The charming island of Madeira offers stunning views, fascinating history, and year-round warm weather. With activities ranging from the sedate to the action-packed, and a host of delectable dishes to choose from, there’s more than enough here to please any kind of holidaymaker.
With so much to experience on Madeira, gathering all the info on where to go can be time-consuming. But don’t worry – we’ve done the research for you, so you can spend more time looking forward to your holiday. Read on for our pick of the best things to see and do on this enchanting island.
Funchal – captivating capital
Staying in the capital Funchal means you get exotic gardens, historical artefacts, captivating museums and endless dining options – right on your doorstep. Start by taking the popular cable car, which provides breathtaking views across the city and beyond.
The ride makes a stop at Madeira Botanical Gardens, where you’ll discover over 2000 species of exotic plants. Nestled in one of the most scenic spots on the island, the gardens are home to rare orchids, tropical fruit trees, and stunning water features. You might even spot a colourful parrot or two!
What goes up must come down, as the saying goes. And while you could take a cable car back to town, there’s another, more exhilarating method – the Monte Toboggan Ride! The island’s two-seater wicker sleds have been in operation since 1850, when they were first used to transport locals from Monte into Funchal town.
Now a major tourist attraction, the sleds take visitors down narrow winding streets at speeds of up to 48mph, steered (safely!) by traditionally-dressed guides.
For a gentler – but no less memorable experience – a visit to the Cathedral of Funchal is a must. This beautiful religious building dates from 1514 and is fascinating blend of Moorish and European architecture (free to enter when services are not being held).
A short walk away, you’ll find the Madeira Story Centre, where you’ll go on interactive journey that begins with the island’s volcanic origins – some 14 million years ago. And for football fans, the nearby CR7 Museum is an essential part of any Madeiran holiday, and highlights the extraordinary achievements of Christiano Ronaldo, born and raised on the island.
Another top city attraction is the lively farmers market, or Mercado des Lavradores, as it’s known locally. This bustling art-deco marketplace boasts an impressive array of fruits and vegetables, with freshly-caught fish in the basement, and local handicrafts and souvenirs on the first floor. If you get a bit peckish browsing the island’s mouth-watering produce, there are plenty of excellent restaurants nearby, catering to every taste and budget.
The best of the bunch are dotted around the delightful Old Town, where a varied choice includes steak, paella and fresh seafood, along with local specialities such as Estapada – tender meat roasted on wooden skewers.
No trip to Madeira would be complete of course, without a whale and dolphin watching expedition. And as luck would have it, many of the tours begin from the harbour in Funchal.
From here you’ll be whizzed along the water in either a catamaran, sailing boat or speed boat, before stopping to admire these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Just don’t forget to bring the camera, as you’ll be in for a truly magical experience!
Top attractions around the island
Away from the capital city, there are a number of exciting activities and attractions that promise to make your Madeiran holiday even more memorable.
The spectacular levada walks are a ‘can’t miss’ for many visitors to Madeira, and provide a wonderful half-day’s sightseeing at a pace to suit you. The levadas, or irrigation channels, make for some of the most beautiful treks on the island and with over 3000km of them to explore, you won’t run out in a hurry! Our pick of the organised routes is the Rabacal walk, which takes in three levadas and 25 waterfalls.
Another natural beauty on Madeira is the Pico de Arieiro mountain, the third highest on the island. Accessible by car (or a 2.5 hour hike from town), this impressive peak stands 6000ft above sea level, and offers visitors breathtaking views across the bays and mountains.
Those who arrive at dawn might be lucky enough to witness the sun bursting through a thick layer of white clouds – a magical sight that stays in the memory for a lifetime.
Back down to earth, and the final stop on our journey of top Madeiran attractions brings us to the unique lava pools at Porto Maniz. These special seawater pools are filled naturally by the high tide, and are the perfect way to take a safe, warm dip at the end of an action-packed day.
If arriving by car, the area is ideal for exploring, with the unique black beaches of Seixal and the Miradou da Santa viewpoint just a short drive away.