What to do in Madeira Island
The number of places to visit and activities to do on the island of Madeira is not at all proportional to its size. One week will not be sufficient to discover the whole island, but it’s enough to make you want to go back as soon as possible. In this article you’ll find a list of what to do in Madeira Island, to help you plan your trip to the amazing “Atlantic’s Garden”.
15 Suggestions | What to do in Madeira Island
1. Walk the “Levadas”
The “levadas” are part of a network of water channels and tunnels built in Madeira since the beginning of the island’s settlement. To go to Madeira and not go on a trekking expedition on one (or more) of its many “levadas” is to miss the opportunity to discover some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island, hidden inside, in the heart of its Forest.
Among the dozens of existing “levadas”, the Levada do Caldeirão Verde / Caldeirão do Inferno (which I did and recommend), the Levada das 25 Fontes, Levada do Fanal and Levada do Rei stand out. Check the list of “levadas” here.
2. Explore the many walking trails
In addition to the “levadas”, there are other walking trails worth discovering on the island. One that I liked the most was the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço. On windy days it can turn out to be especially challenging, but it’s always worth it for the magnificent scenery and the views over the north and south coasts.
Other trails highly recommended are Pico do Areeiro – Pico Ruivo and Pico Castelo. See the list of walking trails here.
3. Taste the traditional “Poncha”
You just cannot visit Madeira and not try one of its most traditional delicacies: “Poncha”. Made of cane spirit, honey and orange juice, you can find it anywhere on the island. Many are the places that claim to serve the best Poncha in Madeira, but it’s difficult to prove this statement. Personally, I really liked the ones I had at Taberna da Poncha in Serra d’Água and at Bar Os Castrinhos, in Funchal.
4. Explore the city of Funchal
I recommend that you spend at least one day exploring the streets of Funchal. Visit the historic São Tiago Fort dating from 1614, and stroll along Rua de Santa Maria located in Funchal’s Old Town, decorated with several examples of street art painted on the doors of local bars, cafes and restaurants.
Discover the Praça do Município where the Town Hall, the Jesuit College and the São João Evangelista Church are located and walk along the charming Avenida Arriaga. End the day watching the sunset on the Promenade do Lido.
5. Visit the Farmers’ Market
There’s no doubt about it: the Mercado dos Lavradores (local farmer’s market), located in Funchal, is, in fact, a very tourist place. But this is not surprising, since it is the perfect place to discover the huge number of exotic flowers and fruits, of all colours, shapes and sizes, that grow in Madeira.
I must admit, however, that the constant “harassment” by the local salespeople ends up being a little annoying. Even so, it is undoubtedly a place to include in a list of what to do in Madeira Island.
6. See Funchal from above on a cable car
After exploring Funchal on foot, I suggest you now try to see the city from above, on the Funchal Monte Cable Car. The one-way ticket is €11 and the return ticket €16 (2020 prices).
7. Get your zen on at Monte Palace Tropical Garden
When you reach the end of the cable car trip, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the charming Monte Palace Tropical Garden. Get lost among its waterfalls, Asian-inspired landscapes and countless works of art from the Berardo collection, scattered throughout the garden. There is also a museum that you can visit. The entrance ticket to the Garden is €12.5 (2020 prices).
8. Slide down the streets of Funchal in a basket car
You can return to the centre of Funchal by cable car, on foot, by Uber or taxi, or you can just take the opportunity to do it in a traditional basket car. It’s one of the oldest means of transport in Madeira, perfectly preserved over the years and today transformed into a tourist attraction. There will be no lack of adrenaline along this high-speed descent in a basket driven by two men who use their rubber boots as brakes.
9. Discover Madeira’s most remote village
Located in a deep valley surrounded by imposing mountains, the Curral das Freiras village started out as a corral where cattle were left to graze. In 1566, its isolation and difficult access made it the ideal place for a group of nuns to hide while fleeing a pirate attack.
In the 16th century, it became known as the home of Madeira’s best honey. The best place to admire the Curral das Freiras valley is from the top of the Eira do Serrado viewpoint, at 1094 meters above sea level.
10. Discover the typical Madeira houses in Santana
No self-respecting postcard from the island of Madeira could ever not include Santana’s traditional triangular houses with their thatched roofs with a steep slope. The houses date back to the discovery of Madeira and consist of 2 floors: an upper one where agricultural products were kept and a lower one used for housing.
11. Visit the highest lighthouse in Portugal at Ponta do Pargo
The Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse, located at the most westerly spot on the island of Madeira, offers three major attractions to those who visit it: the possibility of visiting the highest lighthouse in Portugal, the opportunity to learn more about the lighthouse history at the museum inside, and a magnificent view over the coast from the cliff where it is located, at about 300 meters of altitude.
12. Take a dip in the pools of Porto Moniz
What’s better than an incredible natural pool? Two incredible natural pools, of course. This is the motto of Porto Moniz, the land where you find the “Piscinas Velhas” (old natural swimming pools), with free entrance, where you can swim in crystal clear waters among volcanic rocks, and the “Piscinas Novas” (new natural swimming pools), where there’s a small entry fee that is offset by its amazing facilities
13. Be surprised with the Anjos Waterfall
If there is anything not lacking in Madeira are waterfalls, but there are some that stand out more than others. The Anjos Waterfall is undoubtedly an excellent example. What makes this waterfall stand out is the fact that it falls directly on the road, surprising those who pass by with a free car wash or, perhaps, a spontaneous shower on a hot day. You’ll find this waterfall on the old regional road ER 101 near Anjos.
14. Admire the Cascata Véu da Noiva (Bride’s Veil Waterfall)
The Véu da Noiva Waterfall is one of the most distinctive landscape elements on the island of Madeira. The name comes from the similarity of its flow to a bride’s veil. It is best admired from the viewpoint of Véu da Noiva, on the road that connects Seixal to São Vicente.
15. Take in the view from the amazing Cabo Girão viewpoint
It is in Cabo Girão, the highest cape in Europe, that you find one of the most amazing viewpoints in Madeira, with a skywalk – a platform made of glass – that allows you to see the landscapes under your feet. The panoramic views over Funchal, Câmara de Lobos and the infinite horizon of the Atlantic Ocean turn this place into a mandatory inclusion in a travel itinerary on the island of Madeira.
These are just some of the places that you can include in your list of what to do in Madeira Island, here in Portugal. There’s much more to discover, but I’ll leave you the pleasure of discovering them all by yourself. After all, is there a better feeling than being surprised by landscapes and places that surpass any expectation we could have?