Minimoon in the Middle of the Atlantic: Ponta Delgada, Azores!

Ponta Delgada is, by far, the Azores’ largest and most populated city.  Located on São Miguel Island, Ponta Delgada is the transportation hub of the Azores and a jumping off point for most travelers to the Azores. Dan & I spent a week here in September on our “mini-moon” (a/k/a the week after we got married in Portugal but definitely not our honeymoon!). We had a great week filled with city strolling, island exploring, and eating lots of Azorean specialities!

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The Old City Gates of Ponta Delgada.

Where To Stay?

Dan & I stayed at Hotel Casa Hintze Ribeiro. Casa Hintze Ribeiro is a luxury boutique on Rua de H. Ribeiro, right in the middle of Ponta Delgada! Rua de H. Ribeiro is a fun street, lined with bars and restaurants, that leads directly into Ponta Delgada’s main square and eventually up to Ponta Delgada’s port, Portas do Mar. The location of our hotel and ability to walk everywhere really added to our trip!

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Our street – the tables and chairs are from Casa Hintze Ribeiro.

Aside from the location, Hotel Casa Hintze Ribeiro offered complimentary parking, a large breakfast spread every morning, and a swanky pool area!

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Overlooking the pool at Casa Hintze Ribeiro from our room!

If you are looking for a more American-style hotel, try Hotel Marina Atlântico, which is about 15 minutes from Casa Hintze Ribeiro overlooking Portas do Mar. We almost stayed here but there were oddly booked up far in advance… In any case, we think that we made the right choice!

What To Do?

Ponta Delgada is short on major bucket list sites, but it is the “city hub” of the islands and has a number of sites to occupy a few hours.  Further, aside from sites, Ponta Delgada is where you want to be for diverse restaurant choices, the most hotel options, shopping, and nightlife.

Tourist Sites: If you are set on checking your bucket list, be sure to visit the Old City Gates, Forte de São Bras (the old fort), Ingreja de São Jose (Sant Jose Church), and Ingreja de São Pedro (Saint Paul’s Church).

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The Old City Gates at night!

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A church in Ponta Delgada.

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Flowers just off Rua H. Ribeiro.

The Market: The main market of Ponta Delgada, Mercado da Graca, is a pretty cool market to visit. The best time to go is in the morning on a Saturday; this is when all of the vendors are out and the market is bustling! Mercado da Graca sells fruits, vegetables, and has a fish market a bit reminiscent of a tiny version of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. Tuna is big in the Azores, and you can see it being cut up at the market on a Sunday market kindaaaa like in Tokyo! We also had delicious sandwiches and juice at Mercado da Graca from Sabores, a vendor in the market!

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Azorean pineapple at Mercado da Graca.

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Tuna on the left…fish monger would later chop it up in true Japanese style.

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Fall fruits and vegetables making their debut!

Portas do Mar: Ponta Delgada has a huge port filled with lots of boats, from small sail boats to cruise ships to huge commercial vessels. In addition to viewing the boats, Portas do Mar has a lot of restaurants, bars, and activities for visitors throughout the year. Be sure to check it out! São Miguel is also on the whale migration path so a number of outfits offer whale watching tours, which depart daily from Portas do Mar.

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One of the whale watching tour companies.

Of course, sailing tours, which are more our speed, also depart from Portas do Mar. Tickets for both the whale watching tours and the sailing tours can generally be booked the a day or two in advance in person in Portas do Mar. Dan and I did a sunset sail on our last night and it was beautiful!

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Sunset sail!

The Town: Aside from these main sites, Ponta Delgada is a nice, safe place to simply stroll. We ran into some pretty sites walking around!

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Cool mural on Avenida do Mar!

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Gorgeous beach scene on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada

What to Eat?

Surprising to me before visiting, the Azores makes almost all of its own food, much of it that you cannot get outside of the Azores, including tuna, sweet pineapples, sweet liquor, beer (albeit not great), cheese, butter, cheese, fruit, jams, peppers, really the list goes on… We tried as much as we could and came up with some of our favorites!

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Azorean tuna at Big 21.

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Simple sandwiches from Sabores in Medcado da Graca – delicious!

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All of the Azorean products!

In terms of restaurants, we really loved Big 21, Alcides, and Mercearia São Pedro Wine & Tapas! Individual reviews coming soon! If you are a food definitely hit some of these places, as well as the Mercado da Graca! Also, there are a number of little shops in Ponta Delgada that you can stop in just to pick up cheese and crackers to enjoy in your hotel room or the road! O Rei dos Queijos, or the “King of Cheese” is highly recommended for this purpose (see the below video)!

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The King of Cheese! We bought two huge hunks of Azorean cheese for 8,00 euro total

Where to Drink?

Ponta Delgada is certainly not a crazy, European party destination, but it does have some fun places to drink! And, since its warm pretty much all year, as long as its not raining most places have outdoor seating! My one complaint – there was not a single Irish pub in all of Ponta Delgada!!

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Out on our first night!

Cantinho do Anjeos: AKA the “Angels House” is located on Rua H. Ribeiro very close to Casa Hintze Ribeiro. Casa do Anjeos is a old school port bar, decked out with lost of sailing things. This is probably the closest thing to a “pub” that you will find in Ponta Delgada and it is a pretty fun spot to have a few drinks. When we visited they even had a local cider on tap! We also had lunch here one day and the food was not bad (but also not great…)!

Fun cocktails: Since the Azores have a lot of local products, Azorean bars make delicious cocktails! They can be found throughout Ponta Delgada, but this delicious beverage came from the bar right across the street from Hotel Casa Hintze Ribeiro – I forgot the name!

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Cocktails!

And, I’m not sure where to share this except as “nightlife,” we ran into a number of bands and street parades in the evenings in Ponta Delgada. Here is one that we ran into while enjoying a cider at Casa do Anjeos…I think there was a religious theme.

Wine Bars: Like mainland Portugal, Portuguese wine is popular in the Azores, and wine bars are a great place to try Portuguese wine! There are several in Ponta Delgada and they also make a good place for a light dinner.  We enjoyed an excellent dinner at Mercearia São Pedro Wine & Tapas on our first night in Ponta Delgada and highly recommend it!

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Dinner at Mercearia São Pedro Wine & Tapas.

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Wine from Sao Miguel

Night Clubs: There are apparently, according to Instagram stores, a number of night clubs in Ponta Delgada, some of which seemed to get pretty crazy. We did not visit these establishments, but they apparently exist if that interests you!

Shopping!

Now, I LOVE to shop, especially when traveling! However, Ponta Delgada, and the Azores in general, are sadly not a strong shopping destination. The best souvenirs are actually food souvenirs, including jams, honeys, liquors, and vacuum packed pineapple fruits and cheese (side note – you cannot bring home meat or cheese unless it is vacuum sealed)! If you must shop, there are some good souvenir shops in Ponta Delgada proper. I purchased a beautiful linen table cloth and a fabulous pineapple shaped tray! Ponta Delgada does have a few High Street shops, but, take note, they are all CLOSED on the weekends!

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The jam situation in Ponta Delgada!

How Long to Stay in Ponta Delgada?

How long to stay is always an interesting question, and I think the answer really depends on your travel style. Ponta Delgada can been seen in a few hours but, it is also a very convenient place to base yourself.  Sao Miguel Island is quite small, and you can pretty drive anywhere on the island in 2 hours. Wa stayed an entire week, with a one night detour to Furnas and thought it was perfect.

Practical Information

Getting In: Due to its remote location, most visitors reach Ponta Delgada through São Miguel’s only airport, Airport João Paul II (PDL). Uber does not exist in the Azores (as of September 2017) but there are cabs waiting for all flights arriving the airport. The drive to Ponta Delgada is about 10 minutes and cost around €10,00. There is a bus service, but it seemed somewhat confusing… If you arrive by boat in Portas do Mar, you can walk to all of the main tourists sites in Ponta Delgada. If you are looking to go further, taxis frequent the area around the Old Gates of Ponta Delgada (a 5 minute walk to the left of Portas do Mar) and Av. Infante Dom Henrique, which runs along Portas do Mar.

Money: The Azores are on the Euro and only accept the Euro. No US Dollars. ATMs are widely available in Ponta Delgada, less so if you visit more remote areas of São Miguel. Stock up in Ponta Delgada before heading out. Many smaller shops and restaurants only take case.

Getting Around São Miguel: If you will want to get out of São Miguel to see Sete Cidades or Furnas, there are buses than run around the island but they are confusing and take a while. Instead, I recommend renting a car. We used Micauto right on Av. Infante Dom Henrique, a 5 minute walk from Portas do Mar. If you want to rent a car, especially an automatic, booking in advance online and confirming the automatic is a must.

Weather: While Ponta Delgada is the capital of an island, São Miguel is filled with microclimates, meaning that the weather is unpredictable; it can rain in one part of the island and be sunny on another. Wear layers and bring an umbrella.

American Necessities: The Azores get a lot of American visitors due to some recent cheap flights deals but, the Azores are definitely not American! They are distinctly European in a good way! That being said, if you find yourself in need of an American meal, there is always McDolands, or the Embassy as I like to call it. Side note – we did not visit the Ponta Delgada McDonalds( (and I may regret that…)!

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The Embassy!

STEAL OUR TRIP

Casa Hintze Ribeiro: 62, R. Hintze Ribeiro, 9500-049 S.Miguel, Portugal. Cute boutique hotel with a pool and parking garage.

Hotel Marina Atlantico: Av. João Bosco Mota Amaral n.º1, 767, 9500-767 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. A more American style hotel than Casa Hintze Ribeiro over looking Portas do Mar. Owned by the same people as Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in Furnas.

Portas do Mar: The Sea Port’s website. Contains information on shops, restaurants, and tours in Portas do Mar.

Cantino dos Anjeos: Rua Hintze Ribeiro 83 , Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel 9500-049, Portugal. T: +351 296 629 555. Fun pub in Ponta Delgada. No reservations. Seems to be open all the time, including late night.

Big21: R. Ernesto do canto Antiga Rua Denasa da graca 17, 9500-150 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. T: +351 296 281 398. Closed Sunday; open Monday – Saturday 18:00 – 23:00. Definitely call or Facebook message for a reservation in advance – the restaurant is tiny and fills up!

Sabores: Rua do Mercado, Graça Market, 9500-326 Ponta Delgada, Portugal (in the Mercado da Graca). Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Friday 10:00 – 18:00 (until 19:00 on Friday) and 9:00 – 14:00 on Saturday. No reservations. Cash only.

Alcides: R. Hintze Ribeiro 67, 9500-049 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. T: +351 296 282 677. Closed Sunday. Open 12 – 15:00 and 19:00 – 22:00 every other day. Definitely call ahead for a reservation; this place is popular! 

Mercearia São Pedro Wine & Tapas: Largo Almirante Dunn 23-A, 9500-292 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. T: +351 296 281 600. Open daily 6:00 – 0:00 (food stops earlier). You probably do not need a reservation.

Mercado da Graca: R. do Mercado, 9500-326 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Saturday 7:00 – 18:00.

King of Cheese: The cheese shop! Connected to the entrance of Mercado da Graca. I could not find the hours, but they seem to keep the same hours as the market.

Sunset Cruise: We went through LS Catamarans, with their shop (aka stand) located at Marina Portas do MarPonta Delgada, Sao Miguel 9500-770. We booked through Viator.com, but the price appears to be the same at $90 USD/person, which includes a 3 hour sail with light, light snacks and wine during the last hour. Book at least a day in advance by going to their stand in Portas do Mar. The first picture was taken from the sunset sail!

Micauto: Avenida Infante Dom Henrique 109, 9500-150 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. We rented our car from here. Open daily 9:00 – 18:00, but you can drop off at all hours. Reservations must be made in advance for car rentals, and far in advance for automatics!

ON A BUDGET

The Azores, generally, are a budget destination; things are definitely cheaper than on mainland Portugal. However, like Furnas, Ponta Delgada has a few upscale hotels and definitely caters to the luxurious. That being said, budget options still abound in Ponta Delgada. Eat and drink early for deals, and take advantage of free outdoor concerts and activities. There is also a university in Ponta Delgada, the University of the Azores, and there are cheap eats in that area! Of the places list in my blog, Sabores in the Mercado da Graca is definitely a good, budget option!

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