What to see and do in Madeira? A bucket list for all first-time visitors.
Madeira is an island full of attractions, especially beautiful hiking trails and breathtaking viewpoints. It also has an interesting history, beautiful street art and offers a wide range of excursions and outdoor activities.
For a short introduction to the island, please go to our previous post: MADERA – FOR DUMMIES. If you are looking for less known places – see post: MADEIRA’S HIDDEN GEMS. Our INSTAGRAM account will also be a great source of inspiration, as it is full of pictures presenting the most beautiful corners of the island.
Today, the post many readers were asking for: the absolute best ideas for Madeira. Here’s a list of the best things to do and most popular attractions worth seeing during everyone’s first holidays in Madeira.
The purpose of this post is to inspire you and show you the most beautiful aspects of Madeira at a glance, while links to detailed blog posts or external sites will be a useful and practical guides.
Madeira Attractions: 20 x Best of Madeira
#1 Do at least one levada walk
Yes, the first thing you should pack are your trekking shoes as the island is a real paradise for hikers. It is famous especially for its levadas, i.e. small water channels built to transport water from the mountains and which currently serve as wonderful hiking trails.
There are many levadas on Madeira with varying degrees of difficulty. Some will take us the whole day, but many just a couple of hours. The entire list of routes along with difficulty levels and distances can be found on the official website: Visit Madeira. [HERE] you will also find the brochures with all recommended hikes, available in English, Portuguese, French, Spanish and German.
#2 Stop at every Miradouro you will encounter on the way
The best way to discover Madeira is by car. It is worth learning the meaning of the Portuguese word miradouro – an observation deck – as there are plenty of marked signs leading to different observation decks. Some are right by the road, and it is a matter of minutes, and to some, you will need to hike a bit. If you have time, it is worth checking out every viewpoint you will notice because sometimes we can be pleasantly surprised.
There are way too many beautiful viewpoints on Madeira to mention all in this post, but the most popular ones, which I also recommend, are:
Balcões, Cabo Girão, Eira do Serrado, Miradouro do Guindaste, Véu da Noiva and Eira da Achada.
In Funchal, Miradouro Pico Dos Barcelos is pretty popular, and on Porto Santo- Miradouro da Portela. Both Madeira and Porto Santo actually have equally beautiful viewpoints with the same name – Portela.
They are all definitely worth a visit. To my list of favorites I would also add: Pico do Facho, Pico da Torre, Rocha do Navio and Miradouro de São Sebastião, whose location is worth saving on Google Maps, because you won’t find it on TripAdvisor.
#3 Take one of the many cable cars
There are several cable cars in Madeira. The most famous one connects the Old Town of Funchal with the top of the Monte hill and Monte Palace Tropical Gardens Park, and then this park with another park – Botanical Gardens. This cable car will allow you to enjoy the amazing view of the entire bay of Funchal for a couple of minutes.
Shorter, modern and comfortable cable cars can also be found on Fajã dos Padres and the Garajau Beach.
The most unforgettable rides can be found in the north and north-west of Madeira: Cable cars to Fajã da Rocha do Navio and Fajã da Quebrada Nova in Achadas da Cruz. Both take us to secluded and unique places, allowing us to enjoy some really breathtaking views.
#4 Visit at least one (botanical) garden
The two most famous botanical parks in Funchal that are worth visiting are Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and Madeira Botanical Garden.
Both are beautiful, both are different, both offer an amazing view of Funchal. In the city center you will also find Municipal Garden and Santa Catarina Park open to everyone. Apart from them, there are several other gardens and parks on the island. Many hotels on the island pride itself on its beautiful gardens.
#5 Swim in a lava pool
Volcanic pools built by nature are Madeira-specific bathing spots.
The most famous volcanic pools are the pools in Porto Moniz. Funchal also has its own pool complex called Doca do Cavacas. It is smaller and still remains in the shade of the Porto Moniz pools, but offers a magnificent view of the Cabo Girão cliff and … better weather, because this is usually the best on the southern coast.
#6 Fall in love with Madeira’s street art
The most famous street art is located in the Old Town of Funchal, where next to the murals you will find charming painted doors. In Funchal there are also several other murals, for example a beautiful, large whale mural – La Baleia and a well-made mural – a portrait of Cristiano Ronaldo in the district where he grew up.
The street art of the neighboring fishing village of Camara de Lobos is also very interesting. In this case, the doors were decorated by volunteers with recycled materials. Beautiful street art can also be found in Machico.
#7 Visit at least one Fajā
“Fajā”is a piece of flat land, built by flowing lava, which is located at the foot of the cliff, cut off on one side by a cliff, on the other by water. They are beautiful and secluded places and quite common on Madeira. Each fajā is different and has its own charm, it is worth visiting at least one of them.
My recommendation: Fajā dos Padres or Fajā da Rocha do Navio.
#8 Let the mountain tops wrapped in a carpet of clouds amaze you…
Magical mountain peaks covered with dense clouds and the silence accompanying these views is a real pleasure for the eyes and ears. We will see them in many places when discovering the island by car, most often around Pico Ruivo, Pico do Arieiro, Encumeada, and even Eira do Serrado.
Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak of Madeira. However, it is easily accessible by car, which makes it one of the most popular attractions on the island. For advanced and intermediate travelers, the PR1 hiking route connecting the two peaks of Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo is strongly recommended. On this route, very close to Pico do Arieiro, you will find the famous “Stairs to the sky”. Whether hiking or just passing by car, this majestic mountain peak is definitely worth a visit.
To enjoy the beauty of Madeira’s mountains and many, many viewpoints, we recommend renting a car for at least 2 or 3 full days.
Automatic cars are less popular and more expensive than manual ones, but they should be available if booked on time. If you are travelling to Madeira in high season, remember to book your car well in advance for best selection of cars. One of the best rated on Trustpilot websites we know is Discovercars. They offer car rental services in around 10 000 destinations, and luckily also on Madeira Island.
#9 See the Nuns’ Valley from above … and below
Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns) is one of my favorite places in Madeira. Located only half an hour from Funchal, it makes you feel like you are on a different island.
From above, we can admire it from the beautiful Eira do Serrado viewpoint, a common stop during many day tours. For all mountain lovers, I also recommend staying for at least one night in the hotel carrying the same name – Eira do Serrado Hotel and Spa.
However, we should not see the Nun’s Valley only from above. It is worth hiking down to the valley and strolling around its villages, for example to the spring where you can swim in the summer – Poco dos Chefes. Getting lost somewhere in the narrow valley streets, we will see the real, somewhat hidden Madeira, which is far from the luxurious hotel districts in Funchal.
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#10 Walk where the mountains and cliffs meet the ocean…
If you are fit enough and do not suffer from vertigo – hike on Ponta de São Lourenço or Vereda do Larano.
Madeira’s routes are divided into “levada” and “vereda”. Vereda is in Portuguese every other route that does not run along the levada. It is worth also go on at least one other hike on Madeira, that is not a levada.
In addition to the “trail in the clouds” already mentioned in point # 8 – Vereda do Arieiro – Ruivo, my two recommendations for you are definitely the Ponta de São Lourenço and Vereda do Larano.
Ponta de São Lourenço – is probably one of the most beloved attractions of Madeira. If we have such an opportunity, it is definitely worth hiking the PR8 route, especially during the sunrise. The trail is especially popular because you can easily get there by bus, which is a good option for tourists without a car.
We do not need a car for the Vereda do Larano either, because we can get to both Machico and Porto da Cruz by bus. It is not a trail for people with the fear of heights, because it often leads right by the edge. However, it is an incredibly beautiful trail, and the views during the route, as well as when entering Porto da Cruz, are unique.
#11 Enjoy the rainbow of colours
… of exotic fruit sold at the Mercado dos Lavradores market, small, colorful boats in the bay of the fishing village Camara de Lobos, colorful Santana houses and flowers in botanical gardens, parks and gardens.
Plus, if you’re visiting Madeira in April/May, don’t miss the colorful and beautiful Flower Festival, and above all its main parade through the streets of Funchal.
#12 Try Madeira’s signature local dishes and drinks (at a restaurant with a beautiful view)
There are many good restaurants in Madeira. Most of them serve typical beef, fish and seafood dishes.
We recommend Espada, a fish served with baked banana pieces (“Espada com banana”), squid (“Lulas Grelhadas”) or a starter called Lapas Grelhadas – limpets baked in a special pan with garlic and butter, sprinkled with fresh lemon. I recommend Lapas to everyone, even if you are not a fan of seafood dishes – you may like it very much. Espetada is a Madeira “shashlik”, usually made of beef (baked on a metal skewer or a bay laurel stick), seasoned with salt, garlic and bay leaves, grilled on wood or charcoal.
Typical for Madeira are restaurants specializing in Espetades – you can recognize them by the iron stands built into the tables, on which the waiter hangs the finished Espetada.
Here are some proven and well-rated restaurants that specialize in Espetades:
Restaurante Santo António
It will be hard to find options without meat in such Espetada restaurants, so I do not recommend it to vegetarians and vegans.
There are so many great restaurants on Madeira that it is difficult to recommend you the best ones. I will focus on those that are not only a pleasure for your taste buds, but also eyes. Here are examples of several restaurants with beautiful views:
Quinta do Furão with a beautiful view of the north coast
Restaurante Planka with a stunning view of Funchal from above
Sabores do Curral with a view of the mountains and the Nuns Valley
Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva Restaurant great interior restaurant overlooking the bay and the port of Funchal
Restaurante Marisqueira O Barqueiro with a view of the Cabo Girão cliff
On Porto Santo, a beautiful view is guaranteed, especially at:
Panorama Restaurant with a view of the entire beach and Vida Baleira from above
Madeira is also famous for its extensive menu of local drinks, which I have already explained in detail in my post: LOCAL DRINKS OF MADEIRA. Even more popular than Madeira wine is the fruity Poncha. Meeting with friends for a Poncha is more popular than grabbing a beer together. A few Poncha bars we love to hang out at are:
Bar Venda Velha
Bar Rei da Poncha
Bar O Avo
Taberna da Poncha
Bar Filhos do Mar
# 13 Check who lives in the waters of Madeira
Madeira is probably one of the best places in Europe, where you can not only observe dolphins and whales, but also swim with dolphins in their natural habitat.
Swimming with dolphins in the open ocean was my dream, and I’m glad I could fulfil it on Madeira. We frequently go on dolphin watching tours, so here is our post comparing different options:
in which we give you also a nice discount code for 10% off on different kind of sea life tours. Be sure to check it and save it for later.
#14 Try out a new sport or activity in nature
There are so many ways to burn those extra calories on Madeira… During those outdoor activities, you can not only gain new skills, learn something new, expand your comfort zone, but also discover places in Madeira that we would not otherwise see.
Sports and outdoor activities such as canyoning, coasteering, climbing, diving and paragliding allow you to discover Madeira’s hard-to-reach spots. There are also some cool activities on Porto Santo, the two we like the most are rock pool snorkeling and kayaking.
Let me just add an important tip for all budget travelers: come to Madeira in the fall, during the Madeira Nature Festival.
During the Madeira Nature Festival, tourists are invited to try out such lessons and outdoor activities free of charge! Be sure to check out our post with tips on getting the free tour tickets: Madeira Nature Festival
#15 Dare… to try out these two crazy Madera attractions
That is: Dare to enter the glass terrace of Cabo Girão or get on the Toboggan sled (Carreiros do Monte). Here are two crazy Madera attractions that some tourists do not dare to try. Will you?
The glass terrace on the Cabo Girão cliff is a place that will not take much time, if only you have the courage to enter it. In my opinion, the glass terrace is not as scary as they say. The glass is covered (for reasons I don’t understand) with tiny dots, which makes looking down less frightening. The view from the Cabo Girão cliff, however, is beautiful, so it’s worth visiting it, even for 5 minutes.
As for the Monte Toboggan, this is a rather unusual attraction. Tourists, after getting to the Monte Hill, have the opportunity to ride down wicker sleds on public roads. Of course, they do not do it on their own, but with the help of two skilled sled drivers.
#16 Take the ferry to Porto Santo
Madeira is beautiful, but there is something that it does not have, namely large, natural, snow-white, sandy beaches. For such, you can go to the neighboring, smaller sister of Madeira – the island of Porto Santo. It is usually possible to return from Porto Santo to Madeira on the same day. In addition to the ferry, Porto Santo can also be reached by a local plane, and the flight between the islands takes about 20 minutes.
Porto Santo is famous for its comfortable, beautiful, sandy beach and azure water; you can also go sailing, dolphin watching or snorkeling. There are also several beautiful viewpoints and walking trails on the island. The most popular covered tourist attraction is the Museum – House of Columbus.
#17 Watch the sunrise or the sunset at the right place…
Tourists usually watch the sunrise from the top of Pico do Arieiro or Pico Ruivo, or on the easternmost point of the island – Ponta de São Lourenço.
However, even in Funchal itself, the sun also looks beautiful when it rises slowly from behind Ponta do Garajau. This is the view you will get from many port-facing balconies in the hotel district in Funchal, especially the Cliff Bay & Savoy Palace.
A great view of the sunset spreads from many places in the south and west of Madeira. Many tourists view it from the area of Ponta do Pargo.
We still remember the sunset observed on the terrace of the Maktub bar in Paul do Mar and a December sunset above a stunning infinity pool on the roof of the Savoy Saccharum Hotel in Calheta.
>Sunsets look great in Funchal as well, for example from the bathing complex Doca de Cavacas, where the sun sets with a view of the spectacular cliff of Cabo Girão. There are also companies offering romantic evening sunset cruises,
#18 Visit at least one of the museums and one of the local art galleries
Depending on your interests, but I particularly liked and recommend:
Universo de Memorias for an amazing collection of beautiful exhibits from around the world, a jaw-dropping collection of horses, ties, Amalia souvenirs and a beautiful view of Funchal Bay
Madeira Optics Museum will impress all photography fans, but it is also a wonderful exhibition of the first photos ever taken in Madeira. You can see how much the island has changed throughout the years
It is also worth visiting at least one museum related to the history of Madeira and its local products, especially the old sugar cane mills, such as, for example, Engenhos do Norte in Porto da Cruz, or Sociedade dos Engenhos da Calheta.
Madeira Film Experience or Madeira Story Centre are, on the other hand, two interactive exhibitions/museums that are not particularly extraordinary, but they are a good option for those who would like to learn the entire history of the island. They are also a great option for rainy days. You can learn a lot about Madeira’s history in the Sao Vicente Caves & Volcanic Centre.
As for the most famous museum in Madeira, it is probably the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum. And since we’re talking about Mr. Ronaldo …
#19 Find traces of Ronaldo on Madeira
Almost at the end of our list, something for football fans. Madeira is after all the famous island of Ronaldo. On the island you will find several places related to the football player and I mapped them in my post:
#20 Discover the usual-unusual Madeira
Last but not least and above all – do not hide in comfortable and shiny hotel districts! Get out and discover this ordinary-extraordinary Madeira that you will stay in your heart. You can find the real Madeira by strolling through small towns, narrow paths between fields of local farmers.
I remember several incidents from my travels, where I was surprised by the “everyday unusuality” of Madeira. For example, when I entered Porto da Cruz in September, I passed dozens of farmers with buckets of freshly harvested grapes, which they offered to me smiling. I also saw how one of the families had to use a… cable car to get to their own field.
By taking the bus or walking through the dead-end roads of the villages in the Nuns Valley, I couldn’t get over the magical views and the locals’ way of living. Similarly, when I got lost climbing up the village of Machico on narrow … walls actually, because you could not call them roads. I passed by simple gardens and even an animal pen at the top of the hill, with a view that many hotels would wish to have.
I am delighted with all the buildings and roads, and even the football fields built on the slopes of mountains, all the houses that we cannot reach by any vehicle and to which we need to climb primitive trails. I just love all Madeira’s hidden corners, and the true face of Madeira without any make-up, and I highly recommend you discover it too…
Talking about unusual places – have you already heard about Calhau da Lapa… ?
What do you think is worth adding to the list of the ultimate best things to do in Madeira?
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