If you’re looking for an island escape in Europe then two of the destinations that have to be at the top of your list are the Azores vs Madeira.
Both of these archipelagos sit in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and belong to Portugal and are awash with Portuguese culture. They are, quite frankly, stunning places to visit, but which one, the Azores vs Madeira, should you choose for your next trip away?
Luckily, the Azores and Madeira are very different places when it comes to their landscapes so let’s dive into the details so you can find out which one will suit you best.
The Azores archipelago is made up of 9 different volcanic islands and each one was named after its own unique features including
The main island of São Miguel is where everyone starts their journey to the Azores unless you sail in, and is known for its shades of green. Santa Maria is the oldest, Faial is volcanic, Pico has the highest peak in Portugal and great white wine, São Jorge has flat terrain, cliff slopes, and amazing cheese, Graciosa has Dutch windmills and whitewashed villages, and Flores makes the end of Europe.
As you can see, each island has its own character which makes the Azores a very diverse place to visit, and if you like island hopping then it’s certainly a place that would suit you.
The Azores is known for its stunning natural landscapes, waterfalls, hot springs, beautiful beaches, and amazing food and wine.
The Madeira archipelago is made up of 4 islands only two of which are inhabited, Madeira and Porto Santo while Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens remain uninhabited.
Madeira and Porto Santo are very different islands. Madeira is basically a luscious volcanic island with black sand or pebble beaches and a huge elevation change from its Atlantic shores to its peak. As you drive up the slopes of Madeira, you go through so many different zones of vegetation as the altitude increases and your ears even pop like you’re taking off in a plane.
The peaks of Madeira are luscious green and dotted with cascading rivers, waterfalls, and pools. It’s a stunning place for hiking, camping, spending some time by the sea, and hanging out in the Portuguese city of Funchal.
Porto Santos is sparsely inhabited compared to Madeira but it has white sand beaches compared to the black sands of Madeira making it great for sun worshippers and beach lovers but it doesn’t have the green mountains that make Maderia so diverse.
If you are a bit of an adventurer at heart and want to do some serious exploring, the Azores is likely to suit you better. You’ll be able to hop from island to island and discover what each one offers and there is a lot more to find and see than on Maderia.
Maderia is perfect if you’re looking for a relaxing oceanside vacation with a dash of hiking and camping out in the mountains. It’s easy to get around and the infrastructure is excellent, making the logistics of traveling around the island a lot easier.
The weather in the Azores is notoriously unpredictable and they actually have a saying in the Azores that you can experience 4 seasons in a single day. While this might be fun for a local, it’s not ideal when you’re on holiday trying to experience the best the Azores has to offer.
That being said, the temperature in the Azores never drops below 12 degrees Celsius all year round, meaning it stays warm over winter but with winter comes a lot of rain with up to 14 days per winter month on average.
The best time to visit the Azores is during the summer when temperatures reach average highs of 25 degrees Celsius and lows of 18 degrees Celsius and when it only rains 3-4 days a month on average.
Madeira is known for its extremely stable weather patterns and the average temperature never drops below 18 degrees Celsius all year round making it the perfect place to escape to for some winter sunshine.
It’s also a very dry island that gets either no rain or around 1mm a month except for in April when it gets around 4 mm of rainfall.
There really isn’t a bad time to visit Maderia weather-wise, just avoid the rainy month of April and your set. Summertime temperatures reach a max of 27 degrees Celsius and a low of 21 degrees Celsius so it never gets too hot to handle either.
If you’re looking for predictability when it comes to the weather then going to Madeira is the obvious choice as you can visit the island year-round and be pretty much guaranteed warm sunshine and blue skies.
When compared to Madeira, the Azores are almost 1000 kilometers north, which explains why the islands get such changeable weather and much colder temperatures than Madeira. If you’re visiting the Azores, stick to the months of June-September, and avoid July & August if you’re not a fan of crowds.
The Azores has so many things to do which will keep you entertained on your vacation, especially if you love good food and spending time exploring the natural wonders that these islands hold.
The Azores is quite famous for its hiking and no matter which island you’re on, you’re going to find a plethora of trails that lead you around the beautiful landscapes. There are more than 100 different trails to follow that are well maintained with differing levels of difficulty all with spending views across the Atlantic and the archipelago.
The most famous hiking trails in the Azores include the trail up to the summit of Pico, the tallest mountain in the Atlantic and in Portugal, and the Sete Cidades lakes trail which takes you to three stunning volcanic create lakes on the island of Sao Miguel. There are also numerous waterfalls and rivers to explore and swim in while you’re hiking around the Azores.
On the Azores island of Sao Miguel, you’ll find numerous volcanic hot springs which are known for their healing properties and lovely warm temperatures. The most well-known hot springs in the Azores are Parque Terra Nostra and Dona Beija which can be found side by side.
At each hot spring, the warm volcanic spring water is channeled into baths for you to enjoy with stunning views down the mountainsides.
Fishing, Surfing, & Diving
The Azores is an excellent place to visit if you love playing around in the ocean. The diving in the Azores is excellent, especially around Vila Franca do Campo islet, and you’ll be able to see old shipwrecks, caves, whale sharks, and if you go to the seamounts, thousands of devil rays and pelagics like tuna and sharks.
If the diving is good, then the fishing usually is too and the Azores is home to some of the best offshore fishing in Europe. The species on the menu include giant blue marlin, white marling, big tuna, dorado, and a few more.
Surfing in the Azores is excellent and it gets swell all year round. You’ll have the option to surf on numerous beaches, reefs, and even point breaks while you’re there and there are surf schools to teach you how to catch waves if you want to learn.
With an ocean so full of life, the Azores is an excellent place to spend a day on the sea looking for both dolphins and whales. The best time for dolphin and whale watching is during the summer between June to September when the whales migrate past.
While it’s hard to step out of the beautiful natural areas of the Azores, there are some delightful cultural sites to see too. The most famous of them, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira which was the cultural capital of the Azores since it was discovered. Other small towns worth exploring include Ponta Delgada, Furnas, and Horta.
Every little town has its own history and museum where you can learn about the history of the Azores and its inhabitants.
Madeira offers a plethora of fun things to do so no matter what your interests you will always be entertained on this beautiful island. The nice thing about it is that it’s all on one island, so there is no need to island-hop to find your next adventure.
The peaks of Madeira are covered with forests, heather, waterfalls, and rivers. They are absolutely beautiful and covered with hiking trails that are both well-maintained and differ in difficulty. You can hire a car very easily and get up into the mountains of Madeira in under an hour.
Some of the most famous hiking trails in Madeira include the Levada das 25 Fontes, which is a valley of 25 waterfalls that slowly drop down towards the sea. You can swim in each of these pools and jump off parts of the waterfalls. You’ll also find loads of trout in the pools so try and bring a rod to catch them with.
Other famous hikes include Pico Ruivo and Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco. Wherever you are hiking in Madeira, you’ll either be looking over the Atlantic or string into listening forests and waterfalls.
Riding A Cable Car & Toboggans
In Funchal, the capital of Madeira, you’ll find a cable car that takes you up to the most remote village on the island, Achada da Cruz. On the way up you’ll get amazing views over Funchal, the mountains, and the sea. Once at Achada da Cruz you can do a short hike and enjoy the luscious greenery before hopping on a Toboggan to get back down.
The locals used to use toboggans to get down the mountains of Madeira efficiently but now it’s only done for fun, though it’s not the safest activity, so maybe getting the cable car back down is a better option.
Surfing, Diving, & Fishing
Madeira is home to amazing sea life just like the Azores but when it comes to diving, it’s very different. When diving in Madeira you’re likely to see lots of small fish and plants thanks to the many marine parks and giant groupers, moray eels, barracudas, monkfish, stingrays, and sometimes manta rays and Mobula rays.
There are rare sightings of monk seals too which grow to nearly 1000 lbs. The nice thing about diving in Madeira is how chilled it is. The visibility is excellent and the sea is almost always calm.
The fishing in Madeira is world-class and it’s world-famous for giant blue marlin fishing. Between the months of June and October, huge blue marlin averaging 700 lbs go past the shore of the island and your chances of hooking one of these giants are high. There are other species too such as white marlin, tuna, dorado, and wahoo.
The surfing in Madeira is great if you know what you’re doing. There aren’t almost no tame beach breaks to learn on but there are lots of excellent reef and point breaks for intermediates and pros to enjoy.
Madeira, like the Azores, sees huge numbers of dolphins and whales swimming past its shores and there is no better way to spend a day than out to sea searching for these majestic creatures. It’s preferable to the Azores too with much calmer waters and predictable winds.
Almost all the cultural sights in Madeira are found around the capital city of Funchal. Funchal’s old town is full of history and is well worth taking a guided tour around as you’ll miss a lot without your guide. There are also lots of old churches, botanical gardens, places, and museums to explore while in Funchal.
When it comes to the Azores vs Maderia and things to do, they are very same-same but different. If you have the time to island-hop around the Azores you will find a lot more stunning natural features when compared to Madeira and it has some hot springs which Maderia does not.
If we are talking about spending time on the ocean, Madeira is the winner thanks to having more predictable weather and just as good offshore fishing and whale/dolphin watching. But, the Azores has the better diving, if you get a weather window that lets you get out to the sites.
When it comes to beach time, the Azores is a clear winner. The beaches in the Azores are beautiful with a mixture of white and black sand. You don’t go to Madeira for the beaches as they are almost all pebbles and you’re better off sunbathing on the cliff edges and swimming from them too.
When it comes to the Azores vs Madeira and the food scene, they are both excellent with Michelin star restaurants and a huge variety of cuisines from Indian to Chinese, Italian, and French. What differs between them is the local food that is on offer.
All the local food in the Azores is grown on the Azores and thanks to the rich volcanic soils and temperate climates, the Azores can grow pretty much everything they need. This means everything you eat in the Azores will be locally sourced and absolutely delicious.
The beef and thus cheese from the Azores is excellent and it holds a huge part of those markets in mainland Portugal as well. Make sure to have a steak and some Azorean cheese while on the islands.
The Azores also grow delicious pineapples, make great wine, and even grow their own tea with some of the only tea plantations in Europe on the islands.
Some classic dishes to try in the Azores include Cozido das Furnas which is meant and veg cooked in hot volcanic soil, baby corn boiled over the geysers, and lampas which are limpets grilled on a BBQ.
Madeira is also famous for growing a lot of its own produce, most famously bananas, all types of mangos and passion fruit, papayas, avocados, and anonas (sugar apple). Be sure to head to one of the many fruit stalls in Funchal to pick up some of these delicious treats.
Like the Azores, Madeira also makes great wine and it even makes rum since they grow their own sugar cane on the island.
One of the most traditional dishes you will find in Madeira is Black Scabbard fish fillet with fried baby bananas which is absolutely delicious. The Black Scabbard fish lives at depths of 1000 meters and is synonymous with Madeira.
As you can see, a visit to either The Azores or Madeira is going to be pretty amazing. I’d say if you’re the kind of person who likes things to be a little less crowded and has more space to explore, the Azores is a better fit for you as Madeira can feel quite crowded and small after a week of being there.
That being said, you need a bit of time to explore the Azores whereas Maderia has similar things to offer than you can see in a long weekend or a week’s vacation.
The Azores is 965km or 599 miles from Madeira as the crow flies.
In general, the Azores are less expensive than mainland Portugal, especially when compared to the major cities.
Portugal's main airline TAP offers direct flights from Madeira to the Azores with a flight time of just over 2 hours.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!