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The Ultimate Guide to The Azores

The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, are a scattered group of 9 volcanic islands located in the mid-Atlantic. This archipelago, boasting stunning landscapes, is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Its rich biodiversity, UNESCO-listed vineyards, captivating volcanic terrain, and vibrant marine life make it a truly extraordinary destination.

This is a really unique part of Portugal that looks more like Hawaii or Ireland than it does mainland Portugal. Although millions of people visit mainland Portugal every year, the Azores is still very much off the beaten path, particularly once you get away from São Miguel. It’s likely that tourism will increase, so it’s worth visiting these islands while they’re still a bit of a hidden gem. 

Getting to the Azores

The most common way to get to The Azores is to fly.

  • From Portugal: There are daily flights from Lisbon and Porto, especially to Ponta Delgada (São Miguel) and Terceira, but also other smaller islands like Pico and Santa Maria, and the flight time is roughly 2 hours.
  • From the rest of Europe: Some airports, like London or Frankfurt, have direct flights to the Azores, especially Ponta Delgada (São Miguel). 
  • From North America: There are direct flights between some North American cities like New York or Boston, but most people will need to take at least one connecting flight. 

Some cruise boats stop at the Azores, particularly Ponta Delgada on São Miguel. However, there is no ferry between mainland Portugal and the Azores. 

Useful Resources for Your Trip to The Azores

Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to The Azores. 

  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in The Azores. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars, Rental Cars, and Azores Rental Cars are the three most useful sites for booking local car rental. 
  • Airport transfers: There are taxis at most Azores airports, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups at some airports. 
  • Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in the Azores, particularly the larger islands like Terceira and São Miguel. For the smaller islands, you’ll find fewer listings and you may need to contact tour operators directly. 
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in the Azores
  • Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. Inter-island flights are usually all with Azores Airlines
  • Ferries: Ferries are operated by Atlânticoline and this is the best site to use. 

A Guide to the Different Islands

The following is an overview of the different islands. You’re probably wondering which islands you should visit? All of them, of course. Each has something rewarding to offer. 

Unfortunately, most people can’t afford the time or money it would cost to visit all of them in one go. You typically need around 3 days (or more) per island and often you can lose half a day due to having to get connecting flights or take the ferry, so the time needed to see them all really adds up. Taking the ferry is also cheaper than flying. 

Don’t miss Flores, São Miguel, São Jorge, Faial, and Corvo. That’s not to say the other islands aren’t beautiful, but the landscapes aren’t quite as dramatic. However, they still have plenty of beautiful natural attractions. 

Ease of getting to each of the islands is another consideration when planning your trip. The easiest islands to visit are the central group: Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, and Graciosa, as you can easily take ferries between them. Flores and Corvo you can visit together as there is a ferry between them, but you will need to fly to Flores (which you can normally do from Faial or São Miguel). There is sometimes a ferry between Santa Maria and São Miguel, but you will normally need to fly. 

Cost-wise, the Azores are generally more expensive than mainland Portugal. Expect accommodation costs to be higher and as you often need a car to see most of the attractions, this adds to your travel costs. 

São Miguel

lagoa do fogo

São Miguel, the largest and most populated island in the Azores, is a verdant wonderland often referred to as “The Green Island.” It’s known for its dazzling lakes in volcanic craters, thermal springs, and lush flora. The twin lakes of Sete Cidades, particularly, are a captivating sight – one blue, one green. Visit Furnas and you can take a dip in one of the thermal springs or eat a stew that has been cooked underground in the thermal springs. It really is quite a unique island and absolutely unmissable. 

This is the most popular island to visit due to the number of attractions available. It’s also the easiest one to get to, as it has flights from both Portugal and other international destinations. 

  • Population: ~140,000
  • Size: 744.7 sq km
  • Highlights: Visit the Terra Nostra Garden, take a thermal bath in Furnas, or hike around the rim of Sete Cidades.
  • Accommodations range from luxury resorts to quaint guesthouses, with Quinta da Abelheira and Azor Hotel being among the top-rated.

Terceira

Serra do Cume

Terceira, meaning ‘third’ as it was the third island discovered in the Azores, is a vibrant, culture-rich destination. Its capital, Angra do Heroísmo, is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its beautifully preserved Renaissance buildings. The island is also home to Algar do Carvão, a unique visitable volcanic chimney. Terceira’s population is around 55,000 spread over 400.6 sq km.

  • Population: ~55,000
  • Size: 400.6 sq km
  • Highlights: Visit the Algar do Carvão volcano, explore Angra do Heroísmo, or attend a traditional bullfight.
  • Hotels like Terceira Mar Hotel and Quinta das Merces offer comfortable stays with beautiful views.

Pico

Captain's Lake on Pico

Named after Portugal’s highest peak, Mount Pico, which majestically dominates its skyline, Pico Island offers a beautiful fusion of green vineyards, volcanic landscapes, and a rugged coastline. The island’s unique volcanic soil has earned its vineyards a UNESCO World Heritage status. Pico has a population of approximately 14,000 people, residing on a landmass of 447 sq km.

  • Population: ~14,000
  • Size: 447 sq km
  • Highlights: Climb Mount Pico, visit the Gruta das Torres lava tube, or sample the island’s famed Verdelho wine.
  • Accommodations like Aldeia da Fonte and Pocinhobay offer a mix of rural charm and modern comfort.

Faial

volcano on Faial

Faial, also known as “The Blue Island,” is widely recognized for its fields of blue hydrangeas and the iconic Capelinhos Volcano. The island’s town of Horta is globally renowned for its marina, where sailors from around the world have left paintings on the dock walls. Faial spans an area of 173 sq km and has a population of approximately 15,000.

  • Population: ~15,000
  • Size: 173 sq km
  • Highlights: Visit Capelinhos Volcano, stroll around Horta Marina, or enjoy whale watching.
  • Staying at the boutique hotel, Pátio Lodge, or at the upscale Hotel do Canal, visitors can immerse themselves in the island’s tranquility.

Santa Maria

View of São Lourenço from above

Santa Maria, the southernmost and the first island discovered in the Azores, stands out for its white sandy beaches and dry warm weather, unlike its sister islands. Highlights include the striking bay of Praia Formosa and cascading waterfalls of Cascata do Aveiro. It has a population of around 5,500 and covers an area of 96.9 sq km.

  • Population: ~5,500
  • Size: 96.9 sq km
  • Highlights: Visit Praia Formosa, explore the cascading waterfalls of Cascata do Aveiro, or delve into history at the Christopher Columbus House.
  • Charming rural houses like Casa do Norte and modern hotels like Hotel Santa Maria provide a range of lodging options.

São Jorge

faja dos cubres

São Jorge, known for its elongated shape, is adorned with high cliffs, deep ravines, and unique flat, fertile areas known as Fajãs. The island’s rugged beauty is complemented by its famous São Jorge cheese. It is populated by approximately 9,000 people and spans an area of 246 sq km.

  • Population: ~9,000
  • Size: 246 sq km
  • Highlights: Explore Fajã de Santo Cristo, taste the island’s famous cheese, or hike along its scenic trails.
  • Hotels such as São Jorge Garden or the quaint Cantinho das Buganvílias offer splendid views of the neighboring Pico and Faial islands.

Graciosa

view from caldeirinha

Graciosa, translating to ‘charming’, is characterized by white houses, vineyards, and windmills dotting the serene countryside. The island is known for its thermal water, and the Furna do Enxofre, a volcanic cave with an underground lake. It’s the least populated island with around 4,500 residents and has a land area of 61 sq km.

  • Population: ~4,500
  • Size: 61 sq km
  • Highlights: Visit the Furna do Enxofre (Sulphur Cave), enjoy a thermal bath in Carapacho, or unwind at Praia beach.
  • Accommodation options include traditional houses like Quinta das Figueiras and modern facilities at Graciosa Resort.

Corvo

vila do corvo

Corvo, the smallest island of the Azores, offers an authentic experience of remote, rural life. Its most defining feature is the Caldeirão, a large volcanic crater with small lakes within. With a tight-knit community of approximately 430 residents and a land area of 17 sq km, Corvo provides a quaint, tranquil experience unlike any other.

  • Population: ~430
  • Size: 17 sq km
  • Highlights: Visit Caldeirão, the massive volcanic crater, or enjoy bird watching, which attracts enthusiasts from around the world.
  • There are limited accommodations on Corvo, with Comodoro Hotel being the primary option.

Getting Between the Islands

The islands are interconnected by ferry services operated by Atlânticoline and regional flights operated by Azores Airlines. The ferry is ideal for short distances, like between Faial and Pico, while flights are more suitable for longer distances, like between São Miguel and Flores. The ferry is generally cheaper than flying. 

Getting between the islands involves a little playing around. Some islands are easy to get between by ferry, for example, while others don’t have a ferry connection. Some islands have direct flights, while others require a connecting flight. 

São Miguel and Terceira have the best connections to mainland Portugal and international destinations. For this reason, it can be a good idea to start your journey on one island and finish on another. 

Useful Information

  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • Language: Portuguese, though English is widely spoken
  • Timezone: Azores Standard Time (AST) which is UTC -1:00 or an hour behind the time in mainland Portugal. 

When to Visit

The Azores enjoy a mild climate year-round, but the best time to visit is from June to September, when the weather is warmest and rainfall is lower. Key events include the Santo Cristo Festivities (May in São Miguel), Semana do Mar (August in Faial), and the Sanjoaninas Festivities (June in Terceira).

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