For those that don’t know, Madeira is a Portugeuse island 520km (320 miles) off the coast of Morocco, and about a 1.5 hour flight from Lisbon. It's an incredibly beautiful island and is most well known for being the home of Cristiano Ronaldo. It is also great to pair with a visit to other great Portuguese cities. Don't miss out on our Porto and Coimbra adventures or skip to The Next Trip 5 Travel Tips for Madeira here.
How to Get to Madeira
Being an island, you will obviously be arriving by plane (unless you are brave enough to take a boat!), however flights are somewhat limited to just a few airlines, primarily TAP Air Portugal and all of your favorite European low cost carriers. If you are arriving late in the evening like we did, there are some great hotels close to the airport (and the beach!) such as the Santa Cruz Boutique Hotel. There is no better way to start your island adventure on Madeira than with breakfast with a view like this.
Top 7 Things to do in Madeira
You may be able to drive all around in Madeira in one day, but the island is packed full of beauty and activities so we highly recommend spending more time on the island to explore as much as possible! Read on for our top 7 things to do in Madeira. Our expectations were high for our trip to Madeira, and it easily met and exceeded them!
Hike to Ponta de São Lourenço
This was one of our favorite spots on Madeira and well worth taking a half day or more to complete. It's a 2-hour hike one way with incredible scenery.
We stopped along the way multiple times to snap a picture or two. Also, learn from our mistake and bring your bathing suit and a towel on your hike. There are a few great places to take a refreshing dip in the ocean along the way. Another plus is that there is a small café at the end if you’re a bit thirsty or hungry after your hike out!
Swim in the Atlantic Ocean
So if you didn’t take our advice above and swim in the ocean on your hike to Ponta de São Lourenço, there is an easier and more convenient place for a swim on the complete opposite side of the island. Porto Moniz is a city at the north-western most corner of Madeira and has a huge swimming pool full of fresh seawater. How fresh you may ask?
Well while we were there, the waves were coming up over the rocks and pathway into the “pool.” Admission is a few dollars to enter, but it is well worth it for a nice relaxing swim and a shower to rinse off afterwards. They have restrooms, showers, and lockers there. Make sure you bring your own towels though.
While in the area, be sure to check out the islets of Ribeira da Janela rising from the ocean. Watching the waves here is mesmerizing.
Check out the Levadas
Levadas are strewn across the country side of Madeira. They were originally created to move water around the island as the west and northwest of the island receive heavy rainfall, but the southeast region is much drier. With more time (and better weather) we would love to hike some of these levadas, which can be tens of kilometers long, run along cliffs, and even through tunnels!
Don’t Miss the Viewpoints of Funchal
Being an island with steep cliffs and mountains, there is never a shortage of views, equally when looking out over the main city. Funchal is the sixth largest city in Portugal, and has been the capital of Madeira for over 500 years. Cabo Girão is a spectacular sea cliff with the highest cliff skywalk in Europe – if you can stomach the walk out over the glass, it is well worth the views!
A bit closer to Funchal, Miradouro Pico dos Barcelos doesn’t disappoint and also provides a beautiful panoramic view over Funchal.
Watch the Sunrise
This is the one activity we truly missed out on while on Madeira. The sunrises from a number of the islands peaks are legendary, and in particular we hoped to catch the sunrise from the top of Pico do Areeiro. Unfortunately for us, there were heavy thunderstorms the morning we were there and given our tight itinerary, we had no room in our travel plans to stay a day longer and hope for better weather.
Stop by Lighthouses for More Amazing Views
One of Bettina's favorite things to see in Madeira was the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse. Situated high up on a cliff, it provides spectacular views of the ocean.
It is easily accessible by car and the viewpoint is only a short walk from the parking lot. The lighthouse itself is as picturesque as they come and also houses an exhibit.
Watch your Plane Arrive at the Funchal Airport Observation Deck
Even for non-avgeeks, planes are fascinating to watch. Once you’ve gone through security at Funchal Airport, be sure to wait for your flight on the outside observation deck which has great views of the runway. Funchal airport is unique in that it has a particularly steep approach and the runway even extends out over the ocean on a platform. As a result, it is a great place for some casual plane spotting!
We put together a list of 5 top tips for your visit to Madeira to make sure you can make most out of this trip and be prepared.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for a Visit to Madeira
1. Spend at least one night in Funchal
The surprisingly bustling capital city of the island. While this city is not going to be a party hot spot, it is a great size to explore in a day or two on foot and has a great atmosphere. Be sure to wander the streets to find the perfect restaurant for dinner and take in the island vibes.
2. Rent a car.
While Madeira isn’t that large, and does have public transportation around the island, the freedom of having your own car is highly worth the cost so that you can visit what you like at your own pace. The roads can be narrow, twisty, and steep, but for us that just adds to the adventure!
3. Be prepared for all types of weather.
We experienced torrential downpours, followed by clear blue skies, and fairly frequent wind while on Madeira – such is the case for an island in the Atlantic! Expect to have rain and wind, but don’t let that dampen the mood as the weather is constantly changing and the sun will likely shine again the same day.
4. Seafood and Wine.
Need we say more? Madeira is well known for it’s local Madeiran wine as well as great seafood. Be sure to sample what you can! We highly recommend the Filete de Espada (Scabbard Filet), traditionally prepared with a banana and passion fruit sauce.
5. Bring your hiking shoes.
Madeira is far from flat, and whether you are hiking to the top of Pico do Areeiro, walking to the end of Ponta de São Lourenço, or walking through the streets of Funchal, there will be hills and cobblestones. Bring a pair of comfortable flats to make your travels easier. Bettina managed fine in some ballet flats but we did get very interesting stares on our hikes.
Is Madeira on your bucket travel list? Tell us about the places you want to travel to in the comments below!
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