16 Best things to do & see on Madeira
1. Discover the diverse nature during a beautiful hike
Madeira is a paradise for both inexperienced and experienced hikers. You will find more than 100 easy and challenging hiking routes all over the island. On foot you will discover the spectacular nature and diversity of Madeira. From enormous mountain landscapes, an impressive coastline, huge waterfalls to a dense jungle and beautiful views.
The most popular hikes are the levada hikes where you walk along the old irrigation channels of Madeira that make it possible to explore the rugged interior and valleys of the island.
2. Chilling on the black sand beach, Seixal Beach
On the north coast of the island you will find Praia do Porto do Seixal (Seixal Beach). It is one of the few sandy beaches on Madeira. The special thing about this beach is that it has black sand and owes its color to the erosion of volcanic rocks. Seixal beach is surrounded by green cliffs, rocks and the wild ocean and is the perfect place for surfing.
Be careful if you want to swim here, the current can be strong.
3. Swimming in the natural pools at Porto Moniz
A little further than Seixal Beach are the impressive volcanic pools of Porto Moniz. Between the black rocks formed by lava, you will find pools filled with seawater. The water is always washed in by the rough waves. There are two options for visiting the baths. There are paid baths with supervision and facilities such as changing rooms and showers. A little further on you have the free volcanic baths, with no facilities in the middle of the untouched nature. Here you have to watch out for sharp rocks and unpredictable big crashing waves.
4. Discover Funchal; the bustling capital of Madeira
Funchal is the bustling capital of Madeira and is the perfect base from which to explore the island. Surrounded by mountains, Funchal is located on the sunny south coast of the island. The center is full of cozy bars and restaurants where you can taste the typical drinks Ponchas, browse the local market full of tropical and colorful fruits or visit the beautiful botanical gardens of Monte by cable car. Funchal is not only a lot of culture and admiring unique sights, but also the perfect destination for adventure. Organized dolphin and whale watching tours depart daily from Funchal harbour. And that is definitely an activity for your bucket list!
5. Dolphin and Whale Watching in Madeira’s Waters
Madeira is a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This is an ideal and safe habitat for many cetaceans. There is a good chance to spot these special animals all year round, but the species you encounter depend on the season. Discover Madeira’s wildlife through responsibly organized tours. Do you want to know what to expect from such a trip? Then read our extensive blog about dolphin and whale watching in the waters around Madeira with tips that will make this experience unforgettable.
6. Get lost in one of the last laurel forests in the world
Millions of years ago, laurel forests were still common in parts of Europe and North Africa. Many laurel forests have disappeared due to the ice age and other climate changes. Fanal Forest is one of the last laurel forests in the world and is therefore a unique attraction on Madeira. If you visit Fanal Forest with foggy weather, the forest turns into a mysterious, fairytale place. The old laurel trees all have a different shape and are covered with several layers of moss. The trees seem to dance because of the twisted branches. The best part is to park the car nearby and get lost through this special forest.
7. Overcome your fear of heights with the Achadas da Cruz cable car
On the north side of Madeira, the steep Achadas da Cruz funicular takes you down 600 meters in 5 minutes. At the bottom you walk a short path and enjoy beautiful views of the wild ocean and huge cliffs. Local farmers work here on handmade products and agriculture.
A return ride with the cable car costs €5 per person. The last ride back up is at 6:00 PM. If you are afraid of heights, it can be quite exciting. But know that the amazing views below are well worth the effort.
Good to know: There are no facilities on the bottom, so make sure you bring enough food and drinks with you.
8. Drive on a winding road above the clouds
One of the most beautiful experiences on Madeira is to watch the sunrise or sunset from Pico do Areeiro. With a height of 1,818 meters it is one of the highest mountain peaks on the island. If the weather conditions are perfect, you will be high above the clouds here. That must be so special! We drove to the top twice at sunrise, but ‘unfortunately’ they were two clear mornings, so there was not a gigantic cloud cover to be seen. But even then this point is very magical to see the sun illuminating all the surrounding mountain peaks.
9. Visit the authentic coastal villages of Câmara de Lobos, Ponta do Sol and Jardim do Mar
Our favorite villages on the island are the coastal villages of Câmara de Lobos, Ponta do Sol and Jardim do Mar.
Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos is hidden in a bay of rocks, where colorful fishing boats bob on the blue ocean. It is one of Madeira’s most scenic and authentic villages, surrounded by dramatic cliffs, green vineyards and banana plantations. Experience local life, see how the fishermen successfully return with their catch and spot the most beautiful art on the doors of the houses in the narrow streets.
Ponta do Sol
Ponta do Sol is the village with the most hours of sunshine. It is small, but worth visiting! In Ponta do Sol you will find one of the most beautiful places to watch the sunset, you walk over an old bridge, through an arch, along the huge cliffs, looking out over the ocean. Park your car in the center of Ponta do Sol and walk to this spot.
Jardim do Mar
Jardim do Mar is a whole of narrow steep streets that lead to squares and the impressive boulevard. A walk on the boulevard is a must. You constantly have beautiful views over the surrounding cliffs and the deep blue ocean, which is loved by many surfers.
10. Drive your car through the natural car wash at Ponta do Sol
Cascata do Anjos is a waterfall that pours in the middle of the road. This unique waterfall is a free car wash; close the windows, turn on the windshield wipers and let’s go! Navigate to this point to get there by car. The route to the waterfall is already impressive. An old narrow coastal road takes you along the beautiful coastline and several spectacular views of the waterfall. When it’s not busy, you can stop the car at one of the road widenings to enjoy this special nature phenomenon.
11. Taste the unique Madeira Wine
Madeira is rich in vineyards where the delicious local Madeira Wine is made. It is a dessert wine and characteristic is the sweet taste and the strong alcohol percentage (between 16% and 22%). Madeira wine is different from other wines. This is mainly due to the different maturation process, which was discovered ‘accidentally’ at sea. Portuguese sailors took wine with them on long ship journeys to get extra vitamin C. The wine left over after the long journey tasted different. This was because they kept the barrels on the ships in warm rooms where the wine was heated repeatedly. This change was so popular that it was the beginning of the unique Madeira Wine. From then on, shipmen took extra barrels with them so that they could sell the wine on their return.
Madeira Wine is available in every supermarket on the island. But it is a wine with an interesting history, so how nice is it to learn more about it through a wine tour. In collaboration with Madeira Atlantic Tours we went with the Private Madeira Halfday Tour. Through this tour we not only learned more about the Madeira Wine, the production and the different variations, but we also learned a lot more about the island.
12. Admire the Chapel in São Vicente
In a vast valley in the north of Madeira lies the picturesque village of São Vicente. Here you will find the chapel Nossa Senhora de Fatima on top of one of the hills. The 14 meter high bell tower protrudes above the hills and is therefore a real eye-catcher. Climb up to get a closer look at the remarkable chapel. From the top you will be surrounded by mountain peaks and the green plateaus of the valley, where the typical houses are built on the slopes.
13. Walk the glass plateau at the Cabo Girão Skywalk
Challenge yourself and walk on the glass plateau at Cabo Girão. During the skywalk you walk 580 meters above the ocean. Visit Cabo Girão Skywalk on a clear day. We could see the depths below us, but the rest of the view was unfortunately hidden behind a thick layer of fog.
14. Make a stop at the most beautiful viewpoints
A road trip across the island takes you straight through the mountains, past constantly changing landscapes and coastal routes overlooking the blue Atlantic Ocean. Every ride is unique and you are treated again and again to the most beautiful viewpoints. You do not always have to make a long hike for this. Many lookout points can be found along the way.
15. The volcanic Peninsula Ponta de São Lourenço
In the east of the island is the narrow 6 kilometer long peninsula; Ponta de Sao Lourenco. It is the very tip of Madeira. The moon-like volcanic landscape here is completely different from what you see on the rest of Madeira. You can explore the area via the 7-kilometer PR8 hike, which takes you past amazing views, unique rock formations and colorful fields.
16. Madeira’s Traditional Cottages in Santana
The traditional houses of Madeira, Palheiros, are triangular with thatched roofs. Palheiros usually have red, white or blue painted accents. You can see the houses all over the island and some are still inhabited. Here in Santana you can see the houses from the inside and get an idea of how the locals used to live here – and still do. Some cottages in Santana have been transformed into shops and are today a popular tourist attraction.
Best time to visit Madeira
The subtropical climate makes Madeira a good place to stay all year round. The island is also known as the island of eternal spring. In the months of October to March there is more rain. Even then it is a great idea to visit Madeira. The waterfalls are at their most powerful then and the moody vibes are more often present, which suits the island perfectly!
Madeira is also known as the flower island. If you want to see madeira in bloom, the spring months April to June are the best time to go.
How to get to Madeira
Madeira has an international airport, with many options for direct flights from all over Europe. The airport is located in Santa Cruz, in the east of the island. From here it is about a 15-20 minute taxi ride to Funchal, using a taximeter. Another option is to go by bus. Shuttle buses (€5) run between the airport and Funchal. This is a cheaper option, but takes much longer.
Traveling around Madeira
We have been on Madeira for a month and rented a car for a few days. The rest of time we traveled by public transport or did tours.
The most ideal way to discover Madeira is with a rental car. This way you can get the most out of your trip. The highlights are spread over the island and with a car you have the ultimate freedom to see all the beautiful sights. Madeira is beautiful to drive around and you are guaranteed to often park the car along the road to enjoy spectacular viewpoints.
Tip: If you have booked a trip to Madeira, try to arrange a rental car immediately. Prices can rise significantly if you book last minute.
Driving on Madeira is not very different, you may just have to get used to the winding roads with sharp bends here and there or the few extremely steep roads in the villages or high in the mountains. The locals generally drive quietly and the roads and tunnels are well maintained.
To make it a bit easier for yourself to drive in the mountains, we recommend renting an automatic car. You don’t need a 4×4, all roads are passable. A car with a stronger engine is nice, but not necessary.
By public transport
Traveling by public transport on Madeira is a cheap option, but not always easy. Good preparation is therefore good, so that you do not have to figure out a lot while on holiday.
Our best tips are:
🚌 Always keep the bus times in mind, because there are only a certain number of buses per day, sometimes there is even only 1 option back. If you miss a bus, it may be the last bus running that day.
🚌 You can only buy a bus ticket with cash. You can buy a ticket from the bus driver.
🚌 Departure times are not always clearly indicated at the stops, not even on the websites of the different bus companies themselves. We often used the Rome2Rio website. The times were generally correct, but it is sometimes difficult to find the stop where you have to get on.
🚌 ‘Paragem’ means bus stop. There are several bus companies, on top of the bus stop is a sign that indicates which company stops at that bus stop.
Book one of the fun island tours
Do you not want to rent a car on the island and do you not want to be dependent on public transport neither? Then you can also explore the island through tours. There are a lot of great tours that take you all over the island. The nice thing about a tour is that you will learn a lot about the island. It is therefore also very educational and interesting. Keep in mind that it is not the cheapest option.
Where to stay on Madeira
If you only want to stay in one place during your trip to Madeira, Funchal is certainly a nice base for your entire trip on the island. Madeira is not that big and Funchal has a central location. From here you can easily discover the beautiful places all over the island. Funchal is also the ideal place to stay if you want to travel a lot by public transport. Many buses depart from Funchal.
Another reason why we loved staying in Funchal is because of the many restaurants and bars and the bustling vibes in Funchal. If we have been out in nature all day, we think it is nice to be in a bustling place again.