Did you know that the amazing island of Madeira is back on the green travel list for UK residents? There are several airlines offering direct flights from London, and after just under four hours by plane, you’ll arrive on this surprising island. Nature’s paradise of volcanic origin with 741 square kilometres to discover, and of course the vibrant capital Funchal. Go hiking, whale watching, discover waterfalls, admire the island’s traditional houses and fall in love with Madeira.
To make sure you have all the necessary information for your trip with regards to Covid-Safe-Tourism, we advise you to check the following pages before you travel:
- On this website of Visit Madeira, or on madeirasafetodiscover.com you can find detailed information about the latest updates and entry requirements that you need to adhere to.
- madeirasafe.com is the dedicated online platform for the registration of travellers.
- The travel list rules provided by the UK government.
But for now, let’s focus on what you should definitely not miss out on your trip! Here are the best things to do in Madeira. Are you ready to discover this destination?
The best things to do in Madeira
1. Visit Funchal, the capital of Madeira
On your flight to Madeira, you will land at the Cristiano Ronaldo airport. Did you know that the famous football player is originally from this island? Once in the city, start in the old town, the so-called Zona Velha. Lose yourself in its small streets paved with basalt. The Rua de Santa Maria is the busiest and is not only packed with lively bars and restaurants but also famous for its painted doors. Indeed, each shop has a unique entrance door, with designs created by local artists.
After admiring them, you will also find in the centre one of the focal points of Funchal, the Mercado dos Lavradores. An explosion of colours that welcomes tourists and locals alike to Madeira’s most popular market. In the flower section you will find one of the island’s emblems, the Bird of Paradise flower, and in the vegetable stalls you can try dozens of fresh, exotic fruits.
Another must-do in the capital is to visit the neighbouring place of Monte. The easiest way to do this is to take the Funchal-Monte cable car, which will take you from the Zona Velha to the vicinity of Monte Church in 15 minutes. It is a four-kilometre journey during which you will enjoy spectacular views over the city and the Atlantic. Once in Monte, don’t miss the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. A 70,000 square metre park with a huge collection of exotic plants from all over the world. Stroll around its central lake, cross its bridges, feel like you’re in Asia in the oriental garden and learn about the history of Portugal thanks to the tiles distributed throughout the garden.
To get back from Monte to Funchal, there is nothing better than going down in basket sledges. These are wicker sledges driven by carreiros, which descend the two steep kilometres to Funchal in less than 10 minutes, a trip at full speed that will unleash your adrenaline!
Did you know that more than 30 varieties of grapes are grown in Madeira? Although you can taste it all over the island, Funchal is a good place to try Madeira’s fortified wine. From the dry variants to drink as an aperitif to the sweet ones to drink with dessert, you can’t leave without trying it. Nor without eating some of the island’s gastronomic delights, such as swordfish, fried polenta or lapas grelhadas.
A bottle of wine is a good souvenir of your trip, so too is a typical Madeiran embroidery. This is undoubtedly the island’s most famous handicraft and an important part of its culture and tradition. Madeira’s embroidery is unique for its fineness and for being completely handmade. From handkerchiefs, tablecloths and sheets to complete trousseaus, the island exports its embroidery all over the world.
2. Cabo Girao viewpoint
Less than 15 kilometres from Funchal is one of Madeira’s must-see places. Cabo Girao is one of the highest lookout points in Europe, offering incredible panoramic views of the Atlantic. The viewpoint is located on top of a steep cliff, more than 500 metres above sea level. If you don’t have vertigo, dare to walk along the platform with a transparent floor, it will unleash your adrenaline!
Once you’ve enjoyed the amazing view from Cabo Girao, head to the nearby Faja Dos Padres and take the cable car down to the beach. This is a small bay that in the past was only accessible by sea. Now, thanks to the cable car, you can descend the 300-metre cliff to take a swim in the rocky beach. The ride takes less than five minutes and, in addition to the ocean, you can also admire some of the vineyards in the area, where the grapes for the Madeira wine grow. Relax on the beach and enjoy the gastronomy at the Faja Dos Padres restaurant!
3. Whale and dolphin watching
If you are passionate about marine fauna and, in particular, whales, Madeira is an unforgettable experience. You will have the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat thanks to the fact that the island’s coastline is a meeting point for these animals. You can see more than twenty types of whales, including bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whale, the bryde´s whale and even sperm whales, one of the oceanic giants that can measure up to 16 metres. The best of all? There are no better or worse times to enjoy them, in Madeira you can see them all year round!
The south of the island is the area from where most of the boats depart on excursions of varying lengths. The most famous towns to depart from are Funchal, Calheta and Machico, where you will find a wide variety of boats for this activity. You can also hire a private boat, but we recommend that you go with a guide who will take you to the main sightings and help you identify the different species. Don’t forget to bring a good pair of binoculars! If you are lucky, you can also jump into the water and swim with dolphins, so book your direct flight to Funchal now!
4. Hiking on the levadas
Do you like hiking? Then Madeira is the perfect destination for you this year, as it’s greatest attraction is its walking routes. Known as levadas, they are paths that run parallel to the water channels and cover hundreds of kilometres all over the island – a paradise if you like walking! There are levadas of all levels, both for beginners and experienced walkers. Some of the most popular are the Caldeirao Verde, which will take you to a large waterfall that falls over a crystal clear lagoon. Or the Levada das 25 Fontes which leads you through a valley with volcanic rock slopes gushing with water to the Laurisilva Forest. This is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Madeira, full of waterfalls and cascades, and since 1999 it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But it’s not all sea and forest in Madeira; you can also enjoy the peaks of the island’s interior, such as Ruivo and Pico do Ariero. The highest, at 1861 metres, is Pico Ruivo, and you will reach the summit in a three-kilometre climb of 270 metres. Although it may seem difficult, the ascent is classified as moderat. It is well worth the effort to climb up to the clouds and have a break there with the island at your feet.
5. Admire the traditional Santana houses
Have you ever seen pictures of the traditional Madeiran houses? We are talking about the so-called palhoças, buildings in the shape of an inverted V, with thatched roofs that reach the ground. As they are one of the typical postcards of the island, they are a must-see! You’ll find them in Santana, a municipality located in the north of the island and the second largest after Funchal. The town attracts tourists because of its refurbished palhoças that can be visited from the inside. As you can see, the houses have two floors, the upper floor used to store the grain and the lower floor is where the animal stables used to be. Inside you will also see traditional tools, furniture and utensils.
In addition to visiting the well-known Casinhas de Santana, this municipality is also a good starting point to visit the Laurisilva Forest or to climb the Pico Ruivo, both mentioned in the previous point. Santana is a picturesque place with a great architectural heritage, including the Igreja Matriz de Sao Jorge or the Fort of Faial, with cannons pointing out to the sea to fight the English ships. You will also have the opportunity to buy traditional handicrafts from the island, such as embroidery, wicker baskets or the traditional barrete de orelhas, a hat worn by Madeiran shepherds, with ears and crowned with a tassel.
6. Relax and swim at black sand beaches in Seixal and Prainha
In our article about the best things to do in Madeira, you definitely can’t miss its beaches. The island has 160 kilometres of coastline and, although much of it is cliffs, Madeira’s beaches are not to be missed. Here we recommend two of the most spectacular with their natural black sand: Porto do Seixal and Prainha.
The beach in Porto do Seixal is located in the north of Madeira, right next to the harbor of Seixal. A stunning black sand beach where the green of the surrounding mountains contrasts with the crystal clear waters. The ideal place to relax, sunbathe, rent a kayak or explore the seabed snorkelling. Another option in Seixal is to visit Poça das Lesmas, natural pools formed in the volcanic rock. On the other hand, less than 10 kilometres by car from Porto do Seixal, don’t miss the natural pools of Porto Moniz, also made of volcanic rock, where the sea water filters naturally. Bathe in salt water in a space with all the amenities: children’s area, car park, sun loungers, bar and changing rooms.
The beach of Prainha is located in the fishing village of Caniçal, situated at the beginning of the San Lorenzo Peninsula, in the east of the island. This beautiful beach also has black sand and is surrounded by an arid landscape. Prainha is famous for the Dunas da Piedade, fossilised limestone formations of great geomorphological interest. Caniçal was a whaling centre from 1940 to 1981. Although these mammals are now protected and fishing for them is forbidden, you can visit the Whale Museum in the village, where there is a life-size reproduction.
Have you already decided what to do on your trip to Madeira? Book your flight and discover how much the island has to offer. Let’s go!