Rooster at Miradouro da Nossa Senhora da Paz on São Miguel island in Portugal's Azores

A seven-day itinerary for São Miguel island in Portugal’s Azores

A seven-day itinerary for São Miguel island in Portugal’s Azores

I recently got back from a heavenly week in São Miguel. Thanks to a friend who has been to the island before and came through with some excellent suggestions, I crafted a one-week itinerary for the island before we left. 

While I love accidentally having great travel experiences, I also really wanted to see, do, and eat certain things in São Miguel, which is why I made an itinerary (my first one!). 

I did it because my great-grandfather was born there. No one in my family prior to me had ever been. It was important to me to see the place that a part of my family started.

Waterfall in Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
Waterfall at the Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões

A few things about the design of this itinerary

This itinerary is for anyone who wants to experience the highlights of São Miguel but also wants to relax. It was important for us to disconnect while we were there, so I built in a lot of downtime, too. 

As I said in this post about all the great places we ate in São Miguel, we generally opted for lunches out, incorporating our main meals into our daytime activities. I’ve got a restaurant suggestion for every day.

Before we jump in, I want to disclose that we didn’t actually go to any hot springs, although they’re one of the things that São Miguel is known for. I’ve chosen to include them anyway because they came highly recommended by our friend. We opted out for a few reasons – namely that I faint easily (I had a close call at Gellért in Budapest) and because they seemed really crowded. 

I’ve moved some things around based on what we learned while we were traveling the island, making suggestions as to why I think it might be better to do something before/after something else, etc. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Let’s go over some general tips for the island before getting into the itinerary.

General tips for São Miguel

  1. Rent a car

We saw bus stops here and there on the island, so, in theory, you could get around that way, but having a car gave us the freedom to do what we wanted when we wanted. It also allowed us to change things around based on the weather, which is a pretty standard experience on the island, I think (more below).

We had a great experience with Discover Car. I’d highly recommend renting with them! The process was easy and the price was right. It’s an amalgamator, so it allows you to compare prices between all of the companies on the island. We rented through Autalantis, which has a counter at the airport and in Ponta Delgada itself.

2. Bring a dark or old bathing suit for the hot springs

Bring a bathing suit you don’t care about, or at least a dark-colored one for the hot springs. I read this in many places when I was doing research for our trip, and our friend said the same thing. The minerals in the water stain.

3. Download or bookmark Spotazores

Spotazores will be your best friend in São Miguel – it’s an app and website that allows you to see the feed from cameras posted all over the island so you can check the weather. We found it especially helpful for the walks and hikes we had planned – in one case (Lagoa do Fogo) it was actually too foggy for us to drive to the parking lot. Thanks to Spotazores, we didn’t waste a ton of time driving there and back.

4. The weather changes quickly and often

We had heard that you can experience all four seasons in a day in São Miguel, and we found this to be true. Fog and clouds roll in and out, rain showers come and go, and the sun appears and disappears. 

Another benefit of having a car is that you can keep whatever you need in there – shorts, a jacket, a mid-layer, your bathing suit and towel, etc. If you need to warm up or cool down, a traveling wardrobe will come in handy given the ever-changing weather.

5. Wear sunscreen

Owing to the quickly changing weather, the sun will come out and get you every now and then. After our whale watching trip, I spent the week nursing a burned nose and forehead, even though I had applied my daily lotion, which has SPF 25 in it. Go stronger if you burn easily! I wish I had.

6. Most people speak English

We had difficulty communicating on a single occasion in São Miguel, which was unfortunately when we got into a little scrape with our rental car. Everything worked out fine in the end, and otherwise, everyone we met spoke beautiful English. Of course, that shouldn’t keep you from learning a few words in Portuguese for your trip. 

View in Nordeste, São Miguel
Ponta do Arnel

Where we stayed in São Miguel

Thanks to our friend, we stayed in Vila Franca do Campo. It’s quiet – if you’re looking for relaxation and calm, it’s a great spot to stay. That’s exactly what we were after, so it was perfect for us.

Vila Franca is on the island’s southern coast, just about halfway between the east and west sides. We had no trouble getting anywhere, with most of our daily drives not exceeding 30 minutes.

Of course, you can alter this itinerary depending on where you decide to stay. If Vila Franca doesn’t seem to have the vibe you’re looking for and you don’t want to stay in Ponta Delgada, check out Ribiera Grande. We spent a morning there, and it seemed like a great little town.

The pace of our trip

You may notice that this itinerary isn’t particularly jam-packed. Like I said above, that’s because we wanted to really relax and disconnect on the trip, choosing to do a few key things each day and then spending our downtime taking walks by the water, reading, stopping for coffee, etc. 

My one-week itinerary for São Miguel

We landed in Ponta Delgada just before midnight on a Saturday. We had contacted our hotel ahead of time to see if we could book a shuttle, but they assured us that there would be taxis there waiting, and they were right.

Many hotels do have shuttles, or they’ll book a taxi ahead of time for you, if you don’t want to leave it up to chance.

After a great sleep, we woke up for day one of our trip. 

We didn’t pick up our rental car until 11am on Day 2, but I recommend picking it up earlier so that you can get an early start – especially if you want to go to Ponta da Ferraia, where there’s a hot spring in the ocean water (more below).

Day 1: Ponta Delgada

Food tour

If you arrive on Ponta Delgada on Saturday night like we did, or on a Sunday morning, be prepared for things to be pretty quiet – lots of restaurants and shops were closed.

Luckily, I had learned this ahead of time, so we decided to book ourselves in for a food tour with Hungry Whales. It turned out to be a highlight of the trip.

Our guide told us that the Sunday tour looks a bit different than the other tours that they do during the week because so many places are closed, but we still had a great time. I won’t give away all the details, but we visited a few places of historical and cultural significance and had some incredible food, learning about the Azores and São Miguel all along the way.

Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião

Built in the 16th-century, Ponta Delgada’s main church has a typically Azorean façade that’s painted white with basalt trim. The church contains a mixture of Baroque and Manueline external features, and inside, there’s a collection of wooden sculptures and tiles.

Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião, Ponta Delgada

Portas da Cidade

The symbol of Ponta Delgada, the city gates are just outside of the church – you can’t miss them. Originally constructed near the old quay, they were moved to Gonçalo Velho Cabral Square when a new waterfront avenue was laid down. 

They have the same black-and-white aesthetic as the church. 

Visit a museum

Like I said above, we stopped into a few museums on our food tour, and they were great. I don’t want to give away Hungry Whales’ itinerary, so check out the link above and visit any of the sites that pique your interest.

On their website, they mention the St. Andrew Convent as being part of the tour, so I guess I can plug that one here. I really enjoyed that stop!

Fountain in Ponta Delgada

Dinner at Louvre Michaelense

Once you’ve gotten hungry again (it may take some time after the food tour), head to dinner at Louvre Michaelense. We actually ate lunch there, but the dinner menu looked so good that I wished we had one more night on the island so that we could go.

Read more about eating at Louvre Michaelense in my post on where to eat in São Miguel.

Day 2: Sete Cidades

Ponta da Ferraia

On the morning of our second day, we checked out of the hotel and picked up our rental car at Autalantis. Like I said above, if you want to go to Ponta da Ferraia (hot spring in the water), you should pick the car up early, or even the night before. I say this because you’re going to want to get to Ponta da Ferraia at low tide, and when we were there, it was early in the morning, and then again in the evening.

Luckily, some great people have created an app so that you can find out exactly when low tide is (currently only on the Google Play store).

We missed Ponta da Ferraia because of the timing of our rental. This probably would have been the only hot spring I would have done, because reviews say that the hot water mixes with the cold, so the temperature isn’t too extreme. 

Note that the water can be extremely rough, so you should decide carefully when you get there if it’s safe enough to swim. Check out the Google reviews for more.

Miradouro Visto do Rei

This was our first stop of the day when exploring Sete Cidades, and it was a great way to begin our trip in São Miguel. “Miradouro” means viewpoint, and you’ll see a lot of them in this itinerary, because there are so many stunning views to take in on São Miguel. 

From here, you can see two of the island’s crater lakes named for their colors – Lagoa Azul (the northern one) and Lagoa Verde (the southern one), which appears green owing to vegetation that grows in the water.

Notoriously foggy and rainy, we lucked out on the day that we went to Miradouro Visto do Rei. The sky was mostly overcast, but we could see clearly, even detecting a bit of the green that Lagoa Verde is known for.

If you want to see pictures of the lakes on a sunny day and read more about Sete Cidades, check out this in-depth post.

Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul, Sete Cidades, São Miguel, Portugal
Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul

Miradouro da Boca do Inferno

It was here that we did the first of many walks on our trip to São Miguel, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip. The blissful quiet of the trees, the muted sounds of our footsteps on dirt paths, and the cool, fresh air were restorative. 

To get to Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, you’ll park near Lagoa do Canário, but instead of taking the trail that leads there, you’ll cross the street, pass through a gate, and walk that way. The viewpoint allows you to see the Lagoa Azul from on high, as well as the Lagoa di Santiago.

This walk is a short one, but very well worth it. We also experienced our first Azorean weather change while doing this walk and taking in the lakes – fog swept in, blowing by as quickly as a spring breeze and covering the viewpoint completely for many minutes before retreating to reveal (most of) the lakes.

Lakes in Sete Cidades, Azores
View from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno

Lunch or dinner at Bar Caloura

Depending on the time of day you make it to Sete Cidades, and depending on where you’re headed after, I’d suggest having lunch or dinner Bar Caloura.

This made perfect sense for us, because we were on our way to Vila Franca do Campo, and it’s on the way. 

We went late in the afternoon and got two grilled fish to share, which came with potatoes, tomatoes and red peppers, and a trip to the salad bar. Read more about our lunch at Bar Caloura here.

Day 3: Vila Franca do Campo

Have Queijadas do Morgado for breakfast

Start your day in Vila Franca by tasting the town’s iconic treats.

Believed to have originated in Vila Franca’s Convent of St. Andrew, these small tarts resemble pasteis de nata, but have a different filling and texture, which is achieved by curdling milk, mixing it with egg yolks, butter, flour, sugar and a few other things, and baking it in a crust. Once cool, the little pies are sprinkled with powdered sugar. 

I enjoyed my queijada, but note that they are very sweet! I definitely couldn’t have had more than one.

Go on a whale watching tour with Terra Azul

The Azores are home to an incredible variety of marine animals, including whales and dolphins. This was another tip from our friend, and I’m so grateful! Our whale watching trip was possibly the highlight of our week. 

Terra Azul follows strict guidelines as to how their tours can “interact” with sealife. Our guide was a biology graduate from Germany, and she was super knowledgeable. 

The boats are small, which means the groups can’t get too large, and thanks to the raised middle row of seats, everyone can get a great view of the animals.

We didn’t see a whale, unfortunately, but we saw huge numbers of dolphins. We got so close to a pod of bottlenoses that we could hear them breathing as they breached! 

A+, 10/10, would highly recommend.

The tours depart from Vila Franca, but since the island is so small, the company offers a pickup service from other points for an additional fee.

Miradouro da Nossa Senhora de Paz

If it’s sunny, drive up to the Senhora de Paz viewpoint, a short drive outside of Vila Franca do Campo. We went as we returned a bit bummed because the Lagoa do Fogo was too foggy to visit – yet again – but the fog broke as we drove down from the peak, with the sky clearing the closer we got to Vila Franca.

From the viewpoint, you can see the town of Vila Franca as well as the Princess Ring Islet just off the coast (we also toured around it on our whale watching trip).

Cats at Miradouro da Nossa Senhora da Paz in São Miguel, Azores
Kitties lounging at Miradouro da Nossa Senhora da Paz

Dinner at Mercado da Vila

One of our rare dinners out during our week in São Miguel, we had an incredible meal at the Mercado do Vila.

I’ve detailed it more in this post, but to summarize, we went for Japanese, and it was excellent.

Day 4: Ribiera Grande

Lagoa do Fogo

So, we weren’t actually able to visit the Lagoa do Fogo on our trip, because every time we tried, Spotazores showed us a gray-out. The lake was only visible on camera one morning when we already had other plans, so that’s why I’m recommending you go early! This could have been a total fluke, so check Spotazores before you make your way to the lake.

There’s a viewpoint over the lake – Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa – and there’s also a trail that leads down to the lake, which, as I understand it, is quite a difficult hike. 

Read more about visiting the lake and doing the hike here (and check out the great photos). 

Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha

After the hike, consider stopping for a soak at the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha. We drove by mid-afternoon, when a tour bus was unloading dozens of travelers, so we just kept on driving (and also because I didn’t want to risk feeling unwell, see above, re: fainting). 

That said, a relaxing spell in a hot spring after a hike for normal people who don’t have low blood pressure sounds heavenly! 

You can book tickets to the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Caldeira Velha ahead of time here.

Lunch at Restaurante Associação Agricola de São Miguel

Another highlight of the trip, this restaurant is located in a kind of agricultural complex with several buildings. 

I had been warned that the Restaurante Associação Agricola is very popular, and to book ahead of time, but when I called, I couldn’t get through. We decided to try our luck and just walk in for lunch, which ended up working out – we only waited about 20 minutes.

The food was stellar. I had their specialty steak that comes with a fried egg on top, and, if you know me, you know that anything with a fried egg on top is going to make me very happy. 

Read more about our meal here.

Visit Ribiera Grande

I was smitten with Ribiera Grande, and, like I said above, it seems like it would be a good place to base yourself for a week in São Miguel. We made our way through the town’s garden that leads to the waterfront, and then took a long walk to a beautiful viewpoint.

Sequoia trees in São Miguel, Azores
Sequoias on the Lagoa das Furnas trail

Things to do in Ribiera Grande

Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Estrela – Parish Church of Our Lady of the Star

Jardim Municipal da Ribeira Grande – Municipal Garden

Museu da Emigração Açoreana – Azorean Emigration Museum

Fábrica de Licores A Mulher de Capote – Liquor Factory

Miradouro do Castelo

Miradouro do Palheiro

Day 5: Furnas

Walk the Lagoa das Furnas trail

The trail that encircles the Lagoa das Furnas is As you drive to the parking area, you’ll be stopped and asked to pay for a ticket. It’s €3 per person, and the ticket lasts all day.

This was probably my favorite walk of the trip – the vegetation along the way is incredible. We went to see the waterfall (more below), so all together, I think it took us about 2.5 hours.

We walked through bamboo, sequoias, flowers, and a million other different kinds of plants I can’t name. There’s an abandoned neogothic church on the trail as well that’s really cool. It was closed the day we were there, but you can enter when it’s open.

As mentioned above, there are two optional trails that you have to pay €4 to walk, in addition to the €3 entry fee to get into the park. One of these trails leads to a waterfall, and the other leads to a garden. We opted to just do the waterfall, and it was worth it.

Visit the Fumarolas

If you do any research about Azorean food, odds are, you’ll find some info about a particular dish from São Miguel: Cozido das Furnas. Cozido means “stew,” but this one has a twist – the ingredients are put together in a large pot that is then placed in the ground for 8-9 hours, where the natural heat of the earth cooks it to perfection. According to this article, no water is added during the cooking process – the ingredients are moistened and actually cook in volcanic steam. 

You’ll walk by this outdoor kitchen on your way to walk around the Lagoa das Furnas, where the earth is piled up into mounds to cover the pots. I have read that you can come around 12 to see the pots being pulled up, but our reservation to actually eat the cozido was in town at 12, so we missed it. You could verify this when you call to make a booking at Tony’s (below).

Fumaroles, São Miguel, Azores
Stew cooking underground at the Fumaroles

Lunch at Restaurante Tony’s

Our lunch at Tony’s was one of the most memorable. We decided to split one portion of the cozido, which is enough for two, and to also get a hamburger, because the beef in São Miguel is another one of the island’s specialties. 

When booking (and you should definitely book), mention that you’d like to have the cozido. Read more about our lunch at Tony’s here.

Soak at Poça da Dona Beija hot spring

Again, we skipped this one, but I’d imagine that a visit to what looks to be one of the island’s most stunning hot springs would probably feel great after a long walk and a nice lunch.

You can book online (note that there are no changes, cancellations or refunds).

Day 6: Nordeste

Parque Natural da Ribiera dos Caldeirões

This small natural park was another one of the highlights of the island for me. It’s full of waterfalls, and we even saw groups of people canyoning. If you’re into adventure sports, check out this tour:

The park also houses some little stone buildings that make up a kind of history museum. In the sixteenth century, the buildings were watermills. 

We walked all over the place, passing the falls and and cedar trees, and then stopped for a coffee at the little cafe on site. If you want, you can bring food, too – there are also picnic tables to eat at. 

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões São Miguel, Portugal
Looking towards the sea at Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões

Ponta do Arnel

Another favorite of mine, the miradouro is beautiful here, but the real treat is walking down to the lighthouse and beyond.

We went all the way down to the end of the trail. It’s steep and windy, but I had never seen anywhere in the world like it. We met a few adorable cows on the way, followed by the teeniest of houses perched on the cliffside, leading down to a boat landing. We saw a man spear-fishing, patiently floating as he waited for the right catch to pass.

We sat and watched the waves crash for a while at the end before making our way back to the top. The walk itself isn’t long, but, as you can imagine, a sloping descent means a sharp ascent on the way back up. 

There’s a bathroom on the walk, and picnic tables at the miradouro.

View at Ponta do Arnel, São Miguel island
The view on the way down to the lighthouse

Lunch at Poço Azul

The buffet is the big draw at Poço Azul, but we went for chicken and pork. If we had it to do over, I’d probably try the buffet, and yes, I’d love to go back.

You can read more here, including about my dessert of chocolate and cheese ice cream.

Gorreana Tea Factory

I suppose saying that so many things were a highlight of the trip for me cheapens the sentiment a bit, but the Gorreana Tea Plantation was definitely a highlight. 

It’s reachable from many points on the island, so because of the changing weather, we shifted our visit around a few times. 

After you arrive and park, make your way to the main building and enter the green door. A tour guide will appear eventually and give you a free tour with a tasting included. Then you can stroll around, eat, shop, buy tea, and take pictures. The small boxes of green and black tea make great gifts.

Gorreana Tea Plantation, São Miguel, Azores
The tea plantation

Day 7: Ponta Delgada

We somewhat reluctantly returned to Ponta Delgada for our last day/night on the island – not because we didn’t like the city, but because we knew it meant we were leaving the next morning.

Our flight ended up being delayed for about 12 hours owing to high winds, something that the owner of our hotel said is pretty rare, but is nonetheless something to be aware of. We were on our way to spend three days in Lisbon, so luckily there were several flight options for us, and we managed to get on a later plane.

Mercado do Graça

As I wrote above, our Day 1 in Ponta Delgada was a Sunday, which meant a lot of places were closed, but luckily we got to check some of them out on Day 7, which was a Saturday.

One of these places is the Mercado do Graça. There, you’ll find all sorts of fresh produce grown on the island, as well as flowers and other items like honey, jam, sauces and spreads.

Go souvenir shopping

Azores in a Box

You’re definitely going to want to take a piece of the island with you when you leave. One shop we didn’t get to visit but was recommended by our food tour guide was Azores in a Box, which sells handicrafts that are locally made. Our trip was in April and it was closed on both Saturday and Sunday, but it might be open over the weekend during the high season.

Luzart

There are lots of shops that sell trinkets, but be aware that a lot of them are made in China. We lucked out at Luzart, where we found a specific gift I wanted to bring my mom (I’m not saying what in case she reads this!) and a beautiful tablecloth with pineapples on it, both of which were made locally. There are also a lot of things that are not made locally, so you’ll have to hunt around in a the shop a bit.

The Prince of Cheese

You might also visit the King of Cheese in Ponta Delgada – both are run, as you may have guessed, by the same family.

We opted for the prince because our food tour guide had pointed it out, and, oh man, I could have stayed in there for hours despite the shop’s small size. We left with gifts in the form of vacuum-sealed slabs of São Miguel’s black-rind queijo, a cheese that’s aged for nine months and has the sharpness of cheddar with a slight funk. 

You can also find locally produced liqueurs, jellies, pastes, and more. 

Shelves in the Prince of Cheese, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal
Shelves in the Prince of Cheese

Jardim Botânico António Borges

We unfortunately missed the opening hours of Ponta Delgada’s botanic garden, but the photos and reviews make it seem like a place worth visiting.

Dinner at A Tasca

Close out your stay in São Miguel with one of Ponta Delgada’s most popular restaurants. They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait if you go at a busy time. We went early, around 6, and only waited about ten minutes. 

Read more about our last dinner in São Miguel here.

Tasca Restaurant in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

Feel free to reach out in the comments with any questions or thoughts you might have on my weeklong itinerary for Sao Miguel.

Tasca Restaurant in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel
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