The beauty of Madeira Island attracts thousands of tourists every year. They admire local nature, hike mountains, do sightseeing, and have a lot more activities to enjoy. Madeira is one of the most picturesque places in Portugal, with stunning scenery and colonial architecture.
Due to its warm climate throughout the year, Madeira Island is a desirable destination for tourists whenever they want to make a trip there. Madeira attracts visitors with both manmade and natural landmarks that can be found in abundance on this island. There are plenty of things to do in Madeira, despite the fact that the island is relatively small as compared to other regions of Portugal. Its capital, Funchal, is located directly on the coastline, which allows visitors to combine sightseeing with some maritime activities. If you don’t have Madeira Island on your list of places to visit, you are likely to add it after reading this article.
1. Funchal Overview Tour in a Cable Car
Riding a cable car in Funchal can be the first thing for you to do in Madeira, as it will allow you to have a general view of the capital of the island and see where you can go once you reach the ground again. The tour starts near Almirante Reis and goes along the former steam railway. During the ride, visitors will enjoy the picturesque scenery of this part of Madeira as well as the architecture of Funchal, which fits perfectly into the local landscape.
Cable cars are used by tourists for a couple of purposes. They allow visitors to Madeira to admire Funchal from up high. In addition, you can reach many interesting sites and the best attractions by simply riding a cable car. The trip lasts 15 minutes and ends at the highest point of a hill, a few steps away from Monte Palace Tropical Garden, from where you can start discovering Madeira and Funchal.
2. Funchal Walking Tour
An excellent way to start discovering Madeira is to visit the island's capital. Funchal is a coastal city with a lot of things to see. Its colonial-style architecture is combined with natural landmarks and stunning parks that one can find all along his or her trip across Funchal.
The capital is famous for its two major botanical gardens: Monte Palace Tropical Garden and Madeira Botanical Gardens. Both provide Funchal guests with necessary coolness and a colorful palette of flowers and other plants that are pleasing to the eye of tourists the whole year.
Funchal boasts a lot of historical sites that are spread out over a relatively small area of the island. In particular, you will be able to enjoy the Cathedral, Santa Clara Convent, and other places. Funchal is also famous for being the native city of Cristiano Ronaldo. Therefore, you will be able to visit his trophy museum in Madeira.
Travel Tips and Recommendations
If you are visiting Funchal, reserve some time to visit the local market and taste food during a special 4.5-hour tour. It will allow you to familiarize yourself with Portuguese cuisine and find out more about this side of Funchal and the island of Madeira.
Funchal’s market is famous for exotic fruits, seasoned vegetables, fish, etc. However, this is not only about meals. Visitors will learn more about the history of Madeira as well as its traditions. During the tour, you will also be able to enjoy one of the best restaurants on Madeira. Delicious meals here are accompanied by a breathtaking view of Funchal and
3. Learn More about Local Maritime Life
Funchal is a coastal city of Madeira, which means that along with terrestrial landscapes, visitors will have an opportunity to enjoy maritime life. One of the best attractions for tourists coming at any time of the year is to see dolphins, one of the cleverest inhabitants of the underwater world.
When visiting Funchal in Madeira, you will find a lot of companies offering local cruises for tourists. Unlike many dolphinariums that you can find across the world, those short maritime trips will allow you to admire dolphins in their natural habitat without interfering with their lifeflow.
Travel Tips and Recommendations
It should be mentioned that while Madeira can be visited at any time of the year, to see dolphins, it is best to come here from May to September. Keep in mind that this is also the best season to admire whales. Dolphin and whale watching tours normally last 3-5 hours.
Some companies offer additional diving services, allowing visitors to enjoy the underwater world in one of the most picturesque parts of Madeira and Portugal. Most of those short cruises start in Funchal, meaning you will have an opportunity to combine maritime sightseeing with visiting the most popular attractions of the Madeira capital.
4. Admiring Famous 25 Fontes
25 Fontes (or 25 fountains) is a special tour where visitors will be able to admire the most beautiful waterfalls in Madeira. The island is famous for its picturesque landscapes, but there are a lot of sites that are hidden from ordinary visitors. The hike to 25 fontes is something that will leave unforgettable memories about your visit to Madeira.
While the main goal of this trip is to watch waterfalls, you will also be able to admire the local nature of Madeira, which is full of beautiful windflowers, birds, and picturesque water scenery. The whole path is totally safe, as all the most dangerous places are secured. It will take you about an hour and a half to reach the goal of this trip—a stunning waterfall and one of the most beautiful places in Madeira.
5. Funchal Old Road Tour
Back to Funchal, visitors will have an opportunity to make a three-hour trip along the old road of the Madeira capital to the very heart of the island's traditions and culture. The goal of this tour is a small, traditional fishing village called Camara de Lobos, where you will be able to watch breathtaking landscapes and discover other aspects of local life.
During this tour, visitors will have the opportunity to take photos of Funchal, learn more about the history of the city, its traditions, and taste local foods and drinks. Later on, you will reach one of the highest cliffs in Madeira and in all of Europe with an impressive skywalk glass floor, from which you will have a great view of the ocean, the fishing village, Funchal, as well as the Desert Islands.
6. Bus Funchal City Tour
Going on a tour across Funchal is a great opportunity to discover the city and learn more about its culture and traditions. The double-decker roofless bus will drive you to the most interesting places in Funchal, the capital of Madeira. Along with some hotspots of the central part of Funchal, you will also be able to go off the beaten track and see what is hidden from many tourists coming to Madeira.
During the trip, you can sit back and relax while admiring the looped roads of the island of Madeira and listening to the audio guide, who will tell you more about Funchal, its history and some interesting facts. If you don’t have enough time in Madeira, this is the best way to make a quick acquaintance with the city.
7. Scuba Diving in Madeira
When visiting Madeira, you will enjoy a lot of outdoor activities, including scuba diving. This is a great opportunity for tourists to get an unforgettable experience and to learn more about the underwater world of the Funchal coast. This particular tour in Madeira is suitable for novice divers as they will be taught theory before the first dive. After you learn more about the equipment, you will be able to start. The whole tour lasts two and a half hours, and you will spend about an hour under water.
During this underwater adventure, visitors will be able to learn more about the rich maritime life of Funchal and Madeira. An experienced instructor will provide all possible assistance to you so that you can get the most out of this short trip.
8. Enjoy Beautiful Flowers
The climate on the island of Madeira makes it possible to enjoy its flora throughout the entire year. Therefore, those lovers of nature who visit Funchal, often go to the local Botanical Garden of Madeira. This is a quiet place where you can relax from buzzy streets crowded by tourists and enjoy the most interesting flora representatives that are put together in Funchal.
This is a true paradise for Flora fans. You will find thousands of species in Madeira that were brought here from various parts of the world. In addition, stunning local scenery will be a great bonus. Those tourists who look for even more picturesque places in Madeira can ride a cable car from here to reach Monte. Positive emotions are guaranteed as you will be able to see the coastline of Funchal, colorful gardens, and the beautiful Joao Gomez River.
9. Experience One of the Most Beautiful Sunsets in Your Life
Madeira in general and Funchal in particular boast a lot of picturesque places due to their diverse landscapes. If you are full of romantic feelings, you can visit Pico do Arieiro by sunset to see the star go slowly down until it hides over the horizon. Wherever season you come to Funchal of Madeira, you will definitely like what you will see.
Pico do Arieiro is the third highest mountain in Madeira and the highest peak in Funchal. However, you shouldn’t be worried about how to reach it as the beauty starts almost right away after you leave the car. Therefore, the peak is a great place for all ages and abilities.
Keep in mind that it may become cold in this part of Madeira after the sunset, meaning that you should take some warm clothes with you. By admiring sunsets at this place, you will experience the best moments for sure.
10. Visiting Porto Santo
Porto Santo is a very picturesque island that is located not far from Madeira and Funchal. This place offers a lot of opportunities for both outdoor activity fans and those who prefer staying on the beach. While the area of Porto Santo is relatively small (42,17 sq. kilometres), there are a lot of things to do there.
The best time to visit Porto Santo is from June to November, when the air warms up to 25–30 °C and rains are rare. One of the most popular activities is simply relaxing on Porto Santo beaches. However, there are plenty of other things to do there.
Visitors often come to Ponta da Calheta, which is the southernmost part of Porto Santo Island. Tourists adore this place for its unbelievable sunsets and sunrises that they can enjoy time after time. Beaches of Porto Santo are deserted early in the morning, allowing you to stay one of one with local landscapes and welcome the new day coming.
If you are looking for some outdoor activities, it would be a great idea to visit local caves during a kayak tour, which is one of the best ways to spend time in Porto Santo. One of the advantages of kayaking there is that this end of the beach is less crowded, as most visitors of Porto Santo are sunbathing on the main beach in front of hotels.
Another place that visitors to Porto admire is Zimbralinho beach. It is hidden in the southern part of Porto Santo and will take you some time to get there. However, the end justifies the means, as this beach is not as crowded as those that are located close to hotels. Therefore, you can expect some peace there, far from the main buzzy beaches of the island.
Last but not least, when visiting Porto Santo, you should definitely go to Porto de Salemas. These natural pools are one of the best places to swim and to admire their crystal-clear water. You can reach Porto de Salemas by car or using a kayak.
11. Viewing Gabo Girao Skywalk
Back in Madeira, there are a lot more interesting places to visit. Tourists who want to admire great views should definitely head to Gabo Girao, which is one of the most beautiful and romantic places on the island. Apart from the spectacular views that you will enjoy on clear days, there is one more thing to do there. Gabo Girao Skywalk is one of the many local, manmade landmarks that will leave unforgettable memories for visitors to Madeira.
The platform floor is made of glass, meaning nothing will prevent you from watching the surroundings, as well as the beautiful scenery, and seeing what is under your feet. If you are afraid of heights or simply don’t want to step on the glass floor, you can admire the whole construction from a distance.
12. Kayaking Tour in Madeira
If you have three hours to spend in nature and plain air, as well as to enjoy the landscapes of Madeira from the water, you can head to Garajau Partial Nature Reserve for kayaking. The adventure starts at Funchal and takes you to the local marine reserve. One of the benefits of going there is that visitors will be able to swim in the crystal-clear waters and watch local underwater life.
The kayak can fit three passengers—two adults and one child. Visitors will wear safety jackets during the trip and will be provided all the necessary equipment for snorkelling. Apart from admiring the nature of the reserve, you will be able to have lunch or dinner in a local restaurant. There are also changing rooms and a WC there.
13. Volcanic Swimming Pools in Madeira
Starting from Funchal, tourists can reach a beautiful coastal town, Porto Moniz, which is located in the north-western part of the island of Madeira. One of the best things to do there is to enjoy the local volcanic swimming pools with clear water. Moreover, from the site, you will have a stunning view of the Atlantic, which is within reach from this place.
Porto Moniz attracts visitors for its virgin nature and a lot of flora species that are rarely found outside Madeira. Moreover, its magnificent landscape will not leave anyone indifferent, with volcanic formations spread on the territory surrounding the town.
14. Holidays and Festivals
For those who plan on visiting Madeira and Funchal on summer, there are plenty of interesting things to do, including the Atlantic Festival, which marks the beginning of summer. The holiday takes place in June and offers a lot of interesting events to enjoy.
Visitors will be surprised by the duration of the festival, as instead of lasting 3–4 days, the Atlantic Festival in Funchal and other parts of Madeira lasts for 3-4 weeks and boasts a plethora of events that take place day and night. In particular, if you come to Funchal or Madeira in general at this period of the year, you will enjoy circus performances, dance and water shows and, as you can guess, plenty of local meals that attract guests by their inimitable smell and taste.
Along with the above-mentioned activities, visitors will be able to watch religious ceremonies, medieval shows, fireworks, etc. Keep in mind that the festival dates shift from year to year and if you want to visit Madeira during the Atlantic festival, you should better check the dates beforehand.
15. Learn More about the History of Madeira and Funchal
Tourists visiting Funchal and this part of Madeira for the first time should definitely do their best to discover the old town, as it hides some secrets about the capital of the archipelago. Visitors can do the whole trip within a couple of hours by car, but locals recommend going on foot to get the most out of it.
The walking tour stops at the local market, which is one of the traditional places in the city. Later, you will visit St. Claire’s Monastery and the Church of St. Peter.
16. Make a Trip Outside Funchal
One of the best ways to discover the island is to make a trip across Madeira in a Jeep. Such tours will allow you to stay mobile and explore as many sites as possible. If you are looking for something unique, wild, and exclusive, such Jeep tours are definitely what you would like to try.
The trip combines sealed roads and off-road adventures. However, the most interesting part of it is the nature outside, as the scenery will be constantly changing as you move further into the country. Moreover, on top of it, visitors will have an opportunity to make several stops in some interesting places that will please them with both admiring natural beauties and tasting local wines and meals.
17. Find out More About Madeira
According to historical sources, Madeira was claimed by sailors from Portugal in the 1400s. While some other sources state that the island was visited by Europeans even earlier (Vikings may have reached the island a few centuries earlier), it was uninhabited at that time.
Those who went ashore built some small triangular houses that are currently known as Casas Tipicas de Santana (or typical houses of Santana). The village where you can see those houses is located in the northeastern part of Madeira.
When arriving at the site, visitors will have the opportunity to not only admire the houses from the outside, but also enter some of them to see what is hidden inside. Santana houses are very popular among tourists who visit Madeira, as there are plenty of things to do there.
The village itself is also very attractive, as it allows visitors to take a look at the traditional life and culture of this region. The name "Santana" comes from the name of the mother of the Virgin Mary (Santa Ana or St. Anne). Apart from picturesque traditional houses, you will find a lot more interesting things in this part of Madeira as the villagers are famous for creating tea towels, tablecloths, place mats, and some other pieces of traditional art. If you are ready to spend some money there, you will buy precious souvenirs that will remind you about visiting this part of Madeira for a long time.
The village of Santana boasts a church that was built in the XVIIIth century, which is worth some time to enjoy. Tourists often go to local markets, where they can buy fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that the market is open on weekends only. Therefore, plan your trip to this part of Madeira according to this information.
18. Enjoy Fast Ride in Toboggan
Funchal, the capital of Madeira, hides several interesting things that only visitors can discover. If you are in the mood to take a fast ride and see people in white hats and clothes, you came to the right place. Visitors have the opportunity to take a ride from the top of Monte (part of Funchal municipality) down the streets of this city of Madeira.
The trip is short (about 10 minutes), but it is the best way to entertain yourself and admire local architecture while sitting in a special wheeled basket. Two drivers will push the basket and steer when it is necessary. The toboggan ride is one of the best things to do in Madeira for sure.
19. Admire the Outskirts from Vereda dos Balcoes
Another great place for tourists to enjoy a beautiful view is Vereda dos Balcoes. It is located in the middle of Madeira’s huge national park, known as Ribeiro Frio. The mountain is covered with a rather thick forest, which provides you with the opportunity to have a great view all the way to the destination point.
It should be mentioned that this hike is very friendly to all categories of tourists as Vereda dos Balcoes is one of the flattest mountains in Madeira. It will take you less than two kilometres to reach the point from which you can admire the surroundings.
The area is prone to mists and clouds, which may waste your impressions when you get to the point. Therefore, it is better to plan your trip to Vereda dos Balcoes in advance and check the weather in Madeira for this period.
20. Dancing Festival
Madeira is famous for a lot of attractions and festivals that take place throughout the entire year. If you come to visit the island in July, you may encounter a local folklore festival known as 24 Horas a Bailar (which can be translated from Portuguese as "24 hours of dance"). During the festival, visitors will have an exclusive opportunity to see the dancing groups from all over Portugal that come to Madeira to take part in the event.
Needless to say, you will enjoy professional collectives that practice their favourite hobby throughout the entire year in order to provide guests with the best they can do. Moreover, this festival is a great opportunity for visitors to learn more about local culture and traditions.
The festival lasts for three days, and you will be able to see dancers performing traditional dances of Madeira and Portugal as a whole. Along with the main events of the festival, visitors will also admire flowers that appear on the streets and stay there during the whole festival.
The atmosphere is as friendly and welcoming there as in any other part of Madeira. Even if you miss one performance, there are plenty of them during the festival. Keep in mind that the dates of the event change every year, so you should learn when the next one will take place before planning your visit to Madeira.
21. Visit Christiano Ronaldo’s Museum
Even if you are not the biggest fan of soccer and you can’t name the best players of the modern generation, one name stands out from the crowd of top footballers that you probably have heard. Christiano Ronaldo is more than a soccer player. He is a true legend for a couple of generations of football fans. Those who visit Madeira have a unique opportunity to enjoy Ronaldo’s own CR7 museum of soccer, which is located in the very heart of Funchal.
The museum will tell you more about various stages of Ronaldo’s career. In particular, you will be able to watch videos, look through photos, and hear the story of one of the best football players ever. There is a wax statue of Ronaldo so that you can take a selfie with it.
The cherry on top are the various trophies that Christiano has won with all the clubs where he has played throughout his career. Moreover, the museum exhibits golden boots and the Balloons d’Or that one of the best players in the world has won several times. When visiting Madeira, tourists will have the opportunity to take part in several tours dedicated to Christiano Ronaldo and his life in Funchal.
22. The Highest Point of Madeira
The island’s highest point is Pico Ruivo, which is 1,862 meters above the sea. To reach it, you can first go to Pico do Arieiro and hike to Pico Ruivo from there. The distance between to "Picos" is 7 kilometres. Another way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Madeira is to take the Alchada do Teixeira trail, which is easier and closer to Pico Ruivo (you will have to walk around three kilometres in both directions).
The latter allows visitors to enjoy the picturesque scenery of this part of Madeira, admire butterflies, and even fill their bottles with clean and tasty water. There is no need to do any climbing, but you will have to walk up the stairs at some points. Once you reach the peak, you will have the opportunity to enjoy one of the most spectacular Madeira landscapes ever.
23. Horse Riding in Madeira
Those tourists looking for some adventures can enjoy a special horseback riding tour that takes place near Funchal, in Madeira. It lasts 1.5 hours so that you can practice and hone your horse-riding skills and enjoy the surroundings.
Organizers of the tour provide visitors with all they need, including helmets, an instructor, and a picnic, which costs an additional 30 euros. Horse riding in Madeira is a good option for both seasoned and beginner jockeys.
24. Discover the Curral das Freiras
The island of Madeira hides a lot of picturesque places where tourists have a lot of sites to discover. The Valley of Nuns (Curral das Freiras) is one of those locations. When you travel to Madeira for some unforgettable experiences, you should definitely visit this place. This is a small village that is located in the crater of a dormant volcano. To reach this place, it will take you about 25 minutes by car from the capital of Madeira.
The village is squeezed between two almost identical mountains. One of the places you should definitely visit during your stay in Madeira is Santa Clara Convent, which is a refuge that local inhabitants built in the XVIth century. While there are not many nuns nowadays, visitors will have the opportunity to purchase various souvenirs and even test the cuisine of Madeira in local restaurants.
Tourists often visit the Eira do Serrado, which is a great viewpoint to observe the outskirts. Starting from there, visitors walk down to the town to admire the local nature and architecture of this part of Madeira.
25. Enjoy Swimming at Seixal
One of the most interesting places in Madeira is the black-sand beach at Seixal, a place where you can combine both swimming and admiring nature. The beach is surrounded by layered mountains covered in forests and plants. Apart from the beach itself, visitors are recommended to see a nearby waterfall.
While Madeira is a volcanic island, you will find a lot of beaches with rocks and stones. However, this one is an exception from the general rule, as you will enjoy smooth sand under your feet, allowing you to rest and relax as if you were visiting any of those white-sand beaches in other parts of Madeira.
Is that All?
No, it is not. There are plenty of other adventures that you can enjoy in Madeira, as the island has plenty of beautiful places that you can visit at any time of the year. The whole island of Madeira is a collection of picturesque landscapes and authentic places where you can learn more about the history of the archipelago and its inhabitants. When visiting Madeira, reserve some time for beaches and spend the rest admiring the local natural scenery.