Are you considering holidays on Madeira? You are in the right place – our blog is fully dedicated to this beautiful archipelago. Explore our detailed posts, get inspired and plan your dream holiday in Madeira with us.
If you are looking for a bucket list of the best attractions, please check the post: 20 x the best things to do in Madeira. In today’s post, you will find a general introduction, including the most important information about Madeira & Porto Santo.
Madeira – introduction
The word “Madeira” itself means “wood” in Portuguese, and when referring to Madeira, one can mean the name of a group of four islands/archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, the autonomous region of Portugal or most often the name of the largest of the islands of this archipelago.
Madeira Archipelago consists of two inhabited islands: Madeira Island and slightly smaller Porto Santo (“Holy Port”) Island together with two uninhabited Ilhas Desertas (“Uninhabited Islands”) and Ilhas Selvagens (“Wild Islands”).
It is amazing how different Madeira and Porto Santo are from each other. Madeira is known as the “island of eternal spring”, or “the paradise garden of the Atlantic”, famous for its beautiful mountains, high cliffs, lava pools, magnificent dramatic landscape, greenery, exotic flowers, waterfalls and unfortunately – dark, mostly pebble beaches.
SEE ALSO: BEACHES IN MADEIRA
Of course, not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo… who was born and raised in Madeira, and is now the pride of the island. Even the airport was named after him.
CHECK AND BOOK: CR7 HOTEL
Porto Santo is referred to as the “golden island” and, jokingly, ‘a beach with an island’. It impresses everyone with its beautiful sandy beaches, compensating for a lack of such in Madeira. However, it is much smaller than Madeira and not as rich in attractions. You will find there, however, a couple of great hikes and stunning viewpoints, such as Portela Viewpoint or Miradouro das Flores.
A daily ferry runs between Porto Santo and Madeira, so it is worth visiting both islands during the same holidays.
Madeira lies in the same time zone as the continental part of Portugal and as the UK. The island of Madeira is located about 1000 km from the coast of Europe and only about 520 km from the coast of Africa.
Can Portugal (mainland) and Madeira Island be explored during just one one-week holiday? Although there are direct flights from Lisbon and the idea may be tempting, we do not think it is worth it. As both regions have so much to explore, I would advise you to spend at least 7 days in Portugal and 7 days on Madeira.
See also: Portugal – 10 days itinerary.
Here is our short summary of the island in 9 time-lapse videos:
Madeira Island attractions
The biggest attractions of Madeira are probably its hiking routes, especially those running along the levadas, which are irrigation channels, usually passing through the old UNESCO Laurissilva forests.
Madeira is a true heaven for hikers, but those who have mobility issues also will be able to enjoy amazing views. Many viewpoints are easily reachable by car and offer stunning views without the need to hike a lot, for example: Eira do Serrado or even Pico do Arieiro.
Madeira is also famous for its beautiful botanical gardens, especially the Monte Palace & Madeira Botanical Garden. It also attracts tourists with its hidden spots reachable by a cable car, such as Fajã dos Padres, Rocha do Navio or Achadas da Cruz.
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Except for its beautiful nature, Madeira also can pride itself with its museums, art galleries and street art.
SEE ALSO: FUNCHAL OLD TOWN STREET ART
Or check the entire category: MADEIRA’S ATTRACTIONS
Where to stay on Madeira?
Almost half of the island’s inhabitants live in the island’s biggest city – Funchal. The south of the island, especially the south-east, is most densely populated, with better-developed infrastructure.
If you prefer luxury, modern hotels with great pools, you will find these mainly in western Funchal, and especially on Estrada Monumental street. One of the hotels with a lovely view and sea access is Cliff Bay:
CHECK & BOOK: SAVOY PALACE
If you are looking for peace and nature, you should consider staying in the north of Madeira, or even north-west. Of course, there are also places where you can avoid Funchal’s crowds without compromising on your comfort and tourist infrastructure – such as [THIS HOTEL] by the Calheta Beach which we truly recommend.
Or Quinta do Furao – a lovely winery/hotel in Santana, offering great service and magical views of the green north coast of Madeira.
CHECK & BOOK: MOUNTAIN HOTEL EIRA DO SERRADO
However, on Madeira, you will find accommodation for all budgets. Apart from luxurious hotels, there are many private rentals and smaller budget hotels, as well as entirely free campsites:
SEE ALSO: BUDGET HOTELS & HOSTELS ON MADEIRA
In addition, there is a wide range of different Airbnb lodgings, including many unusual places to stay, e.g. located in secluded places, and even glamping.
Driving a car on Madeira
People who do not feel confident behind the wheel will not have it easy. Roads around the airport, between larger cities, and in Funchal are not a problem, but for example, in the north of Madeira we can come across such situations:
And when driving in the direction of Mount Monte, you must be careful not to collide with… sleds… 😉
Small mountain roads are not the easiest to drive, but driving in Madeira is an experience in itself:
I hope I did not scare you with these videos. Not all Madeira roads look like that and in my opinion, there is no better way to discover the island than in your own car.
Discovering Madeira by car is a totally different experience. You have the freedom to stop whenever and wherever you want and admire the beauty of the landscapes, which can change pretty fast. There are many places on Madeira, which you can not reach using public buses. I strongly recommend renting a car on Madeira, for at least 2-3 days to discover the entire island.
Not a driver? See our other post about PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ON MADEIRA
Events and festivals on Madeira
Madeira loves to celebrate. There is always something to do and celebrate on Madeira. It is famous for its great Carnival, colorful Flower Festival Parade, Atlantic Festival, Wine Festival, Christmas Celebrations and spectacular (an ex-Guinness record) Fireworks show on NYE.
If you like such colorful spring celebrations, please go to our detailed post about the 3 weeks-long Madeira Flower Festival and our entire playlist with videos recorded during the 2019 edition, available on YouTube.
In addition, a unique autumn festival which is not known anywhere else in the world – The Madeira Nature Festival.
During this festival, the Madeira Tourism Office encourages tourists to be active in nature, providing them with free tickets for many free trips and expeditions. Tourists can try our diving, surfing, climbing, canyoning, paragliding and a whole list of other great activities, entirely free of charge.
Here is our canyoning for beginners lessons:
Local cuisine on Madeira Island
When it comes to local cuisine, Madeira is a real heaven on earth for all meat and seafood lovers. Some of the must-try local dishes in Madeira are:
Beef on a skewer, seasoned with salt, garlic, and bay leaves, grilled on wood or charcoal.
Black Scabbard fish
Fish that is available in very few places in the world usually served with a baked banana.
Limpets baked on a special frying pan with garlic and butter splashed with fresh lemon – my absolute addiction. See picture below.
Bolo do Caco
Small garlic bread, served as a side dish with other starters or filled with a piece of a grilled steak and sold as a sandwich (street food style) called Prego no Bolo do Caco.
…aaand many, many other wonderful meat, fresh fish and seafood dishes which I am planning to describe in more detail on my blog.
Madeira is also a place where you can enjoy some nice sweets (Honey Cake, Queijada, Pastel de Nata…) and local drinks. I think everyone at least heard about Madeira Wine, but it is not the only drink coming from Madeira. Madeira is also famous for its Poncha, Nikita, and local liquors.
Vegetarian and vegan options on Madeira
Vegetarians might have a hard time in typical Portuguese places specializing in meat and seafood, but they should find plenty of options on the menu in more modern hotel restaurants.
Vegetarians and vegans will be rewarded with a choice of fruit which Madeira has to offer: delicious small bananas, passion fruits, tabaibos, nesperas, dragon fruits, anonas, English tomatoes, banana passion fruits, fruitas deliciosas, guavas, mango, and many other. Please be careful, however, and beware of some heavily overpriced fruit stands!
SEE ALSO: FARMER’S MARKET IN FUNCHAL – A WARNING
History of Madeira
Madeira was discovered by the Portuguese sailor João Gonçalves Zarco in 1419 & not so long ago celebrated its 600-th anniversary.
It was him who returned to Portugal and convinced Prince Henry the Navigator to colonize Madeira. From that moment, many settlers arrived at the island and already in 1508 Funchal was raised to the status of a city. It was also the first city built by Europeans outside the European continent.
Madeira – to visit or not to visit?
Madeira is a spectacular island and definitely worth a visit. For us Europeans, the nature of Madeira, seems very exotic, while the European culture and feel at the same time, make us feel at home. It is an island with an interesting history, beautiful culture and street art and stunning nature – an island that calms you down and touches your heart.
Who will probably not enjoy Madeira? Travelers, who can not imagine a holiday without beautiful sandy beaches on a walking distance from their hotel, as natural beaches on Madeira are dark sand and usually pebble. For all beach lovers, we recommend Porto Santo.
Madeira might also be a difficult destination for those with reduced mobility, as it is a mountainous island. However, many hotels are adapted to wheelchairs, including this small family hotel in Porto da Cruz, far away from Funchal.
Those who love nature and dislike crowds are advised to avoid Funchal area and visit Madeira off-season.
I hope that my introduction to Madeira was useful, gave you a better impression and inspired you to visit Madeira soon.
Please feel free to check other, detailed posts on our blog and follow us to stay up to date!