You cannot deny that the mainland of Portugal is rich in historical sites and cultural attractions, but the islands off of Portugal deserve some acclaim too! So I’ve put together this guide of the best islands in Portugal to visit in 2021!
The country’s collection of islands are like undiscovered gems. However, not everyone knows that Portugal houses some of the most beautiful and fascinating islands on Earth.
Each one of these Portuguese islands has a distinct culture and unique spirit to them. Between the archipelagos of Madeira (an island off the coast of Africa) and the Azores (850 miles west of mainland Portugal), nearly a dozen inhabited islands offer some of the most unique and rewarding experiences for visitors.
So, if you’re wondering which of the Portugal islands you should be visiting – this guide has curated only the best. All of these islands provide breathtaking scenery, views, and stunning sandy beaches. What more could you want on a vacation?
Be sure to check out my other guides for Portugal:
But without further ado, here are fourteen of the best islands off the coast of Portugal to put on your bucket list!
1) Sao Miguel Island
They say, “Go big or go home”, so this list starts with the largest island. Sao Miguel is a part of the popular group of Portuguese islands called the Azores Islands. Also known as the Green Island, Sao Miguel has miles of green rolling hills and farmland. Also scattered throughout the island are an abundance of mineral hot springs, making this island one of the best beach vacation spots in Portugal.
If you are a bit of a thrill-seeker, you can go on a hike through the trails surrounding the Sete Cidades Caldera (a volcanic complex). These hiking trails are among the best in the Portuguese Azores islands. Visitors to the island can eat food that has been cooked in the volcanically active ground and enjoy catching a bit of sun on the black sandy beaches.
Your trip to this magical paradise is incomplete if you haven’t grabbed the opportunity to see a couple of dolphins. Or go on a whale watching tour. Both these marine mammals know how to put on a good show – at the end of it, you’ll be begging for an encore.
This Portuguese island in the Atlantic, Madeira, has become a legend in producing local wine. Nicknamed the Garden Island and the Pearl of the Atlantic, Madeira is clearly an island with a lot of appeal. The stunning scenery of the Portuguese island of Madeira is one of the islands’ main attractions.
Offering a wealth of expansive landscapes ranging from lush parks, colorful gardens, enchanting forests, and nature reserves to lofty mountains and pebbled beaches lapped by blue ocean waves. Madeira offers its people exotic fruits such as guava and passion fruit, which locals use to prepare a variety of traditional dishes that represent the culture of the island.
Madeira is a destination that combines history with recreation. Hiking is a popular activity here with many of the paths offering amazing views from the mountain peaks. If you visit, take a moment to admire the incredible 15th-century wooden church called Sé Cathedral in the city of Funchal.
3) Flores Island
The name of the island, Flores, is inspired by the abundance of colorful flowers that bloom and cover it from peak to valley. Although this beautiful Portuguese island is one of the lesser-known islands – Flores is impressive. The scenery throughout the whole island is so unbelievably beautiful. You’ll feel like you’re in one of the pages of The Jungle Book
The island of Flores speaks to all the nature lovers. There is plenty to see and do. Experience anything from canoeing, bird watching, hiking, surfing, and whale watching to kayaking and swimming. Flores also has a number of waterfalls, including the infamous Poco do Bacalhao Falls close to Faja Grande. Another momentous attraction is Rocha dos Bordões. This is an amazing natural landmark composed of vertical basalt rocks.
4) Terceira Island
Terceira is among the Portuguese island group called the Azores. It is the third-largest island of this archipelago in the North Atlantic. Terceira island is less developed, but the agriculture of the island plays a major part in the local economy. The island is also home to some famous historical colonial architecture, but the real appeal of Terceira is the outdoor activities and landscape.
Here you can relax on the sands of the Praia de Vitoria beaches. Or better yet, you could set off on a tour of the incredible Algar do Carvão Natural Reserve Park, and Gruta do Natal Cave System. The island is also home to a stunning castle called Castelo de São João Batista, where the Spanish and the Portuguese once battled.
São Mateus is Terceira Island’s fishing village. Here, you can scoff down the delicious local cuisine and wash it down with a bottle of local green wine. No, this doesn’t refer to the hue of the wine but rather the lack of maturity of the grapes when they are bottled. This is a Portuguese speciality known as Vinho Verde.
5) Cape Verde Island
Cape Verde is a Portuguese island off the coast of Africa. Off the coast of Mauritiana to be exact. This island has the most favorable weather for tourists. It is never too hot nor too cold which helped it to become one of the most famous vacation islands.
Although Cape Verde is a combination of ten volcanic islands, the island has beautiful beaches, and the waters there are crystal blue. The island is famous for water sports and water activities like surfing, boating, and much more.
6) Pico Island – Portugal’s Highest Peak
Pico is one of the islands in the Atlantic that is home to the highest mountain in Portugal, Pico Mountain. With São Miguel’s moniker as the Green Island, Pico is known as the Grey Island. This is largely due to the volcanic soil that gives it a distinct appearance.
The word pico means peak in English and with the tallest mountain in Portugal at your feet, you’ve got to strap up your hiking boots. It takes about two hours to climb to the summit of Pico, and it is the ultimate spot to view the sunset. Making the trek up is completely worth it. A bonus is that you can see some of the other islands from the top of Pico Mountain, such as Sao Jorge and Faial.
The island is also home to the largest outdoor, man-made salt-water swimming pool, which is surprisingly deep and perfect for swimming laps.
But if you don’t consider yourself ‘outdoorsy’, wine tasting is also a popular thing to do in Pico (and it can be your thing too). The vineyards on Pico Island have been classified on the UNESCO World Heritage List for cultural significance.
7) Porto Santo Island
Porto Santo is just a 30-minute plane ride from Madeira Island- talk about island hopping. It houses some of the best beaches in Portugal and is truly one of the best islands to visit. Its coast runs more than four miles and many water activities can be done in its beautiful blue waters, most notably snorkeling and diving. Some other popular activities that can be enjoyed on the island are hiking and golfing.
If you have a keen interest in history, Porto Santo has several historic landmarks you may also like to visit. These historical attractions include the Christopher Columbus Museum, the 16th-century Paços do Concelho (the City Hall), and the 15th-century Matriz Church.
8) Ilha de Tavira
Only accessible by boat, the island is often abuzz with visitors who come for a day of basking in the sun. However, the appeal of Ilha island is that this is the place to go if you’re searching for sandy beaches without big crowds. The further along the beach you walk, the more solitude and calm you’ll experience.
There is also an endless line of bars and restaurants to enjoy that can be found right on the beach.
9) Faial Island
This island is yet another beautiful Azores island known as Faial Island. Nicknamed the Blue Island because the island lies in the center of the Azores group of islands. Faial has three main attractions: the volcanic craters, the town of Horta, and the soft white beaches.
There are an array of exciting activities to do on this island. A couple of favorite activities amongst visitors are exploring the largest volcano in Faial, relishing the delicious local cuisine in the town of Horta, and watching the ships sail by at the marina.
10) Sao Jorge Island
Enjoy this Azores island vacation destination in the Atlantic known as Sao Jorge. The island boasts tall cliffs that contribute to its dynamic landscape. Unfortunately, the mountains, ravines, and cliffs have made most of the island uninhabitable, with an exception of the coast. However, the interior of the island is ideal for hiking.
Those in search of an adventure can explore the Montoso and Bocas do Fogo caves. Sao Jorge is also a foodie’s dream destination, offering local cuisine like clam dishes unique to the island. Also on offer is the tangy unpasteurized cheese produced with milk from the island’s grass-fed cows. You can’t get more organic than that.
11) Ilha de Armona
Portugal’s Algarve region is wildly popular with tourists, but those who keep their ear to the ground might know about the island of Armona. This island off of Portugal’s coast is easily accessible by ferry, but it is completely car-free and feels worlds apart from the Portugal mainland.
With four miles of sandy, pristine beaches, Armona is a dream destination for those who want sun, sand, sea, and serenity. Armona remains true to its authentic atmosphere and aesthetic. With cobblestone streets and Moorish architecture, the island of Armona is off the beaten track and ideal for downtime and relaxation.
12) Ilha da Culatra
If you’re in the Algarve region, hop on a ferry from Olhão or Faro and take a short ride to the Ilha da Culatra. The beaches on this slice of heaven are phenomenal and fairly quiet. The island of Ilha da Culatra is divided into three parts: Culatra, Farol, and Hângares.
There is a fully functioning fishing village on the island, so expect plenty of fresh seafood straight from the ocean to your plate. But if lazing around on the beaches of this island and eating fresh seafood doesn’t cut it for you – hiking is a top activity. Additionally, the coast is an excellent spot for snorkeling.
Among the most northern islands of the Azores, Graciosa is the perfect Portugal island vacation spot. The island offers a unique blend of natural surroundings and enchanting rocky beaches. Not only is the island surrounded by dreamy blue seas, but also by its basalt walls. Among the beaches, you cannot miss out on Termas do Carapacho, where you will find a couple of thermal pools.
Graciosa is one of the best Azores islands because it exudes an atmosphere of serenity and relaxation that is hypnotic. And despite being one of the smaller islands, Graciosa is packed with plenty of things to see. Hikers can enjoy a trip to Caldeira, the crater of an ancient volcano that has become a Regional Natural Monument. At the same time, travelers can enjoy the picturesque village of Santa Cruz da Graciosa.
14) Santa Maria
Santa Maria is an unspoiled gem of nature, gifted with breathtaking beaches and outstanding natural beauty. Known as the Island of the Sun, it has an expanse of bright red soil best seen at sunset. Santa Maria is the perfect place to go for a holiday to realign your center and enjoy a moment of peace.
Visit the Church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação, where splendid local murals can be viewed. Nearby Santa Maria lies Pico Alto, the highest point on the island, which provides majestic panoramic views. In Santa Maria’s largest village, Vila do Porto, stands the Forte de São Brás. The cannons here are reminders of the islands’ interesting and tumultuous history of fighting off pirates.