Perfect to explore in “off-season”. Unique by nature and its businesses. Calm and relaxing.
This all perfect describes the main island of Azores, Sao Miguel. With the fast-developing transportation system to this island, it becomes popular among tourists. We’ve been there this January and definitely put it in our list of “come-backs”. Moreover, there is a lot to see on the other 8 islands, but impossible to manage in one trip. There are dozens of options for different things to do in the Azores. Today we will share with you our 20 activities in the Azores that we tried, so hopefully, it will inspire you and help with planning a trip.
P.s.1: Nowadays the tickets are made in a way, that you fly to Lisbon or Porto first. Later I also plan to write a separate article on how to spend one day in Lisbon and still enjoy it, instead of just waiting at the airport.
P.s.2: In this article, I am trying a new feature for the first time: in the end, you can find a map with all the places that we’ve visited in the Azores. It should help you to imagine how far are all the places from each other and also plan the logistics of your trip. Let me know if this map is useful for you 🙂
20 things to do in the Azores:
1. Walking in Ponta Delgada
Capital of the Azores, a place where most of the tourists are staying at first. I recommend you to spend at least half a day here. There are many interesting places to see in Ponta Delgada. Being lost in colorful streets, checking interesting architecture. We decided to rent here an Airbnb because it is not hard to get to the other places on the island. But about the transportation, we will talk a bit later. Don’t miss the symbol of Ponta Delgada – Portas da Cidade (or City gates) and Church of São Sebastião.
2. Buy fresh veggies on local markets
Walking in Ponta Delgada you gotta visit a local market called Mercado da Graca. It’s an amazing market to try local delicacies like fruits (small local bananas or pineapples), veggies, cheese, eggs. There are also sections on the market with fresh meat or fish. It’s open Monday-Wednesday 7:30-18:30, Thursday 7:30-19:00, Friday 7:00-19:00 and Saturday 7:00-14:00. Sunday is closed.
By buying fresh veggies and fruits on the market you can not just cook a healthy and real local dish, but you can also make a cheap breakfast or dinner for yourself and save some money (instead of eating in an expensive restaurant, for an instant). Moreover, you will definitely feel the atmosphere of this place and see how the locals go shopping.
3. Arruda Pineapple Plantation
One of the really unique activities you can do in the Azores is to see how pineapples grow. Arruda pineapple plantation is located 4 km far from the city center of Ponta Delgada, an easy walk for about 50 minutes. It is open for all visitors for free from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. They give you the paper in English with an explanation of the pineapple growth. And then you can walk around and see it yourself.
In the end, you can also visit a shop, where they give you to try a pineapple liquor which is a yum! There are different souvenirs and products at the pineapple plantation made from pineapple. Like keychains, jams, notebooks, magnets, sauces. Yet I recommend you to buy some souvenirs in Ponta Delgada. Like this, I bought a small pineapple jam and a liquor for around 5 euros together. In the shop on the plantation, it’s almost 2 times more expensive.
We’ve heard that there is also a cafe there, where you could try some sweets, but, it was closed when we were there.
4. Eat at a local canteen in Ponta Delgada
Well, I cannot guarantee you that the food in this canteen in Ponta Delgada will be tasty or not. We went there on Saturday, but they close the kitchen at weekends. But when we saw it during lunchtime during the week, it was full of locals. The canteen is called Casa Cheia, but check the map at the end of the article for the right location. We’ve seen at least one more Casa Cheia, which was just a usual shop. This one has a shop as well, but it is also a canteen, where they cook.
The prices on the menu look very decent, so you should give it a try and tell me, how it was. Unfortunately, I found the menu only in Portuguese. But there are a lot of things you can understand without a translation.
5. Explore the Jardim António Borges garden and park
We found this beautiful botanical garden in Ponta Delgada randomly but were surprised how nice it is. António Borges, an Azorean businessman, and politician created this Botanical garden. He imported hundreds of exotic trees and flowers and by this, created the garden. Even the fact that it was raining didn’t bother us from exploring the Botanical garden and the beauty of nature in it. But prepare for it – the weather on the Azores is very much unpredictable.
6. Walk at the seaside promenade in Ponta Delgada
The promenade in Ponta Delgada is a very nice and popular walking, running, and cycling path both for locals and tourists. It is ideal for many sport activities to do in Ponta Delgada. The promenade starts from Fortress Forte de Sao Bras, walking west. Passing some restaurants and shops. After some time you will see a port (Portas do Mar) which was renovated to something more than just a port. Nowadays it has a shopping mall, an open-air amphitheater, a pavilion for exhibitions, a marina, an underground car park, and a natural pool – Piscina do Pesqueiro.
7. Get in the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel
Are you looking for some slight adrenalin attraction in the Azores? If your answer is yes, keep reading.
It was a rainy foggy day. Perfect mood for such a location. A lot of signs around “Do not enter!”. But who cares, right? People are climbing over the walls of the abandoned hotel (no worries, there are places where it is pretty easy to do). Who knows how it would be now if the hotel would still function. Back in 1989, when it was opened, Azores still didn’t become a vacation spot for many people. So that is why a few years later the Monte Palace hotel became abandoned. It is interesting to walk in the rooms of the hotel, plus the view from the roof and some balconies are spectacular. If there is no fog, which happens pretty often around the hotel. Yet still, be careful getting around there. It’s a run-down building, so you never know what can go wrong.
The abandoned hotel is located on a hill in the middle of nature, next to the road to Miradouro da Grota do Inferno. We’ve heard, that the hotel will be again reopening in 2021. So probably it will not be anymore a tourist attraction. But we will see.
8. Hike to Miradouro da Grota do Inferno
I guess this is one of the most famous views when you google the Azores. Not surprisingly, it is on the top of most articles about things to do in the Azores. Nice walking path, stunning view on Sete Cidades twin lakes. It’s pretty easy to get to Miradouro da Grota do Inferno from Ponta Delgada. By car it takes around half an hour. There is one parking lot before entering the gate to the view. Not a huge one, so might be hard to find a spot in season time. Also, it is possible to go to the gates even further with the car, there is another small parking. But the gates are closing at some time, in winter it is already at 15:00.
We did hitchhike from Ponta Delgada (see below) to the abandoned hotel mentioned earlier. Then we decided to have a small hike to the the miradouro. Honestly, not the best idea. There is no road for hikers between the abandoned hotel and the miradouro, so you walk on the car’s road. Plus because of the fast-changing weather, we got into a huge rain in the middle of nothing. We were almost about to give up. Yet the view was worth it.
The best views in the Azores
Be prepared, that you will have to wait some time until the fog will go away from the view at the miradouro. We were very lucky to get amazing weather right when we came to the top of the miradouro. There are websites where you can check the current weather in the Azores. But it is changing so often, that even if you check it now, in 10 minutes it can be different. So better count with more time spent at Miradouro da Grota do Inferno until you get the perfect weather and the best views in the Azores. For example, take some food for having a picnic (there are some spots for it after you enter the gates). And wait. You will be rewarded.
9. Hitchhike on Sao Miguel!
At least for us, it was one of the easiest places so far to hitchhike. And even that we came to the Azores in “off-season” with almost no tourists anywhere. If you want to meet some locals, hitchhiking in the Azores is the way to go for you. The most important is to find a good spot for hitchhiking. If you want to hitchhike to points 7 and 8 in this article, then on the bottom map I marked the place, from where we had luck. It is about 40 minutes walk from the center of Ponta Delgada.
But, if you are limited in time and want to see as more as possible, I highly recommend you to rent a car on Sao Miguel right from the airport. It’s the easiest way to travel there. Just…
10. . . . do not take a local bus on the Azores
Please. I mean, the buses are ok. But there are few minuses:
- The buses goes very rarely in the Azores. Check the timetables of the buses on Sao Miguel and you will see how do I mean it. There are 3 different lines, so the buses to different directions on the island go from different stops. But all 3 stops are located in Ponta Delgada, close to each other, near Portas da Cidade.
- You never know how long the bus road on the Azores will take. Well, the bus has official stops (a few). And then any person can stop the bus almost anywhere on the road he wants. So that’s why a few kilometers of going by bus on the Azores can take you 2 hours of the ride.
- Prepare for the rollercoaster. One more thing to the time management of these buses on the Azores, but also to your digestion. These buses are going through small streets of all the villages in the Azores. So it not only takes them longer but since it goes up and down, you might feel a bit dizzy after such a trip.
But I think traveling by bus in the Azores is still a good experience to try (Once). The price is between 2 to 5 euros.
11. Taste Pastel de Nata
I’ve got an impression, that Portuguese people are big sweet lowers. We’ve seen a lot of cafes and bakeries all around. I guess the most popular sweet is Pastel de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts). We fall in love with these tarts! I might confess, that almost none of our days wasn’t spent without eating Pastel de Nata. But also they have more to try. For example Malassada (Portuguese donut) or Torta de laranja (orange roll). If you are sweets lower as well, trying Pastel de Nata is a perfect activity for you!
We’ve got our sweet coma at Cafe Central, which locates in Ponta Delgada right in front of the Church of São Sebastião I’ve mentioned earlier.
12. Try Thermal Bath in Furnas
Exploring the east of Sao Miguel island you will find one more touristic village – Furnas. Most people are going there to see Furnas Lake ( Lagoa das Furnas). It also has a unique attraction – Portuguese stew cooked in the pots dipped into the naturally boiling water of the hot springs.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for this. But we decided to visit no less popular place – Thermal Baths Poça da Dona Beija. The Thermal bath in Furnas is a very popular place to experience the therapeutic benefits of heated pools and iron water. The entrance to the Thermal bath costs 6 euros (price for 2020) + you pay 1 euro for the locker if you need and 1 more euro for the hot shower. Even though outside it was around +12, we didn’t feel like we need a hot shower after being at 39 °C for an hour and a half. There are 5 pools in the Thermal bath in Furnas, one of them has 28°C, the rest – 39 °C.
The Thermal bath in Furnas is the best to visit in “off-season”. It feels much more pleasant to relax in hot water when it’s cold outside. Plus even though we came there around 10:00, there were just a few people. But from what we’ve heard, during summer the pools are full of people. Also, many people are coming in the evening (it opens until 23:00) since the Bath has its own charm in the evening. You feel like in a jungle because of the interesting architecture of the Thermal bath. But you might be very packed in one pool at that time, so count on this fact.
13. Drink tea at Gorreana tea plantation
Gorreana tea plantation is a must-visit place only for the fact, that this is the only tea plantation in Europe so far. We got there by hitchhiking from Furnas after the thermal baths. Every half an hour there is an excursion to the Gorreana tea factory, where they tell you all the steps of production. Since we were only 2 English speakings at a time, we got a private tour with some interesting facts. There is also a cafe and a shop at the Gorreana tea plantation, where you can try 2 sorts of tea (one green and one black – Broken leaf, which I loved!) for free unlimited. You can buy some sweets and tea-based delights, like ice cream.
14. Try local beer (and other alcohol)
Portugal has a lot of liquor, wine, and beer situations going around. But the most important and famous drink in Portugal is Port wine. You can check this article to see how it is made and make sure you try one once you are here. We also really liked the Portuguese brand of beer – Sagres.
I’ve heard some advice to visit for drink lovers – brewery Cerveja Korica on Sao Miguel for the beer tasking. And also a liquor factory, where you could have some free liquor tasting – Fabrica de Licores Mulher de Capote.
15. Miradouro do Ilhéu de Rosto de Cão
One more nice hour walk from Ponta Delgada (or 5 mins drive). Keep walking further on the seaside promenade. There is also a nice bicycle road going right to that place. It is a small hill with a nice view on the top. We were nicely surprised, that on the top there were tables and benches. Since we’ve got a “home-made” lunch with us, it was rewarding to have it with such a view. It could be also nice in warmer weather to have some romantic dinner.
16. Check the black beaches of Azores
From Miradouro do Ilhéu de Rosto de Cão, you have the possibility to go down to the small beach where you can walk on a beach with black sand. Why is black? Because of its volcanic foundations. Yet it’s very charming. Spend some time there, relax, meditate a bit.
17. Get a nice evening walk in Ponta Delgada
You will not find a “party-hard” mode in Ponta Delgada – it is definitely not a party place. But Ponta Delgada in the evening still has its own atmosphere. After a day of hiking, it was rewarding to dig into the same places I’ve mentioned, but see them from different perspectives in the evening. There are few coffee shops and restaurants in the city center of Ponta Delgada where it is very nice to sit on the outside terrace and just watch the city.
18. Eat a huuuge portion of sushi for 7.5 euros!
All the lovers of expensive high-quality sushi can miss this point right now.
Sushi in the Azores? Yes, you read it correctly. In the Azores, to be concrete, in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel island we found a decent sushi place. These sushi sets, in our opinion, were pretty tasty. For 7.5 euros you can get 25 pieces of sushi. Take-away works there as well. The only thing is timing. From 11:00-15:00 and from 18:00 you get “all you can eat” sushi tables with different variations of Chinese food and sushi. Not sure how much you pay for Chinese options since we tried only sushi. In the rest of the time they open, but you can order things only from the menu. Pay only in cash.
The name of the restaurant is Sushiki and it’s located in front of Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada, on the island Sao Miguel.
19. Get acquainted with some animals
Just a fun fact, but we’ve seen a lot of animals like ducks, horses and etc walking around on Sao Miguel. Sometimes they were coming too close without being afraid of people. So you might get a chance to take a profile picture of them. Some of the animals we saw in Jardim António Borges garden and park and in front of Thermal Baths in Funchal.
20. Enjoy the moment!
The Azores and Sao Miguel are the best places to slow down and enjoy the current moment. The astonishing views from different miradouros. The way how people live in the Azores. Untouched nature on Sao Miguel. The mixture of different cultures, starting with European and Portuguese and ending with the Caribbean. The Azores are is also a pretty romantic destination, which is why we went there as our (first) honeymoon after marriage.