35 Azores festivals and cultural events to add to your calendar
People often ask me for suggestions of activities on the islands that go beyond gazing at cows, whale watching, or doing some physical activity. But I don’t think they’re prepared to hear me say there are dozens of Azores festivals and cultural events throughout the year.
You’ll notice the summer months (June to August) are the busiest with a higher number of events and festivals, pretty much in tune with what happens in the rest of the country.
From a logistical point of view, organizing festivals in the Azores in the winter or the spring is a challenge, to say the least. Besides, summer is when the islands have more visitors, especially Azorean migrants and their families returning home every year from the USA and Canada.
As always, if I’m missing an event or a festival, email me or let me know in the comments. The same goes for any event that has been canceled or put on hold.
On the mountain island of Pico, it would be inevitable to have a festival dedicated to Portugal’s highest peak.
Everything in this artistic festival revolves around the mountain, how people connect with it, and what kind of art comes from that connection.
But Montanha Pico Festival is also about the environment and our responsibility in protecting it. As tourism grows in the Azores and elsewhere in the world, it’s vital to start paying attention to the signs of stress in nature.
Every island in the Azores celebrates Carnaval, and each one of them has its own traditions.
Celebrations start four weeks before Fat Tuesday, which means Azoreans have little downtime after Christmas and New Year’s.
If I had to highlight one island that goes all out with Carnaval, that has to be Terceira.
São Miguel was already popular for its signature landscapes, its renowned tea plantation, and the religious festivity that attracts hundreds of people to the Azores’ biggest island every year.
But TREMOR came to shake things up a little. Literally because tremor in Portuguese means earthquake. Music and other forms of art take over the island in unexpected stages on and for the island.
There are a lot of religious events and festivities in the Azores. The Azoreans’ connection to god and religion is more of a survival technique than devotion.
The Espírito Santo (Holy Spirit) festivities happen every year on all the islands, seven weeks after Easter. More than a religious act, these celebrations are about community. They’re also about diversity considering each island has its own way of celebrating. Even within the island, you’ll find slight nuances.
After Espírito Santo, this is probably the largest religious festivity in the Azores. It attracts thousands of people from other islands and abroad every year.
Even if you’re not a religious person, there is a lot to observe at Santo Cristo dos Milagres from a cultural standpoint.
It starts with the statue itself, which depicts Christ as a dark hair and dark-skinned man instead of the blond and blue-eyed images that are more common.
Fun fact: as a high school student, I lived in the residence run by nuns in the convent adjacent to the church where the statue is kept all year long.
For those nuns, these festivities are the highlight of their year (or at least it used to be back in the mid-1990s). It’s also a tremendously stressful time for them. There is more protocol behind the event than most people probably know of.
The Azores Fringe Festival has been running nonstop since 2013, bringing art to the islands and taking the islands’ art to the rest of the world.
The Fringe movement started in Edinburgh in 1947 and has since then grown to include close to 300 festivals worldwide, including this one that has events on all nine islands.
June 24th is St. John’s Day, a national holiday in many places in Portugal. If São João in Porto is the most famous celebration of this day in the mainland, Sanjoaninas in Terceira is the most famous in the Azores islands.
Every year there’s a new theme, usually rooted in the island’s history and local culture. The festivities typically start a few days before the 24th and continue a few days after.
Continuing on the topic of St. John’s, one of the so-called santos populares (popular saints or saints of the people), Vila Franca do Campo on São Miguel island, celebrates their holiday on June 24th too.
And of course, that also means a couple of weeks of celebration, music, and lots of food at the event they call São João da Vila.
June is the month of the popular saints. St. Anthony on the 13th, St. John on the 24th, and finally St. Peter on the 29th. Most of these festivities in Portugal are not very different from other midsummer celebrations in other European countries.
In Ribeira Grande, the other city in São Miguel, the St. Peter celebrations are done a bit differently. The Cavalhadas de São Pedro’s highlight is the horse parade. This tradition goes back to the 16th century and mixes religious and pagan rituals.
It’s a typical summer festivity at the beginning of July with music for all tastes and ages, local food, and sports events. The festival’s most iconic event is the regatta between Horta in Faial and the town of Velas in São Jorge that’s been happening since 1996.
On São Jorge island, Festival de Julho happens in July in the other county on the island, Calheta.
Dates of the event vary between mid-July and the end of the month. Keep that in mind before booking a trip to São Jorge if you plan to attend the festival.
The wave of emigration from the Azores to the United States and Canada is a big part of the islands’ history, more than it is, I believe, of the rest of the country.
It almost feels like the Azoreans are always leaving the islands and returning to them, only to leave again.
Festa do Emigrante in Flores pays tribute to the Azorean diaspora, at a time when many emigrants return home for their summer vacation. The fact that it happens in the westernmost county of Europe, where the old continent ends, makes this festival even more symbolic.
Walk & Talk was the first independent arts festival in the Azores, connecting the local community to art.
Since the first edition in 2011, it has established itself as one of the reference cultural events in the Azores, with different events in São Miguel and Terceira islands.
This festivity in Pico is both the celebrations in honor of the patron saint Maria Madalena and the town’s main festival.
Not only are Festas da Madalena one of the top summer festivals in the Azores, but they’re also one of the most environment-friendly. Some of the environmentally-conscious measures include promoting the sale of e-tickets over the paper ones and reusable cups.
Although this festival in Ribeira Quente in São Miguel is named after a fish (chicharro means mackerel), it’s now as much about the music as it is about the star dish.
Yes, Festa do Chicharro means you’ll find mackerel cooked in a dozen different ways. Still, you’ll have other local cuisine dishes to try too.
As it’s common in other towns in the Azores in the summer, Festas do Nordeste is a public festival mainly sponsored by the local City Council with food and music concerts.
18th of July is Nordeste’s holiday, so the festival starts a few days before.
Loosely translated, caldo de peixe means fish soup. So, yes, Festival Caldo do Peixe was created in honor of the dish. But more importantly, it happens in Rabo de Peixe, a fishing village in São Miguel that often makes the news because of the locals’ extreme poverty.
It’s a food festival (the only one on this list, actually) with some music thrown in for good measure.
When it comes to Azores festivals, Caloura Blues going on its second edition (2019) is one of the babies.
I don’t know if blues is a music genre that suits the Azores, but maybe it is. And if you needed a reason to visit the south of São Miguel beyond sightseeing, this is it.
And speaking of events in the Azores still in their first years, Angra World Sound Fest began in 2016.
Terceira not only adds one more regular event to their summer calendar, but it also breaks the cycle of typical events in this time of year that are more generic.
Besides, the Azoreans are usually fond of world music.
When it comes to music festivals, Santa Maria has a long tradition of organizing festivals that are a bit out of the ordinary for Azores’ standards.
Betting on one specific genre or style could mean unsuccessful results, but that’s not what’s been happening on this eastern island. Santa Maria Blues is just one of three excellent examples.
The Festival Maia Folk taps into an ancient tradition of working men and women who entertained themselves at night with song and dancing after a long day working in the vineyards in Santa Maria Island.
The festival’s concerts primarily focus on folk music, although the lineup sometimes includes other genres to please younger generations.
On the other county of Flores Island, Santa Cruz, Cais das Poças has become one of the island’s top summer events.
Before that, Santa Cruz pretty much celebrated St. John’s on the 24th of June, and that was it. If you’ve spent a summer on Flores before, you’ll know how unpredictable the weather is in June and not the best of times for a summer event.
Festas da Praia, as it’s known locally, celebrate the city’s history through music, food, and other local cultural events.
Some of the events are paid, which is not a very common approach in such festivals on the islands. I do, however, agree it’s a more sustainable way to keep the festival going.
Of all nine islands, Pico was probably the one with the most whalers, so it’s only natural that it celebrates them (baleeiros in Portuguese).
Whale hunting was as strong here as now is whale watching. Of all the events taking place during Semana dos Baleeiros, the whaling boats’ regatta is the top one.
Also known as the blue island, Faial has a deeper connection with the ocean than the other islands as its marina is famous among sailors.
As a veteran festival over 40 years old, Semana do Mar is the top event on the island and one of the country’s most popular sea-related events.
Not knowing that it would become one of the oldest and most important music festivals in the Azores, a group of artists decided to get together in Santa Maria in 1984.
Realizing the event’s potential, when putting remote places on the map wasn’t as simple as using an Instagram hashtag, the cultural association was officially founded in 1987.
Since then, Maré de Agosto has been one of the most relevant festivals in the world and, to many, the very first music festival in the Azores.
To not be confused with the previous festival, the only similarity between them is the name.
Festival das Marés is one of the recent festivals on São Miguel island promoting local and national musicians of different genres. It’s mostly food and fun and commercial music.
Organizing a festival on a small island is no piece of cake, and I don’t mean just logistically. Although that’s part of the challenge.
A smaller island like Graciosa means you also have a smaller audience. You count on people from neighboring islands to increase the numbers. Next time someone tells you there’s not much to do in Graciosa, ask them to take a look at Festival Ilha Branca.
But if you think it’s too crowded, don’t worry because it’s not that kind of event. Truth be told that if even people from the neighboring island of Flores couldn’t travel that day, the corvinos would still go ahead and party.
The event is all about music, food, and community life, but it’s also about the religious festivities of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles) on August 15.
Monte Verde Festival is one more music festival happening on São Miguel island, in Ribeira Grande.
It has the vibe and colors of a summer/beach festival, and that’s it in a nutshell. The lineup includes a broad mix of national and international artists.
Considering the long tradition of folklore dancing and music in the archipelago, an Azores festival dedicated to the genre is not a surprise.
In fact, Folk Azores dates back to when there weren’t that many cultural events in the Azores. From a traditional cultural perspective, it’s an interesting event, especially because it brings dancers and musicians from other countries to showcase their traditions.
Before the internet, this was a revolutionary festival to broaden horizons.
Cordas World Music Festival is an event entirely dedicated to string instruments that happens in Pico Island.
The singularity of Azores’s string instruments, especially the typical guitar viola da terra, was one reason MiratecArts started this festival in 2016. Since then, it’s won several international awards.
After the summer, Azores festivals might be rarer, but they do exist. Which, I may add, usually surprises people who’d like to visit the Azores outside the high season.
Despite the specific genre, AngraJazz wants to make jazz mainstream by taking it to all kinds of audiences. Challenging? Maybe. But they’ve been doing it since 1999.
Before December 2016, the Azores festivals list ended in early October with maybe the occasional local religious event here and there. But then came AnimaPIX, Pico Island’s animated film festival.
What started as an event at a local school for kids soon became one of the island’s top events.