Best Things To Do In Madeira – Madeira, often referred to as the “Hawaii of Europe,” definitely lives up to its nickname. With its gorgeous beaches, verdant forests, and year-round sunshine, this volcanic island near Morocco boasts a truly captivating subtropical climate.
The best part? It’s incredibly budget-friendly, making it a million times more affordable than you’d expect!
Although Madeira’s size is a mere 741 km2 (286 mi2), the island is brimming with fantastic activities that can easily fill a week or more. However, if you’re short on time, worry not! Madeira’s compact nature and excellent connectivity make it possible to experience the top attractions in just a couple of days.
Keep reading to discover the must-visit spots in Madeira for 2023. We’ve got you covered with the latest information on what’s open, the island’s regulations, and tips for making the most of your Madeira vacation.
Plus, a few travel tips to prepare for your trip and what you absolutely need to arrange in advance.
What to know before you visit Madeira
Before you set off to bask in the Madeiran sun, let’s make sure you’re all set for a fantastic trip:
1. The best way to experience the island is undoubtedly by car. A little tip: go for a SMALL car (we chose a Fiat 500) as the streets can be pretty narrow. We usually book our cars through Discover Car’s comparison portal to snag the best deal on our car rental.
2. No car? No problem! Many idyllic spots are reachable through small group tours. Wherever possible, I’ll recommend shuttles and tours for a car-free Madeiran adventure.
3. Card payments are widely accepted, but be prepared for an occasional cash-only or Portuguese cards-only situation. So, stash a little cash in your wallet just in case.
4. Are you a hiking enthusiast? Don’t forget your hiking boots! From enchanting forests to mesmerizing waterfalls, Madeira offers a variety of trails for all fitness levels. Just be ready for a bit of mud here and there!
5. If you’re planning a trip to Madeira, consider visiting between May and August for the most pleasant weather. With less rain than in winter, you’ll be able to enjoy the island’s beauty even more. But don’t worry, Madeira’s diverse microclimates make it a fantastic destination all year round – if you encounter rain, simply drive less than an hour to find sunshine and warmth!
6. When it comes to accommodations, Funchal is the ideal place to stay while exploring Madeira. We highly recommend our lovely villa (see the picture below), which is just a 5-minute drive from the main highway and a 15-minute walk to the city. Its prime location makes it a perfect home base for discovering every corner of this charming island.
Now that Europe has warmly embraced international travel, I have a feeling that Madeira will be a popular destination this summer. So, if you’re searching for a place to stay, I’d suggest booking soon before prices go up and availability becomes scarce. 😊
If you’re interested in staying at the same lovely villa as we did, you can check its availability here. Our host, Louise, was incredibly helpful, and we’d happily stay there again on our next trip – it was just perfect.
10 Best Things to Do in Madeira
1. Take Stunning Waterfall Photos at the 25 Fontes Hike
Now that you know how to prepare for the 25 Fontes hike and what to expect along the way, it’s time to focus on taking stunning waterfall photos. The hike is famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, and you don’t want to miss capturing their beauty on camera.
First and foremost, make sure you have a camera that can capture a high-quality image. A DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens is recommended, but if you don’t have one, a smartphone with a good camera will suffice. However, keep in mind that a smartphone camera may not be able to capture the full beauty of the waterfalls.
When you reach each waterfall, take some time to study the scene. Look for the best angle to capture the waterfall, and take advantage of the natural light. If the sun is shining, try to position yourself so that the light is hitting the waterfalls at an angle. This will help to create a beautiful sparkle effect in your photos.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your shots. Experiment with different angles, such as shooting from above or below the waterfall. Try changing your camera settings to capture motion blur in the water or to create a shallow depth of field to blur the background and bring the waterfall into focus.
Another tip is to use a tripod. This will help to keep your camera steady and avoid any blurriness in your shots. It will also allow you to take longer exposures, which can create a stunning effect in your waterfall photos.
Lastly, remember to take your time and enjoy the scenery. Don’t get too caught up in taking the perfect shot that you forget to appreciate the moment. The 25 Fontes hike is a beautiful trail, and the waterfalls are just one part of the experience. So, take a deep breath, relax, and capture the beauty of the waterfall in front of you.
2. See Sunset at Pico Do Arieiro
After capturing the beauty of the 25 Fontes waterfall, it’s time to witness another natural wonder of Madeira – the sunset at Pico do Arieiro. This mountain peak stands at an impressive height of 1,818 meters, making it the third highest peak in Madeira.
As you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The sky above will be painted with hues of orange, pink, and purple as the sun slowly descends towards the horizon. The atmosphere is serene, with the only sound being the gentle breeze that caresses your face.
As the sun sets, the landscape transforms into a magical scene. The colors in the sky change rapidly, creating a stunning spectacle that will leave you in awe. The clouds below you turn into a sea of mist, with the mountain tops peeking through. The view is so mesmerizing that it’s hard to take your eyes off it.
If you’re a photography enthusiast, this is the perfect place to capture some stunning shots. The colors in the sky will provide the perfect backdrop for your photos, and the unique landscape will make your pictures stand out. Don’t forget to bring a tripod to capture the perfect shot.
Apart from the stunning views, Pico do Arieiro is also a great place for stargazing. The clear skies and high altitude make it an ideal location to observe the stars. You can even spot the Milky Way on a clear night.
As the sun sets and the stars come out, it’s easy to lose track of time. You’ll be so lost in the beauty of the surroundings that you won’t even realize how quickly time has passed. Watching the sunset at Pico do Arieiro is an experience that you’ll never forget.
Make sure to bring warm clothes as it can get chilly at the top. Additionally, it’s recommended to visit during the weekdays as it can get crowded on weekends. So, pack your bags and head to Pico do Arieiro to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
3. See the Traditional Houses at Santana
Now that you have enjoyed the stunning sunset at Pico do Arieiro, it’s time to explore the charming village of Santana. Known for its traditional A-frame houses, Santana is a picturesque destination that promises to take you on a journey into the past.
As you wander through the narrow streets of Santana, you will be mesmerized by the unique architecture of the houses. The triangular-shaped houses, known as palmiers, are made of thatched roofs and wooden walls, which were traditionally used to protect the locals from the harsh weather conditions of Madeira.
One of the most famous houses in Santana is the Casa de Colmo, which has been turned into a museum. This museum showcases the history and culture of Santana, giving you a glimpse into the lives of the locals who have lived here for generations.
While exploring the village, don’t forget to stop by the local markets where you can find handmade crafts, souvenirs, and traditional food items. You can also enjoy a cup of Poncha, a locally made drink that is a must-try when in Madeira.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike to the nearby Levada do Caldeirão Verde, a stunning path that takes you through lush green forests and waterfalls. This hike is a great way to explore the natural beauty of Madeira and is perfect for nature lovers.
Before leaving Santana, make sure to take a moment to admire the panoramic view of the village from the viewpoint of Pico das Pedras. This viewpoint offers a stunning view of the entire village and the surrounding mountains, giving you the perfect end to a memorable trip.
Santana is a unique destination that offers a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of Madeira. With its charming houses, beautiful landscapes, and rich culture, it’s a must-visit when exploring the island. So, take your time, explore the village, and immerse yourself in the beauty of Santana.
4. Look Out over the Vereda Dos Balcões
After exploring the charming traditional houses at Santana, it’s time to take a short hike to another breathtaking spot on the island of Madeira. The Vereda dos Balcões is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and hikers alike. This scenic trail is nestled in the heart of the Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is known for its stunning panoramic views.
As you begin your hike, you’ll be surrounded by lush greenery, towering trees, and the tranquil sounds of nature. The trail is well-maintained, and you’ll encounter a few uphill sections, but the views at the end are well worth the effort. As you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by a wooden balcony that offers a bird’s eye view of the valley below.
From the balcony, you can see the stunning Ribeira da Metade valley, which is surrounded by jagged peaks and rolling hills. The valley is also home to a variety of flora and fauna, including the Madeira laurel pigeon, which is native to the island. The Vereda dos Balcões is also an excellent spot for birdwatching, as you may spot other species such as the Kestrel, the Sparrowhawk, or the Buzzard.
As you take in the view, you’ll notice the clouds rolling in, adding an ethereal beauty to the landscape. The combination of the lush greenery, the mist, and the panoramic views make the Vereda dos Balcões feel like a scene from a fairytale. It’s a peaceful and serene place that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
If you’re a photographer, this spot is a dream come true. The light changes constantly, and the clouds create a soft, diffused light that’s perfect for capturing the beauty of the valley. Make sure to bring your camera and snap a few shots of this incredible view.
In conclusion, the Vereda dos Balcões is a hidden gem that’s worth adding to your itinerary when visiting Madeira. It’s a short hike that offers stunning panoramic views, a chance to experience the Laurissilva Forest up close, and an opportunity to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Take your time and savor the beauty of this magical place.
5. Hike to the Island’s Highest Point at Pico Ruivo
After taking in the stunning views from Vereda dos Balcões, it’s time to embark on another adventure in Madeira. A hike to the island’s highest point, Pico Ruivo, is a must-do for any nature lover.
The trail to Pico Ruivo is challenging, but the reward is well worth it. As you make your way up the mountain, you’ll be surrounded by lush vegetation and breathtaking views. The trail is well-marked, but it’s important to wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water and snacks.
As you ascend higher and higher, you’ll start to feel the cool mountain air and hear the gentle rustling of leaves. The trail can be steep in places, but there are plenty of spots to rest and take in the scenery. Keep an eye out for the unique flora and fauna that can be found only on Madeira.
As you near the top, the landscape changes dramatically. You’ll be walking along narrow paths that hug the edge of the mountain, with steep drops on either side. But don’t worry, the trail is safe and secure, and the views are simply breathtaking.
Finally, you’ll reach the summit of Pico Ruivo, the highest point on Madeira. From here, you’ll be able to see the entire island, from the rugged coastline to the lush interior. Take your time to soak in the incredible views and snap some photos to capture the moment.
After a well-deserved rest, it’s time to make your way back down to reality. The descent can be just as challenging as the ascent, so take your time and watch your footing. But as you make your way back to civilization, you’ll be filled with a sense of accomplishment and wonder at the natural beauty of this incredible island.
6. Go on a Dolphin or Whale-Watching Tour by Boat
After a strenuous hike to the highest point on the island, it’s time to relax and enjoy the beauty of Madeira from a different perspective. What better way to do so than by going on a dolphin or whale-watching tour by boat?
As you board the boat, you’ll feel the excitement building up inside you. The anticipation of spotting these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is a feeling like no other. The knowledgeable guide on board will provide you with interesting facts about the marine life of Madeira and the best places to spot them.
As the boat sets sail, you’ll feel the cool breeze on your face, and the smell of salty sea air will fill your lungs. The vastness of the ocean will make you feel small, but at the same time, it will remind you of the beauty and diversity of nature.
As you keep your eyes peeled for any signs of dolphins or whales, you’ll notice the stunning coastline of Madeira from a different angle. The rugged cliffs, the lush vegetation, and the crystal-clear waters will take your breath away. You’ll feel grateful for being able to witness such beauty and feel connected to the environment.
Suddenly, you’ll hear a splash, and someone will shout, “There! Over there! A group of dolphins!” You’ll rush to the side of the boat, and your heart will race with excitement. Seeing these playful and intelligent creatures swimming and jumping alongside the boat will be a moment you’ll never forget. You’ll feel grateful for being able to witness such beauty and feel connected to the environment.
As the tour comes to an end, you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and joy. You’ll have gained a deeper appreciation for the marine life of Madeira and the efforts made to preserve it. You’ll leave the boat feeling happy and content, knowing that you’ve experienced something truly special.
Going on a dolphin or whale-watching tour by boat is an unforgettable experience that will enrich your trip to Madeira. It’s a chance to witness the beauty of nature in all its glory and feel connected to the environment. So, don’t miss the opportunity to embark on this adventure and create memories that will last a lifetime.
7. Snap an Iconic Madeira Panorama at Miradouro Do Curtado
After a thrilling boat ride, it’s time to capture the beauty of Madeira from a different perspective. Head over to Miradouro do Curtado, a scenic viewpoint that offers panoramic views of the island’s rugged coastline.
As you make your way up to the viewpoint, the lush greenery of Madeira’s landscape will surround you. The winding road leading up to the viewpoint is dotted with colorful flowers and trees, making for a picturesque journey.
Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. The blue waters stretch out as far as the eye can see, and you can even spot some of the nearby islands on a clear day.
The viewpoint itself is perched atop a cliff, so you’ll have an unobstructed view of the coast below. The jagged cliffs and rocky formations that makeup Madeira’s coastline are truly a sight to behold, and you’ll be able to see them in all their glory from this vantage point.
Take your time to soak in the view, and don’t forget to snap some photos to remember this moment forever. Whether you’re an amateur photographer or a seasoned pro, the stunning scenery at Miradouro do Curtado is sure to inspire you.
As the sun starts to set, the colors of the sky will change, casting a warm golden glow over the landscape. It’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on the beauty of Madeira, and to appreciate the natural wonders that make this island so special.
Before you leave, take a moment to breathe in the fresh Atlantic air and appreciate the peacefulness of this spot. Miradouro do Curtado is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the true beauty of Madeira, and it’s sure to be a highlight of your trip.
8. Visit One of the World’s Top Botanical Gardens, Monte Palace
Now that you’ve captured the stunning views at Miradouro do Curtado, it’s time to explore one of the world’s top botanical gardens, Monte Palace. Located in Funchal and spanning over 70,000 square meters, this garden is a must-visit for any nature lover.
Upon entering the garden, you’ll be greeted by a diverse range of exotic plants and flowers from all over the world. The garden is divided into several sections, each with its own unique theme and style. One of the most impressive sections is the Japanese Garden, complete with traditional bridges, ponds, and statues that will transport you straight to Japan.
As you wander further into the garden, you’ll come across the African Garden, with its towering baobab trees and colorful displays of African flora. The garden also boasts a large collection of tropical birds, including parrots and peacocks, adding to the already vibrant atmosphere.
One of the most popular attractions in Monte Palace is the Museum of Oriental Sculpture, which houses an impressive collection of over 1,000 pieces from various countries in Asia. The intricate and detailed sculptures are truly a sight to behold and offer a unique insight into the cultures of the East.
If you’re looking for a break from the sun, the Monte Palace tea house is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while taking in the beautiful surroundings. The tea house overlooks the stunning tranquil lake and waterfall, creating a peaceful and serene atmosphere.
Overall, a visit to Monte Palace is a must-do when in Madeira. From the exotic flora to the impressive sculpture collection, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Make sure to bring your camera, as the garden offers plenty of photo opportunities that you won’t want to miss.
9. Stand over the Highest Cliff in Europe at Cabo Girão Skywalk
After enjoying the beauty of Monte Palace, it’s time to head to the next must-see attraction in Madeira – Cabo Girão Skywalk. This breathtaking location is not for the faint of heart, as it is the highest cliff in Europe that you can stand over.
As you walk towards the skywalk, you can feel the excitement and anticipation building up inside you. The view from the top is simply awe-inspiring, and you won’t be able to resist taking pictures of the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding landscape.
The skywalk itself is a glass platform that extends over the edge of the cliff, and you can walk on it to get an unobstructed view of the vast expanse below. The feeling of standing over the abyss is exhilarating and humbling at the same time, as you realize just how small you are in the grand scheme of things.
If you’re feeling brave enough, you can even lie down on the platform and look straight down to the bottom. It’s not for everyone, but for those who dare, it’s an experience that will stay with them forever.
Aside from the skywalk, there are also several hiking trails that lead you to different parts of the cliff, where you can get even more stunning views. The trails are well-maintained and offer a different perspective of the cliff, as well as the flora and fauna that inhabit the area.
If you’re looking for a truly unforgettable experience in Madeira, then Cabo Girão Skywalk is a must-visit destination. With its breathtaking views and heart-stopping excitement, it’s a place that will leave you in awe and make you appreciate the beauty of nature even more.
10. Go for a Levada Walk at Levada Do Caldeirão Verde
After taking in the breathtaking views from Cabo Girão Skywalk, it’s time to explore the lush natural beauty of Madeira by going for a levada walk at Levada do Caldeirão Verde.
Levada do Caldeirão Verde is a must-visit for nature lovers. This trail takes you through dense forests, over babbling streams, and past cascading waterfalls. The 13-kilometer round trip is not for the faint of heart, but the stunning scenery makes every step worth it.
As you make your way along the trail, take note of the unique flora and fauna that thrive in this environment. You may spot birds darting through the trees or lizards basking in the sun. The sound of running water is a constant companion as you follow the Levada, a narrow irrigation channel that winds through the mountains.
The highlight of the Levada do Caldeirão Verde trail is undoubtedly the eponymous waterfall. After several kilometers of walking, you’ll reach a clearing where the 100-meter waterfall comes into view. The mist from the cascading water creates a refreshing and invigorating atmosphere, and you’ll be tempted to take a dip in the pool beneath the falls.
As you continue along the trail, you’ll pass more waterfalls and scenic vistas. Be sure to bring your camera as there are countless opportunities for stunning photos. You’ll also want to bring plenty of water and snacks, as the trail can be strenuous at times.
In conclusion, Levada do Caldeirão Verde is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. This trail offers a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Madeira. Lace up your hiking boots and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!
In conclusion, Madeira has plenty to offer for those seeking adventure, stunning natural landscapes, and cultural experiences. From hiking to waterfalls and island peaks to whale watching and strolling through traditional villages, there is something for everyone. The island’s unique and diverse flora can be admired at Monte Palace, one of the world’s top botanical gardens. For the ultimate adrenaline rush, visit the Cabo Girão Skywalk, standing on the highest cliff in Europe. And for a more tranquil experience, go for a levada walk at Levada do Caldeirão Verde.
With its friendly locals, warm climate, and breathtaking scenery, Madeira is an incredible destination that will leave a lasting impression on any visitor. Whether you’re a solo traveler, a couple, or a family, there’s no shortage of activities and sights to see. So why not plan your next adventure to this beautiful island and discover the best things to do in Madeira for yourself?