Madeira, an island renowned for its stunning landscapes and rich culture, offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers. In this blog post, we’ll explore the 25 best things to do in Madeira, highlighting a mix of both well-known tourist attractions and lesser-known hidden gems. I spent 2 months living in Madeira so I know first hand just how incredible this place is. This guide is designed to help you discover the essence of Madeira. From its scenic hiking trails and historic sites to its delightful culinary delights and vibrant local markets. Whether you’re an adventure seeker or someone looking for a peaceful retreat, Madeira has something special for everyone. Let’s embark on a journey to uncover the wonders of this captivating island.
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Best Things to Do in Madeira, Portugal
Hiking in Madeira is without a doubt the best thing to do for any visitor to the island. Often referred to as a hiker’s paradise, Madeira’s diverse terrain ranges from rugged coastlines to lush forests, offering something for every level of hiker. The well-marked trails lead you through some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever witness, with each path offering a unique perspective of the island’s natural beauty.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a challenging trek or a casual walker seeking a scenic stroll, Madeira’s trails will not disappoint. The experience of hiking here is not just about the physical activity; it’s about immersing yourself in the serene beauty of nature, feeling the fresh Atlantic breeze, and capturing panoramic views that stay etched in your memory forever.
Here are my favorite hikes in Madeira:
- Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: This trail connects two of the island’s highest peaks, offering stunning views and a thrilling hike.
- Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço: A hike along Madeira’s easternmost point, featuring dramatic coastal cliffs and diverse flora.
- 25 Fontes Hike: A popular route leading to multiple beautiful waterfalls, surrounded by lush greenery.
- Achada Das Cruz Hike: A lesser-known but equally stunning hike, offering peaceful paths and breathtaking scenery.
- Levada do Caldeirão Verde: An enchanting walk along one of Madeira’s famous levadas (irrigation channels), taking you through tunnels and alongside cascading waterfalls.
- Caminho da Entrosa: An off-the-beaten-path hike that rewards with spectacular views and a sense of adventure.
- Levada do Moinho: One of the most off the beaten path hikes on this list, this levada takes you through local villages and rewards with a beautiful waterfall.
2. Explore Downtown Funchal
Exploring downtown Funchal is a journey through the vibrant heart of Madeira. The city, with its rich history and lively culture, offers a blend of old-world charm and contemporary flair. As you wander through the bustling streets, you’ll encounter a mix of historical sites, colorful markets, and breathtaking gardens. Funchal’s downtown is compact and easily walkable, making it a delight to explore. Whatever you prefer, downtown Funchal has something to offer every traveler.
Here’s a list of some of the top sights to see in downtown Funchal:
- The Main Avenue: The bustling hub of the city, lined with shops, cafes, and stunning architecture.
- The Old Town: A historic area filled with charming streets, colorful murals, historic buildings, and a sense of Funchal’s past.
- Stroll the Roads: Take a leisurely walk through the city’s varied and picturesque streets, each offering its own unique atmosphere.
- The Market: Visit the local market to experience the vibrant colors and flavors of Madeira’s produce and crafts.
- Monte Palace Gardens: A beautiful garden offering a peaceful escape with lush flora and stunning views of the city.
- Prima Caju: A must-visit spot for food lovers, offering a taste of local cuisine in a lively setting.
- Stroll the Waterfront Promenade: Enjoy the sea breeze and beautiful views along Funchal’s scenic waterfront.
- Fortaleza de Sao Tiago: A historic fortress offering insight into Madeira’s past and panoramic views of the city.
- Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools: A unique natural swimming experience, with pools carved out of volcanic rock.
- Praia Formosa: The largest public beach in Funchal, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the island’s sunny climate.
3. Visit the Miradouros
Visiting the miradouros, or viewpoints, in Madeira is an absolute must for anyone wanting to capture the island’s breathtaking landscapes. These strategically placed observation points offer panoramic views that encompass the rugged coastline, lush valleys, and towering peaks. Each miradouro provides a unique perspective of Madeira’s natural beauty. They are popular spots for photographers and nature lovers alike. Whether you’re catching a sunrise, watching the clouds roll over the mountains, or simply soaking in the serene beauty of the Atlantic, the miradouros of Madeira are not to be missed.
Here are some of the best and most beautiful miradouros in Madeira:
- Miradouro do Pico do Areeiro: Offering views from Madeira’s third highest peak, this spot showcases the island’s mountainous landscape.
- Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto: Located on the eastern tip of the island, it provides stunning views of the ocean and cliffs.
- Miradouro do Cabo Girão: One of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, offering a glass skywalk for a thrilling view.
- Miradouro Eira do Serrado: Overlooking the Curral das Freiras valley, known for its breathtaking vistas.
- Miradouro do Facho: Offers a panoramic view of Porto Moniz and its natural swimming pools.
- Miradouro da Portela: Provides a stunning overview of the north coast and the peaks of Madeira.
- Miradouro do Véu da Noiva: Famous for its view of a spectacular waterfall that resembles a bride’s veil.
- Miradouro dos Balcões: A balcony-like viewpoint with views over the Ribeiro Frio forest park and its lush greenery.
4. Pico do Arierio for Sunrise & Hiking
Witnessing sunrise at Pico do Arieiro and then hiking to Pico Ruivo is an incredibly popular and rewarding experience in Madeira. This activity draws visitors for its breathtaking views at dawn, where the sky erupts in vibrant colors over one of the island’s highest peaks. The panorama is nothing short of spectacular, making the early rise completely worthwhile.
The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is somewhat challenging, featuring steep inclines and narrow paths, but the effort is immensely rewarding. As you traverse this rugged terrain, you’re treated to stunning landscapes, unique rock formations, and diverse flora. Reaching Pico Ruivo, the highest point on the island, offers a triumphant moment with 360-degree views of Madeira’s diverse beauty.
This hike is a must-do for those with a reasonable level of fitness, and appropriate preparation is key.
5. Achada Das Cruz
Achada Das Cruz is a unique and remote village in Madeira. It is notable for being accessible primarily by a cable car. This mode of transportation highlights the village’s isolation from the rest of the island. For those who enjoy hiking, there’s the option to trek down into the valley and experience the quiet, natural environment firsthand. After the hike, the cable car can be taken back up, offering a convenient and scenic return to the car park.
Alternatively, visitors can choose to experience Achada Das Cruz entirely by the cable car. This peaceful and somewhat secluded spot provides a different perspective of Madeira, showcasing its varied and unique landscapes. The simplicity of Achada Das Cruz and its surrounding nature makes it an interesting place to visit for those looking to explore beyond the typical tourist paths.
6. Fanal Forest
The Fanal Forest in Madeira is a place of enchanting beauty, captivating visitors with its unique atmosphere. While it’s often said that the forest is best experienced on a cloudy day, when the mist lends a mystical, moody ambiance to the ancient trees, visiting during sunset offers an equally mesmerizing experience. As the sun dips below the horizon, the forest is bathed in a golden light, creating a serene and almost magical setting.
My visit to the Fanal Forest was more enchanting than I had anticipated. The way the light played through the branches and the tranquility of the surroundings was truly breathtaking. The forest has a very mystical feel to it.
Whether shrouded in mist or glowing under the evening sun, the Fanal Forest is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Madeira. Its unique charm and natural beauty make it a memorable spot, perfect for quiet contemplation and a deep connection with nature.
7. Explore the Laurissilva Forest
Exploring the Laurissilva Forest in Madeira was an unforgettable experience, especially during the month I spent living in its mountains. This lush, UNESCO World Heritage site is easily the most beautiful area of the island. With its dense greenery and diverse ecosystem creating a stunning natural landscape, it is not to be missed. The forest’s ancient trees and the rich variety of plant life make it a haven for nature lovers.
8. Porto Moniz Natural Pools & Town
Porto Moniz, located on the northwest coast of Madeira, is renowned for its natural swimming pools, formed by volcanic lava. These pools offer incredible views of the sea, while being an incredibly unique place to swim. You have to see it for yourself.
The first pool, known for its larger size and family-friendly environment, is perfect for a leisurely swim. Surrounded by natural volcanic rock, it provides a safe and enclosed area for swimmers of all ages. The facilities here include changing rooms, sun loungers, and a café, making it ideal for a full day of relaxation and enjoyment. The pool’s expansive size allows for plenty of space to swim and enjoy the water, while also offering stunning views of the ocean.
The second pool, smaller and more secluded, offers a more intimate experience. Ideal for those seeking tranquility, it allows visitors to connect with the natural beauty of Porto Moniz in a peaceful setting. This pool is less crowded, giving swimmers the opportunity to enjoy the serene environment and the mesmerizing views of the rugged coastline. With fewer amenities, it provides a more natural and unspoiled swimming experience.
Both pools in Porto Moniz are a testament to Madeira’s unique landscape.
9. Levada Hiking
Hiking the levadas in Madeira is a unique experience. Levadas, narrow irrigation channels, have been used for centuries to transport water from the mountains to the agricultural regions. These channels have paths alongside them, providing picturesque routes for hikers. The trails meander through diverse landscapes, from lush forests to open valleys, offering stunning views and a peaceful ambiance. Hiking along these levadas varies in difficulty, catering to both casual walkers and more experienced hikers. The paths are often shaded by the canopy, with the soothing sound of flowing water accompanying your journey.
10. Ponta do Sol
Ponta do Sol, nestled on the south coast of Madeira, is a picturesque town with a charming and tranquil atmosphere. While it may not be bustling with activities, its beauty and laid-back vibe make it a delightful place to visit.
Notably, Ponta do Sol is home to the Digital Nomad Village, an initiative that caters to the growing community of remote workers and travelers. This village offers free coworking spaces, providing digital nomads with the perfect environment to work while enjoying the serene surroundings.
11. São Lourenço Hike
The São Lourenço Hike, situated at the furthest eastern point of Madeira, is an exceptional choice for a sunrise hike. As the first place on the island to greet the dawn, it offers a spectacular view as the sun emerges from the Atlantic Ocean. The early morning light bathes the rugged landscape in a warm glow, highlighting the unique geological formations and the contrast between the rocky cliffs and the azure sea.
This hike, while relatively easy, provides panoramic views that are particularly stunning at daybreak. The tranquility of the morning, combined with the breathtaking scenery, makes the São Lourenço Hike a must-do for anyone visiting Madeira, especially those seeking a memorable sunrise experience.
12. Drive around the island and get lost!
Driving around Madeira is a practical and enjoyable way to see the island. With its varied landscapes, from coastal roads to mountainous terrain, a rental car gives you the flexibility to explore at your own pace.
Madeira’s beauty is best experienced with the freedom to stop and enjoy the views. A car is essential for convenience and to fully appreciate all that Madeira has to offer. Whether you’re looking for scenic drives, quiet beaches, or just wandering, having your own vehicle makes these experiences accessible and straightforward.
Renting a car in Madeira is not just about transportation; it’s about making the most of your visit to this beautiful island.
13. Visit the Monte Palace Gardens in Funchal
The Monte Palace Gardens in Funchal are a delightful spot for an afternoon visit. Known for their beauty throughout the year, these gardens offer a peaceful setting amidst varied plant life and artistic elements.
For those in downtown Funchal, a practical option is to take the cable car, which provides a scenic route to the gardens. Alternatively, driving there is straightforward.
The gardens themselves are a blend of botanical beauty and historical charm, featuring a diverse collection of plants alongside some intriguing art and historical artifacts. It’s a place where visitors can quietly enjoy nature and art, making it a worthwhile addition to any itinerary in Madeira.
14. Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse
The Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse, perched at the westernmost point of Madeira, offers a serene and picturesque setting for visitors. Known for its striking location atop towering cliffs, this lighthouse provides panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great place for sunset as well.
15. Visit the Best Beaches in Madeira
Madeira’s beaches are unique, mostly featuring stone or pebble shores, with the occasional black sand beach. Unlike the typical sandy beaches found in the Caribbean, Madeira’s beaches are characterized by their rugged natural charm and rough ocean waters. Here are the top 5 beaches to visit on the island:
- Praia Formosa: The largest public beach in Madeira, known for its pebble shore and natural setting.
- Porto Moniz Natural Pools: A stunning natural swimming area formed by volcanic lava.
- Prainha de Caniçal: A rare black sand beach in Madeira, offering a secluded and peaceful atmosphere.
- Calheta Beach: A man-made beach known for its golden sand, imported from Morocco.
- Ponta do Sol: Known for its pebble shore and serene setting, it’s one of the sunniest spots on the island.
16. Madeira Wine Tasting
Madeira is celebrated not just for its stunning landscapes but also for its rich tradition of winemaking. This includes the renowned Madeira wine, often mistaken for port wine but distinctly unique in its own right. This island is a haven for wine enthusiasts, offering a variety of local wine varieties that go beyond its famous namesake.
Across Madeira, numerous venues offer wine tastings. These tastings provide an opportunity to sample a range of wines, from dry to sweet, each reflecting the unique terrain of the island. The experience is not just about tasting; it’s also an educational journey through the history and process of Madeiran winemaking. Whether in cozy taverns or picturesque vineyards, wine tasting in Madeira is a delightful way to explore the island’s culinary heritage.
17. Visit the Best Waterfalls in Madeira
Madeira, with its rugged central mountains, is home to some truly incredible waterfalls. These natural wonders are mainly found in the central region of the island, where the terrain is most mountainous. Visiting these waterfalls offers not just a visual treat but also a chance to explore Madeira’s lush, dramatic landscapes.
Top 5 Waterfalls to Visit in Madeira:
- Cascata do Risco – Known for its impressive height and serene surroundings.
- 25 Fontes Falls – A picturesque waterfall that cascades into a beautiful lagoon.
- Cascata dos Anjos – Unique for its roadside location, offering an easy view.
- Levada do Alecrim Waterfall – Accessible via a scenic hike along a Levada, it’s a peaceful spot.
- Poço das Pulgas – Located in Boaventura, it’s a hidden gem with a charming pool for swimming.
18. Drinks lots of Poncha
Poncha is a traditional Madeiran drink that has become a staple of the island’s culinary culture. It’s a simple yet potent concoction traditionally made with aguardente de cana (a local sugarcane spirit), honey, and lemon juice. The drink’s origins trace back to the fishermen of Madeira, who consumed it to ward off colds. Over time, Poncha has evolved, and now various flavors are available, including passion fruit and orange, adding a twist to the traditional recipe.
Poncha is not just a drink; it’s a part of Madeira’s social fabric. It’s found all over the island, from bustling bars in Funchal to quaint taverns in remote villages. Each place often has its own unique take on the drink, making it a must-try experience for visitors. To have the best poncha, be sure to look for places that make it fresh and not in batches. Be careful, this stuff is potent!
19. Whale Watching Tours
Whale watching tours in Madeira offer a delightful experience, combining the thrill of potentially spotting these majestic creatures with the stunning views of the island from the water. Even on days when the whales decide to be elusive, the tour remains a captivating adventure. Cruising along the coast, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Madeira’s dramatic cliffs, lush landscapes, and the expansive Atlantic Ocean.
20. Digital Nomad Party
In Madeira, the digital nomad community thrives with weekly events in Ponta do Sol and Funchal. These events provide perfect opportunities for like-minded travelers to connect and have a good time.
These gatherings are a blend of networking and socializing, allowing digital nomads to share experiences, tips, and stories in a relaxed, friendly environment. Whether you’re looking to make new friends, find travel companions, or simply enjoy a fun evening, these digital nomad parties are a great way to immerse yourself in Madeira’s vibrant traveler community.
21. Sao Vicente Church & Town
São Vicente, nestled amidst some of Madeira’s most beautiful mountains and coastline, offers a serene and picturesque experience. The town is renowned for its charming church perched on a hill, providing stunning views of the surrounding valley. The panoramic vistas of the lush, green valley from this vantage point are truly mesmerizing. São Vicente’s tranquil ambiance and unique setting make it a memorable destination for anyone exploring the diverse landscapes of Madeira.
22. Cabo Girao
Cabo Girão, one of Europe’s highest sea cliffs, offers visitors a stunning perspective of Madeira’s coastline. Standing at the cliff’s skywalk, a glass-floored viewing platform, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the ocean and the lush landscapes below. Easily accessible and located a short drive from Funchal, Cabo Girão provides an unforgettable experience for those wanting to appreciate Madeira’s natural grandeur from a unique and exhilarating vantage point.
23. Funchal Natural Pools & Waterfront
Funchal’s natural swimming pools, Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools, are located along its scenic coastline. These pools, while perhaps not as renowned as Porto Moniz’s, still provide an enjoyable experience.
Visitors can take a dip in the tranquil waters, enjoy a refreshing drink, and meander along the waterfront promenade and beach. This area epitomizes Funchal’s relaxed coastal lifestyle, inviting guests to unwind and soak in the serene ocean views. It’s a charming destination for those seeking a blend of leisurely swimming and picturesque walks by the sea.
24. Explore the Smaller Towns
Venturing out in your car to explore the smaller towns of Madeira is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the island’s authentic and local culture. Away from the bustling city and large tour groups, these quaint towns offer a glimpse into the traditional Madeiran way of life.
Driving through the picturesque landscapes, you’ll encounter charming villages, each with its own unique character and history. This experience allows for a more personal and intimate exploration, providing a stark contrast to the more tourist-centric areas. It’s an ideal way to truly connect with the heart and soul of Madeira.
Madeira’s location in the middle of the ocean makes it an excellent spot for stargazing, especially when staying in the island’s more rural areas. Away from city lights, the clear, dark skies reveal a spectacular celestial display.
The tranquility of these rural settings provides a perfect backdrop for observing the stars and constellations. Stargazing in Madeira is a reminder of the island’s natural beauty, both on land and in the vastness of the night sky.
As we wrap up our journey through the best things to do in Madeira, it’s clear that this island is a destination filled with diverse experiences. From its breathtaking landscapes to its rich cultural experiences, Madeira offers a unique adventure for every traveler. Whether you’ve wandered through its lush green trails, tasted the local cuisine, or immersed yourself in the island’s history, the memories made here are sure to last a lifetime. Madeira isn’t just a place to visit; it’s a world to be experienced, a treasure waiting to be discovered. So pack your bags and get ready to explore the many marvels that Madeira has in store.