Dan and I spent the week after our wedding (which took place outside of Lisbon, Portugal in August!) on São Miguel Island in the Azores! One of the main sites in the Azores, if not the main site in all of the Azores, is an area called Sete Cidades, and it is even more gorgeous in person than the photographs portray!
So, obviously everyone visiting São Miguel needs to visit Sete Cidades! However, despite being so popular and so beautiful, there is not a lot of information online to assist in planning a trip to Sete Cidades (or the Azores in general), so here are my tips from our two trips to Sete Cidades. Yes, we went twice; once with a tour group (it rained!) and once on our own in our tiny rental car when it was sunny!
To give you some background, “Sete Cidades” means Seven Cities in Portuguese and the name can refer to a number of things, including the huge (dormant) volcano that covers the western part of São Miguel Island, the green and blue lakes that are in the volcano’s crater, or the tiny town just next to the lakes. You will want to see both the town and the lakes, also referred to as Lagoa das Sete Cidades, and the fantastic panoramic view of it all from the Kings View viewpoint!
Assuming you are not on a tour, start any trip to Sete Cidades with checking the SpotAzores free phone application. The Azores have a crazy climate and, at least on São Miguel Island, the weather can change very quickly. SpotAzores has cameras at tourist hotspots throughout the islands and lets visitors see the weather and level of cloudiness at each site. I recommend having a loose itinerary when visiting the Azores and finalizing it depending on the weather. On our second trip to Sete Cidades, we left Ponta Delgada around 9:45 a.m. after breakfast. Sete Cidades was looking great on the SpotAzores application, and we got some great pictures. However, on our first visit with the tour group, it was super cloudy at Sete Cidades. After waiting for about 20 minutes, the clouds lifted for a few minutes and then came back. Thank goodness we had a second trip!
It took us about 45 minutes to reach Sete Cidades from Ponta Delgada (where we stayed). We had GPS in our rental car, but we ended up using Google Maps (yay T Mobile!) because we did not have a specific address for the GPS. Google Maps ended up taking us directly to the Kings View. You’ll definitely know when you get there because there will be so many other cars crammed in one little area, and you will probably see a bit of a traffic jam. There is also an abandoned hotel just next to the Kings View. If you happed to arrive in the town of Sete Cidades first, you can just do this itinerary in reverse (that is what we did on our tour).
Given the number of cars, finding a parking spot can be tricky. We basically stopped wherever there was room; there are really no parking rules, nor anyone enforcing them. The Kings View is completely free and in good weather, food and souvenir vendors set up at the Kings View. There are also very basic restrooms at the Kings View.
Once you manage to find a parking spot, get your gorgeous pictures!! I recommend bringing a selfie stick!! You really cannot get enough pictures!! Pro tip – if its cloudy when you arrive, wait about 20 minutes; the weather changes REALLY fast at the Kings View! For example,
After getting pictures from the Kings View, a lot of people, myself included, enter the abandoned (and allegedly haunted) hotel to get pictures from the rooftop. This is also free, but also probably illegal. To climb to the roof of the hotel, walk in the main entrance to the hotel (on the same side as the Kings View) and follow other tourists to the top. If you are planning to do this, wear tennis shoes. The hotel is in ruins and there is a lot of junk and water on the floor. I wore Jack Rodgers – big mistake.
After taking all the pictures, drive down to the small town of Sete Cidades, which will take you past a few other view points (worth the stop if you have time) and across the bridge linking the green and blue lakes of Lagoa das Sete Cidades. Its pretty popular to stop on the bridge and take photographs! And, the lakes reminded me SO MUCH of Irealnd…where I just happen to be going for Thanksgiving!
Just a bit past the bridge separating the Green and Blue Lakes is the tiny town of Sete Cidades. The town is really no more than an intersection with a pretty church, the Church of Saint Nicholas, and some snack shops. Definitely take a walk around the church! Entrance is free.
OTHER DESTINATIONS NEAR SETE CIDADES
After visiting Sete Cidades, you have pretty much hit the highlights of Sete Cidades. But, if you have extra time, there are two other interesting places nearish to Sete Cidades that I recommend to round out your afternoon. The first is the natural thermal springs of Ferraria. The natural thermal spring of Ferraria is a natural spring right on the Atlantic Ocean that is warm enough for swimming during certain hours of the day. There is also a proper spa – Termas da Ferraria, which has indoor and outdoor thermal pools, as well as a sauna, steam room, and hot and cold pools. I am going to write a whole post on this experience, but it was a nice little add-on to your trip to Sete Cidades, and the scenery is pretty stunning!
The second place that I can recommend is the Arruda Pineapple Plantation! As you may know, the short, stocky pineapples are grown in the Azores and quite the fruit! They are sweeter and much more expensive than their North American counterparts. While somewhat disorganized, the Arruda Pineapple Plantation allows visitors to walk around their facilities and peek into the greenhouses growing the little pineapples! Arruda also give away free (small) pineapple liquor samples and has a cool gift shop and a snack bar. Arruda is quite close to Ponta Delgada, so you could definitely stop in on your way back to town!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Azores Tours: The tour company I used. Azores Tours was quick to respond to my emails and the tour was great! The cost was €60/person for a full day tour of Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo, including lunch. This is a good option if you have limited time and want to see a lot (as they go all over the island), are not renting a car, or want to learn a lot about the history of the island. I really enjoyed the tour and would definitely do it again!
Sete Cidades: Visit Azores information on Sete Cidades.
Arruda Pineapple Plantation: Rua Doutor Augusto Arruda, Fajã de Baixo, 9500-454 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. Open daily 9h – 20h, closes at 18h October – March. You can easily visit the Arruda Pineapple Plantation from Ponta Delgada.
Termas da Ferraria: Rua Ilha Sabrina, Edifício Termas da Ferraria, 9555-102 Ginetes, Ponda Delgada, Açores. E:firstname.lastname@example.org. Generally open Tuesday – Sunday, 11h – 19h. Call or email to confirm (they are responsive to email). Termas da Ferraria also has a restaurant that is essentially free if you buy entrace to the paying spa. The oceanic springs are free and packed with locals.
SpotAzores: The greatest app for the Azores.
ON A BUDGET
São Miguel is generally quite inexpensive and the further you get out of Ponta Delgada, the cheaper things get. For example, here is a picture of the menu at a restaurant in Sete Cidades:
Your largest expense will probably be renting a car, as visiting Sete Cidades is free, as is a basic visit to the Ferraria thermal springs and the Arruda Pineapple Plantation.