What to see in Portugal
Tourist attractions Azores
A land of eternal spring, where volcanic soil supports a cacophony of fragrant blooms and verdant plant life, the Azores is a natural paradise composed of 9 volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic. An autonomous region of Portugal, you can easily travel to the Azores from Lisbon, connected by a 2-hour flight. Flights generally land in Ponta Delgada, the largest city in the archipelago.
With dramatic landscapes of volcanic craters, calderas, lush greeny and magnificent multi-coloured flowers, it is no wonder that the Azores is often likened to the ‘Garden of Eden’. An off the beaten track destination, a trip to the Azores offers the chance to experience otherworldly landscapes seen nowhere else in Europe.
The archipelago is located at the meeting point of the European, African and American tectonic plates, and such a volatile location has created a wonderland of unique natural landscapes and volcanic activity. From molten rock caves and grottoes to glistening azure crater lakes and bubbling hot springs, the Azores are one of the top nature travel destinations on earth. The locals are intent on keeping this natural paradise as pristine as possible, so it is a top destination for sustainable tourism too.
Bird-spotting, hiking, whale-watching, surfing and scuba diving are just some of the most popular activities to enjoy on a holiday to the Azores. From west to east, the 9 major islands of the Azores are Flores, Corvo and Graciosa, which are all biosphere reserves, Sao Jorge, Terceira, Pico, Faial, Sao Miguel and Santa Maria, the latter of which is known for its white-sand beaches. If you can’t choose just one island, ferries and flights keep the archipelago connected, allowing you to go island-hopping in the Azores.
Things to see in the Azores
Each island is like a world of its own, so be sure to explore as many as you can if you take a tour of the Azores.
The jumping-off point for most adventures is Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel, one of three capital cities in the Azores. Recognisable by its black and white traditional houses, Ponta Delgada is home to charming cobbled squares and monuments dating back to the city’s trading hey-day during the 18th and 19th-centuries. Stroll along its pretty harbourfront and visit the monochrome Covent and Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperança, the city’s most famous landmark.
Another capital of the Azores is Angra do Horismo, on the island of Terceira. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once an important port of call for those returning, laden with riches, from the New World during the Golden Age of Discovery, making it the most historically important city in the Azores. Huddled around a wind-swept bay, this charming city is one of the most interesting things to see in the Azores, as it reveals much about this islands fascinating history.
Of course, the Azores islands are world-renowned for their epic landscapes, so an Azores holiday would be incomplete without getting out into the volcanic environment and discovering its rare and beautiful natural wonders. Mount Pico is one of the best places to visit in the Azores. The highest mountain in Portugal, at 2351 metres above sea level, this towering stratovolcano is at the heart of Pico Island. The most popular way to experience this natural wonder is to take a 3-hour hike up to its peak. Sunset and sunrise guided hikes are widely available.
Sete Cidadades, on the island of Sao Miguel, is another of the top things to see in the Azores. The iconic postcard image of this archipelago, Sete Cidades is a vast, 3-mile wide, volcanic crater, home to Sete Cidades town, glistening lagoons and verdant forests. If you visit Sete Cidades you can hike up to its numerous viewpoints to admire the landscape, discover its tranquil crater lakes and simply bask in the pristine natural environment.
Finally, a trip to the Azores would be incomplete without a spot of whale-watching! One of the highlights of these islands is their rich marine life, and throughout the year you can expect to see sperm whales as well as common and bottlenosed dolphins around the shoreline. The archipelago is also an important migratory route for blue whales, the largest animal on earth! Whale-watching excursions are one of the most popular things to do in the Azores.