When you first look through the airplane window and down at the Azores, you’ll be left speechless. From this very first glimpse, you’ll understand why many call this Portuguese archipelago the “Hawaii of Europe” and the “Islands of Colors.”

Set in the middle of the Atlantic, halfway between the USA and continental Portugal, the nine major Azores islands – São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo – are impossible not to adore.

Expect green fields spotted with free-roaming local cattle (locally referred to as “happy cows”), and lagoons set on the mouth of extinct volcanoes. Thermal pools offer the chance for a hot dip, the warmth coming from deep within the earth, while ultra-fresh ingredients make for a uniquely savory local cuisine.

A trip to the Azores is a must-do vacation, one you’ll never forget. If you’ve never been before, read on – then get planning.

A man looks down at a crater lake in Corvo, Azores, Portugal
However long you stay in the Azores, you’ll want to pack your hiking boots © EyesTravelling / Shutterstock

What is the best time to go to the Azores?

The Azores are an all-year-round destination – so your key considerations will be what you want to do, and your budget. The summer brings many visitors from the mainland, who arrive to soak up the scenery or visit relatives, making this the busiest and more expensive season.

The scene is more relaxed and cheaper in the shoulder seasons, while winter can offer challenging weather. Remember that the islands are set in the middle of the ocean and are more exposed to the winter storms that form in the Atlantic – which often affects flights (and your plans!).

Whenever you visit, prepare to face all four seasons in one day. You can wake up with sunshine and warm weather, only to take a hike up a mountain to find plunging temperatures, lashing rain and minimal visibility. Don’t leave without packing a waterproof layer, and have it in your backpack at all times.

In the summer, temperatures range from about 68–79°F (20–26°C), in the shoulder seasons from about 60–71°F (15.5–22°C), and during winter from about 53–64°F (12–18°C). Keep in mind that at different spots on these remote islands temperatures can vary widely.

Is it easy to get to the Azores?

São Miguel is the largest island in the Azores and works as a hub to reach the other eight. The Ponta Delgada airport receives international flights from the United States and Canada as well as a number of other European countries; transatlantic flights also serve Terceira. If you can’t find a nonstop flight, the easiest way to get to the Azores is from Lisbon or Porto, on Portugal’s mainland.

From São Miguel, you can get internal flights with the local airline SATA to every island in the Azores. You can also opt for SATA’s Azores Air Pass, which allows travelers to visit up to three islands at a special rate.

Another way to get around is by ferry: Atlanticoline serves Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo.

Be advised that your plane or boat legs may change, as the departure schedule can be disrupted by air and ocean conditions. Being flexible with your itinerary is a good idea if you plan to visit more than one island in the Azores, especially in wintertime.

A small red car drives by a bank of blue hydrangea bushes in Sete Cidades, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
Renting a car is the easiest way to get around the islands at your own pace. The roads are especially lovely in summer, when the hydrangea bushes bloom © Vitor Miranda / Shutterstock

How to you get around the Azores? 

Renting a car is the best way to explore these beautiful islands. With so much to see and do, having the freedom to travel at your own pace and visit more off-the-beaten-track locations is essential to making the most of your trip. Plus, renting a car allows you to easily get around the larger islands, such as São Miguel (287 sq miles), Pico (172 sq miles) or Terceira (154 sq miles).

You can even take your rented car on the ferry between some of the islands, including the Pico–Faial–São Jorge triangle. Public buses are also available on all islands except Corvo.

Once you reach your desired destination, get out and explore on foot – for the views in these islands never disappoint. Walk the dirt paths, immerse yourself in nature and be amazed by the sounds of the birds and running waterfalls, and the smell of flowers and wet vegetation.

Front of Fábrica de Chá Gorreana (Gorreana Tea Factory), São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
The delightful Gorreana Tea Factory is one of the most popular stops on tours of São Miguel © Damian Lugowski / Shutterstock

How much time do I need to visit the Azores?

It all depends on what you want to do. São Miguel is a great option for first-time visitors, with its wide range of activities, landscapes, and great restaurant and accommodation options. Five days should be enough time to get a good taste.

But if you want to get a true sense of the richness of this archipelago, set aside two to three weeks to hop between islands and get to know what truly distinguishes each – and why the archipelago is truly one of the most exceptional destinations in Europe.

Top things to do on the Azores

See how volcanoes have shaped the islands’ landscape and history

You’ll know you’re atop a cluster of volcanoes when you see the dark-gray stone used in the old buildings, and the black sand on the beaches. When visiting São Miguel, you can even feel the volcanic activity on your skin: the water at iron-rich thermal springs is warmed by heat emanating from the island’s inner depths.

The same heat cooks the traditional cozido dos Açores (Azorean stew) in the Furnas area, where chefs place vegetables and meat in the earth for up to seven hours, where it emerges steaming hot and with a sulfur-y kick. Terceira and São Jorge have natural pools that are carved in stone by the rough Atlantic and simultaneously heated by the volcanic rock.

In Faial, the underwater Vulcão dos Capelinhos erupted in the 1950s – an event that caused half the island’s population to flee. An interpretative center near the site of the eruption gives context on the ongoing volcanic activity in and around the Azores.

A man swims in the thermally heated pools at Caldeira Velha, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
At Caldeira Velha and other thermal springs, you can take a dip in naturally heated waters © karengoncalvese / Shutterstock

Hike for days

If you want to immerse yourself in nature and experience the rawness of gorgeous landscapes, you’re in luck. All the islands have hiking trails that bring you deep into their wild heart, revealing lagoons formed inside extinct volcanoes or waterfalls that cascade from the top of the mountains.

On the island of the same name, Mt Pico is another must-see place in the Azores. As the highest point in Portugal, it’s a challenging climb. But the unforgettable view from the top on a clear day is well worth the effort.

While in Pico, visit the local vineyards that are part of a landscape that’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Gaze out at the ocean as you enjoy a glass of wine – you might spot a pod of playful dolphins or even giant whales.

Combine a whale-watching trip with a visit to a tea factory

Exploring outdoors is far from the only activity in the Azores. On São Miguel, you can join a whale-watching cruise, visit cheese factories, see spiky fruit grow at pineapple plantations or spend an hour or two at the famous Gorreana Tea Factory, the oldest (and arguably only) tea plantation in Europe. Staff members offer free tours of the factory and museum, which feature plenty of vintage machinery (some still in use); toast to your visit with a cup at the end of the tour.

View of Fajãs da Caldeira along the hiking route Serra do Topo to Fajãs dos Cubres, São Jorge, Azores, Portugal
The fajãs of São Jorge are a challenge to get to – and that’s the whole point © Eefje Verbeek / iStockphoto / Getty Images

My favorite thing to do in the Azores

If your goal is to escape and disconnect from the world, you’ll find that tranquility in the Azorean fajãs, small coastal villages next to large cliffs.

I recommend the difficult-to-access but enchanting Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo in São Jorge. You can get there on foot by following the Caldeira de Santo Cristo Trail, which starts in Serra do Topo. The descent gradually reveals the small town, its houses, the church and the large lagoon stretching near the sea. You can also arrive by quad bike, starting from Fajã dos Cubres; you can pre-arrange a trip with your accommodation. 

Once in Fajã de Santo Cristo, cell phone and internet connections are almost non-existent, leaving no choice but to unplug and slow down. This is the ideal place to relax, catch up on your reading, discover the lagoon by kayak or taste the clams served at O Borges, the oldest restaurant in this location.

How much money do I need in the Azores?

The Azores is a destination for all types of travelers, with everything from five-star hotels to local homestays. You can find lodging, food options and island tours to suit all budgets. Your car rental will likely be your biggest expense, especially if you are traveling in high season; try to plan ahead and make your reservations as soon as possible.

These are the average daily costs you can expect:

  • Four-star hotel room for two: from €150
  • Dormitory room in a hostel: from €45
  • Self-catering apartment: from €100
  • Car rental: from €35 per day for a small car
  • Furnas stew for two: €30
  • Coffee: €1
  • Beer: €1.50
  • Entrance to hot springs: €8
A woman looks at waterfalls on a hike in Flores, Azores, Portugal
Take care as you immerse yourself in the Azores’ stunning landscapes © IKO-studio / Shutterstock

Remember to interact with nature safely

Exploring the various volcanic craters and lagoons hidden in the islands’ interiors is one of the best experiences you can have in the Azores. Keep in mind that these extraordinary natural ecosystems should be approached with great care.

Respect the local landscape by visiting in a way that doesn’t disturb the animals or damage any plants; the easiest way to do this is by sticking to marked trails. Many are there to protect vegetation and prevent soil erosion, but also for your safety, as they avoid unstable or slippery ground.

Also, as much as the lagoons seem like the perfect opportunity for a cooling dip, most are unsuitable for bathing or swimming for safety reasons. Always follow the safety signs displayed at each lagoon.

Finally, be aware that weather conditions can change from one moment to the next, especially in higher areas. Check the forecast before venturing out on a long trail to ensure you’re not caught in a precarious position mid-hike.

What to pack when visiting the Azores

Given the variable weather and outdoor-adventure possibilities in the Azores, we recommend bringing a light rain jacket, a breathable fleece layer you can take on and off on the go, and waterproof trekking boots and poles. You’ll want a good backpack to carry all this with you as you get out and about in this magical archipelago.

This article was first published Jun 4, 2019 and updated Feb 28, 2024.

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