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An archipelago of Portugal made up of an island of the same name and several other smaller islands, Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 973 kilometres from Lisbon. It constitutes an autonomous region under the name of the Autonomous Region of Madeira. It is a destination famous for its luxuriant nature, which owes itself to the subtropical climate and the volcanic land. Tourists flock there each year to perfect their tan on one of its sublime beaches, to taste the local wine, and, above all, to discover the cultural and natural riches of the region. So, what is there to see and do in Madeira? Here is our little guide.
💦 Did you know? Madeira is one of the six destinations in Europe where you can swim in April. Check out the other five locations in this article.
🗒️ What you need to know before your trip to Madeira
Before starting our list of must-do things in the Madeira archipelago, here are some tips for your next trip.
When should you visit Madeira?
We advise you go to Madeira in the spring, from April to June. Why? It is the best compromise: it is when nature reveals itself and you will be amazed by its beauty. You can also enjoy the superb beaches of the archipelago, but also the gorgeous hikes offered by the region. However, unlike summer, you will share the beauties of Madeira with fewer tourists.
How do you get around Madeira Island?
The bus is a reliable and economical solution. Three companies share the network and all serve Funchal (SAM , Rodoeste and Horários do Funchal). But, for more freedom, we advise you rent a car, as many visitors do. There are several agencies, including Europcar, Centauro, and Bravacar. Be careful though: apart from the Machico-Ribeira Brava axis, via Funchal, the roads are rather steep and winding.
Last option: taxis. There are plenty of them in Funchal. We recommend you opt for this type of transport for very specific excursions or local trips. Some will take you on tours of the island lasting several hours for only a few tens of euros.
Which hotel should you choose on the island of Madeira?
Madeira is home to many high-quality resorts, but there are two establishments that we recommend on the island.
In Funchal, there are plenty of options, but one of the best is found in the Sao Martinho district. The hotel Les Suites at The Cliff Bay has a heated outdoor swimming pool, a garden, a spa, and jacuzzis, as well as spacious rooms overlooking the sea.
But for a real breath of fresh air, far from the hustle and bustle of the capital, we suggest the Aqua Natura Madeira. Located in the charming village of Porto Moniz (read below), where there are beautiful natural saltwater pools, the property offers elegant rooms and balconies with ocean views. What more could you want? A sauna? They have that too.
There are also hostels and more intimate establishments, mostly in Funchal. Take a look here.
🔝 Top 10 things to do in Madeira
Without further ado we get to the heart of this article: the essential things to do in Madeira.
Visit Funchal, the capital
What better way to start your walk than from the capital of the island, Funchal? This is the historic centre and the largest city on the island, known for its mild climate, wine, and craftsmanship. We recommend that you take a walk along the Santa Maria district and admire its beautifully-decorated houses as well as the farmers’ market. Other essential attractions include the Blandy Cellars and the Museum of Sacred Art.
Discover the Botanical Garden of Madeira
If you like green spaces and love discovering plant species of all kinds, then stay in Funchal for a little longer to visit the Botanical Garden of Madeira. Located at the height of the city, this garden is accessible via cable car. In its 35,000 m2 , you will have the opportunity to admire 2,000 varieties of exotic plants from all over the world. A place of science and culture to be enjoyed by all, young and old.
Treat yourself to a getaway to Camara de Lobos
Let’s leave Funchal for a bit and go to Camara de Lobos. This picturesque, colourful little town is located just 10km from the capital but is home to Cape Girao, one of the highest cliffs in Europe (read below). A visit is definitely one of the must-do things in Madeira.
Sunbathe in Praia Formosa
For lovers of beautiful beaches, we advise you visit the largest and one of the most beautiful on the island, Praia Formosa. Located west of Funchal, it has everything you need for a pleasant time, with the water at very good temperature from spring. However, being quite posh and trendy, it is very popular with holidaymakers, so you won’t be alone.
Climb Pico Ruivo
From the top of its 1862 meters, Pico Ruivo is the highest point of the island and the third highest peak of Portugal. The summit of this mountain can be reached on foot on one of the hiking trails that cross the beautiful mountainous landscapes of the island. Everything is in place to facilitate your ascent, including many safety features such as ramps, stairs, and road signs. At the top, the most beautiful panoramic view of the whole island will be your reward.
Get scared at Cape Girao
Do you remember that cliff in the small town of Camara de Lobos? Well, this magnificent wonder of nature of its 600 meters in height, is the ideal place for those who love an adrenaline rush. Indeed, in 2012, a glazed platform was positioned to overlook the void at the very top of this cliff. Perched on it, the most courageous visitors can enjoy the thrill of looking down. Warning: those with vertigo will find it hard to enjoy this beautiful spectacle.
Take a boat trip
What better way is there to take advantage of the island’s natural assets and get to know it better at your own pace than a boat trip? All you have to do is rent one, for example in Funchal Marina, with prices usually starting at 25 euros per person. While exploring, you can stop and swim in the clear waters surrounding the island. Perfect for with family, alone, or with friends.
Observe the cetaceans of Madeira
This maritime promenade will allow you to discover and admire the richness of this region. The waters of the region abound with nearly 28 species of cetaceans, including whales and sharks. To meet them, just go to the marina of Calheta, which is in the west of the island, and take one of the speedboats offering tourists trips to the meeting place.
Visit Porto Moniz
You will literally fall in love with this charming little town located in the northwest of Madeira. It is the most northern locality of the island, a place famous for magnificent natural saltwater pools formed by volcanic rocks. It is, without a doubt, an essential of Madeira.
Taste the specialties of the island
After having travelled through the towns and navigated the waters of this magnificent island, a break to test the cuisine of the region is a must. You will find many dishes based on fish and seafood, such as black scabbardfish, fried corn tuna steak, and swordfish fillet with banana.
💶 How much to leave? You will probably wonder how much to tip waiters in Portugal at the end of your meal. To help you, we have written this article.
Well, we hope that this selection of things to do in Madeira has been useful to you. Any other suggestions? We would be happy to read them in the comments.