The charming port city, Ponta Delgada is the gateway to the Azores. This small but vibrant city shouldn’t be overlooked in your travels as you hop around the nine islands of the archipelago. Here are the top 10 things to do in Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada offers everything from whitewashed 17th-century churches, an urban botanical garden with trails and grottoes, a beautiful cobblestone promenade overlooking the Atlantic ocean, numerous bars and restaurants serving local cuisine, and is home to must-do water-based activities like whale watching.
Unfortunately, there’s not much travel based information out there on interwebs about the Azores, let alone about its capital, Ponta Delgada. Even I struggled to properly plan for my trip.
The good news? I’ve got you covered!
After spending a week on the Azores biggest island, São Miguel, I thought I’d write a series of guides to help you plan an unforgettable Azorean experience. If you’re not familiar with the Azores or need more convincing, check out my post on why the Azores is Europe’s best-kept secret.
As with any trip, I always recommend brushing up on the local lingo. Get my free common Portuguese travel phrases guide to help you in your travel. Even if you only remember a simple ‘Olá!’ (Hello!) and ‘Obrigado’ (thank-you), the Azorean’s will appreciate the effort.
Now that you’ve decided to visit São Miguel island and its black and white cobblestoned capital, let’s take a closer look at the top 10 things to do in Ponta Delgada.
1. Swim with Dolphins and Go Whale watching
The Azores is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Around the archipelago, there are approximately twenty-five different resident and migratory species which can be spotted. The Sperm whale is amongst the most common, and both the blue and fin whale are regularly found in these waters.
I have a massive soft spot for marine life, particularly whales. But this time, I decided to do something I hadn’t done since I was 11 years old, swim with dolphins!
Endemic to the temperate and tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean is the super cute Atlantic Spotted dolphin. For two hours I swam with and observed these playful creatures in their natural environment. There were literally hundreds of them!
For both dolphin swimming and whale watching trips, I recommend Picos de Aventura located in Ponta Delgada. The team was both friendly and professional. They also offer a range of other activities and provide all necessary gear. Book a tour here on Viator.
2. Visit Ponta Delgada City Hall
In the heart of Ponta Delgada is this elegant 17th-century building constructed to house the municipal council. In 1499, the village of Ponta Delgada was raised to the status of a town, and in 1546 it was again raised to the status of a city.
During this period there was a primitive building that served as a municipal hall. By the end of the 17th century, construction of the current building was undertaken. By the 20th century, the building was literally in ruins. A plaque was located on site indicating that it was going to be demolished. It wasn’t until later on that the president of City Hall, Alberto Oliveira, set about its restoration.
Further updates were carried-out in the second half of the 20th century to modernise and adapt the building for its continued purpose.
3. See the Portas da Cidade (City Gates)
As the gateway to the Azores, Ponta Delgada wouldn’t be complete without city gates. Portas da Cidade (literally, City Gates) is possibly the most iconic monument of Ponta Delgada.
Symbolising the island’s line of defense, the gates were built in the eighteenth century next to the old quay, then later transferred to the Gonçalo Velho Cabral Square during construction of the seaside Prince Henry Avenue.
Portas da Cidade is composed of three arches. Featuring the royal and the city’s coat of arms, these gates are the city’s postcard.
4. Visit Parish Church of São Sebastião
Located opposite Portas da Cidade is the Parish Church of São Sebastião (Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião) with magnificent Manueline and Baroque doorways.
As Ponta Delgada’s main church, the church is endowed with a high tower making it the only one in the city. Located at the Largo da Matriz, near the Portas da Cidade, and is often referred to as the ‘Matriz’.
The church was built between 1531 and 1547 on the site of a small chapel that was dedicated to the first patron saint of the island. Originally this was a Gothic structure which today also shows Manueline-style traces, typical for the Portuguese architecture in the 16th century.
Look out for the windows adorned with colourful images of saints and the beautiful starry cobblestones surround the church. It’s so damn pretty!
5. Relax in Campo de São Francisco
Facing the port, Campo de São Francisco is beautiful large tree-lined square with a gazebo at its centre. A perfect spot to sit, relax and take in the city’s whitewashed beauty.
Its name comes from the Church of San José located in the square, which was formerly a convent of San Francisco. To the west is the old Hospital of Saint Joseph, to the north is the convent of Our Lady of Hope, to the south is Fort of São Brás.
Which leads us to our next top thing to do in Ponta Delgada.
6. Explore Forte de São Bras
Built in the 16th century, Forte de Sao Bras (Fort of St. Blaise) is the biggest fortress on the island and was the most important fortification of the city’s defense system used to protect the Azores from pirates who were attracted to the treasures of passing ships from Africa, India, and Brazil.
Forte de Sao Bras was the strategically located to the west of the narrow strip of land after which Ponta Delgada was named.
Today, you can go Inside the fort to visit the Azores Military Museum. This is also the headquarters of the Military Command of the Azores.
7. Get the best view of Ponta Delgada from Hermitage of the Mother of God
Perched atop a hill is a nineteenth-century chapel built on the site of an old defence structure of Ponta Delgada. With a bell tower and surrounded garden, it provides a gorgeous view over the harbour. Remains of walls, bastions, and casemates can still be seen.
8. Wander Through the Grottoes at António Borges Garden
António Borges, an Azorean businessman and politician interested in Botany imported hundreds of exotic species to the island of Sao Miguel, transforming his 2.5 hectare property into a private botanical garden.
Originally built 1858–1861, it was later acquired by the City Council of Ponta Delgada and nominated as the city’s park in 1958. Being one of the largest green spaces in the city, multiple sporting, cultural and recreational activities take place here alongside its trails, grottoes, rare and exotic plants.
9. Visit the Famous Azorean Arruda Pineapple Plantation
No trip to the Azores would be complete without a visit to the only Azorean pineapple plantation open to the public.
It’s hard to imagine that oranges (used to ward off scurvy) were once king in the Azores when today there are roughly 6,000 pineapple plantations on São Miguel island.
In fact, in the 19th century, winter oranges were so popular in London, they were called St. Michaels. But time changed, and the need for a substitute to the orange led to a boom in growing pineapples in the Azores. While the island is far from a hot equatorial weather, it has a warm organic-enriched soil which is perfect to grow all sorts of different fruits and vegetables. This led to the construction of pineapple greenhouses which are unique to the Azores.
It takes 2 years to raise the pineapple from flower to fruit, and lots of smoke to fertilize the plant as it grows. The Azorean pineapple is even more unique with its small crown and intense flavor.
After you’re done exploring the various greenhouses with pineapples in their various stages of growth, head to the gift shop and pick up your favourite pineapple themed kitchen towel, liqueur, or jam.
Head outside and relax in the cafe which has everything including pineapple cakes, ice-cream and Piña coladas! Oh my!
10. Find the Quirky Street Art
If you love your street art, then head to Travessa do Arco for a massive whale mural and a lone clownfish.
On your way to Hermitage of the Mother of God, take Rua da Mãe de Deus for these two gems.
On your way to the António Borges Garden, head straight up Av. Roberto Ivens. Roberto Ivens and on the corner on Rua de Lisboa is this supermarket hero.
Finally, at the end of Largo 2 de Março is this huge headless mural of a woman.
Where to Eat in Ponta Delgada
Ready to start planning your trip to the Azores? Here’s everything you need to know about what can you do on the island of São Miguel. My 5-day complete and comprehensive itinerary will show you the best of São Miguel island, plus where to eat, stay and it’s all plotted on a map for you to make it all the more easy.
Essential Azores Travel Information
Getting to the Azores
You can reach the Azores by boat or by plane. However, more conveniently, there are direct flights from the USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, France, Germany, and Finland.
SATA / Azores Airlines offer by far the most routes with other operators such as TAP Portugal, Ryanair, Primera, TUI, Germania, and Delta offering regular flights to the Azores. My advice would be to fly from Porto, Lisbon or London where tickets are considerably cheaper.
The gateway to the Azores is Ponta Delgada airport, with the highest number of flight connections.
Pro Tip: In some cases, you may be eligible to get a FREE inter-island connecting flight. Find out more here
Heading to Portugal? Download my free Portuguese Travel Phrase guide
Where to stay in the Azores
Booking.com offers a lot of accommodation option in the Azores, from charming guesthouses to typical houses surrounded by nature. To make your life easier, I’ve put together a list of the best-reviewed hotels, guesthouses, and villas in the Azores.
Where to stay in São Miguel
If you are coming to the Azores, chances are you’ll most likely be at least spending a few days on the largest island, São Miguel.
VIP Executive Azores Hotel
For the week I was there, I stayed at 4-star VIP Executive Azores Hotel. This is the largest hotel on the island and includes all the comforts of home. There is an excellent gym, an interior swimming pool, squash court, bar, free covered private parking, a beauty salon with hairdresser, and Wireless Internet service. With a great view of the town and ocean and surrounding landscape, VIP Executive Azores is a 10-minute walk into town.
For an alternative accommodation option, I would recommend renting out an apartment or room through Airbnb. Cute Airbnb options are popping up all over the island so you’ll find some really beautiful places at very affordable prices.
Airbnb has numerous options from as low as US$36 per night.
Get it even cheaper by getting $34 off your first stay using my referral link.
Otherwise, search for yourself!
If neither of the options above sound right for you, I’ve created a list of pre-selected hotels, villas, and guesthouses in São Miguel. The list only includes rooms with wifi and with good-to-excellent reviews, you can’t go wrong with these!
São Miguel Flight & Hotel Deals
I don’t usually recommend travel agencies but I feel an exception must be made for Azores Getaways who offer great prices on flight and hotel packages to the Azores. Starting at 320USD for 7 nights accommodation and return flights to London.
I particularly recommend using Azores Getaways if you:
- Are coming from the United States or Europe
- Don’t have much time to plan your holidays
- Like to have everything organised before arriving
Don’t Miss These Awesome Activities
- Ponta Delgada Walking Tour
- Swim with Dolphins in the Azores
- Fogo Lake Quad Bike Full Day Small-Group Tour with Lunch
- Azores Canyoning and Thermal Baths Tour
- Half-Day Whale and Dolphin Watching Tour
- Furnas Volcano and Lake Full-Day Tour with Lunch
- Pico do Ferro Trail Hike and Light Yoga on São Miguel Island
- Plus loads more here…
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Over to you!
Do you have a question about visiting the Azores or Ponta Delgada? Ask me below!
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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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