Terceira is the second most populated island of the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago located on the Northern Atlantic Ocean. On Terceira Island, it’s possible to visit the inside of a volcano and swim with wild dolphins. And because the island is known as the official amusement park of the Azores, thanks to its traditional celebrations continuing all summer long, dancing in the local street parties until the wee hours is also on the agenda.
The beautiful hiking trails, cooling off in the natural sea water pools and tasting the local delicacies make a relaxing holiday on this lush subtropical island.
Accommodation on Terceira’s historical towns and coastal villages
Terceira is a relatively small island with an area of approximately 400 km2, drivable from one end to the other in around 40 minutes. That is why it’s possible to find accommodation in any part of the island without making a compromise on the distances. The villages of Terceira are located around the coast, because the central parts of the island consist mainly of wild nature, volcanoes and pastures and are often covered with clouds and fog.
If wishing to stay close to services and restaurants, a choice must be made between the capital of Terceira, Angra do Heroísmo, and the second city Praia da Vitória. Angra do Heroísmo has some more hustle and bustle as well as room for choice between services, but the attraction of Praia da Vitória is the gorgeous sandy beach stretching in front of the sleepy fishing town and adding to the holiday vibe. However, there are not only comfortable hotels and holiday apartments in the center of both towns, but also beaches.
A little outside the city centers, there are also resort-style hotels with their pool areas. In case of not planning to rent a car, it’s advisable to stay in Angra do Heroísmo, because the city has the best connections to different parts of the island.
If staying in the peaceful countryside or coastal havens sounds more appeasing, the smaller villages of Terceira offer a variety of holiday houses and apartments for rent. For example Porto Martins, Porto Judeu, Feteira and São Mateus on the southern side of the island, as well as Biscoitos and Quatro Ribeiras on the northern side, are all sympathetic coastal villages that come with swimming holes as well. Terceira has also cozy natural hideaways such as modern treehouses and cozy bungalows to offer. In addition, there are a couple of camping grounds, located in Salga, Cinco Ribeiras and Biscoitos.
Visiting a volcano and spotting whales – what to see and do on Terceira
Algar do Carvão
The most special experience on Terceira Island, by far, is visiting the insides of a dormant volcano. In Algar do Carvão, one gets to descend deep into a crater of a volcano that has last erupted just 2000 years ago. From the green entrance opening there are stairs leading to the crystal clear pond located on the bottom. On the way down one can learn about the development of the crater as well as admire the stalactites and the spaciousness of the volcanic cave. There are only a few places like this in the whole world, so visiting Algar do Carvão is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Algar do Carvão is located in the heart of Terceira and is accessible by a rental car, a taxi or as a part of an organized tour. The natural monument is open during afternoons and the entrance ticket costs 8 euros.
Gruta do Natal
Gruta do Natal, aka Christmas Cave, is a 700 meters long lava tunnel, left behind by an erupting flow of molten rock. In the cave it’s possible to see different types of formations produced by the solidifying lava as well as familiarize oneself with the geology of Terceira Island. At the back of the cave there is an altar, where a Christmas mass takes place every December.
Gruta do Natal is located in the center of Terceira, by the lake Lagoa do Negro, and is accessible by a rental car or a taxi. The cave is open during afternoons and the entrance ticket costs 8 euros. By buying a joint ticket to Algar do Carvão and Gruta do Natal it’s possible to save a little on the ticket price.
Angra do Heroísmo
The capital of Terceira, Angra do Heroísmo, is a lively small city and a UNESCO World Heritage destination. Spending a day in Angra is best done by walking around the city. The history is well present on the cobble stone streets lined by colorful houses, and the inviting cafés of the city call for sitting down and enjoying a cup. In the marina of Angra do Heroísmo, one can sense the atmosphere of departures brought along by the sailboats crossing the Atlantic, and say hello to the statue of the explorer Vasco da Gama. The main sights of the city also include the Sé Cathedral, the largest church of the Azores, dating back to the 16th century.
Museum fans should visit the MAH – Museu de Angra do Heroísmo museum, home to contemporary art and historical attractions, as well as the interactive exhibitions of the science center called Centro de Ciência de Angra do Heroísmo. Also the fortresses of Forte de São Sebastião and Fortaleza de São João Baptista protecting both sides of the city and equipped with defense moats are interesting places to visit and offer great views over the city and the ocean. The first one also doubles as a hotel nowadays.
Quinta do Martelo, located a little outside of Angra do Heroísmo, is a farm where one can get to know the history of the Azorean way of life through traditional buildings, craftsmen’s shops and farm animals of indigenous breeds.
Jardim Duque da Terceira
The garden of Jardim Duque da Terceira is a place to admire botanical plantations and exotic flowers, but also to climb all the way up to the Alto da Memória viewpoint, from where there are amazing views over the rooftops of Angra. The garden has been constructed at the end of the 19th century.
Angra do Heroísmo is protected from the western side by the green hill of Monte Brasil. Along the walking trails there are many viewpoints over the city as well as the ocean, plus a whale spotting booth. The wooded picnic area and the deer living in the park will enchant all nature lovers. The forested park also features a playground and animal park for kids.
Furnas do Enxofre
The volcanic activity is best seen in the central parts of Terceira, especially in Furnas do Enxofre, located on the volcanic complex of Pico Alto. The place is characterized by the smell of sulphur and the hot steam rising up from the underground. There is a short walking path constructed among the native vegetation, offering good views over the steaming fumaroles and mud pits as well as the mineral crystals formed around them. No entrance fee.
Serra do Cume
Terceira can be admired from the bird’s eye view at the viewpoints of the island, best visited during clear weather. The most iconic view opens up from top of Serra do Cume, from where one can wonder at the green patchwork of pastures and corn fields that is actually an ancient and vast crater of an extinct volcano.
The views on the other side of the peak open up towards Praia da Vitória.
Serra de Santa Bárbara
Visiting the highest mountain of Terceira, Serra de Santa Bárbara, at its peak in 1021 meters is great for admiring the views over the southern and western parts of the island from the viewpoint. On a clear day, also the other islands of the Azores are visible on the horizon. The peak and the surrounding views such as the volcanic craters with their lakes and peat terrains are a nature protection zone, so walking on the paths should only be done with a special permit.
The Serra de Santa Bárbara Interpretation Centre is the place to familiarize oneself with the birth of Terceira Island, as well as its geology and biodiversity. The center is located on the southern slopes of Serra de Santa Bárbara and it’s recommended to visit there before heading off to the nature protection areas of Terceira. The entrance fee is 3 euros.
For oceanic views, one should head to Serreta on the western side of Terceira. The area is described by the mystically lush protected forest and viewpoints on top of high coastal cliffs. The Ponta do Queimado and Mata da Serreta viewpoints feature vast views over the rugged rocky coasts and the roaring waves of the ocean. Serreta also has a beautiful picnic park area and a camping ground without many amenities.
Whale watching tours
When in Azores, a whale or dolphin watching safari is a must – after all, the archipelago is one of the best places in the world to see these large sea mammals in their natural habitat. Even spotting the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale, or swimming with wild dolphins are feasible on the waters of Terceira. The Azores, together with the sea areas surrounding them, are home to various dolphin species and many whales pass by the islands on their way to spend their summers on the Northern Atlantic. The whale tours are mostly organized from May to October, but the best time of the year for seeing especially the larger whales is in spring, from April to May. However, dolphins and sperm whales can be seen throughout the year.
The companies offering whale watching tours on Terceira act ethically, and the guides do not go too close to the animals or harass them. Swimming with dolphins is based on their natural curiosity and happens only if they allow. Several companies offering whale watching safaris can be found for example in the port of Angra do Heroísmo.
Terceira enthralls a nature person with its ancient laurel forests, its country lanes lined with hydrangeas and the mystical waterfalls. The best way for getting to know these is by foot on the many hiking trails of Terceira.
Interesting trail choices for someone without mobility issues are for example Mistérios Negros (4.9 km – difficult) or Rocha do Chambre (8.8 km – intermediate), that follow the lush sceneries in the interior of Terceira through some basaltic cliffs and moss-covered fairytale forests. The highlights on the hiking trail of Serreta (6.8 km – intermediate) are the shadowy laurel and Japanese cedar forests and the Lagoinha crater lake. If searching for an easy walk on relatively flat terrain, the forested Relheiras de São Brás route is a good choice (5 km – easy).
On the other hand, the trails of Baías da Agualva (4.8 km – intermediate) and the Fortes de São Brás (5.7 km – easy) offer some coastal views from rocky shores to rugged cliffs, and on the latter it’s also possible to wonder at sea fortresses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Apart from the official trail in the village of Agualva, there is also a forested path leading to many small waterfalls, called Trilho da Ribeira da Agualva, ending in the leisurely park called Parque das Frechas.
The clear waters of the Atlantic feature some unforgettable experiences both on top of and under the surface. Terceira is known for its natural sea water pools, offering welcome cooling on hot summer days as well as spotting some local sea life by snorkeling. There are also a few diving schools on Terceira, offering scuba diving courses and trips.
A great way of getting to know the shores of the island is booking an organized kayaking or SUP tour. Also fishing, harpoon fishing, surfing, sailing, windsurfing, coasteering and canyoning can be done on Terceira. It’s always recommendable to stay alert in the water because of strong waves and currents, as well as the stinging Portuguese man o’ wars. These invertebrates float on the water and have burning tentacles that can reach a length of several meters. There are many of them on the Azorean shores especially in spring an early summer.
There are many picnic areas around the island, each one prettier than the other. They are equipped with tables, barbeques, water points and toilets. Spending a leisurely day barbequing on the green picnic areas is very popular among the locals, and there is always space for a few more people. A nice picnic area can be found on top of the forested Monte Brasil hill. There it’s possible to meet the inhabitants of the animal park, such as many different birds, and a herd of deer that will come eat by hand.
If it’s important to have a swimming spot next to the barbeque zone, Salgueiros on the southeast corner of the island is a good choice. The duck pond of Lagoa das Patas, on the other hand, is a comfortable place to cool off in the shade of a fairytale forest on a hot summer day. It is located in the center of the island.
Camping on the picnic areas is an unclear question. It’s not actually allowed, but many people practice it anyway.
Beach holiday on Terceira – sandy beaches and natural pools
The bathing season of the Azores lasts approximately from June until early October, but many people do swim in the ocean also in wintertime. Terceira is not best known for its beaches, even though there are a few nice ones on the island. Also the natural pools formed by lava rocks are popular places for cooling off in the hot summer days. Almost every coastal village has its own seawater basin and some swimming spots boast several pools.
Praia da Vitória
At the front of Praia da Vitória town is a sandy beach lined by palm trees and protected by breakwaters, offering a perfect setting to spend a beach day. The beach boulevard has many restaurants and bars.
Praia da Riviera
Those enjoying beaches in a more natural state, there is the Praia da Riviera beach located a little outside of Praia da Vitória. The beautiful sandy beach is lined by reed beds that are popular among migratory birds. There is also a beach bar at the entrance.
Praia da Prainha
In the center of Angra do Herísmo there is a small sandy cove called Prainha. The beach is a central spot for spending a beach day in the capital of Terceira. There are toilet and shower facilities at the beach.
Terceira is famous for its sea water pools, and Biscoitos, located on the northern side of the island, is perhaps the best known. In Biscoitos there are many glistening natural pools in a dramatic setting of dark basaltic rocks. The facilities of the swimming area include toilets, showers, a playground, restaurants and kiosks.
In Porto Martins, located on the southeastern side of Terceira, there are a few swimming spots, including a large sea water pool and some rocky coves in a more natural state. By the pool there is a restaurant, a café and a beautiful coastal boulevard for walking. The area is also popular among surfers.
The natural pools of Serretinha are located in front of a village formed below a steep coastal slope. The swimming spot is rather small, but has a gorgeous view to the Ilhéus das Cabras islands off the coast of Terceira.
Negrito is located in São Mateus, and there one can choose between the ocean and the salt water pool, in case the waves are too big. The lava rock formations close by make the scenery interesting.
The pool area of Quatro Ribeiras includes a swimming pool filled with salt water as well as the natural pools that are perfect for snorkeling. The pools are joined together by stairs and small bridges. There is a café and restrooms at the beach.
Cinco Ribeiras is located by a small port of a coastal village of the same name. There are several natural pools with different depths, plus the port dock. There is a café and a camping ground nearby.
Located the closest to Angra do Heroísmo, the Silveira bathing area is a popular place during summers. The swimming spot is more of a dock from which to take a dip in the ocean than an actual natural pool. Silveira is equipped with changing rooms and a café.
Events on Terceira Island
Traditional street parties
There is a saying in the Azores that the archipelago consists of eight islands and one amusement park. The amusement park is Terceira, of course, because there the warmer half of the year is filled with constant parties. Between May and October, the local people gather on the streets to celebrate both Catholic and secular matters very often. Especially the Sanjoaninas celebration in late June is one of the most important annual events on the island and a very special experience.
If visiting Terceira outside of the celebration season, there are for example the Carnival in February and the Christmas markets in December that bring life to the streets. During Carnival, there are street parties with participants dressed up in the most imaginative costumes, but also the traditional bailinhos shows, where different theatre and musical groups rotate performing on the village stages.
The bull fights are still well alive on Terceira, and especially the traditional tourada à corda is a popular pastime. In this bull fighting style typical for the Azores, the animal is not intended to be killed, but instead, the provoked bull runs on the streets with a rope on its neck, held by six “shepherds” creating a seemingly form of safety for the participants bullying the animal.
Food experiences on Terceira Island
Terceira is known for a dish called alcatra, a stew usually made of meat or fish slowly cooked in a clay pot and eaten with either wheat bread or massa sovada, a slightly sweet bread. Among desserts, Terceira is famous for the Dona Amélia cupcakes, made of nuts, raisins, molasses and spices. Another sweet delicacy from Terceira is the doce de vinagre, a dessert that is better than it sounds like, since one of the ingredients is indeed vinegar as the name suggests. The best known Carnival-time treat is the custard-filled filhós do forno pastries.
From the fish selection, one should try for example the boca negra aka bluemouth rockfish, espadarte aka sword fish, or locally caught fresh tuna. Also the lapas grelhadas, grilled limpets, are utterly delicious. The best fish restaurants can be found in the fishing village of São Mateus, but the village is also home to a couple of pizzerias preparing authentic Italian pizzas in their wood ovens.
Local cheeses of Terceira can be enjoyed and bought to take back home at the Queijo Vaquinha bar located in the village of Cinco Ribeiras. Another great spot selling locally made cheeses, yogurts, meat and ice cream is Quinta dos Açores, whose heavenly ice cream selection includes even flavors of traditional Azorean pastries. The Quinta dos Açores factory features a restaurant and a shop selling local produce.
The village of Biscoitos is known as a wine producing region utilizing the traditional verdelho grapes cultivated between the lava rocks. It’s possible to learn about the producing methods of the wine as well as taste the end product at the wine museum of Casa Agrícola Brum. The only artisanal beer of Terceira, on the other hand, is called Brianda, and it can be found for sale in several restaurants around the island.
Shopping on Terceira
It may not be worth it to do an ambitious shopping trip in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but Terceira has many unique souvenirs to bring back home nevertheless. There are also many shops and supermarkets on the island, from where one can find all the daily necessities. In the center of Angra do Heroísmo, there is the municipal marketplace called Mercado Duque de Bragança, where it’s possible to stock on fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and bakery products. The only one and modest shopping mall of the island, Fórum Terceira, is located in Praia da Vitória.
Terceira is known for the beautifully hand embroidered textiles and laces, which makes both popular souvenirs. Also handmade pottery, baskets, wooden items and woven textiles are produced on the island. Local food items are also great souvenir ideas, including jams, cheeses, preserved foods and honey. Canned fish products and tea are also produced on the Azores. All of the abovementioned items can be bought for example in the souvenir stores of Angra do Heroísmo and Praia da Vitória.
Transportation from the airport and around the island
There are buses from the Lajes airport to Praia da Vitória and Angra do Heroísmo. The company is called EVT (Empresa de Viação Terceirense) and the tickets cost around 1 and 3 euros. A taxi ride from the airport to Angra do Heroísmo costs from 16 to 20 euros.
Most of the EVT buses that operate between the cities and villages of Terceira drive once per hour or more rarely, usually concentrating around the school schedules. The public transportation is cheap, but the routes do not reach every sight of the island.
The easiest way of exploring Terceira is renting a car. There are several car rental agencies at the airport and its close vicinity. It’s advisable to book a car ahead. The rental prices start from 15 euros per day, depending on the season. The roads of Terceira are generally in good condition and easy to drive, but tractors and cow herds can cause some delays.
Weather and climate of Terceira
The Azorean climate is subtropical and oceanic, characterized by mild winters and warm summers. Thanks to this, Terceira is a year-round travel destination. However, the weather can change rapidly, and therefore it’s possible to have all four season in one day, be it summer or winter. That is also why the plans for the Terceira holiday should be made according to the weather forecast. The viewpoints are best visited on a sunny, clear day, whereas fog and rain do not affect visiting the caves. Usually the weather is sunny on the coast, even if the center of the island would be covered by clouds.
The sea temperature of Terceira stays warmer than Continental Portugal for the whole year, because the Gulf Stream passes very close to the Azores. The sea temperature is 16 °C during winter and some 24 degrees during summer.
Winter: The daytime temperatures are usually around 16 to 18 °C while the nighttime temperatures have more variation, staying mostly between 12 and 16 °C. Winters of Terceira are known for quite a lot of rain and storms that can bring high winds with them.
Spring: The maritime climate affects the temperatures by delaying the warming up of the air during springtime. A noticeable difference to the winter temperatures takes place in May, even though the rains start to lessen already in February.
Summer: The mean temperatures of the day rise on the better side of 20 °C in June. The daytime temperatures are 23 to 26 °C in July – September, while the nighttime temperatures are between 18 to 20 °C.
Autumn: September is still a summer month temperature-wise, on average being warmer than June. The mean temperatures of the day drop below 20 °C in October. During autumns, tropical storms and even hurricanes pass by the islands, but they are usually already diminished in strength when they reach the Azores. Also Terceira’s location in the middle of the archipelago protects the island from the worst weather.
Text and photos: Johanna Maldonado