Both Portugal and Spain are located on Europe's warm and sunny Iberian Peninsula and both boast warm, sunny, and picturesque autonomous island archipelagos offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. These are both favored holiday destinations by Europeans from across the continent. But which should you visit? How are they different from each other and what should you expect? These are both parts of the European Union and they are both visa-free. One could say that the Canary Islands are to the Spanish what the Caribbean islands are to the Americans.


About The Azores

  • Distance From Portugal: 870 Miles
  • First Settlement: 1470
  • Official Language: Portuguese
  • Population: 250,000
  • Land Area: 908 Square Miles

Prior to the European discovery of the Azores, the islands were uninhabited (so they are one of the few landmasses actually discovered in the Age of Discovery). Today the economy of the islands rests on agriculture, fishing, and tourism. Due to their isolation, the culture, dialect, and cuisines have drifted noticeably over time from the mainland (be sure to check out their famous cuisine).

The archipelago is made up of some nine main islands, these are Graciosa, Terceira, Sao Jorge, Pico, Faial, Corvo, Flores, Sao Miguel, and Santa Maria. They extend over a 370-mile zone.

  • Fun Fact: The Highest Point In Portugal Is On These Islands, Mount Pico Rising 7,713 Feet
  • Record: If The Mountains Were To Be Measured From Their Base Under The Sea, They Would Be Among The Tallest Mountains In The World

The climate of the Azores is influenced by the Gulf Stream (which warms much of Western and Northern Europe). They are generally wet and cloudy and the temperatures normally vary between 16 °C or 61 °F and 25 °C 77 °F.

Related: A Long Weekend Is Plenty Of Time To Take An International Vacation To These Countries

Unlike its much larger and ultra touristic southern neighbor of the Canary Islands, The Azores are not nearly so touristic. So if you are looking for a more quiet and green Mid-Atlantic retreat away from the mega groups of the Canary Islands, you may want to consider the Azores.

  • Lajes Air Base: The Azores Is Also Home To An American Airforce Base The Lajes Air Base, It Accommodates The 65th Air Base Group

About The Canary Islands

  • Distance From Morocco: 62 Miles
  • First Settlement: Pre-European
  • Official Language: Spanish
  • Population: 2.2 Million
  • Land Area: 2,893 Square Miles

By contrast, the Canary Islands are much larger. While the Azores are deep out in the Atlantic, the Canary Islands are just off the coast of Morocco. Also, like the Azores, they are part of the European Union.

The Canary Islands are made up of eight main islands, these are; Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, Tenerife (the largest island), La Graciosa, La Gomera, Fuerteventura, and El Hierro. They are the southernmost part of Spain.

Related: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Canary Islands

Of the more than 2 million inhabitants, nearly 85% are on just two islands. Around 43% are on the island of Tenerife and 40% on Gran Canaria. These islands plus Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are the archipelago's major tourist attractions. Oddly enough, like the Azores with Spain, the Canary Islands (Tenerife in particular) has the highest point in all of Spain rising to 3,715 meters or 12,188 feet (it is also a UNESCO Listed site).

  • Record: Tenerife Is The Third Tallest Volcano In The World If Measured From Its Base

As the Canaries are much further south, the climate is much warmer. The islands have a  subtropical climate with long hot summers and the winters are generally moderately warm. Due to the effects of being mountainous, rainfall differs around the islands and the terrain ranges from desert to green.

In history, the Canaries were the main stopover for the Spanish galleons as they made their way across the Atlantic to the Americas.

Tourism is central to the Canary Islands and they boast over 10 million visitors annually.

Despite being only small, the islands boast some 257 kilometers or around 150 miles of beaches. The landscapes are diverse with deserts, woodlands, jaw-dropping cliffs, and the aforementioned beaches. The islands are very protected and so visitors in the island's national parks are not permitted to wander off the defined paths.

Other attractions here include the nightlife (and carnivals), whale watching, hiking, sunbathing, and sunbathing. The Loro Parque (literally Parrot Park) has some 3,000 different parrots of 330 different parrot species. It even has penguins. The top national park is Teide and it is one of the most visited national parks in the world.

  • Visit: Loro Parque

In short, the Canary Islands are much larger and more popular. They also have a much larger population in their own right and the islands offer a more diverse and varied landscape for exploring. They are also much warmer and better suited for sunbathing and the like. The Azores are smaller and quieter. They are better suited for those looking to avoid large crowds.

Next: 5 Things We Love About Spain’s Canary Islands (& 5 Things We Hate)