The 11 Best Things to Do in Madeira
Going on holidays in Madeira and wondering what to do? This Madeira blog will show you some of the best things to do in Madeira that you simply cannot miss.
Madeira is one of those places that are so amazing yet most people have never heard of it. Holidays in Madeira doesn’t mean you have to do tours, instead there are plenty of things you can do by yourself in Madeira that are amazing and unique. We spent about a week in Madeira and was able to see all the highlights of the island including several hikes!
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Where is Madeira Island?
Madeira is an island off the coast of Africa and about an hour and 45 minute flight from Lisbon. There are multiple direct flights to Madeira from several major cities in Europe including London, Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, Madrid, Azores and Dusseldorf.
During our visit to Madeira we felt that Madeira is a combination of Mediterranean vibe with a Portuguese flare (I mean its part of Portugal so of course!). The infrastructure is well built, food and wine are delicious and people are incredibly nice. Everything felt really nice and safe in Madeira that even if you are a solo traveler, Madeira is a great destination for you.
Weather in Madeira
Due to its geographic location, Madeira enjoys plenty of sunshine every year although it does rain a bit during the winter months. We visited end of April and the weather in Madeira in April and early May were mostly sunny days although there was one day that it rained.
Since Madeira is an island, there are different micro climates on the island. The south side of island where Funchal is enjoys warmer and sunnier days compare to the north side of the island. This is why most resorts and hotels are located on the south side of Madeira.
Since Madeira is very mountainous, up in the mountains it is almost always cloudy and colder/wetter but if you go above the cloud to the peaks/ hikes then you will be able to see sunny days since you are so high up.
Best Things To Do in Madeira
We spent about a week in Madeira and saw and did plenty of amazing things. The best thing about Madeira is that there is so much to do for all types of travelers, whether you are looking for something active, family friendly, or simply want to sit back and relax. I have listed below the 11 best things in Madeira and there is something for everyone.
Funchal is the largest city of Madeira and is located on the south side of the island. There is an international airport near Funchal that you can fly into. Many people spend time exploring the old town, the markets and beach promenade in Funchal.
There are a lot of street arts and cute stores and bakeries in the old town of Funchal; as with any Portuguese cities if you are looking for colorful houses and doors you will be able to find them in Funchal.
Depending on the month you visit Madeira, there are festivals and parade in Funchal as well. When I was there in early May there was a flower festival and parade in Funchal and even some of the streets are decorated with yellow flowers.
Walking along the beach promenade of Funchal is one of the best things to do there since there are some shops and restaurants/ food stalls and on the weekend you can occasionally come across free outdoor concerts and festivals.
I suggest spending at least half a day just walking around Funchal old town area and if you ate adventurous enough you can drive up the hills of Funchal for a nice view of the city and the ocean.
Ride the Madeira Cable Car and Visit The Gardens
If you don’t want to drive up the mountain to see Funchal don’t worry, you can just take the Madeira cable car (Teleferico). The cable car costs 16 Euros round trip and takes you high up in the mountain. This is perhaps the best things to do in Madeira without spending too much efforts.
The entire journey takes about 20 minutes each way with 3200 meters of cable (it’s long and slow but relaxing) but the view is really nice and reminds a bit of Dubrovnik with the ocean and orange rooftops.
There are two gardens after you get off the cable cars, the Madeira Botanic Garden and the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. The Madeira Botanic Garden has a combined ticket with the cable car that saves you 3 Euros if you buy them together. The Monte Palace Garden is a separate ticket you can buy when you are there.
If you have time then I suggest you explore both gardens. If you can only pick one to visit then I would strongly recommend Monte Palace Garden. The garden is huge and there are amazing architecture, fountains, exotic plants, beautiful tiles, minerals from other countries and an African sculpture museum in there.
You can easily spend 2-3 hours exploring Monte Palace Tropical Garden. I didn’t visit the Botanic garden but it seems like most people only visit the flower display area and I didn’t have enough time to visit both.
Note that the Monte Palace Garden closes at 6 and the last cable car down is at 5:45pm.
Hike the Levada in Madeira
If you are an active person then Madeira is the right place for you. There are many levada walks and hikes in Madeira that are just amazing.
A levada is a tunnel built for irrigation purposes and many hikes are either along these levada or you go through some of the tunnels.
Honestly most of the levada walks in Madeira are pretty easy and I saw plenty of old people and people with kids that were hiking in Madeira.
There are a good number of walks in Madeira but the most famous ones include PR1, PR6 and PR8. See the official Visit Madeira website for more details on these levada walking routes.
Visit Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak in Madeira and its so high that it’s above the clouds. You can either drive to the Pico do Arieiro view point just for a quick visit or hike from Pico do Arieiro view point to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak in Madeira.
The best time to visit Pico do Arieiro (hiking or not) is at sunrise because you can see the sun going above the clouds with cotton candy colored sky and no crowds.
If you do decide to hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo then you are in a trip to be amazed. Pico Do Arieiro (PR1) is literally the best hike I’ve ever done and I’ve hiked in Banff, Patagonia, Norway and New Zealand.
The entire hike takes 5 hours one way or 8 hours round trip. I’ll write a separate post on that hike so stay tuned.
Chase waterfalls in Madeira
If there are waterfalls to chase then it’s gotta be one of the numerous waterfalls of Madeira. The great thing is they are easy to see and even the ones requiring hiking are pretty easy and straightforward.
The best waterfalls in Madeira in my opinion are 1) Véu da Noiva 2) Garganta Funda Waterfall 3) Risco Waterfall 4) 25 Spring Lagoon (Lagoa das 25 Fontes).
Véu da Noiva is near the town of Seixal on the north side of Madeira. The north side of the island tends to be more cloudy, rainy and moody compare to Funchal.
There are two viewpoints of this waterfall. One is along the highway VE2 called Miradouro do Véu da Noiva. There are two parking lots at Miradouro do Véu da Noiva and it’s also where bus tours come.
The view platform at this stop has a good view of the waterfall but you can also “hike” down to the tip of Ponta do Poiso for a better view. The path to walk down is rather hidden and is next to the larger parking lot. As you hike down the steps through the woods you actually can see another waterfall also. Unfortunately you cannot see the second waterfall without going down this hidden path.
Garganta Funda Waterfall is an amazing and unique waterfall on the western end of Madeira at Ponta do Pargo.
The view point is a bit out of the way so there aren’t many people there. You have to follow directions to Miradouro Garganta Funda, park on the road and then walk about 5-10 minute down a dirt path to the viewing point.
The waterfall is about 140 meters high and it’s one of the most unique waterfalls I’ve ever seen.
One of my favorite waterfalls in Madeira is Risco Waterfall, but you will need to do a short hike (PR6) to see this two layer waterfall. The hike to see the waterfall takes about 40 minutes on a rather flat ground but you will need to take a shuttle from the parking lot to the trail head otherwise it’s an additional mile downhill (the painful part is hiking back uphill from the trail head to the parking lot). Shuttle starts at 10am.
Levada Das 25 Fontes is another hike on PR6 towards the 25 Spring Lagoon and waterfall.
This waterfall does require some effort to see since the PR6 levada walk is about 2.5km. But the walk is not too difficult and plenty of old people hike this trail.
The waterfall is amazing and you can get closer to it than with the other waterfalls. If you do want to hike and visit Levada Das 25 Fontes then make sure to go early (best if starting the hike before 10am) to avoid the massive crowds.
Take a dip in the natural pools of Madeira
Madeira doesn’t really have a sandy beach but there are natural pools by the beach which are equally as amazing.
There are several different natural pools in Madeira, one near Funchal, one in Ponta Moniz and a couple of them near Seixal. My person favorite one is the one near Seixal because it’s the most photogenic. When we went in early May there was nobody there so you have the entire place to yourself. There is a changing room near the pools and sometimes tours in Madeira will also take tourists there for a quick tour.
To find this particular natural pool near Seixal, you will need to Google search Posto de Correios de Seixal on the map and this pool is downhill from the Post office. If you don’t have a car and still want to get to these volcanic natural pools, there are tours such as this one that will take you!
Visit the Fanal Forest in Madeira
Fanal Forest is a Laurissilva Forest, a subtropical forest with trees as old as 500 years. The unique thing about Fanal forest is that it often gets foggy and creates a beautiful and mysterious vibe. If you are into photography or simply want to experience how it feels to be in creepily beautiful forest then you simply cannot miss the Fanal Forest.
There is a pond called Fanal Pond that many people visit but it’s also nice to walk around the forest to explore. Many locals come to Fanal Forest on the weekend to BBQ and relax. Fanal Forest is also part of the Levada walk PR13 and PR15 so you will see a lot of hikers coming down the trail. The trails lead to the coast and are moderately difficult.
See a festival in Madeira
There are many festivals and parades in Madeira depends on what time of the year you visit. When we were there in early May there was a huge Flowers Festival for the month of May in old town Funchal. Along with the Flower Festival was a parade, flower carpet, flower market and performances. We also randomly came across a beer festival in the town of Ribeira Brava.
Some other interesting sounding festivals in Madeira include:
Onion Festival (Mid May)
Tuna Festival (early June)
Atlantic Festival & Popular Parade (June)
Madeira Wine Rally (August)
Black Scabbard Fish Festival (August)
For a complete list of events and festivals in Madeira, visit the official website.
Drive around the island and explore sea side towns
The best way to see and explore Madeira is to rent a car and drive the entire islands. Most of the roads in Madeira are well maintained and the highway is extremely convenient. However do expect some windy roads if you want to explore.
With a car you can visit different parts of Madeira, whether it’s to see the black rock beach, driving up to different view points and peaks or explore sleepy sea side towns. Although you can get around with buses and tours I still think having a car is the most flexible.
Besides Funchal some other cute areas to drive around to include Seixal, Sao Vicente, Ribeira Brava, Camara de Lobos, etc.
Each of them have a different vibe and view so I suggest stopping by as many you can during your trip to Madeira.
We only actually spent 2 days in Funchal and ended up seeing most of the islands by staying at different Airbnbs in different areas and just driving to different places and having lunch/dinner in these cute towns.
Go for a wine tasting tour in Madeira
Most people I know only know Madeira by its wine. I don’t blame them since I had no idea where Madeira was before I visited.
When you explore Madeira you will see a lot of vineyards up the hill all over the island. There are numerous wine tasting tours such as this tour and the discovering Madeira website.
A few other ones that have good reviews for wine tasting and winery tours include Barbeito Madeira, Blandy’s Wine Lodge, Pereira d’Oliveira and Artur de Barros e Sousa.
Try the local cuisine and drinks in Madeira
Madeira is known for its amazing and fresh seafood as well as its steaks. For the most part I only had their seafood but let me tell you it was amazing.
Most restaurants in Madeira offer both seafood and meat dishes and there are of course local specialties especially alcohol.
Bolo do Caco
Madeira has its own type of bread and it’s called Bolo do Caco, made from flour, sweet potato, yeast, salt and water. It’s round and flat and tastes soft yet chewy.
Traditionally this bread is based on a high heat stone and eaten with butter and herbs instead of just plain butter.
Parrot fish, Limpets and Black Scabbardfish with Banana
Eating seafood is a must when in Madeira and Madeira certainly has its own seafood specialty. When we were in Madeira we came across many restaurants offering Limpets and Parrot fish.
Limpets is a type of shell fish that is similar to clam. I personally don’t like shell fish so I wasn’t a fan but my friends loved it!
There are two types of fish that are widely offered in Madeira: Parrot fish and Black scabbard fish.
Most of the time Parrot fish will be grilled and the Black scabbard fish will be served with banana on top. You HAVE to try both as they are so unique to Madeira. I absolutely loved both but having banana on top of the fish may be weird to many.
Passion fruit everything
Passion fruit is big in Madeira and every dessert and soda include passion fruit flavor. One of the most popular soft drink in Madeira is the Brisa drink with passion fruit flavor.
Madeira Must Try Alcohol: Poncha & Nikita
Both Poncha and Nikita are traditional drinks in Madeira that you should try once.
Poncha is made with honey, sugar, orange or lemon juice and other fruit juices and aguardente de cana (sugar cane brandy). Although this drink sounds fruity it’s actually very strong.
Nikita is another traditional Madeira island drink mixed with vanilla or pineapple ice cream (there are non-alcoholic ones also). It contains fruits and beer!
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Madeira, Portugal
My list of the best things to do in Madeira is based on my one week in Madeira and I am sure there are a lot more things to do in Madeira than what I have listed.
But if you have limited amount of time in Madeira follow this list and you will have a great experience in Madeira.
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