15 Best things to do in Angra do Heroísmo (Portugal)

Angra do Heroísmo is a World Heritage town on the Azores island of Terceira that has ruled the archipelago since the age of great seafaring. Because of this mid-Atlantic setting, it doesn’t look like other European towns, and many historic fortifications testify to Angra’s role in trade and conquest from the 15th century.

Ancient churches, palaces, forts and monasteries will enchant you for days, while the natural scenery adds real drama. On a peninsula next to Angra do Heroísmo is Monte do Brasil, an extinct volcano with a clear cone and one of the many volcanic wonders that await you in Terceira.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Angra do Heroísmo:

1. Palácio dos Capitães-Generais

Palácio Dos Capitães-Generais

Built by the Jesuits at the end of the 16th century, this seemingly gigantic structure became the seat of the archipelago’s first unified government (Capitania Geral) following the expulsion of the Jesuit order in the 1700s.

Later it was the royal palace of Peter IV and Carlos I of Portugal, and now the complex is the official residence of the president of the regional government.

When you come, you’ll get a private guide to take you through the eventful history of Terceira and the Azores.

You will pass through richly decorated rooms and halls with paintings, coffered ceilings, period rugs and furniture.

2. Museu de Angra do Heroísmo

Museu De Angra Do Heroísmo

Since the 60s, the town’s museum has been housed in the Convent of San Francisco, which dates back to the 17th century and has a large cloister and church.

As for the collection, both large and diverse, it focuses on the early settlements, military history, folk traditions, religious gatherings and trade of Angra do Heroísmo.

There are weapons, uniforms, carriages, coins, toys, furniture and other applied arts, paintings and sculptures.

With the help of the museum’s timeline and audio guide, you’ll learn more about the colonial history of the Azores and Portugal.

3. Monte Brazil

Monte Brazil

To the south of the city there will always be remnants of the cone formed after the ancient eruption of Mount Gilhem Moniz.

This is the end of the isthmus protected by the fortress and church of São João Baptista.

If you have a car, you can reach the top in a few minutes, but many choose to walk from town.

Even though the climb can be a bit taxing, every step is worth it for the awesome panoramic views, various fortifications, dry stone walls, roadside grazing deer, laurel, heather, juniper and boxwood vegetation.

At the highest point there is a column with a Maltese cross commemorating the Portuguese occupation of the Azores during the Age of Voyages.

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4. Angra do Heroísmo Cathedral

Cathedral of Angra Do Heroísmo

As the largest religious building in the Azores, Angra’s Cathedral dates back to the century when the archipelago was discovered.

It is a 16th and 17th century building built on top of the original church built by explorer Álvaro Martins in the 1460s.

There is a bell tower on the front, flanked by two bell towers, topped by a spire with monochromatic tiles in a rhombus pattern.

In the three cavernous central naves, your eyes will be drawn to the retable with its magnificent silver-plated altar.

The sacristy is open to visitors and features Brazilian wooden furniture, vestments and ceremonial artifacts, such as the Pope donated by King John V in the 18th century.

5. Terceira Duke Gardens

Terceira Duke Gardens

Adjacent to the Convent of San Francisco, this botanical garden was landscaped in the Portuguese Romantic style in the 1880s.

It is actually the former site of the monastery, and there are some relics of the religious period, such as the varnished plaque depicting the prodigal son, and the Tanque do Preto water tank dating back to this era.

On the lower level of the garden, around the bandstand, there are traces of the original French flower beds.

The rest have a more natural style and are loved for their wide variety of plants and trees.

Among them are laurel, eucalyptus, magnolia, camellia, hibiscus, strawberry trees, various palms and two giant Norfolk Island pines.

6. Alto da Memória

big memory

When you stop at the upper level of the Duke of Terceira, you may see a staircase leading to some unseen place.

It’s a fairly steep slope with lots of steps, but it will reward the extra effort.

The stairs eventually lead to the Alto da Memória, an obelisk with Masonic symbolism, built in 1856 on the site of the first fortifications of Terceira (built in 1474). This monument was built to commemorate the visit of Pedro IV who came to the island during the Portuguese Civil War.

When you see the panorama of Angra and its bay, as well as the fort and the mountains, you will know why you want to climb.

7. Praça Velha

Grand Place

Angra’s main and oldest civic meeting space was built in the 1500s and is surrounded by elegant old buildings painted white or brightly coloured.

The grandest is the stone façade of the Neoclassical Town Hall, which also contains the Supreme Court of the Azores.

Although this is a functioning municipal building, you can usually enter and take a quick self-guided tour with the receptionist’s permission.

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You can browse the courtroom when it’s not in session, with an auditorium decorated with chandeliers and paintings, and some beautiful stained glass windows.

8. Igreja da Misericórdia

Igreja Da Misericórdia

This palatial church, painted sky blue on the harbour’s waterfront, has been hosting newly landed sailors since the 1700s.

This is where Terceira’s first hospital used to be, and was the institution’s church until it was moved to the outskirts of the town in the 19th century.

The high point is the scene of the church by the water, and in front is a square paved with a typical calçada portuguesa, two arches beckoning you to the water’s edge.

You can go inside and there’s a spacious nave decorated with gilded woodwork and statues, and tiled panels documenting scenes from the island’s history.

9. Sao Joao Baptista Fortaleza

fortaleza de sao joao baptista

Spain controlled Portugal from 1581 to 1650, and the fort was built during that Philippine era.

Its job was to protect the growing maritime traffic between Iberia and the Americas, and it was a massive structure, larger than any other Philippine fort.

With five kilometers of walls, the building will delight anyone who pays attention to the complex artillery defenses of the period.

The entrance couldn’t have been more grand, with an ornately carved portal at the end of a bridge leading through a moat with stone pits.

This leads to the Praça de Armas, where there are the doge’s palace, the church and the chapel, all from the same era.

10. Rua da Se

Dase Street

This pretty street encapsulates Angra, taking you from the town’s higher west end past the cathedral.

Rua da Sé exudes glamour, as nearly every house has whitewashed walls and wrought-iron balconies, while borders and window frames are painted in cheerful colours.

The road is cobblestoned, albeit a fairly busy avenue, and the sidewalks feature calçada portuguesa mosaics with filigree and Greek-style motifs.

It’s a slow-moving street, especially uphill, with bakeries, restaurants, boutiques and tasteful craft shops.

11. Convent of São Gonçalo e Igreja de São Gonçalo

Convento E Igreja De São Gonçalo

Those in the know agree that the monastery is the finest Baroque building in the entire Azores. Founded in 1542, it was home to hundreds of nuns during its heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is known as a cultural destination where painting, textile design and music are taught.

Therefore, the church should be filled with decorations that were popular at the time: finely carved gilded woodwork made up 18th-century paintings, and fine blue-and-white tiles depicting episodes from the Bible, such as Josephus.

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12. Whale watching

whale watching

Many companies located in the marina embark on unforgettable nature cruises.

The ocean around the Azores is home to a variety of cetaceans throughout the year.

Bottlenose, common and Riso dolphins never leave these waters, and sperm whales are also perennial.

Most other whales tend to visit during their migrations, so if you want to see blue, fin, sei or pilot whales, you’ll have a better chance between March and June.

Captains know the ocean like the back of their hands, and many are confident enough to offer a money-back guarantee that you’ll see dolphins or whales on your short voyage.

13. Algar do Carvão

algar do calwan

Not many people can claim to have climbed to the center of the volcano.

But that’s exactly what you’ll do in the top natural landscape of Terceira, about a 15-minute drive from Angra.

You’ll enter the Cone, which was only properly explored in the 1930s, and offers otherworldly photo opportunities at every turn.

Put it down to the shaft of light entering through the Boca do Alcar (mouth of the cave), which is lined with ferns and moss.

Further down, unusual conditions allow strange cave spiders, springtails and centipedes to thrive, and there are bizarre stalactites deep in the cave.

14. Outdoor sports

Terceira

With just 20 minutes from Angra to the north coast of Terceira, you can incorporate the entire island into your plans.

The only way to experience volcanic peaks, rugged coastlines, craggy rivers, natural rocky lagoons, and lush forests and meadows is to immerse them.

You can go hiking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, horseback riding and more.

There’s also canyoning, which requires jumping into canyons and rock pools or sliding down waterfalls in a neoprene suit and helmet.

15. Food and drink

Alcatra

If you want to be truly authentic in Angra, you must order Alcatra.

It’s a slow cooker roast that’s usually made with beef, but it’s also made with fish, chicken, octopus, or rabbit.

The meat is cooked in a special clay pot, then thickened in a sauce with bacon, bay leaves and garlic for several hours.

Wherever the Portuguese monastery is, you’re sure to find sweets: Bolos Dona Amélia, a traditional cake flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon, was invented in honor of Amélie of Orleans who traveled around the Azores in the 19th century.

Finally, Chico Maria is a sweet fortified wine from Biscoitos on the northern coast of Terceira, used as an aperitif.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Angra do Heroismo, Portugal
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