Welcome to the enchanting island of Graciosa, a true hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Azores. Known as the “White Island”, Graciosa is the northernmost of the central group of islands in the Azores, and despite its petite size – an ovular land mass stretching a mere 10 kilometres in length and 7 kilometres in width – it is positively bursting with charm and natural beauty.
Home to a population of just over 4,000 inhabitants, life on Graciosa is unhurried, allowing you to soak up the tranquillity and immerse yourself in the local culture. We’d recommend setting aside a good two to three full days to really explore and appreciate all that this idyllic island has to offer — more if you want to make allowances for bad weather.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Graciosa
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Graciosa island in the Azores.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Graciosa.
- 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, including Graciosa. However, 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.
- 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.
There are two ways to get to Graciosa: flight or ferry.
The main ferry is from Terceira, but it’s also possible to get a ferry from Pico, São Jorge, or Faial. Because it’s so well connected to the other islands, this makes Graciosa a good island to visit as part of your trip to the Azores. Ferry tickets and timetables can be found on atlanticoline.pt. The ferry doesn’t run every day, so plan accordingly.
Flights are normally available from either Terceira or Ponta Delgada Airport on São Miguel. If you want to come from one of the other islands, or from mainland Portugal, you will need to take a connecting flight, which could involve an overnight. Flights are much shorter and take between 30 and 50 minutes, depending on where you’re flying from. Tickets can be purchased on Azores Airlines.
Where to Stay
Graciosa offers two main areas for accommodation: Santa Cruz da Graciosa and Praia. Santa Cruz da Graciosa, the island’s charming capital, is located on the northern coast and offers a variety of lodging options, including hotels, guesthouses, and charming traditional houses. Alternatively, Praia, situated on the southern coast, provides a quieter ambiance and proximity to one of the island’s main beaches.
If you have a car, you can stay anywhere on the island. However, you will find that the majority of restaurants are located around Santa Cruz. Both Praia and Santa Cruz have supermarkets, and you’ll find some smaller supermarkets in other parts of the island, but Santa Cruz has the most options.
- Car Rental: The two main car rental companies are Rent-a-car Graciosa and Rent-a-car-medina & Filhos. You can easily compare the availability of both by using a comparison site like Discovercars.com or Rentalcars.com.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two main sites to look at for accommodation.
- Tours: There aren’t a huge number of tour companies offering tours of Graciosa, but two companies that do are Azores Touch and Calypso Azores.
Getting around without a car:
Renting a car is definitely recommended. If you aren’t driving, there is a public bus service and you can pick up a timetable at the tourist information centre in Santa Cruz, at the tourist information at the airport, or from the VisitAzores website. Alternatively, taxis (mentioned above) are available and a good way of getting to the attractions. Bikes can also be rented from various companies, including Medina car rental and Azores Touch.
Graciosa council also offers electric bikes, and has three bike charging stations, including one in the centre of Santa Cruz and one at the airport. The best way to sign up for this is to register at the câmara municipal (town hall) in Santa Cruz, which means you won’t be able to use it when you arrive at the airport the first time. A rental costs €5 for one day of €10 for 7 days. The e-bikes are apparently capable of covering distances of up to 40 km.
It’s also possible to cover a lot of the island on foot: the Great Route of Graciosa is a 40 km circular walking trail that covers a lot of the island.
The Top Things to See and Do
There’s plenty to do on Graciosa, and you can easily fill a few days here. Renting a car is definitely recommended as the bus service is limited.
As with many of the Azores islands, Graciosa is home to a volcanic crater that is now a wealth of vegetation and fauna. You can drive (or walk) around the edge where you’ll get glimpses of life below from the various miradouros. There are only a few places where you can glimpse inside the crater itself, and one of the best places for this is Gruta da Maria Encantada, an interesting cave that’s worth a visit by itself. Above the cave there’s also a wooden tower, which gives you a view from even higher up.
Inside the crater you’ll find the Furna do Enxofre, a cave that goes deep underground to the point where you can see boiling mud (see below).
Furna do Enxofre
The Furna do Enxofre is a unique attraction that almost feels like you’re on another planet. Inside the cave, there’s a lake and an area where you can see the mud bubbling. To get to the cave, you’ll need to descend a 37-metre high spiral staircase with 183 steps, which can be a bit of a workout on the way back up. There is a visitor’s centre, which gives a little information about the cave.
While Caldeira is impressive for its size and the Furna do Enxofre cave, Caldeirinha (which is a smaller version of Caldeira) is impressive because of how close you can get to the mini crater. With Caldeira, you’re viewing everything from a distance, but here you get to be up much closer. As well as the beauty of Caldeirinha, the area also offers some fantastic views over the surrounding countryside.
Visit the Museu da Graciosa
Located in Santa Cruz da Graciosa, this charming museum showcases a diverse collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that offer a glimpse into the island’s past. As you wander through its halls, you’ll discover the stories of Graciosa’s early settlers, learn about its agricultural traditions, and delve into the maritime history that shaped the island’s identity. There is a big focus on agriculture and wine, two of the main industries on the island.
Monte Nossa Senhora da Ajuda
Situated on the hill overlooking Santa Cruz da Graciosa, Monte Nossa Senhora da Ajuda offers fantastic views of the town and the surrounding area. The Ermida (chapel) isn’t always open, so you’re mainly coming up for the views.
Azorean wine is quite unique in the way that it’s grown. You won’t see neat rows of vines like you do in the south of France or even mainland Portugal. Instead, the vines run across biscoitos (volcanic rocks) which heat up in the sun during the day and then stay warmer in the evening, helping the grapes to ripen.
Although Graciosa doesn’t produce as much wine as it once did, it does still produce some wine and you can sample it and learn how it’s made at the Adega E cooperativa Agricola Da Ilha Graciosa in Santa Cruz.
Alternatively, you’ll find Pedras Brancas bottles of wine for sale in shops throughout Graciosa, including most of the supermarkets.
Try a Queijada
Graciosa is famous for its queijadas, known as queijadas da Graciosa. There are two main factories, both located in Praia: Queijadas da Graciosa and Queijadas da Praia. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to do a factory tour of either, however, both have shops where you can purchase the queijadas and other sweets from the island.
Pet a Graciosa donkey
The Graciosa donkey (or dwarf donkey, as they’re sometimes called) is a docile donkey that rarely grows to more than a metre of height, and is native to the island. There are only around 70 left on the island, down from around 1,000 in the 60s, so they’re very much an endangered species.
You will spot these donkeys are you’re driving around, but the best place to see them is the Associação de Criadores do Burro Anão da Ilha da Graciosa, an organisation which looks after and protects them. You will normally need to book at least a day in advance, and this can be done by email (email@example.com) or by telephone (+351) 967070246.
Take a dip in a natural swimming pool
There are natural swimming pools all over The Azores, but Piscinas do Carapacho is arguably one of the most scenic. If the weather is warm and you fancy cooling off, this is definitely a good place for a swim.
Take a dip at Baía do Filipe
Besides the natural swimming pools, such as those next to the Termas do Carapacho, there are also a few bays that are perfect for cooling off in, like Baía do Folga and Baía do Filipe. Of the two of these, Baía do Filipe is definitely the winner. It has beautiful coastline nearby, as well as a picnic area with a swing and picnic benches.
Baía do Folga has a restaurant, however, Restaurante Estrela do Mar, so if you haven’t brought a picnic and you’re hungry, that’s an option to consider.
See the whale island
There’s a small rock just off the coast that looks like a whale. That itself is worth a pitstop and a photo or two. But actually, there’s more to this area than just a fun photo or two. There’s a lighthouse (Farol Da Ponta Da Barca) and an incredibly beautiful cove. Just before you turn off, you’ll see good examples of wine being grown the local way. All in all, this is definitely a good place to stop off.
Other things to do
If you’ve done all of the activities above, here are a few more things that you can do on Graciosa.
Enjoy the thermal waters at Termas do Carapacho
Like many of the other Azores islands, Graciosa has thermal waters, which you can take a dip in at Termas do Carapacho. There are two options: the pool, which is like a small swimming pool, or the hydrotherapy room. You cannot do both on the same day and you cannot stay for longer than 30 minutes. Entrance is free and a swimming cap is provided.
If you’ve already tried the thermal springs on São Miguel, this experience doesn’t offer quite the same excitement, however, it is still relaxing and free. There’s also a natural seawater swimming pool next to the thermal baths, Piscina Natural do Carapacho.
Take a guided tour of Ilhéu da Praia
Situated off the coastal town of Praia, Ilhéu da Praia is a nature reserve that’s home to a variety of unique nesting birds, including an endemic species, the Monteiro’s Storm petrel (Oceanodroma monteiroi). Guided tours of the island are possible by boat through companies like Calypso Azores.
See the red sands of Barro Vermelho
Barro Vermelho is unique for the colour of the sand. Near to the beach there’s also a bay where you can swim in a natural swimming pool and a picnic area, with showers, tables, and a BBQ area.
Go Scuba Diving
Although Graciosa is small, there are a decent number of scuba diving spots located throughout the island. The Terceirense shipwreck is probably the most interesting dive spot, but there are also a handful of caves and plenty of underwater sealife to see as well.
Explore Santa Cruz da Graciosa
Santa Cruz da Graciosa is a charming small town, and the capital of the island. There isn’t a lot to see and do here, but there are some small historical attractions, like the Torre De São Francisco or the Forte do Corpo Santo. The Museu da Graciosa (museum) and Monte Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, both already mentioned, are both worth doing.
Typical Food from Graciosa
Graciosa Island offers a delightful array of local food that showcases the island’s culinary traditions and unique flavours. While finding restaurants serving traditional dishes can be a challenge, the island’s sweet offerings and locally-produced wine are sure to satisfy your taste buds.
One must-try treat is the famous Queijadas da Graciosa, a delectable cheese tart that can be found at Queijadas da Graciosa in Praia or Queijadas da Praia. These queijadas come in various flavors, including traditional, almond, and chocolate. Another local delicacy worth trying is Amélias da Graciosa, an adaptation of Queijadas da Dona Amélia from Terceira Island. These sweet treats feature a unique blend of spices, highlighting the island’s historical connection to the spice trade era.
Graciosa is also known for its wine, with Pedras Brancas being the main bottle available locally. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample this wine, which can be found in shops across the island.
Seafood lovers should indulge in the grilled limpets known as Lapas and freshly-grilled fish and seafood available in restaurants throughout the island, while meat lovers can enjoy the range of beef-based dishes on offer.
Read more about food from Graciosa.
Vegan or vegetarian?
Generally speaking, most of the food served in restaurants is very meat or fish-focused and most restaurants will not have a vegetarian option. There is a vegetarian restaurant in the centre of Santa Cruz, Amunì Green Bar, and a health food shop, 5essentia Ágora, opposite. The supermarkets also stock fruit and vegetables, fresh, tinned, and frozen, however the quality can vary from shop to shop.
When to Visit
Graciosa’s temperate climate makes it a year-round destination, but the best time to visit is during the spring and summer months, from April to September. During this time, the weather is pleasantly warm, and the island bursts with vibrant colors and lush landscapes. The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn offer milder temperatures and fewer crowds, ideal for those seeking a more tranquil experience. However, do keep in mind that Graciosa’s beauty is present throughout the year, so even during the off-peak months, you’ll still be able to enjoy the island’s unique charm.