Best time to visit is…

Q. When is the best time to visit Portugal and in particular the Azores Islands?

A. Now!

B. All year-round.

C. It depends.

D. All of the above.

If you’re eager to travel as the many countries continue moving towards fewer travel restrictions, you would probably say … A. Now!

From a practical perspective, the answer should be…. C. It depends.

It depends on your personal preferences, budget and flexibility. Many enjoy visiting Portugal and the Azores during the busy summer season (July & August) because of the warmer weather (even though that’s not always guaranteed) and the numerous local festivals while some travelers have no option but to schedule their travel during the school holidays.

If you have the flexibility to visit Portugal or the Azores at other times of the year, consider using the list below to help you select the time of year that best aligns with your likes as dislikes. Having visited eight of the nine Azores islands and been there every month of the year, except for January, during the last four years, I have a diverse base of personal experience from which to draw these observations.

To simplify this overview, months have been grouped into the three generally accepted tourist seasons:

  • High Season – July & August
  • Mid / Shoulder Season – May, June, September
  • Low season – October to April

Legend: € = Less Expensive     to    €€€€€ – Very Expensive

ConsiderationsLow season (October to April)Mid / Shoulder Season (May, June & September)High Season (July & August)
Cost of flights & accommodations

Best time for date flexibility and best value

Last-minute options    
€€

Moderate pricing

Best to reserve in advance  
€€€

Most expensive (accommodations are often 50 to 80% more expensive compared to low season)

Reserve 6+ months ahead or you may be disappointed  
Car rental

Many different rental options available and best value (you should be able to get a better car for the same price)

Last-minute reservations possible  
€€

Moderate pricing

Best to reserve 3+ months in advance  




€€€

Most expensive with limited availability; very hard to find car with automatic transmission

Reserve 6+ months in advance
 
RestaurantsReservations not required

Service is usually better because staff have more time and are not running around as much
Somewhat busy but reasonable availability

Usually better service than during high season  
Very busy, reservations often required otherwise options limited

Staff is very busy with high number of guests

Fewer specials or “Prato do dia” (Plate of the Day)
Inter-island transfer – by airplaneLess tourism traffic makes it easier to get onto inter-island flights

There are daily flights, but they are less frequent

Possible weather delays
Somewhat busy but reasonable availability

Better than high season  
Very high traffic managed with greater number of daily flights to each island

Reduced flexibility for changes
Inter-island transfer – by ferryReduced service between some islands outside of the Triangle

Daily service between Triangle Islands (S. Jorge, Pico & Faial) is available all year round
Higher level of service usually starts mid-May and ends mid/late September

Reserve ahead if taking a vehicle due to limited capacity
Busy but usually there is enough capacity for walk-on travelers BUT limited room for vehicles on the smaller ferries (9-11 vehicles depending on size)

Vehicle reservations well in advance is a must
WeatherHigher probability of precipitation during the winter monthsJanuary to March are usually the coldest and wettest months

October to December weather is more unstable but don’t be surprised to experience warm sun, rain and wind all in one day
Be prepared for both sunny & rainy days but with warmer weather that should not require a change in plans unless you planed on going out to sea

April to June and September are usually mild and pleasant. Showers are common but usually only for a few hours
Days should be warmer and sunnier, but on an island be prepared for all 4 seasons in a day

Best time of the year for swimming in the ocean
Avg. daily high temperaturesLisbon: 15-19°C
(59-66 °F)

Azores: 16-21°C
(61-70 °F)
Lisbon: 18-23°C
(64-73 °F)

Azores: 19-22°C
(66-72 °F)
Lisbon: 28°C
(83 °F)

Azores: 23-25°C
(73-77 °F)
Hikes / Nature walksHigher precipitation requires greater caution but also creates waterfalls that you won’t see during the summer months

If you are well prepared with proper shoes and clothing, it can be as enjoyable or even more than in the summer
Fewer tourists will allow you to enjoy the hike in peace so you can soak in everything around you

On occasion you may even feel like you have the trail all to yourself
Summer hikes, especially on hot / humid days may need to be planned during the mornings or evenings when its cooler

Trails are busier, noisier & often don’t allow you to really enjoy the sights and sounds
Water or adventure sports (swimming, canyoning, coasteering, sea kayak, deep sea diving or fishing)Fewer options especially for ocean activities

Water temperatures are a bit lower (17°C or 63 °F) during the winter

On sunny days you can enjoy swim in the ocean (many natural swimming pools)  
Subject to weather conditions, you should be able to make reservations on shorter notice

Water temperatures are starting to warm up (18 – 20°C or 64 – 68 °F)  
Water temperatures are warmer (24°C or 75 °F)

Make reservations months in advance, otherwise you will be disappointed (this applies to ALL excursions and most tourist attractions during high season)
Local festivals & harvest seasonHistorical festivities around Carnival as well as religious holidays (Easter, Pentecost / Holy Spirit & Trinity, for example)

Christmas season overflows with decorations of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, lights, reindeer & snowmen often with English Christmas carols playing on the radio or PA systems
Festivities generally start mid-May and wind down in mid/late September

Late august & September are prime harvest season for grapes and many local fruits
Highest number of religious festivals & related celebrations

There is usually one village / town celebrating their patron saint somewhere on the island – just ask around
Pace of travelSlow(er) pace possible and more enjoyable

Often have trails all to yourself

Less frequent options but lower stress (reservations, air, car, ferry)
Very enjoyable pace

Less stress (reservations, air, car, ferry)
Busy, busy, busy

Requires advance planning / reservations for just about everything  
Overall value for money *** ***** **
  SummaryLeast expensive but be prepared to adjust for inclement weather with a Plan B or carry-on with proper clothing and foot gear

Best option to connect with the locals

Very good value

Often better weather than “winter” months

Allows for a slow(er) pace of travel

With premium pricing, this is good when you have a limited travel window

Be prepared for delays, crowds and wait lines due to the higher volume of tourists

Should have better weather BUT in the Azores the weather is always a surprise  

The bottom line is it depends… on what you want to experience!

Let us know what which travel season you prefer, and which of the considerations are most important for you.

Here’s any interesting side story….

As an example of how what might have been a dreary day turned into one of the more memorable hikes that Celeste and I have done. This goes back to mid-December 2016. We were on S. Jorge Island and had planned to go on one of the nicer hikes on the island to the Caldeira do Senhor Santo Cristo. When we left the hotel in the morning the weather was not great but good enough for a hike. We packed a few extra items just in case it rained and off we went. When we arrived at the start of the trail it started to rain heavily so we decided to wait a few minutes to see if the rain would let up a bit. After 5-10 minutes, it slowed to a drizzle and we decided to carry-on with the plan. We had a couple of umbrellas, windbreakers, a bottle of local wine, sweet bread and fruits – what more could we need? We seriously considered turning around a couple of times because there was so much water coming down from the cliffs that it created several streams of water that ran across the trail. Instead of turning around, we took off our socks and shoes, rolled up the pants and continued through the water. Once across, we dried off a but put the shoes and socks back on and kept on going. We were rewarded with water falls that had never experienced during the summer (because they dry up due to the lack of rain). Although it continued to rain and drizzle for most of the day, this turned out to be one of the most memorable hikes that we’ve have done. We still talk about it today. Would we do it again – absolutely! The rain is now a distant memory but the experience lives on!