The Azores: A Family Guide to Getting In and Around
The Azores were once one of Portugal's best kept secrets.. an archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean that are any nature-lover's dream.
In recent years, they're become more well known outside of Portugal and we expect that the numbers of tourists visiting each year will only increase.
That said, for the moment at least, the Azores are an unspoilt paradise with wild landscapes, plenty of outdoor activities and significantly fewer tourists than most European island groups.
The nine islands of the Azores are split up into three groups - Flores and Corvo are in the western group, Faial, Pico, Graciosa, Terceira and São Jorge are in the central group and São Miguel, Santa Maria, and Formigas islets in the eastern.
Travelling to and around the Azores with your family may seem a little daunting so welcome to tripAbrood's family-friendly guide.
How to get there
The best and, for most of us, the only way to reach the Azores is by plane. Currently the only direct flights from the UK are Ryanair's flights from London Stansted (STN). This flight takes just over 4 hours to arrive at Ponta Delgada's João Paulo II Airport (PDL) on the island of São Miguel.
Flying from elsewhere in the UK, you'll have to stop at another airport en route which isn't ideal with little ones in tow but it can be a great opportunity to visit both mainland Portugal and the Azores.
At the time of writing, TAP Portugal offer free 1-5 night stopovers in Lisbon when flying between the UK and the Azores. This usually works out cheaper than booking two separate return flights and you also get access to a range of exclusive experiences and discounts when booking an official stopover. Plus, there's the added benefit of giving both parents and kids rests between flights! It takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Ponta Delgada from Lisbon and more details on TAP's free stopovers can be found here.
TAP Portugal currently fly from Manchester (MAN), London Heathrow (LHR) and London Gatwick (LGW).
A third option is to book a direct flight to Lisbon or Porto, then book a second flight to the Azores. If you're choosing this option, be sure to leave enough time between flights to account for any delays to your flight and to collect any checked baggage. This can be a good option if you're looking to fly to an airport other than São Miguel or were already planning to spend a few days in either Lisbon or Porto en route. By booking a separate flight from Portugal to the Azores, you're also now eligible for one of Azores Airlines' free inter-island flights. More details are available here.
Travelling around an island
Before I get into island-hopping, lets talk about getting around on the islands themselves. The Azores isn't generally known for having a good public transport network. There are buses that run between the main towns but they are often unreliable, infrequent and the routes are designed for locals not tourists.
Renting a car in the Azores is highly recommended and fairly cheap depending on the time of year. It gives you the freedom to explore the islands fully, being able to stop to take in the incredible landscapes and removes the stress of trying to work out irregular bus timetables. It isn't difficult to drive in the Azores, just expect long curved roads and dirt tracks on occasions - insurance covering scratches is usually recommended. Local agencies are generally cheapest but it's worth checking out the usual major companies too.
If driving isn't an option, consider taking tours to explore. You'll find plenty of companies offering multi-day, full-day and half-day trips and they'll range from 5-star luxury to budget conscious. Try to take small-group tours if possible, you'll get to see so much more in the time if you aren't waiting on the 40th passenger to return.
Island Hopping in the Azores
Island hopping in the Azores can be an amazing experience but it does often involve even more flying. When travelling between two islands in the same group, you may be able take a ferry but beware, travel times can be fairly lengthy between certain islands (the ferry between São Miguel and Santa Maria takes around 3 hours) and the currents in the Atlantic can be rough depending on the time of year, weather and routing.
All ferries operating belong to the same parent company - Atlântico Line. Tickets for children under 12 are usually half-price and babies under 2 travel for free. An adult ticket from Corvo to Flores (western group) costs €10 per adult. This route takes around 40 minutes. From Pico to Faial (central group), a 30-minute trip, an adult ticket costs only €3.60.
Large families (5 members) can take advantage of a 10% discount when travelling together and if you're travelling between May and September, their Family Pack offer gives you a 25% discount provided you're booking both adult and children's tickets together. If you're planning to travel between on some of the longer more expensive routes, consider buying a Sea Pass. These cost €80 for adults and €65 for children (ages 2-12) and allow you 4 trips between islands in the same group.
Schedules, fares and other information can be viewed here.
When travelling between different islands groups, you'll have to take a flight. The different island groups in the Azores may look close but it takes an hour and 25 minutes to fly from São Miguel in the east to Flores in the west and Azores Airlines is the only airline which operates inter-island flights. No competitors means a short flight can be fairly costly compared to other European airlines. Expect to be pay between £110 and £140 per person for a return flight from São Miguel to another island group.
As previously mentioned, if you have a separate flight booking from mainland Portugal to the Azores (not a connecting flight), you're eligible for one free inter-island flight. These can be redeemed for different islands for both your inbound and outbound flights so can reduce the cost of island-hopping quite a bit.
Now you've got all the information you need to get to and around the Azores! Next, to find your perfect family-friendly accommodation, visit tripabrood.com.