The Azores is one of my favourite spots in Europe.
I can’t believe such an incredible group of islands can be so rarely talked about by travellers. The Azores has everything you could need from a destination, from affordable prices to spectacular scenery, delicious food options to deserted beaches, from dozens of hikes to even more viewpoints.
The Azores are located right in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean, almost mid-way between the west coast of Europe and the east of the United States. There are nine islands altogether — all of them inhabited — and because they’re so compact, it makes perfect sense to work one or two of them into a layover between Europe and North America.
I spent four days on Sao Miguel — the main island — and it was enough to convince me to return in the future. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken!
It’s So Easy to Get Around
The island of Sao Miguel is made for road tripping.
Thanks to a trifecta of paved roads, sweeping curves, and little traffic, you’re practically guaranteed an incredible day out on your wheels. Criss-crossing the island on a scooter had me and Dave firmly back in our happy places, and we couldn’t stop commenting on the quality of the riding.
Whether you prefer your adventures to take place with cars or scooters, Sao Miguel is compact enough for you to get from the main city of Ponta Delgada to the east or west coast in a single day without spending the entire time on the tarmac.
We opted to spend one day exploring the west coast, one checking out the south east, and one heading out to the north east. By the end of our adventure, I felt as though we’d seen a significant chunk of what the island has to offer visitors.
The only downside? If you’re unable to drive yourself around, the public transport options aren’t great, and you’ll struggle to see the island if you’re relying on buses. There are two very highly-rated tours on GetYourGuide — one that takes you to the east side of the island and one that shows you the west — that I’d recommend going for if you don’t have an alternative. I book all of my tours on GetYourGuide and these two have some exceptionally great reviews.
It’s Even Easy to Get To
Whenever I write about some of the lesser-known destinations of the world, one of the biggest issues that prevents my readers from replicating my trips is the fact that many of these places are simply too expensive and impractical to get to.
When it comes to the Azores, I’m happy to announce this isn’t the case.
SATA Airlines flies daily between Portugal and the east coast of the U.S. and allows you to stopover on the islands at no extra charge. Our flight from Boston to Lisbon cost $275, which also turned out to be the cheapest way for us to get to Europe from North America. Adding in a five-day layover made no different to the cost of the flights.
If you’re already based in Europe, SATA Airlines, TAP Portugal, Tui, and Ryanair have a ton of great deals and you can often fly there for as little as $100 return. I recommend using Skyscanner to compare prices.
Once you’re in Sao Miguel, getting to the other islands in the Azores is easy with SATA, who fly the routes displayed above. They run regular trips between every island in the archipelago, and they rarely cost more than around $50-$70. If you’re going to skip over Sao Miguel, SATA gives passengers a free flight to a different island instead!
You could also take the ferry between islands to save money.
The Food is Divine
If there’s one thing my time in the South Pacific has taught me, it’s that eating on an island in the middle of the ocean is rarely going to be a great or affordable experience. Food is usually imported from the nearest major landmass, which leads to extortionate prices in restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets, making fresh food hard to find unless you’re friends with fishermen or keen to walk around the early morning markets.
In both Tonga and the Cook Islands, I spent several days living on canned food and crisps because that was all that was on offer to people who weren’t growing their own food or staying close to a restaurant.
I was so excited to discover this is far from the case in the Azores.
In fact, all over Lisbon, you’ll find supermarkets and restaurants proudly announcing their food is sourced from the Azores, and they advertise this for one simple reason: the food from these islands is gorgeous! It’s also surprisingly affordable.
The Azores has a fantastic climate and fertile land, which means the islands are all self-suficient and don’t need to import food from mainland Portugal in order to survive.
The most famous dish of the Azores — and one of my favourite meals — is cozido das furnas, a stew that’s cooked inside a volcano! Some of my other food highlights included sampling the tangy Azorean cheese, drinking as much high-quality Azorean wine as my body could handle, swooning over the juiciest pineapples of my life, and snacking on unusual seafood whenever I had the opportunity to.
We paid around €4 for breakfast, €12 euros for lunch, and €15 for dinner, which was amazing value for some of the best meals I’ve had all year.
It’s Surprisingly Inexpensive
Not only is the food cheap, but so is everything else.
Accommodation ranges from €17 a night for a dorm room at Azores Dream Hostel (rated 8.6 on Booking), €75 a night for a private room with a double bed at Comercial Azores Guest House (rated 9.1 on Booking), €45 a night for a double room with a beautiful view at Atlantic Home Azores (rated 9.5 on Booking) and €60 a night for a double room at Azorean Urban Lodge (rated 9.6 on Booking), which I highly recommend splurging for. I go into more details why at the end of this post!
Transportation-wise, we paid €17 a day for a scooter rental, with car hire coming to around €21 a day.
All in all, I averaged €63.50/$79 a day while not trying particularly hard to travel on a budget.
It Has Year-Round Perfect Weather
Talk about an ideal climate!
The temperature in the Azores ranges between 15°C and 30°C — that’s 60°F and 86°F — and rarely goes higher or lower at any time of year. That means that if you want to escape the cruise ship crowds of the summer, visiting in the shoulder or low season won’t mean having to freeze your ass off.
In mid-October, when we visited, temperatures were a perfect 23 degrees each and every day, and blue skies were a constant presence. I rarely needed more than shorts and a vest top.
There’s Some Seriously Impressive Architecture to Admire
No matter how much I researched, I couldn’t find a definitive answer as to why the buildings in the Azores are all about that black and white colour scheme.
So while I can’t tell you why the churches and houses and stores and hotels look like the above photos, I can tell you that the uniformity is beautiful, and you’ll end up with so many photos of buildings. So much of the island looks like this, and I couldn’t get enough of the black basalt features.
As Well as an Abandoned Old Hotel to Explore
I was overjoyed to discover that there’s an abandoned hotel on Sao Miguel that you’re free to poke around and take photos.
The Monte Palace Hotel was built in the 80s in an isolated part of the island before tourism was really a thing in the Azores. Unsurprisingly, this five-star hotel quickly tripped into bankruptcy, and has been falling apart ever since.
These days, you’re able to explore the entire space, taking in some of the best views in Sao Miguel from the rooftop, dawdling through the bar, hair salon, and ballroom, clambering up staircases, and peering into bedrooms. There were only a dozen other people in the hotel while we were there, which only served to make the experience even more eerie.
The Villages are So Picturesque
One of the highlights of my time in Sao Miguel came on the third day, when we chose to meander along the northeastern parts of the coastline.
With close to no traffic on the roads, we wound our way through tiny villages comprising a hundred whitewashed buildings, stopping only to nurse a beer while overlooking a beautiful viewpoint or to take yet another photo of a scene that looked like it had come straight from a postcard.
I could have easily spent an entire week just slowly making my way around the small villages and towns of this island.
Lagoons are Everywhere
In Sao Miguel, the majority of your sightseeing will be based around lagoons, because they’re scattered all over the place.
My favourite was easily Lagoa das Sete Cidades — the Lagoon of the Seven Cities — which is partially pictured above. It’s a twin lake of different colours in the crater of a now dormant volcano. In other words, it’s pretty freaking badass. Lagoa das Furnas was perfect for a peaceful walk along the water’s edge before checking out the volcanic stew being removed from the hot springs where it had been cooking all morning. Lagoa do Fogo is a lake within a volcano that brought me some of the moodiest photos from the trip — it was shrouded in mist when we visited and we were only able to catch glimpses of it, usually when a particularly strong gust of wind threatened to hurl our motorbike over the edge.
The Hot Springs Provide Plenty of Opportunity for Relaxing
There are three active volcanoes on Sao Miguel alone, so it’s no wonder there’s a ton of geothermal activity to check out while you’re in town. There are four hot springs on the island, and my favourite was the one at Ponta da Ferraria, where there’s a natural thermal pool on the edge of the ocean.
The hot spring that’s most famous on the island is the one in Furnas, but let me tell you now: it looks awful! There’s a whole heap of iron in the water, which has turned the pool into an opaque rusty-colour that looks the exact opposite of appealing.
It’s Great for Hiking
Yes, the Azores has all of the above and fantastic hiking!
There are about a dozen hikes on the main island of Sao Miguel, but due to time constraints, we opted for just two of them. Both of them were easy-to-moderate difficulty and both ended with a spectacular waterfall. The Salto do Prego hike was almost entirely uphill for the 40-minute climb, but having such a stunning spot to ourselves at the end of it made the struggle worthwhile. The Salto do Cabrito hike took us to one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island and ended up being an easy walk, as we skipped the six-hour round-trip hike and settled for scootering to just 10 minutes from the falls.
You Can See Sao Miguel Over a Few Days
You can easily see the main island of the Azores in less than a week.
We gave ourselves four days to explore Sao Miguel and it turned out to be the perfect amount of time. We spent one day walking the island’s main city of Ponta Delgada, one day exploring the west side of the island, one day scootering the southeast coast, and one day out in the northeast. We drove practically every road on the island over this time and didn’t have to skip out on a single activity. If we’d had longer, we’d have likely spent a day relaxing in hot springs across the island.
If you had a full week to explore the archipelago, you could opt to spend four days on Sao Miguel and three days on one other island. You could choose Pico for volcano-climbing and wine-drinking, opt to go whale-watching on Faial, sign up for hiking and mountain biking on Flores, or go beach-hopping on Santa Maria.
If you had two weeks or more, you could see the majority of the nine islands, as they’re all fairly small. I know I’m already planning to do exactly that later this year.
Azorean Urban Lodge has the Best Map Ever
The guesthouse we stayed at — the Azorean Urban Lodge — in Ponta Delgada hands out an incredible map to all of its guests. It’s so incredible, in fact, that I’d recommend staying there just to get your hands on it. It’s no exaggeration for me to say that this map more than made my trip, and it wouldn’t have been as amazing without it. I know: I’m really talking this map up. How great can it possibly be?
It basically planned our road trip for us. It’s all hand-drawn and marks out the best places to take photos, where to eat and drink, what time to visit certain regions, and more. I love that the map got so detailed that it would describe stopping at a certain town to have a cold beer in a specific bar overlooking the ocean. Or that it would recommend having lunch in a particular restaurant on the west coast so that you could try their excellent octopus stew. Their recommendations were always spot-on and I’m so glad we had this map.
And the hotel itself was great! There was a swimming pool! The staff were lovely! It’s not often that I’ll order you to stay in a specific hotel, because a hotel is a hotel is a hotel. But this one? This one is definitely worth checking in to.
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🏚 Exploring the Abandoned Monte Palace Hotel in Sao Miguel, Azores
The Azores! Yes! I’m going in July and can’t waitttt!
Yay! You’re going to love it because I can’t imagine anyone not doing so.
I’m totally convinced to go to the Azores. I knew they existed but nothing else. Aaaaand now they are on my long list of places to visit.
Yaaaay! They’re SO worth visiting. Eventually :-)
I really want to visit the Azores now! I had never heard of them before! I was excited to see that SATA Airlines flies out of Salt Lake City, Utah, which is near where I am currently living!
Oh, yay! I hope you get to jump on one of their flights at some point :-)
Any recommendations on the beat whit sand beaches with turquoise waters?
Anywhere in the South Pacific: the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Fiji, Tonga. I also love Koh Kood and Koh Kradan in Thailand. Boracay in the Philippines. Vilanculos in Mozambique. Cape Town. I have posts about most of these places on the site! :-)
So glad to see this post! I went a few years ago with some people and we are OBSESSED…, we still talk about what a hidden gem it is all the time. No tourists, easy to get around, we splurged a lot and it was still so affordable, we island hopped for about 10 days, with lots of hikes. I cannot say enough good things about it!
Right?! It has pretty much everything you could want from a destination!
Curious about your island hoping experience. We are going for 10 days in September and are looking to spend time at two island. One is Sao Miguel, my peeps are from there, and another but we cannot decide which island we should see. Any thoughts given your experience?
The best you haven’t mentioned it’s Madeira Island in Portugal
Yes!!! I visited the Azores in 2014 and had one of the best trips of my life! It’s so underrated and beautiful. I hope you make it to the other islands on your next trip.
I hope so, too! They look amazing :-)
I visited last month – partly as a result of you raving about it in one of your monthly updates last year and partly because we managed to score return flights from London with Ryanair (via Secret Flying) for just £40!!! Absolutely loved São Miguel and now want to go back in Summer in order to explore some of the smaller islands :-)
Oh yay! That’s an amazing deal. And same! I can’t wait to go back and see what the other islands have to offer.
Are you still living in Lisbon?
No, I left last year.
This place looks absolutely amazing. A lake in the middle of a dormant volcano? Come on! Definitely getting added to the list of places to go, it sounds like you guys had a great time.
The quality of the photos you take is very good, the lighting and color of everything looks great. What camera are you using to capture all of this beauty?
Thanks so much! I use a Sony A7ii with the kit lens and edit in Lightroom.
Hi Lauren, great post! thanks to it I’ll probably visit Sao Miguel this summer and cannot wait!! :-) Just one question about car or scooter rental, did you rent it in the city or in the airport? from which company? I am checking the prices for cars on the web but it seems very expensive..maybe bacause it’s high season..thanks a lot! :-)
We rented from Rent-a-car Auto-ramalhense (R. 6 de Junho, 9500-089 Ponta Delgada) in the city, and just turned up on the day and asked to rent a scooter.
Are you looking for an automatic? That usually bumps up the price a lot. If not, you can ask at your hotel to rent one for you, as they usually can get better prices. I’ve seen trip reports from June last year when the people paid 24 Euros a day for car hire, so it shouldn’t be super expensive in high season.
This post inspired my partner and I to spend a week on Sao Miguel in May, thank-you!
Yay! I’m thrilled to hear that — I hope you have just as amazing a time as I did! :-)
We are going to Sao Miguel later this year! Do you have any safety tips to follow?
Not really! It felt really, really safe there. There’s close to no crime on the islands.
Hi! How did you book the flights on SATA with the 4 day layover in Sao Miguel included at no cost? I’ve been searching on their site and can’t figure it out. :) This is inspiring me for a trip later this summer/fall!
Just go here: https://www.azoresairlines.pt/en and select multi-city rather than one way or round trip. Then you can do the two flights, from the US to Ponta Delgada and then Ponte Delgada to Europe or vice versa.
Hi Lauren! Thanks for the great info. I’m planning a trip in June and really looking forward to it. 2 quick questions- 1) I love the idea of renting just a scooter for my whole stay on the island. Think it’s practical? Do people do that? and 2) I think I’m coming in on a Sunday and I read the island is really shut down on Sunday. Might not be the best day to come in? Did you have a Sunday there? Thanks for any help you can offer and be well!
1) Yep! That’s exactly what we did.
2) The local stores will be closed on a Sunday, but tourist stores and restaurants should still be open. Depends what you had planned for that day — if you wanted to spend it in Ponte Delgada, the museums will be closed so it might not be super interesting (I liked it and didn’t do any museum-hopping, etc — just wandered around and took photos), but if you wanted to head out to explore the island, it’s all about the nature so can’t be closed :-) I wouldn’t let it put you off arriving there unless there’s something specific you wanted to do that you couldn’t.
Can I ask where you rented your scooter from? :)
We rented from Rent-a-car Auto-ramalhense (R. 6 de Junho, 9500-089 Ponta Delgada) in the city, and just turned up on the day and asked to rent a scooter.
Hi Lauren! Planning a trip to the Azores in September! We are planning on flying into Terceira and spending two days there and then going to Faial for 3 days (hopefully with a day tour of Pico from there) and then to Sao Miguel for 4.5 days. Given your experience or what you know about the islands, does this seem reasonable or does it seem like too much?
I also noticed in one of your replies you mentioned a cancelled flight between the islands – does this happen frequently?
Hmmm, I can’t seem to find that comment. But no, as far as I’m aware it doesn’t happen often. Our flight was almost cancelled, but that was because of a hurricane, which only occurs in this part of the world around once every 20+ years. So definitely nothing to worry about!
Thanks for the inspiration! Planning to go in September. Can’t wait!
Just one question – when you travel in the different areas of the island do you book a hotel in those areas too, for the night, or is the island small enough where you can go explore and come back to Ponta Delgada for the night? Azorean Urban Lodge looks like a fantastic option, is that the only hotel you stayed at?
Hi Lauren-thank you for the awesome info. I’m definitely interested in the Azores now and staying at the accommodation you recommended. any thoughts on going in March? I’m wondering if it would be warm enough to swim in the pool?
What do you think about bringing my 3.5 year old son- I wonder if the Azores would be family friendly?
Thanks again! Joanna
My wife and I have been talking about visiting the Azores for over a decade. Having wandered around the world in that time we are finally ready to make the visit. Your description was wonderfully inviting and offered so much usable information. Thank you for taking the effort to make the post. Two questions. One – I could not find the extremely reasonable air fares you mentioned. The best I could come up with was $1285 per person out of the DC area. Can you direct me to finding better fares? Two – I am fascinated by the history of any area I visit and hoped you might touch on historical sites in the Azores.
Take a look at the Azores Airlines site directly, or look on Skyscanner at dates across an entire month to find the cheapest deals. We flew out of Boston, so it might be worth checking prices out of there, too.
After reading your post, we’re off to visit the Azores in March this year! I’ve always been a fan of shoulder-season travelling so excited to see what it’s got to offer! Also booked the Azorean Urban Lodge on your recommendation and they have been so sweet over email so far! Can’t wait to visit! Thank you so much!xo
Lauren, thanks for the great and detailed article. Any chance you still have that famous map and could share it with me? I’m planning a trip in early July. Thanks!
Sorry — you have to stay at the lodge to get it! The owner specifically asked us not to share it around, as they own the copyright to it and use it as a selling point for their hotel.
Did you get my message regarding few queries on the trip to Sao Miguel? I had messaged you through contacts me form.
Your post is so helpful! I am going to Azores in August- to Sao Miguel 4 days then Pico 4 days, We are staying at the Adegas do Pico houses you recommended! so excited…my question is did you rent a scooter when you were in Pico Island? are the roads easy to get around? how long does it take to circle pico on scooter? thank you!
Hey Amy, I think you’re commenting on the wrong blog post — I haven’t been to Pico!
This is so nice to see, Im an Azorean born and raised in Terceira island. Now living in Florida. The temperature, food, super inexpensive, most people speak English, nature the hikes its simply breath taking. If you enjoy fish all seafood!! Thank you for visiting our paradise!
I have recently visited Azores – it was a wonderful trip. The nature is gorgeous, seafood is fresh and the air is so clean, it is hard to believe coming from a city.
How about Azores in the winter? Getting married in Sintra next week and contemplating making Azores our honeymoon.
Glad you enjoyed. As for the architecture and the white/black. The black is lava stone and was abundantly found throughout the archipelago. Hence it’s use. My family is from Ribeira Quente, home to one of the small few beaches on São Miguel.
Ah, thanks for sharing! I loved the black stone so much :-)
I’ve been there quite a few years ago and I want to go back. I just thing that São Miguel deserves a full week. Some of the things just take more time. For example, the warm waterfalls… No point going there just to see them. You have to go in the water and spend a couple of hours having the shower of your life under a stunning warm waterfall. There is also a tiny isle close to Ponta Delgada called ilhéu de Vila Franca. Known for a cliff used for the Red Bull water jumping competitions, the other side of that isle is a stunning horseshoe shape beach with a beautiful crystal water bay. It’s the only white sand beach in São Miguel (all the other beaches in the island have dark volcanic sand). Again, you don’t go there just to see the beach, you have to spend a few hours in it. And I could say the same about Furnas, Lagoa do Fogo… So, one week is definitively not too much time for São Miguel!
Love this post! Thanks for sharing! We ventured to Sao Miguel Island in July 2018 for a week, and this post was great for reminiscing about some of the things we did and saw. I just came across your blog, and will definitely save for future planning.
Is it possible to obtain Azores residency and citizenship? If so, what is process? Via Portugal?
Yeah, I imagine you’d need to obtain residency in Portugal.
Check with the SEF office. They can speak English and tell you what to do. It was not a difficult process.
I’m glad to hear that — thanks for sharing!
Went to Sao Miguel and Pico last year in August/September. Loved the islands, just incredible scenery, food and a delightful culture. Ran into much rainy weather and lots of folks on holiday in Sao Miguel, but still had a tremendous few days. Then, on to Pico, and that was the island for me – gorgeous, more remote, wonderful residents and seafood, swimming in natural ocean pools in the black lava rock – just incredible. Finished trip off with several days kicking around Lisbon with its sights, shopping, museums and food marketplaces. What a trip! Can’t wait to go back.