We were having a great time in Lisbon and wondering where to go next. This time in Portugal we had been to Porto and around Lisbon, so we thought it was time for somewhere a bit more exotic. What about the tiny green dots in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Choosing the Azores was easy, but deciding which island to visit a bit harder. Since I love architecture, it had to be Terceira Island, home to one of only two Unesco World Heritage sites in the Azores. However, the Azores in winter? Absolutely! Going to the Azores in January proved to be a brilliant idea!
Why Visit the Azores in Winter
- 1 Why Visit the Azores in Winter
- 2 Which Island to Visit in the Azores
- 3 Things to Do in Terceira in Winter
- 3.1 1 Explore the Nicest City in the Azores
- 3.2 2 Spend Some Time in a Subtropical Garden
- 3.3 3 Search for Colorful Chapels
- 3.4 4 Learn Some History in a Fortress
- 3.5 5 Climb to the Top of a Volcanic Hill
- 3.6 6 Enjoy the Nicest Views
- 3.7 7 Go on an Excursion to a Volcanic Cavern
- 3.8 8 Hike in the Nature
- 3.9 9 Walk on a Volcano
- 3.10 10 Visit a Small Town
- 3.11 11 Explore the Beach Capital of Terceira
- 4 Where to Stay in Terceira
- 5 Moving around Terceira
The weather in the islands is subtropical, with low annual oscillations. Thus, the Azores in winter are pleasant. Average temperatures in the Azores go from 15 degrees Celsius in winter to 20 degrees Celsius in summer. Basically, it never gets too hot or too cold. That said, it rains at any time, especially in December. No complaints! That’s why the archipelago is so green. We visited the Azores in January, and the weather was pretty pleasant, with an occasional shower. Since it went from sunny to cloudy throughout the day, we were able to enjoy the scenery in different colors.
Unlike the popular islands of Santorini and Malta, tourism in the Azores hasn’t exploded yet. Some 1,9 million tourists visited the 9 islands in 2017 and in 2018. However, tourism in the archipelago is highly seasonal. While 250000 tourists visit the Azores in August, only 70000 do so in December and January. Of these, almost 70% visit only its largest island São Miguel. Quite a privilege to be in Terceira with almost no tourists around. The majority of people in cafes and restaurants are locals, and even the most popular tourist attractions are half empty. The Azores are real islands, and most establishments open in winter.
One of the reasons you should go to the Azores in winter is the incredibly low prices. We paid 40e return from Lisbon. You can get to Lisbon from many European destinations in winter for a similar price. The accommodation is quite affordable too. A room in a first-class hotel with a view goes for 40 to 70 euros a night. Just like elsewhere in Portugal, food and drinks are affordable too. Since there are not that many tourists, you can even bargain for a private transfer to some natural spots. That said, there are pretty cool organized tours around the island. Take a look, they are a great way to meet like-minded travelers.
Which Island to Visit in the Azores
In the Azores, we didn’t have a problem deciding which island to visit. Since we wanted nature and architecture, Terceira was a perfect choice. In 1983 Unesco included Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira’s capital, in its World Heritage Site List. Likewise, the impressive volcanic cave of Algar do Carvão is in Unesco’s tentative list. On the other hand, if you are into hot natural springs, your island is São Miguel. If hiking is your thing, you have to go to the mountains in Pico Island. Take note that whale watching isn’t good in the Azores in winter. Unfortunately, most of the big ones pass far from the islands, but who knows, you might get lucky. Plus for sure you will see tones of dolphins and enjoy unforgettable views.
Things to Do in Terceira in Winter
1 Explore the Nicest City in the Azores
Without any doubt, Angra do Heroísmo is the nicest city in the Azores. It is the oldest settlement in the archipelago. What’s more, for a short period of time it was the capital of Portugal. Its historical core is delicately preserved. Beautiful houses and churches from different historical periods line its streets. Angra’s epicenter is the charming Praça Vielha, where the Town Hall is. Amongst the many interesting churches, we recommend the Cathedral, the Convent of São Francisco (home to the municipal museum), the Igreja da Misericórdia, and the Church and Convent of São Gonçalo.
2 Spend Some Time in a Subtropical Garden
If you think that Angra do Heroísmo is all about architecture, you are wrong! Due to its humid weather, the Azores are an oasis of lush green vegetation. Exploring the Duke of Terceira Garden is one of the best things to do in Terceira. The city’s main park holds exotic plants like Eucalyptus, Araucaria Heterophylla and Palm Trees, and colorful flowers like Magnolias, Camellias, Hibiscus and Plumeria. Go to the upper part of the park to see the former irrigation system. There is a water tank with a statue of a Brazilian indigenous man throwing water from a tube.
3 Search for Colorful Chapels
Unusual chapels pepper Terceira. Though you can find them all around the Azores, they are everywhere in Terceira. They are called Impérios and are for the cult of the Holy Spirit. The cult comes from the 16th Century Catholic dogma. Brotherhoods, called Irmandades in Portuguese, organize them. The typical Império is a one nave building with colorful decorations and a crown on the top. Most are from the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Each and every neighborhood in Angra do Heroísmo has one. You have a total of 72 to discover on the island!
4 Learn Some History in a Fortress
Though the Portuguese were planning to fortify their cities in Terceira and the rest of Azores for ages, it was the Spanish who built the Fortress of São João Baptista after they arrived in Terceira. However, the Church of São João Baptista was built inside the fortress in 1645, after the Portuguese regained their independence. Take note that the Portuguese army owns the fortress. Hence, you must sign up at the entrance, and a handsome soldier will take you around on a private tour and give you an insight into the fortress’ history.
5 Climb to the Top of a Volcanic Hill
You will walk a lot while admiring Angra do Heroísmo’s immense heritage. However, for a walk through nature, you have to go to Monte Brasil. It’s the beauty that presides over the city. The entrance to the hill is next to the fortress. Initially, you walk next to cars. Once you enter the dense forest, you will be able to walk on unpaved pedestrian paths. Take your time and walk all the way to the Miradouro do Pico das Cruzinhas. The views are splendid, especially during sunsets and sunrises. Unfortunately, a horrible mini zoo near the top kind of ruins the vibe. Do we need to cage animals for fun?
6 Enjoy the Nicest Views
Yes, the views from Monte Brasil are nice, but with too many trees around. To see Angra do Heroísmo from above, climb to the Alto da Memória Obelisco. To get there, you have to pass the Duke of Terceira Garden, loop around the Convento de Sao Francisco, and continue along the Rua do Pisao. The Obelisk was built in 1856 to commemorate the visit of King Pedro IV during the civil war. Supposedly, the obelisk’s first stone is the one on which the king stepped when he arrived on the island two decades earlier.
7 Go on an Excursion to a Volcanic Cavern
We always try to avoid organized excursions, so we hired a local taxi to take us to the natural reserve of Algar do Carvão. The journey to the cave is an attraction in itself. As you exit the urban grid, nature takes control. Our lovely driver couldn’t be prouder of her island and pointed at different plants and angles. Once at the cave, you have to pay an entrance ticket and go down through steps. The cavern contains several grottoes and an underground lake filled with rainwater. Volcanic eruptions created it thousands of years ago. Bring a coat and proper shoes, since the terrain is slippery and it can get chilly inside.
8 Hike in the Nature
To the west of the island, you will find three fantastic forest reserves. The three are connected and full of pedestrian paths. The first one is the Recreational Forest Reserve of the Duck Lagoon (Reserva Florestal de Recreio da Lagoa das Patas). To get there, you have to go to the Duck Lagoon, next to the Falca Chapel. A bit further northwest is the Forest Reserve of Saint Barbara and Black Mysteries (Reserva Florestal Parcial da Serra de S. Barbara e dos Misterios Negros). You can go all the way to the highest peak in Terceria to enjoy unforgettable views. The next one is the Forrest Reserve of the Saw (Reserva Florestal de Recreio da Serreta). This one goes down to the Atlantic Ocean!
9 Walk on a Volcano
We told you that nature in Terceira is surreal. The Sulfur Fumes are to the north of the island before the Geological Natural Reserve Algar do Carvão, where the cave is. Yes, you will be walking over a volcano with sulfur fumes coming out of the rock in front of your very own eyes. The best time to go is in the morning when the fumes seem to spiral and dance. To the north of the fumes, you will find the Reserva Florestal Natural Parcial do Biscoito da Ferraria. You will walk through lava rocks, forests, fields, and beautiful flowers while admiring sweeping views of cliffs and the ocean.
10 Visit a Small Town
One of the things you can do on your own is to visit the charming town of São Sebastião. Since it’s located along the road that connects Angra do Heroísmo and Praia da Vitória all public buses stop there. Once again, you’ll love its historic architecture and cobbled streets and squares. Actually, you might end up being the only tourist in town! One of Terceira’s most colorful Impérios is in São Sebastião. There are also two historic churches and another chapel. Nevertheless, the town’s highlight is the Ponta das Contendas Lighthouse 3km from the center. It’s a nice hike with even nicer views.
11 Explore the Beach Capital of Terceira
If you aren’t tired of Portuguese architecture, we recommend spending a few hours in Praia da Vitória. Terceira’s second-largest city is not as pretty as its capital, but it’s a great stop on your way to the airport. The City’s highlights are the Jardim Publico, the Francisco Ornelas da Câmara Square with the Town Hall, and the Church of Santa Cruz. Close to the square, you’ll find the city’s large beach Praia Grande, and the smallest one, Prainha, after the marina. Take a walk on the beach or have coffee in one of the nearby cafés.
Where to Stay in Terceira
Angra do Heroísmo is the best place to stay in Terceira. For us, the whole reason for coming to the Azores in winter was to rest and enjoy the island at a slow pace. Arguably the best hotel in town is the Terceira Mar Hotel, where we stayed. Located on the edge of the city, it’s got a large garden that goes all the way to the sea. Our spacious and comfortable room had a balcony overlooking the sea. If you prefer staying in the city center, then the Azoris Angra Garden in front of the Duke of Terceira Garden is for you. On the other hand, if you favor the quirky and unique stay at the Pousada de Angra do Heroísmo inside the São Sebastião Fort.
Moving around Terceira
Terceira is a small island with only 56000 inhabitants. There is a decent network of public buses, but they are not too frequent. If you visit the Azores in winter, you might be the only tourist on the bus. Among more than 20 lines, three coastal ones are the most frequent. Bus line number 1 connects Angra with Serreta and Biscoitos. Bus line 2 connects the two main cities: Angra and Praia. Bus line 3 connects Praia and Biscoitos. It also stops in front of the airport. To get to Angra from the airport, change buses in Praia. Please take note that buses are especially infrequent on Sundays. Of course, you can always rent a car or hire a taxi. Close to the Terceira Mar Hotel, there is a kiosk where they rent mountain bikes.