The pearl of the Atlantic, the island with mild climate all year round, the flora diversity, the unique levada trails, the land of Ronaldo (we hear you, football fans!), and many more, Madeira Island is a paradise to be discovered and to enjoy one experience at a time. Plus, it has been declared one of Europe’s safest destinations. Come live the best island life and check our top 15 things to do in Madeira.
Take the cable car and explore the tropical garden
After visiting Old Town Funchal, hop on to the local Cable Car for some incredible views over the city. Your destination is the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, a lavish green haven on the hilltop with stunning flora and fauna and many exotic species from all the corners of the world, that thrive in Madeira’s pleasant climate. Along the garden you will also find a marvelous tile collection from the 15th to the 20th centuries.
Ride a wicker basket downhill
Traditional basket sledge for toboggan ride, Funchal
And, if you took the cable car all the way up, why not descending on a toboggan? This unusual traditional basket sledge dates back to the early 19th century and was actually used by locals to transport people and goods quickly from Monte to downtown Funchal. This is a 2km thrilling ride, lasting approximately 10 minutes, that will make up for a different and unforgettable experience. The popular toboggans are always pushed by two runners to ensure the safety of the experience.
Go on a Levada Trail
The former irrigation canals of the island, dug to deliver water to the southern drier areas, are now unique hiking paths, allowing visitors to approach beautiful natural landscapes of the island. Some of the most beautiful ones are the Lavada do Caldeirão Verde, a path dating from the 1700s, of moderate pace, that will take you through the exuberant green landscapes of ferns and exotic flora, and the 25 Fontes, a hike known for being relatively easy, as it is mostly flat and that features beautiful waterfalls along the way. As the best is for last, you will find a peaceful stream at the end, with fishes swimming in the clear waters.
Taste the gastronomic specialties
Being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, when we speak of culinary specialties of Madeira, fish and seafood will probably be the first thing that comes to mind. Well, you are right, the lemon seasoned “lapas” and the salty sea flavoured “cracas” are absolute treats. And you must taste swordfish filets and tuna steaks as well, as these are two iconic dishes loved by the locals. But, one must taste both espetadas and bolo do caco before leaving the island. The espetadas (beef skewers) are cooked in garlic, served with fries and make an impression by hanging over your table. As for bolo do caco, it sits at all the restaurant couverts and it is a popular appetizer. It consists on a delicious garlic flatbread that is just a comfort food to share.
Go for exotic fruits at the market
We have already mentioned Madeira’s warm and inviting temperatures all year round and its exotic flora. Based on that, one can only guess that a trip to the local farmers market must be a delight for your senses. In old town Funchal, the Mercado dos Lavradores is a unique spot to purchase and taste exotic fruits. The vibrant colours, the sweet scents and the taste of these fruits will definitely make you worth your while.
Take your postcard picture
Get to know the lovely colorful houses of Santana. With a quirky triangular shape, these houses are part of Madeira’s heritage. Made with thatch and wood, the inclined roof was great to drain rain water and as a storage area as well, being the small living area on the ground level. Aside from its historic importance, the visual impact of these constructions make up for the perfect postcard picture of the island.
Climb to Pico do Arieiro
Raise above the clouds by heading to the top of Pico do Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira Island. The road access to this peak is great, so it is perfect to enjoy fantastic top views without much climbing. Of course that it is possible to venture above and beyond by foot, but the view from the car park is already a great reward. The Pico do Arieiro is also an excellent place to watch the sunrise, while the clouds acquire beautiful orange and pink shades on the birth of a new day.
Admire the views
Like all islands, every corner of Madeira can reveal itself to be a fantastic viewpoint of sweeping ocean or mountain views. So, we are numbering some of the most beautiful, while leaving space for new discoveries on your exploits of the island. Cabo Girão is probably one of the most popular viewpoints on the island and rightly so, as it is the highest sea cliff in Europe and the second highest in the world. However, you must work up your courage to walk to the tip of this cape, as the floor is made of glass and it is said to be quite a challenge if you are afraid of heights. Vereda dos balcões is a lookout in Ribeiro Frio natural park, so a lovely green scenario awaits you. On clear days it is even possible to have the sea as a background. Near the coastline in Santana, Miradouro do Curtado is the perfect viewpoint to snap an iconic panoramic photo, while Ponta de São Lourenço, in the east, is perfect to watch the sunrise. North of the island, the Véu da Noiva (bride’s veil) viewpoint features a unique waterfall that slides directly to the sea, a true veil of water. At Ponta do Pargo, the viewpoint is set by a beautiful lighthouse and picturesque surrounding paths.
Swim in the natural pools of Porto Moniz
These beautiful natural pools are made of volcanic lava and naturally filled with crystal clear sea water that flows naturally and is a perfect spot to relax by the ocean side after a day exploring the natural landscapes.
Voyage to the heart of the island
Sitting at 1095 metres-high, the Eira do Serrado viewpoint crowns the valley, surrounded by the island’s central mountains. The view is splendid and on the bottom of the valley, sit the houses of Curral das Freiras, engulfed by the rocky green landscape. Literally translated to nun’s valley, this was the place of seclusion for a group of nuns running from pirate’s attacks. The bucolic nature of this village is palpable. Here, the specialty is the chestnut, which is used in a diversity of treats, from soups, to cakes or cordial.
Sunset at Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos was the first inhabited village of Madeira and it is where the swordfish is caught. The fishing activity in this small village makes up for the original little boats always docked at bay. Winston Churchill fell in love with the peace and quiet of this fishing village, its jumble of colorful houses, tucked within the bay. And we can see why. But Câmara de Lobos is also a fantastic place to sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset.
While visiting Madeira, Poncha will certainly cross your path. One of the most popular drinks in the island, it is a liquor made through the fermentation of sugarcane and it started being made on the 16th century, when sailors needed a method to take and preserve lemon during the long journeys at sea to prevent scurvy. The result is a refreshing, citric and fortified drink, thanks to the combination of lemon juice, rum and honey. Usually served with peanuts it is a great afternoon / end of the day appetizer before dinner time.
Learn all about Madeira Wine
One of the visit cards of the island is, of course, the Madeira Wine, a fortified wine that is said to have an acquired different taste due to the grapes used and the barrels used for its aging. Even though it has reached its popularity by being favored by many international personalities such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Winston Churchill, the wine production in the island dates back to its discovery in 1419. Be sure to visit one of the cellars, learn about the different wines and taste this iconic wine.
Discover the crafts on the island
LMadeira is known for its crafts and a short walk along traditional shops will tell you much on the traditional colorful red-stripped garments, the flower embroidery in linen, silk and cotton, and, of course, the wicker tradition. Camacha is the epicentre of wicker-making in Madeira and, at the Wicker Factory, you can learn all about this form of art and its many usages and even bring some souvenirs home with you..
Have a beach day in Porto Santo
Porto Santo is the other main island in the archipelago of Madeira and it is known for its clear blue waters and pristine golden sand beaches. And what better way to relax after some days exploring Madeira than heading towards this beach paradise for the day and soaking up the sun? There are daily boat connections from Funchal and it is definitely worth it.