A Photo Essay Of Things To Do In The Vibrant, Medieval City Of Ponta Delgada (Azores)
Welcome to vibrant, charming Ponta Delgada! As I island-hopped through the Azores, this is definitely the city I spent the most time in, but even then I focused much more of my time and attention on exploring the rest of Sao Miguel (I mean, you can see why!!).
However, Sao Miguel’s capital is worth a few hours or even a day of your itinerary, depending on how much time you’re spending on the island. The city began as a sleepy fishing village in the 15th century, and honestly?? Not a lot has changed in the intervening half a millennium.
You’ll be charmed by the impossibly-narrow decorative cobblestone streets and stark black-and-white churches that both trace their origins back to the 15th century. There’s great food, a lovely historic harbor, and a plantation growing adorable tiny pineapples. So let’s briefly explore Ponta Delgada!
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Where to stay in Ponta Delgada
I only stayed in Ponta Delgada proper on my last night, before my flight home. But I highly recommend where I stayed, the awesome Praia de Santos (pics below). I also wanted to stay at Casa de Palmeiras but it wasn’t available for my dates.
For most of my stay in Sao Miguel, I ended up basing myself in a beautiful, unique apartment on the north-central coast, giving me easy access to the whole island. I also really wanted to try out this stunning Santa Barbara eco resort, but they weren’t available on my dates.
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A few tips that may be helpful
Before we dive into what to do in Ponta Delgada, I wanted to mention a few things that I learned along the way.
First, parking in Ponta Delgada is a bit messy and this makes it hard to just stop for a coffee for a few minutes on your way through. In fact, they are crazy parkers! They’ll just randomly stop in the middle of the road and have a chat with someone.
Finding parking can be tough, but there are some conveniently-located (paid) public parking lots as well as paid parallel spots (though those are harder to snag). But once you park, the city is super walkable so just leave your car and explore on foot!
If you’re only spending time in Ponta Delgada (but…why??) you don’t need a car, but I definitely believe you need one to explore Sao Miguel overall. Renting a car and driving in the Azores is super easy, and Ponta Delgada is pretty easy to navigate as long as you have Google Maps, your brain, and some patience.
I used DiscoverCars to book all three rental cars across the islands and would highly recommend them…good rates, no hassle, and they found me an automatic when no one else could. I also always compare RentalCars.com. Finding an automatic car can be hard so book early! Also, get the smallest car possible to drive the insanely narrow streets.
If you’re not renting a car, consider a guided tour of Ponta Delgada, or a combined Ponta Delgada/other parts of the island tour.
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The other thing that really struck me was how hot it was! I was visiting in early September, so still summer I guess, but it was SO hot. I definitely didn’t pack enough cool clothes for the Azores overall. With the super humidity they have, I was dripping sweat constantly…there wasn’t a single morning where by like 9:30am I was not just absolutely drenched in sweat
I wished I’d brought more sundresses (a lot of mine are from StitchFix & I love this one from Amazon). I had mostly brought lightweight, breathable stretchy travel pants (Athleta and these Eddie Bauer ones are my faves), lightweight sleeveless or short-sleeve tops, and alternated between my beloved cute/comfy walking sandals and my cute white sneakers.
I also relied on my my fave clean makeup (which does great in sweaty weather!), a headband (for keeping my hair out of my eyes in the wind), and polarized sunglasses. I’d skip jeans (too heavy, don’t dry easily, and take up packing space).
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Things to do in Ponta Delgada
Some people say you can spend a few days exploring Ponta Delgada, though that seems a bit extreme (for my travel tastes/pace at least). Depending on what you want to do, consider a full day here, but you can also see and do a lot with a half day.
A lot of the charm is just in walking around and snapping photos, which is why this post is more of a photo essay rather than a detailed itinerary. At the end of this section, I’ll also share a few things to do in Ponta Delgada that I didn’t have time to get to (or didn’t have interest in).
We’ll start, as I did, in what seems to be the city’s main square, Praça Gonçalo Velho Cabral. Here you’ll find the imposing Portas da Cidade (literally “city gates”). Dating back to the 1700s, these gates welcomed visitors to the (now extinct) pier of Ponta Delgada. They’ve since been moved to this square.
If you look up close, the three arches are decorated with sculptural and ornamental elements, including symbols of the city and the archipelago. The stark whitewash combined with the black (volcanic) basalt stone is a hallmark of Azores architectural style, which you’ll see more of shortly.
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Just a few steps past the Portas, you’ll find a super cool church in a smaller, beautifully-tiled square. Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião is the main church in Ponta Delgada, and I was fascinated with all the different ways it could be photographed (as you’ll see below).
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The church was built in the mid-1500s, originally with a Gothic style with Manueline elements (particularly the intricately-detailed entrance), but the main facade was renovated with strong Baroque style in the 1700s. I didn’t go inside, but the interior is supposed to be quite lavish as well.
On a blue-skied day in particular, this church is incredibly photogenic!
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I’m still regretting not stopping at this cute piña colada cart next to the church…Azoreans (and especially in Sao Miguel) LOVE their pineapple!
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As you wander the (crazy narrow) streets in the main historic downtown parts of Ponta Delgada, you’ll appreciate the dramatic mosaic pavings and the pops of brightly-colored buildings against the typical black-and-white ones.
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The street art also has a similarly-dramatic and contrasting aesthetic, and you have to go searching for it a bit…it’s not like some cities where the murals are all over the place.
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One of the best things to do in Ponta Delgada is to visit the Arruda pineapple plantation, where you can see how they grow the insufferably-cute tiny pineapples that the Azores are famous for.
The plantation is free to enter and you can do a quick self-guided tour of the greenhouses (they also offer free guided tours). There’s a pretty decent gift shop (I got some pineapple liqueur to take home) and a bar that serves drinks and some snacks—I got a piña colada and pineapple cake, naturally.
You will probably want a car to get here, or just grab an Uber or taxi. There was enough parking when I was there, though I’m sure it gets a little tight at peak times. There is another pineapple plantation closeby that I didn’t visit, called Plantação de Ananás dos Açores.
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One of the things on my Ponta Delgada list had been stopping at the Mercado Da Graca, a local farmer’s market offering fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, and breads.
I…think I found it? But if so, I was underwhelmed. It’s possible I was not here at the right day or time, though. It was quite sparse. For me, I’d skip unless you’re on a guided tour where they know what they’re looking for.
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I didn’t spend tons of time in Ponta Delgada, so here were some other things that were on my “maybe” list that you may consider:
- Botanical Gardens – Ponta Delgada has three beautiful botanical gardens (two with paid entry, one free). Jardim Antonio Borges is the free one and many people have said it’s actually their favorite of the three.
- Forte de Sao Bras – A Renaissance-style fort from the 1500s (though it’s undergone some unfortunate style changes), this guarded the city from pirates and today you can tour the remains.
- Whale watching tours – The Azores are famous for whale watching, and many of the tours (like these and this one) depart from the Ponta Delgada harbor (the one that I did left instead from Vila Franco do Campo)
- Ermida de Nossa Senhora Mae de Deus – This church sits high above the city, witj great views of the harbor, the city, and surrounding landscape. The church itself is rarely open, but a you’re probably here for the view (note, there’s a short, steep hike to get to it).
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I did want to briefly talk about eating in Ponta Delgada, though I didn’t spend tons of time there and didn’t get to try out many of the dozens of restaurants on my list. One note, I do recommend making dinner reservations ahead of time, as it was hard even for me as one person to get into most (in-demand) restaurants last-minute.
After some waiting (about 20 minutes), I did get snag a single seat at Suplexio, and BOY did it hit the spot! They have really delicious burgers, I got the one with goats cheese, honey, and walnuts, along with fries and a gin & tonic.
I was able to get into Louvre Michalenese for brunch on my last morning, though the patio seats were taken. It was DELISH! I got the chicken and pancakes (their take on chicken and waffles), which was absolutely bomb. I also had an espresso tonic, which was bitter and refreshing.
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Beyond those two meails, it was a little hit and miss. I stopped at Confeitaria, which has a nice selection of sweets plus real food you can order. Note, the service is super slow. I ended up getting some pastries to go, including an Azorean custard tart with passionfruit (YUM) and trying some quiejadas.
My coffee order for most of the trip was “cafe meit leite” (or meia-de-leite??). This should be espresso with steamed milk, at a 50/50 ratio.
If you’re looking for something right near the main square and Matriz church, check out Dondue. It’s cute, with a great view of the church from the patio, and they have good-looking coffee, breakfast, and Wi-Fi. Note, Cafe Central (which had been on my list to try) was closed temporarily.
As you can see, just a few hours in Ponta Delgada can be super rewarding! I recommend stopping even just for a meal and to walk around for a bit, before moving on to the stunning rest of Sao Miguel.
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