Want to visit Europe’s best-kept secret? Put São Miguel in the Azores islands on your list
Have you heard of São Miguel? This island, which is just one in the Portuguese archipelago called the Azores, is Europe’s best-kept secret. “Visiting the Azores, specifically São Miguel, feels like you’re getting the otherworldly landscapes of Iceland paired with the lushness of Hawaii,” said staffer Emily. With a description like that, we don't blame you if you're dreaming of adding the Azores extension to our new Grand Tour of Portugal. Get the scoop on why the island of São Miguel should be on your travel radar and start planning your Portugal trip.
What you need to know about visiting the Azores
Before you fly to this Portuguese paradise, here are some quick travel facts that you should know before you go (like the best time to visit the Azores and where they’re located).
Where are the Azores islands?
The Azores islands are a group of Portuguese islands located in the Atlantic Ocean between the U.S. and mainland Europe. They’re a true hidden gem, but are quickly piquing North American travelers’ interests—São Miguel even made our list of stunning islands in Portugal that you need to visit. Thanks to their handy location, visiting the Azores is particularly easy from America’s East Coast. It only takes around five hours to fly from Boston to Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel.
Are the Azores worth visiting?
If the excitement of our team of travel experts is any indication, the answer is an emphatic yes! “I traveled to São Miguel in March of 2018 and immediately came home ready to spread the word about the beauty of the Azores islands,” said staffer Emily. “That’s why I’m over the moon that our travelers can now add an extension to visit the Azores on our new Grand Tour of Portugal.”
So, why did we add a stop in the Azores to our Portugal tours? “We wanted to give a grander tour of the country,” said staffer Tom, who helps design our trips. “Places like the Azores have so much to offer and we wanted to showcase that.”
What are all of the islands of the Azores?
Nine islands make up the Azores: São Miguel, Pico, Terceira, São Jorge, Faial, Flores, Santa Maria, Graciosa, and Corvo. The Azores extension on our Grand Tour of Portugal visits São Miguel. If you only have time to head to one of the Azores islands on your trip, São Miguel is the perfect pick because it has a little bit of everything (think: amazing views, tons of local restaurants, etc.).
When is the best time to visit the Azores?
Our solo traveler’s guide to Portugal spotlights the perks of late-spring and summer travel, but we also sing the praises of planning an off-season trip. March and October are the perfect times to visit the Azores because you’ll have many of the most popular outdoor sites to yourself. That makes walking around and exploring the landscapes even more enjoyable. Plus, the weather in Portugal is temperate year-round, so you’ll never feel like you have to compromise on any part of your trip.
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What to do in the Azores
With diverse landscapes and immersive activities to be found across all nine islands, the list of the best things to do in the Azores is truly endless. Here are the top things to do in the Azores, specifically on São Miguel, which you’ll experience on the extension of our Grand Tour of Portugal.
Uncover the sites in Ponta Delgada
Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel, sits right on the water and is the perfect place to kick off your guided tour of the Azores. Begin at Forte de São Brás, a Renaissance-style fortress used as a base for the Portuguese Navy. During your free time, pop into the attached museum to learn more about the country’s naval history. Then, continue walking along the scenic promenade to see San Sebastian Church and the Church of São José.
Feast on farm-grown Azorean food
Looking for a place to grab dinner? Make a reservation for A Tasca. Its homey interior and knock-out Azorean menu draws in all the locals. One of our top Portugal travel tips is to seek out entrees spotlighting steak or cheese. Even though it’s an island, where seafood is normally king, São Miguel is famous for its beef and dairy products thanks to its sprawling farmlands.
Hike to the top of Lagoa do Fogo
One of the best parts of visiting the Azores is knowing that the next best view is always just around the corner. One of the top viewpoints on São Miguel is Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa, which overlooks the crater lake inside of the Lagoa do Fogo volcano. You’ll see the peaks and shores that snake all the way around the beautiful lake, which translates to mean Lake of Fire.
Snack on fresh pineapple
Step inside a traditional greenhouse where Azorean pineapples—an island specialty—have been cultivated for more than 150 years. You’ll learn about the processes locals use to produce the delicious fruit and have a chance to taste homemade pineapple liqueur and jam. Talk about a day spent treating your taste buds to Azorean flavors.
Admire the hues of Lagoa das Sete Cidades
If you’re still asking yourself, “Are the Azores worth visiting?” Let the views of Lagoa das Sete Cidades tip the scales toward yes. These twin lakes are located inside the caldera of a dormant volcanic crater. The reason these lakes are so famous is because of their unique coloring. The minerals in the water combine with the light reflecting off the surface to give one lake a green tone and the other a blue color. Head to the Vista do Rei, or the King’s viewpoint, to see all the shades in their full glory during your Portugal tour.
Take a tea break at Gorreana plantation
São Miguel is home to Europe’s only tea plantation, so if you’re wondering what to do in the Azores, look no further. Gorreana is a family-owned tea plantation that’s been operating since 1883. Tour the factory on your Portugal trip to learn more about tea production, then enjoy a tasting of black and green teas. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you’ll sip them in view of rows of tea bushes while the ocean peeks out over the hills.
Break out the camera at Miradouro de Santa Iría
We mentioned that São Migul feels like a mashup of Iceland and Hawaii, but the Miradouro de Santa Iría viewpoint might also make you feel like you’ve touched down in Ireland. The craggy coastline of the isle stretches on for as far as the eye can see and every shade of green contrasts with the deep blue hues of the ocean. This photo stop makes it hard to believe it’s just one of the many stunning places in Portugal that you can visit on one trip.
Discover geothermal wonders in the Furnas Valley
Take a daylong jaunt to the Furnas Valley on your Portugal trip, and discover how the area’s geothermal energy powers everything from natural baths to ancient cooking techniques. You’ll sit down for a lunch of traditional Cozido—a veggie and meat stew cooked inside an underground, volcano-heated steam chamber. Afterward, set off into the valley, where you’ll visit—and, if you’d like, take a dip in—geothermal pools. (Just be sure to bring your bathing suit!). End the day at a viewpoint overlooking serene and green Furnas Lake.