An autonomous region of Portugal, the Azores are a collection of nine stunningly beautiful volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Though it’s small, five days is the perfect amount of time to fully explore the Azores’ wild and wonderful main island of Sao Miguel, as our five day Sao Miguel itinerary will testify.
Around 900 miles away from Portugal, the Azores remain one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Mixing a tropical island with typically European countryside, Sao Miguel is (literally) bursting with breath-taking natural scenery.
Cow-filled fields and tropical mountain forests share the island with huge volcanic lakes and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Sleepy villages dot the jagged coastline, each one dominated by a catholic church built from local black stone.
At the side of almost every road is a “miradouro“, an elevated viewing point that looks out over Sao Miguel’s spellbinding natural beauty. Alongside this is a growing foodie scene made from mouthwatering locally grown produce.
We’d recommend staying for five days in Sao Miguel. Though the island is small, as our Sao Miguel itinerary will prove, there’s more than enough here to keep you busy for five days.
The best time to visit Sao Miguel is in the summer months between June and October. Though the weather in Sao Miguel is occasionally hard to predict, summers are generally consistently warm and sunny without ever getting too hot.
In summer the top temperatures typically hover around the low 20 °Cs and have never reached higher than 29°C.
Direct flights to Sao Miguel are available from the UK, France, Germany, the United States and Canada.
Another way to reach Sao Miguel is via Lisbon. There are also daily flights to Ponta Delgada from Lisbon Airport, with the flight time only two and half hours.
» You can find the best deals on flights to Sao Miguel on Skyscanner here.
Though there is some public transport between Ponta Delgada and the larger towns of the island, to really get the most out of Sao Miguel you’ll need to hire a car.
Sao Miguel is small enough that it only takes around an hour and a half to reach the furthest point on one side of the island to the other by car.
We always use Discover Cars to find the best rates on car hire whenever we need a car.
» You can find the best deals on car hire in Sao Miguel here.
Taxis are also another option for getting around Sao Miguel. With nothing being much more than an hour’s drive away there are plenty of taxi drivers who will take you wherever you’d like to go on the island.
For more information on taxis and buses ask at the Tourist Information office in the centre of Ponta Delgada.
There’s a wide range of very good accommodation available throughout Sao Miguel, from cozy guest houses to luxury hotels right on the sea.
If you’re spending five days in Sao Miguel then Ponta Delgada, the island’s capital, is the most practical place to stay. Being the largest town on the island, Ponta Delgada has the greatest choice of hotels, restaurants and amenities on Sao Miguel.
You can search for accommodation throughout Sao Miguel on Booking.com here.
If you need a little help choosing a place to stay then here are a few hotels that we recommend:
Located on the edge of Ponta Delgada and close to a wonderful small beach, Casa da Praia is a beautifully decorated inn well stocked with creature comforts.
We stayed at the Vila Nova hotel, perfectly located near the centre of Ponta Delgada. The spacious rooms are comfortable with good sized balconies that overlook the hotel’s pool. Plus the hotel has free on site parking.
Top of the Range
Probably the best hotel on Sao Miguel, the 5 star Grand Hotel Açores Atlântico is located right in the heart of Ponta Delgada with fantastic views of either the city or the ocean.
Most people who visit Sao Miguel will begin in the island’s capital, Ponta Delgada. By far the largest town in the Azores, Ponta Delgada is the obvious place to return to at the end of a day spent exploring Sao Miguel.
With a population of around 68,000 there’s enough to see in Ponta Delgada to fill at least a couple of days.
Ponta Delgada has a typically Mediterranean feel, with a touch of the faded charm of Havana too.
Peeled paint clings to many of the wind, rain and sun battered buildings and houses, suggesting that the wet winters in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean can be pretty unforgiving.
One of the best things to do in Sao Miguel is to go on a whale watching tour. Whales and dolphins live in Azorean waters all year round and Sao Miguel is one of the best places in the world for whale watching.
Numerous whale watching tours depart from Ponta Delgada’s marina every day. As well as minke whales and sperm whales, there’s also every chance of spotting bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles too.
Boat trips head out into the Atlantic Ocean and take between 2 and a half to 3 hours in total, during which time your practically guaranteed to spot some of the area’s local whales and dolphins.
Ponta Delgada’s sea front and harbour are remarkable on a gloriously sunny day.
A smart and modern port, Ponta Delgada Marina is home to the yachts and boats of the well-to-do. Facing the harbour are a handful of plush hotels that boast enviable views of the ocean.
The marina’s curved pier is also home to a number of excellent restaurants and bars. Located in a beautiful modern building on the wharf Antifeatro specialises in beautifully crafted dishes made from Azorean ingredients.
Behind the marina lies the pretty traditional black and white tiled streets of Ponta Delgada. The architecture of Ponta Delgada’s streets is very easy on the eye.
The town centre’s classic Mediterranean buildings and two-toned tiled streets give the impression that a small slice of Lisbon has been neatly plucked out of Portugal and implanted in the Azores.
A short walk along the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique leads to the beautiful three arches of the Portas da Cidade and Ponta Delgada’s main square.
The beautiful black and white Church of Saint Sebastian is at the centre of the main square. Nearby, on the other side of the Portas da Caidade is Ponta Delgada’s elegant City Hall. It’s from here that the small warren of Ponta Delgada’s narrow winding streets begins.
Nearby, the small Museu Carlos Machado is worth investigating. Located inside a former convent, the museum houses an eclectic and varied collection of art, taxidermy animals and a spectacular interior inherited from its former occupants.
To discover even more of the city take a half-day walking tour of Ponta Delgada. As well as visiting the city’s main historical sights you’ll also get to try some of the local produce at Ponta Delgada’s best food markets.
The huge stone Forte de Sao Bras de Ponta Delgada dominates the western end of the harbour, a reminder of the Azores’ once strong military and naval importance.
Originally built in the 16th century to protect the Azores from invasion, today the former fort is the impressive setting for the Azores’ Military Museum.
If you’re in to military history a visit to the Azores’ Military Museum is a must. A huge collection of memorabilia is spread throughout the sprawling complex, including an array of weapons, military uniforms, army vehicles, medical equipment and much more.
Entry is only €3 for adults and €2 for children and even if you’re not a military history buff, it’s worth it for the chance to wander around the old fort and its tunnels. Plus the views of the ocean from the fort’s battlements are incredible.
Both gardens have long histories and display some of the finest tropical plant life laid out in a beautiful setting. The two gardens offer a glimpse of the type of exotic vegetation that can be found across the whole island.
The highlight of any Sao Miguel itinerary will surely be a visit to Sete Cidades. The west of Sao Miguel is dominated by these two stunning lakes that sit side by side inside a dormant volcano.
The winding roads en route to Sete Cidades leads through gorgeous deep green hills where the roads are flanked by row after row of beautiful blue and white hydrangeas.
The best view of Sete Cidades is from the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno. The viewpoint is high over the lakes, and the view is utterly jaw-dropping.
The two vast pools of water – one green, one blue – are surrounded by rolling green hills with the brilliant blue ocean in the distance.
Another spectacular view of Sete Cidades can be seen from the bend in the road at the nearby Miradouro da Vista do Rei – literally ‘The View of King’.
An obvious tip, but be sure to visit Sete Cidades on a sunny clear day. The weather here can often be overcast or foggy, especially if visiting outside of summer, which can cruelly swallow up the utterly spellbinding view.
Whilst here be sure to also pay a visit to Lagoa do Canario. Located just a few minutes’ walk away from the nearest carpark, the lake is easy to see before or after heading up to the Miradouro do Boca do Inferno.
Understandably overshadowed by its more illustrious neighbours, the Lagoa do Canario is worth the short detour through the woods to find.
Just one of the many incredible natural wonders to be found on this side of Sao Miguel, the Lagoa do Canario is a beautiful calm lake that sits surrounded by an army of rising green fir trees.
The abandoned interior of the Monte Palace hotel, and the view of Sete Ceidades from the hotel’s roof
Next to the Miradouro da Vista do Rei is the abandoned Monte Palace hotel, a vast concrete oddity completely at odds with the lush tropical landscape.
The empty brutalist shell was once an 80 room 5 star hotel with restaurants and a nightclub.
Built at a time when the Azores hardly had a tourist industry to speak of, the Monte Palace hotel seemed destined to fail from the start. There’s an excellent explanation of the whole ambitious yet calamitous project here.
Certainly one of the most adventurous things to do in Sao Miguel is to take a sneak peak at the now dilapidated hotel. Now ransacked, looted and vandalised the empty hotel is the most unexpected of tourist attractions on the island.
The building is a death trap and taking a peek inside certainly won’t be for everyone. If you do venture in, caution is required at every step – there’s nothing to stop you from falling down the lift shaft or any of the holes and gaps that fill many of the floors.
If you’re feeling adventurous there’s supposedly a nightclub in the hotel’s basement and many rumoured tunnels too. Reports suggest that the shell of a hotel has recently been bought and there are plans to return it back to its former glory.
If you can still sneak inside it’s a fascinating place to explore, and on a clear and sunny day the views from the exposed rooms and the roof are out of this world. Just to reiterate, if you do head inside be sure to proceed with extreme caution.
From the abandoned Monte Palace hotel drive into the small village of Sete Cidades that sits between the two lakes. Stop off at the Miradouro do Cerrado das Freiras for a closer breathtaking view of the village that is nestled in between the islands most famous landmarks.
The village of Sete Cidades is typically Azorean, adorned with beautiful white houses surrounded by green fields and big blue skies.
Small roads run alongside both of the two lakes just before the entrance to Sete Cidades. From these you can get a closer view of both of the lakes and also dip your toes in their crystal clear waters.
At the end of a narrow road that snakes alongside the south side of Lagoa Azul is the Garden of the Blue Lagoon. Often deserted, this is the perfect spot for a picnic with sensational views of the lake and the surrounding hills.
From Sete Cidades explore the rugged western coast of Sao Miguel.
The western coastline is dotted with an array of particularly beautiful spots to stop and admire around the sublime scenery. Begin in the north of the west coast, moving south and eventually heading back towards Ponta Delgada.
On the tip of the north west coast are a series of picturesque towns and villages all along the main road that follows the line of the coast.
In Bretanha is the unusual sight of Red Mill Peak, a historic windmill with its sails and dome painted a gleaming bright red. The mill has been fully restored and is in full working order. The mill is still used to make flour each September which is used in local festivals.
Alongside the endless stunning views there are also a number of spots in which you can take a dip in the natural rock pools formed along Sao Miguel’s west coast.
Just north of Mosteiros are Piscinas Naturais Caneiros, a gorgeous spot with a black sand beach. There’s also a number of natural tide pools here amongst the craggy black rocks, some with ladders to help you get in and out. You will need decent footwear however as you have to walk across the rocks to reach them.
There are more natural rock pools further south at Ponta da Ferraria, just south of the small town of Varzea. Ponta da Ferraria’s natural pool waters are heated by thermal hot springs.
Another sign of the Azores’ spectacular natural environment, taking a dip into a hot spring in the ocean is certainly one of the most unique things to do in Sao Miguel. Be sure to arrive during low tide though as the water here is cold during high tide.
Heading east from Ponta Delgada will take you towards two of Sao Miguel’s other great lakes, the Lagoa do Fogo, that’s almost slap bang in the middle of the island, and Lagoa das Furnas.
The drive up to Lagoa do Fogo climbs over the island’s peak along Sao Miguel’s trademark hairpin roads.
The narrow road that ascends to the Miradouro do Pico do Barrosa’s stunning view over Lagoa do Fogo is full of Sao Miguel’s trademark hairpin roads.
A ten minute drive further north on the same road leads to Caldeira Velha‘s public thermal pools, fed from the local hot springs and surrounded by the gorgeous natural landscape of the Azores.
The Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz and the town of Vila Franca do Campo
Lagoa das Furnas is back on lower, volcanic ground further east again. A detour en route to the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz is essential.
This beautiful church, implanted into the hills high above the town of Vila Franca do Campo, is one of the most remarkable buildings on the whole island.
Tiered like a wedding cake, two symmetrical staircases lead the long climb up to the small church that sits at the top, where you meet another mesmerising Azorean view over land and ocean.
» Vila Franca do Campo is also one of the best spots in Sao Miguel for diving. If you’d like to tick one off the bucket list you can even go swimming with dolphins whilst here.
Vila Franca do Campo is also a popular spot for scuba diving. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, if you’d like to get a much closer look at the area’s diverse marine life then you can book a scuba diving trip here.
The caldeiras of Furnas, Castelo Branco and the grounds of the Chapel de Nossa Senhora das Vitorias
The town of Furnas is one of the largest on the island and is at the centre of Sao Miguel’s most active geothermal area.
Furnas is located just north east of Lagoa das Furnas and is flanked by numerous calderas, the geothermal pools of molten mud that only being in an active volcano can produce.
Today the calderas are mostly used as a giant pressure cooker by some of the local restaurants who bury pots of traditional stew in the ground to cook for several hours. The dish, called cozido das Furnas, is available in a number of restaurants in and around Furnas.
There are even more calderas in the town of Furnas itself, parked between streets and houses. From the calderas molten jets of volcanic mud burp out steam into the sky all day long. The smell they create is best described as an acquired taste.
The southern end looks like something from a 19th century European novel with the small Gothic-esque Chapel de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias sat dramatically overlooking the Lagoa das Furnas.
Inspired by the architecture of much grander cathedrals seen elsewhere in Europe at the time, the chapel is hugely at odds with the typical black and white churches that are found all over Sao Miguel.
The chapel was built by Jose do Canto, the man responsible for the botanical gardens of the same name in Ponta Delgada. Canto built the chapel as a mausoleum for his family, where he is buried alongside his wife. For €3 you can take a look inside and see the delightful interior and elegant stained glass windows.
Furnas is also home to the Terra Nostra Park another of the Azores magical botanical gardens.
Now a part of the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel complex, the garden was pioneered by Thomas Hickling, an American businessman who gave up Massachusetts for the Azorean way of life in the late 1700s.
In the centre is the pool of brown thermal water famous for its healing properties. Visitors are allowed to take a dip in the iron-rich volcanic waters with are said to do wonders for the skin.
Above the pool sits a wooden house that was built on the site of Hickling’s original home in 1848.
The south eastern tip of the island has many idyllic small towns sat low along the seafront.
The largest town is Poroacao, a 40 minute drive south east of Furnas. Poroacao features a small but pretty beach as well as a cute town centre where you’ll find a handful of local cafes and restaurants.
The tiny picturesque town of Ribeira Quente is worth dropping by to sit and watch the beach and admire the few narrow terraced white streets that sit jaggedly facing the sea against the high green cliffs and hills.
Also worth stopping for is Faial Da Terra, with its typically picturesque Azorean black and white Cheia de Graça church at the centre of the village.
The stunning Salto Do Prego and Salto do Cagarrão waterfalls and the recently abandoned village of Sanguinho are a small hike from here too, which for many are the highlight of Sao Miguel. Along the route are wonderful views of the valley over Faial Da Terra and the coast.
The final day of our Sao Miguel itinerary begins on the eastern side of the island. The east coast of Sao Miguel is less than seven miles long yet features some of the island’s most incredible scenery and views out onto the ocean.
The Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada is a particular highlight as is the Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego a little further north, a beautiful view within an equally beautifully kept garden park that is not to be missed.
Just south of Nordeste is the Farol do Arnel, a lighthouse perched picturesquely on the edge of the island. The pretty town of Nordeste is the main place to stop and stroll on this side of the island.
The picturesque town of Nordeste boasts another marvelous black and white church, the Igreja Matriz de São Jorge, set amongst the cobbled streets of the main square, just across from a wonderful narrow stone bridge.
Beneath the bridge sits a small warren of winding roads flanked by typically colourful Azorean bungalows.
As with the north west of the island, driving through the small picturesque towns along the eastern tip of Sao Miguel’s northern coast is highly recommended.
A steady string of slow paced Mediterranean/Atlantic towns from Nordestinho to Achadinha are all linked by typical Azorean beauty.
A few miles to the west of Nordeste is Ribeira dos Caldeirões Natural Park, a stunning area of natural beauty. The park is packed with dense forestry and fauna and home to a beautiful gushing waterfall, as well as a series of old stone water mills that date from the 16th century.
Cha Gorreana tea plantation, Sao Miguel, the Azores.
At the centre of the northern side of the island are its two tea plantations, the only tea plantations in Europe.
Tea production on the Azores has a long history, going back to the late 1800s having been imported by the Chinese.
The local tea has a strong reputation as a fine brew, with the Azorean soil and climate perfect for cultivating the crop. Tea Porto Formoso and Gorreana Tea Factory are both open to visitors as are the tea plantations, with Cha Gorreana having around 50 hectares of tea plants on site.
Both tea plantations are free to enter plus you’re welcome to walk around the picturesque tea fields too.
Further along the north coast is the attractive town of Ribeira Grande, with its beautiful narrow cobbled streets and stunning central square, where the town hall, the grand theatre and beautiful old Church of Espirito Santo all stand proud.
The sea front in Ribeira Grande has a number of beaches which are the perfect place to stop and admire the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Praia do Monte Verde and Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara are possibly the best beaches on Sao Miguel and are amongst the best places to surf on the island.
One of the best things to do in Sao Miguel is eat. Azorean food is taking off in a big way and there are a number of local restaurants who produce fantastic food by using incredibly fresh, high quality local ingredients.
We highly recommend adding the following three restaurants to your Sao Miguel itinerary:
Forneria Sao Dinis is a relatively new but fantastic restaurant with a great Mediterranean menu with superb beef and seafood dishes. The main draw are its incredible pizzas and authentic pasta dishes.
Forneria São Dinis has a lovely laid back atmosphere with a great interior, friendly and accommodating staff, and superb views looking out over the ocean.
A Tasca prepares incredible traditional Azorean cuisine in a wonderfully Mediterranean atmosphere in the heart of Ponta Delgada.
A strong menu full of the freshest ingredients makes this one of the best places to eat on the island.
Eating at A Tasca feels more like being at a huge family gathering than a restaurant. Booking in advance is essential during the high season. The portions are enormous and the food is exquisite.
A meal at Quinta Dos Sabores is more than just a meal. The set six course dinner, held in a large open dining room on a farm hosted by the owners and their incredibly friendly staff, is almost worth visiting Sao Miguel for on its own.
The atmosphere at Quinta Dos Sabores is incredibly relaxed – it feels like you’re visiting old friends – and the food is made from ingredients grown on the farm or locally sourced. Booking ahead is required.
It’s only a 15 minute drive from the centre of Ponta Delgada to Quinta Dos Sabores. A taxi will cost around €15 each way – a must visit.
If you need even more information and inspiration for your Sao Miguel itinerary then by far the best guidebook for the island is the Moon Azores Travel Guide.
Though the book does feature all of the nine islands of the Azores, it does cover Sao Miguel in great detail. If you’re looking for even more things to do in Sao Miguel this will be the perfect companion to your trip around the island.
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