Last Updated on 16/07/2022 by secretmoona
The island of Madeira is like no other European destination. Nicknamed the “Floating garden in the Atlantic” and the European Hawaii, Madeira is filled with rugged mountains, spectacular waterfalls, luxuriant vegetation, beautiful coastline, sun, Portuguese villages and some of the hilliest roads seen on earth (thanks to the island’s steep relief). The island is a perfect place to explore or sit back and enjoy the tranquillity of this Archipelago. Discover our selection of the five things to see during your trip to Madeira.
Explore the old town of Funchal
As the capital of Madeira, Funchal is a mandatory stop on your trip to the island. Therefore, take time to admire the historic centre (Zona Velha), particularly Rua Santa Maria, filled with restaurants and front doors decorated with mural-style art.
Funchal is great for walking; while strolling the squares and seafront promenade, you will discover the beautiful heritage: Sé Cathedral, Palacio de Sao Lourenço, and the old fortress of Santiago.
If you are a football fan, visit the CR7 Museum dedicated to Cristiano Ronaldo. You can learn all about his beginning on the island and his career as one of the best players in the world.
Get lost in Monte Palace Tropical Garden
After exploring the town of Funchal, take a panoramic cable car ride to Monte Palace Tropical Garden. This beautiful garden has a rich collection of exotic plants from all over the world.
Start your visit with the Monte Palace Museum, which displays a great collection of arts. As you continue exploring through the exotic sanctuary, watching peacocks and swans in the lakes and koi (cap fish) in ponds, you will be amazed by the walkways adorned with ornate ceramic tiles (called “azulejos” in Portuguese).
The entrance fee for the garden is €12.50, and a single cable car trip with Teleférico do Funchal costs €12.50. Book here.
Speed downhill in a wicker toboggan
The most exciting way to return to the centre of Funchal after visiting Monte Palace Tropical Garden is by getting on the wicker basket toboggan (carros de cesto). You sit on these wooden sledge-type baskets pushed by two “carreiros”. What was back in the day the primary means of transport for the locals is now one of the top things to do in Madeira.
These men clad in all-white ensembles and straw hats skillfully manoeuvre the toboggan downhill. The ride is an excellent way to enjoy the view of the sea. The carreiros leave from the Nossa Senhora do Monte church, and rides cost €30 for two, lasting about 10 minutes.
TIP: Note that the carros de cesto ride stops halfway. To finish the journey to the centre, you have two solutions: taxis (confirm the price to avoid misunderstandings or book a Bolt instead), or you can continue on foot in about 30 minutes (good exercise for your calf muscles!).
Visit the Botanical Garden
Another essential stop on your trip to Madeira is the Jardim Botânico. The garden has the most extensive collection of exotic plants in the world, so it could take hours to see everything. Walking along the flowerbed while admiring the different species of cactuses, palm trees, and medicinal plants is very relaxing.
The admission fee to the Botanical Gardens Madeira is €6. The ticket allows you also to visit the Louro Parque, which houses several species of parrots, canaries and other birds.
The garden offers a fantastic panoramic view over Funchal, so be sure to have your camera ready.
Discover the cuisine of Madeira
Just like mainland Portugal, Madeira treats visitors with fantastic cuisine. The island is a foodie heaven for those who love seafood and exotic fruits, including mangos, passion fruit and guavas.
When you sit down for a meal, the first thing you will be served after your drinks will be “bolo do caco“. It’s the Madeiran version of the garlic bread, except this version is a round flatbread made using sweet potato and baked in a hot stone oven. This was our favourite starter! Another popular starter we loved was limpets (or lapas in Portuguese). These buttery seafood are to die for!
In terms of main dishes, Madeira, an island surrounded by clear water, has many fish and seafood dishes. We had a feast trying as many dishes as we could. Espada and espetada were some of the popular dishes. Peixe espada or black scabbard fish is found on every restaurant menu. It is served grilled with a sauce made from bananas or passion fruit.
Meat lovers with love espetada, these chunky beef skewers on a laurel branch are grilled on wood or charcoal and seasoned with butter and herbs. They’re then served at the table hanging from an iron hook. One word: delicious!
And local drinks
And to pair up with the delicious food, what better than the local drink. First of all, Poncha is the most traditional drink of Madeira. The drink is made from aguardiente (rum), sweetened with honey and sugar cane and flavoured with either lemon, orange or passion fruit juice. It originated in Câmara de Lobos and was mostly consumed by fishermen. Now, it is appreciated all over the island.
The best place to drink Poncha is in a bar, remote area and among the locals. “Taberna da Poncha” Don’t be fooled by the small glass; the drink is very strong.
And if you like wine, why not try the namesake fortified “Madeira Wine” or port? To learn more about the winemaking process and get some taste, visit some producers, including Blandy’s, Barbeito, Justino’s and Pereira d’Oliveiras.
Taste local goodies in Mercado dos Lavradores
The Mercado dos Lavradores is a typical charming market with a varied selection of local products: fresh fruit, fish, exotic plants, herbs and spices, and Madeiran sweets. It’s one of Madeira’s main tourist attractions.
Visiting the market is the perfect opportunity to see some attractive exotics fruits among the bananas and papayas grown in large quantities. Be aware that the prices there are incredibly high.
See the unique houses of Santana
The traditional houses of Santana are among the most photographed places in Madeira. These are the brightly coloured, triangular-shaped, thatched-roof houses you’ve probably seen on postcards or promotional products from the island.
The population of Madeira lived in houses similar to this. Now, they are only found in a few locations. There are several in the town centre where you can buy local products and souvenirs.
There is not much else to see or do in Santana, so combine it with other exciting places in the northeast of Madeira like Pico Ruivo or Parque Florestal das Queimadas.
TIP: To avoid the crowd, make sure to get there early during the day or later in the afternoon.
Swim in the natural pools of Porto Moniz
Madeira isn’t famous for its beaches, but that doesn’t mean you can find fantastic bathing experiences. Porto Moniz is renowned for its natural rock pools formed by volcanic lava and filled with seawater. It’s one of the best places to swim in Madeira as the water is warm!
And even if you don’t go swimming, it’s a beautiful area to see, especially the impressive rough coastline. The natural pools of Porto Moniz are made of the natural area and the swimming area.
Explore the natural side, and admire the lava formations and the different shades of blue and green in the water before getting in the water for a swim. The pools are open from 9 am and 7 pm. There is a bar near the pool where you can sit, relax and admire the spectacular volcanic backdrop.
Whale and dolphins watching
The location of the Madeira archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean is ideal for observing whales and dolphins throughout the year. It is therefore not surprising that whale and dolphin watching excursions are among the most popular activities in Madeira.
There are so many tour operators offering whale-watching tours in Madeira that the competition is high, and the prices are very affordable. Prices are usually €25 for a 3-hour catamaran excursion or €45 for a 2-hour speed boat. We chose the Sea Born company to take us to the middle of the ocean on this expedition. During the journey, don’t only keep your eyes on the water. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and breathtaking views of the cliffs along the coast. On a good and warm day, you can get into the water and enjoy a swim under the giant cliffs of Cabo Girão.
TIP: The sea can be rough, so don’t book if you get seasick.
Hike along the levadas
Madeira is a true paradise tu vu by vu g vu vu for hikers and walkers. Thanks to the many hiking trails available, you can explore the island on foot. Whether you are looking to hike the Pico Ruivo (1862m, the highest point in Madeira) or Pico do Arieiro (1817m third highest peak on the island) or walking along the levadas, Madeira leads to wonders.
Among the many trails, the 25 Fountains Levada hike is one of the must-dos on the island. Compared to other hikes, which need a good level of fitness and experience, this Levada walk is suitable for all fitness levels.
Levadas are stone-paved irrigation channels bringing water to villages and agricultural fields. The levadas allow beautiful hikes through the mountains and forest, crossing waterfalls and tunnels. It is possible to explore independently. However, I suggest booking a guided tour to learn more about the history of the levadas.
A wall along the 25 Fountains in the Rabaçal valley means walking down steep roads, passing through caves dug in cliffs, and appreciating the waterfalls and lush green vegetation. The waterfall of 25 fountains, located at the very end of the route and offers a last spectacular panorama to the walkers. Like many places, it can be crowded, so again, visit early.
Exploring the picturesque Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos, which means “the bay of the black seals”, is a small fishing village not far from the capital Funchal. The town has retained its picturesque and authentic character through its port, colourful boats and tiny streets. Câmara de Lobos can be visited quickly due to its small and compact size. You can access the highest cliff in Europe near the small town from the village: the Cabo Girão (580 metres).
Enjoy the most beautiful viewpoints in Madeira
Madeira is the island of miradouros offering perfect viewpoints over lush valleys, impressive cliffs, sharp peaks and turquoise waters. There are too many to be able to do them all. Madeira’s typical view includes cliffs, greenery, a small plot with plantations (faja), a village and the sea.
We liked Cabo Girão, at 580 metres above sea level. It is one of the most famous miradouros on the island, thanks to its glass platform allowing you to appreciate the view of the sea with your feet at 580 metres above sea level.
Closer to Funchal is the Miradouro Pico dos Barcelos which offers a panoramic view of the entire city and the ocean on the horizon. The Igreja de São Martinho, located on top of a hill against the ocean backdrop, caught our eyes.
Take the ferry to Porto Santo
Porto Santo is part of the Madeira archipelago and is the second island. The small island has more than 9km of beautiful sandy beaches. Porto Santo is the perfect destination for people who want to relax and enjoy the beach. Like Madeira, Porto Santa’s landscapes are perfect for hiking, for example, the Pico do Facho.
You can visit the port of Vila Baleira with its beautiful white houses and the remains of the house of Christopher Colombus.
There are 15 minutes flights from Funchal or 1h30 from the main airports on mainland Portugal (Porto and Lisbon). A cheaper but more extended way to get on the island is by ferry, which takes about 2 hours. This is perhaps the best option for those wishing to drive on the island.
I hope this list of things to do in Madeira will help you prepare your itinerary. Should you have comments about other spots in beautiful Madeira, please share in the comments.
Experience Madeira’s Flower Festival
Madeira is often called “the Floating Garden in the Atlantic” and, as such, is a paradise for plant and flower lovers. Our trip to Madeira coincidentally happened during the island’s famous Flower Festival.
If you’re travelling in spring (end of April/May), take the opportunity to attend the enchanting festival. There are parades and performances taking place daily. Madeira and Funchal’s streets are filled with vibrant colours and pleasant floral scents. The festival’s highlights are the Wall of Hope ceremony, where children walk with flowers in their hands, and the main event, the Allegoric Flower Parade, which sees a woman crowned the Flower Queen.
What are your favourite things to do in Madeira? Let me know in the comments.