The Azores: Portugal’s answer to the Canary Islands

The Azores has much in common with the Canary Islands. Both island groups have volcanic origins and are located hundreds of miles from mainland Europe in the Atlantic Ocean, giving them a remote and exotic feel.

While the Canaries are quite far south, just to the west of northern Africa, the Azores—an autonomous region of Portugal—are slightly further north, and a whole 900 miles west of Portugal.

So what is different about the Azores? For one thing, the climate is more humid but never gets scorching hot. But while sunshine is not always guaranteed, what you can expect is lush, green vegetation, dramatic scenery, waterfalls aplenty, and thermal pools to soak in should the sun hide behind the clouds. 

Summer temperatures in the Azores climb up to 26C (79F), and the sea stays reasonably warm throughout the year due to the effects of the Gulf Stream. The weather during spring is somewhat cooler, but May is the best time to travel if you want to experience the islands in full bloom. One of the nine islands, Flores (the Portuguese word for flowers), was actually named after this enchanting spring-time spectacle!

Getting there and getting around
The Azores have long been a hidden gem compared to the Canary Islands, but since flight restrictions were lifted in 2015, getting to this subtropical paradise has become both easier and more affordable.

From the UK, you can fly to Ponta Delgada (the capital of the Azores archipelago) in about four hours. Low-cost options are available too, with Ryanair operating a direct budget route from Manchester and Stansted, although sadly easyJet no longer flies there.

Island hopping on your holiday is easy and highly recommended! Local flights connecting all nine islands are regular and affordable, and from May onwards, frequent ferry services become a good option. 

Beaches and swimming
Plenty of coastline means you’ll have many opportunities for swimming and relaxing on the beach on your holiday. A typical Azorean beach is dark grey in colour, but you’ll also find golden beaches on Santa Maria and even a red beach on Graciosa.

If you love water, then swimming in the natural ‘pools’ inside volcanic craters, and soaking in the thermal baths, are experiences not to be missed!

Sights and activities
From visiting the UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Angra de Heroismo to admiring the many breathtaking natural wonders, you’ll always find things to see and do.

Geotourism is big in the Azores thanks to the impressive diversity of volcanic sights, and the caves, craters, hot springs, and curious rock formations are well worth exploring. Or why not make the most of the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean? See the rugged beauty of the coastline on a sailing boat, try your hand at big-game fishing, or sign up for a whale and dolphin watching tour.

Nature-lovers will also want to keep an eye out for rare bird species, while foodies will enjoy touring pineapple and tea plantations as well as sampling the local cheese and wine. Just leave some room for Cozido das Furnas, a meat and vegetable stew cooked in volcanic steam!

Culture and festivals
Each of the nine islands has its own distinct character and unique traditions, but chances are you’ll stumble upon a religious festival wherever you go. These frequent celebrations are joyful in nature: expect colourful parades, music, and dancing.

The Azores also hosts its own Fringe festival, which brings together local and international artists and performers to showcase their talents in June.

Where to stay
You won’t see huge resorts in the Azores—looking after the environment and the local heritage is at the heart of tourism on the islands—but you’re sure to find accommodation options for all budgets and tastes. 

Many hotels in Ponta Delgada and other larger towns offer good value and make a great base for exploring. However, you could also stay in a tranquil villa in a rural setting, a luxury seaside property or even a repurposed 16th-century fort!

So if you’re looking for somewhere a little bit different this year, try the Azores!