One of the absolute best trips I have ever taken was to the Azores. I have been working on this post for quite some time but finally decided to finish it up. This is how to spend the perfect 4 days in the Azores. This Azores itinerary for Sao Miguel includes both self-driving and tour options, map included.
In this post...
- Your Perfect 4 Days in the Azores Itinerary for Sao Miguel
- Basic Information about the Azores and Sao Miguel
- Renting a Car in the Azores
- Azores Tours for Those Not Renting a Car
- Azores Itinerary Day 1 (Western Sao Miguel)
- Azores Itinerary Day 2 (Central Sao Miguel)
- Azores Itinerary Day 3 (Eastern Sao Miguel)
- Azores Itinerary Day 4 (Ponta Delgada)
- More Azores Inspiration
Your Perfect 4 Days in the Azores Itinerary for Sao Miguel
The beauty of the Azores is truly out of this world. Often referred to as the Hawaii of Europe, the island paradise is the perfect place to explore by car. The volcanic islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and are by far one of my favorite destinations in Europe. The Azores consists of nine main islands with the capital, Ponta Delgada, situated on Sao Miguel.
This guide will take you through the ultimate road trip on Sao Miguel and the epic sights you will see. It also includes Azores tour options for those that can not rent a car on Sao Miguel.
Sao Miguel is the largest island of the archipelago at 293 square miles and it is dotted with stunning lakes and peaks calling out to be explored. This green and lush paradise is the perfect place to spend four days exploring some of the most pristine nature in Europe.
Road tripping around Sao Miguel is easy if you scour around road trip planning tools and list out what you want to see and what you can stand to miss.
This Azores itinerary will be split into 4 days each exploring a different part of the island each day. It will highlight the best and most amazing sights on Sao Miguel.
Because the island is relatively small, it is possible to base yourself in one location… but if you’re keen to move around a bit, I have listed Azores hotels and accommodation recommendations for each night.
This guide will take you through 3 days of driving where you will explore the western, central, and eastern parts of the island as well as a day exploring Ponta Delgada where you can stroll the streets or taking one of the many tours to see whales.
Basic Information about the Azores and Sao Miguel
How to Get to Sao Miguel
Sao Miguel is the largest island in the Azores and is home to the largest international airport in the Azores. The Ponta Delgada Airport (PDL) is serviced by many European Airlines and domestic Portuguese flights from the mainland as well as Madeira.
There are also Transatlantic flights available with regular flights to the United States and Canada. The airport is centrally located and is a mere stone’s throw away from Ponta Delgada.
Best Time to Go to the Azores
The Azores have a temperate climate and the weather is mild year-round, with summer temperatures peaking around 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) and winter temperatures hovering around 12 degree Celsius (53 Fahrenheit).
Winter months tend to bring more rain than summer, but there is enough sunshine year-round and any bad weather tends to move on quickly. May is the peak time to go whale watching in the Azores as you will see plenty of the migratory species of whales pass by the islands.
Renting a Car in the Azores
The best way to get around the Azores is to rent a car. While this did not work for me in the end as I didn’t renew my license in the US, it is still a pretty easy process. I can recommend renting from AutoEurope as they have several options on the Azores and many readers of my site have used them via me and recommend them.
Azores Tours for Those Not Renting a Car
I actually wasn’t able to rent a car last minute for my Azores trip, so I did what I listed below with tour companies and in other ways. I found the tours in the Azores to be extremely affordable and well-managed (and I’m super picky!) Here are three highly recommend tours (I took the first two myself) that will help you see a large amount of the sites listed in this Azores itinerary:
Azores Itinerary Day 1 (Western Sao Miguel)
The western side of Sao Miguel is possibly one of the most stunning parts of the Azores, if not the world. With lush green forests and stunning volcanic lakes, spending a day driving around the western side will surely take your breath away (and make you want to move there).
Start your European road trip off with a trip to the old Coal Aqueduct that cuts through the epic landscape. Take the time to explore the area and walk amongst the old pillars. During hydrangea season, the perpetual greenery is broken up with the wonderful blue flowers that grow all over the island and line most of the roads and paths.
Visiting the Coal Aqueduct should take no longer than 30 minutes and is the perfect introduction to the Azorean nature.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno is one of the most famous vantage points in the Azores and one of the best Azores photography locations. It is the view you think of when you hear someone reference the Azores.
The picture-perfect viewpoint is easily accessible as you drive west from Ponta Delgada. You can drive relatively close to it, but then you will need to ditch your car at the roadside car park and head up to the view by foot.
The trail is well marked out and easy to follow as there is likely to be plenty of other people to follow. Once you reach the viewpoint, you will be taken aback by the stunning views of the four main lakes of the western part of Sao Miguel- Lagoa Santiago, Lagoa Rossa, Lagoa Azul, and Lagoa Verde (the last one is largely blocked from view by Lagoa Santiago).
This is the perfect place to spend an hour or two wandering around and soaking in the views.
Kings View and the Abandoned Hotel Monte Palace
Kings View is an impressive view that looks over Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul. The view gained its name and its fame as a visiting king from mainland Portugal came to the islands and declared this view his favorite on the island and set up camp by the viewpoint.
Beside the main road is the abandoned Hotel Monte Palace, a hotel from the 1980s that didn’t stay open for very long. The hotel has been stripped of nearly anything of value by locals, but it’s a fun place to explore for 30-40 minutes. Head to the roof for one of the best views in the Azores.
The roof lifts you much higher than the Kings View viewpoint and gives an amazing panoramic view of Lagoa Verde and Azul. It is important to be careful while exploring the building as it is in a state of disrepair and parts are dangerous. It is said that the building has now been sold and way once again gets a purpose in life.
Expect to spend around an hour enjoying Kings View and exploring the hotel.
Lunch in Sete Cidades
Head to the small town of Sete Cidades for lunch and to explore the lakes close up. There are several restaurants in the little town serving local food and drinks. I advise heading to the restaurant Lagoa Azul; they serve a lunchtime buffet for around €10 per person that includes a variety of local dishes made from meats, fresh fish, and vegetables.
They also serve some fantastic local wines and drinks that are worth a try if you are not the designated driver.
Spectacular Sea Stacks at Mosteiros
On the northwestern shore of Sao Miguel is the village of Mosteiros, a seaside village that is home to stunning islets and sea stacks that sit just off the shore. Take the time to check out the view of the islets and seas stacks and explore the natural rock pools around the beach or simply spend time sitting on the black sandy beach as you recover from lunch.
I recommend spending around 30 minutes enjoying the views and the beach in this picture-perfect location.
End the Day in Capelas
The small town of Capelas on the north shore is the perfect place to end the first day of exploring the island of Sao Miguel. Located on Sao Miguel’s north, it’s the ideal place to walk around and check out the azure waters.
Head to the Elephants Trunk viewing point to check out the natural feature where the cliff looks like an elephant’s trunk dipping into the ocean. Midadouro do Porto das Capelas is a wonderful viewpoint and is a great place to take a quick swim in the Atlantic Ocean.
Added Options for Day 1
Along the route and journey, there are plenty of vantage points that are marked on Google Maps and all will provide you a stunning view over amazing natural beauty. Another possible option to add to the itinerary is heading to the coast and visiting Termas Da Ferraria.
During high tide, you can head into the cold Atlantic waters and be pleasantly warmed by the volcanic thermals. This area is also a nature reserve and incredible beauty so it is worth a visit if you are making good time between lunch and Mosteiros.
Where to Stay in Northern Sao Miguel
If you don’t plan to base yourself in Ponta Delgada, I highly recommend booking a place to stay along the route of the itinerary. Located a short drive east of Capelas is the incredible Sao Vicente Lodge, a stunning property located on the north shore of the island.
The environmentally-friendly hotel is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the evening resting up before the next day of exploration. The apartments come with fully functioning kitchens so you can cook your own food. There is also a BBQ area by the pool. I have written about my stay at the Sao Vicente Lodge here.
Azores Itinerary Day 2 (Central Sao Miguel)
Day two of the itinerary will take you through the main sights of the central part of Sao Miguel. The first sight of the day is located in the north of Sao Miguel and can be skipped if you are staying in Ponta Delgada and replaced with another sight (listed at the end of this section) or you can head there at the end of the day.
If you are staying at the Sao Vicente Lodge, walking to Pocos is an amazing trek that takes you along the cliffs tops and through quaint little streets. Pocos itself has a sad history as a whaling station but things are much different today.
Since whaling ended on the islands, the small harbor has been turned into a natural swimming pool which is filled with sea water that comes crashing in through a gap in the rocks. Regardless of its dismal past, the natural pool is a nice place to take a swim and dry off in the sun on the concrete ledges. There is also a café/bar nearby that sells snacks and drinks. Pocos was one of my favorite places on my Azores itinerary.
Pineapple Plantation (Plantacoes de Ananases A. Arruda)
Located just outside of Ponta Delgada is a pineapple plantation. Pineapples are one of the most important products of the Azores. The pineapple was bought over from Brazil to be cultivated on the islands and has transformed into its own unique pineapple.
Instead of taking 6 months to grow, the Azorean pineapple is grown over a 2-year period although it ends up being smaller than the average pineapple and is much more acidic and less sweet.
The plantation is entirely organic and a great way to spend an hour learning all about how they are grown on the islands with greenhouses taking you through each phase of growth. There is also a shop where you can purchase all manner of pineapple-based goods.
Take it from me, the pineapples in the Azores are phenomenal.
Lunch in Lagoa
If you have traveled down from the north, Lagoa presents itself a great place to stop for a bite to eat and a little rest. I recommend trying out Restaurante Borda D’Agua, located on the coast. The restaurant specializes in fresh fish dishes and desserts made from pineapple. There is also a natural swimming pool there which is the ideal place to chill out if you are not ready for lunch.
Estação Emissora do Pico da Barrosa
Pico da Barrosa is the best place to get an epic vantage point of Lagoa do Fogo. The large crater lake is used as a reservoir to provide the lower lying towns with fresh water. Because of this reason, swimming is illegal in the lake.
The view over the lake is impressive. From your parking spot, you will need to walk up the hill a little as that is where the best view is at. If you’re afraid of heights, you may want to stay back just slightly and not get too close to the edge.
Spending around 30 minutes is good enough to enjoy the views and walk up the hill from the main parking area. On cloudier days, you may find visibility to be poor. However, the weather in the Azores moves quickly and the view should clear up in a short amount of time.
Our Lady of Peace Chapel
Head to the hills above Vila Franco do Campo to the Our Lady of Peace Chapel. The stunning chapel is situated on top of a hill with a beautiful, symmetrical staircase leading up to it. The impressive grounds are covered in colorful flowers that contrast the black and white lava stone structure.
The chapel was a former hermit’s residence and its secluded, hilltop location provides an amazing view over the bay and out towards islet of Vila Franco do Campo. Vila Franco do Campo is another interesting place to stop off for lunch and I suggest checking out Atlantico Grill for awesome fresh seafood right on the harbor.
Castelo Branco View Point
Castelo Branco is a turret-like structure on top of a hill that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The structure was formerly a lookout point to spot any incoming pirates that may attack the island.
Climbing up on to the roof provides a great view of the interior of the island as well as out to sea. Rumor has it that Jack Sparrow frequents these waters (obviously kidding). It’s a wonderful place to spend half an hour checking out the viewpoints and enjoying one-sided conversation with the local cows who frequent the area.
Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha
For those heading back to Ponta Delgada, Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha provides a great place to break up the journey. The nature preserve has some awesome waterfalls and hot springs that you can relax in. There is a small charge of around €8 to visit the hot springs.
Added Options for Day 2
The area is full of great waterfalls and natural spots that are insanely breathtaking. For those who are staying towards the east of the island, take the time to check out the Hot Waterfalls of Ribeira. The hike to it can be slightly tricky, but the three waterfalls are definitely worth it.
On the way back to Ponta Delgada but still around the north shore, there is Salto do Cabrito which is a small waterfall with a nice natural pool that you can swim in. It’s best to leave the car a bit further back by the water tank and walk to the waterfall as there is the possibility to damage your rental car.
Where to Stay in Central Sao Miguel
The best place to stay for starting to explore the eastern part of the island is Furnas. The small spa town is extremely famous on the island for its impressive hot water springs- the highest concentration in Europe.
For a truly relaxing experience after a day of driving, I recommend checking into the Furnas Boutique Hotel -Thermal & Spa. This luxury hotel has an amazing spa to fully unwind and relieve any stress built up from the day. There is also an incredible restaurant selling local dishes and a small shop where you can purchase local Azorean produce from.
Alternatively, I recommend Hotel Vale Verde for a guest with a smaller budget. This small hotel has pleasant rooms- all of which have balconies and offer panoramic views over the scenery. There is free parking available for guests. There is no restaurant at this property, so you will need to head into Furnas town for some dinner.
Azores Itinerary Day 3 (Eastern Sao Miguel)
The eastern side of Sao Miguel is a hive of volcanic activity with plenty of thermal pools and springs to keep any nature lover entertained. The area is home to the highest concentration of hot water springs in the whole of Europe.
As you drive into the region, you will often see the steam from the springs rising into the air from all around. I loved everywhere I visited in the Azores, but this part of Sao Miguel was especially a highlight for me.
Lagoa das Furnas
Head to the shores of Lagoa das Furnas where you will find geothermal, natural hot springs bubbling away. With wooden walkways running above the springs, you can get up close to these volcanic springs and really feel the heat off of them. Buried in the ground around the springs, Azoreans cook the local, famous dish Cozido das Furnas.
The dish is a largely meat and root vegetable based and is layered in a large pot, covered, wrapped up, and then buried in the ground where it is left to slowly cook over hours. At the springs, you can often see workers coming to dig out the finished pots and burying the next batch.
The entrance to the hot springs is cheap at around €2 and well worth the visit, even if just to take a stroll around the lake.
Parque Terra Nostra
Parque Terra Nostra is a must visit when exploring the eastern side of Sao Miguel. Home to large thermal baths and impressive botanical gardens, you can spend hours walking around the lively gardens and taking some time to relax in the thermal pools.
Located directly in Furnas town, the park was one of my personal highlights because I love flowers and the ubiquitous Jurassic ferns that exist inside of it. The thermal baths were originally built in the 1780s and have been the highlight to many people’s visit to the islands over the years.
The warm waters that are enriched with many minerals that help relax the body and restore energy levels, help travelers to keep their energy levels boosted in order to keep on exploring the island with delight. The botanical gardens provide the perfect place to relax as you wander aimlessly through the extensive gardens.
The semi-tropical climate of the Azores and the rich and fertile soil make it the optimal place to grow many different kinds of plant and trees. There are thousands of different kinds of flora on display with some of the trees actually being hundreds of years old.
To fully enjoy the park, I recommend spending around 2 hours there at least. The entrance fee is around €8.
Chow down on Cozido das Furnas
A trip to the east of the island and Furnas would not be complete without enjoying the famous Cozido dish cooked in the heat from the volcano. The dish is comprised of various meats and sausages, like chicken, pork, beef, blood sausage, and chorizo. It also contains vegetables like potatoes, carrots, cabbage, yams, and kale.
This is layered in a large pan and then buried and cooked in the ground for 5-7 hours. The rich and flavorful dish is truly impressive and makes for a great filling lunch. Head to Restuarante Banhos Ferreos to try Cozido das Furnas.
Salto do Prego
As you travel east along the south coast of the island, take time to check out Salto do Prego, an impressive waterfall and natural pool. A quick and easy hike to the waterfall makes this little stop worthwhile (in addition to the sick scenery you will witness as you walk to it).
You can also enjoy swimming the natural pool beneath the waterfall. If you are keen on photography, this waterfall makes for impressive long exposures.
As you drive around the eastern shore of the island, take the time to stop at Lighthouse Arnel. The lighthouse is located on the edge of a cliff and provides a dramatic viewpoint to look out over the Atlantic Ocean and breathe in the fresh air while stretching your legs.
The walk to the lighthouse is steep but worthwhile as the views are impressive. The lighthouse itself is an interesting building and was the first one built in the Azores. It is possible to take tours of the lighthouse on Wednesdays and learn the history free of charge.
Botanical Garden of Ribeira do Guilherme
Check out this small but quaint botanical garden in the town of Nordeste. These small gardens are not as well-known as the other larger botanical gardens but it is easy to find some peace and quiet as you wander through the well-kept and lush flora. The location of the gardens is relatively shaded, therefore, it can get rather cool there so you may want to bring a light jacket with you.
Miradouro Ponta do Sossego
This view is one of the most epic spots on Sao Miguel and is a must to add to your 4 days in the Azores itinerary. The viewpoint sits high above majestic cliffs and is so otherworldly and jaw-dropping that you’ll think you have been transplanted to another part of the planet.
This area is well-marked and there are a lot of spots that you can picnic or stroll along the high coastal cliffs to get views or just take in the insane scenery that the Azores have to offer. There are many various plants and flowers that line the paths here and it is an epic place for eager photographers.
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes is a beautiful nature reserve with plenty of stunning plants and a nice little waterfall. There is also a chance to see the elusive Azorean bullfinch, a small bird that is endemic to the islands and the eastern part of Sao Miguel is the only part where it can be found. There have been no recorded sightings in the western part of the island.
Spend around 30 minutes taking in the nature and exploring the park.
Gorreana Tea Factory
The Azores is the only place in Europe where there are tea plantations. The Gorreana Tea Factory is a wonderful place to learn about cultivating tea on the islands. They produce green and black teas. As you walk around the factory, you will learn all about tea production and how the tea is cultivated and dried.
Fun fact: there is only a 3-hour difference between green and black tea as black tea is dried for an extra 3 hours to produce the color and taste. After walking around the production center, you can spend some time sitting in the café tasting the different teas. There is also a gift shop where you can purchase local teas to take home.
Added Options for Day 3
There are plenty of roadside viewpoints you can stop at as you cruise around the eastern part of the island. Check out Ribeira da Boca as this overlook gazes out over the sea and gorgeous river valley that flows down into the ocean.
Below the viewpoint is Piscina Natural da Boca De Ribeira which are coastal public swimming pools where you can look out over the ocean as you swim. Miradouro da Borda da Ladeira is another great observation area with great views over the Atlantic and the dramatic Azorean cliffs.
Where to Stay in Eastern Sao Miguel
Head back to Ponta Delgada for the final day of exploration. Grand Hotel Açores Atlântico is a five-star hotel located directly on the seafront and is a great place to relax and rest up after a long day of exploring.
There is an on-site restaurant, gym and swimming pool meaning that you can spend the night in the hotel and rest up. The hotel has been recently restored and all rooms are finished to an incredibly high standard.
For those traveling on more of a budget, I recommend trying out Casa Conforto. The ‘Casa’ is located in the city center and is a comfortable hotel that would be a wonderful recommendation for a night or two. All rooms are at a high standard and there is breakfast available on site. This will give you a chance to go out in Ponta Delgada for dinner.
Azores Itinerary Day 4 (Ponta Delgada)
Spend the final day exploring the small capital of the Azores, Ponta Delgada, or alternatively, take a sustainable and ethical tour to see the whales and dolphins out in the Atlantic. Ponta Delgada started off as a small fishing village and the capital was located in Vila Do Franco, however, after an earthquake devastated the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada.
Gruta do Carvão
Explore the lava tubes at Gruta do Carvão. They are the largest on the island at over 1.5km (over 5000ft) long although history suggests that these tubes may have been much longer in the past. First discovered in the 17th century, the lava tubes are spectacular displays of natural geography where various rock formations have formed and the basalt walls have changed color due to oxidization.
To visit the caves, it costs around €5. There are two options of tours available- a shorter, easier 200-meter tour where group sizes are around 15 people or a more. The second option is a more difficult 800-meter tour where there are only 2-4 people on the tour. It is recommended to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Portas da Cidade
Check out the city gates – Pontas da Cidade. These 18th-century arched gates are the iconic structure of the city and are featured on most postcards. The gates were originally situated at the by the harbor, however, they were moved to Goncalo Velho Square at a later date. Made out of classic Azorean lava stone, the white and black gates are aesthetically beautiful and provide a nice contrast against the clear blue skies.
Ponta Delgada Churches
There are plenty of churches in Ponta Delgada worth checking out. Made out of lava stone, the black and white churches are impressive structures and are beautifully designed. The outside beauty is matched by the ornate interiors. Each church is as impressive as the other and it’s worth checking out all of them.
Forte de Sao Bras de Ponta Delgada
The fort and military museum is located on the seafront and is still used by the Portuguese Navy. The historical museum provides a great look into Portuguese military history as well as an insight into the Portuguese empire colonization in Africa. It highlights the many fights for independence from the many colonized countries. There is also a room dedicated to notable veterans in Portuguese history.
Whale and Dolphin Watching Trip from Ponta Delgada
Take an Azores whale watching tour out to sea to encounter some of the world’s most impressive sea creatures. The Azores is home to many whales and dolphins, as well as being on the migratory path of others. During April and May, you will have the highest chance of seeing the largest amount of species, including blue and fin whales along with bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins.
However, year-round you can see the amazing, deep-diving sperm whale. You might also be lucky enough to see turtles. This three-hour tour will offer you the chance to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat as a marine biologist teaches you about the animals. Pack up the best eagle eyed binoculars you own and definitely don’t leave your camera behind.
Here are the four ethical whale watching tours in the Azores that I can recommend:
Spend the day at the Islet of Vila Franco do Campo
Located off of the shore of the town, Vila Franco do Campo, a small, volcanic islet is a place of natural beauty and an epic nature reserve that is home to plenty of amazing flora and sea birds. The crater of the volcano has filled in with sea water and the crystal-clear waters are perfect for swimming and diving.
During the summer months, there is a regular boat service to the island but because it is a nature reserve, the number of people who are able to visit daily is limited to ensure that there is minimal impact on the island’s ecosystem.
There are many things to do in the Azores for every type of traveler. This is my suggested Azores itinerary for first-time visitors and ones that are focusing on Sao Miguel. I think four days on Sao Miguel is pretty perfect for getting an impression of the island even though I spent a full week in the Azores.
If you’re heading to Madeira after the Azores, be sure to check out my guide of things to do in Madeira.