Beginning on the North Coast, one of the latest additions to the island’s cultural scene is the Arquipélago – Centro de Artes in Ribeira Grande. As a building, the centre’s had many uses over it’s 150-year lifespan: a distillery, a tobacco factory and a most recently a military barracks. It’s early days for the centre, but their two main goals are to promote Azorean art and to create connections between international artists and the islands. Opening hours are from 10:00 to 18:00 every day except Mondays – entry is 3€ and their program is available through their website:
Just along the road in the village of Rabo de Peixe, you’ll find the Observatório Astronómico de Santana – or OASA Observatory. The observatory is open daily from 10:00 to 17:00 – entry is 10€ and includes a short film in the planetarium, a visit to the main telescope and solar observations. Sky Night on the first Friday of each month is from 21:00 to 23:00 and entry is 20€. Reservations must be in advance as numbers are limited (especially on Sky Night) – we can make reservations on your behalf as part of your holiday with us:
One of the most underrated museums on the island is the Oficina Museu in the small hamlet of Capelas. The Oficina was a labour of love for Manuel Melo – he wanted to preserve an Azorean arts and crafts workshop. His focus wasn’t so much the products themselves: Manuel was more interested in the tools, the workspaces and traditional skills that were once part of the daily life of the island. Opening hours are from 9:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 17:00, Monday to Saturday:
In the far north east of Sao Miguel, you’ll find the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park. Sitting on the confluence of the Riberia dos Caldeiroes and Ribeira do Guilherme, the park was once home to five water mills and their remains are now protected (with a couple of the mills still semmi-functioning). The forests above Ribeira dos Caldeiroes are also home to the Azorean bullfinch – an endemic species that lives amongst the Laurisilva forests on the flanks of the Serra da Tronqueira mountains.
It’s a short drive from Riberia dos Caldeiroes to the town of Nordeste – home to the Centro Ambiental do Priolo. The Azores bullfinch (or Priolo) is one of Europe’s most threatened bird species with an estimated population of just 400 (in 2003). The bullfinchs’ natural habitat, laurisilva forest, was lost to the intensive farming of non-native Japanese Cedar (currently used in the construction industry). The Priolo centre manages a number of projects to help protect the current bullfinch population, and to try and restore the laurisilva.
Coming down to the south coast, the Museu do Trigo in Povoacao is a great place to learn all about Sao Miguel’s agricultural history.The south east of the island was once devoted to wheat farming and the cultivation of oranges. In the mid-19th Century, Sao Miguel was the largest exporter of oranges to the UK and the rolling hills and ‘lombas’ in the east were covered in orange groves. Povoacao’s natural harbour was also the arrival point for the first settlers on the island in 1432:
The south coast road from Povoacao brings you into Furnas. We have a blog dedicated to the Furnas valley, but I thought I’d mention one of my favourite swimming spots on the island again – the outdoor spa at Poca da Dona Beija, whose infinity-style pools are geared more towards relaxation than swimming. Dona Beija is open from 7:00 to 23:00 and entry is normally 3€. You can rent a towel and locker for 1€ per person (plus a refundable deposit of 20€), and shower tokens are also 1€.
It’s also worth mentioning a less well-known hot spring spot in the north at Caldera Velha. Like its sister pools in Furnas, Caldera Velha’s waters are coloured deep orange, from the high iron-oxide content drawn into the waters as they rise from a deep thermal aquifer. What’s unique about Caldera Velha is the 30˚C hot waterfall which falls out of the forest into the bathing pools below.
Post-swim, you could drive the nearby mountain pass to the summit of Pico da Barrosa (947m), one of the highest points on the island. Weather permitting, there’s a magnificent panoramic view of the north and south coasts – and a birdseye view of Lagoa do Fogo – the ‘Fire Lake’ which sits in the youngest of Sao Miguel’s calderas. It last erupted in 1563 and the lava flow stretched 6km down the northern flanks of the mountain.
Back on the south coast, the Museu Municipal de Vila Franca Do Campo is a great place to learn more about the cultural history of the Azores and many of the islands’ lost handicrafts. Opening hours are 9:00 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 17:00 during the week, 14:00 to 17:00 at weekends; the museu is closed on Mondays:
In nearby Lagoa, there are two fascinating science centres. The first is the OVGA Volcanological and Geothermal Observatory of the Azores where you can learn about the formation and geological history of the Azores. The second is the Expolab Centro Ciencia Viva – a science and technology centre which promotes hands-on learning. Neither centre really has regular opening hours so I’d recommend messaging them through their respective facebook pages (above) – the Expolab tends to have more events for families and children during the summer:
Arriving into the capital, Ponta Delgada has a thriving arts scene – if you’re visiting in July, look out for the fantastic Walk and Talk Festival. Away from July, you could take your own walking tour of the city’s contemporary galleries: Oficina, Galeria Miolo, the Galeria Fonseca Macedo and the Museu Carlos Machado:
The Gruta do Carvão lava tunnels on the western edge of the city. At 1.6km, Gruta do Carvao is the largest accessible lava tunnel on the island, formed during a major eruption of the Sete Cidades caldera around 12,000 years ago. Opening hours are 10:00 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 18:00 every day – be sure to wear grippy footwear as the floor of the caves can be slippery:
The Jose do Canto Jardim Botanico are in the Santana district of the city The original gardens date back to the late 19th Century – 5.8 hectares of horticultural flora and non-native tree species from around the globe. The gardens are open from 9:00 to 19:00 in the Spring and Summer, closing at 17:00 in the Autumn and Winter:
Ponta Delgada’s Atlantic ten-pin bowling alley is at the Portas do Mar marina. There are just four lanes, so it’s often better to pop down for lunch and you can book a lane whilst you eat. Opening hours are midday to midnight:
For movie fans there’s the Cineplace Parque Atlantico. Luckily for us, in Portugal most foreign (UK and US) films are shown in English with Portuguese subtitles added, and the current line-up of films showing is available here. If you prefer live theatre, the Teatro Micaelense has a nicely varied programme of music, dance and drama (with some classic cinema thrown in from time to time). As you’d expect, their drama’s are played in Portuguese and you can check their calendar here:
We specialise in tailor-made holidays to the nine islands of the Azores. Call Paul on 017687 21020 to begin planning your personalised trip.
Our island hopping holiday to the Azores was absolutely amazing,
Dear Jake. This is a long email, so you might want to go grab yourself a cuppa before you start reading. We just wanted to send you an email to say thank you so much for everything. Our island hopping holiday to the Azores was absolutely amazing, it was far beyond our dreams and expectations,...
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