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Madeira Guide: The Best Things to See, Do, & Eat

Welcome to Madeira, the picturesque Portuguese island that captivates visitors with its natural beauty, rich history, and warm hospitality. Nestled in the Atlantic Ocean, this haven of stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, and delightful cuisine offers something for everyone. Whether you’re a cruise ship passenger exploring Funchal, an adventure enthusiast seeking breathtaking hiking trails, a digital nomad in search of an inspiring work-life balance, or a retiree craving tranquility, Madeira is your perfect destination.

As well as Madeira, there are actually several other islands nearby: Porto Santo, Desertas, and Selvagens. Most people only make it to Madeira, but if you have time, there’s more for you to explore, particularly Porto Santo (Desertas and Selvagens are both deserted). 

Useful Resources for Your Trip to Madeira

Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Madeira. 

  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Madeira. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental. 
  • Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Funchal Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups
  • Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Funchal and the rest of Madeira. Be sure to read our guide to storing your luggage in Funchal
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal, including Madeira. 
  • Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. Funchal Airport is the name of the regional airport for Madeira island. 

Getting Here

Madeira is easily accessible through multiple means of transportation. You can reach the island by:

  1. Fly: Madeira Airport (Aeroporto da Madeira Internacional Cristiano Ronaldo) welcomes numerous international flights from major cities worldwide. Direct flights are available from Europe, including Lisbon and Porto in Portugal. International flights are available from a number of countries including France, Germany, the UK, and the United States. 
  2. Take the Ferry: If you prefer a scenic sea journey, consider taking a ferry from Portimão in the Algarve. Note: this ferry typically only runs during summer. 
  3. Arrive by Cruise Boat: Many cruise lines include Madeira on their itineraries, often docking at the capital city of Funchal. If you’re arriving by cruise, Funchal will be your main hub for exploration.

What to See and Do

Hike

Madeira boasts an impressive collection of over 130 hiking trails, catering to backpackers of all levels of experience and enthusiasm. Whether you’re a novice eager to embark on your first hiking adventure or a seasoned hiker seeking a thrilling challenge, Madeira has the perfect trail for you.

For beginners, the Vereda dos Balcões trail offers a gentle and captivating introduction to the island’s natural beauty. On the other hand, experienced hikers will find the hike from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo to be an exhilarating and rewarding expedition, showcasing the island’s breathtaking vistas and testing their skills to the fullest. Lace up your boots and get ready to explore Madeira’s remarkable trails, where every step unveils a new adventure!

Funchal

Explore the charming capital city, Funchal, which effortlessly combines history and modernity. Stroll along the vibrant promenades, visit the bustling market of Mercado dos Lavradores, and discover the splendid architecture of Sé Cathedral. Don’t miss the iconic Monte Palace Tropical Garden and take a thrilling cable car ride for panoramic views.

Take a Dip in Porto Moniz

Head to the northwestern coast to witness the mesmerizing volcanic rock pools of Porto Moniz. Take a dip in these natural saltwater pools, surrounded by stunning ocean views.

Getting Around

Madeira does have public transport, but this isn’t the easiest way to get around. Renting a car or booking a tour is a better idea. While a car will give you more freedom, many people are nervous to drive in Madeira, particularly due to the very steep hills. 

Local Foods and Drinks

Indulge in Madeira’s food, known for its fresh seafood and traditional dishes. Some must-try local delicacies include:

  1. Espetada: Skewered and grilled beef, marinated in garlic and bay leaves, served with milho frito (fried cornmeal cubes).
  2. Black Scabbardfish: Taste the unique flavors of this fish, often served with banana or passion fruit sauce, accompanied by traditional bolo do caco (a type of bread).
  3. Poncha: Sip on Madeira’s signature cocktail made from aguardente de cana (sugarcane alcohol), honey, sugar, and citrus juices. It’s the perfect refreshment after a day of exploration.

When to Visit

Madeira’s mild climate makes it a year-round destination. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) offer pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds. If you’re a fan of festivals, don’t miss the spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks and the colourful Flower Festival in April.

That said, the period from April to June is considered one of the best times to visit Madeira. During these months, several factors make it an ideal time for a visit. Nature enthusiasts may have the opportunity to witness whales and dolphins in the surrounding waters, providing a captivating display of marine life. Additionally, the island’s flowers are in full bloom, creating a picturesque and enchanting atmosphere. Moreover, April to June is a favourable period for hiking the levadas as it falls after the rainy season but before the onset of warmer summer temperatures. With temperatures ranging from a comfortable 68-77°F (20-25°C), visitors can enjoy exploring the island’s stunning trails without being overwhelmed by the heat.

While the summer months also offer pleasant temperatures ranging from 68-77°F (20-25°C) between May and October, and the winters are milder with temperatures around 55-61°F (13-16°C), the charm of spring to early summer truly highlights the natural splendour of Madeira. Plan your visit during this delightful time and experience the remarkable sights, sounds, and adventures that await on this captivating island.

How Many Days to Allow

To fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of Madeira, it’s recommended to spend at least four days on the island. This allows ample time to explore Funchal, enjoy outdoor activities, and embark on captivating day trips to various destinations. 

Where to Stay

Madeira offers a range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s needs:

  1. Funchal: The capital city boasts a wide selection of hotels, guesthouses, and luxury resorts. Stay in the heart of the action and enjoy easy access to attractions, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.
  2. Rural Retreats: Experience the tranquility of Madeira’s countryside by staying in a traditional Quinta (country estate). These charming accommodations offer a peaceful retreat amidst lush vineyards and picturesque landscapes.
  3. Coastal Villages: If you prefer to be closer to the sea, opt for accommodations in coastal towns such as Porto Santo or Machico. Enjoy breathtaking ocean views and unwind on pristine beaches. 
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