By Emma Marshall
My guide book said that Angra do Heroismo was one of the most beautiful cities in the Azores. Having spent a couple of days exploring this delightful town in Terceira one summer, I was so impressed that I am already making plans to return.
It’s a must-see for any visitor to the Azores archipelago which lies in the Atlantic Ocean about 900 kilometres west from the Portuguese coast.
Angra is the capital of the second largest of the Azorean islands, Terceira. The island was so named because it was the third of the nine islands to be discovered. It covers an area of just over 400 square kilometres.
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Things to do on Terceira island
It might not be the largest of the Azorean islands, but there are plenty of things to do on Terceira island.
As is the case throughout the Azores, there’s incredible landscape and stunning scenery. From the capital Angra, it’s really easy to explore the rest of this beautiful island and visit its natural treasures.
We split our time equally with a day in the capital and another day driving around the island.
Read on to discover some of the top things to do on Terceira island.
Explore the capital, Angra
Angra is a relatively small, easy-to-walk around coastal town. It oozes charm and has the largest Spanish fortress outside Spain. There is even a long extinct volcano on its fringes.
Not surprisingly, given its attractive colonial Portuguese buildings, Angra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was given this status after the rebuilding that took place after an earthquake struck in 1980 which destroyed around two-thirds of the buildings on the island.
For a relatively small town, Angra is not short of things to see and do.
Aside from wandering around the charming colonial streets, with their colourfully painted houses, there are a few key things that you really should try to see.
I have set out my recommendations below, but you can also book walking tours with a guide to take you to the key sights.
I’d suggest you start your exploration in Praca Velha. This is the city’s main central square that houses the Town Hall and from where the main streets of Angra radiate out from.
Apart from the slight disappointment that the square has traffic passing on three sides, this is an ideal spot to sit and watch the world go by.
It has a small outdoor café serving some local delights which was my favourite place for an evening tipple while the sun went down. You can sample some of the traditional Azorean liqueurs here (the passionfruit and blackberry ones are definitely worth tasting). I loved it!
The Outeiro da Memoria
A few minutes away from Praca Velha is the Jardim Duque da Terceira. When we visited, the garden was bursting with the colour of blooming flowers and offered a shady spot from the summer sun.
But it’s also the start of a short climb up to the Outeiro da Memoria, erected in 1846 in honour of King Pedro IV.
If you can manage the ascent, you really should try; the sweeping views from the top take in the entire town. If you do want to give this a go, from the garden, follow the path upwards to the monument.
The monument is hard to miss. It is a mustard-coloured obelisk which stands atop a hill dominating an open square.
The obelisk itself was a bit of a surprise. To me, its style and colour lends it a slightly Asian feel (possibly a reflection of the city’s importance as a port for ships from Asia and South America passing by the Azores on their route to and from Portugal).
The views from this point back over the town and out to the sea were not, however, a surprise, having already seen some of the scenery that the Azores is famous for.
There are small stone seats carved into the wall, so if you have time, spend a few moments sitting and looking at your surroundings – and getting your breath back!
Igreja da Misericordia and the harbour
Back in the town, a walk down to the harbour is a must. Approach this through Via Direita with its elegant buildings and their wrought iron balconies overlooking the street.
You’ll then pass the Igreja da Misericordia. This is an imposing pastel blue coloured building where the first Azorean hospital once stood.
Cross the road, past the life-sized bronze statute of Vasco de Gama and walk down the steps to the side of the fountain.
Wander around the small harbour and don’t forget to walk along the sea wall. When you do, make sure to look back at the Igreja and you’ll see what a wonderful vista it is – this was one of my favourite spots.
The beach and Convento de Sao Goncalo
To the side of the harbour, there is a small sandy beach for those hot summer days; climb the steps up to the streets above and head in the direction of the fort.
Beyond this, you will pass more brightly coloured houses. Eventually you come to the Se Cathedral. This is another magnificent building and the largest Cathedral in the Azores.
This is worth a quick stop to peek inside before walking the short distance back into town. A word of advice: there’s a fabulous cake shop opposite where you can sample some of the unique local cakes (should you need some sustenance!)
Castelo de Sao Joao Baptista and Monte Brasil
From the town, you can also walk to the outskirts to visit the 16th century castle and fortress, the Castelo de Sao Joao Baptista. This is the aforementioned largest fortress outside Spain.
If you have the time, you can walk around its ramparts and walls, which stretch 5km.
The castle sits at the tip of Monte Brasil, the extinct volcano that is now a national park, and so you may want to carry on walking to this. We didn’t make it, but there are apparently great views to be had here, and a walking and hiking trail.
Other things to do on Terceira island
After familiarising yourself with the town, you must get out and see what the island as a whole has to offer. Terceira is volcanic, so you need to see some of the caves and craters. You could easily spend a day exploring these alone.
Serra do Cume
Our trip around the island started with a stop at the top of a ridge in the Serra do Cume mountain range. Here you can see across a huge wide open crater in the middle of the island. As the starter for the day, this was pretty amazing.
There is a viewing platform which offers a quite breathtaking view over the wide and flat patchwork of green fields below. These are all divided by a grid of dry stone walls.
We were told that no-one really lives or works in this area, (although we could spot a few cows grazing), which made me wonder why there had been such effort put into dividing the area into fields.
The answer is that this had apparently been a convenient way of disposing of the stones produced after volcanic eruptions in the area.
Algar do Carvao
We then headed off to visit the Algar do Carvao, a volcano that you can climb down inside to look around.
This was a fascinating opportunity to see the various features that the volcanic activity on the island two thousand years ago left behind. In the darkness you can make out stalactites and stalagmites, deep caverns and the leftover lumps of basalt that were dumped as the lava flowed through the caves.
There’s also the “Cathedral”, a large cavernous open area in the rock with a doomed roof above. The cavern’s shape creates some wonderful acoustics, so much so that concerts are often held here.
Gruta do Natal
After stopping off to look at hot sulphur steam rising up through rocks in the countryside, we headed to the Gruta do Natal. This translates as “Christmas Cave”, named after the date the public could first visit.
The gruta is a 700m lava tube underground that you can walk along – or rather at times crawl along (which explains why you need to wear a hard hat – as you move further and further through the tube, the ceiling gets lower and lower. At one point, we were literally crawling along the cave floor, stooping to get through the smallest of openings).
This is another opportunity to see some of the rock formations left over after the volcanic activity. But here, the path of the lava is easier to see, with clear striations on the rockside and floor showing the “drag” of the stream of lava.
It gives a real sense of how the lava powerfully snaked its way through the terrain.
Serra de Santa Barbara
We ended our trip with a drive up small windy country roads to the highest point on the island: Serra de Santa Barbara. At over 1,000 metres, on a clear day, (which we were fortunate enough to have), you can see neighbouring Sao Jorge and Pico islands.
This was a great way to end our trip to Terceira island. Having already seen Sao Miguel (see my three day itinerary here) in an earlier part of this trip, I now can’t wait to visit the other seven!
Staying in Angra
We stayed at The Hotel do Caracol, just outside of Angra and overlooking Monte Brasil. This is a 20-30 minute walk from the town, but during the day you can catch a local bus (less than a euro each) or in the evening a taxi (around €5).
I would definitely recommend this as a base for your trip.
Other things to do in the Azores
If you’re visiting the Azores, then you must visit the main island, Sao Miguel. As with Terceira, there’s lots to do here!
Other ideas for short European and UK breaks
I hope this post has given you a flavour of things to do on Terceira island.
If you’re interested in short breaks and day trips in Europe and the UK more generally, you may be interested in other recent posts I have published:
Things to do in winter in Switzerland’s Zurich
A weekend in Portugal’s second city, Porto
Essential information for your trip to the Keukenhof flower gardens in the Netherlands
11 top things to do in Guernsey in the Channel Islands
A weekend in Bath in the UK
2 days in Lyon in France
Thank you for reading!
Image of Se Cathedral: Eyewave/ Dreamstime.com