The Portuguese archipelago of Madeira is a treasure trove of dramatic landscapes, unique architecture and unforgettable bucket-list adventures. Read on to discover some of the top things to do in Madeira and make your trip there more memorable.
Madeira is one of my favourite destinations in Europe. While I discovered it for the first time nearly 20 years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to go back multiple times since then, and yet, I still can’t wait to go back again soon!
It’s a gorgeous little island and offers a blissful balance between adventure and relaxation. Madeira is perfect for nature lovers and adventure seekers, while those in search of a more relaxing vacation will also fit right in.
While I could gush about Madeira for many more words, you want to discover the best things to do in Madeira, so let’s get started!
This Madeira travel guide is perfect for first time visitors and those who’ve visited before but didn’t quite make it out of their deluxe hotel complex or the capital city of Funchal. I hope you find it helpful and inspiring!
18 Unmissable Things To Do in Madeira
1. Enjoy everything the capital of Funchal has to offer
As Funchal is Madeira’s capital city, there are lots of amazing things to do in Funchal itself. So many, in fact, that we’ve devoted an entire blog post just to Funchal. Check it out now >>
But if you don’t have time to read that right now, then let me bullet point the top must-sees in Funchal for you:
- Monte Palace Tropical Garden
- Monte <> Funchal Cable Car
- Monte Toboggan Ride
- Santa Catarina Park
- Old Town Walking Tour
- Boat Trips from Funchal Harbour
- Funchal Festivals
But… there’s so much more to Madeira than just its capital city!
Once you’ve seen and done everything listed above, it’s time to venture out around the island for more incredible things to do in Madeira. So, here’s what else you can do as part of your Madeira itinerary…
2. Head out on a Levada walk
A “Levada” is a type of irrigation channel or “mini-canal”, which carries water from one part of the island to another.
The Levadas were initially built out of necessity to carry large amounts of water from the west and northwest to the southeastern side of Madeira.
While today, they not only continue to supply water to the southern parts of the island, but they also provide hydroelectric power.
Despite Madeira’s small size, there are more than 200 Levadas across the island. And a hike or walk, which follows a Levada is one of the most popular things to do in Madeira (especially for nature lovers and outdoor adventure seekers).
Whether you enjoy long day hikes or short half-day hikes, there are lots of Levada walks to choose from, so have fun getting up close and personal with the great outdoors during your trip to Madeira.
3. Bathe in volcanic rock pools in Porto Moniz
One of my favourite things to do in Madeira is to bathe in the volcanic rock pools found in Porto Moniz (on the northwestern side of the island).
These picturesque swimming pools were formed by volcanic lava many thousands of years ago, and today, they naturally fill with clean seawater to create a unique and unmissable swimming and bathing experience.
You need to pay an entrance fee to swim in the rock pools, but surprisingly, it costs as little as a couple of Euros, or you can head here as part of a day tour.
While you’re in Porto Moniz, be sure to wander around the town and don’t miss the viewpoint on your way back up the mountains to the main roads.
4. Peek over a ledge from the top of Europe’s highest cliffs at Cabo Girão
At over 580 metres high, the cliffs at Cabo Girão are a 10-minute drive from Câmara de Lobos and they’re said to be some of Europe’s highest cliffs.
If heights don’t faze you, then you’ll enjoy looking down at your surroundings from the glass viewpoint found here, which is also known as the Madeira Skywalk.
You can look forward to a breathtaking view of the ocean, greenery and the curve of Madeira island from up here.
And the best bit? It’s free to visit!
5. People watch at Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos is a traditional fishing village east of Funchal.
As such, it’s a great place to come to people-watch and admire the boats and local architecture.
Not to mention, you’ll also find the Cabo Girão viewpoint nearby!
6. Wander along a black sand beach in Ribeira Brava
This means that not only can you swim in volcanic rock pools on the island of Madeira, but you can also wander along black sand beaches.
Head to Ribeira Brava on the south coast where you can also take a dip in swimming pools and the ocean itself, which is protected from the waves via a manmade breakwater.
7. Take in the sights from the Boca da Encumeada viewpoint
Drive roughly 25 minutes north of Ribeira Brava and you’ll find yourself at the Boca da Encumeada viewpoint.
At over 1000 metres high, you can enjoy stunning vistas across Madeira’s north and south coasts and the Ribeira Brava and São Vicente valleys.
You can drive to the viewpoint and park up, or if you’re feeling adventurous, then you might want to team up a visit here with a hike or Levada walk.
Either way, the views from here are not to be missed!
8. Check out São Vicente and the volcanic caves
Speaking of São Vicente, this charming town along the northwest coast of Madeira is also a great place to while away a few hours.
According to legend, this region was named after Saint Vincent of Saragossa who appeared in a rocky cove near the river.
Following this, the settlers at the time erected a small chapel devoted to Saint Vincent, which you can still see today.
You can also visit the main church in São Vicente, which houses a stunning painting of Saint Vincent blessing the town.
Aside from saints and churches, you can also learn more about Madeira’s connection with volcanoes. São Vicente is home to Madeira’s Volcanism Centre and volcanic caves that you’re welcome to explore.
>> Please note the caves are currently closed due to an earthquake in early 2020, but here’s hoping they’ll be open again soon. <<
9. Walk through the clouds on Pico do Areeiro
Pico do Areeiro (sometimes also written as Pico do Areiro) is Madeira’s third-highest peak at 1818 metres.
Head to the main viewpoint atop the mountain and you’ll be rewarded with a superb view across Madeira’s central peaks.
There are also several fantastic hikes you can enjoy in this area. The most famous one is a day hike from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo, which is Madeira’s highest peak and can only be accessed on foot.
There are also Levada walks close by, including Levada do Barreiro and Levada dos Balcões. In the right conditions, the first one could mean you’re walking through or above the clouds, which is a surreal, yet rewarding experience.
10. Take in the views from the Balcões Viewpoint in Ribeiro Frio
Speaking of Levada dos Balcões, this walk or hike (depending on where you start and finish your mini adventure from) has a bonus: the Balcões Viewpoint.
This viewpoint affords stunning views across Madeira’s central mountain range and makes for a gorgeous walk wherever you choose to start.
11. See the iconic Santana houses
Once upon a time, the people of Madeira lived in small triangular houses made from wood and straw.
They were often brightly coloured in red, white and blue. You may have even seen these historic homes plastered across souvenir postcards.
Head to Santana along Madeira’s northeastern coast and you can see these quirky little houses in all their glory.
You used to be able to go inside one of them, but this may have changed in the past couple of years. As far as I’m aware, it’s still possible to see these houses from the outside, though.
12. Travel to the ends of the earth at Ponta de São Lourenço
Ponta de São Lourenço is Madeira’s most easterly point.
Here, you can enjoy various hikes and walking trails, which showcase beautiful ocean vistas and this region’s interesting (and dry) landscape.
It’s such a contrast from the lush greenery you get used to seeing throughout the rest of the island.
13. Relax on one of Madeira’s rare sandy beaches
Whenever I talk (or write) about Madeira, most people are surprised to hear that it’s not the kind of island you visit if you’re after a relaxing beach holiday.
Mainly because there are very few beaches here – and sandy beaches are even rarer.
Still, if you fancy relaxing on a beach after a long hike or bucket list adventure, then I know of a handful on the island of Madeira; some of which are manmade:
- Praia de Machico (southeast)
- Praia da Calheta (southwest)
- Prainha do Caniçal / Prainha Beach (east)
- Praia de Seixal (northeast)
14. Take a day trip or weekend break to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo
But if you really want to experience a typical golden sandy beach during your trip, then the next best thing to do would be to hop on a ferry and head to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo.
It’s a tiny island (even smaller than Madeira), but it’s well known within the local area as a fantastic place for beach bums, divers and food fanatics.
The ferry usually takes about 2.5 hours from Funchal Harbour, but expect bumpy conditions even in the summer!
Still, you can easily enjoy a day trip here if you get up early enough, or you could stay for a night or two to see more of the island.
15. See the infamous Valley of the Nuns (Curral das Freiras)
Curral das Freiras, which roughly translates to the Valley of the Nuns or Nun’s Valley, has an interesting history.
Back in 1566, pirates attacked the capital city of Funchal, so the Santa Clara nuns fled the city and settled in what is now called Nun’s Valley. Naturally, they took the convent treasure with them.
Here the convent remained for several centuries and they played a pivotal role in the lives of the local aristocracy. Today, you can enjoy breathtaking vistas and walking trails.
16. Hop on a catamaran or boat tour
From Funchal, you can enjoy various day trips around the island. But if you want to leave the mainland for the day, then why not hop on a catamaran or boat tour from Funchal Harbour?
There are plenty of interesting excursions to choose from, such as:
- Dolphin and whale watching catamaran tour
- Dolphin and whale watching sunset sailing trip
- Flagship tour aboard the Santa Maria de Colombo ship replica
17. Try some delicious (and adventurous!) food
Despite Madeira’s small size, the local cuisine can differ vastly across the island.
But there is one thing Madeira food has in common no matter where you eat on the island: the food is delicious and unique.
Some of the best and most adventurous dishes Madeira has to offer are:
- Espada Fish: The Black Scabbardfish looks terrifying when you see it at a market, but it tastes delicious!
- Espetata: Succulent beef cubes on a skewer; usually chargrilled.
- Pastel de Nata: A traditional Portuguese custard tart.
- Madeira Honey Cake: Unlike the Madeira cake you’ve likely seen in supermarkets back home, real Madeira cake is dark in colour and is made with honey from local sugar cane.
On my last few trips to Madeira, I also enjoyed trying swordfish and a shark steak for the first time, although I think these are less traditional dishes than the above. Still, they were both very tasty!
18. And don’t forget to try the wine and Poncha!
We’ve talked about food, but we mustn’t forget delicious drinks to wash it down with.
In Madeira, you simply must try Madeira wine. You might even find one named after you just as I did on my latest trip there! Okay, okay, so it was called “Justino’s”, but that’s close enough, right?!
You’ll probably also enjoy Poncha, which is a type of alcoholic drink made from sugar cane juice, honey, sugar and orange juice.
It’s like a type of punch and it tastes delicious either on its own or when mixed with orange juice, pomegranate juice or even guava juice.
Read more about Madeira in our other Madeira travel blogs
If you want to read more travel tips and find out more about this gorgeous little archipelago, then why not check out our other Madeira travel blogs:
- Is Madeira Worth Visiting? 16 Reasons Why My Answer’s Yes!
- How To Get Around Madeira (With & Without A Car)
- When Is The Best Time To Visit Madeira?
- How Many Days in Madeira is Ideal (+ Itinerary Suggestions)
- 4 Days in Madeira Itinerary
- 7 Days in Madeira Itinerary (No Car Hire Required!)
- 20 Best Things To Do in Funchal, Madeira
- 11 Incredible Day Trips From Funchal
- One Day in Funchal Itinerary
>> And don’t forget! You can do many of these top things to do in Madeira with the help of organised day tours. Check out Get Your Guide to see some fantastic options (with flexible cancellation policies)! <<
I hope you’ve found this list of top things to do in Madeira helpful ahead of your trip. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, then drop us a comment down below and we’ll reply asap.
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