Are you curious about the sights of Madeira and what to do there? This Portuguese island is a unique piece of Europe. It is located about 700 kilometers (435 miles) west of Morocco and is a paradise on earth for nature lovers. Here you will find jungle, rugged mountains, waterfalls, volcanic beaches, and much more beauty. Madeira has many nicknames such as the Hawaii of Europe, the flower island, and the island of eternal spring. With such nicknames, you can imagine that it’s a great place to stay. You don’t come here for a beach vacation, but rather to be active and explore the many diverse attractions. We have searched the island for the most beautiful places, the most enjoyable activities, and the sights. This is our selection of the 15 most enjoyable things to do in Madeira!
What about transportation in Madeira?
If you want to see many of Madeira’s attractions, renting a car is the best and most enjoyable choice. Without a rental car, you’ll depend on tours, limited public transportation, or very expensive taxis, and as a result, you’ll simply see less of the island. A rental car gives you the freedom to go wherever you want at any time of the day. Besides, the views during the drive are often spectacular. The roads in Madeira are very good, and people drive calmly. Of course, it may take some getting used to all those tunnels, mountain roads, and slopes, but believe us, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Before renting a car, read our tips for renting and driving a car in Madeira so you can be well-prepared for your trip.
What to do in Madeira? Tips for attractions and activities
No matter how many days you’re going, with these tips for attractions and activities, you won’t get bored easily in Madeira!
Hiking, hiking, and more hiking
At the top of the list is hiking, of course. Madeira is a volcanic island that is almost entirely mountainous. There are over 100 short and long hiking trails to choose from. One day you’ll walk along a winding path along the cliffs by the coast, the next day you’ll find yourself in the middle of the jungle under a waterfall, and yet another day you’ll be on a mountaintop high above the clouds. The diversity of Madeira is enormous, and the best way to experience it is by taking some beautiful hikes. The most famous hike is the PR1 from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, the highest point on the island. In the east, there is a particularly rocky natural area with high cliffs, and of course, there are the famous levada hikes where you walk along the island’s old irrigation canals through the jungle. Curious about which hikes we liked the most? Read our article about the 5 most beautiful hikes in Madeira.
Explore the charming city of Funchal, the capital of Madeira
Funchal is the capital of the island and a wonderful base for exploring the attractions of Madeira. The city center has many cozy terraces, and everywhere you’ll find beautifully landscaped parks with tropical plants, colorful flowers, and unique artworks. Visit the farmers market Mercado dos Lavradores where they sell fresh fish, vegetables, and fruits, or take the cable car to the higher area of Monte. Here you’ll find a beautiful botanical garden where you can admire Madeira’s rich flora. To come back down, you can take the traditional toboggan ride. Of course, there’s more to do in Funchal. Therefore, read all our tips for Funchal before your departure and discover the best to-do’s and attractions.
Walk on the 580-meter-high (1902-feet-high) Cabo Girão Skywalk
If you have a fear of heights, you can put yourself to the test here. The Cabo Girão Skywalk is made of glass and extends over the edge of a 580-meter-high (1902-feet-high) cliff. It’s a nice stop to enjoy the view and have a coffee. The Cabo Girão Skywalk is completely free.
Swim in the pools of Porto Monìz
In the northwest of Madeira, you’ll find the unique lava pools of Porto Monìz. Among the rock formations formed by lava, there are pools that are almost at sea level. Occasionally, a big wave brings some extra liters of seawater into the pools. Piscinas Naturais de Porto Monìz is the ideal place to enjoy the sun for an afternoon. You can choose between the paid pool, where you have more space to lay out your towel, or the free pools, which have fewer facilities but are just as beautiful. They are located next to each other, so you can take a look at both and make a choice.
Get lost in the mist of the ancient Fanal Forest
The enchanting Fanal Forest, sometimes called Laurisilva, is one of the last laurel forests in the world. Tens of millions of years ago, a large part of Southern Europe was covered by such forests, but due to the Ice Age and deforestation, almost all laurel forests have disappeared. The ancient laurel trees often have peculiar shapes and are covered in mosses and other plants. The thick mist that often hangs in Fanal creates a mystical atmosphere and makes this place even more impressive. You can find information on how to get there and what to consider in our article with tips for Fanal Forest.
Paragliding along the coast of Madeira
Paragliding is a must-do activity in Madeira. You’ll run together with Rui, a highly experienced paraglider, from the mountain until the wind picks you up and you fly along the high cliffs for about 20 minutes. This may sound a bit thrilling, but in reality, it’s quite manageable. The location depends on the weather, so it’s always a surprise. One day, you might fly above Funchal, and another time, over a banana plantation near a small village. Wherever it is, the adrenaline rush is guaranteed! Rui has been flying for over 10 years, so you’re in good hands with him. Curious about our experience? Read about our entire paragliding experience in Madeira.
Discover the most beautiful viewpoints in Madeira
You don’t always have to hike far to enjoy magnificent views in Madeira. Even along the roadside, you’ll find the most breathtaking viewpoints that will leave you speechless. Depending on their location, some viewpoints are perfect for sunrise or sunset. We’ve checked off quite a few of them and made a selection of the most beautiful viewpoints in Madeira.
Have lunch at the secluded Fajã dos Padres
One of the most remarkable attractions in Madeira is the Fajã dos Padres bay, nestled between a massive cliff wall and the ocean. This is where the origin of Malmsey wine, a typical Madeiran wine, can be found. Long ago, this piece of land was inhabited by priests who cultivated the grapes to make this wine. They lived in the remote Fajã dos Padres bay for about 150 years, but now it has been owned by a family for 4 generations who run a fantastic restaurant there and grow their own vegetables and fruits.
The easiest way to get there is through the extremely steep cable car. It’s an exciting ride of about 2.5 minutes with a spectacular view of the bay. Once you’re down, you can stroll through the plantation, swim in the crystal-clear water, and, of course, enjoy a delicious lunch. Plan to spend a leisurely afternoon if you want to fully experience this little paradise, and don’t forget to bring your swimwear and towel. The restaurant is very popular, so make sure to make a reservation if you want to have lunch there. You can make a reservation here. The menu features authentic Madeiran dishes, and most of the ingredients come from their own garden.
Admire the rock formation of Ilhéus da Ribeira da Janela
Hidden between the villages of Seixal and Porto Moniz, just off the coast, you’ll find a unique rock formation in the sea. Enormous rocks rise vertically from the water. Around the rocks, you might see around 100 swallows that have created a safe haven in the crevices of Ilhéus da Ribeira da Janela. It’s a beautiful stop if you’re in the area!
Drive through Madeira’s free car wash
Driving in Madeira is fantastic because the views make every ride a delight. Sometimes you’ll tour along the coast with enormous cliffs by your side, and other times you’ll drive on winding mountain roads high above the clouds. A unique experience in Madeira is Cascata dos Anjos, a waterfall that flows directly onto the road. Turn on your windshield wipers and brake carefully because your visibility will be limited as you drive through the waterfall. This special place is no longer a secret, so sometimes you may encounter a group of people on the road taking photos. When driving west, you’ll find parking spaces on the left side of the road just after the waterfall. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, as it colors the water bright orange.
Spot Dolphins and Whales (or Swim with Them)
Did you know that Madeira is a perfect destination for dolphin and whale watching? Here, you have a 95% chance of spotting dolphins, and if you’re lucky, you might even encounter a whale leaping out of the water. Unlike many other places in the world, the animals here are well protected, and there are strict rules for tour operators. For example, they can only spend a short time near the same group of dolphins to ensure that the animals don’t experience any stress. Here, you can observe these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat, exhibiting their natural behavior. What’s truly unique is that you can also swim with dolphins in the wild in Madeira. Of course, you need to be lucky as the dolphins may swim away, but often they will swim curiously around the boat for a while.
Take a Stroll on the Beautiful Seixal Beach
Madeira is not known for its fine sandy beaches as they are quite rare. However, there is one beach that you must visit, and that’s the beautiful Seixal Beach. The dark brown sand perfectly complements the green mountains, and if there has been enough rainfall, you can take a refreshing shower under the small waterfall on the beach. The sea can sometimes be rough here with strong currents, so it’s not wise to venture too far into the water. The official name you can use for navigation is Praia do Porto do Seixal.
Relax at Piscinas Naturais do Seixal
If you feel like swimming without worrying about currents, you’ll also find natural pools in Seixal. These pools are nestled among the black rocks and create an infinity pool with a view of the sea. Piscinas Naturais do Seixal is free to access.
Visit the Palheiros in Santana
Slightly less exciting than most attractions in Madeira, but still enjoyable, are the typical Madeiran houses known as Palheiros. These adorable triangular houses showcase how people used to live here in the past. Nowadays, they are a popular stop for tourists, and the houses have been transformed into shops. It’s nice to snap a photo, but you can see it all quickly. Location: Casas típicas de Santana
Our favorite places to stay in Madeira
If you want to stay in one place throughout your vacation, Funchal is the best base. This laid-back city offers many excellent hotels, delightful restaurants, and cozy bars. If you don’t mind changing locations, you can also spend a few nights in a more natural setting. One recommendation for Madeira is to choose a hotel with a swimming pool. Since Madeira has almost no sandy beaches for laying out a towel, having a hotel with a pool is really convenient if you also want to relax by the water. We went in search of the most beautiful accommodations and found 8 delightful hotels with pools where you’ll definitely want to stay for a few nights or maybe even your entire vacation!