This means there are a lot things to do in Madeira, but where do you start? Let’s dive in and discover the best things to do in Madeira that you have to include in your itinerary.
Try Toboggan Ride
Maybe you have tried the toboggan ride before, but in Madeira, things are done differently. This means that you sit in a regular wooden basket while two men, called “Carreiros” dressed in white and wearing straw hats, will be your chauffeurs on this downhill adventure.
It takes about 15 minutes and it can get speedy. Like 40km per hour! So get ready for the ride! Price for 2 people is 30 EUR and be ready for a long line, because this is one of the best things to do in Madeira. Something that you won’t find anywhere else and it is part of local history. Yes, this is how locals used to go down back in time.
TIP! Leave your car at home or in Funchal. Take a cable car from Funchal and use the basket to go down. Make sure you visit gardens while you are up there and avoid taxi because they offer unreasonable prices.
Discover cuisine of Madeira
Food is another reason I love Madeira. It is similar to Portuguese cuisine, yet there are things that you won’t find in the mainland of Portugal. Be prepared to try fresh fish, best meat of your life and much more.
Let’s start with bolo do caco. It is Madeiran flatbread and normally it is served as a starter with a butter and garlic. Every single restaurant that I visited would serve it warm and just out of the oven – your taste buds can thank me later. Sandwiches with bolo do caco were not so good in my opinion, so I don’t advise.
When it comes to main dishes, Madeira has some of the best fish that I have ever tried. Most of the place show you what fish they have and let you choose the type and size. Honestly, I have no idea what kind of fish I tried, but I was left impressed every single time. Make sure you try lapa.
If you are a meat lover, you can’t miss Espatadas. It is meat on skewers, but you know what is the best part? They put butter and herbs on the top of the stick and serve you while it is still melting down. Restaurante O Polar has the best espatadas that I tried in Madeira. Another traditional dish that you should try, is picadinho.
And local drinks
I believe that by now you are full, but wait for the dessert. Try anything with passion fruit and make sure you buy bolo de mel as a souvenir on your way home.
In case you are a wine lover like me, I believe you have heard about Madeira wine before. Locals are very proud of this drink, so make sure you try it. You can even visit wine cellars to learn more about wine making process and taste it all.
Another jewel of Madeira is Poncha and it is made with aguardente de cana, honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice. However, don’t buy a bottle with a label that says Poncha on top, instead find a place where they make it on the spot in front of you. I tried it in the Bar o Avô in Funchal and I kept coming back for more. The owner is there to show you the process behind poncha and share interesting things about Madeira as well – he offers food and has a passion for football as well.
More things to try: Pé de cabra, Coral beer, Brisa, local coffee or anything from fresh passion fruit.
See the unique houses of Santana
Another gem of Madeira that you can’t miss is Santana. People say that this is touristic attractions and yes, the main square is just a perfect photo spot, but if you step outside, you will find more typical small, triangular and colorful houses where people actually live. Since we speak basic Portuguese, one of the ladies invited us in and simply wanted to socialise a bit – this is not something that happens in a touristic destinations.
This is probably the best location on the island to observe traditional Madeira’s houses.These simple houses made of wood with reed roofing were built by poorer inhabitants of the island and for quite along period of time.
This type of houses usually consisted of one or two rooms and could host one family.
Santana is also known for its arts and crafts especially a type of embroidery, bordado da Madeira. Lovely tablecloths, place mats and tea towels can be bought in several specialist stores or souvenir shops. Main income in this county comes from tourism, so make sure you support local businesses.
It can get crowded during the day, so make sure you plan an early visit here.
Explore hiking trails
Madeira is a paradise for hike lovers, because there are many different places for many different hikers. I want to focus on the hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, because I personally think it is the most impressive one. Of course, if you have more time, make sure you do other hikes as well.
From Pico do Arieiro to the summit of Pico Ruivo and back it is 11 kilometre hiking. This will take you anywhere between 3 to 5 hours and you should keep in mind that this hike is not for beginners.
First thing that you should keep in mind is the mud, so make sure you have suitable shoes. I advise you to check the weather forecast before, because it often gets foggy and this means that all the magical views could be completely ruined. Then again, with mountains you never know.
This hike is open all year around, but gets extremely busy during the summer.
In case you are not ready for a heavy hike, you can still visit Pico do Arieiro. When visiting Madeira, you will need a car to move around, so simply look up Cafeteria Pico Areiro on Google maps and it will bring you to parking lot right next to this viewpoint.
Swim in the natural pools of Porto Moniz
There are natural swimming pools at Porto Moniz that are formed by volcanic lava, naturally filled with crystal-clear sea water yet it is warmer than any other beach in Madeira. The natural pools of Porto Moniz are the highlight of the village of Porto Moniz.
The pools are open all year round between 9 am and 5 pm during the winter and 9 am and 7 pm during the summer. There is an entrance fee, but it is very affordable (1,50EUR maximum) and it is totally worth it.
You also have a bar near the pools, so you can easily spend your entire day here.. just make sure you bring your sunscreen!
Go on the adventure around the island
There was another memorable things that I did during my visit in Madeira and I want to share it with you. I have to mention that this took us entire day, but it was amazing experience.
We planned an itinerary that took us around Madeira island and we saw how contrasty it can get in a day.. we went from sun to hail to fog to crystal blue sky in 12 hours. Down below I will leave the main stops during this itinerary.
Funchal – Santa Cruz – Ponta das Gaivotas – Ponta de São Lourenço – Porto da Cruz – Miradouro do Guindaste – Fajã do Mar – Faial – Santana – Miradouro da Beira da Quinta – Restaurante Caravela – Seixal- Porto Moniz – Ponta Do Sol.
It sounds like a lot, but most of the places are viewpoints where you don’t need more than 10 minutes. But honestly it was amazing to see Madeira from every possible corner. Then again, centre of Madeira has even more gems that you can keep for another day.
Find the hidden gem of Madeira – Parque Forestal de Queimadas
This park is actually hidden gem in Madeira, so you don’t have to worry about masses of tourists. A true fairy tale in a green paradise that starts in the Queimadas’ house. Until you reach the majestic waterfall, the path is remarkably green. Along the way you have a magnificent view over the village of São Jorge and the great mountains.
To enjoy Parque Forestal de Queimadas, you will need to follow Levada do Caldeirão Verde. It is not a difficult hike, but it can take 3-4 hours since it is quite long.
My personal tip is to bring some food with you and make a little picnic surrounded with nature, that is going to me a remarkable experience.
Hiking with a twist to Vereda dos Balcões
Technically this is another hike trail of Madeira, but I wouldn’t even call it a hike, because it takes approximately 1 hour to visit Vereda dos Balcões. The path is not challenging at all, but there is a surprise for you at the end.
You can see fearless wild chaffinch birds that are always around. They are so used to people at the balcony that they are friendly welcoming you, waiting to eat some seeds out of your hand. So make sure you bring some food and and make friends. Apart from birds, the views here are spectacular as well.
Park your car in Ribeiro Frio and go to explore the beautiful nature of Madeira. This is one of the most unique things that I have ever done, so I can’t suggest it enough.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden
The Monte Palace Madeira occupies an area of 70.000 square meters and houses an huge exotic plant’s collection, coming from all over the world, together with swans and duck’s, that populates the central lake, peacocks and chickens, that walk free in the main areas of the property.
I have to say that this was a very unique place and it didn’t really feel like you are in Madeira. Honestly, it is a mix of many things, so I really can’t identify it. I normally wouldn’t visit tropical garden, but this one is very different and I’m glad that I did it.
Do you remember Toboggan Ride? I mentioned that this can be combined with Tropical and Botanical Garden (see next), so you can use cable car to visit this place.
The opening times are from 9.30 AM til 6 PM. Monte Palace Museum is open from 10 AM til 16.30 PM. The entrance fee for the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is 12,50 EUR for an adult and children under 15 years have free entrance.
We choose to visit the garden late in the afternoon, so keep in mind that it will take you 3-4 hours to enjoy the place.
Another gem nearby is Botanical garden. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in the region, with marvellous views overlooking the city of Funchal. Once again, I normally visit a Botanical Garden, but this one caught my attention.
From October 1 to April 29 the opening time are from 9 AM to 5 PM (last entry at 4.30 PM). From April 30 to September 30 the opening times are from 9 AM to 7 PM (last entry at 7.30 PM)
The entrance fee to the Botanical Gardens Madeira is 6 EUR and it takes couple of hours to see everything. Might take longer in case you are passionate about flowers and read more detailed descriptions.
Visit the black sand beach in Seixal
In case you have a love for photography, make sure you bring your camera and take wonderful photo at the black sand beach in Seixal. In case you don’t care about photos, you still need to visit this beautiful gem of Madeira.
It is easy to reach and you have available parking nearby. This is a public beach, so there is no fee. Black sand is very unique, but keep in mind that most of the beaches in Madeira are with rocks, so this one is particularly comfortable place where to spend your day.
More impressive places for beach lovers. Praia da Calheta – A rare, white sand beach with sand imported from the Western Sahara. Machico – located on the South coast of Madeira, this beach also has imported sand and is actually pretty close to the airport. Ponta do Sol – This extremely sunny part of Madeira is home to a small, 160-meter beach with excellent swimming conditions.
Get lost in the old town of Funchal
I personally think that you should focus on the nature and small beach towns when visiting Madeira, but the capital of Madeira deserves a proper visit as well and it is called Funchal. Most of the people choose to stay here, because it is filled with restaurants and shops, but I don’t think it is necessary. Either way, you will need a car, so moving around will be part of your trip.
Make sure you visit Cathedral of Funchal, Rua Santa Maria, Santa Catarina park, fruit market, maybe book a wine tasting, but keep your itinerary flexible and simply get lost in tiny streets and explore. That is the best way to discover Funchal.
Take the ferry to Porto Santo
Porto Santo is another island right next to Madeira and you will need a ferry to get here. It is mainly known for incredible beaches, but there is more to do and see in Porto Santo.
Porto Santo is full of hike trails as well and nature here is extremely wild, untouched and unique. Similar to Madeira Island, yet so different. You can rent a kayak, go scuba diving, look for the best sunset spots, experience tidal pools, appreciate the tiny islands nearby and so much more.
Ferry ride takes 2,5 hours and it will cost you around 60 EUR for a return ticket.It gets very pricey in case you want to bring your car with you (around 200 EUR). You should consider to spend a night here (actually 2-3 nights) and maybe rent a scooter to move around. Bike is a good option as well and it costs around 10 EUR per day.
Taste local goodies in Mercado dos Lavradores
I kept this market for the end because I have mixed feelings about it. It is one of the main attractions of Madeira and you can see (try or buy) so many different fruits and vegetables, but I have to mention that prices here are crazy. For 5 different fruits we paid more than 30 EUR while you can find the same products in other places 3 times cheaper.
It is a beautiful place and certainly deserves a visit, but don’t feel obligated to buy something, even if the sellers offer to try some of their products.
While in Madeira, make sure you try different kinds of passion fruit, bananas, medlar, their special cherries, tabaibos and anona. Don’t be scared to try some never seen before fruits, everything is delicious that comes from Madeira.
I’m sure that this list will help you plan your itinerary for Madeira and include your favorite things to do to discover the real charm of Madeira.
I would love to hear your thoughts, so if you have any feedback or additional tips, leave a comment below. Also, check out my Instagram for regular travel videos and travel inspiration. Or explore other destinations on this travel blog.