With an abundance of stunning coastal views and natural wonders, the north coast of Sao Miguel is the perfect scenic drive.
Enjoy the beaches, tidal pools and viewpoints along the north coast. A number of looped trails offer different vantage points to see the coastline centred on the city of Ribeira Grande.
We highly recommend this north coast road trip on your visit to Sao Miguel, Azores.
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Sao Miguel North Coast Road Trip
The road trip stretches along the north coast from east to west, centred on the municipality and city of Ribeira Grande. The main attractions are:
- Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park
- Gorreana Tea Factory and Plantation
- Porto Formoso
- Ribeira Grande
- Santo Antonio
The drive along the main highway from the Natural Park to Bretanha is about 60 kilometres, easily covered in a day. For a more leisurely visit, stay in Ribeira Grande and explore the route over 2 days.
Attractions Map – Sao Miguel North Coast
Begin at the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park.
Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões is a must-see when visiting the Azores.
The beautiful park features a stunning, large waterfall just outside the gate and several other smaller cascades along its trails. Walking paths lead visitors through gardens, past another waterfall and a working 16th-century water mill.
Another restored watermill houses a cafe and small museum.
Drive about 15 kilometres west, on the main highway EN1-1A, to a tea plantation in operation for more than a century.
Gorreana Tea Factory and Plantation
The family-run Chá Gorreana has been in operation, producing tea, since 1883. Learn about the tea-making process and machinery used on a self-guided tour through the factory.
Enjoy free samples of their black and green teas, both on the tour and in the gift shop.
Outside, wander leisurely through rows of tea plants. With the Atlantic coast in the background, these green fields provide an excellent backdrop for stunning photography.
Gorreana Tea is one of only two tea plantations in all of Europe. Both are located on the island on Sao Miguel. The smaller Porto Formoso Tea Factory is just down the road. The Port of Formosa is to the north, off the main highway.
This is a picture-perfect village on the ocean with a beautiful harbour. The lovely Our Lady of Grace Church (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça) sits high on the hill above the harbour.
To the west, Moinhos Beach (also known as Port Formoso beach) is one of the most popular beaches in the area. Parking, a cafe and a restaurant are all located nearby.
The beach is the home of the Azores Burning Summer Festival held annually in late August or early September since 2015. The festival promotes ecological awareness and has several musical acts.
For a nice hike along the coast to a waterfall, enjoy the nearby municipal trail.
Miradouro de Santa Iria
This is one of my favourite viewpoints on the entire island. From this clifftop, admire the long coastline, Santa Iria Bay and the village of Porto Formoso below.
Continue west to Sao Miguel’s second largest city.
The city makes an excellent base to explore the north coast and the interior of the island.
Things To Do in Ribeira Grande
- Municipal Museum of Ribeira Grande (Museu Municipal)
The 17th-century manor house contains a museum filled with collections of tiles, pottery and cultural artifacts from the area representing the 16th century to present. The chapel in the house displays a 17th-century altarpiece.
- Arcane House Museum(Casa do Arcano)
This small museum honours the life and works of Mother Margarida Isabel do Apocalipse. This nun created a regional treasure called the Arcano Místico in the 19th century. The work sits on 3 levels within a glass and wood box (about 2 metres by 2 metres). 92 scenes from the Old and New Testaments have been recreated, containing about 3900 miniature figures, all moulded by hand. Temporary exhibits are on display throughout the year.
- Ribeira Grande Theatre (Teatro Ribeiragrandense)
Enjoy a quick walk to admire the beautiful architecture of this theatre and concert hall, built in the 1920s. It was renovated, expanded and upgraded in the 1990s.
- Church of the Holy Spirit (Igreja do Espírito Santo)
This church, built in the 17th or 18th century, has one of the most impressive Baroque facades in the Azores. See a special statue of Christ used in processions during Lent.
- Living Museum of Franciscanism (Museu Vivo do Franciscanismo)
The Franciscans have a long history in the Azores. Learn about the life of St. Francis of Assisi in the museum in the church of the Convent of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Displays include altarpieces, statues and more. See a film about the history of the convent.
- Church of Our Lady of the Star (Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Estrela)
Inside this beautiful church, consecrated in 1517, see the 3 Kings Chapel and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. A small museum displays a 16th-century Flemish triple-panel work of St. Andrew, Ste. Barbara and Ste. Catherine.
- The Arquipelago – Contemporary Arts Centre (Arquipélago – Centro de Artes Contemporaneas)
This art gallery displays art of many different styles and formats.
- Ribeira Grande Municipal pools and beach (Piscina Municipais das Pocas)
When staying in Ribeira Grande, this is a convenient beach to visit. There are 2 salt water pools, a smaller freshwater pool and a natural, sand beach. The area is fully serviced with change rooms, toilets, outdoor showers, a bar and a restaurant.
- Monte Verde Beach (Praia do Monte Verde)
This long beach with powerful waves is loved by surfers and body-boarders. There are toilets, changing rooms and showers available.
- Santa Bárbara Beach (Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara)
This 1-kilometre-long stretch of sand is bordered by cliffs of volcanic rock. It is popular with surfers and body-boarders, often hosting international competitions. Relaxing on the beach is a favourite activity, with good beach accessibility and parking. Toilets, change rooms and showers are available.
When spending more time in the Ribeira Grande, consider a trip to these nearby sites in the interior of the island. They are definitely worth the visit:
- Caldeira Velha Hot Springs,
- Lagoa do Fogo, and
- Salto do Cabrito Waterfall
Caldeira Velha Hot Springs
For some welcome relaxation time, head inland to Caldeira Velha. Enjoy a soak in the hot, tranquil thermal pools at this beautiful natural area.
Be sure to check out our full article, Caldeira Velha Hot Springs, for complete details.
Lagoa do Fogo
Beautiful Fogo Lagoon, surrounded by dense vegetation, sits in the crater of the Fogo Volcano. Viewpoints, along the road south of Caldeira Velha, provide panoramic views of the lagoon and the surrounding countryside. For a closer look, hike down to beach.
Be sure to check out our full article, Lagoa do Fogo, for complete details.
Salto do Cabrito
The Salto do Cabrito Waterfall is a hidden gem in the Azores. This beautiful waterfall doesn’t get many visitors. When I visited, I had the entire place to myself and enjoyed a swim in the lagoon at the base of the waterfall.
After a swim, enjoy a short hike. Climb the large metal staircase up the hill and walk along a metal walkway, eventually reaching the power plant of Salto do Cabrito. This walk is part of the longer PRC29SMI Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hiking trail. It is a 7.5-kilometre loop that is easily accomplished in an afternoon.
Visit Capelas, another lovely seaside town. Begin at the Poços de São Vicente. This natural tidal pool is surrounded by volcanic rocks. Experienced local swimmers enjoy the ocean waters here. There is also a sun deck, snack bar and showers. Parking is available nearby.
Just across the parking lot is the Old Pocos Whaling Factory (Antiga Fabrica dos Pocos). See the smokestack and remains of the factory. It opened in 1945, producing whale oil and meat. The factory closed in the 1970s.
The coast at Capelas has several great viewpoints (miradouros). Climb the hill at Miradouro do Navio for a stunning view. Miradouro das Capelas is a beautiful stone-walled viewing platform. Miradouro das Pedras Negras is probably the best place to see the nearby elephant rock.
For a longer walk, continue east along the coast to Miradouro do Barreiro. The local public beach, Alto da Pedreira, is just down the hill. Walk a bit further to see the Pic du Manchot. This rock is in the shape of a shoe, which was said to be the lost shoe of St. Peter.
Be sure to stop in the centre of town to admire the pretty town square and church.
The Santo Antonio Church (Igreja de Santo António) dates back to the early 16th-century. The exterior has beautiful, azulejos-tiled scenes. The front doors are framed with lava-stones. Inside find beautiful woodcarvings in the high altar and chapel areas.
From Santo Antonio Church, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Rosario is less than half a kilometre to the northeast on the coast. The view from the parking lot is impressive. Walk down the hill to a natural swimming pool and an old fishing harbour.
Further north, the Miradouro da Fonte Grande is a quiet viewpoint with a picnic area. Continue to the historic communal sinks where locals used to wash their clothes.
For another visual treat, drive to the village of Bretanha. At the Miradouro do Pico Vermelho, enjoy the coastline and see the big red windmill in the distance. Drive into town to the Red Peak Mill (Moinho do Pico Vermelho). This beautiful, red windmill is also a museum. The windmill is used to make flour for a local festival held every September. A cute little chapel, Ermida Santo Antonio, sits beside the windmill.
Be sure to check out our article, Things To Do in Sao Miguel Azores, for more places and great destinations to visit on the island.
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