Tired of the Mainland? Here Are 21 Portuguese Islands You Can Visit

people on the beach in the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, Madeira archipelago
Endless beaches are one of the top attractions on Porto Santo Island in the Madeira archipelago
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Officially, there are close to 80 islands in Portugal, but I’m not dedicating a blog post to all of them. The 21 Portuguese islands I’ll introduce you to are the ones you can travel to, visit, spend time at (at some, more than a day trip), and do stuff (yes, even if it’s just lying on the beach all day).

It wasn’t until I moved to Lisbon 20+ years ago that I realized how much of an impact growing up on an island had on my personality and how I faced life. A remote, isolated island I should add. After one month of living in Lisbon, I distinctively remember missing the smell of the ocean. I physically missed the smell of the ocean and that salty feel in the air that used to drive me crazy!

If Portugal has one ideal destination for each type of traveler, it also has one island for each type of islander-aspiring tourist.

If you’re looking for information on a specific Portuguese island or islands that are part of a specific region, just click on the section you want below on the table of contents.

Autonomous Regions

Azores Archipelago

Visit all of the Azores Archipelago and you’ve ticked 9 Portuguese Islands off your list. I believe they’re the most beautiful islands on the planet but as an Azores-born and -raised islander I’m (intentionally) biased.

The islands are split into three groups: Eastern (S. Miguel and Santa Maria), Central (Terceira, Graciosa, S. Jorge, Pico, and Faial), and Western (Corvo and Flores). Flores is the most remote of all nine and S. Miguel is (technically) the closest to the mainland, although the archipelago is located in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean (or close enough).

Top things to do include outdoor and nature activities, marvelling at unbelievable natural landscapes (weather permitting), and experiencing life as an islander.

dark clouds over lagoons and green fields on Flores Island, Azores
Landscapes are as beautiful as they are dramatic in the Azores Archipelago

Madeira Archipelago

The Azores might be climbing spots when it comes to popularity as a tourism destination, but Madeira has probably been the most famous Portuguese Island worldwide for some time now.

With two islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, the Madeira Archipelago is also an autonomous region of Portugal like the Azores, meaning not entirely independent from the mainland but with their own regional government.

I traveled to Madeira almost 20 years ago in the Spring and I regret not having the time to visit Porto Santo too. I thought once you’ve seen an island, you’ve seen them all (my islander-snob side speaking, most likely) but I was too quick to judge. I don’t like comparing destinations because I think each one is unique on its own, so I’ll keep my comparisons with the Azores islands to myself.

Its appeal comes from the islands’ laidback vibe, great tropical-like weather almost all year round, flowers, food and Madeira wine of course. They also put up a hell of a firework spectacle when it’s time to ring in the New Year. Oh, and how could I forget their most famous island-born international star? Madeira is the homeland of soccer sensation Cristiano Ronaldo.

Top things to do include outdoor and nature activities, Madeira wine tastings, lounging by the ocean on the soft sand beaches of Porto Santo, cultural events, and visiting local museums and monuments.

Madeira Island is one of the most famous Portuguese Islands

Portuguese Islands in Algarve

Armona

Considering the island of Armona is just a few minutes ferry ride away from the Algarve city of Olhão, it might be hard to believe it is, in fact, an island. But, no, there it is the embodiment of what an island is: a piece of land surrounded by water and smaller than a continent.

The island is 5.6 miles long and almost 1 mile wide, but still manages to have a population of around 50 people, bars and restaurants, shops, and accommodation. Fishing and tourism are the locals’ main sources of income. It attracts mostly beach-goers in the summer, who are staying in mainland Algarve.

The absence of cars in the island make it feel even more heavenly. The white sand pristine beach closes the deal and it’s the top thing to visit on the island. As part of Ria Formosa’s Natural Park, Armona Island is also a good spot for birdwatching for those who enjoy the activity.

Barreta

Barreta Island, or Ilha Deserta (Deserted Island), is home to one of the less frequented and quiet beaches near Faro. Algarve is a famous summer destination and typically crowded at that time, so hearing the words “quiet” and “less frequented” to describe a beach is like music to your ears (and mine)!

There are regular ferries connecting Faro to the Barreta Island, but you can also opt for one of many tours available that include visiting and spending some time on the island.

Going to the beach and walking around the island are the top activities. As a curiosity, add visiting the most Southern part of Portugal (Cape St. Mary) to your list of things to do on Barreta Island. Part of the west side of the island is, since 2011, a designated area for nudists.

Culatra

With a fixed population of about 1,000 people, Culatra Island has always been famous in Algarve as a day trip among Portuguese families.

Tourists looking for quiet beaches, also head to Culatra in the summer to enjoy the white sand stretching for miles. You can be surrounded by other tourists and still feel like you’re by yourself. Quite the affordable luxury, right?

In addition to relaxing at the beach and making the best of the clear waters while snorkeling and diving, you can walk the 2.5 miles that separate the village of Cacela from the village of Farol on the opposite side of the island (this village is sometimes called Farol Island).

Faro Island

Faro Island is one bridge crossing away from the main city of Algarve, on foot, by car, or by bus. Technically it’s a peninsula, but it’s known by both locals and visitors as an island so I decided to not rule it out from the list.

Compared to the other islands mentioned before, Faro Island is not as quiet and is one of the most crowded. As a popular beach destination for tourists staying in the area, you’ll have to compromise your peace of mind if you want to visit.

The upside of being such a popular and easily accessible island, if there is one, is the largest offer of things to do besides going to the beach that include water sports like surfing and windsurfing.

Tavira

This almost seven miles-long island, south of the Algarve city of Tavira, is one of the most popular spots in the summer during the high season. One can understand why, with the four pristine-kept and certified beaches of Tavira, Terra Estreita, Barril, and Homem Nu.

Although the last beach listed translates into Naked Man, the only legal place for nudists is to the west of Barril beach.

The local population lives mostly off fishing and tourism, like other islands in the South of Portugal. It’s not difficult to find restaurants and bars on the island to make the best of your day trip from the city of Tavira.

The beaches, walking or hiking, and breaking the monotony of the sand dunes exploring a small forest of pine trees are the top attractions of Tavira Island.

Portuguese Islands in Alentejo

Pessegueiro

Pessegueiro might be the Portuguese word for peach tree, but the Pessegueiro Island is not named after a tree at all. Confused? Curious? I’ll get to that in a bit.

Like any other place in Alentejo, this island off the coast of Porto Covo is meant to be taken in slowly. Its white sand beaches, great local food, and relaxed environment are so enchanting that both the island and the mainland village were immortalized by Portuguese singer and songwriter Rui Veloso.

Exploring this mysterious island not too far from the mainland is always a good option but plan ahead and book a guided tour to visit the remains of a medieval wall and an Ancient Roman port.

As for the Pessegueiro/peach tree confusion? According to Historians, the name of the island is of Latin origin (from piscatorius or piscarium) which means fishing — as you see, not related to fruit at all.

Portuguese islands in the Central Region

Almourol

I love this Portuguese Island for one main reason: it has nothing else to see but a castle (the only castle in Portugal that’s in the middle of a river). Even if you only see it from the shore, you can already say you’ve looked at something unique.

By the time the Portuguese took over this territory in 1129, the castle had been a medieval defense fort called Almorolan. It was handed over to the Templars, then abandoned at the time the religious orders were extinct in Portugal, and later recovered in the 19th century during that time’s near-obsession with the Middle Ages.

Baleal

Similar to the Faro Island I mentioned before, the Baleal Island is also a peninsula. The reason why everyone calls it an island, though, it’s because it used to be one and that’s how everyone knows it.

Baleal stood as an island during high sea and it would only be reunited with the mainland when storms brought up the sand from the bottom of the ocean.

But that’s a minor technical detail. Baleal has been one of Portugal’s top destinations for surfers, as most of the rest of the Peniche area. Surfing is still one of the leading outdoor activities, but take the time to explore one of the most beautiful towns of central Portugal that many consider heaven on earth.

Berlengas (Berlenga Grande)

Peniche’s other famous islands, besides the Baleal one I mentioned before, are the three islands that are part of the Berlengas Archipelago – Berlenga Grande (the only one that’s visited), Estelas, and Farilhões.

Listed as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2011, the Berlengas have been a protected area since in 1465 King Afonso V banned hunting on the archipelago’s main island (Berlenga Grande).

Close enough to the mainland to not feel too remote, the boat trip to the Berlengas is reportedly a bumpy ride. Not ideal if you suffer from sea sickness but nothing that an over-the-counter pill at the local pharmacy won’t help. After all, it’s only half-an-hour away from Peniche.

Visiting the fort (and spending the night if you want) and enjoying some beach time are the top reasons why people visit the Berlenga Grande.

Portuguese Islands in the North

Ermal

Ermal is the third Portuguese Island on this list that is technically a peninsula. I hope you forgive me the flexibility to include it because not only it’s the only island you can visit in the North, but it’s linked to what was once of the most famous music festivals in Portugal.

Located in the Ermal dam, in a small town that is part of Vieira do Minho (in the Braga district), the peninsula/island is the place where hard rock and heavy metal music fans used to travel to every summer for the Festival da Ilha do Ermal.

The festival welcomed big names like Slipknot and Sepultura in previous editions and then in 2002 made the mistake of including Nickelback in their lineup. Not pleased with this choice (for that music genre fans, the Canadian rock band can’t be labeled as hard rock or heavy metal), the festival attendees stoned Nickelback off stage.

Well, fast forward a few years and the recent music event I’ve heard about that takes place at Ermal Island is Indigo Generation – for the lovers of psychedelic culture (apparently on its 4th edition in 2018).

If not for the music, visit for the beautiful scenery, water sports, and quiet time.

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