In this post I will describe 27 of the most amazing and unique things to do on Madeira island, Portugal.

Madeira is a small Portuguese island in the Atlantic ocean, packed with unforgettable experiences just waiting to be discovered. If you are interested in visiting Madeira, you may also be interested in the nearby Canary Islands too.

Further reading: Ultimate Madeira Travel Guide.

A group of people are standing on a cliff overlooking the clouds.
Pico Do Areiro
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I spent a week travelling around Madeira in summer 2023, and had lots of amazing experiences. I travelled all around the island and crammed as much into one week as possible. This included visiting all of the main towns, sampling the local cuisine, going on levada walks and meeting the locals. It was a solo trip, but Madeira is also ideal for couples and families.

Here are 27 unique experiences that make Madeira Island truly special.

1. Explore the Laurisilva forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Laurisilva forest is a wonderland for nature enthusiasts. This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site is unique in its composition, as it contains rare endemic flora and fauna species.

A trail leading through a forest in a foggy day.
Laurisilva forest with a levada channel to the left

The forest has quite a mysterious, ethereal feel, and here’s what you can expect when you venture into its depths:

Ancient Ecosystem

Laurisilva, which means “laurel forest,” is a prehistoric subtropical rainforest that has survived for millions of years. It’s a living relic from a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. A great place to see the forest is Ribeiro Frio.

Unique Flora

Within the Laurisilva forest, you’ll encounter a diverse range of plant species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Look for laurel trees, mosses, ferns, and a variety of endemic plants that thrive in the cool, misty environment.

Hiking Trails

Hiking is one of the most popular things to do on Madeira island. There are an extensive network of hiking trails that wind through the Laurisilva forest. Some popular routes include the Levada walks, which take you along centuries-old irrigation channels, and the Rabaçal Nature Reserve trails, leading you through dramatic waterfalls and dense greenery.

Birdwatching

The Laurisilva forest is home to a rich birdlife, including native species like the Madeira laurel pigeon and Trocaz pigeon.

Conservation

Efforts to protect and conserve the Laurisilva forest are ongoing. Your visit not only allows you to appreciate this unique ecosystem but also supports the preservation of this natural heritage.

Further reading: 16 of the Best Levada Walks on Madeira Island

2. Admire the stunning views from Cabo Girão – Europe’s highest sea cliff.

Imagine standing atop the highest sea cliff in Europe, taking in a breathtaking panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean extending infinitely before you. 

At 580 metres high, Cabo Girao is not only the highest sea cliff in Europe, but the second highest in the world. As you ascend the winding trail, you’ll encounter stunning scenery at every turn.

An aerial view of a walkway on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
Cabo Girao, Madeira

Spectacular Sunsets

Cabo Girão is a popular spot to see amazing sunsets. As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky transforms into a canvas of warm hues, casting a magical glow over the sea and cliffs. Be sure to arrive early to secure a prime viewing spot for this daily spectacle.

Observation Platform

At Cabo Girão, there is a glass-floored observation platform (the ‘skywalk’) that extends out over the cliff’s edge. From here you can see the rugged coastline and dramatic cliffs stretching out before you. 

Hiking Trails

There are some great hiking trails around Cabo Girão. The trails lead you to various lookout points, each revealing a different view of the island’s stunning landscapes.

Local Experiences

Nearby, there are local vendors selling Madeira’s renowned wine, honey cake, and other traditional products. It’s a chance to try the island’s flavours while supporting local businesses.

3. Go sailing at the marina of Funchal.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as you set sail from the marina of Funchal. Whether you’re an experienced sailor or a first-timer, the calm waters and stunning coastline make for a truly magical experience.

A group of boats docked in a marina in Funchal, Madeira.
Funchal Marina

Sailboat Excursions

Numerous sailing operators in Funchal offer full day tours and sailboat excursions, from leisurely coastal cruises to more adventurous offshore journeys.

Scenic Views

As you set sail from the marina, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Funchal’s coastline. The city’s architecture, framed by lush green hills and the sparkling blue ocean, creates a picturesque backdrop for your voyage.

Dolphin and Whale Watching

Dolphin and whale watching is one of the most popular things to do on Madeira island. The waters around Madeira are known for their rich marine life. Many sailing tours include dedicated wildlife-watching components.

Swimming and Snorkelling

Depending on the tour, you may have the chance to anchor in secluded coves or bays, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal-clear waters. Some tours also provide snorkelling equipment so you can explore the underwater world.

Sunset Sailing

Book a sunset sailing trip for a romantic and memorable experience. Watching the sun dip below the horizon while you’re out at sea is a truly magical moment.

4. Visit the Mercado dos Lavradores for fresh produce and artisan wares.

At this historic market, you’ll discover a wealth of fresh produce and artisan wares that will excite your senses and tantalise your taste buds. The market is full of colourful flowers, fragrant spices, and succulent fruits freshly harvested from local farms, and the staff wear the cutest outfits too!

There’s a real olde-world feel inside, and there are lots of on-site restaurants serving authentic meals made with the same ingredients that are available for purchase. 

Exquisite Flowers

The market is well known for its flower section, where you can find a wide variety of vibrant blooms. The colourful stalls burst with fresh bouquets, orchids, and exotic flora. You can also buy seeds and seedlings.

Crafts and Artisanal Goods

Beyond the food produce, the market boasts a treasure trove of artisanal wares. There are stalls selling handcrafted goods, including intricate embroidery, ceramics, wickerwork, and local crafts. These unique items make for great souvenirs or gifts.

Traditional Fish Market

Venture to the lower level of the market to discover the traditional fish market, where fishermen display their daily catches. There is an assortment of seafood, from succulent limpets to massive swordfish.

Sampling Madeiran Delights

There are always opportunities to sample some Madeiran culinary specialities. Look out for stalls offering traditional dishes like “bolo do caco” (sweet potato bread) with garlic butter, “espetada” (beef skewers), and local sweets such as “queijadas” (cheesecakes).

Further reading: Food in Madeira: What to Eat and Drink on Madeira Island

Timing Your Visit

The Mercado dos Lavradores is typically open in the mornings, so plan to arrive early to experience the market at its liveliest. Keep in mind that the market is closed on Sundays.

5. Tour the historic centre of Funchal, including the old cathedral and city hall.

Get ready to step back in time with a tour of the historic centre of Funchal. You can explore on foot, or get hop-on-hop-off bus tickets here.

Some Funchal must-sees, including visits to the Old Cathedral and City Hall:

1. Sé Catedral de Funchal (Funchal Cathedral)

Begin your exploration at the Funchal Cathedral, a testament to the city’s enduring history. Dating back to the late 15th century, this Gothic-style cathedral is not only an architectural masterpiece but also an emblem of Funchal’s past.

A church in the middle of a square.
Funchal Cathedral

2. City Hall (Paços do Concelho)

Just a short stroll from the cathedral, you’ll discover the City Hall, a charming building that serves as the administrative centre of Funchal. You can admire its elegant architecture and the statue of João Gonçalves Zarco, one of the island’s discoverers, in front of the building.

3. São Tiago Fort

São Tiago Fort is a military structure that once safeguarded the city against pirates. Today, it houses the Madeira Contemporary Art Museum (Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Madeira), where you can admire a collection of modern and contemporary artworks.

4. Old Town (Zona Velha)

I love to just wander through the charming cobbled streets of Funchal’s Old Town, known as Zona Velha. This atmospheric district is brimming with colourful buildings, quaint squares, and lively restaurants and bars. Don’t miss Santa Maria street for Street Art.

Further reading: How to See Street Art on Santa Maria Street, Funchal.

5. Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ Market)

Complete your journey by immersing yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Mercado dos Lavradores. It’s the perfect place to engage with locals, sample tropical fruits, and pick up unique souvenirs.

Further reading: 29 Wonderful Things to do in Funchal, Madeira.

6. Enjoy spending a day at the natural marvel that is Porto Moniz.

A day spent at Porto Moniz is a unique experience in itself. This idyllic coastal town on Madeira’s northwest coast is renowned for its striking natural pools, dramatic cliffs, and scenic landscapes.

Further reading: The 20 best towns in Madeira (and where to stay in each one)

A rocky shore with a blue sky and a red house.
Porto Moniz Natural pools

Here’s how to make the most of your day in Porto Moniz in Madeira Portugal:

Natural Swimming Pools

Start your day with a visit to the iconic Porto Moniz natural swimming pools, formed by volcanic rock formations and filled with crystal-clear seawater. The pools are naturally protected from the open sea, creating a safe and serene environment for swimming. 

Take a Leisurely Stroll

After a refreshing swim, take a leisurely stroll along the scenic promenade that borders the coastline. The views of the rugged cliffs, waves crashing against the rocks, and the endless expanse of the Atlantic Ocean never get old.

Museums and Cultural Sites

There are various cultural attractions, including the Porto Moniz Aquarium, which features marine life from the region. The Madeira Ethnographic Museum is another interesting stop.

Local Cuisine

For lunch, you can try Madeira’s delicious seafood at one of the waterfront restaurants. Enjoy fresh catches of the day, such as limpets, espada (black scabbardfish), and grilled octopus.

Further reading: Food in Madeira: What to Eat and Drink on Madeira Island

Lighthouse Visit

Porto Moniz Lighthouse is open for visiting, and has panoramic views of the town, coastline, and the Atlantic Ocean. 

Levada Walks

If you’re feeling adventurous, consider embarking on one of the nearby levada walks, such as Levada da Ribeira Funda or Levada da Fajã do Rodrigues. Hiking levadas is one of the most popular things to do on Madeira island

Watch the Sunset

A popular thing to do is to end your day in Porto Moniz watching the sunset – it can be truly spectacular, depending on conditions.  

7. Explore the island’s vast landscapes and spectacular views from the many peaks and cliffs.

Nothing beats standing at the edge of a cliff in Madeira, feeling the wind in your hair and gazing at the endless horizon. Here are some of the best ways to experience the landscapes and views:

Pico do Arieiro

Pico do Arieiro is Madeira’s third highest peak. Reachable by car, this vantage point offers panoramic views of the island’s rugged interior. Explore the nearby walking trails, like the one leading to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak, for a challenging hike and even more beautiful vistas.

A path leading to the top of a mountain.
From Pico Do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo

Levada Walks

Madeira’s levada system offers an extensive network of hiking trails that wind through the island’s diverse landscapes. Walk along levadas (irrigation channels) to reach viewpoints and scenic spots. Popular routes include Levada do Caldeirão Verde and Levada das 25 Fontes, which take you through lush forests to cascading waterfalls.

Cabo Girão

Cabo Girão is Europe’s highest sea cliff. You can stand on a glass-floored viewpoint for a vertigo-inducing perspective of the cliffs plunging into the Atlantic Ocean. This spot also provides breathtaking sunsets and opportunities for paragliding.

Ponta de São Lourenço

The easternmost tip of Madeira is called Ponta de São Lourenço. Hiking along this dramatic peninsula reveals lunar-like landscapes, rugged cliffs, and captivating seascapes. 

Sunrise and Sunset

To witness the most magical moments, consider setting out early for sunrise or staying late for sunset at one of Madeira’s peaks or viewpoints. The changing light and colours over the island are truly stunning.

A man standing on top of a mountain at sunset.
Pico Do Arieiro Sunrise

8. Enjoy a hike along one of the many levadas that Madeira has to offer. 

A hike along one of Madeira’s levadas is a unique experience. Levadas are narrow irrigation channels that crisscross the island, originally built to transport water to agricultural areas. These levada trails take you through lush, green landscapes, with the calming sound of water running beside you.  

A small stream runs down the side of a cliff.
Levada view

The hikes cater to all levels, from easy strolls beside the levadas to more challenging treks into Madeira’s wilderness. I spent two days hiking levadas, and they were honestly the best days of my trip!

Here are the top 5 levada hikes that showcase the island’s natural beauty and diverse landscapes:

1. Levada do Caldeirão Verde

This famous hike takes you through lush forests and tunnels to reach the stunning Caldeirão Verde (Green Cauldron), a dramatic cliff-ringed basin where a waterfall tumbles into a serene lagoon. 

2. Levada das 25 Fontes

Located near Caldeirão Verde, this hike combines the beauty of Levada do Caldeirão Verde with the enchantment of 25 Fontes (25 Springs), a place where water cascades from the cliffs, creating a wall of waterfalls. 

3. Levada do Rabaçal

This hike begins at the Rabaçal Forestry Park and takes you through dense laurel forests, revealing captivating waterfalls along the way, including the impressive Risco Waterfall. The trail leads to the mystical Lagoa do Vento, a serene lake surrounded by pristine wilderness.

4. Levada do Furado

Explore the wild and remote landscapes of the eastern part of Madeira on this hike. The trail winds through untouched forests and provides breathtaking views of the ocean, Ponta de São Lourenço, and the nearby islands of Porto Santo and the Desertas.

5. Levada do Caniçal

This less crowded hike offers a unique perspective of Madeira’s eastern coast. It takes you through lush landscapes and offers picturesque views of the coastline, particularly the dramatic cliffs of Ponta de São Lourenço.

Further reading: 16 of the Best Levada Walks on Madeira Island

Remember to check trail conditions and weather forecasts before embarking on any hike, and be prepared with suitable footwear, clothing, and provisions, especially for longer treks. 

9. Taste Poncha in a local taverna.

Poncha is the island’s most traditional drink, and the best place to experience it is in a local taverna. The atmosphere is always lively, the locals are talkative and they often let you try to mix the poncha yourself (I did this, and it was great fun).

Poncha is a pretty alcoholic drink, made from aguardente (a local distilled spirit), honey, sugar, and fresh lemon juice. The locals told me that after 3 ponchas, you can speak fluent chinese 😀 

While the classic poncha recipe is a favourite, some tavernas offer variations of the drink, such as passion fruit or tangerine poncha.

10. Take a boat ride to see dolphins and whales.

Taking a boat ride to see dolphins and whales is a thrilling and unforgettable experience while visiting Madeira. The warm waters surrounding the island are home to a variety of marine species. Book whale and dolphin tours here.

Two dolphins jumping out of the water.
Dolphins in Madeira

Dolphin and Whale Species

Madeira’s waters are inhabited by several species of dolphins, including common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins, as well as various types of whales, such as pilot whales and sperm whales. 

Marine Tours

Numerous tour operators in Madeira offer dolphin and whale watching tours departing from various coastal towns, including Funchal, Calheta, and Caniçal. These tours typically last a few hours and provide expert guides who share their knowledge about the marine life.

Safety and Conservation

Tour operators in Madeira adhere to strict guidelines to ensure the safety of both passengers and marine animals. They also play an active role in marine conservation efforts by collecting data on the sightings, contributing to research, and educating visitors about the importance of protecting these creatures.

Spectacular Views

As you venture into the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Madeira’s coastline, cliffs, and open sea. 

Snorkelling

Some boat tours offer the chance to snorkel in the crystal-clear waters after the dolphin and whale watching. 

11. Visit Funchal’s old town for a memorable dining experience.

A visit to Funchal’s old town promises a memorable dining experience that combines rich history with delectable cuisine. 

Historic Ambiance

Start your evening with a leisurely stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Funchal’s old town, also known as Zona Velha. Admire the well-preserved colonial architecture, colourful buildings, and quaint squares illuminated by soft, golden light.

A plate of cookies and a glass of wine on a table in Funchal, Madeira.
Cafe culture in Funchal, Madeira

Diverse Dining Options

Funchal’s old town is a culinary haven, offering a wide range of dining options to suit every palate. Whether you’re craving traditional Madeiran cuisine, fresh seafood, international flavours, or fusion dishes, you’ll find it here.

Local Delicacies

Don’t miss the chance to sample local specialties such as “espetada” (skewered beef), “lapas” (limpets), and “bolo do caco” (sweet potato bread). Pair your meal with a glass of Madeira wine or “poncha,” a traditional Madeiran cocktail.

Seafront Restaurants

For a romantic dinner with a view, choose a restaurant along the seafront promenade. The gentle sound of waves and the sea breeze create a magical atmosphere.

Live Music and Entertainment

Some restaurants and bars in Funchal’s old town offer live music, adding to the vibrant ambiance of the evening. You might come across traditional Fado performances or other local music acts.

Local Markets

If you’re visiting during the day, explore the Mercado dos Lavradores, the city’s historic market. Here, you can sample fresh fruits, vegetables, and regional delicacies while getting a glimpse of local life.

Dining in Funchal’s old town isn’t just about the food; it’s a full sensory experience that combines history, culture, and gastronomy. 

Further reading: Ultimate Madeira Travel Guide.

12. Sample some of the local food, including caldo verde soup, bolo do caco bread, and espetada beef skewers.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I always make it my priority to try the local cuisine wherever I go. One of my favourite things to do on Madeira is eat 🙂

Here are some must-try items:

1. Caldo Verde Soup

This hearty and comforting soup is a Portuguese classic. Made with kale, potatoes, and sometimes chouriço (smoked sausage), it’s a wholesome dish that warms the soul. The kale gives it a vibrant green colour, hence the name “Caldo Verde,” which means “green broth.”

2. Bolo do Caco Bread

Bolo do Caco is a mouthwatering sweet potato bread that’s often served as a side dish or the base for sandwiches. It’s soft, slightly sweet, and typically grilled and smeared with garlic butter. It is served with a variety of toppings, from local cheese to chorizo.

3. Espetada Beef Skewers

Espetada is a beloved Madeiran dish consisting of marinated beef chunks skewered on a large stick and grilled to perfection. The marinade typically includes garlic, bay leaves, wine, and spices.

4. Espada (Black Scabbardfish)

Taste the island’s iconic fish, the espada, which has a distinct appearance with its long, slender body and sharp teeth. Often served with banana and passion fruit sauce, it’s a unique combination of flavours that’s a must-try for seafood enthusiasts.

5. Lapas (Limpets)

Lapas are a popular delicacy in Madeira, often served grilled with garlic and lemon butter. They have a slightly chewy texture and a delicate sea flavour.

6. Poncha

Wash down your meal with poncha, a traditional Madeiran drink made from aguardente (a local distilled spirit), honey, sugar, and fresh lemon juice. It’s a delightful and potent concoction that’s perfect for sipping.

7. Local Wines

Don’t forget to sample Madeira’s world-renowned fortified wines. From dry to sweet, these wines range in flavour and make for excellent aperitifs or dessert accompaniments.

Further reading: Food in Madeira: What to Eat and Drink on Madeira Island

13. Relax on one of Madeira’s stunning black sand beaches. 

Unwind on one of Madeira’s black sand beaches and let your worries melt away. These unique shores offer a different beach experience compared to golden sands. The volcanic black sand provides a striking contrast to the azure ocean, creating a tranquil and picturesque setting. 

A view of the ocean from a cliff overlooking a beach.
Prainha do Canical, Madeira.

Here are two popular black sand beaches on Madeira:

1. Prainha de Caniçal

Located in Caniçal on the eastern coast, Prainha de Caniçal is a picturesque black sand beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs. It’s a peaceful spot for swimming and relaxation.

2. Praia Formosa

While Praia Formosa in Funchal is primarily a pebble beach, it has some areas with black sand. This is one of the largest public beaches on the island and offers various facilities and restaurants.

14. Take part in water sports such as surfing or kayaking.

Indulge in the thrill of water sports while visiting Madeira, where the azure Atlantic Ocean offers a fantastic playground. 

A surfer riding a wave in the ocean in Madeira
Jardim do Mar Surfing

Surfing

The island’s rugged coastline, particularly in places like Jardim do Mar, Ponta Pequena, and Paul do Mar, provides excellent opportunities for surfing. Grab your board and ride the Atlantic waves while enjoying stunning ocean views.

Kayaking

Kayaking is a fantastic way to explore Madeira’s picturesque coastline and hidden coves. You can rent kayaks in various coastal towns like Machico, Funchal, and Caniçal. 

15. Visit one of the many local wineries and sample delicious wines.

Exploring Madeira’s local wineries is a delightful journey into the island’s rich viticultural heritage. Known for its unique fortified wines, Madeira produces a surprising number of unfortified wines too. This is a good wine tour you can book.

A bunch of grapes hanging from a vine in Madeira Island.
Tinta Negra Mole grapes in Estreito do Camara de Lobos

Here are some wine producers you might like to check out:

1. Blandy’s Wine Lodge

Located in Funchal, Blandy’s is one of the island’s oldest wine producers, with a history dating back to 1811. Take a tour of their wine lodge, where you can witness the winemaking process, from grape to bottle. Visit website.

2. Justino’s Madeira Wines

Justino’s is another iconic winery, famous for producing Madeira wine. Visit their cellars in Caniçal to explore their ageing process and enjoy a tasting session featuring a variety of their finest wines. Visit website.

3. Barbeito Madeira

Located in Câmara de Lobos, Barbeito is a boutique winery known for its artisanal approach to winemaking. Their Madeira wines are characterised by exceptional quality and unique flavour profiles. Visit website

16. Take part in a traditional festival such as Madeira’s Festa dos Santos Populares held on June 13th.

Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Madeira by participating in one of its traditional festivals, such as the Festa dos Santos Populares, celebrated with great fervour every year on June 13th. This lively event pays homage to the island’s patron saints, Santo António, São João, and São Pedro, and it’s a celebration of music, dance, and local cuisine.

Processions

There are colourful processions where locals don traditional attire and carry statues of the saints through the streets, accompanied by lively music and dancing. The atmosphere is electric, with the scent of traditional Madeiran food filling the air.

Street Parties

You can join in the spirited street parties that take place across the island. Streets are adorned with colourful decorations, and you can expect live music, folk dance performances, and stalls selling delicious Madeiran delicacies.

Fireworks

The festivities often culminate with spectacular firework displays lighting up the night sky, creating a magical atmosphere.

17. Relax in one of Madeira’s many spas and enjoy some pampering.

Whether you’re on a solo trip, a romantic getaway, or a family vacation, one thing is certain: everyone deserves a little pampering every now and then. Madeira, known for its natural beauty and laid-back atmosphere, is the perfect place to indulge in some rest and relaxation. 

Thermal Pools at Porto Moniz

One of the most unique spa experiences in Madeira can be found at the natural volcanic rock pools in Porto Moniz. Immerse yourself in the warm, mineral-rich waters while taking in breathtaking ocean views.

Luxury Spa Resorts

Many of Madeira’s upscale hotels offer world-class spa facilities. These luxurious resorts, like the Choupana Hills Resort & Spa and The Vine Hotel, boast a range of treatments, from massages to facials, set in opulent surroundings.

Ayurvedic Retreats

Explore holistic wellness with Ayurvedic treatments and yoga retreats offered at several wellness centres around the island. These practices focus on harmonising the mind, body, and spirit.

18. Enjoy the nightlife in Funchal – Music, bars, restaurants and more!

Funchal, Madeira’s vibrant capital, comes alive at night, offering a lively and diverse nightlife scene.

A city at night.
Funchal by Night

Here’s how you can enjoy the best of Funchal’s nightlife:

Live Music

Start your evening by catching live music performances at venues like the Pestana CR7 Rooftop Sky Bar, where you can enjoy a drink with a view while listening to local and international artists. 

Bars and Pubs

Funchal boasts a variety of bars and pubs catering to different tastes. Explore the Old Town area, where you’ll find a concentration of bars like The Hole in One Pub and Madeira Rum House, offering a selection of local and international beverages.

Nightclubs

If you want to dance the night away, head to one of Funchal’s nightclubs, like Copacabana Club or Vespas Club, known for their energetic music and lively atmosphere. These venues stay open until the early hours.

Dinner with a View

Funchal’s restaurants offer a wide range of cuisines, from traditional Madeiran dishes to international flavours. Enjoy a leisurely dinner at a seafront restaurant such as the Clássico, where you can savour delicious food while gazing at the sparkling city lights.

Cultural Shows

Occasionally, you might stumble upon cultural shows or events happening in the city, such as traditional Fado music performances or local festivals. 

19. Discover the old town of Machico and its fortified walls.

Nestled on the eastern coast of Madeira, Portugal, lies the charming old town of Machico with its impressive fortified walls. As the island’s former capital, Machico boasts a rich history that is preserved within its walls. As you stroll along the narrow cobbled streets, you’ll come across stunning architecture, colourful buildings, and quaint cafes. The fortress of São João Baptista brings a sense of grandeur and offers breathtaking views of the sea. 

Further reading: The 20 best towns in Madeira (and where to stay in each one)

A sandy beach with a mountain in the background.
Machico Bay, Madeira

Fortified Walls

Machico is enclosed by well-preserved fortified walls dating back to the 15th century. These walls were constructed to protect the town from pirates and other potential threats during Madeira’s early colonisation period. 

Main Square

Start your exploration at the town’s main square, Largo da Praça. Here, you’ll find the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, an example of Madeiran religious architecture. 

Things to do in Machico – Promenade

The promenade that borders the coastline is a pleasant walk with sea views and a relaxing setting. The promenade also leads to Machico’s beautiful sandy beach, where you can soak up the sun and take a dip in the Atlantic waters.

Museums and Cultural Sites

Machico also features museums, such as the Machico Museum and the Solar do Ribeirinho, which provide insights into the town’s history and culture.

20. Visit São Vicente Caves – An impressive volcanic crater with a museum inside.

A visit to the São Vicente Caves is like entering a geological wonderland. Located within an ancient volcanic crater, this site showcases the natural history of Madeira in a different way. It’s one of the most amazing things to do on Madeira island.

Underground Exploration

A network of lava tubes and caverns, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, show the forces that shaped Madeira. Guided tours take you through the labyrinthine passages, and the guides provide valuable insights into the cave’s geology and history.

A cave with water flowing through it.
Sao Vicente Caves – one of the most atmospheric things to do on Madeira

Interactive Museum

The São Vicente Caves also house an interactive museum that delves deeper into the island’s geological history. There are informative displays, videos, and exhibits that explain the formation of Madeira and its volcanic activity over millions of years.

Further reading: 25 Unique & Amazing Things to do on Madeira Island.

21. Go stargazing in Madeira’s remote areas, to really see the heavens.

Stargazing in Madeira allows you to witness the brilliance of the night sky in all its glory. This is one of the most memorable things to do on Madeira.

The milky in the night sky with a tree in the foreground.
Stargazing at Fanal, Madeira

Here’s how to make the most of your stargazing adventure:

1. Choose the Right Location

To escape light pollution and fully appreciate the night sky, head to Madeira’s more remote and elevated areas. Pico do Arieiro, the island’s third-highest peak, and Ponta do Pargo on the western tip are excellent spots for stargazing. The island’s observatories, such as the Santana Observatory, are also ideal locations.

2. Time Your Visit

Check the lunar calendar and aim for nights when the moon is in its crescent or new moon phase. This reduces moonlight interference, allowing for better visibility of stars, planets, and celestial phenomena.

3. Bring the Essentials

Be prepared with essential stargazing equipment, such as binoculars or a telescope, if you have them. Additionally, pack warm clothing, as even in Madeira’s subtropical climate, temperatures can drop significantly at higher altitudes during the night.

4. Learn the Constellations

Familiarise yourself with the constellations visible in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, as Madeira’s location in the Atlantic Ocean offers views of both. Consider downloading a stargazing app or bringing a star chart to help identify stars, planets, and constellations.

5. Local Expertise

Join a guided stargazing tour or workshop led by local astronomers or astrophotographers. They can provide valuable insights into the night sky, share folklore and mythology associated with celestial objects, and help you navigate the cosmos.

The clear, unpolluted skies, combined with the island’s natural beauty, create a magical backdrop for exploring the cosmos and appreciating the wonders of the night.

Another great place to go stargazing is the Canary Islands.

22. *Do* go chasing waterfalls (on Madeira Island at least)

Madeira island has an array of stunning waterfalls, each with its unique character.

A waterfall flowing through a lush green forest.
Riberio do Infernos Falls, Madeira

Here’s a guide to some of the most captivating waterfalls to explore and where to find them:

1. Risco Waterfall near Rabaçal

Located in the Rabaçal Valley, the Risco Waterfall is a breathtaking sight. The journey to this natural wonder takes you through a dense laurel forest, offering a glimpse into Madeira’s pristine wilderness. 

2. Véu da Noiva (Bridal Veil) Waterfall

Nestled amidst the island’s verdant landscapes, the Véu da Noiva Waterfall is a sight to behold. Named for its delicate, veil-like appearance, it gracefully tumbles down the rugged cliffs. To reach this waterfall, follow the Levada da Ribeira Funda trail, which leads you through terraced farmlands and along ancient irrigation channels. 

3. Poço do Bacalhau Waterfall

Tucked away in a secluded corner of Madeira, the Poço do Bacalhau Waterfall awaits. This hidden gem can be found on the Levada do Risco trail, which also leads to the Risco Waterfall. It’s a serene oasis surrounded by lush greenery, inviting you to take a refreshing dip and revel in the tranquillity of the moment.

23. Ride up to 7 different cable cars across the island of Madeira.

Madeira has not one, but SEVEN cable cars across the island, and they provide some of the most breathtaking scenic views you’ll ever encounter.

1. Funchal – Monte Cable Car:

  • This cable car takes you from Funchal to Monte, climbing 560 metres.
  • It offers panoramic views of Funchal and the ocean.
  • The trip lasts about 20 minutes and provides opportunities for stunning photographs.
  • In Monte, you can visit the Monte Palace Botanical Garden, the famous church, or try the wicker basket ride.
  • More information: www.madeiracablecar.com

2. Monte – Botanical Garden Cable Car:

  • This cable car allows for a convenient visit to the famous botanical garden while stopping in Monte.
  • The trip takes about 9 minutes.
  • It provides easy access to the botanical garden.
  • Find out more: www.telefericojardimbotanico.com

3. Garajau Cable Car:

  • Located in the municipality of Garajau, close to Funchal.
  • Descends 150 metres to Garajau beach and the Garajau Nature Reserve.
  • The beach is perfect for diving or relaxation.
  • Offers a romantic spot to watch the sunset near the Cristo Rei statue.

4. Fajã dos Padres Cable Car in Quinta Grande:

  • Descends 300 metres to a garden of Eden by the ocean.
  • The farm is eco-friendly, and a restaurant awaits you at the bottom.
  • There’s a pebble beach, but it can get crowded in the summer.

5. Rancho Cable Car in Câmara de Lobos:

  • More recent and mainly used by farmers to transport crops.
  • Close to Cabo Girao and less crowded than Fajã dos Padres.
  • No restaurant at the bottom, but one is available near the departure point with fantastic coastline views.

6. Achadas da Cruz Cable Car:

  • Located in Porto Moniz on the north of the island.
  • Descends 450 metres to a beautiful and serene spot.
  • No amenities at the bottom, so bring your drinks and snacks.
  • Swimming in the crystal-clear waters is not advised due to strong currents.

7. Rocha do Navio Cable Car:

  • Situated on the north coast of the island in Santana.
  • The trip to the Nature Reserve of Rocha do Navio lasts about 5 minutes.
  • Primarily used by local farmers but open to visitors.

Each cable car provides a unique perspective of Madeira’s stunning landscapes and is well worth checking out!

24. Take a magical excursion to the island of Porto Santo.

Tucked away in the Atlantic Ocean, just a short ferry ride from Madeira, lies the idyllic Porto Santo Island. Known as the “Golden Island,” Porto Santo offers a serene and sun-soaked escape. This is one of the best things to do on Madeira island if you love beaches.

An aerial view of a beach and ocean in the canary islands.
Porto Santo Island

Pristine Beaches

Porto Santo is renowned for its stunning golden sandy beaches that stretch for nearly nine kilometres along the island’s southern coast. The warm, crystal-clear waters and the soft sands create a perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing. In particular, Praia do Porto Santo is the island’s main beach, with a wide range of beachfront amenities.

Healing Sand

The island is famous for its therapeutic sands, which are believed to have healing properties. Visitors often indulge in “sand baths” where they bury themselves in the warm sands, said to alleviate a variety of ailments. 

Peaceful Ambiance

Porto Santo is ideal for getting some peace and relaxation. The island maintains a slower pace of life, and its unspoiled nature creates a peaceful atmosphere. You’ll find quiet, uncrowded beaches and scenic walking trails throughout.

Nature Exploration

Explore the island’s natural beauty by hiking along its trails and discovering its unique landscapes. Don’t miss Pico do Castelo, a hill offering panoramic views, or the Ponta da Calheta viewpoint. There is also diverse birdlife on the island.

Historical Sites

The Christopher Columbus House Museum (Casa Colombo) in Vila Baleira, provides information about the famous explorer’s connections to Porto Santo. You can also explore the ancient Fonte da Areia, an archaeological site dating back to Roman times.

Fresh Seafood

Enjoy seafood at local restaurants along the coast. Porto Santo’s cuisine features dishes like grilled limpets, octopus salad, and seafood rice, all freshly caught from the surrounding waters.

Golfing

There is a beautiful golf course, Porto Santo Golfe, with stunning ocean views. 

Easy Access

Getting to Porto Santo is straightforward, with regular ferry services from Madeira’s capital, Funchal, and direct flights from mainland Europe during the tourist season.

25. A blooming paradise: visit Madeira’s many magnificent gardens.

Madeira, often referred to as the “Floating Garden of the Atlantic,” is celebrated for its lush landscapes, vibrant flora, and exquisite gardens. The gardens of Madeira are some of the most famous things to do on Madeira island.

Here are some of the beautiful gardens you can visit:

1. Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Nestled high in the hills of Funchal, the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a botanical gem. This garden features an impressive collection of exotic plants from around the world, including cycads, azaleas, and proteas. There are also Oriental-inspired sculptures, serene koi ponds, and panoramic views of Funchal and the bay.

2. Madeira Botanical Garden

Located in the suburb of Monte, the Madeira Botanical Garden showcases the island’s unique flora. It’s home to an extensive range of native and endemic plants, including the iconic Madeira laurel trees. Don’t miss the orchid house, where you can marvel at an array of delicate and colourful orchid species.

3. Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro

The picturesque gardens of Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro can be found on a historic estate on the outskirts of Funchal. The gardens are renowned for their camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons. You can also take a guided tour to learn about the estate’s history and the artistry behind its landscaping.

4. Funchal Municipal Garden

Located in the heart of Funchal, this urban oasis boasts a diverse collection of plants, fountains, and sculptures. The garden’s central lake is inhabited by swans and ducks (and who doesn’t love swans and ducks).

26. The unique toboggan experience in Funchal.

When you visit Funchal, you’ll have the opportunity to embark on a unique and exhilarating adventure – the famous toboggan ride. This is one of the most random and celebrated things to do on Madeira island. Book tickets here.

A group of men carrying crates on a street.
Toboggans and staff

The Toboggan Run

The toboggan run begins high in the hills of Monte, just above Funchal. Here, you’ll find the starting point for your thrilling descent. The “carros de cesto,” or wicker toboggans, are the vehicles of choice for this ride.

The Tobogganers

The tobogganers, dressed in traditional white uniforms and straw hats, are skilled and experienced guides who will ensure your safety and an unforgettable journey. They use their expertise to navigate the winding, narrow streets and steep gradients of the descent.

The Scenic Route

As your toboggan starts its descent, you’ll get breathtaking views of Funchal, the surrounding landscapes, and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean in the distance. The journey takes you through picturesque neighbourhoods, gardens and streets.

The Thrills and Chills

The ride is a blend of thrills and chills as your toboggan speeds downhill, guided by the tobogganers who skillfully control its course using ropes and their own body weight. 

The Historical Significance

This tradition dates back to the early 19th century when it was a practical mode of transportation for locals to descend from Monte to Funchal. Today, it has evolved into an iconic tourist attraction, preserving a piece of Madeira’s rich history.

The End of the Journey

Your toboggan ride culminates in the heart of Funchal’s historic old town. The journey ends near the Church of Our Lady of Monte, allowing you to explore this charming area filled with quaint streets, cafes, and shops.

Practical Tips:

  • Be prepared for a short but thrilling ride, lasting around 10-15 minutes.
  • Dress comfortably and bring your camera to capture the memorable moments.
  • Toboggan rides typically operate during the day, but it’s advisable to check the schedule in advance.

27. Admire the Painted Doors of Santa Maria Street, Funchal.

Take a leisurely stroll through the enchanting Santa Maria Street in Funchal’s Old Town and be captivated by the vibrant, painted doors adorning this charming locale. Each door tells a unique story through its colorful artwork, showcasing the creativity and talent of local artists.

Further reading: How to See Street Art in Santa Maria Street, Funchal.

Map of Madeira.

The Google map below shows all of the experiences and things to do on Madeira island as listed above. Click the blue icons to see more information about each place, or click the star to add to your own Google Maps. I will also include a map showing hotels in Madeira further down in this Madeira travel guide.

FAQs about things to do on Madeira island.

Here are some common frequently asked questions when people are searching for things to do on Madeira island on Google.

Q: What are the must-visit natural attractions and things to do on Madeira Island? 

A: Madeira boasts stunning natural wonders like waterfalls, levadas, volcanic pools, and lush forests. Don’t miss the Risco Waterfall, Levada dos 25 Fontes, Porto Moniz Natural Pools, and Laurisilva Forest.

Q: What’s the best time for hiking in Madeira? 

A: The best time for hiking in Madeira is during spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November). The weather is pleasant, and nature is at its finest.

Further reading: The Best Time to visit Madeira Island, Portugal.

Q: How can I experience traditional Madeiran cuisine? 

A: To enjoy traditional dishes like “espetada” and “bolo do caco,” visit local restaurants and tavernas in Funchal and other towns. Don’t forget to taste Madeira wine and poncha.

Further reading: Food in Madeira: What to Eat and Drink on Madeira Island

Q: What activities can I enjoy in Funchal? 

A: Funchal offers a variety of activities, including visiting historic sites like the cathedral and city hall, exploring the old town, dining at local restaurants, and shopping in markets.

Further reading: 29 Wonderful Things to do in Funchal, Madeira.

Q: Where can I go for a peaceful beach experience on Madeira Island? 

A: For a tranquil beach day, head to Praia Formosa in Funchal or the sandy cove of Prainha in Caniçal. Madeira’s beaches are known for their natural beauty and serene ambiance.

Q: What are the top spots for stargazing on the island? 

A: To stargaze in Madeira, visit remote areas like Pico do Arieiro, Ponta do Pargo, and observatories. Opt for clear nights during the crescent or new moon phase for the best experience.

Q: How can I book a dolphin and whale watching tour in Madeira? 

A: You can book dolphin and whale watching tours through local tour operators in coastal towns like Funchal, Calheta, and Caniçal. These tours provide expert guides and typically last a few hours.

Q: What are the most popular levada hikes on Madeira Island? 

A: Some popular levada hikes include Levada do Caldeirão Verde, Levada das 25 Fontes, Levada do Rabaçal, Levada do Furado, and Levada do Caniçal.

Further reading: 16 of the Best Levada Walks on Madeira Island

Q: What’s the best time to witness local festivals and cultural events? 

A: Madeira hosts several festivals throughout the year. The most renowned is the Festa dos Santos Populares on June 13th, but there are other events year-round. Check the local event calendar for details.

Q: Where can I find traditional crafts and souvenirs on the island? 

A: Traditional crafts and souvenirs can be found at markets like the Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal. Look for local embroidery, ceramics, wickerwork, and regional food products.

Further reading: 20 Gifts and Souvenirs to Buy From Madeira.

Q: What water sports can I enjoy on Madeira Island? 

A: Madeira offers various water sports opportunities, including surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and scuba diving. The island’s clear waters and coastal landscapes provide excellent conditions for these activities.

Q: Is it possible to see dolphins and whales year-round in Madeira? 

A: Yes, dolphins and whales are present around Madeira year-round due to the island’s strategic location in the Atlantic. However, the sighting frequency may vary depending on the season, with higher chances during spring and summer.

Q: What’s the best way to explore Madeira’s mountains and peaks? 

A: To explore Madeira’s mountainous terrain, consider guided hiking tours or Jeep safaris that take you to high-altitude viewpoints. Pico do Arieiro and Ponta do Pargo are excellent spots for panoramic views.

Q: Are there opportunities for wine tasting on Madeira Island? 

A: Absolutely. Madeira is famous for its fortified wine. You can visit local wineries and cellars for wine tasting tours. Funchal has several wine lodges where you can sample different types of Madeira wine.

Q: What’s the best way to experience Madeira’s vibrant nightlife? 

A: To enjoy Madeira’s nightlife, head to the lively areas in Funchal, where you’ll find a plethora of bars, restaurants, and clubs. Many establishments offer live music, traditional Fado performances, and dancing, creating a vibrant night scene.

Organised tours and things to do on Madeira.

Below are some of the top-rated tours in Madeira, from my preferred tour operator Viator (I also use Get Your Guide as well, but Viator is my go-to).

1. Sunrise Self-Guided Hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: To save you the hassle of organising transport, the trip includes hotel pickup, then drop-off at Pico do Arieiro, and pickup from Achada do Teixeira once you’ve finished the hike.

2. Full-Day Madeira North West Coast Safari from Funchal: Take the scenic route between Ribeira Brava and Porto Moniz in an open-top safari vehicle; enjoy spectacular views of the Cabo Girão sea cliffs, Veu da Noiva waterfall, and the Paul da Serra plateau.

3. East of Madeira | Full Day 4×4 Tour: Travelling by 4WD, venture off-road and escape the crowds as you drive the Pico do Areiro mountain roads, stop in villages such as Ribeiro Frio and Faial, and visit a traditional A-frame house in Santana.

4. Half-Day Wine Tour in Madeira: Wonderful wine trail through the Laurissilva forest with wine and tapas included.

5. Private Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour in Madeira: 2- to 4-hour private charter by motor yacht. Snorkel and spot marine life including whales and dolphins. Light refreshments and a glass of sparkling wine included.

View all Madeira tours on Viator here. You can reserve tours immediately without paying anything up front, and cancel for free. Viator is a TripAdvisor company, so you know you will get a good service.

Where to stay in Madeira.

Below is an abridged version of my main Where to stay in Madeira post. You may also be interested in 14 of the Best Hotels in Madeira and My Review of the Savoy Saccharum resort & Spa Madeira.

Consider the following towns when deciding where to stay in Madeira. I have included links which will take you to Booking.com if you would like to check prices. Click here to see all availability in Madeira.

a. Funchal

The capital city offers a wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly options. Funchal is bustling with restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions, making it a convenient base for exploring. It’s also a great choice if you want a mix of city life and coastal beauty. See prices and availability for Funchal.

Further reading: 29 Wonderful Things to do in Funchal, Madeira.

b. Calheta

This area is known for its golden sandy beach and is a great pick for those seeking a more relaxed and beach-oriented vacation. I stayed in Calheta in 2023 and wrote a review of the Savoy Saccharum Resort & Spa.

Calheta offers a selection of hotels and self-catering accommodations. See prices and availability for Calheta.

An aerial view of a beach and cliffs.
Praia Da Calheta

c. São Vicente

If you’re interested in exploring Madeira’s natural beauty, São Vicente offers a serene atmosphere nestled amidst mountains and valleys. It’s a great choice for nature lovers and hikers. See prices and availability for São Vicente.

d. Porto Moniz

Famous for its natural swimming pools, Porto Moniz is a picturesque coastal village. It’s an ideal spot for a peaceful getaway and is known for its unique volcanic landscapes. See prices and availability for Porto Moniz.

e. Machico

This historic town is close to the airport and offers a beautiful beach, making it convenient for a short stay or if you want easy access to transportation. See prices and availability for Machico.

f. Santana

Known for its charming A-frame houses and lush green surroundings, Santana provides a tranquil rural experience. See prices and availability for Santana.

g. Ponta do Sol

This sunny village is perfect if you’re looking for a quiet, laid-back atmosphere. It offers stunning sunsets and a peaceful ambiance. See prices and availability for Ponta do Sol.

h. Câmara de Lobos

A traditional fishing village with a vibrant local atmosphere, Câmara de Lobos is an excellent choice for experiencing authentic Madeiran culture. See prices and availability for Câmara de Lobos.

A group of boats on a beach.
Camara des Lobos

i. Ribeira Brava

This coastal town offers a mix of local life, historical sites, and beautiful sea views. I found it quite s imilar to Funchal but a lot less busy and with more of a local feel. See prices and availability for Ribeira Brava.

j. Ponta Delgada

Located on the north coast, Ponta Delgada is a small village known for its natural beauty and quietness. See prices and availability for Ponta Delgada.

Further reading: The 14 Best Hotels in Madeira, Portugal.

Accommodation in Madeira

Here is a map from Booking.com showing hotels by location. You can zoom in, zoom out, drag and move the map. If you click the map, it will take you to Booking.com where you can look more closely at your options.

Booking.com

I recommend reserving your room immediately to get the best price. It’s usually free to reserve, and you can always cancel later on. See the main Madeira page from Booking.com.

Booking links

Here are your booking links again, all in one place. These links will get you the best prices on Booking.com today:

Hotels in Funchal | Hotels in Calheta | Hotels in São Vicente | Hotels in Porto Moniz | Hotels in Machico | Hotels in Santana | Hotels in Ponta do Sol | Hotels in Câmara de Lobos | Hotels in Ribeira Brava | Hotels in Ponta Delgada | All hotels in Madeira.

Further reading: The 20 best towns in Madeira (and where to stay in each one)

Madeira travel advice.

For travel advice for Madeira, please see my main Madeira travel guide post. This page contains everything you need to know about Madeira, including things to do, what to see, local cuisine, safety considerations, transportation, best time to visit, cultural etiquette and more.

In the meantime, here are some quick travel tips for Madeira, Portugal:

Practical tips for Madeira.

Health and Safety:

  1. Medical Services: Madeira has quality medical facilities, but travel insurance is crucial to cover any unexpected health issues.
  2. Sun Protection: The sun can be strong in Madeira. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from sunburn.
  3. Terrain Awareness: The island’s terrain can be steep and challenging. Wear appropriate footwear and be cautious when walking in hilly areas.

Transportation:

  1. Driving: If you plan to rent a car in Madeira, note that Madeira’s roads can be narrow and winding. Drive cautiously, and be aware of steep drops in some areas.
  2. Public Transportation: Madeira’s bus system is reliable for getting around. Be sure to check the bus schedules in advance.
  3. Taxis: Taxis are safe and regulated. Ensure the meter is running or agree on a fare before starting the ride.

Money and Communication:

  1. Currency: The currency used in Madeira is the Euro (€).
  2. ATMs: ATMs are widely available, especially in tourist areas. Inform your bank before travelling to ensure your cards work abroad.
  3. Language: Portuguese is the official language of Madeira. While many locals in tourist areas speak English, learning a few basic Portuguese phrases can enhance your experience. This Lonely Planet Portuguese Phrase Book & Dictionary is excellent (Amazon link).

Outdoor Activities:

  1. Levada Walks: If you plan to hike the levadas, wear sturdy shoes, carry water, and check the weather forecast. Some walks can be challenging.
  2. Swimming: While there are natural pools and beaches, always follow safety signs and guidelines when swimming in the ocean.
  3. Madeira tourist card: Consider purchasing a Funchal City Card, which provides discounted access to various attractions and unlimited use of public transportation. You can buy these from tourism offices.

Emergency Contacts:

  • Emergency Services: Dial 112 for police, medical, or fire emergencies.

Environmental Considerations:

  1. Responsible Tourism: Respect the island’s natural beauty by not littering and following designated paths.
  2. Conservation: Be cautious around delicate ecosystems, especially in natural parks and reserves.

Further reading: Ultimate Madeira Travel Guide.

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