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After 6 weeks living and working remotely on this breathtaking Portuguese island, I’m here to tell you about the many, many things to do in Madeira from hikes and adventurous activities to striking natural attractions, cultural excursions, culinary pursuits and more.
I’ve been to many islands during my last 10 years of (almost) full-time travel and I don’t need to think twice about whether or not Madeira is one of the most beautiful. It can easily compete with Thai and Mexican islands with its sweeping coastline and craggy mountains.
Despite its beauty, I NEVER want to hear the words ‘Hawaii of Europe’ uttered ever again (or in fact, hear anywhere subbed the ‘somewhere’ of somewhere else: it’s not imaginative or necessary!).
Getting around Madeira
However beautiful, Madeira is not the cheapest place plus it’s notoriously hard to get around. Our hire car cost us €1,000 a month and we were hit with a further €500 of charges for some minuscule scratches! Luckily, there were 5 of us to split the costs.
A complete list of options would be:
- Car hire – this is your best bet. The things to do in Madeira are spread across the island and hard to reach without a car. I recommend Rentalcars.com.
- Public transport – this is limited but you’ll be able to travel from Funchal to major tourist attractions around Madeira. If you’re not based in Funchal, consider another option.
- Day tours – several companies offer tours around the island by van, car or 4×4. Most will only pick up from Funchal but it’s worth checking. I use Viator and GetYourGuide for tours and excursions.
- Hop-on-hop-off bus tour – to see the key sights in Funchal and its surroundings, get a ticket for €20.
How to organise your Madeira sightseeing?
Split the island into zones, visiting the east one day and the west the next. Of course you won’t see everything, but you could see the key highlights during two days like this.
Whether you take these tours or simply follow the itineraries, I would suggest:
- West coast day tour (€34) – Porto Moniz, Câmara de Lobos, the Laurissilva forest, Cabo Girão
- East coast day tour (€34) – Pico do Arieiro, Santana, Santa Cruz, Ponta de São Lourenço
- The ultimate 2 day tour including both west & east (€60)
Active things to do in Madeira, Portugal
For hikers, there’s no end to the activities in Madeira. Among the many hikes in Madeira include numerous levada walks, defined as those following manmade waterways that provide fresh water to the islanders.
Here are some of the best hikes and levada walks for those looking for fun things to do in Madeira…
1. Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo (PR1 hike)
One of my favourite – and most exhausting – days in Madeira was spent traversing the PR1 trail between Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, two lofty peaks (the latter being the tallest on the island). This is easily the island’s most famous hike as well as the most difficult.
It’s an exciting route, climbing ladders, traversing through tunnels and along paths cut into the cliff face.
I found it especially exhausting because I did it on one of the hottest days of the year, plus I went as part of a small group tour which meant I couldn’t stop for a breather on my own schedule.
Duration: 3-4 hours.
Difficulty level: I would describe it as quite difficult due to the steep incline with lots of stairs. I’m not super fit but I do hike fairly often and it’s one of the harder trails I’ve taken.
Tips for the Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo hike:
- Pick a cooler day for the hike if your schedule allows
- Pack a cap, sunscreen and enough water: there’s nowhere to buy drinks on the hike apart from Casa de Abrigo Pico Ruivo which is near the end
- Start at Pico do Arieiro near the famous sunrise spot.
How to arrive at the hike:
- By car: the Pico do Arieiro starting point is a 30-minute drive from Funchal. The only problem is that the hike is one way, finishing at Pico Ruivo. Hiking the entire trail again to get the car would have killed me off.
- By taxi: a taxi from Funchal will cost around €40 each way.
- By group tour: this is what I did and it was extremely useful since it was cheaper than a return taxi. It was also great to learn from a guide and meet fellow hikers. The only downside was not being able to hike at my own pace. Here’s the GetYourGuide hike I took.
- By hitchhiking: If you get dropped at the starting point by taxi, you could consider hitchhiking home. Any fellow hikers leaving the Pico Ruivo parking area will have to take the road to Santana and from here you could even get a bus back to Funchal.
- Sadly there’s no public transport connecting the hike itself.
Watching sunrise – a great option is to start the hike at sunrise, watching it from the Pico do Arieiro viewpoint platform before beginning the hike. Several tour companies offer this. To ditch the crowds, you could start hiking along the trail (guided by first light) and find a more secluded sunrise spot.
2. Take the PR1.2 hike instead
Those looking for active things to do in Madeira may prefer this shorter hike up Pico Ruivo. It’s a lot easier than the peak-to-peak hike but boasts the same striking scenery. Another benefit compared to the intensive one-way PR1 is that you can arrive and depart Pico Ruivo parking lot without worrying about how to retrieve your car after.
Starting from Achada do Teixeira, the Vereda do Ruivo (PR1.2 hike) is relatively flat until you reach the Abrigo house where you can stop for refreshments. Here, it takes a steep incline up 1,861m Pico Ruivo. The views from the top are well worth it!
If you’re feeling energetic, you can continue on the PR 1.1 trail.
3. Verada da Ponta de São Lourenço (PR8 hike)
Despite Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo garnering attention as the most beautiful natural attractions of Madeira, one of my favourite days on the island was spent with my housemates hiking the PR8 trail. It may not have world-class striking peaks but the sublime coastal scenery is second to none.
This narrow peninsular off the east coast of Madeira is known as Sao Lourenço. Here you can clearly see the volcanic origins of Madeira with craggy sea structures made from limestone and blackened basalt rocks.
The finish point is São Lourenço Point, shortly after the Sardine House cafe where you can stop for refreshments. It was closed when we visited after 6pm but we borrowed their outdoor tables for our packed dinner of bread and canned fish (are we Portuguese yet?).
The hike is 7km there and back. It’s not too difficult but prepare for some uphill sections towards the end of the peninsular. Don’t wear white trainers if possible because they’ll be stained forever by red dust!
Starting the hike: there’s plenty of on-road parking or you can catch Bus SAM 113 from Funchal’s La Vie mall to the starting point of the hike (Baía D’agra, the last stop) for around €6 return. Check the timetable.
4. Enjoy the gentle 25 Fontes levada walk (PR6)
The island’s best-known levada walk is another of the top Madeira attractions for nature lovers. Typical of a levada walk, the path follows a manmade waterway as it meanders through striking natural surrounds.
If the pico-to-pico hike sounds too challenging, the 25 Fontes levada walk (PR6) is an ideal alternative. The 4.5km route is approximately a 3-hour return hike. The path is mainly flat and shaded by the canopy of the 25 million-year-old laurel forest. It ends at Lagoa das 25 Fontes waterfall where you can take a dip… If you can handle the icy waters and the crowds that congregate on weekends!
There’s also the PR6.1 hike that starts at the same parking area (regional road E.R. 110) and reaches a different (but just as striking) waterfall.
Visiting without a car? Take an organised walk with Nature Meetings who offer a variety of hikes and excursions around Madeira
5. Levada dos Balcões (PR11)
One of the most scenic levada walks is the PR11 route. Verada dos Balcões translates as balcony pathway without exaggeration: the route offers unrivalled views over Ribeira da Metade valley, ending at a sublime viewing platform.
For this hike, be sure to check the weather for cloud cover: on a bad day, you might see nothing at all! This is a quick hike of 1.5km, taking around 1.5 hours for the return trip. Start from Ribeiro Frio.
6. Levada do Caldeirão Verde (PR9)
The PR9 route meanders through Queimadas Forest Park, finishing at 100m-tall Caldeirão Verde waterfall, cascading into Caldeirão Verde lake known for its brilliant blue and green waters. The trail is also known for its rare Laurisilva trees, protected by UNESCO.
It’s one of the longer levada walks at 8.7km, taking approximately 5.5 hours including the return journey. The park’s entrance is marked by a traditional thatched cottage where you can find facilities and car parking.
7. More levada walks
It would be hard to complete all the levada walks in Madeira unless you’re staying a really long time! Others like Verada do Fanal (PR13) provide new landscapes and challenges. No two walks are the same so why not do as many as possible?
Natural attractions in Madeira
These beautiful things to do in Madeira are far away from the towns, letting you soak up more of the breathtaking scenery. Work some of the following into your Maderia sightseeing plans…
8. Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools
Google Madeira and it won’t take long for photos of Porto Moniz to start cropping up. Located at the most north-westerly point of the island, these natural ocean pools are one of most popular places to go in Madeira, buffered from the ocean by a wall of black volcanic rocks.
See it on my film – my Instagram video
Offering beautiful ocean views, they’re a safe, shallow place to swim even for children and non-confident swimmers. If you drive there along with the north coast, you’ll have your fair share of spectacular scenery before you arrive. The complex has decent facilities including changing areas and an (overpriced) cafe.
The pools are open from 9am-7pm for the small entry price of €3pp.
If you don’t want to head that far afield, visit Doca do Cavacas pools in Funchal instead. More about this place in my Funchal, Madeira attractions section coming up…
9. Take a northern coast road trip
Once when sat on a beach, a local practising his English told us that the northern coast of Madeira is the most beautiful part of the island, usually missed by tourists. When my friends and I drove from our place in Santa Cruz to Porto Moniz, we saw his point.
Although some northern highlights like Santana traditional houses receive tourist footfall, there’s a vast stretch of coastline, not to mention inland villages, untouched by the modern day. Passing through the village pictured above, we got out of the car to marvel at our surroundings.
This tiny village named Ilha enclosed by mountains and low-hanging clouds was the most hauntingly peaceful place. Although we didn’t have time for it, I notice there’s a hiking route starting here, the PR1.1.
10. Drive through Anjos Waterfall
Of all the unusual things to do in Madeira, Anjos Waterfall might be the most Instagrammed – and impractical. Try to imagine a functional road where cars pass. Then, imagine a waterfall cascading over it. Then, imagine 30 tourists in their swimwear trying to pose and take photos!
Yes, it’s chaos. Oh, and did I mention it’s located on the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop? Well, it is.
The Waterfall of the Angels is located on Madeira’s south coast, close to Ponta del Sol. You can’t deny it’s an iconic place so I’d recommend driving through… very slowly and carefully. With the windows closed!
11. São Vicente Caves (temporarily closed in 2022)
These giant lava tubes are around 890,000 years old, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. Discovered by locals in 1885, they were opened to the public in 1996 and quirky became one of the top tourist attractions in Madeira.
These striking caves can be explored by a well-lit 1000m walkway, accessible as part of a guided tour at the Volcanism Centre and Caves, open Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-6pm. Located near the quaint town of São Vicente between Seixal and Santana on the north coast, they’re best visited by car.
12. Try canyoning
If peaceful nature leaves you wanting, one of the best activities in Madeira is canyoning. Rapel through ancient canyons cut by waterfalls, surrounded by rich flora and fauna. Several companies offer canyoning excursions led by experienced professionals with all the required safety equipment.
I am too much of a baby for this but my housemate LOVED IT. Browse canyoning experiences here.
Best Madeira beaches
After a busy day, one of the best things to do in Madeira is kick back on a beautiful beach with a sundowner. Many of Madeira’s beaches are stony but there are some sandy ones to be found alongside striking black sand beaches. Be sure to visit…
13. Praia da Calheta
Not too far from Anjos Waterfall is a rare white sand beach. Praia da Calheta isn’t the biggest beach but it’s a good option should you need a beach day.
There’s not much shade so the sand gets extremely hot. Rent umbrellas from €1.50 and sunbeds from €2, or cool down at the small beach bar on the left side of the beach.
14. Seixal (black sand beach)
On Madeira’s north coast near Porto Moniz lies one of the island’s famous black sand beaches. Praia de Seixal has been voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe and it’s little wonder as to why.
Surrounded by green cliffs with clear water and black sand, it’s an ideal place to spend a day with a small natural lagoon cordoned off by volcanic rocks.
Visitor’s info: There’s free parking, facilities and a small cafe. The best time to visit is the morning because the sun is blocked by the mountains by the afternoon.
15. Praia de Machico
Another white sandy beach on Madeira is Praia de Machico on the southeast coast. It’s a pleasant place to sunbathe or swim if you have time before or after the nearby São Lourenço hike.
It was here I tried my first EVER peanut butter and jelly sandwich (courtesy of my American housemates). A defining moment in my life!
Miradouros & scenic viewpoints
Some of the most beautiful places in Madeira with impressive views include…
16. Fajā dos Padres
The word fajā refers to flat land at the bottom of a cliff, created by ancient lava flow. Madeira is an island cut and shaped by volcanic activity with plenty of places to admire the outcome. One is Fajā dos Padres: a towering, 250m cliff offering spectacular views from the cable car station at the top.
Ride the cable car down to ocean level for €10 including access to a huge organic farm. After wandering between fruit trees and soaking up the views, you can stop for an organic meal at the restaurant. There are also a few cottages that can be rented overnight.
17. The Nun’s Valley
The Nuns Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Madeira but it’s also one of the most stunning places I’ve EVER been (which is quite a lot of places by this point).
Nuns fleeing French pirates in the 1500s made it to this remote part of the island on foot. Surrounded by steep mountains, it’s difficult enough to access via car along a paved road, so I can’t imagine their treacherous journey!
We had what you might call a big fail starting our day at the Paredão viewpoint where the thick cloud cover meant we could barely see past our noses. If the weather’s good, I hear this is a fantastic spot for views and not too touristy.
Luckily, by the time we reached Miradouro Eira do Serrado, the clouds had cleared. The landscape from this popular viewpoint is one of the most popular things to see in Madeira so expect coach trips and an overpriced cafe. Still, the viewpoint is free and well worth visiting!
Top tip – check the weather in advance and hang around in Curral das Freiras village if it doesn’t clear right away. This village in the valley makes for a good pitstop with tasty chestnut-themed dishes at La Perla Restaurante. More about Madeira food to come!
See it on my film – my Instagram video
18. Farol da Ponta do Pargo (lighthouse)
Located at the most westerly tip of the island, Farol da Ponta do Pargo offers spectacular views, especially at sunset. This cute red and white lighthouse has just celebrated its 100th birthday and, on weekdays, you can visit a small museum detailing its history.
You can park for free and follow a cliffside pathway (290 metres above sea level) to the viewing area.
19. Cabo Girão
Receiving up to 1,800 daily visitors, visiting the viewing deck at Cabo Girão (one of the world’s tallest cliffs) is one of the most popular things to do in Madeira. It may be touristic but it’s worth visiting for some of the most beautiful coastal views on the island.
However, the glass platform may not be a good Madeira activity for those with a fear of heights! The sheer drop underfoot looks down on the ocean and beach, 580 metres below.
Visitors info: entry is free and so is parking. It’s open 9am-8pm but I recommend visiting early or late to avoid the crowds. Since it’s located near Fajã dos Padres, you can easily combine the two cliffside viewpoints into the same day.
See it on film – my Instagram video
20. Miradouro do Véu da Noiva
Between the settlements of Seixal and São Vicente on the northern coast, Miradouro do Véu da Noiva is another of the best places to visit in Madeira for striking views.
The small lookout offers views of the ocean, cliffs and a dramatic waterfall said to resemble a Bride’s Veil (the translation of Véu da Noiva) as well as a scenic cliffside road closed after a landslide in 2008.
There’s parking for a few cars at a time and a small snack bar.
Things to do in Funchal, Madeira
Madeira’s capital with a population of 100,000 may be small compared to Porto or Lisbon but it’s certainly your best bet for shopping, restaurants, markets and other city pleasures, plus it’s home to several of the most popular Madeira attractions.
If you’re not hiring a car, it’s the best place to stay. Most day tours will pick you up from your accommodation.
21. Whale & dolphin watching
For wildlife lovers, dolphin and whale watching are some of the best things to do on Madeira island. I had a mesmerising morning watching these majestic mammals surrounding our boat. We were lucky to see countless dolphins and even a few whales, one with a calf.
The only way you can do this is with a tour departing from Funchal harbour. Take a trip on catamaran (€25) or a small boat w guaranteed sighting (€55) or opt for a sunset dolphin & whale watching (€40).
Having tried all these options, I preferred the small boat tour. With the catamaran, there will be more passengers jostling to peer over the sides whereas the small boat (max 18 people) has dedicated seats meaning no one can move in front of you.
Tip – if you have a waterproof camera like a GoPro, you can dip it in the water to get amazing footage of the animals. This was allowed during my trip but always check with your guides to ensure you’re behaving ethically during any animal experience.
22. Explore the coastline during a catamaran tour
For a fun thing to do in Madeira, hop aboard a cruise of the harbour by luxury catamaran. You’ll soak up incredible island views you’ll see as you move from the harbour around the coast and back again. Snorkelling and snacks are provided and if you’re lucky, you may spot turtles, dolphins and whales.
23. Wander the cobbled streets of Zona Vieja
The historic, colourful Old Town of Funchal dates back to the 15th century, boasting cobbled streets and typical restaurants. But if you were expecting a purely old-school vibe, think again: there are modern influences aplenty like the Rua de Santa Maria murals and painted doors.
It’s a charming area so don’t miss it!
Related activity: Funchal walking tour with a local guide (€15)
24. Doca do Cavacas natural pools
Although Porto Moniz steals the show when it comes to natural swimming pools in Madeira, it’s admittedly a trek from the capital. Luckily, there’s a set of pools near Formosa Beach, a 20-minute drive or bus ride from Funchal.
Volcanic rocks at Doca do Cavacas create a natural pool from which you can swim out into the ocean admiring views of Cabo Girão. The only downside is the long flight of stairs leading to the pools (no disabled access available).
Catch bus number 1 or 2 from Funchal.
25. Ride Funchal Cable Car
The Funchal Cable Car will take you on a 20-minute journey suspended at 39m, soaking up breathtaking views of the island, coast and ocean. The finish point is Monte, a 19th-century health resort for high society, home to several of Madeira’s top things to do including lookout points, churches and the famous botanical gardens.
The Cable Car isn’t the cheapest Madeira attraction: it costs €12.50 each way per adult or €18 return (€6.50 / €9 return for 7-14-year-olds and free for under 6s). I’d recommend getting a one-way ticket and coming down the hill via the…
26. Monte Toboggan
How often can you say you sped down a mountain in a basket according to a 200-year-old tradition? Voted one of the top commutes in the world by CNN, the unique Monte Toboggan Run is an adventurous Madeira activity, dating back to the early 19th century when Monte residents needed a quick way to reach Funchal.
Begin at Nossa Senhora do Monte Church where, after a stint in the ever-present queue, you’ll board a basket ‘driven’ by two carreiros clad in white as you begin the downhill adventure to Funchal’s Livramento neighbourhood.
Speeds pick up to about 20mph during the slightly chaotic journey that only partially seems like the carreiros have it under control… Luckily, I’ve not heard of any accidents yet!
The ride costs €25 per person or €30 per two people.
27. Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora do Monte
Before speeding down the hill, pay a visit to Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora do Monte, a Catholic church dedicated to Our Lady of Monte. It’s an elegant black and white building with a decadent interior, home to the tomb of Karl I, the last Emperor of Austria.
28. Monte Palace Tropical Garden
A minute’s walk from the top station of the cable car is one of the most visited places in Madeira, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. This enormous complex boasts plants and trees from around the world set around a large lake home to swans and ducks.
Wander the quaint bridges, admiring Asian-style pagodas and African-influenced statues. It’s a real mix of styles and cultures with a museum, gallery of decorative tiles and a cafe.
The gardens are open from 9.30am-6pm and tickets cost €12.50 (under 15s go free).
29. Madeira Botanical Gardens
If you didn’t have your fill of gardens at Monte Palace, head to the Botanical Gardens home to 2,000 global species from succulents to aromatic and medicinal plants, plus indigenous varieties from Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde.
The gardens are 3km from Funchal in the lower part of Monte, best accessed by cable car (there’s a dedicated station), bus or car. Entry is €6 plus the cable car if you choose to take it; check rates & combo tickets.
30. Mercado Dos Lavradores (Farmers Market)
From fruits and vegetables to artisan products, souvenirs and trinkets, Mercado Dos Lavradores has been a beloved meeting spot in Funchal since the 1940s. Undoubtedly, the prices are inflated so it’s a better place to browse than buy.
Peruse the fruit stands overflowing with guavas, dragon fruits and lychees, sip a beer at Madeira Beer Lab, head downstairs to see the impressive fresh fish market (and see what a deep-sea scabbardfish looks like up close!) and journey upstairs for coffee on the rooftop.
The market is open from 7am-7pm, closed Sundays and closing at 2pm on Saturdays.
31. Cool coffee shops
My favourite cafe in Funchal is Art Food Corner Madeira, ideal for lunch, coffee, co-working or simply relaxing after ticking off the main things to do in Maderia. With colourful tables, funky artwork and gentle background music, it’s an easy place to while away the hours.
They serve excellent coffee (plant milks available), fresh juices, kombucha, brunch dishes, sandwiches, wraps and salads. There are plenty of veggie and healthy options.
32. Madeira Story Centre
To learn about the history of Madeira, pay a visit to Madeira Story Museum. From volcanic eruptions to pirate attacks, it covers everything in an interactive way that’ll keep you busy for around 45 minutes.
After all that learning, enjoy a traditional Madeiran meal in the restaurant. Museum entry is €5 for adults and €3 for children.
33. Swim in the Lido bathing complex
Funchal may not have the best beaches but it makes up for it with dedicated swimming areas. At the Lido, there are two ocean pools: one with slides for kids and a deeper one for adults. It’s a great place to relax for a few hours.
After a gentle swim with ocean views or session lounging on a deck chair, continue your Madeira sightseeing by walking the Lido Promenade to Formosa Beach (near Doca do Cavacas, the natural pools I mentioned earlier).
Walking from Funchal to the Lido takes 40 minutes or you can drive/catch a taxi in 10 minutes or board a number of local buses in 20 minutes.
34. Admire São Tiago Fortress
This mustard-coloured building is easily the most eye-catching along Funchal’s harbour. Wander inside Forte de São Tiago or snap photos of the classic cars positioned at the entrance.
Although it was built to defend the port from pirates, it’s now a famed Madeira attraction home to a fancy restaurant. If that’s not your vibe, walk a few paces to Barreirinha Bar Café to sip cheap beers with ocean views and watch locals catch lapas (limpets). Be sure to try them; they’re very tasty.
Culinary things to do in Madeira
If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I’m a big foodie. During my time in Porto, I got stuck into the Porto food scene and still miss francesinhas! Sadly, I didn’t find any in Madeira but here’s what I DID find.
Here’s what to do in Madeira for foodies…
35. Try poncha (ideally in Camara de Lobos)
So an old fable (that I just made up) goes, you haven’t been to Madeira if you haven’t got drunk on poncha!
Madeira’s national drink is rum-based and available in several citrus fruit flavours. You’ll find it in almost every bar on the island but not every poncha is made equal: a bad one has an overbearing honey flavour that’s too sweet for me, while a good one is fresh and tangy.
You can’t do better than Bar Filhos D’ Mar in Câmara de Lobos, the fishing village it was allegedly invented. Try the fishermen’s punch served with a bowl of peanuts and notice the Ronaldo theme; the bar is a shrine to him!
36. Eat chestnuts in the Nun’s Valley
The majestic Valley of the Nuns (mentioned above) is not just a wonderful place to visit in Madeira but it’s also an excellent place to eat. Local restaurants make all kinds of dishes and delicacies with chestnuts.
The tradition began when Curral das Freiras, the main town in the valley, had a surplus. There’s even a chestnut festival still held each year on 1 November. If your holiday doesn’t line up with that, never fear: La Perla Restaurante and Restaurante Sabores do Curral serve chestnut cream soup, roasted chestnuts and chestnut liqueur year-round.
37. Find the best bolo do caco
My housemates and I joked that we would each get a bolo do caco tattoo to commemorate our time on the island. Although we didn’t get a permanent reminder in the end, we devoured so many that I’ll certainly remember them forever!
To describe bolo de caco as garlic bread would be an insult. Although ‘bolo’ means cake in Portuguese, this is actually a type of bread, and a very good one at that. It’s crispy on the outside and soft inside served warm with lashings of garlic and oil. Heaven!
You’ll find it everywhere in Madeira but nowhere else in the world (to my knowledge anyway) so eat as many as possible! It’s the only sensible thing to do when in Madeira.
38. Sample the national fish – with passionfruit or banana!
If you see a black scabbardfish at a Madeira market, you’ll be alarmed by the appearance of these deep sea-dwelling creatures with huge eyes and razor-sharp teeth.
They taste much better than they look as you can discover in any Madeira restaurant. Using the bounty of the island, it’s popular to prepare the fish with either passionfruit or banana. If you like sweet and savoury together, try it in Câmara de Lobos fishing village. There are plenty of great – although slightly pricey – restaurants like Vila do Peixe and Taberna dos Lobos.
39. Have an espetada meal
Hanging meat, why not? Espetada is a Madeiran speciality comprising well-seasoned beef, cooked on a bay leaf stick over hot coals. It’s served hanging on skewers with the juices dripping down to season bread.
Two of the best places to try it are Restaurante O Polar and Restaurante Santo António, both near Câmara de Lobos village. We tried it at the latter, an atmospheric restaurant with over 4,000 Google reviews vouching for it. As well as the espetada, we loved the bolo de caco and crispy fried corn cubes. Yum!
40. Learn to love Madeira Wine
Madeira wine is a sweet wine not dissimilar to port from the Douro Valley close to Porto. It’s fortified with additional grape-based spirit, originally to preserve it for long journeys. This strengthens the wine resulting in an alcohol percentage of around 18%!
Going port wine tasting was one of my favourite things to do in Porto when I lived there, so I decided to continue the trend in Madeira!
A trip to Blandy’s Wine Lodge is one of the best things to do in Maderia for wine lovers. At this wine lodge in its 7th generation of ownership, you’ll learn about this unique beverage flavoured with orange peel, burnt sugar, peach and walnut oil. Book a wine tour or wine tasting.
41. Sink an iconic Madeiran ‘Nikita’ cocktail
You may be surprised to know (and who wouldn’t be?) that Madeira’s signature cocktail is named after Elton John’s 1985 hit, Nikita. I didn’t know this British megastar had a close tie to Madeira but, after some digging, I discovered that the inventor of the drink just loved the song.
The inventor, a man named Marcelino who emigrated to Brazil (possibly explaining the key ingredient) used pineapple – either juice or ice cream – to concoct this cocktail infused with beer. The nikita cocktail tastes a little funky with a fermented after-kick reminiscent of kombucha.
42. Find the perfect pastel de nata
Okay, I never found any great natas in Madeira but I was probably spoiled after my hunt for the best pastel de natas in Porto! The ones on the island are worth a try if you’re not visiting the mainland.
Cultural things to do in Madeira
It’s typically the natural attractions in Madeira that bring the crowds. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the culture. From festivals to footballers, here’s what (and where) to celebrate on the island!
43. Visit the Ronaldo Museum
The CR7 Cristiano Ronaldo Museum is dedicated to (easily!) Madeira’s most famous individual. Locals are fairly obsessed with him but I suppose it’s not every day your volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic produces one of the world’s top footballers!
In the museum, you can learn about Ronaldo’s story from his childhood to his sporting successes, illustrated by trophies, photos and even lifesized waxworks.
Museum entry is €5 but, if you don’t feel like paying it, find the Ronaldo statue in Funchal as a free alternative.
44. Spot street art
I love finding street art when I travel so of course I had my eyes peeled for murals in Funchal. My favourite was the huge whale on the side of Auto Silo do Campo da Barca. Make sure to keep walking around the back of the building to see the whale’s tail.
Keep an eye out for painted doorways and the mural of a mermaid on a swing on Rua de Santa Maria, a street in the Old Town brightened by a community project.
45. Catch a festival
Madeira hosts so many festivals that one will likely coincide with your stay. Whether it’s an ingenious way to shift leftover produce at the end of harvest season or a religious holiday, many of these celebrations won’t be found elsewhere!
Madeira Carnival (February) – samba bands and incredible costumes bring the energy of Rio to Madeira!
Cherry Festival (June, Câmara de Lobos) – a parade comes to town at the end of harvest season and stalls sell ginjinha cherry liquor as well as other cherry-themed dishes and drinks.
Festival of the Popular Saints (June) – we were lucky enough to experience this festival at the end of the month when huge parades move through the streets. Câmara de Lobos is alive with local crowds and live music.
Atlantic Festival (June, Funchal) – combining fireworks, a music festival and philharmonic bands, this is a lively celebration held in central Funchal on weekends throughout the month. Small stalls sell specialities like poncha.
Towns and villages to visit
Once you’ve had your fill of nature and hiking, you’ll probably be craving food or a sundowner drink. There are several towns and villages worth visiting around the island with excellent cuisine, impressive architecture and other draws.
A few of the best places to visit in Madeira for city-dwellers include…
46. Santana typical house
My housemate and I drove to Santana, parked up and walked to the Santana traditional houses – only to reel at the €10 entry fee and get back in the car. Instead, we took ourselves on a northern coast road trip towards Porto Moniz and spotted original Santana houses in the rural countryside.
If you don’t have time for this, the Santana cultural site is undoubtedly one of the top Madeira tourist attractions. It’s best to visit as part of an island tour because, although they’re pretty, the houses alone allegedly aren’t worth driving across the island for.
47. Câmara de Lobos fishing village
Put on the map by fresh seafood, the invention of poncha, and the approval of Winston Churchill (I’d prefer the rum cocktail any day), the small town of Câmara de Lobos is touristic but well worth a visit. The views are sublime and there’s a small (albeit rocky) beach alongside a fantastic culinary scene.
Lobos in English means sea lion and explains the town’s name: explorers who discovered Madeira were greeted by hundreds of seals at this port.
It’s well-located, a short drive from Funchal and many of the other top things to do in Madeira.
My friends and I lived close to Lobos during our month-long workcation in Madeira and I’m almost embarrassed to tell you the number of times we ate dinner at Pizzeria Sorrento! Everything there is SO delicious.
Don’t miss the Bordalo II seal mural made of recycled plastic. Bordalo II is my favourite artist and I’ve seen all his pieces in Porto and Lisbon. I didn’t know there was one in Madeira so I squealed with excitement when we found it accidentally.
Read next: my Porto street art guide featuring more of Bordallo II’s work
48. Ponta do Sol
Closeby to many Madeira attractions like Anjos Waterfall, Ponta do Sol is named after the extended daylight the settlement receives from its position in the south of the island.
The village boasts a spacious beach and an attractive street of colourful buildings, surrounded by banana plantations and levada walks. Since it’s no surprise people want to stay here, a digital nomad village has popped up in recent years.
49. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz was our local during our second month in Madeira. It’s a pleasant place with a beach and several great restaurants located on the east coast close to the airport. Earmark it for a lunch stop when driving around the island or heading to Ponta de São Lourenço.
Relax on Praia das Palmeiras beach, visit São Salvador church and explore Quinta do Revoredo, a 19th-century mansion. Our favourite restaurant was Taberna do Petisco with fantastic seafood dishes, particularly the octopus. Obviously, you’ll need to order a bolo de caco too 😉
50 – take a day trip to Porto Santo
Porto Santo is the other island in the archipelago of Madeira. Measuring just 11km long and 6km wide, it’s much smaller than Madeira and can be seen in a day if necessary.
With so many places to see in Madeira, why leave, you might wonder? Well, Porto Santo is known for its pristine white-sand beaches that trump Madeira’s dark and stony ones when it comes to walking barefoot and building sandcastles.
Things to do on Porto Santo include visiting beaches like Praia do Porto Santo, admiring views from miradouros like Pico Castelo, finding hidden coves, and swimming in natural pools at Porto dos Frades.
Getting to Porto Santo: flights take just 15 minutes from Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport or you can catch a daily ferry from Funchal Harbour taking 2.5 hours. Tickets start from €35 per foot passenger; bringing a car is considerably more expensive.
Thanks for reading!
Check out my Porto posts:
- The ultimate 3 day Porto itinerary
- Everything to see and do in Porto
- 16 best day trips from Porto
- A day trip to the Douro Valley from Porto
- What to eat in Porto – 25 typical dishes
- Finding the best pastel de nata in Porto
- The best cafes & coffee shops in Porto
- Where to eat vegan in Porto
- Area guide to Bonfim, Porto
- The best cocktail bars in Porto
- The best places for sunset in Porto
- ‘Taste Porto’ food tour review
More Portugal posts:
- 3 day Lisbon itinerary
- Solo travel guide to Lisbon
- Less touristic places to visit in Lisbon
- Lisbon food tour review
- The best things to do in Aveiro, Portugal
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING PORTUGAL
Getting there by air – I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide.
Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!