18 Things to do in Madeira, Portugal 18 Things to do in Madeira, Portugal

18 Things to do in Madeira, Portugal

Explore the jaw-dropping landscapes of Madeira, a remote archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. Known as ‘The Hawaii of Europe’, the Portuguese island is made up of lush green mountains, deep valleys, dramatic cliffs, misty forests, and plunging waterfalls. This wild landscape is surrounded by deep azure waters, providing the perfect home for breaching blue whales, dolphins, and turtles. Discover the top things to do in Madeira on a trip along magical viewpoints, epic hiking trails, volcanic pools, and black-sand beaches.

Madeira: Things to do on the Island

Madeira is a region of Portugal, although it’s actually located off the coast of Africa, roughly a two-hour flight away from prominent cities like Lisbon and Porto.

madeira portugal graphic map illustration

A far cry from Portugal’s soft and rolling nature, Madeira offers landscapes that are far more dramatic, so much so that, at times, it’s hard to believe the island is even real. This remote and untamed nature gives it the name ‘The Pearl of the Atlantic’.

Did you know? Madeira is a subtropical archipelago, which means the weather remains mild and clear most of the year. 

things to do madeira Monte Palace Gardens

1. Go Hiking (Best Thing to do in Madeira!) 

With its reputation as ‘The Hawaii of Europe’, it’s no surprise that Madeira has some of the best hiking trails in the world! The landscapes are heaven for walkers, where you can be scaling precarious mountain ridges one moment and descending panoramic cliffs the next. Although there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, some of our favorites are: 

This hike is the best thing to do in Madeira! The trail takes you to the peak of Ruivo, the island’s highest point. It leads you along narrow pathways balanced on sheer ridges, down mountain staircases, and through rocky tunnels. The 4-5 hour hike rewards you with the most spectacular views; as you summit above the clouds walking on top of the world. 

things to do madeira Pico do Arieiro

Tip: If you plan to visit around sunrise, follow the trail for a bit while it’s still dark. This way, you won’t end up in a train of people once the sun has risen. Alternatively, do the hike at the end of the day so you have sunset when you return to Pico Arieiro. We did both and found that sunset was a lot quieter.

things to do madeira portugal hiking

Levada Nova

Levadas are narrow water channels dug in the mountains to help direct the water toward the towns. Now, these channels have been turned into various hiking routes, and Levada Nova is one you don’t want to miss! This trail takes about 3.5 hours.

The path hugs the edge of the water channel, worming its way along the cliff edges (don’t worry, there are railings to keep you safe). At one point, it even passes underneath a pretty waterfall, where you can stand for a moment and appreciate the refreshing spray.

leveda nova madeira waterfalls

PR9 Levada do Caldeirão Verde

Although this hike is long, around 4 hours, the trail is relatively flat, making it one of the easier hikes in Madeira. You’ll follow the irrigation channels through lush forest and fern-covered grounds before reaching the most spectacular sight: the mammoth waterfall of Caldeirão Verde, falling from a height of approximately 100 meters. 

things to do madeira levada do caldeirao verde

Note: This hike starts at the Queimadas Forestry Park, which is an excellent place to visit, even if you don’t have time to complete the hike. 

things to do madeira Caldeirao Verde

2. Fanal Forest in Madeira

Nestled between the northwesterly mountains of Maderia, discover the eerily beautiful Fanal Forest. This UNESCO site is ‘the largest surviving area of Laurel forest in the world’, home to trees that are said to be over 800 years old!

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things to do madeira Fanal Forest

Walking among this ancient history is really something special. However, the real magic is when the fog rolls in, creating one of the most fairytale-like settings. Most likely to occur in the morning, the mist swirls between the twisted trees, their gnarly roots and branches providing a canopy for small light fractures to dapple through. Even though we did not have fog, the scenery was still stunning!

must do madeira portugal Fanal

Walk among the trees on the mossy, fern-covered floor, snapping photos of this breathtaking sight, with only the gentle moo of the resident cows or the high-pitched call of the birds or prey overhead. This is an unmissable thing to do in Madeira, Portugal! 

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18 Things to do in Madeira, Portugal

Tip: Extend your day in Fanal Forest by following one of the hiking trails. You can even do a guided hike, some held at night for an extra level of ‘eerie’.

Fanal madeira portugal

Best Time to Visit Fanal Forest

At 1150 meters above sea level, Fanal Forest is very prone to this magical mist. However, as with most weather, it can’t be guaranteed. For the most chance, visit early in the morning.

Note: The area is also free to visit, but respect the environment and leave it better than you found it. (Read our sustainable travel tips)

Fanal Forest things to do madeira

3. Porto Moniz Pools

Shimmering in beautiful shades of blue, the Porto Moniz Pools are one of the most popular things to do in Madeira. Millions of years ago, natural basins were created due to volcanic activity, allowing seawater to flow freely into them. There are two locations, Piscinas Naturais do Aquário (free) and Porto Moniz Pools (paid).

things to do madeira Porto Moniz

These days, the mighty ocean off Madeira and its high tides mean that the pools are constantly replenished with new seawater, making for a refreshing afternoon swim for visitors! Relax in the shallower pools, swim in the deeper ones, or branch out away from the pools with your snorkel to discover more lava rocks along the fringes. 

Porto Moniz Pools

Although the Porto Moniz pools used to be very natural, they are much more commercialized today. However, your entry fee includes access to changing rooms, showers, bathrooms, and a restaurant. There are also steps into the pools and even a diving board.

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Entry Fee: 3 EUR, with most other services like lockers or a parasol costing no more than 5 EUR. The pool is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, with summer hours extended until 7 PM. Please note that the pools are very popular, so get there early to get your spot. Alternatively, visit an hour or two before closing time when people are heading back to Funchal.

Piscinas Naturai do Aquario Porto Moniz Madeira

4. Funchal (Capital City of Madeira, Portugal) 

The dynamic city of Funchal, backed by dramatic natural landscapes on one side and the wild Atlantic Ocean on the other, is the capital of Madeira. It felt to us like a mini ‘island version’ of Lisbon

things to do madeira Funchal Yellow Fort

Funchal is where you’ll find all the culture of the island, home to museums, theatres, events, and top restaurants. Although it has the size and cosmopolitan character of a city, it still has all the charm of a traditional Portuguese town, with pretty whitewashed houses, mosaic-tiled squares, and corner-side flower markets.

Funchal market things to do madeira

Tip: Funchal is the best place to base yourself on your Madeira itinerary; there is a wealth of accommodation and restaurant options. Plus, you’re located close to most of the best things to do in Madeira! We stayed at Voila Market Studios.

things to do madeira old town funchal

5. Monte Palace Gardens 

A special mention must be given to the Monte Palace Gardens in Funchal, one of the best things to do in Madeira, Portugal! We think these tropical gardens were some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, with a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, and Mediterranean architecture sitting between exotic plants, water features, and towering palm trees.

things to do madeira Monte Palace Gardens

It really is an oasis away from the city and a lovely place to spend a few hours looking at the different birds (there are even flamingos here!) and colorful flowers. 

Monte Palace Gardens things to do madeira

Important information: You can reach Monte Palace Gardens by cable car (18 EUR return PP) or bus. Parking is limited, so we recommend taking public transport instead. An entrance ticket costs 15 EUR pp, and two hours is enough time to enjoy the gardens. The gardens are open daily from 9.30 AM to 6 PM (except Christmas Day).

funchal cablecar

6. Discover Madeira’s Beautiful Viewpoints

One of the best things to do in Madeira is to visit the incredible Miradouros (viewpoints) dotted around the island. Make the most of the magical views, whether it’s viewpoints overlooking dramatic cliffs and crashing waves, chapels perched on mountain tops, glass-bottomed platforms, or waterfalls cascading within touching distance. 

things to do madeira viewpoints

Of course, the best time to see these views is at sunrise or sunset, depending on the side of the island you choose, when the landscapes become even more beautiful in a golden pink glow. Bring a picnic with you and spend a few hours drinking in all the Miradouros have to offer. Although there are countless viewpoints, our favorites were: 

  • Miradouro do Véu da Noiva

  • Rocha do Navio
  • Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto
madeira rocha do navio

7. Seixal Beach

Seixal Beach has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Madeira (if not the most beautiful!). This spectacular black sand beach sits between dramatic waves and mammoth cliffs, backed by verdant green mountains — absolutely breathtaking! It’s the perfect spot to head for sunrise, when the soft light hits the cliffs, making the lush greenery look its most vibrant. 

things to do madeira Seixal Beach

Pools at Seixal

While in Seixal, visit the natural pools, as one of the free things to do in Madeira! Discover this set of volcanic rock pools, similar to Porto Moniz but far more natural. Here, you’ll find the wild ocean lapping at the edge of huge black lava rock arches and impressive caves, with pools of varying depths to swim in.  

Note: Although these pools are free, there are still public amenities, like toilets and changing rooms, that you can use. 

madeira Seixal cliffs

8. Try Madeira Delicacies

As a remote Atlantic island, the Madeiran people have learned to live off the land and sea. Recipes are simple but made with delicious local ingredients, surprising combinations, and fantastic wine. Some must-try delicacies are:

  • Espada: The name of this tasty fish is the Black scabbardfish, used in a slightly strange (!) dish. The fish is cooked with banana and seasoned to perfection. You can also have it with passion fruit! Although not ingredients you’d typically put together, the salty-sweet combo is delicious.
  • Bolo de Mel: A cake with honey, sultanas, and Madeira wine. This boozy dessert also has some spices like cinnamon and cloves, giving it quite a festive taste.
  • Poncha: The local drink is Poncha (punch), made from rum, honey, and sugar. It comes in many flavors and is very strong! The most traditional one is made with lemon, and the best place to try it is Taberna da Poncha, a little bar just outside of the mountain town of Serra de Agua.
  • Madeira Wine: Who knew that this island was known for its wine? The fortified wine on the island ranges from sweet to dry. The drier ones are usually served as a starter to a meal, whereas the sweet ones are more like a dessert wine. You can also join a wine tour – a really fun thing to do in Madeira, Portugal! 
  • Bolo do Caco: Make sure to try the fluffy round bread served with most meals in Madeira. It’s cooked on a hot stone (caco) and served with different things, such as garlic butter, steak, or cheese. Mouthwatering!
madeira bolo do caco

9. Join a Whale Watching Tour

Madeira is one of the most incredible places to glimpse the majestic whale! The biodiverse waters are teeming with life year-round, and you’ll nearly always be able to see Pilot Whales, Sperm Whales, and, of course, the playful Bottlenose Dolphin. However, the best time is April to November, when you’ll have the most chance of seeing them. The Blue Whale will appear during this time, the largest mammal ever living on Planet Earth! 

things to do madeira whale watching

There are numerous sustainable whale and dolphin-watching tours on the island. As Madeira values its environment, the tour companies must follow various rules so as not to disturb the animals. This way, whether you choose a relaxing catamaran trip or a more thrilling speedboat, you’ll always keep a good distance from wildlife. 

Tip: Whenever you book a trip, always read the most recent reviews to get a feel for the company. 

dolphin tour

10. Santana Traditional Houses

The traditional Madeiran house is an icon of the archipelago, with a history that dates back to the island’s discovery. These cute triangular-shaped houses, with colorfully painted doors and frames, used to cover the entire island. They have an unusually long thatched straw roof, designed to allow rain to run off in the wetter months. 

things to do madeira santana houses

Note: Most of these houses are no longer residential; however, if you walk through Santana, you will see a few that are still lived in by locals. Although this is a fun thing to do in Madeira, it’s not essential, but rather a nice stop.

11. Sao Vicente Chapel (Unique Thing to do in Madeira!)

Located in the very north of Madeira, the Sao Vicente Chapel (Nossa Senhora de Fátima) is a hidden gem on the island. The chapel is located in the coastal village of Sao Vicente, with an azure blue ocean on one side and vibrant green mountains on the other.

things to do madeira Sao Vincente Chapel

However, the setting of the chapel itself will take your breath away. At the back of the village, a towering green hill protrudes out from the valley floor, with the picturesque white chapel teetering, almost as if precariously, on the top. 

Sao Vicente Chapel stairs

Drive to the 18th-century chapel (location here), park the car, and climb the 200 (ish) steps to the top for incredible panoramic views of the valley and the Atlantic. The Sao Vicente Chapel isn’t open to the public but is a great place to enjoy the magnificent scenery.

Sao Vincente

12. Cristo Rei Statue

Another thing to do in Madeira is to visit the Cristo Rei statue, Madeira’s answer to Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. In fact, this statue was resurrected some years before, so it’s said it may have even been the inspiration! 

Cristo Rei Statue

The giant 49-foot-tall statue sits on a cliff close to Funchal, looking out onto the Garajau Partial Nature Reserve. From here, you have magnificent ocean views and a fantastic vantage point from which to see Funchal Bay. 

 Funchal sunset

There’s also a cable car that can take you down to Gurajau Beach, which sits at the foot of these cliffs, and this experience provides you with a bird’s eye view of the area. 

viewpoint madeira

13. Join a Canyoning Tour

For something thrilling on your Madeira itinerary, try your hand at canyoning! The rugged and dramatic landscapes of the island make it perfect for this adrenaline-pumping activity. On a canyoning tour, you’ll abseil down incredible waterfalls, tackle deep mountain gorges, and have the opportunity to see an untouched slice of Madeira with expert locals guiding the way. 

Note: Don’t worry if this is your first time canyoning; there are options to suit all levels!

Tours & Tickets 🥾

14. Camara de Lobos Town

Camera de Lobos is a beautiful harbor town just 9km from Funchal. As one of the things to do in Madeira, add this spot to your itinerary for a moment of exploring. You’ll find picture-perfect scenery, from the cobbled streets between whitewashed houses to the marina where you can see the traditional Maderian boats (Xavelhas) painted in vibrant colors. 

Camara de Lobos things to do madeira

Did you know? Camara de Lobos translates as ‘chamber of wolves’. It’s said this name came when the discoverer of Madeira, João Gonçalves Zarco, thought he saw wolves from his ship. It turns out these were Sea Lions — many used to live here in the cove, although you sadly won’t see them here anymore. You will, however, find a massive mural of a sea lion on the waterfront. Most unique is that it’s created from recycled materials as part of a project for World Oceans Day. 

Camara de Lobos artwork

The beauty of a day in Camara de Lobos is simply strolling around. Marvel at the various street art murals on Rua São João de Deus, grab a traditional Bolo de Caco sandwich next to the water’s edge or walk along the long promenade connecting to the bay. 

Camara de Lobos

Tip: For something more exhilarating, hop on the bus and head up into the mountains to the famous Cabo Girão Skywalk. This glass-bottomed viewpoint sits atop the tallest cliffs in Europe (580 meters high)!

Camara de Lobos Portugal

15. Ponta do Sol Village

Ponta do Sol is one of the most stunning villages in Madeira. It is situated on the southwest coast and is known to have the most hours of sunshine per year! The colorfully painted houses start on the cliffs, spilling down to the waterfront; it really feels like a slice of Italy in Madeira.

Ponta do Sol things to do madeira

The waterfront is a great spot to hang out, chilling in one of the beach restaurants while looking back onto the townhouses, palm trees, and surrounding vineyards. Note: If you’re driving to Ponta do Sol, you can park in the old closed-off tunnels near the beach.

Ponta do Sol beach things to do madeira

The main reason people visit Ponta do Sol is to see the Waterfall of the Angels, one of the best things to do in Madeira. From Ponta do Sol, you can walk along the coast to the falls in just 25 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’re pushed for time, there’s a closer viewpoint you can walk to called Miradouro do Perro. This spot offers dramatic coastline views backed by a pretty stone bridge and a natural cliff arch. Here is the exact location

16. Waterfall of the Angels/Cascata dos Anjos

Waterfall of the Angels is really a unique thing to do in Madeira, Portugal! This stunning waterfall falls directly on the cliffs, its water plunging over the coastal road below. In the past, you used to be able to drive directly underneath it to make the most of nature’s very own carwash! These days, only residents are allowed to pass through. However, you can still park nearby and walk up to the waterfall for a refreshing shower.  

things to do madeira Waterfalls of the angels

Note: The falls can get busy and chaotic during the day, especially in summer. For this reason, it’s best to visit during sunset for beautiful light and minimal crowds. It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset!

Getting there: To make the most of the Angel Falls, it’s best to drive, with the location easily accessible via Google Maps. If you don’t have a car, take the number 80 (Rodoeste) bus from Funchal toward Porto Moniz. If you’re unsure, ask the bus driver to let you know where to jump off.

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17. Natural Pools: Funchal Doca do Cavacas 

The Doca do Cavacas is another set of stunning volcanic natural pools. However, these are most conveniently located just 10 minutes outside Funchal, making them super easy to visit.

If you’re visiting Funchal and want a relaxing day activity, consider spending several hours here. You can relax on sunbeds under the cliff’s shade, swim in the rock pools, and enjoy the stunning views of a distant pebbly bay.

Funchal Doca do Cavacas Things to do in Madeira

Opening times and entry fee: A day ticket costs 5.50 EUR. The pools are open from 10 AM to 8 PM but always check ahead of your visit as they can be closed when the sea is too rough. 

Note: Sometimes, the swell can be so strong that the pool overflows, so be cautious. Although this sounds dangerous, the coast guards are keeping an eye on everyone entering the water.

Funchal Doca do Cavacas Madeira

18. Teleférico das Achadas da Cruz

Discover the Teleferico das Achadas da Cruz, one of the steepest cable cars in Europe! Flying down the cliffs with a jaw-dropping 98% incline, this cable car offers some of Madeira’s best views. Soak up the stunning nature below, where extremely high cliffs plunge down to fields of wildflowers and grasslands backed by the wild Atlantic. 

things to do in madeira Teleférico das Achadas da Cruz

The cable car takes you down to the Fajãs, parts of the coast under the cliffs that used to be accessible only by boat. Initially, the cable car was built to help farmers transport their produce up the mountains, and though it’s still used today, tourists may also visit this once-disconnected area.

Opening Times and Entry Fee: Open 8 AM – 12 PM and 1 PM – 6 PM (7 PM in summer). Please note that they won’t allow anyone to descend in the cable car after 4.30 PM. A return ticket costs 5 EUR. Ahead of your visit, always check for updates online, as during the winter, when the weather is unpredictable, the cable car may be closed.

13/06/2024 https://www.saltinourhair.com/madeira/things-to-do-madeira/
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