About 870 miles west of Lisbon, 930 miles northwest of Morocco, and (we found this incredible) just a 4¾ hour flight from Boston, USA, lie the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands, the largest of which is Sao Miguel. If this mid-Atlantic outpost sounds wild and windblown it is (think Hawaii meets Iceland) but it’s also untouched, offering pristine yet dramatic landscapes, characterful fishing villages, and unique cuisine.
Yes, the weather can be inclement, but the islands have a minimum year-round temperature of between 12–13 degrees. And the mercury never exceeds the mid-twenties in summer, making it ideal to enjoy the abundance of active adventures the landscape lends itself to perfectly. Even better? Thanks to direct flights, it’s easy to get here too – just a four-hour flight from the UK.
Most people choose an 8-day trip here and base their adventures on São Miguel. Or you can easily fill more than a fortnight by taking in its neighbours, Faial and Pico Islands. Each island is linked by ferries and/or flights so it’s not hard to get around.
Want to know more? We were absolutely blown away by the beauty of these islands and what could be seen and done there. Take a look at just some of the things you could enjoy on an Azores family adventure!
Our favourite activities on Azores family holidays
1. Go whale watching and swim with dolphins
For many, the ‘bucket-list’ experience of getting up close with whales and dolphins is a must-do and a highlight of any Azores family holiday. Whales – we saw Sei and Sperm whales – can be spotted from either São Miguel or Pico Island, but transport options differ. If you’ve younger members of the family, we recommend taking a catamaran, where whales can be viewed from height and there is an inside covered area if the weather isn’t playing ball.
You’ll get a more intimate encounter, though, from zodiac boats which, as they’re ridden almost as you would a horse (and HUGE fun!) are better for older children. Whatever you choose, both methods are done responsibly with the welfare of whales and dolphins front of mind.
2. Cook your dinner by volcano!
We admit this title may be a tad misleading (or even alarming!) but what better way to harness volcanic heat than cook your own dinner on it? There are two ways you can enjoy your meal on the world’s ultimate BBQ. First, on Pico Island, by volcanic stone, where the restaurant waiting staff bring over a hot lava rock (you don’t touch it) and allow you to lay your own meats and fish on it until done to your satisfaction (obviously younger children will require supervision).
Or, in Furnas, São Miguel, where you accompany a chef, collecting ingredients from the local market, and then create your own traditional stew, Cozido, which is cooked in a pot for hours in volcanic steam. Whichever you prefer, you’re assured of a meal you’ll never forget.
3. Go lake or sea kayaking (or both!)
A fabulous way to see the island, on coast or inland, we thoroughly recommend kayak as a method of transport!! Double or single kayaks are available depending on the age of your kids, to weave in and out of the inlets and shoreline or (and, we must admit is an easier option) to paddle around and between the stunning blue and green crater lakes of Sete Cidades on São Miguel.
4. Visit the UNESCO vineyards of Pico Island
Dispel, if you will, images of wandering through the lush vineyards of the Loire Valley or Stellenbosch. Things are done differently here on the Azores and nowhere more so than in the vineyards of Pico Island, (over 900 hectares of them), where, using the volcanic rocks, a maze of walls has been built around the vines which grown at ground level to protect them from the wind and weather. So remarkable are they, they’ve got UNESCO status and whilst parents will love to take a wine tasting tour at one of the islands’ co-operatives, kids will find these unique structures fascinating.
5. Go coasteering or canyoning in São Miguel and São Jorge
If ‘to fling is your thing’, then these islands have you covered! Whether you prefer to launch yourself and your family into pools in inland river pools (the islands are incredibly lush) or from the coastline into the waves is up to you, but both are immense fun for every member of the family, even if it does take a little time to gee yourself up for it!
6. Explore the islands by foot on our Azores family holidays
You’ve heard the expression: “these boots were made for walking”. The same could certainly be said for The Azores, where there are walking and hiking options for every age and ability, all surrounded by the most stunning views.
For the ultimate hiking challenge with views to match, there’s Mt Pico on Pico Island which, at 2351 metres is the highest point in the whole of Portugal. However, we recommend this only for the fittest families and only then on a day with great weather. There are less challenging caldera walks in São Miguel, easily doable in an afternoon. Head to Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a set of lakes at the bottom of the extinct caldera, or hike around the Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth) for the most jaw-dropping miradouro (or viewpoint) into the crater below.
Walking too is also a family-friendly delight, whether you prefer to follow the coast or seek the cooler shelter of the inland forest where there are walking tracks everywhere and something for all. See our Portugal customer reviews for some firsthand reports of family holidays in the Azores and sister island Madeira.
7. Be wowed on a birdwatching night safari
On paper, this activity could sound quite dull, but let us assure you – from the feedback we’ve had from families, it’s a star attraction (pardon the pun) on our Azores family holidays. Setting out after nightfall, lying on the grass near the cliffs on Faial Island as Cory’s Shearwaters swoop low making their way back from the ocean is an experience you’ll never forget. Before they come back, swooping so low, they almost brush past you, you’ll see stars and satellites. You won’t get back to your hotel much before 11.30 pm, so this might not work for all families, particularly those with younger children.
8. Take a soak in a mineral-rich thermal spring
What better way to relax after days of adventure than to soak in a thermal spring in a volcanic crater? Located in the village of Furnas, in the middle of São Miguel, is home to the most visited thermal pool where you can sit for as long as you like and be warmed by the waters. If you are staying at the pool-side hotel, Terra Nostra, you can access these waters 24 hours a day, although day visitors are also welcome. A word of warning though: bring an old costume and preferably a dark one. Those orange mineral stains are impossible to get out!
More on Azores family holidays
Want to know more about the Azores and how long to visit? Take a look at our sample Azores itinerary for families. We’d also love to share our enthusiasm about why the islands make the perfect family holiday.
We tailor-make all our holidays and will work with you to create your own unique family itinerary. Call us on 01728 752 751 or get in touch using our enquiry form for help arranging your trip.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel