Madeira – a warm, welcoming, vibrant green island off the northwest coast of Africa. With delicious food, a history dating back to the 15th century, incredibly diverse landscapes and still blissfully untouched by mass tourism, this tiny Island offers a lot.
Here are our top things to do and places to visit Madeira.
Things to do in Madeira
Enjoy the views from Monte Cable car.
Visiting Monte has been one of the most popular attractions for decades. The ride from the Funchal old town to Monte takes 15-20 minutes one way, giving you plenty of time to enjoy beautiful views of the city and its surroundings. Once in Monte, I suggest you visit the monte Palace Tropical garden and then take a Sled Car to ride back down!
The cable car operates daily from 9 am to 5:45 pm. You can get tickets for a one-way ride only and combination tickets with a cable car to Madeira Botanical Garden. For more information, visit the official website here.
Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Monte Palace Tropical Garden features over 100,000 plant species and is located at the Quinta Monte Palace.
The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is located just next to the upper station of Monte Cable car and is open daily between 9:30 am – 6:00 pm.
Take a Wicker Toboggan Sled Ride
Riding a wicker basket down a steep 1.2-mile path is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s a local tradition in Funchal. Pushed and steered by two runners wearing traditional white costumes and straw hats, residents used it as a means of transport to quickly get from the village of Monte high on the mountain down to the town of Funchal.
Practical Information: You’ll need to take a cable car to Monte first. The 2km long descent takes about 10 minutes and brings to Livramento, not back to Funchal. You’ll either have to take a taxi, bus or walk about 30 minutes down to the city. The ride costs 30 euros for a sled with two people, or 25 euros if you go alone. If you decide to take the sled ride, make sure you visit all the points of interest on the Monte first to don’t have to walk back up the hill afterwards.
Swim with Wild Dolphins/Whale Watching
Rota dos Cetáceos is a company dedicated to the safe observation of dolphins and whales in Madeira. Before our trip, there was a short introduction to the different species of dolphins and whales we would encounter, and then the adventure began! We saw so many kinds of dolphins and even got to swim alongside them. This was a bucket list moment for me and the highlight of the trip!
Book here: https://www.rota-dos-cetaceos.pt/index.php/en/
This was my first time Canyoning, and it was incredible! We climbed, jumped, abseiled and swam through untouched parts of the Island. This is undoubtedly a must-do activity if you want some adrenaline-filled fun.
We chose to go Canyoning with https://www.epicmadeira.com, and they were brilliant. They only take small groups on each excursion, ensuring everyone is always safe and having the best time!
Swim in Porto Moniz Natural Pools
Porto Moniz is a charming little town located on the northwestern tip of Madeira. The main highlight of this town are the natural swimming pools, which in 2018, CNN elected as one of the 52 best beaches in the world.
Parking and changing rooms with lockers to store personal belongings ais available. Throughout the summer, there is also a snack bar, sun loungers and umbrellas for hire.
Check out the views from Cabo Girão viewpoint:
Cabo Girão is the highest cape in Europe, at an elevation of 580m, and is famous for its suspended glass platform. The viewpoint, located on the highest promontory in Europe, offers an astonishing view of the fajãs of Rancho and Cabo Girão – small areas of cultivated land at the foot of the cliff – as well as magnificent panoramic views over the ocean and the municipalities of Câmara de Lobos and Funchal. Nearby you can visit the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Fátima (Our Lady of Fátima), one of the main pilgrimage sites of the Island built in 1951 and one of the main pilgrimage sites of the Island.
Summer: 8.30am – 8pm
Winter: 8.30am – 7pm
Drive under Cascata dos Anjos (“Waterfall of Angels”)
Cascata dos Anjos falls down a sheer rock face onto the E.R.101 road and into the sea. It is one of the most picturesque and photographed waterfalls in Madeira.
3 Must-do Hikes in Madeira
Vereda do Pico Ruivo
This is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Madeira. It climbs to Pico Ruivo – the highest peak of Madeira (1862m), where the views are spectacular. However, even if the weather is excellent by the coast, you never truly know what you’re going to get until you make it to the top. Keep an eye on the weather forecast specifically for Pico Ruivo because even nearby towns can have very different weather.
Starting Point: Achada do Teixeira
Accessibility: Car or as part of a hiking tour
Duration: 3 hours
Verada das 25 Fontes – Levada do Risco
This hike will take you deep inside the Island’s interior and is one of the most popular Levada walks in Madeira. You’ll follow a Levada (famous irrigation channels) that will lead you to Risco waterfall and Lagoa das 25 Fontes (Lagoon of 25 springs).
By noon the hiking paths were crowded with big groups of tourists, so we drove up there early in the morning and enjoyed the hike to ourselves. A shuttle bus brings people to the start of the trek from the car park, but that only starts at 10 am; however, the walk is only about 20 minutes, so we just walked it.
The hike was a little confusing as many signs were pointing to the trail from various starting points, but we quickly figured out that no matter which path you take, you’ll still get to the same hiking trail after a while. We started our hike to the Lagoon of 25 springs first, where we got to enjoy it completely alone and then made our way to Risco waterfall.
Starting Point: Car park alone E.R. 110 road near Rabaçal
Accessibility: Car or as part of a hiking tour
Duration: 3 -4 hours
Facilities: Small cafe and bathroom at the starting point of the hike
Verada dos Balcoes
This was by far the easiest and the shortest of the beautiful hikes we took in Madeira. You’ll experience some of the best landscapes Madeira has to offer, with an incredible viewpoint overlooking the highest mountain peaks of Madeira.
Starting Point: Ribeiro Frio
Accessibility: Car, as part of a hiking tour or a bus (56, 103, 138)
Duration: 30 minutes
Facilities: Small restaurant nearby has a public bathroom, and there is a tiny cafe/souvenir shop along the trail too
The Best Beaches in Madeira
Faja dos Padres
Set in a secluded cove, Faja dos Padres is on the Island’s southern coast and can only be accessed by boat or a cable car that takes you down a huge 300m cliff.
Praia do Seixal
Praia do Seixal is is a stunning stretch of black sand with crystal clear water, surrounded by breathtaking views of green cliffs and mountains on the Island’s north coast.
Located on the stunning northern coast of Madeira, it’s just a 40-minute drive from Funchal. I suggest visiting the nearby regions of Porto Moniz, Miradouro do Veu da Noiva viewpoint, and Seixal Natural Pools while you are in the area.
The beach has big Hawaii vibes but makes it there for sunrise, and you’ll find out why this is one of the most epic beaches in the world!
Praia Formosa is just a 10-minute drive from Funchal’s city centre and is divided into four sand and pebble beaches known as Nova, Formosa, Namorados and Areeiro. This is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike and is also the only beach in Madeira adapted for the visually impaired, winning the 2015 “Accessible Beach” award.
Praia do Garaju
Praia do Garaju is at the foot of the cliff where the Cristo Rei statue stands. This small, secluded, stony beach was once used for dismembering and boiling up whales caught by boats off Madeira. It’s since been turned into a leisure complex with a restaurant and other facilities. You can access the beach by cable car near the statue or a very long and zigzagging road.
The beaches of Calheta are beautiful sandy beaches located to the west of Madeira. Calheta means “small cove” in Portuguese, which perfectly describes these pleasant and sheltered beaches. If you have some time, visit the secret beach of Jardim do Mar, just a 10-minute drive away.
Praia da Ribeira Brava
Praia da Ribeira is a beautiful pebble beach located in the village of Ribeira Brava. If you choose to spend the day here, go up to the lighthouse, which offers breathtaking views of Ribeira Brava. You can also visit the Miradoudoro da Encumeada viewpoint, which offers spectacular views of the north and south of the Island.