Madeira is one of Europe’s most beautiful islands. Situated in the north of the Atlantic, approximately 1070km from Portugal and 2600km from West Africa.
The archipelago of Madeira is known not only for its stunning scenery and year round warm climate, but also, some of the best hiking trails, natural swimming pools and delicious food. No matter what part of the island you visit, there are always stunning views and incredible things to do.
Best Time To Go
The best time to go to Madeira is between May and September. Temperatures can reach 27 degrees on average with a very small chance of rain. However, one of the most popular times to visit Madeira is December.
Mostly because of New Year’s Eve due to its famous firework display (more on this further down in the post). Weather is still warm during the winter with average temperatures of 17-20 degrees. Honestly, anytime is good to visit.
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Getting around Madeira
The easiest way to get around is by car. You will have more opportunity to see as much as possible, as buses can take up a lot of your time.
Firstly, driving around Madeira is safe and secondly, even rural roads have been fixed and are now safe and easy to drive through. Pick up and drop off your car hire at Madeira Airport.
Even if you are staying in Funchal, the main town, there is never any traffic and parking is simple too. You can park either on the roads or car parks and there is a charge.
Alternatively, If you would prefer not to have a car hire, you can still see many parts of the Island. I would advise joining guided tours as they will take you to all the main attractions including rural villages that are hard to get to.
Buses leave from Funchal (the capital) to other small towns across the island. Although, they are not frequent and some routes can take 3-4hours as they go through many villages.
Where to stay
Madeira has great options of places to stay. From apartments to hotels it really just depends on what sort of accommodation you prefer.
I would recommend staying in Funchal as it’s easy access to get to other parts of the island and there are many restaurants and shops.
Another great option is Machico, approximately 20 minutes away from Funchal. With beautiful beaches and restaurants serving local tasty dishes Machico makes an awesome base if you want to feel more like a local and experience the real Madeira.
What to pack
Despite the weather usually being warm, some areas higher up in the mountains do get rain more often so you will want to be prepared for this. A good pair of hiking boots along with a waterproof jacket is always a good idea.
If you are planning on doing a lot of walking and going hiking I recommend a good size and comfortable backpack. You can carry water, camera, phone and other essentials you may need.
Visit Madeira’s Capital Funchal
Funchal is situated on the south coast of the island surrounded by cliffs and a picturesque seafront. Although it is not a large town, there are lots of exiting things to do. Funchal is the starting point for the Island group tours, and you can also do water activities. Have a look down the harbour to see what fun activities there are to do.
Do not miss The Farmers Market (Mercado dos Lavradores) located in the city centre. Here you will find local produce, hundreds of different types of colourful flowers and beautifully handmade traditional items to take home with you. The market is open everyday.
Visit Madeira Town Hall to learn about Madeira’s history and check out the art gallery. The Town Hall was built in the 18th century and has maintained its original architecture. There are daily 1 hour tours available and entrance is free.
Take a stroll through the old town and check out the street art on Rua da Santa Maria, one of Funchal’s oldest street.
For the views, take the Monte cable car. This journey starts in Funchal and goes up to Monte. This takes 15-20 minutes and you will see the most amazing views of the city. Once you are at the top, in Monte, you can visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden or the church ‘Igreja do Monte’.
See The Traditional Houses In Santana
Santana, on the north coast, is my favourite village on this island. On arrival you will feel like you’ve stepped back in time, it is so different to the rest of Madeira.
Here you will find the traditional houses of Madeira, shaped like a triangle, made of wood and straw.
In the past, these traditional houses were inhabited by the less fortunate locals. Today, many of these houses have been turned into small shops while others are empty and are just there in memory of the heritage and culture of Madeira.
Spend Time At One Of The Volcanic Black Sand Beaches and Natural Swimming Pools
Porto Moniz is home to black sand beaches and natural swimming pools formed by volcanic rocks with crystal clear blue water. The scenery is incredible so you can not give this place a miss.
If you do not want to spend the whole day at the swimming pool or beach, Porto Moniz also has some great hiking trails with some beautiful hidden gems along the way.
Also, in this town you will find a science museum, an aquarium and a cable car.
If you are staying in Funchal or nearby, the best way to get to Porto Moniz is by car or by joining a group tour. The buses from Funchal take approximately 3 hours as it does many stops in small villages on the way.
Watch The Sunset At Paul do Mar
If you love sunsets then this is where you want to be. The laid back atmosphere and the panoramic scenery makes this traditional fishing village the ideal place to end the day. There are a variety of bars and restaurants along the strip so you can relax and have a drink or two while listening to the waves hit the rocks.
Because of the massive waves, Paul do Mar is also a perfect spot for surfers, and locals guarantee almost every day is a good day to surf.
Enjoy A Beach Day or Go Hiking In Caniçal
Caniçal is on the southeast of the island. It is known for its stunning beaches, spectacular views and wonderful hiking trails.
The beaches have either black sand or pebbles. One of the nicer beaches is ‘Prainha’. It is a volcanic black sand beach concealed between cliffs. The best way to reach there is by car.
If you only do one hike, make it the Ponta de São Lourenço trail. This is the island’s easternmost point and the views are breathtaking. If the weather is good, the island of Porto Santo can be seen in the distance.
Enjoy The Skywalk In Camara de Lobos
Camara de Lobos is a small fishing village, and is a must see in Madeira. The most popular attraction here is to go up to Cabo Girão. This is a glass skywalk, 580 metres high at the edge of a cliff. It might sound scary and it might not be for everyone, but the views from there are stunning.
Once you are done with Cabo Girão, take a walk down by the waterfront of Camara de Lobos to see the colourful fishing boats and traditional buildings. This village also has some of the best seafood restaurants so it is definitely worth checking one out.
Go To The Highest Point In Madeira – Pico Ruivo
Pico Ruivo is the highest point of Madeira at 1862 metres high. The only way to get there is by hiking, but, once you are at the top it literally feels like you are above the clouds. The trail starts from Pico do Arieiro which is the island’s second highest point. You can drive up to this spot and leave your car in the huge car park.
It is a very steep hiking trail but once you make it to the top you will forget about the struggles and challenges because you will be met with incredible views.
If you go late in the afternoon you may be able to see the most awesome views of the sunset.
Find Hidden Gems In Caniço
About 10 minutes away from the capital Funchal, you will find the quiet town of Caniço. There are two main attractions here. Firstly, you have the stunning views from the Cristo Rei Miradouro (Christ King viewpoint). If the sun is shining you can see the ‘desertas’ islands from this viewpoint.
Secondly, there is a hidden beach. When I visited Caniço I did not know about Praia de Garajau (Garajau beach). This is a small pebble beach at the bottom of the cliff. There is a cable car which will take you down to this little secret gem.
Even if you do not wish to go to the beach or spend a lot of time there, it is still worth checking out. Looking up to the top surrounded by cliffs and seeing the incredible views, makes this gem a place you can not miss.
Eat Madeira’s Bolo do Caco and Drink Their Famous Poncha
Get the full Madeira experience and try the delicious Bolo do Caco. This tasty treat is two flat breads put together with garlic bread in the middle. Some places also add chorizo to the bread. Most cafes that offer food will have this amazing delicacy as well as restaurants and also street food places.
Of course, you will want to enjoy this treat with a glass of Poncha. An awesome alcoholic drink made with brandy, sugar, honey and orange juice, Madeira’s most popular drink. Some bars will make poncha with different flavours such as, passion fruit, cherry and strawberry.
Spend A Magical Christmas and New Years Eve
With out a doubt no one does New Year’s Eve like Madeira. With 59 locations showing fireworks displays across the harbour and lasting for 8 minutes bringing beautiful colourful lights into the sky, you are guaranteed to have the best time welcoming a new year.
Although, it’s not just New Years Eve that is worth visiting, throughout the month of December the whole island lights up with incredible Christmas lights and decorations. Christmas Markets fill the streets of Funchal and festivals bring life to the Island, making Madeira the perfect destination for a magical Christmas.
Learn About Madeira’s Most Famous Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo
Another reason Madeira is well known is thanks to the fact it is home to famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Undoubtedly, The people of Madeira love to show how proud they are of him and not only have they made a statue located in Funchal (his birth place) in his honour they have also built a museum dedicated to Ronaldo.
Obviously, this one might only be interesting for the football fans, so if you are, check out the CR7 museum and learn about Cristiano Ronaldo’s life and his journey into becoming one of the most successful footballers in the world.
Above the museum is the CR7 Pestana hotel, another place dedicated to Ronaldo.
Go To Madeira For The Flower Festival
During the month of May, Funchal is filled with thousands of colourful flowers that bring the locals together to celebrate the flowers that grow in Madeira throughout the year. There is a flower market where people can buy some of these flowers and also enjoy some delicious local food and drinks.
The Flower Exhibition is set up in square – Praca da Restauracao where everybody can admire all the different types of flowers that are part of the beauty of this island.
In addition to celebrating the flowers, concerts and performances also fill the town of Funchal with locals dressing up in beautiful outfits inspired by flowers dancing to local music across the streets of Madeira.
The Flower Festival starts on the 5th May and finishes on the 29th May.
Go Whale and Dolphin Watching
Madeira is home to many different species of whales and dolphins. Go on a catamaran ride and cruise along the south coast in search of these amazing animals.
These tours start at Funchal Harbour and are a duration of 3 hours. Prices start from around 20 euros depending on which tour you book, options for morning tours and afternoon tours are available.
Although, I do recommend booking in advance as tickets can sell out quickly especially during high season.