This Unique Portuguese Island Is Arguably The Most Gorgeous In The Azores

When you think of an island getaway, your mind may go first to the Caribbean, Greece, or Hawaii. If you're looking for something different, though, where should you visit? There is a gorgeous spot in the Azores that combines a volcanic wonderland with Portuguese culture, incredible architecture, and a lush, green landscape. This place is Terceira and like one of its sister islands, Pico, it's a great spot for an uncrowded getaway. Not only that, but its main city, Angra do Heroísmo, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. 


Terceira is full of charmingly painted houses and villages, and some unique geological spots like lava tubes and caves (one of which features a Christmas mass every year), green mountains to hike, Renaissance buildings, and even a wine museum. (The volcanic soil is great for winemaking.) You can even experience a running of the bulls that is different from the Spanish tradition you might be familiar with. It's a small island, which you can cross by car in about 40 minutes, but there is so much to do. It's easy to get to as well, with 2.5-hour flights every day from Porto and Lisbon, which you should definitely visit as well. Here's what you need to know about Terceira in the Azores. 

Colorful chapels, a botanical garden, and the rest of Angra

There is a lot to do in the main city of Angra do Heroísmo. If you love culture and beautiful architecture, wandering through the town's historical center will be right up your alley. One spot you must check out is the late 15th-century church, Igreja da Misericórdia, which allows you to climb to a high gallery for some stunning views of the island. The fun part is that, when the church needs to be repainted, it's often done in a completely different color. Your pics and ones your kids take years from now may be very different. 


Speaking of color, Terceira is full of small chapels dedicated to the Holy Ghost or Espírito Santo called "impérios" painted in wild and cheerful shades. If colorful flowers are your thing, there is a pretty botanical garden called Duque da Terceira Garden with a bright pink gazebo to wander through. 

Make sure to sample the area's wines, and pay a visit to the Museo do Vinho, or the wine museum, which has a small tasting room. If you want to hit a beach while in town, Angra's City Beach is right in the center of town, just down a hill, complete with lifeguards, bars, and ice cream shops. On Angra's Monte Brasil mountain (which we'll revisit when we get to hiking), you'll find Fort São João Baptista, the largest Spanish fort outside of Spain that is worth a visit. 


Bull running, hiking, and volcanic caves

Bull running (with a rope to protect crowds), and bullfighting, are popular activities in the summer. It's different than the Spanish version — in Portugal, bulls are not killed, though both types are dangerous. The animal is still taunted, so keep that in mind if you decide to observe or participate. For an outdoor activity that doesn't involve as much risk, take a moderately challenging 4.8-mile loop hike from Angra up Monte Brasil through the green mountain peaks for views of the island. Make sure to pack your hiking gear because the area has lots of trails, a booth from which to spot whales in the sea, and a playground and animal park for kids. 


One unusual experience is visiting the Algar do Carvão volcanic cave featuring several types of dried lava. You can walk right into the crater (above) and see a pond at the bottom. (This one hasn't erupted in over 2,000 years.) Or you can visit the Gruta do Natal, a lava tube a bit under half a mile long nicknamed the Christmas Cave for the mass held there every December. It's a short drive to the center of the island to see this, right near a lake called Lagoa do Negro, and it costs under $9 to get in. Finally, don't leave without tasting a Queijadas da Dona Amélia, a cake or pastry made with eggs, cinnamon, cornflower, and honey, often with raisins and molasses for extra flavor.