Madeira… Madeira… What springs to mind when our thoughts go out to this place? The coveted first place is undoubtedly wood, probably because “Madeira” in Portuguese means wood. The island earned its name in 1419 because it was covered by an impenetrable forest.
And the runner-up, second place is Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, the most followed person on Instagram as well as one of the most compelling footballers ever was born here. Obviously, he enjoys a semi-divine cult with a statue on the waterfront of Funchal, the capital.
Yet – fortunately – Madeira is far more. A vast, wild island materialises from the waters of the ocean when approaching from the east. This island is preceded by the two smaller islands of Deserta Grande and Porto Santo. An emerald embedded in the deep blue of the ocean. Whether you arrive by plane or sea, the effect is always the same: a revelation.
But if you are here, you probably still need to plan your trip. And all you know about Madeira is what you’ve gleaned from Google Maps. In that case, there is only one question: what are the best places to visit in Madeira?!
Located further south and closer to the coast of Africa than the renowned Azores, this small archipelago is a huge, floating garden. Mountains and paradisiacal beaches meet here. Alternate among hiking, beach relaxation and surfing throughout the day, and the perpetually mild weather helps all this a lot! Lastly, the streets are seldom crowded with tourists, although there are countless things to do and places to visit in Madeira.
To lose yourself in all this lush nature (VERY lush), we have come up with a list. The list includes the five unmissable attractions in Madeira.
We have also included the foods to try and the excursions to fall in love with. Because we know you by now.
Funchal is undoubtedly the first place on our list to visit in Madeira. It is the capital of the islands, as well as being the largest city. It owes its picturesque name to a herb called Fennel “Funcho”, used to make the traditional fennel sweets ‘rebuçados de funcho’ that you will find throughout Madeira.
In your day in Funchal, you have to start from the Mercado dos Labradores. It is the largest on the island, so much so that it expands on three different levels. It is one of the most popular attractions in Madeira, which will satisfy sight, smell and taste. The flagship of this market, among spices, flowers, meat and fish, are definitely the exotic fruits.
Let yourself be tempted by the Monstera deliciosa, called “banana pineapple” because its flavour recalls these two fruits. Or taste the Carob or “banana passion fruit”, for its resemblance to a banana with the taste of passion fruit.
Then continue with a stop at the Madeira Botanical Garden in Funchal. You arrive via a cable car ready to give you the first great naturalistic highlight. It’s a beautiful view from above among the many colours of the garden. Here there are over 3,000 types of plants from numerous areas of Europe and the world.
From the Garden, you can also treat yourself to another adrenaline-fueled experience, that of descending with the local «cestinhos». Does it sound like “basket”? No, you have not misunderstood … that’s exactly what we meant!
These are large wooden and wicker baskets. One sits inside to be transported to the centre of Funchal, about 2 km downhill. On a visit to the capital, you cannot miss one of the most Instagrammable spots in Madeira. Ponta do Garajau, one of the most romantic places on the island. After a staircase that will take you to the highest point, you can admire the ocean in all its splendour. For a top photo, we recommend you come at sunset.
Pico Ruvio is the highest peak on the island and one of the unmissable things to visit in Madeira. It is the third tallest peak in Portugal. Reaching the top is one of the most beautiful experiences one can have in the country. The panoramic view and the hiking trails that take you up will really fuel your dreams given their alternation of unique landscapes, consisting of waterfalls, woods and nature.
You can rest assured about this. The route to reach the summit is accessible to everyone, although, as in all uphill hikes, some sections can be more tiring. The simplest trail starts at Achadas do Teixeira and is about 6 km long for a total of 3 hours of walking. Our advice is to set off early in the morning, almost at sunrise. At this time, you will find clouds wrapped around the mountain to create an almost magical effect.
The beauty of this place is linked to the crazy view that the top offers, but also to the paths that lead up to the summit. Among these, the path between Pico Ruvio and Peak Arieiro stands out as the third-highest mountain on the island. This route is often deemed the most beautiful hiking trail in Madeira and generally lasts three and a half hours. However, according to the numerous hiker’s stories, it takes about five hours. Along this route, it is easy to lose oneself in awe and stop to admire unique views. In short, the path is so beautiful that it deserves a constant photo break to capture the numerous small watercourses that flow into waterfalls, the volcanic rocks always blurred by lava veins, the jagged peaks and numerous types of wonderful flowers.
Porto Moniz is another fascinating place to visit in Madeira. Travellers often choose these islands as a destination, motivated by the attractiveness of the photos taken among its natural pools. Madeira and its islands are of volcanic origin and the pools of Porto Moniz are born from the lava that flowed after a peak of activity that occurred more than a million years ago that spilt into the sea, eventually hardening and giving life to the walls of these natural pools.
The natural pools are divided into two zones, an old one and a new one. The old part is more exciting and natural. Its magic comes mainly from an island surmounted by a lighthouse right in the centre.
The new one instead gives us a mix of the modern, characterised by rentals for sunbeds and umbrellas and several restaurants where you can taste the local cuisine that we will illustrate shortly! North of Porto Moniz you can visit the Fort of São João Baptista, built in antiquity to protect the islands from potential pirate attacks.
What we see today is a more contemporary structure, the result of restoration and reconstruction works (begun in 2000) of the missing pieces, that would restore the fortress to its original beauty. Today, this fort houses the Aquarium of Madeira where you can observe manta rays, moray eels, grey triggerfish and countless other local marine fauna from the islands.
São Vicente is another of the places to visit in Madeira. Behind this city’s exotic name, which is one of the main attractions of the northern coast of Madeira, lies an interesting folkloristic history.
It seems that São Vicente took its name from the many ravens that inhabited these lands when the first settlers arrived. Looking at these birds, you recall the story of the Spanish martyr St. Vincent, whose remains were defended from the attack of ferocious beasts by a crow sent by God. For this reason, to defend the city today there is an altar dedicated to the saint where a magnificent painting of him is preserved.
São Vicente is one of the greenest villages in Madeira, but it is also characterised by a volcanic beauty, which is shaped by the forces of volcanoes and the erosion of rocks on its slopes. There are wonderful caves formed after the eruption of an ancient volcano around the city. Today they can be visited and are an opportunity to take an excursion to the centre of the earth and discover more about volcanic events thanks to the “Centro do Vulcanismo”.
It is a small information point where you can find out more about the geology of Madeira and the changes that led it to its current appearance. Not to be missed in the city is also the Garden of Indigenous Plants, a very large park covering an area of 2,200 square metres, which houses dozens of species of local flora and native trees of the island, such as the Dragon Tree.
Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos is another place worthy of inclusion in the list of places to visit in Madeira. It is a small fishing village, which seems stuck in time with colourful boats romantically moored in the port.
This seaside town was one of the first settlements of settlers in Madeira, for this reason, it still preserves numerous fifteenth-century squares and churches, such as the Capela De Nossa Senhora Da Conceição. It is the oldest of the island according to the locals and was built in 1420 by the order of João Gonçalves Zarco. The ceiling and walls of this church are decorated with frescoes depicting the life of St. Anthony.
It is obviously no coincidence. He is the patron saint of sailors and as a result, Portuguese fishermen go here to pay homage before taking to the sea. But the charm of Câmara de Lobos does not come from history but from the nature that characterises it. The landscape expresses a kind of restlessness, made of high cliffs in the middle of the coast, deep chasms in the ground. Majestic mountains are in the most central part.
Here you can do one of the most typical activities of Madeira: the levada, or a walk. You can do the Levada Do Norte that goes from Ribeira Brava to Cabo Girão. The main characteristic of the levadas is that they are unique, each island having breathtaking landscapes. In this case for example, the water channels intertwine through the laurisilva forest to irrigate the plantations in a path of almost 12.5 km.
The Madeira archipelago consists not only of the homonymous island but also of other island groups, such as Ilhas Desertas, Ilhas Selvagens and Porto Santo.
The latter is one of the smallest but also the most fascinating islands, although very different from how we have described Madeira itself so far. It is less green and arider but boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Madeira and also in Europe.
We are talking about a very long and sandy strip that extends from Ponta da Calheta and ends to the north with the Nautical Club of Porto Santo. It is located on the south side of the island and constantly enjoys a beautiful climate, even mild and pleasant in winter.
Not to be missed in Porto Santo is the house of Columbus, which is now a museum. Here, the navigator got married and lived for a few years. In his house museum, you can relive the Portuguese conquests of the past. You can also delve into the history of navigation and instruments with vintage maps. There are portraits and works of art related to the world of Christopher Columbus and his life.
One of the most beautiful attractions in Porto Santo that cannot be missed in your list of places to visit in Madeira is definitely the Miradouro da Portela. It is one of the most famous viewpoints on the island. If you buy souvenirs here, you will almost always find them painted or engraved on cups, key rings and glasses! This spot’s feature is the Moinhos de Vento, or windmills, one of Porto Santo’s icons, but also the panorama seen from above on the beach and most of the island.
Excursions in Madeira
We have talked about the main cities and villages of Madeira in our list of places to visit, but on the island, there is really a lot of hiking to do. Madeira boasts numerous panoramic points and unmissable hiking trails.
Among these, the first one we recommend is the route that leads to Vereda from Ponta de São Lourenço. It is one of the most classic excursions in Madeira, but at the same time, it is a unique and unmissable experience that will provide you with numerous photos to envy on the ocean or the always restless and moving seas of the sea north of the island.
Among the viewpoints, not to be missed in Madeira, we recommend Cabo Girão. It is one of the most beautiful attractions in Portugal. A viewpoint located on the highest promontory, not only in the country but throughout Europe with its 580 m of altitude. In recent years, it has been renovated. A small glass part has been added, called the skywalk, which makes the spot even more unique. The view from here is crazy and allows you to enjoy a unique view of the ocean. Additionally, you can see Câmara de Lobos and the city of Funchal.
One last small excursion to do in Madeira that we recommend is Ponta do Pargo. It is located at 312 meters altitude in the west of Madeira and offers an exciting view of the ocean and the landscape that extends from the Ponta do Pargo lighthouse to Achadas da Cruz. One of the most beautiful spots to photograph is definitely the lighthouse, which contains all the security needs of this unusually harsh and arid part of the island.
What to eat in Madeira
Places to visit are not lacking in Madeira, but the cuisine is an integral part of the island experience! Here is a list of astonishing dishes for your tables on the island:
Espetada da Madeira: the most typical dish of the island. It is a meat skewer served with laurel branches and other spices and with a plate of bread underneath, which absorbs all the sauce released from the meat for tasty dips;
Bolo de caco: do not be put off by the name. It will be one of the best breads you ever taste in your life. It is traditionally cooked on a basalt stone called “caco”. We recommend you to try it with butter and herbs, the most typical and appreciated by tourists.
Silver scabbardfish served with banana: this is also one of the island’s main dishes. Although it seems a strange combination, it is a delicious dish.
Picado de Madeira: is a beef dish served with olives and vegetables that is surrounded by a bed of chips.
Cozido Madeirense: a stew of pork, sweet potatoes, rice and vegetables, perfect for the most trained stomachs.
Bolo de mel: this simply has to be among your desserts to try. It partly resembles peppered bread and is a cake made with cane and honey sugar, walnuts, almonds and raisins.
And a fine wine should accompany the dishes that you savour with pleasure. In Madeira, the choice of wine is pretty straightforward given the excellence of local products, especially when it comes to liqueurs. There are several brands of liqueur wines that you can sample. We recommend you try Blandy’s and Cossart Gordon. However, pay attention to their alcohol content. It is usually around 20°, far more potent than any typical table wine.
WeRoad in Madeira
If you are wondering when to go to Madeira the answer is easy: always! On the island, the weather is constantly mild and therefore every period is ideal to book that flight.
To find your travel companions, let WeRoad take care of this. To make you discover nature with hiking and excursions, we have thought of an all-around itinerary. This will allow you to leave your thoughts behind and enjoy this wonderful Atlantic garden! During the eight days of the tour, you can touch base at all the places we have mentioned, between lush nature and inviting beaches.
Do not miss a day of hiking to get to Pico Ruivo. You will discover everything about São Vicente’s volcanism centre and you can relax in the natural pools of Porto Moniz.
Are you ready to discover the best places to visit in Madeira? Then pack your backpack and reach for your comfortable shoes!