What Islands Can I Visit In Portugal?
It isn’t very well known that Portugal is surrounded by some incredibly stunning islands. With the mainland remaining an attraction on its own – having the beautiful cities of Porto and Lisbon and the whole Algarve Coast – the islands here don’t exactly jump at you. Yet, you could be missing out on some of the most unique parts of this side of the world.
Don’t think of these islands as small inhabitable places. Islands in Portugal are bustling with everything you’ll find on the mainland and more. Warmer weather, geographical phenomenon’s, surfing competitions, cliff diving and their own distinctive traditional foods and drinks. How far you want to travel is up to you, while some islands are a flight away, some are just at your doorstep.
Home to football sensation and a crowd favorite, Cristiano Ronaldo, it's an island not many outsides are aware of. The island is actually named after the Portuguese word for wood. Seriously. Madeira was completely covered in forests before it was “discovered” and its beautiful rocky mountain slopes filled with lush greenery make the structure of the whole island quite incredible. Especially its elevated highway and tunnels that allow for easy travel and fantastic views. Basically, finding a flat surface in Madeira isn't very common. So, all of your “things to do” are going to be quite extravagant. Not that you can’t relax and enjoy the array of beaches – with mainly black sand – but once you’ve seen all there is to see below, it’ll be heading up the mountains that will allow you to see what this island is really about.
The capital is Funchal, around a 15-minute drive from the airport and is home to around half of the residents on the island. At night, you can enjoy the vibrancy of the city, including its traditional foods of Espetada Madeirense (skewered beef cubes over an open flame), Filete de Espada (delicious but scary-looking fish served the “Madeiran Way” with passion fruit and banana sauce.), the famous Bolo Do Caco (flattened traditional bread cooked over basalt stone and served with garlic butter or eaten as a sandwich with meats.) and their traditional drink Poncha.
As we mentioned earlier, everything you’re going to see is up. You can take the cable car available up to the Monte Palace Madeira. A 70,000 square meter of land which is home to the Monte Palace Museum, the most important tile collection in Portugal and a breathtaking garden that includes an exotic plant collection. Otherwise, you'll want to get into your car and drive the long windy road up to Pico do Ariero, check out the 25 Fontes and Cascada da Risco (waterfalls) and the Pico Ruivo. Walk the Levada Caldeirao Verde, Levada do Risco, Vereda dos Balcões and the second-highest sea cliff in the world and highest in Europe, Cabo Girão. You can’t overlook the traditional houses at Santana and then, at the end of the day, jump into the Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools.
The Azores is a one-of-a-kind, or better yet three-of-a-kind with similarities to Hawaii and Indonesia, archipelago. Made up of nine islands, you can truly think of the Azores almost like you think of Hawaii. They have the American and European tectonic plates sitting underneath the land just waiting to move. This geographical phenomenon only happens in Hawaii and Indonesia, signifying that whenever there is a volcanic eruption, more land is made.
1. Corvo Island
If you are looking for isolation, Corvo is your spot. Considered a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, your more exciting n activities are going to be hiking and witnessing the 300-meter-deep volcanic crater. While your more everyday activities will include bird watching and swimming at the beach or in natural pools. With only 400 residents, you're not going to have to worry about too much going on.
2. Faial Island
Also known as the Blue Island due to its blooming array of blue hydrangeas, this 67-square-mile island is at the westernmost point of Europe. The ideal island for nature lovers specifically, those who enjoy hiking and history. Here you can hike the Caldeira crater or examine the remains of the Capelinhos Volcano that erupted over 50 years ago. If you are looking for a little more relaxation, you can admire the creativity at Horta Marina and stop by the century-old and legendary Peters Café Sport. Naturally, beaches are on the list too.
3. Flores Island
Not a frequent destination for tourists but one you can take on yourself. Flores means flowers and here in the summer, you’ll find the land covered in blue and pink hydrangeas and yellow goldenrods. There are beautiful waterfalls, natural pools, seven lakes and green rolling hills with sea views.
4. Graciosa Island
This UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve is also known as the White Island due to its characteristics of white stone and hills. It’s one of the more desired destinations to visit but only contains 4,000 inhabitants. You’ll want to visit the Carapacho Thermal Baths and climb down into the lava cave Furna do Enxofre. Check out the view from Caldeirinha and try the famous Quijadas da Graciosa!
5. Pico Island
Pico Island is known for many things. It is the youngest island at only 300,000 years old, has Portugal's highest mountain, is known as the Black Island due to its volcanic soils which aid in the UNESCO-designated vineyards and is ALSO known as the Hawaii of Portugal. On top of this, since 1986, this island has led the movement for the safety of sea animals and is now one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Along with hiking and wine tasting, it really is an island to see.
6. Santa Maria Island
To be thought of as The Algarve surrounded by sea, this island is the most south of the Azores and the driest. Your days can include the exclusive marine life sanctuary with 55 diving and snorkelling spots, the red desert at the Barreiro da Faneca that looks like you are headed to mars, visiting one the largest waterfalls in the country at the Cascata do Aveiro and simply relaxing in the warm water and white sanded beach, the Praia Formosa.
7. Sao Jorge Island
While you'll be able to delve into some extreme sports and epic trails, your also going to want to love cheese and tuna. At Lactaçores you can try different stages of cheeses right from the producer and at the Santa Catarina, it’s basically the same thing, except tuna and it's fresh. Just don’t be afraid to try their unique varieties! Otherwise, you can visit the stunning viewpoint of Ponta dos Rosais and check out the Sineira Tower which avoided a messy eruption that destroyed everything else around it.
8. Sao Miguel Island
As the most popular and famous island, with 140,000 residents, there is a lot to do here. You must check out the Graça Market and the Louvre Michaelense for a look into local fruits, jams, teas and the secret chocolate cake called “o Segredo.”A stroll through the streets of Ponta Delgada’s historical centre is a must but so is hiking the Boca do Inferno (hell’s mouth), checking out the view at Miradouro do Escalvado and visiting the pineapple plantation.
9. Terceira Island
Home to the first city in the Azores, found in 1534 and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, this is the second largest inhabited island and home to a mix of volcanic island vibes and a historic center. This city, Angra do Heroismo, has the O Forno bakery and the Jardim Publico de Angra garden you must visit. Outside of the city, you'll find the view at Serra do Cume, visit the long-dormant volcano the Algar do Carvao and spend as much time as you need at the Biscoitos natural swimming holes. As long as you're trying the island's signature dish, Alcatra, then you'll be doing all the right things on this island.
Berlengas Island, Lisbon
10km off the coast of Peniche lies the Berlengas Islands. Its stunning landscape views and crystal-clean blue waters can be a huge draw, but it is also encapsulated by a unique ecosystem which has been classified as a Natural Reserve since 1981. Because of this, only one island can actually be explored by tourists while the others are reserved for scientists. You can visit the fortress, join a walking tour or venture the island yourself, go scuba diving or take a boat tour. Half-day and full-day trips are available, just make sure to bring your own food or shop at the supermarket close to the docks. As for the other supermarket and restaurant on the island, opening and closing times are a little hit or miss.