Madeira is a volcanic island that is one of the two autonomous districts of Portugal. So in terms of politics, it belongs to the European Union and in that sense, it can be considered part of Europe. However, due to its location on the northern coast of Africa in the subtropical climate zone, it belongs to the African continent. Madeira is a popular but still not fully discovered tourist destination that still has many secrets. There is no doubt – you can’t get bored in this place and everyone will find something for themselves. You can spend your time in an active way, explore stunning nature, or take photos in amazing places. This is definitely one of the most exciting and varied destinations in Europe.
When is the best time to visit Madeira?
Madeira is often referred to as the land of eternal spring. There is no exaggeration in this statement. Temperatures rarely drop below 15 degrees Celsius a year. The climate has a positive effect on the rich vegetation of the island, as well as the well-being of residents and tourists. Before visiting the island, you should know that when it comes to the climate and weather, Madeira is divided into two parts: the northern, which is rainier and cooler, and the southern, which is sunnier and warmer. This is obviously a huge generalization. Besides, each part has its own microclimate. In the mountainous parts of Madeira, the peaks are often above the clouds. The sun shines so intensely that even in winter you should use sunscreen.
You might be told that the best time to visit Madeira is spring. After a rainy winter, spring usually brings the improvement of the weather, more sun, and slightly increased temperatures compared to winter. Due to the most favorable weather, the best month to visit Madeira during the spring is May. You may also consider the month of April because of the flower festival taking place in April. In summer, Madeira has the highest temperatures, and it is also the peak of the tourist season. Temperatures are usually around 25 degrees Celsius and rarely exceed 30 degrees. Sometimes a hot and dry wind from the Sahara comes to Madeira, bringing Saharan sand and temperatures of up to 40 degrees. However, when planning a trip to Madeira, I would recommend choosing the turn of autumn and summer – September. Autumn in Madeira brings a gradual increase in rainfall.This is the best time if you want to avoid crowds of tourists. In October and November, there is a greater chance of rainfall and if you plan your holidays for winter – December is the best choice. The temperatures in December are around 20 degrees. It is the month with the most rainfall, but it usually rains in the evening or at night.
How to get to Madeira?
Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. Together with the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Cape Verde, it is the so-called Macaronesia and you can get there by:
- a flight with budget airlines or traditional airlines – this is a cheap way but in most cases, it will require a transfer. The national airlines in Portugal are TAP Portugal.
- charter flight – the easiest way to buy it is at a travel agency that rents a plane to transport its clients to the destination of the purchased trip. A ticket for such flight can be purchased separately, without the need of purchasing a trip. Sometimes it pays off more than buying a separate ticket.
However, no matter what method of air travel we choose, landing at the airport near Funchal provides an interesting experience. The runway is built on concrete poles that run along the ocean, and landing in Madeira is considered one of the most difficult challenges for pilots.
How to get around Madeira?
We have four options for exploring this island:
- renting a car – by far the most convenient and the best way, it saves not only time but also money and stress. Choose the car wisely as you will be riding on slopes, sometimes quite steep,
- using a taxi – for people who, for various reasons, do not want to or cannot drive a car by themselves, but who still want to be as independent as possible. The optimal solution is, for example, to hire a taxi driver from a company that offers various taxi tours around the island,
- using one-day trips – this is another option that will meet the expectations of people who visit Funchal and who like well-organized short trips and do not plan to rent a car,
- using a bus – for those who are looking for the cheapest solutions. Public transport in Madeira works well, but we can waste a lot of time waiting for the buses. We are losing flexibility and freedom in travel planning. There are three types of buses: orange buses – Horários to Funchal – only within the city of Funchal and its immediate environs, red buses – Rodoeste, in the western part of Madeira, and green buses – SAM, in the eastern part of the island.
Read the full post about it here: How to get around Madeira? Renting a car and public transport options on the island
Where to stay in Madeira. Accommodation in Madeira
Madeira has an extensive accommodation base, so everyone, regardless of expectations and budget, will find something for themselves. Normally, the longer the stay, the easier to negotiate prices. As always, I recommend you start by looking for accommodation on Airbnb, because it offers a large selection of apartments, which always gives more freedom than a hotels and often much more space. Prices per night start from 30 euros. Be aware that in the current pandemic, there are far fewer tourists on the island, which has meant that rental prices have gone down significantly and there are more options to choose from.
In terms of hotels, I received the invitation from Visit Madeira and Four Views Baia Hotel located in the center of Funchal. The hotel is large, has a pool overlooking the city (which is not very common on Madeira), and from the rooms you have a view of the entire coast. Most importantly, its location is an ideal base for exploring the entire island.
Hotel prices for apartments in Madeira are highest in the capital and its surroundings and in the town of Calheta, which is warmer. The further away from the largest city, the prices drop. When planning your trip, you may want to consider staying in 2-3 locations to further reduce travel time to specific attractions. However, even living in Funchal you are able to reach the far-distant corners of the island and come back the same day.
What to eat in Madeira?
The most popular meals served in Madeira are fish and seafood, which is natural for an island located in a subtropical climate.During your stay you can try typical fish and seafood such as:
- cod (Bacalhau),
- tuna (Atum),
- black scabbardfish (Espada),
- octopus (Polvo),
- limpets (Lapas).
Other traditional local foods and drinks include:
- Espetada Madeirense – beef skewers, grilled on wood or charcoal,
- Honey cake (bolo de mel de cana) – one of the main desserts. You can buy it in almost every souvenir shop, it is not made of honey, but dark sugar cane molasses with the addition of nuts and raisins,
- wine – is probably the most popular drink from here. It has gained a reputation all over the world, there are many beautiful vineyards here, and the prices of the drink are very affordable,
- Poncha – another traditional alcoholic drink from Madeira. It is made from brandy, cane sugar, honey bee, and lemon juice, it is a hard stuff.
Madeira– places to see
Funchal and the Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Madeira was discovered in the 15th century (although the Phoenicians already knew it) by Portuguese sailors: João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira, and Bartolomeu Perestrelo. The capital of this autonomous region and its largest city is Funchal. One of the most important attractions of the city is the Jardim Tropical Monte Palace. You will find here rare species of plants, both from Madeira and other parts of the world. The most popular way to get to the Jardim Tropical Monte Palace is via the cable car from the city center. It offers beautiful views of Funchal, the mountains and the coast. Another Funchal attraction is – something you can only experience in Madeira – sledding in a wicker basket on wooden pavements. Sleds were used as a means of transport in the city since 1850. They are operated by local residents dressed in traditional costumes. Funchal is called little Lisbon, so it is not surprising that there are unique architectural monuments:
- Funchal Cathedral from the 15th century,
- Convento de Santa Clara with three chapels: for nuns, novices and the people,
- the old town with historic tenement houses, as well as pubs and bars.
One of the first settlers in Funchal was Christopher Columbus. In turn, for football fans, Funchal is the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Posto Florestal Fanal – Magic Forest
Another natural attraction of Madeira is Posto Florestal Fanal also known as the Mystery Forest, Foggy Forest, or Magic Forest. It is a laurel forest. The name of the forest refers to the fact that most of the time there is a fog in the forest. Read more about is amazing place here: Magical Fanal Forest on Madeira – must visit place for creative photography
Cape Cabo Girao is the tenth highest cliff in the world – 580 m above sea level. It’s a popular tourist destination, so it’s usually very crowded. The best time to see Cabo Girao is the early morning hours so you can avoid the biggest crowds. The views are breathtaking.
A characteristic feature of the landscape in Madeira are levadas – irrigation canals that were created to supply water to farmlands and households. At the moment, they are not only historic examples of water infrastructure – their purpose changed – now they are used as trails. The most interesting are:
- Levada das 25 fontes – PR 6 Levada do Risco – PR 6.1
- Levada do Alecrim – PR 6.2
- Levada do Caldeirão Verde – PR 9
- Levada do Furado – PR 10
- Levada dos Cedros – PR 14
- Levada do Rei – PR 18
- Levada dos Tornos – Boaventura
- Levada da Ribeira da Janela
Read about the best trails in Madeira here: The best hikes and levada walks in Madeira
In mountainous Madeira, there are plenty of waterfalls, which are one of the greatest natural treasures of the island. Most of them can be reached via the levada trails. The most beautiful are
- Cascata das 25 Fontes,
- Levada Nova,
- Levada do Alecrim,
- Cascata dos Anjos,
- Cascata dos Anjos,
- Cascata do Caldeirão Verde,
- Agua D’Alto,
- Cascata da Garganta Funda,
- Paul do Mar,
- Caminho Real
Check out the most beautiful waterfall in Madeira here: The most beautiful waterfalls in Madeira
Magical tropical Madeira – the Caldeirão Verde waterfall
The Levada, which was built in the 18th century, begins in the Queimadas Forest Park, in the main stream channel of the Verde Caldeirão stream. It passes through steep cliffs and mountains, so that water flows from the highest peaks of Madeira. It is used for agricultural purposes. The most interesting places are the deep valley of São Jorge and hand-carved rock tunnels. In addition to the natural beauty of the trail, you can visit the small village of Achada do Marques, where there are traditional agricultural terraces and old stone huts. You will aslo find here Caldeirão Verde waterfall.Read more about this amazing place here: Magical tropical Madeira – the Caldeirão Verde waterfall
Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Ariero is the second highest peak in Madeira. You can get there by foot or by car. It is about 30 minutes to get to Pico do Ariero from Funchal if you take the car. This is by far the most beautiful place to admire the sunrise on the island: Pico do Arieiro – the most beautiful place for a sunrise on Madeira
Museum of the Sugar Cane Factory
In the village of Calheta, on the south coast of Madeira, there is the Sugar Cane Factory Museum. You can learn about the whole process of making rum. Admission is free and you can try different types of rum for a small fee.
Achadas da Cruz
Achadas da Cruz is one of the most mysterious places in Madeira. Taking a cable car down the cliff, you will get to Fajã da Quebrada Nova. It looks like a small village, but nobody actually lives there. Some farmers come here from time to time. The only way to get there is by boat, cable car, or by walking down a steep trail. The place has a historical and fantasy movies vibe to it.
Porto Moniz is located in the west part of Madeira. What you will find here are beautiful natural pools filled with turquoise, clear water from the ocean. In several of them, of varying depth, you can swim and admire the waves crashing against the beautiful cliffs. The pools are most popular from July to September.
Vereda Dos Balcões
The Vereda Dos Balcões in Madeira is a great trail for a small adventure with views of the highest peaks of the island. The route is only 1.5 kilometers long, making it perfect for a short walk or a trip with the family. The trail leads through a beautiful forest and ends at Balcoes (balcony) with a view of Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest peak (1862 m). Read about this unique place here: Vereda Dos Balcões – hike on Madeira with an unique surprise
Sao Vicente Caves
Sao Vicente Caves are for those who admire geology and geotourism. Caves are located in the volcanic lava rocks. The walk through the tunnels takes about 30 minutes
Traditional houses in Santana
They are one of the most popular attractions in Madeira. This is a must-see when visiting the island. This place is a typical picture of postcards from Madeira.
Ponta de São Lourenço
Located on the eastern tip of the island, Ponta de São Lourenço is a great place to watch the sunrise. It is quite surreal and looks different from the rest of Madeira. It is easy to get here from Funchal, hence sometimes it gets crowded. If you want to avoid crowds – you should plan your visit to Ponta de São Lourenço for the morning. You can read more about this place here: San Lorenzo Peninsula in Madeira and the PR 8 Ponta de São Lourenço hike – these are the cliffs you’re visiting Madeira for
Praia do Porto do Seixal – Black Sand Beach
Praia do Porto do Seixal – Black Sand Beach – located in the north of Madeira is the most spectacular beach on the island as it has black sand. Place of breathtaking views of the ocean, beautiful cliffs with waterfalls, and the lively, wonderful greenery so typical of the island. The waves here tend to be taller. This makes the waters of Praia do Porto do Seixal a great place to surf
Bali on Madeira – Levada Rabacal and hidden waterfalls 25 Fontes and Risco
Levada 25 Fontes and Risco are among the most popular on the island and for absolutely good reason. If I had to recommend one Levada excursion, it would definitely be this one. The uniqueness of this place is evidenced by the fact that even though it is Madeira, you will feel like you are in Bali. You can read more about this amaizing place here: Bali on Madeira – Levada Rabacal and hidden waterfalls 25 Fontes and Risco
São Lourenço Peninsula
São Lourenço Peninsula or St. Lawrence Peninsula with Cape São Lourenço is located in the eastern part of Madeira. It is a place of one of the most picturesque trekking routes on the island with fantastic views of the rocky coast and cliffs: San Lorenzo Peninsula in Madeira and the PR 8 Ponta de São Lourenço hike – these are the cliffs you’re visiting Madeira for
ER110 road – the most beautiful road in Madeira
A drive along the famous ER110 road in Madeira is a must when visiting Madeira. Located high on the Paula da Serra plateau, it winds through endless, picturesque serpentines. The views along the way are quintessential of the island’s landscape – it’s green, mountainous, misty and fabulous. The best spot for photos is a sharp turn and the longest straight stretch of road on the island. Definitely worth a trip there at golden hour.
The black beach and rocks Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela
If you follow the route from Sao Vicente to Porto Moniz on Madeira, you must find some time for the rocky islands Ilheus da Ribeira and Janela. It’s not a very popular place, but definitely worth seeing. These are actually skeletons, i.e. soaring rocks protruding from the ocean, against which the waves are crashing strongly. Read more about this place here: The black beach and rocks Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela in Madeira – it’s worth going off the beaten tracks!
Ponta do Pargo
Ponta do Pargo is westernmost point of Madeira with a beautiful lighthouse and stunning views over the cliffs. This place is perfect for watching the sunset and it’s not very crowded, which is definitely on the plus side.
Things to do in Madeira
Swimming with whales and dolphins
One of the most exciting things to do on the island is undoubtedly swimming with cetaceans – with both dolphins and whales.The best time to watch or swim with sea mammals is summer. It is a time when they can be seen in coastal waters most often. The waves in the summer are softer and warmer. But as with all Madeira tours and activities, this can be done at any time of the year.
Kayaking and canyoning
Madeira is one of the best places in the world not only for traditional canoeing but also for extreme canoeing – canyoning. You can take lessons or go on excursions to the breathtaking sea caves. Canyoning will be great for beginners and intermediates, but even people with extensive experience will find challenges for themselves here.
Coasteering is basically walking along the coast in a wetsuit and helmet and jumping into the ocean whenever possible, as well as snorkeling in crystal clear water. The coastline of Madeira is full of exciting places on the coast, such as cliffs, from which, when properly prepared, you can safely jump into the ocean
1-day trips by boat to nearby islands
The Madeira archipelago consists of four islands that can be reached by boat. In addition to the main one, they are Porto Santo– with a beautiful sandy beach and length of 9 km, with golden sand and breathtaking views; Deserta and Farol, accessible by catamaran. They have beautiful white-sand beaches.
Paragliding – paragliding over Madeira is an unforgettable adventure for anyone who is not afraid of heights. There is no substitute for the aerial views of the ocean, beaches, cliffs, and towns on the island.
Diving and snorkeling
Madeira is a great place for diving. Together with the Azores, it forms the world’s largest whale reserve. During underwater exploration, you can find many interesting things, for example, shipwrecks, sea animals, such as rays, dolphins, and whales. The coastal waters of Madeira ensure incredible visibility of up to 20 m.
Surfing and bodyboarding
Madeira is considered to be one of the best destinations for surfing in Europe. There are some great surfing spots in Madeira. They are all located on the west side of the island. For beginners, there is only one good sandy beach to learn surfing – in Porto do Cruz. The rest of the surfing spots are rocky. The best time to learn surfing is summer when the waves are smaller
If you enjoy fishing, Madeira is place to go. There are some of the best fisheries in the world, and you can even catch tuna or marlin. You can go fishing, for example, on a half-day or full-day excursion in a fishing boat.
There is about 2,000 km of trails in Madeira, many of which are popular levadas – irrigation canals. The trails lead along the coast, through mountains and valleys full of waterfalls and beautiful forests. Some are easy and some require a certain level of hiking experience.
The mountainous Medeira is also a great place for mountain biking. Numerous hills, valleys, mountains, mountain passes, and other height barriers are a challenge for cyclists. Cycling enthusiasts who are not that extreme will also find something for themselves.
Another way to explore the island is Jeep Safari. This way you can discover mysterious, hidden, and inaccessible places. A ride in an off-road car is the perfect way to discover the famous Laurissilva evergreen forests that are considered to be the old-growth forest.
Catamaran cruises during sunset
Catamaran cruises during the sunset in Madeira are a romantic way to spend time. The sunsets on the ocean are unforgettable, and watching them from a boat far from the shore enhances the experience.
You can also explore Madeira from the horseback perspective. There are many horse riding centers on the island.
The photos you can see in this post are the effect of my collaboration with Michael. We believe in the synergy effect, which is why we have decided to work together during this trip. We hope that it will be an inspiration for your European trips.