7 best places to visit in MADEIRA
Curious about the best places to visit in Madeira? Lying 967 km southwest of Lisbon in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is an archipelago consisting of two inhabited islands — Madeira and Porto Santo.
Despite its small size, the archipelago has been known for centuries. It appeared on the late 14th century maps, and it is proof that the sailors had known about the Madeira archipelago.
Often called the island of eternal spring, Madeira is a great year-round destination.
Madeira will appeal to all nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts, as the archipelago has got plenty of hiking options and it boasts rich flora. With its beautiful white sand beaches, Madeira’s sister island Porto Santo attracts sun seekers and beach bums.
Surely there are many things to do in Madeira but it’s impossible to write about all of them, so we had to choose a few of our absolute favorites.
What to do in Madeira? Here’s our list of some of the best places to visit in Madeira.
7 best places to visit in Madeira
1. Funchal & Madeira Botanical Gardens
Funchal is the capital of Madeira. Because of its high cultural and historical value, Funchal is one of the best places to visit in Madeira.
Funchal is also a place where most travelers start their trip around the archipelago.
Overlooking the harbor, the charming old town of Funchal boasts fine historical buildings. Historical houses in the old town feature decorative iron balconies and shady courtyards.
Funchal harbor-side promenade is lined with seafood restaurants and is a perfect place for an evening stroll.
Because of its similarity to the country’s capital, Funchal is sometimes called “Little Lisbon”.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Funchal is Madeira Botanical Gardens.
Known for their intricately patterned gardens, the gardens display plants from all around the world. Formal gardens contrast with wilder parts of the park, and local Madeiran plants grow along with desert cacti and tropical flowers.
2. Pico Ruivo & Pico do Arieiro
Madeira certainly is a hiker’s paradise! There are several hiking options, but Pico Ruivo and Pico do Ariero hikes in our opinion are the best on the island. Both peaks are located quite close to each other, and both offer panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
At 1861 m Pico Ruivo is the highest peak on the island. As it is only reachable by foot, it’s a popular destination for keen walkers.
Pico do Arieiro, at 1,818 m high, is Madeira Island’s third-highest peak. The peak offers dramatic views of the clouds below in the valleys and sharp mountain ridges. Pico do Arieiro is a popular sunrise spot.
The two peaks are connected by a 7 km long trail — PR1.
The PR1 trail starts at Pico do Arieiro. You can drive to Pico do Arieiro and hike to Pico Ruivo from there. There is a parking lot, and you can park your rental car there.
Remember, as the PR1 is a one-way trail, you’ll have to return to the parking lot at Pico do Arieiro.
3. Cabo Girao
Cabo Girao is an imposing sea cliff located along the southern coast of Madeira.
The cliff is one of the highest in Europe, with a near-vertical drop of over 500 meters.
Cabo Girao cliff boasts Europe’s highest cliff skywalk and offers dramatic views. The skywalk has a glass floor extending out over the top of the cliff. The admission to the skywalk is free.
4. Porto Moniz Natural Pools
Porto Moniz is a remote coastal village on the northwest tip of Madeira and is home to one of the natural wonders in Madeira — lava pools.
Located on the foreshore, the natural saltwater swimming pools are made up of volcanic rock. The pools are joined by concrete paths. It’s an excellent place to visit for kids and adults alike.
5. Laurisilva of Madeira
Have you ever dreamed of visiting a fairytale forest? Good news! It’s possible in Madeira! Head to Laurisilva of Madeira to get that fairytale forest feel.
Laurisilva of Madeira is the largest surviving area of laurel forest and is believed to be 90% primary forest. These trees are more than 600 years old. Laurisilva is a vegetation type that is confined to the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. This type of forest is unique and rare. When exploring the forest you’ll feel like in a fairytale!
6. Porto Santo
Madeira Island is not usually known for being a beach destination. It’s more of a nature lovers paradise than a beach destination.
But still, you can find great white sand beaches in the archipelago. Just head to the little Porto Santo island which is the place to go for a relaxing beach holiday.
Porto Santo is a small island in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. It is located 43 kilometers northeast of Madeira Island and is known for its long, sandy Porto Santo Beach and great dive sites.
7. Levada walks
Ready to explore the lush vegetation of Madeira? Take a long walk along the levadas in Madeira!
Levadas are an irrigation system which was created centuries ago to carry water from excess rainfall.
In other words, it’s an open canal system that helps distribute water from the rainy north to the dry, sunny southern part of the island. Rainwater in Madeira is stored in reservoirs or channeled from springs, and then fed into the network of levadas which carry water to gardens, vineyards, banana groves, etc.
Now it is possible to explore the canal system and see Madeira from a different perspective!
How? Maintenance paths run alongside the levadas, providing a network of footpaths. Hikers are allowed to take these paths to explore the island. The levada paths are numbered with two letters (“PR”) and numbers.
Madeira travel tips
- You don’t need a visa. As Madeira is Portuguese territory, EU nationals do not need a visa to travel to Madeira.
- When to visit? Madeira is a great year-round destination. But the best time to visit Madeira is anytime between March to September. Winter can be slightly more rainy with lower temperatures in the night and mornings.
- Clothing and footwear. Remember, Madeira is not a tropical destination! Madeira is called “The island of eternal spring”, and that’s what it is. So, expect cool weather in the evenings and even during the day, if you are exploring the mountains. So, pack a windproof rain jacket, a sweater, at least one pair of trousers and socks. Sturdy footwear is a must, especially if you plan to hike.
- Transport. Although local buses operate all over, for flexibility rental car is the best option.
- Beaches. Do not forget that there are almost no golden sand beaches on the main island (Madeira Island). However, you can find them on its sister island, Porto Santo.
Traveling to Porto Santo. The most popular way of getting to Porto Santo, the sister island of Madeira, is by ferry from Funchal.