15 Best things to do in Ponta Delgada (Portugal)

The capital of the Azores is located on the south coast of the island of São Miguel, aptly called the “Green Island”. The city has a lot to explore, postcard monuments, lovely old churches, 16th-century fortresses and museums documenting the fascinating natural history of the Azores.

At the port, you can go on a small expedition to see the whales and dolphins that congregate in the archipelago’s waters.

Within a few days, the scenery on the island of San Miguel was breathtaking: the ancient crater was now filled with lakes filled with wildflowers and lush woodlands.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Ponta Delgada:

1. Lagoa das Sete Cidades

Lagoa das Sete Cidades

Arguably the greatest wonder of the Azores is just 15 kilometers down the road.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades is a twin lake in a caldera with steep walls surrounding the coast and overgrown with conifers and ferns.

There is a watershed between the two bodies of water, and you can drive along the 9-1 to take stunning photos.

Pick a clear day and head to Miradouro do Rei, high up on the south side of the crater.

Next to the shell of the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel, the views are all-encompassing.

2. Convento de Nossa Senhora da Esperança

Convento de Nossa Senhora da Esperança

Spiritually, this monastery, founded in 1545, is one of the most important, not only in the Azores, but in the whole of Portugal.

For this you can thank the statue of San Cristo dos Miragres, which Pope Paul III gave to the founder of the monastery in the first decades of the 16th century.

In April or May, the statue is the star of the celebration of the Holy Christ.

The building is also worth seeing, with a strange quadrangular tower with three levels of windows.

In the church there is a baroque altar with gilded woodwork and beautiful tile panels.

3. Portas da Cidade

city ​​gate

Near the water’s edge in the parish of São Sebastião, this triple arch is a postcard image of Ponta Delgada that appears on the city’s coat of arms.

It is part of the old fortifications, dating back to 1783. The gate used to be in the marina area, but was moved to Gonçalo Velho Cabral square as a monument when the waterfront promenade was built in the 1940s and 50s.

The gate is made of local volcanic stone and has whitewashed masonry.

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The square in front is paved with calçada portuguesa (Portuguese mosaic pavement) in decorative patterns.

4. Gruta do Carvão

Gruta do Carvão

Almost outside the city is another volcanic wonder of San Miguel.

This is the largest lava tunnel on the island, dug more than 1.6 kilometers underground.

Not to be missed if you are interested in the island’s geology, as the caves contain bizarre nodules such as reddish-brown stalactites and stalagmites.

The basalt on the walls was also oxidized, giving it an odd yellow sheen.

There is a video before the tour, after that you will have to crawl through some tight spaces, so dress like a hike.

5. Igreja de São José

Church of San Jose

On the same square as the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Esperança, this massive church once belonged to the long-dissolved Convent of St. Francis.

It was built in 1709 and has many features of Portuguese colonial architecture, as well as the Baroque style that was popular at the time.

The interior is huge, with three naves leading to three chapels with gilded woodwork.

The blue and white tiles on the walls, statues from the 1600s and 1700s, and furniture carved from jacaranda wood are all worth your minutes.

6. Carlos Machado Museum

Carlos Machado Museum

This is the oldest museum in the Azores, located in the old St. Andrés Monastery, founded in 1876.

The founder, Carlos Machado, was a 19th-century naturalist who worked in the Azores at a time of great interest based on Darwin’s theory of evolution.

As a result, you will find a satisfactory summary of the natural history of the Azores, including geological and mineralogical displays, as well as many plant and animal specimens (many marked by Machado himself) to peruse. This is a former monastery, and the adjoining Jesuit college also has some liturgical arts, with paintings, silverware and varnishes.

7. Forte de São Bras

Forte de São Bras

Built in 1552, the fort guards the western end of the port of Ponta Delgada and continues to be used as a base by the Portuguese Navy.

Despite undergoing major changes in the 1800s, it remains a fascinating relic of the colonial era, when Ponta Delgada was under constant threat of pirate raids.

You can go up to the upper platform which is still equipped with cannons and more modern artillery, while inside the fort there is a small military museum with almost 500 years of heavy guns, vehicles, uniforms and models.

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8. Pico do Carvão

Pico do Carvão

The summit, 10 km from Ponta Delgada, has a peak with a complete view of the west side of San Miguel.

The scenery is idyllic and spectacular, with verdant hillsides dotted with cows and covered in taiga, but you’ll also be aware of the sheer number of volcanic cones on the island.

From this point you can also see the northern and southern coasts, as well as the many lakes in the area, which are sheltered by volcanic craters.

To the east, the Água de Pau Massif stratovolcano rises to nearly 1,000 meters and things get dramatic.

9. Lagoa Empadadas

Lagoa Pie

Just downwind of Pico do Carvão is one of those majestic craters, and it’s worth a detour on the way to Sete Cidades.

If you take a break from the weather, it’s a picnic paradise that welcomes fewer tourists than the more famous lake on San Miguel Island.

Seclusion will win you over: the water is completely obscured by cedar forests before you enter the crater.

The view is especially lovely if you come here in spring, as the pink rhododendrons bloom along the shore.

10. Pijardabas

Pijardabas

A few minutes up from Ponta Delgada is a beautiful park built in the early 20th century.

Once private property, the original owners planted exotic species such as Japanese cedar pine, eucalyptus and bamboo on the 49 hectares of rugged volcanic terrain.

The plantation was abandoned in the 1990s, then restored and turned into a park.

Mixed in with the pines are hydrangeas and rhododendrons, and now there are also many amenities such as guinea fowl paddocks and rips in the bushes, hedge mazes and picnic areas.

11. Dolphin and whale watching

whale watching

This is one of those exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime activities you just need to do.

As an important whale sanctuary, there is year-round activity around the Azores, with bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, common dolphins and risor’s dolphins all resident species, so can be seen in any season.

But the ideal times to spot whales are April and May, when pilot whales, sei whales, fin whales and even the Titanic’s blue whales pass by.

Whenever you come the chances are high that you will encounter some kind of cetacean.

12. Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo

You can reach this fantastic setting within half an hour from Ponta Delgada, and together with the Lake Sete Cidades, it is one of the natural wonders of San Miguel.

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This is a large lake located in a crater formed by a volcanic eruption in 1563, hence the name “Lake of Fire”. Cobalt Lake is a kilometer or two long and is located in a furnace of green basalt mountains, the highest on the island.

If you can find the time, it makes sense to save this hike for a cloud-free day, as this will obscure your view of the lake at this high altitude.

13. Quinta Augusto Arruda

Quinta Augusto Arruda

In those days when Sete Cidades and Lago do Fogo were shrouded in fog, you could look for another São Miguel trademark: the pineapple! The island’s volcanic soil is perfect for this fruit, but the only downside is that the sun is not stable.

That’s why an estimated 6,000 greenhouses grow Azores pineapples, which have a small crown and a very sweet pulp.

Quinta Augusto Arruda is the most convenient place in Ponta Delgada, where you have free access to these warm greenhouses to grow pineapples from flower to fruit in just two years.

You will receive a flyer explaining the history and process, and you can visit a shop selling pineapple jam and liqueur.

14. Holy Christ

Holy Christ

On the fifth Sunday after Easter, the statue of San Cristo dos Miragres emerges from the chapel of the convent and is paraded around the church in Ponta Delgada.

The ceremony began in 1700, when the statue was thought to have stopped shaking after passing through various churches and monasteries in Ponta Delgada.

To celebrate, the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Esperança is illuminated by thousands of small bulbs, and a carpet of patterned flowers is laid along the parade route along the city’s main thoroughfare.

15. Sports and Activities

quad bike

The lush greenery of San Miguel Island can be explored in almost any way you can imagine, all served by a company based in Ponta Delgada.

You can ride around the crater and lake on horseback or mountain bike.

For the thrills, take a GoPro-filmed 4WD, quad bike or paraglider adventure for a lasting keepsake.

You can take kayak and canoe trips on the lake, while the north coast of the island of San Miguel is lined with beaches that keep the surf consistent.

Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Ponta Delgada, Portugal
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