Madeira is one of the most beautiful islands in the Atlantic Ocean and was named for the last couple of years the “Best Island Destination in Europe”. Honestly, this is not surprising at all, as Madeira is simply a jaw-droppingly beautiful island. There are so many things to do in Madeira, here are just a few, but I could go on about Madeira forever…
The archipelago of Madeira consists of the Madeira island, Porto Santo island and the Desert islands, which are a protected area. The island of Madeira is very steep and had lots of staggeringly high cliffs all around, which sometimes can be a bit threatening.
That is no surprise since Madeira sits atop of a massive volcano that rises 6km from the Atlantic Ocean. The volcano is long gone now, but the land is still so raw and untouched.
Madeira island was officially discovered around the 15th century by Portuguese explorers. However, there is evidence that the island was previously discovered around the 75 AD by some southern sailors. However, once the Portuguese discovered this fruitful island they hurried in settling it and started growing sugar cane. This became their source of wealth, as they started producing rum from it and selling it across Europe.
Nowadays, Madeira attracts many people with its beautiful nature, incredibly tasty cuisine and unique culture. It is an all-year vacation destination, which means you can visit the island whenever you want.
The weather in Madeira is mildly tropical, which makes it a very nice place to visit during the winter months.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about this magical place, including the best things to do in Madeira…
How to get to Madeira
The best and cheapest way to get to Madeira is by hopping on a flight with any of the low-cost airlines in Europe. Getting to Madeira is quite easy and usually, the flight takes around 2-3 hours. The best airlines to fly with to this magnificent island are EasyJet and TAP Air Portugal.
There is also a way to get there by a cruise ship, but it will take much more time of travelling and won’t stay for long.
When is the best time to visit Madeira
Madeira is an island known for its mild tropical climate that never changes. Long story short, Madeira is an all-year-round destination that can be visited whenever. There is no specific season and this is its charm. However, the best time for you depends on your preferences.
Thus, if you want to get tanned and sunbathe or swim in the Atlantic Ocean, then you should visit it from June until September. If you plan to go and hike the island I would suggest going either in autumn or spring months.
How to get around Madeira
The island of Madeira is a pretty much-developed place. You can expect all sorts of transportation, except trains. However, the easiest and most convenient way to get around is by car. Renting a car in Madeira will definitely make your holiday way more pleasant. You will be able to visit many places in less time and have plenty of time to rest also.
There are many rent-a-car companies, but I would suggest that you check the local rent-a-car providers. Their rates are cheaper, some of them don’t require a deposit and give you decent discounts for booking the car for more than 7 days. An excellent local rent-a-car company is Funchal Easy Rent.
Top 10 things to do in Madeira
If you love being outside and exploring uncharted lands, then Madeira is the right place for you! It will stun you with its beautiful vistas, tropical forests and high mountains.
Hiking to Pico Ruivo
Pico Ruivo is the highest peak on the island of Madeira and one of the highest peaks in the Atlantic Ocean. There is only one way to visit it – on foot. If you are an adventurer, then you should try the trail starting from Pico Arieiro. This hiking trail takes around 4 hours each way and is considered the hardest trail on the island.
Once you start the hike from Pico Arieiro, make sure to keep your feet on the paved pathway. However, bear in mind that it can be quite slippery, so step with extra caution. Going further, you can stop by Miradouro do Ninho da Manta, which provides a beautiful view over the north coast of the island and its mountain range.
Then, keep walking on the trail until you reach Pico das, Torres. It is recommended that you walk with extra caution there as there might be some stones and soil falling from it.
Thus, it is better to focus your attention on the trail before you and pass it as fast as possible. Eventually, at the end of the trail, you will witness the white forest and a bit higher is Pico Ruivo. From the top, you will see all parts of the island and truly fall in love with Madeira.
Hiking Ponta da Sao Lourenço
Known as the “End of the World”, Ponta da Sao Lourenço was the first discovered part of the island by the explorers. It was named after its discovered and is moderately hard to hike. The trail starts at the parking lot and goes through rocky terrain with herbaceous vegetation. It takes around 5-6 hours to hike it, but it takes you through Europe’s most scenic landscapes. Thus, it is absolutely worth the effort.
While hiking you will be able to stop at a few places and rest. One of them is the Ponta do Castelo, which is overlooking the Porto Santo island. If the weather is good and clear you will be able to see it in the distance.
Going further you will reach the Casa do Sardinha and after climbing a bit is the Ponta do Furado. From there you will witness one of the most beautiful vistas on Madeira island. It is absolutely breathtaking!
Hiking Levada das 25 Fontes
Another place that definitely worth a visit is the Levada das 25 Fontes. This hiking trail is one of the most visited and follows an ancient irrigation system. It is slightly different from the rest of the hiking trails, as it is fairly easy to hike and is surrounded by lush Laurisilva vegetation.
Levada das 25 Fontes starts at the parking lot of the trail (road ER110) and takes around 7-8 hours in total. At first, it goes through an asphalt pathway until it reaches Rabaçal café. From there you can head straight to Risco waterfall, which is one of the tallest waterfalls.
It takes around 2 hours to reach it and you can’t really get near it, but from afar it looks way better. Then, if you have enough energy you can climb up to Lagoa do Vento or the waterfall above Risco. From there you will enjoy a nice view of the surrounding environment and also be able to get closer to the waterfall.
However, be very cautious as it can be very slippery and muddy. Eventually, you can check the 25 Fontes Falls, which is the last waterfall on this hiking trail. It is surrounded by a semi-cave, which makes it look like it is some sort of a magical place. It truly is fascinating!
Vereda dos Balcões
Vereda dos Balcões is probably the shortest trail of all the hiking trails in Madeira. It takes less than an hour and leads you to one of the most jaw-dropping vistas on the island. From there you will be able to see the northern part of the island, Penha d’Águia rock formation and if lucky and the day is clear and sunny – Pico Arieiro, Torres, Ruivo and Gato.
The starting point of the hiking trail is at roat ER103 highway in Ribeiro Frio. While in Ribeiro Frio you can also check the trout hatcheries that are set all over the city.
Funchal, the capital of Madeira, the birthplace of Ronaldo, is probably the most colourful city on the island. It is full of colourful streets, positive vibes and mild weather.
While in Funchal it is best to try the Toboggan ride, which is sort of sledge that is sliding through the steep streets of the city. Usually, a ride like that costs around 30 euros for two people. This unusual means of transport was used by the local’s ages ago, so they can easily and swiftly go down to the city.
It required only two men to push the sledge and control its navigation. Honestly, this ride is not for people with a fear of speed or height. It definitely raises the adrenaline!
Going up the city you will find the Botanical garden of Madeira. The ticket to enter is 9 euros and is definitely worth it. There you will fall in love with the beautifully arranged gardens and Madeira’s endemic species. Along with that, you will definitely enjoy the bird park there, which is home to Blue Macaw Cockatoo and Lory!
Last but not least, check the Monte Palace that is located a bit further on one of Madeira’s hills. The Palace has more than 100,000 plant species from all over the world like azaleas, various ferns and trees. On top of that, there are a couple of museums dedicated to the African culture, precious gems found around the world and Portuguese history.
And in addition to all that, there is also a beautiful Japanese garden that takes upon most of the Monte Palace. There is even a place for meditation and a couple of ponds full with Koi fish.
Visit the Sao Vicente Caves
The caves of São Vicente are a must-see landmark in Madeira. Dating back to 890 thousand years, they tell the story of the island from the very beginning. Once there you will be welcomed by a guide who is going to tell you all their secrets of the caves and answer all of your questions.
The tour starts with an educational session on how the island has emerged and formed throughout the years. Then, you will have the chance to visit the caves that are simply astonishing. Inside you will see the tubes from where the lava was going and then just froze. There are also a couple of basins that are full with Madeira wine. Locals use them to make the wine even better, as the water has many minerals that enrich the wine.
Cape Girão is known as the highest seacliff in Europe and the second highest in the whole world! It is around 580 meters high and has a glass terrace from which you can see below. If you have fear from heights it is not a thing you would like to check.
However, it provides one of the perfect spots to observe the sunsets. Furthermore, from Cape Girão you can observe from afar Funchal and Câmara de Lobos.
Usually, it costs 2 euros to visit it, but if you visit it after 6 pm it is free for all.
Porto Moniz Natural Swimming pools
Despite being an island full of rocky hills and steep paths, Madeira offers well-kept natural swimming pools. The most famous and crowded are the natural pools of Porto Moniz. You can go there during the summer as the water is pleasant and you will be able to swim.
Keep in mind that to enter you will have to pay a small fee. However, if you go a bit to the side you will find the free natural pools of Porto Moniz. They are surrounded by lava rocks and are deep enough to swim and dive.
Inside you will see lots of marine animals going around, which will make your stay quite intriguing. Luckily, these swimming pools are open during the winter season and although the water is not that hot, it is still pleasant on the body. Do not forget to take a towel and slippers! Also, be very careful when you go around the pools as there might be some algae, which will make the surface slippery.
Beaches of Madeira
Surprisingly enough, Madeira has many beaches. Some of them are sandy, some of them not so much. The beach in Seixal is prominent for its beauty. It has black sand and attracts many due to its incredible vista over the Atlantic Ocean and the north part of the island. A beach day is one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Another beach in Madeira that is worth a visit is the beach of Calheta. With its yellow sand and warmer water, it will definitely feel better on your skin. Closer to Funchal, the capital of Madeira is Machico. The city of the same name is one of the most populous areas on the island and the most touristy. Most of the people that like to spend their vacation at the beach go there.
Miradouros of Madeira
Portugal is known everywhere for its miradouros (viewpoint) and Madeira is no exception to this. The island is full of beautiful vistas that will leave you speechless. Some of them are Miradouro do Pináculo and Miradouro do Pico dos Barcelos near Funchal. Both of the viewpoints offer a beautiful view over the capital of Madeira and the villages surrounding it.
Another great viewpoint is the Miradouros do Paredão, which is overlooking Curral Das Freiras village or the Nuns’ Valley. A mystical village sitting atop of a hill with only one way in and out. Thus, if you plan on visiting the village you should consider this as the road ends at its end.
The north part of the island is abundant with beautiful viewpoints, although some of them can be a bit shadowy like Miradouro da Ribeira da Janela. To reach this viewpoint you have to reach the village of the same and near the pebble beach enter the tunnel in the huge rock formation. It will lead you to some of the most romantic views on the island, which is often used in wedding photography.
Last but not least, Crane’s Viewpoint is an absolute must! This miradouro has lots of stories to tell. It was the viewpoint from where the locals were welcoming the voyagers that were coming from the mainland.
Top places to eat in Madeira
Of course food is top of my list when it comes to the best things to do in Madeira. Like any other part of Portugal, the food in Madeira is simply delish. Actually, it is finger-licking good!
While on this mesmerizing island you should definitely try their tuna steak, black scabbard fish fillet with fried Madeiran bananas and Bolo do Caco.
The best tuna steak you can try at Leeno’s Bar & Restaurant in Funchal. They have a special Tuna on the stone and it is simply delicious. Along with that, you can try the famous grilled limpets with garlic, which are incredibly tasty.
When it comes to the notorious black scabbard fish fillet with fried Madeiran bananas you should definitely go to Almirante on Rua Brigadeiro Oudinot street. This is probably the best place to try it and it is absolutely amazing!
Last but not least, make sure to try the Bolo do Caco, which is a sandwich with special Madeiran bread and meat. You can easily find one at the famous Farmer’s Market of Funchal. There are plenty of places where you can try it and you won’t regret it!
Where to stay at in Madeira
There are plenty of awesome places to stay in Madeira, but if you are going in the high season you might not have so many options. However, there are some awesome places to stay in, especially if you like to be surrounded by nature sounds and serenity.
Thus, I would definitely suggest the House in Rochão Village. It is strategically situated in Calheta, from where you can easily reach any part of the island. Also, just ten minutes of driving will lead you to one of Madeira’s most beautiful beaches!
Another option in Calheta is the Calheta I by An Island Apart. It has everything you might need on your vacation and even a pool that you can easily access. Furthermore, it is away from the hassle of the big city of Funchal and is located in the most strategic point of Madeira – Calheta.
However, if you want to be near Funchal it is best to stay in Santa Cruz Village Hotel, which offers luxury and peace for around 50 euros.
Author bio: Alex is a blogger at EarthOSea (www.earthosea.com) who has extensively travelled around Europe for the past 3 years. She has lived in Portugal in 2019 where she got more familiar with the Portuguese culture, traditions and language. Alex’s speciality is mainly in travelling in a sustainable and less harmful to the environment way. She is focusing more on ways to travel on a budget or money-for-value. Along with that, she loves hiking and discovering uncharted islands, but she also loves staying at the beach with a book in hand.
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