Q. When is the best time to visit Portugal and in particular the Azores Islands?
B. All year-round.
C. It depends.
D. All of the above.
If you’re eager to travel as many countries move 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 during 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
|Considerations||Low 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
| €€ |
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
| €€ |
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
|Restaurants||Reservations 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 airplane||Less 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 ferry||Reduced 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
|Weather||Higher 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 temperatures||Lisbon: 15-19°C |
|Lisbon: 18-23°C |
|Lisbon: 28°C |
|Hikes / Nature walks||Higher 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 season||Historical 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 travel||Slow(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||***||*****||**|
|Summary||Least 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 bit put the shoes and socks back on and kept on going. We were rewarded with waterfalls that we 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 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!