Welcome to the largest island in the Azores. It’s hard not to fall for São Miguel, with its turquoise lakes, hot thermal pools, and nature trails. Some people call it the Green Island, and you’ll understand why once you land amid this lush volcanic soil. This is a place where cows graze freely, alongside plantations growing anything from tea to pineapples.
But beyond its natural features, there is a historical heritage to discover in the capital of Ponta Delgada, with its charming churches featuring the typical style of white and black stone. Down by the marina, visitors can enjoy a swim or hop on a boat to spot the dolphins and whales that pass through here.
If you’re heading to the Azores for the first time, you’ll probably arrive in São Miguel as it offers the most flight connections. Our five-day itinerary will help you plan your trip to this incredible island. It features the best things to do, as well as tips on where to stay and where to eat.
We begin our tour of São Miguel on the west side of the island. Located in the Arrifes council, the Pico do Carvão viewpoint is a great place to capture the Sete Cidades lagoon and the vast landscape of volcanic peaks.
Just a few miles from Pico do Carvão, you’ll encounter the Lagoa das Empadadas. The water from these lagoons used to supply the fountains of Ponta Delgada in the past. You can stay in the viewpoint or walk down to the waterfront. Surrounding the lagoons is a vast forest of cryptomeria trees.
Set within the Parque Florestal da Mata do Canário, this is one of the most famous lagoons on the island. It stands at 800 metres above sea level, and it’s quite easy to access by car.
From Lagoa do Canário, you can follow the trail to the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno. On a clear day, you can spot many of the island’s lagoons from this viewpoint. Most people come here to see Sete Cidades, but look around, and you’ll find many other picture-worthy sceneries.
Another viewpoint worth stopping is the Vista do Rei. The name translates as King’s View, and it was given after a visit from King Carlos I and Queen Amélia in 1901. Many of the island’s postcards feature the sights from here. Next to the viewpoint is the abandoned site of the Monte Palace hotel, which has become a favourite spot for photographers. It’s been in ruins for decades, but there are plans to renovate it soon.
After seeing Sete Cidades from afar, you can head a bit closer to the water. Formed in a volcano crater, it’s the largest lake on the island. It has two distinct colours, making it feel like two separate lagoons. As a result, locals have named these the Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon) and the Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon).
From Sete Cidades, head north towards Mosteiros. This coastal town is home to natural pools and a charming dark sand beach, which gets quite busy in the summer. It’s a great place to watch the sunset and spot the small islets known as the Ilhéus dos Mosteiros. The area is also quite popular for birdwatching.
Drive along the coast until you reach the Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado. Standing above a cliff, this viewpoint overlooks the sea and the towns of Mosteiros and Ponta da Ferraria further south.
End your day with a swim at Ferraria. You can pay a fee to access the spa and outdoor swimming pool at Termas da Ferraria or head to the natural cove for free. Keep in mind that the water can get a bit rough and extremely hot at low tide, so best to go there around mid to high tide. Before you leave, make sure to catch the views from the Miradouro da Ponta da Ferraria.
The Azores is an incredible destination for whale watching. Whales and dolphins swim around the islands all year round, with some species migrating here from other areas. In São Miguel, boat tours depart from Ponta Delgada or Vila Franca. If you want to catch the blue whales, the best time to go is between April and June. But you can always spot other species throughout the year. We recommend booking a tour in advance to guarantee a seat with Sea Colors Azores or Picos de Aventura.
Once you’ve returned to dry land, it’s time to explore Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel. From the marina, walk along the waterfront until you reach the Portas da Cidade. Dating back to the 18th century, these gates have become an iconic symbol of Ponta Delgada. The dark basalt stone is a typical architectural feature in the Azores.
In the same square, you’ll find the 16th-century church, Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião.
Continue ahead to Forte de São Brás, a large stone fortress that now houses the city’s military museum.
From here, you can wander into the Jardim António Borges. This public park is full of tropical trees and stunning grottoes worthy of a capture.
Just a few steps from here is the Jardim José do Canto, a botanical garden featuring plants from all over the world.
São Miguel has more than 6,000 pineapple plantations, but only a few are open to the public. Just a few minutes from the centre of Ponta Delgada, you can visit the Arruda Pineapple Plantation. Inside the greenhouses, you can watch the pineapples in different stages of maturation. Make sure to taste the in-house pineapple liqueur before you leave.
After exploring Ponta Delgada, get a ride down to Salto do Cabrito. You can reach this wonderful waterfall by car or follow the walking trail from Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande. If you decide to walk, keep in mind that the path has a few hills and can take around three hours to complete. The waterfall forms a natural pool which is ideal for a swim.
On the road between Ribeira Grande and Lagoa do Fogo, you’ll stumble upon Caldeira Velha. Here you’ll find a series of natural hot springs surrounded by a lush forest. There are smaller pools with temperatures reaching 35ºC, as well as a larger pool. This last one is a bit cooler at around 20ºC, but it comes with its own waterfall.
Before reaching Lagoa do Fogo, take a moment to capture the views from Pico da Barrosa. From the top of this peak, you can see both the north and the south coast of the island.
In the crater of an extinct volcano, you’ll find the stunning Lagoa do Fogo. On a clear day, you can take photos of the lake from the viewpoint along the road. If the visibility allows, it’s worth following the steep trail down to the water. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the sandy shoreline of this nature reserve. While you can’t swim in the lake, it’s still a great spot to relax away from it all.
Faial da Terra is a small peaceful town where the first settlers of São Miguel disembarked. The main attractions here include the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça, but also the viewpoints of Pico dos Bodes and the Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Lurdes.
By the coast, there's a small bay and a pool. If you have time, we recommend hiking the Trilho do Sanguinho. This circular walking trail starts in Faial da Terra, passes through the village of Sanguinho and ends at the breathtaking waterfalls of Salto do Prego. The average duration is around two hours.
Head west towards Ribeira Quente. Once you get there, you can stop at Praia do Fogo for a swim. Surrounded by lush mountains, this beach not only has a remarkable setting, but the water is also quite warm, thanks to the nearby hydrothermal springs. Also around the area are a series of restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood.
The island’s volcanic activity is still visible in places like Furnas. Especially around Caldeiras, with water and steam rising from tiny geysers. The Cozido das Furnas is a traditional dish from this area. This meat stew is buried under the ground and cooked for several hours. Many restaurants nearby serve it. In the summer, you'll also find ladies selling freshly-cooked corn cobs.
While in Furnas, you must visit the Terra Nostra Park. It’s part of the Terra Nostra Garden hotel, but you don’t need to stay here to access the gardens. Visitors are drawn by the tropical scenario and the hot thermal pools. You can easily spend an hour here walking amid the trees or relaxing by the water. Make sure to bring an old swimsuit as the iron deposits tend to stain clothes.
Just a few miles from Terra Nostra is another famous hot spring. Instead of a large pool, the Poça da Dona Beija feels a bit more secluded, with five small outdoor pools scattered amid the lush vegetation. The ticket is also slightly cheaper.
Continue driving to Lago das Furnas, one of the island's main lakes, alongside Sete Cidades and Fogo. From here, you can spot the Capela de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias. This small funerary chapel stands out with its striking neo-Gothic features. Inspired by the great European cathedrals, it's one of the most iconic buildings in the whole of Azores.
For the best views of the lake, head over to the Miradouro do Castelo Branco. If you're lucky, you might catch the castle open and get an even higher perspective. Beyond the lake, you can also see Vila Franca do Campo and its islet. Alternatively, you can drive further up to the Miradouro do Pico do Ferrо.
Enjoy a morning by the beach at the Areal de Santa Bárbara. Stretching for 1km, this is one of the longest beaches in the Azores. It’s a popular spot for watersports, such as surf or bodyboard. They often host competitions here like the ASP World Tour, held annually around September.
Just a few miles east from the beach is the town of Ribeira Grande. Stop by the Miradouro do Palheiro to capture the sea views or enjoy another swim at the municipal pools. Continue your tour at the Ponte dos 8 Arcos, a striking 19th-century bridge, before taking a stroll around the centre lined with old mansions and churches.
Facing the bay of Santa Iria, this is one of the most famous lookouts on the northern coast. The green cliffs contrast against the ocean views. From here, you can see the town of Porto Formoso and its vast tea plantations.
Our next stop is Porto Formoso. Here you can visit the Fábrica de Chá de Porto Formoso. More than producing tea, the factory also includes a museum where you can learn more about the history of Azorean tea. During your guided tour, you’ll be able to sample a variety of teas in a traditional São Miguel kitchen or outside on the terrace overlooking the plantations. If you visit around Spring, you might catch the annual tea picking ritual.
Established in 1883, Gorreana is the oldest tea plantation in Europe. It’s only a few minutes away from Porto Formoso. Take some time to explore the estate, which stretches for 32 hectares, and finish with a tea tasting. They produce organic black and green tea. Everything is handpicked here and pesticide-free.
Out of all the lakes in the Azores, this one is still a bit of a hidden gem. A hiking trail takes you from a dense forest to the water shore, where you'll find the stunning green lagoon nestled amid the trees. The walk is a bit challenging, but it’s worth it for the views and the serene setting.
From the lake, drive south towards Vila Franca de Campo. Among the top attractions here is the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz.
This 18th-century church features a striking stairway with 100 steps. Standing at the top, you can enjoy the panoramic views of the town and its islet in the distance.
Continue down to the marina of Vila Franca. Here it’s possible to practise diving, canoeing, and sailing or join a whale watching tour. You can also catch a boat to the nearby islet from here. Just 1 km off the coast, the Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo features a stunning natural pool formed in the crater of an old volcano. Boat trips to the islet are only available in the summer.
Finally, you can pop by the Fábrica das Queijadas da Vila do Morgado. This local factory produces delicious local pastries known as queijadas. You can sample these sweet cheese tarts here and watch part of the baking process.
Drive along the coast towards Água D ́Alto. Here you’ll find a dark sandy beach surrounded by mountains. Stretching for 560 metres, Praia de Água D'Alto is one of the best beaches on the island. There’s a bar here if you feel like grabbing a drink.
As the sun sets, make your way to the Miradouro do Pisão. At around 103 metres high, this viewpoint overlooks the fishing village of Caloura and the islet of Vila Franca do Campo.
Our tour ends in Caloura, a coastal town famous for its natural pools. The port is still used by local fishermen, and many restaurants around here serve fresh grill fish, like Bar Caloura. Before you leave, make sure to sample the Vinho de Cheiro, a traditional Azorean wine that comes from the vineyards of Caloura.
For your last day on the island, we’re exploring the Northeast side. The first stop is the Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada. Surrounded by several gardens and flower beds, it overlooks the Serra da Tronqueira. It’s one of the best spots to watch the sunrise in São Miguel, and many people camp out here to see it.
Just a few miles up the coast is another viewpoint worth visiting. From the Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego you can capture the Fajã do Araújo and the Praia do Lombo Gordo.
Continue north towards the Farol do Arnel, the oldest lighthouse in the Azores. You can only visit it on Wednesdays, but it’s still worth coming here for the fantastic sea views. Keep in mind that the road to the lighthouse is extremely steep, so it’s best to park your car on top and walk the rest of the way.
The Nordeste is one of the most remote areas in São Miguel. It's worth driving along the sinuous roads and stopping to admire the coastal views. The town itself is pretty small, but it does have a few attractions like a church and the Ponte dos 7 Arcos, a historic bridge dating back to 1882.
The last stop on our tour is the Ribeira dos Caldeirões, a natural park famous for its waterfalls. Surrounding these is an abundant flora of ferns, hydrangeas and cedars. There’s also a series of watermills dating back to the 16th-century, alongside a museum, souvenir shops and a café.
The Azores is the perfect destination for families. Children can interact with nature up close and learn about the volcanic origins of the islands in places like the Observatório Vulcanológico e Geotérmico dos Açores.
You can take them for a swim in one of the many beaches around São Miguel or to the thermal baths for a relaxing day. There are also plenty of hiking trails across the island that lead to stunning lakes and waterfalls.
For a memorable experience, you can join a whale and dolphin watching tour or visit the island’s tea and pineapple plantations.
Azorean cuisine revolves mostly around fish and seafood. You can taste these grilled, in a stew or even in a soup. Tuna is a popular choice, alongside octopus, limpets and the cavaco, a kind of lobster typical from this area. But there are also meaty dishes, like the cozido das Furnas, a traditional stew made with beef, pork, potatoes and vegetables. Below are some of the best places to eat in São Miguel:
The best time to visit São Miguel is around summer, from June to September. If you want to swim in the sea, this is the best season for it. While it tends to be a bit rainier from October to April, it never gets too cold in the Azores. Planning your holiday in winter will be slightly cheaper. Plus, there will be fewer tourists around attractions like the thermal baths. April to June is also a good time to visit. It's the perfect season to join a whale watching tour, but also to see all the hydrangea flowers in bloom.
At our office