Best Things to Do in Madeira: 12 Essential Attractions to Visit

by Jen
Best Things to Do in Madeira
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Have you thought of going for a vacation in Madeira? This island paradise offers some of the most stunning sights and thrilling attractions that are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience. Here are some of the most fun, scenic, and unique things to do in Madeira.

Madeira, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Atlantic,” is a mesmerizing island that promises a unique blend of natural beauty, rich culture, and thrilling adventures. Nestled in the Atlantic Ocean, this Portuguese gem is not just any ordinary island. It’s a place where the mountains kiss the sea, where the air is fragrant with the scent of blooming flowers, and where every corner holds a new surprise. Needless to say, it offers a wide selection of things to do that will appeal to every kind of traveler.

Often dubbed the ‘Flower Island’, Madeira boasts a diverse landscape that ranges from stunning mountain vistas to rugged coastlines. While it might not be the first choice for those seeking white-sand beaches, it’s a paradise for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and anyone looking to experience a destination that’s a bit off the beaten path. Whether it’s the allure of its charming villages, the taste of its delectable food and wine, or the thrill of its unique traditions, Madeira beckons travelers with its myriad offerings.

But with so much to see and do, where does one begin? In this guide, we delve deep into the heart of Madeira, exploring its top attractions, hidden gems, and local secrets. From the bustling streets of its capital, Funchal, to the serene beauty of its natural pools in Porto Moniz, we’ll take you on a journey that’s sure to evoke a sense of wanderlust. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Madeira.

The top places to visit in Madeira right now

Best Places to Visit in Madeira

Ready to discover all the coolest things to do in Madeira? As noted above, there’s a wealth of fun and unique things to do at this magnificent vacation destination. So keep reading to find out all these unique Madeira places to visit.

Are you looking for top attractions and cultural sites? Or maybe you’re into exploring hidden gems and local secrets? Or would you prefer a tranquil getaway to bask in the serene beauty of nature? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Madeira can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Madeira that you should know about.

1. Funchal’s Vibrant City Life

This is one of the best things to do in Madeira, hands down. Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, is a bustling hub of activity and culture. As you wander its cobbled streets, you’ll be greeted by a mix of modernity and tradition. From the historic Sé Cathedral to the contemporary CR7 Museum dedicated to football legend Cristiano Ronaldo, there’s a diverse range of Madeira attractions to explore.

Take the Funchal Cable Car up to Monte, and as you ascend, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city, the harbor, and the vast Atlantic beyond. Once at the top, the tropical gardens of Monte Palace await, showcasing a stunning collection of exotic plants and oriental koi ponds.

For those who love shopping, Funchal offers a plethora of options. Dive into the bustling Farmers’ Market, where you can buy fresh produce, flowers, and traditional Madeiran treats. After a day of exploration, unwind at one of the city’s many esplanades, sipping on the famous Madeira wine.

Madeira places to visit are plentiful, but Funchal stands out with its blend of urban charm and island vibes. It’s a city that effortlessly combines the past with the present, making it a must-visit on any Madeira itinerary.

Experience the allure of Funchal, where urban charm merges with island vibes.
Experience the allure of Funchal, where urban charm merges with island vibes.

2. Levada Walks – Nature’s Serenade

If you’re wondering what to do in Madeira that truly captures the essence of the island, then embarking on a Levada walk is the answer. Levadas are irrigation channels that crisscross the island, and walking along them offers an unparalleled experience of Madeira’s lush landscapes.

Starting amidst verdant forests, these trails lead you through tunnels, over bridges, and alongside cascading waterfalls. Every step you take is accompanied by the gentle murmur of flowing water and the melodious chirping of birds. It’s nature’s serenade, and it’s absolutely enchanting.

One of the most popular Levada walks is the Levada do Caldeirão Verde. This trail takes you through the heart of the Laurisilva forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you meander through, you’ll be awed by the towering trees, ferns, and moss-covered stones. The climax of the walk is the Caldeirão Verde waterfall, a sight that’s sure to take your breath away.

For those seeking a bit more adventure, the Levada das 25 Fontes is a fantastic choice. With its 25 natural springs and a lagoon, it’s one of the coolest Madeira things to do. So, lace up your hiking boots and let Madeira’s Levadas guide you through its natural wonders.

Levada walk is one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Experience Madeira’s essence on a captivating Levada walk, unveiling lush landscapes along the island’s intricate irrigation channels.

3. Porto Moniz Natural Pools – Ocean’s Embrace

Dipping into the natural pools of Porto Moniz is undoubtedly one of the unique things to do in Madeira. Carved by millennia of ocean waves crashing against volcanic rock, these pools offer a refreshing embrace of the Atlantic. The crystalline waters shimmer under the sun, inviting visitors to take a plunge and experience the island’s raw beauty up close.

Porto Moniz, located on Madeira’s northwest coast, is a testament to nature’s artistry. The pools, filled with clear ocean water, are surrounded by rugged lava rock formations, creating a dramatic contrast that’s a feast for the eyes. It’s a place where the ocean’s might meets the tranquility of still waters.

For those who prefer to stay dry, the surrounding area offers panoramic views of the vast ocean and the distant horizon. It’s a spot that photographers dream of, with the play of light on water creating mesmerizing reflections.

After a refreshing swim, you can explore the town of Porto Moniz itself. With its charming streets, seafood restaurants, and the impressive Fort of São João Baptista, it’s one of the best places to go in Madeira. So, pack your swimsuit and let the ocean’s embrace at Porto Moniz rejuvenate your spirit.

Plunge into Madeira's natural pools in Porto Moniz: a refreshing, crystalline embrace carved by the Atlantic.
Plunge into Madeira’s natural pools in Porto Moniz: a refreshing, crystalline embrace carved by the Atlantic.

4. Cabo Girão – Skywalk Adventure

Imagine standing on one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, with the vast Atlantic Ocean stretching out beneath your feet. That’s the thrill you’ll experience at Cabo Girão, home to a skywalk that offers breathtaking views and heart-pounding excitement. It’s one of the coolest things to do in Madeira for those seeking a blend of nature and adventure.

The transparent glass platform, suspended 580 meters above sea level, provides a bird’s-eye view of the ocean, terraced fields, and the distant coastline. As you step onto the skywalk, you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline, but the awe-inspiring vistas make it all worth it.

Close to the skywalk, you’ll find traditional terraced fields known as “fajãs.” These agricultural plots, set on narrow land strips at the base of cliffs, showcase Madeira’s innovative farming techniques. A visit here offers a glimpse into the island’s rich agricultural heritage.

For those who love to explore, nearby trails lead to scenic spots, perfect for capturing the beauty of Cabo Girão in photographs. It’s a must-see in Madeira, combining the thrill of heights with the serene beauty of nature. So, gear up for an adventure that will elevate your Madeira experience to new heights!

Unleash excitement on Madeira's Cabo Girão skywalk—elevated thrill, sweeping Atlantic views, and nature's essence in one.
Unleash excitement on Madeira’s Cabo Girão skywalk—elevated thrill, sweeping Atlantic views, and nature’s essence in one.

5. São Vicente Caves – Journey to the Earth’s Core

Delving deep into the heart of Madeira, the São Vicente Caves offer a captivating journey through the island’s volcanic history. Formed over 890,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption, these subterranean tunnels are a testament to nature’s raw power and artistry. For those pondering where to visit in Madeira for a touch of geology and adventure, this is the spot.

The guided tour takes you through a network of lava tubes, where stalactites and stalagmites create intricate patterns. The dimly lit paths, the echoing drips of water, and the cool air transport you to a world far removed from the sunny landscapes above. It’s a chance to witness the geological wonders that have shaped Madeira over millennia.

At the end of the cave tour, the Volcanism Centre awaits. Here, interactive exhibits and a 3D film provide insights into the volcanic origins of the island. It’s an educational experience that complements the cave exploration perfectly.

For those seeking unique places in Madeira, the São Vicente Caves are a treasure trove of geological wonders. It’s an experience that combines learning with adventure, making it a must for both young and old explorers.

Uncover the island's volcanic history at São Vicente Caves
Uncover Madeira’s volcanic history at São Vicente Caves—a journey through time showcasing nature’s raw artistry and geologic wonder.

6. Pico Ruivo – Hiking to Madeira’s Zenith

For those with a penchant for heights and panoramic vistas, Pico Ruivo offers an exhilarating hiking experience. As the highest peak in Madeira, standing tall at 1,861 meters, it promises views that are nothing short of spectacular. If you’re looking to visit one of the best places to go in Madeira, you should definitely add this majestic mountain to your bucket list!

The trail to Pico Ruivo is a blend of challenging ascents, wooden pathways, and tunnels carved into the rock. As you hike up, the landscape transforms — from dense forests to open spaces adorned with endemic flora. The ever-changing weather adds a touch of drama, with clouds often rolling in, enveloping the peak in a mystical shroud.

Reaching the summit is a reward in itself. The panoramic views of the island, with its rugged coastline, verdant valleys, and neighboring peaks, are a sight to behold. It’s a moment of triumph, of standing atop Madeira’s zenith and feeling on top of the world.

Truly one of the coolest activities in Madeira, a hike to Pico Ruivo is a must. It’s not just a physical journey but a spiritual one, where nature’s grandeur reminds you of the world’s wonders. For some cool video content of Pico Ruivo, check out my Instagram: @Global.Viewpoint!

Ascend to the heights of adventure at Pico Ruivo, Madeira's tallest peak at 1,861 meters, for unparalleled vistas that truly captivate.
Ascend to the heights of adventure at Pico Ruivo, Madeira’s tallest peak at 1,861 meters, for unparalleled vistas that truly captivate.

7. Santana’s Traditional Homes – A Glimpse into the Past

In the picturesque village of Santana, a collection of triangular thatched-roof homes stands as a testament to Madeira’s rich cultural heritage. These iconic A-frame houses, painted in bright colors with straw roofs, offer a delightful glimpse into the island’s past. For travelers seeking unique places in Madeira, Santana’s traditional homes are a must-visit.

Originally designed to withstand the island’s humid climate, these homes have become emblematic of Madeira’s rural charm. While many are still inhabited, others have been transformed into tourist attractions, showcasing artifacts and offering insights into the daily lives of Madeira’s ancestors.

Strolling through Santana, you’ll also discover beautiful gardens, local artisans selling handmade crafts, and friendly locals eager to share stories of their village’s history. It’s a place where time seems to stand still, and the modern world feels miles away.

Close to the village, nature trails beckon adventurers to explore the surrounding landscapes, from verdant forests to serene waterfalls. It’s a perfect blend of culture and nature, making Santana one of the best places in Madeira for those looking to immerse themselves in local traditions while surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Explore Santana's village
Explore Santana’s village: vibrant A-frame thatched-roof homes capturing Madeira’s cultural heritage.

8. Ponta de São Lourenço – Nature’s Rugged Tapestry

At the easternmost tip of Madeira, Ponta de São Lourenço unveils a landscape vastly different from the lush greenery the island is known for. Here, rugged cliffs, unique rock formations, and a vast expanse of the azure ocean come together to create a dramatic panorama. For those compiling their list of things to do in Madeira, this nature reserve is an unmissable spot.

The trail that winds through Ponta de São Lourenço is a visual treat. With the ocean on both sides, hikers are treated to views of the neighboring islands of Porto Santo and the Desertas. The play of colors – from the deep blue of the ocean to the reddish-brown cliffs – is a photographer’s dream.

Along the way, you’ll encounter native plants and birds, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts. The trail culminates at the Casa do Sardinha, a welcoming spot to rest and refuel with some local delicacies.

Ponta de São Lourenço stands out as one of the cool destinations in Madeira, with its raw beauty and untouched charm. It’s a reminder of nature’s power to sculpt landscapes that leave an indelible mark on the soul.

Encounter a unique side of Madeira at Ponta de São Lourenço: rugged cliffs, distinctive rock formations, and endless ocean vistas await.
Encounter a unique side of Madeira at Ponta de São Lourenço: rugged cliffs, distinctive rock formations, and endless ocean vistas await.

9. Mercado dos Lavradores – A Feast for the Senses

As far as things to do in Madeira go, this activity is among the coolest! Stepping into the Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal is like diving into a vibrant tapestry of colors, scents, and sounds. This bustling farmers’ market is one of the best places in Madeira to immerse oneself in local culture and flavors. From fresh produce and flowers to handmade crafts and traditional treats, there’s something to captivate every visitor.

Rows of stalls showcase the island’s bounty: exotic fruits like passion fruit and custard apples, freshly caught fish gleaming on ice, and fragrant blooms that remind you why Madeira is called the ‘Flower Island’. Engage with the friendly vendors, who are always eager to share stories or offer a sample of their goods.

The market is a hub of activity, with local musicians often serenading visitors and artisans demonstrating their crafts. It’s a place where you can witness the island’s traditions come alive.

For those wondering where to go in Madeira to experience its authentic heart, the Mercado dos Lavradores is a top choice. It’s a celebration of Madeira’s rich heritage and a feast for the senses.

Dive into vibrant culture at Funchal's Mercado dos Lavradores
Dive into Madeira’s vibrant culture at Funchal’s Mercado dos Lavradores—a sensory haven of colors, scents, and local delights, offering an essential experience.

10. Monte Palace Tropical Garden – A Verdant Paradise

Attractions in Madeira come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is among the best! Nestled high above Funchal, the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a verdant oasis that promises serenity and beauty in equal measure. Spread over 70,000 square meters, the garden is a testament to the island’s rich botanical heritage.

As you wander through its well-manicured paths, you’ll encounter a diverse collection of plants from all corners of the globe. From the delicate orchids of the Orient to the majestic cycads of Africa, every turn reveals a new botanical wonder. The garden’s koi-filled ponds, complete with oriental bridges and pagodas, add to its charm, creating a harmonious blend of Eastern and Western horticultural traditions.

But the garden’s pièce de résistance is its collection of tile panels that trace Portugal’s history. These azulejos, as they’re called, offer a visual journey through key moments, from the Age of Discovery to traditional folk tales.

A visit to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is one of the best activities in Madeira you don’t want to miss as it guarantees a delightful blend of history, art, and nature. It’s a place where time slows down, and the world’s beauty is celebrated in all its glory.

Exploring Monte Palace Tropical Garden is one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Elevate your experience at Monte Palace Tropical Garden—an expansive oasis above Funchal, showcasing Madeira’s botanical heritage in stunning beauty.

11. Jardim Botânico – Madeira’s Botanical Wonderland

Perched on the hills of Quinta do Bom Sucesso, the Jardim Botânico is a vibrant tapestry of flora from around the world. This botanical garden is a haven for plant enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful retreat. If you’re wondering where to visit in Madeira for a dose of nature’s splendor, this garden should be high on your adventure list.

Spanning over 35,000 square meters, the Jardim Botânico boasts a collection that ranges from tropical to temperate, ensuring a colorful display throughout the year. Wander through themed gardens, from the succulent-rich cactus garden to the aromatic rose garden, each offering a unique sensory experience.

The garden’s layout is designed to educate and inspire. Informative plaques accompany the plants, providing insights into their origins and uses. The panoramic views of Funchal from the garden’s terraces are an added bonus, offering a picturesque backdrop to the lush greenery.

The Jardim Botânico is one of the unique things to do in Madeira that offers more than just plants. With its bird park housing exotic species and the Natural History Museum showcasing the island’s biodiversity, it’s a celebration of life in all its forms.

Explore the global tapestry of flora at Jardim Botânico, a serene haven atop Quinta do Bom Sucesso's hills.
Explore the global tapestry of flora at Jardim Botânico, a serene haven atop Quinta do Bom Sucesso’s hills.

12. Madeira Wine Lodges – A Toast to Tradition

Wine connoisseurs will love this top thing to do in Madeira. Ah, Madeira wine! This world-renowned fortified wine has put the island on the global map, and what better way to delve into its history than by visiting the wine lodges in Funchal?

The scent of aging barrels and the cool, dimly lit cellars transport you back in time. Here, you’ll learn about the unique winemaking process that gives Madeira wine its distinctive taste. From the sun-drenched vineyards to the traditional ‘canteiro’ aging method, every step is steeped in tradition.

Tours often culminate in a tasting session, where you can savor the different varieties, from the dry Sercial to the sweet Malmsey. Each sip tells a story of the island’s rich heritage and the craftsmanship that goes into every bottle.

Beyond just wine, these lodges are a repository of history. Vintage bottles, some over a century old, are displayed alongside artifacts and memorabilia. For those pondering where to go in Madeira for a blend of culture and indulgence, the wine lodges offer a delightful experience. It’s a toast to Madeira’s legacy and its timeless appeal.

Indulge in Madeira's renowned fortified history at Funchal's wine lodges—a must for wine enthusiasts seeking a taste of the island's essence.
Indulge in Madeira’s renowned fortified history at Funchal’s wine lodges—a must for wine enthusiasts seeking a taste of the island’s essence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Madeira

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Madeira? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Madeira:

When is the best time to visit Madeira?

Madeira boasts a mild climate year-round, making it a fantastic destination any time. However, spring (April to June) is especially vibrant with flowers in full bloom.

How do I get around Madeira?

While public buses are available, renting a car offers the most flexibility to explore Madeira’s diverse landscapes.

Is Madeira family-friendly?

Absolutely! With its natural pools, adventure parks, and interactive museums, there’s plenty for kids to enjoy.

How many days in Madeira is enough?

The ideal number of days to spend in Madeira depends on what you want to see and do. Here are my general guidelines:

  • 3 to 4 Days: This is enough for a quick visit. You can explore Funchal, take a levada walk (irrigation channel paths), visit some gardens, and maybe take a day trip to see some of the other highlights of the island, like Cabo Girão or Porto Moniz. You’ll be able to see the main attractions but may feel a bit rushed.
  • 5 to 7 Days: A week in Madeira allows you to take your time exploring Funchal, do multiple levada walks, visit several gardens, and take a few day trips to different parts of the island. You’ll have time to relax and enjoy some of the unique activities Madeira has to offer, like a traditional toboggan ride down the steep streets of Funchal.
  • 8 to 14 Days: If you want a thorough exploration of the island, including its lesser-known spots, two weeks would be ideal. This gives you time to explore different parts of the island, engage in outdoor activities like hiking, canyoning, or sailing, sample local food and wine, and still have some downtime to relax.

Madeira is known for its rich landscapes, unique traditions, and outdoor activities. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hiking and exploring, a longer stay would be beneficial. If you’re more interested in the cultural aspects and a few key sights, a shorter stay would suffice.

Keep in mind that Madeira’s weather can be unpredictable, so planning a longer stay might give you a better chance of experiencing the island in good weather.

Can I combine a trip to Madeira with other destinations?

Yes, the neighboring island of Porto Santo is just a short ferry ride away and offers stunning beaches.

Aerial view of Porto Santo Island's golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
Aerial view of Porto Santo Island’s golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

Are there any local delicacies I should try?

Definitely sample the ‘bolo do caco’ (a local bread) and ‘espada com banana’ (black scabbard fish with banana). And don’t forget the Madeira wine!

What is Madeira famous for?

Madeira is renowned for its unique fortified wine, aptly named Madeira wine, and its stunning natural landscapes, including lush gardens, levada walks, and dramatic mountain peaks. Additionally, the island’s vibrant festivals, especially the New Year’s fireworks display, have garnered international acclaim.

Is Madeira worth visiting?

Absolutely! Madeira offers a captivating blend of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural experiences, making it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking both adventure and relaxation. Here’s why it’s worth considering for your next trip:

  1. Stunning scenery: Madeira’s landscapes are incredibly diverse, with rugged coastlines, lush forests, terraced vineyards, and beautiful gardens. The mountainous terrain provides breathtaking viewpoints.
  2. Unique Levada walks: Madeira’s levadas, or irrigation channels, come with walking paths that meander through some of the island’s most scenic spots. They range from easy strolls to more challenging hikes.
  3. Rich history and culture: Funchal, the capital, has a rich history with charming streets, historic buildings, and museums. Traditional music and dance, like the folkloric “Bailinho da Madeira,” add to the cultural richness.
  4. Delicious cuisine: Seafood lovers will revel in the fresh catches of the day, and Madeira’s unique wine is famous worldwide. Traditional dishes like “espada com banana” (black scabbard fish with banana) are a must-try.
  5. Outdoor adventures: Beyond hiking, Madeira offers opportunities for canyoning, mountain biking, whale watching, and more.
  6. Botanical gardens: The island’s botanical gardens, like the Madeira Botanical Garden, showcase an array of exotic plants and are a treat for nature enthusiasts.
  7. Mild climate: Madeira’s subtropical climate means mild temperatures year-round, making it an attractive destination for those seeking winter sun or pleasant summer weather.

Final Thoughts on Exploring Madeira

Madeira, often dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’, is a treasure trove of experiences. From its rugged coastlines and verdant forests to its rich history and vibrant culture, the island promises memories that last a lifetime. Madeira attractions are as diverse as they are captivating. Whether you’re an adventurer at heart, a nature lover, or a history buff, Madeira beckons with its unique charm. So pack your bags, set your spirit free, and embark on an unforgettable journey to this island paradise. Madeira awaits!

The top things to do in Madeira for all types of travelers
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