Ponta Delgada, the largest city and capital of the Azores, is located on the island of São Miguel.
A bit of research told me that this island was discovered around 1426-1437 by the explorer Gonçalo Velho Cabral and was soon colonised by settlers from continental Portugal. It quickly became an obligatory port-of-call in the African and Asian commercial trade and over the following centuries the development of the fishing industry, cultivation of food staples and expansion of the dairy industry supported the expansion of the port of Ponta Delgada and the growth of other population centres on São Miguel.
With this in mind, I was really curious to explore this small charming city, see its architectural heritage and learn a bit more about its rich history. The weather wasn’t on my side, as it rained most days, yet that didn’t stop the adventure: all you need is an umbrella and your curiosity!
Ponta Delgada immediately reminded me of cities and towns of mainland Portugal. I loved the narrow cobblestone streets, the traditional architecture and the colourful houses. I walked for miles to take it all in, visiting churches and museums, popping in and out of local shops. I spent hours along the seafront and watching the boats. I tried as many local dishes as I could.
And here are my “best things to do/see” in Ponta Delgada:
Portas da Cidade (City Gates)
This is the historic city entrance and one of the symbols of Ponta Delgada. The gates date back to the 18th century but were originally built in a different location before being moved to Praça de Gonçalo Velho, where you find them nowadays.
Waterfront and Avenida
The pedestrian seaside promenade goes from east to west and is very popular for strolls at any time of the day (and night). You’ll find bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels. I spent all my evenings walking here, enjoying the sea breeze and watching island life.
Several black-and-white churches made in basalt stones will get your attention: from the 15th century Church of São Sebastião (Igreja Matriz) to the Church of São José and the Church of São Pedro. Not to mention the Convent and Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperança, where the the image of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (the Lord Christ of Miracles) is worshipped.
Fort of São Brás
Now housing the Military Museum, this is a 16th century fortress then expanded in the 18th-19th century. You can walk around the walls (nice views of the harbour) as well as visit the inside of the museum – the WWII tunnels are slightly creepy!
Streets, historic buildings and more
Just walk around to see many more examples of local architecture and more quirky views too.
Gruta do Carvão (Carvão Cave)
This is the longest underground lava tunnel on the island of São Miguel, extending for almost 2Km. You can join a guided tour on arrival and enjoy exploring cavern walls with their stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other volcanic structures.
With a few plantations in the outskirts of Ponta Delgada to choose from, I opted for Ananas Santo Antonio as I happened to be walking nearby. A short free guided tour of the greenhouses introduced me to the history and the process of growing pineapples in the Azores. Pineapples were introduced to the Azores in 1850, are smaller in size than average pineapples but have a sweeter taste. Their export is minimal and they are mainly used for local consumption and sold to tourists.
If you walk along the waterfront heading east from Ponta Delgada, you’ll come across a few interesting sights like the Forno da Cal and the Miradouro do Ilheu. You’ll then soon reach São Roque, a civil parish famous for its beaches and a parochial church over the cliffs. More than anything, I enjoyed the rugged coastline and being by the ocean. Looking at the strong waves I was constantly reminded of how remote the Azores are, and exposed to strong winds on all sides.