Things to do in Madeira

It’s easy to find things to do in Madeira. While the island is relatively small, it’s jam-packed with beautiful beaches, historic towns, and delicious food. With year-round temperatures of 20–27 °C, there is never a bad time to visit either! Known as the Garden in the Atlantic, read on for our suggestions for the top things to do in Madeira for your next trip.

The volcanic islands of Madeira and Porto Santo are an oasis of greenery in the Atlantic Ocean. A refuge of infinite beauty with constant spring weather where you can go hiking, dive, taste typical dishes, drink local wines, and enjoy the island’s heritage.

From the enchanting Funchal where you can get lost in the colors, flavors, and smells of the Mercado dos Lavradores, to isolation from the world in Faja Dos Padres, to passing through the most spectacular viewpoints in Europe such as Eira do Serrado, Madeira island will surprise you with its variety.

Spectacular Madeira Island

You can also hike the famous Levadas of Madeira, take a plunge in the natural pools in Porto Moniz, walk around the fishing village of Camara de Lobos, or penetrate the caves of Sao Vicente to discover the origin of the island.

But first your crash course in geography…

Where are the Madeira Islands?

The Madeira archipelago comprises the islands of MadeiraPorto Santo, and the Desertas. This subtropical paradise is only one and a half hours from continental Europe.

Map of Madeira Islands

The islands are part of Portugal, and just a step away from the European continent: 860 km from Lisbon, 400 km from Tenerife, and 770 km from the Azores. The African country of Morocco lies 520km to the west.

What is the best way to get to Madeira?

The best way to get to Madeira is to fly. It’s a 90-minute flight from Lisbon and between 2.5 hours from Spain and 3.5hrs from London. TAP Portugal and several major international airlines, including British Airways and Lufthansa, offer regular flights. It’s a 15-minute flight from Madeira to Porto Santo.

Madeira is pronounced muh-DAY-ruh.

Can you get a ferry to Madeira?

For now, it is not possible to arrive by ferry either from the Canary Islands, the Azores, or from mainland Portugal. A service has operated in the past and may resume at some point, but is not currently operating. However, there is a ferry service between Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island.

The archipelago attracts thousands of tourists throughout the year, many of whom arrive on cruise ships in the port of Funchal.

So let’s explore…

Discovering Funchal – Madeira’s Capital

Most visitors choose Funchal as a base when visiting Madeira Island. It’s the capital city of Madeira and the largest urban area on the islands.

Funchal harbor

This was the first place the Portuguese settled abroad in the 10th century. The city was founded in 1421 by Joao Gonçalves Zarco. Funchal became very important with the construction of its port, which during the 17th and 18th centuries made it an obligatory stop for sailors heading to the Indies.

In fact, many famous personalities lived here, including Empress Sissi of Austria and English Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Funchal is also the hometown of the Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Things to See in Funchal

We have started our list of things to do in Madeira in Funchal.

Funchal is a medium-sized city home to 100,000 inhabitants. Its key sites are in the center, so you can enjoy them in one day.

View of Funchal city to the sea

Explore the Old Town

The old town of Funchal, known as Zona Velha, is in the lower part of the city around Rúa Santa María (Santa Maria Street). It stretches from the Mercardo de Lavradores (Farmers Market) as far as Fort of São Tiago (Fort of Saint James).

Zone Velha, Funchal

In the evening the street is lined with restaurants but a visit in the morning will allow you to see the beautifully painted doors. The Painted Doors Project features over 40 works of art on the doors of shops, galleries, and abandoned buildings.

Rua de Santa Maria

Another interesting stop can be the Capela de Boa Viagem, a 17th-century church that is now an art gallery featuring the work of Madeiran artists Henrique and Francisco Franco.

Funchal Cathedral

You will also find Funchal Cathedral in this area. It is the main religious temple of the archipelago and a National Monument since 1910.

Funchal Cathedral

Pronounced Funchal (foon-SHAHL, /fũ.ˈʃaɫ/) the city’s name comes from the word Fennel (funcho) a herb found in abundance on the island.

History lovers will not want to miss the Madeira Story and the Madeira Film Experience, which both provide a crash course in the city’s rich history.

Where: R. do Aljube, 9000-067 Funchal
When: 7:15 am-6:30 pm weekdays, closed between 12noon and 4:15 pm weekends.

Wander the Mercado dos Lavradores

Nearby is the Mercado dos Lavradores, the famous farmers’ market inaugurated in 1940. Featuring a design that mixes art déco and modernism take some time to check out the beautiful panels of tiles (Azulejo) near the entrance that dates back to when the market was a cookware factory.

Mercado dos Lavradores

The market is a perfect stop to pull together a picnic lunch with fresh fruit and, vegetables, flowers, and seafood. Try to blend in like a local or you may find you are shown inflated prices.

You will find the market in the historic Santa Maria area

Where: Mercado dos Lavradores, 9060-158 Funchal
When: 7 am-7 pm Monday to Saturday

Ride the Cable Car to Monte

One of the main Funchal attractions is the Monte cable car. One of seven Telefericoson Madeira Island, the Monte Cable Car will transport you 3200m in just 20 minutes for amazing views over the city.

Funchal cable car

At the top you will find these popular sites:

  •  Monte Palace Tropical Garden/Semi-Precious Stones Museum
  •  Church of Our Lady of Mount
  •  Our Lady of Monte fountain
  •  Monte Municipal Park

We recommend you buy a one-way ticket and either take the botanical garden cable car back down or splurge on a traditional toboggan ride back to the bottom.

Tip: If you have a choice try to visit when there are no cruise ships in port.

Where: Caminho das Babosas, n.º 8

Visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden

On top of the hill, next to the cable car station, are the Jardines do Monte Palace (The Monte Palace Tropical Garden). These vast gardens feature a number of sculptures with marble, granite, and bronze statues from the 16th to 20th Century.

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

There is a beautiful oriental garden, a central lake complete with a waterfall and a two-storey museum.

Where: Caminho do Monte 174, 9050-288 Funchal
When: 9:30am-6pm daily (Closed Christmas Day)

For a thrilling experience, you can slide down Monte on traditional wicker baskets. The drivers will push you through the winding and steep streets down the hillside.

Arriaga Avenue, Funchal

Heading back down to the city center, don’t miss Arriaga Avenue and its historic buildings. Here you can find the statue of João Gonçalves Zarco, the colonizer of the island, as well as São Lourenço Palace, the most impressive example of civil and military architecture in Madeira.

Madeira Botanical Garden

Best visited in spring, the Madeira Botanical Garden is small but can look lovely at the right time of year. If time is limited and you can only visit one, then choose the Tropical Garden at the Palace.

Madeira Botanical Garden

The number 31 bus from Funchal Centro will get you there from the city center or it’s a 4 km downhill walk from Monte if you are brave.

Note: the gardens are currently undergoing a major renovation and perhaps not looking their best.

When: 9am -6pm
Where: Caminho do Meio, Bom Sucesso 9064-512, Funchal

Explore the Funchal Seafront

Funchal’s seafront promenade is also very pleasant to walk around. There is a pebble beach and the São Tiago Fort, built at the beginning of the 17th century, to defend the city against pirate attacks.

Funchal seafront and São Tiago Fort

Exploring the Highlights of Madeira Island

The island of Madeira, also known as the big island, is the largest in the group, but even so, it is only 57 km long and 22 km wide, so it can be covered in just over an hour on the fast freeway.

There are plenty of spots for a day trip from a base in Funchal. Here are some of our favorites.

Tip: Travelling along the old roads will take you longer, but you will be rewarded with incredible landscapes.

Faja dos Padres

Madeira is characterized by its steep geography. Faja dos Padres is the perfect example of a coastal town that is reached by cable car while enjoying breathtaking views of the sea.

The Eora do Serrado Viewpoint

The Eira do Serrado viewpoint is another epic view of Madeira.

Curral das Freiras

It overlooks the town of Curral das Freiras, surrounded by mountains and invisible from the sea.

Porto Moniz Pools

The natural pools of Porto Moniz in the northwest are the most famous and beautiful on the island. They are formed by volcanic lava and allow seawater to filter naturally, forming huge pools of crystal clear water.

Where: Google maps

The Fishing Village of Câmara de Lobos

This is a small fishing village located west of Funchal.

camara dos lobos
Câmara de Lobos

It’s a charming town with interesting viewpoints, a church, and several street artworks, including a sea lion made with recycled garbage by the renowned Portuguese artist Bordalo II.

Cabo Girão 

Just 2km west of Camara de Lobos Cabo Girão Skywalk is the highest clifftop skywalk in Europe and the second highest in the world. At 580 meters above the sea, the glass floor may be a challenge for those with a fear of heights, but the view both out to sea and straight down onto the rocks below is fabulous.

Tip: You can reach Cabo Girão on the number 7 bus from Funchal – the trip takes 40 minutes.

Entry is free at the moment, visit early in the day for the best light and the fewest visitors vying for space on the platform.

You can also take a cable car to the bottom of the viewpoint. The cable car is 4km

Where: See the map here
When: 8:30 am to 8 pm

The Caves of Sao Vincente

The caves of Sao Vicente are also a unique experience for discovering the underground tunnels formed by lava more than 400,000 years ago and learning about archaeology, history, and volcanism.

Volcanic cave of Sao Vicente

Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto

Located near Caniçal on the São Lourenço Peninsula on the east coast of Madeira island the views of the rugged coastline which has volcanic origins, to both the north and south are spectacular.

Ponta do Rosto viewpoint of the São Lourenço Peninsula

There are no facilities here, but the walk is easy and this is a view that will stay with you.

Madeira Hiking Trails

One of the highlights of the Madeira archipelago is the variety of its natural landscapes. Its rugged geography makes the archipelago a perfect destination for trekking lovers. One way to get a different perspective of the island is to tackle part of all of one of the island’s hikes.

Pico Ruivo trail

The manmade “Levadas” paths were once used to carry water from the mountains to the cities and farming areas and the paths are one of the main attractions of Madeira.

These famous trails reach where Madeira’s highest peaks are located:

  • Pico Ruivo – 1,862 meters above sea level is Madeira’s highest peak 
  • Pico das Torres – 1,853 meters above sea level
  • Pico do Arieiro – 1,818 m above seal level

Choose from countless routes with different levels of difficulty. This way you can admire the beautiful natural landscapes full of contrasts and colors, combining both tropical and Mediterranean characteristics.

You can also discover the fascinating Laurissilva forest,  the world’s largest laurel forest and classified by UNESCO as a “World Natural Heritage of Humanity”.

Join an Adventure Tour

While there are plenty of relaxing things to do in Madeira and Porto Santo such as enjoying the sea and the fabulous food, the archipelago is also one of the most attractive places to practice adventure sports.

Canyoning, zip lines, climbing, bungee jumping, hang gliding or para-gliding and scuba diving are just some of the ways to get the adrenalin pumping when you visit Madeira.

Visit Porto Santo Island

Calmer and more placid than Madeira, the island of Porto Santo is a perfect getaway choice for wellness tourism.

Beach on Porto Santo Island

Bathed by calm turquoise waters, its long beach extends from the town of Vila Baleira to Ponta de Calheta along 9 kilometers of dunes. Its golden sand is well known for its mineral properties. You can paper yourself relax in one of the many thalassotherapy centers on the island.

Foodie Delights

Throughout your stay in Madeira, you can enjoy the specialties of the local cuisine. Simple and closely linked to the sea, popular dishes include grilled fish and shellfish, Espetada beef skewers with corn, and the Bolo-do-Caco flatbread with garlic butter.

Along with the delicious gastronomy, the undisputed king of the island is the famous Madeira wine. Admired by kings and explorers in the past, it continues to enjoy indisputable fame today. Be sure to taste some of the noblest varieties of Madeira wine: Malvasia, Boal, Verdelho, and Sercial.

Madeira is without a doubt a destination for discovering exceptional nature, mountains, charming towns, and warm waters, for living a dream holiday experience.

We hope these things to do in madeira Portugal will inspire you to stay a little longer when you visit. Check out our guide to where to stay in Madeira for our favorite hotels.

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