Do you enjoy beautiful scenery and good weather? The archipelago of Madeira features a year-round mild climate perfect for hiking and landscapes that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although Madeira is a region of Portugal and part of the European Community, it falls within the same parallel as Bermuda, level with Morocco. It is famous for its volcanic scenery, fortified wine, laurel forest, and embroidery. The island is a great destination for hiking and other exciting activities. Here is our list of the best things to do in Madeira.
This article isn’t just about the things or activities you can do in Madeira, but we also cover where to stay or how to travel around Madeira. The island is also famous for its great food, so if you are at least a bit of a foodie, food tour in Funchal
1. Ponta de São Lourenco Walk
This peninsula along the eastern tip of Madeira boasts a nature reserve and breathtaking volcanic rock formations streaked with reddish hues. Ponta de São Lourenco is crisscrossed with popular hiking trails that take you to lofty vantage points overlooking the ocean, such as the Ponta do Furado viewpoint.
Ponta de São Lourenco is a great destination for a full-day hiking adventure. The arid soil is home to rare flowering plants, such as everlastings and cardoons. Within the nature reserve, you’ll see no sign of a human presence beyond the trails and associated picnic tables and rest stops.
Check hiking adventure of Ponta de São Lourenço with hotel pick up.
2. Cabo Girão skywalk over ocean cliff
If you enjoy scenic views, you must visit Cabo Girão on the southern coast the of Madeira, near Funchal. Not only is this one of the world’s highest ocean cliffs, but you can now step out over the ocean on a new glass skywalk! It is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe. Are you courageous enough to step out over the precipice like Wile E. Coyote?
This location has become a popular starting point for hiking along the beach to Camara da Lobos. The five-hour hike is relatively easy and provides some staggering views of the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re just getting interested in hiking, this is a great trail for beginners.
3. São Vicente Caves
Anyone interested in volcanoes will be fascinated by the São Vicente Caves. They are lava tunnels formed during an eruption around 890,000 years ago. The upper skin of the lava flow cooled rapidly, but the inner core remained liquid with trapped gas. As the lava core cooled and solidified, lava tubes were formed. If you like volcanoes and lava tunnels, you have to visit the Hawaii Big Island at least once in lifetime.
The São Vicente Caves were discovered by locals in 1885 and opened to the public in 1996. During your visit to the caves, you can also explore the Volcano Center. Inside this pavilion is a collection of educational audiovisual exhibits about the formation of Madeira’s islands and volcanic activity.
4. Pico Ruivo – the highest peak on the Madeira
Are you up for a hiking challenge? Pico Ruivo is the highest peak on Madeira Island, but you can only get there by foot. The summit is 1,862 metres high (6,106 feet) and boasts some of the best views of the island. However, note that it can snow here in winter, and changeable weather can make it tricky for hikers. Make sure you check the weather forecast and wear appropriate hiking shoes for the ascent.
There are three popular hiking trails to Pico Ruivo. You can take the trail from Encumeada, Archada do Teixeira, or Pico do Ariero. The Archada do Teixeira trail is the shortest and easiest. The Pico do Ariero trail is challenging and takes around six hours, but it also provides the most breathtaking views. Watch out for photogenic lizards and the colorful birdlife.
5. Levada Walks
When Madeira was first colonized in the 15th century, a series of aqueducts were constructed around the island to irrigate the settlers’ farms. These aqueducts are known as levadas. They transport water from the wet northern side of the island to the dry southeastern side.
An unintentional benefit of this network of aqueducts is that their sides are now used as hiking paths for exploring the whole island. One popular route, the Rabacal walk, passes over two dozen waterfalls as it progresses along three levadas. Along the six-mile route, you’ll benefit from views of the Rabacal Valley and the Laurissilva forest. Levada walks are amongst the most favourite things to do in Madeira, so carefully choose where you will walk.
6. Funchal Cable Car
This is a fun way to see Madeira’s capital city by air. The Funchal Cable Car is a modern gondola lift opened in 2000 to replace the old Monte Railway. It transports you from the low-lying area of Almirante Reis to the higher area of Monte. The famous park/botanical garden – Jardim Tropical de Monte is located very close to the end station of the cable car.
You’ll probably have to queue, but it’s worth the wait. Once you’re inside the gondola, you’ll experience a 15-minute journey with stunning views of terraced mountain slopes and the Atlantic Ocean. For the way down to the city centre, you can use the Madeira Toboggan ride (Traditional Wicker Basket Sledges), but its very touristy.
The Funchal Cable Car is one of the most recommended things to do in Madeira, so that means that it‘s pretty expensive. Use a car for getting to Jardim Tropical de Monte and for cable car, go to Teleféricos Porto Moniz. That’s a truly hidden gem of Madeira! We were there nearly alone, and the place is absolutely stunning.
7. Madeira Wine Tasting
Madeira is world-famous for its fine fortified wine, so why not attend a wine tasting. Several wineries and vineyards around the island offer tours and wine sampling. For example, the top-rated Vinhos Barbeito near Funchal.
Vinhos Barbeito has been in business since 1946 and now offers guided tours of the winery. During your tour, you’ll learn about the winemaking process from beginning to end. You’ll see how the grapes are sorted, the modern machinery used in production, and the oak casks for aging wine. As part of the tour, you’ll also have the opportunity to sample ten Madeira wines, aged from five to ten years.
8. Whale and Dolphin Watching
Once Madeira was a thriving whaling port, but today, it’s more popular for watching whales than catching them. Not only can you see many species of whales off the coast of Madeira but also many species of dolphins, including the bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, striped dolphin, and spotted dolphin.
Compare prices of Whale Watching tours
Summer is considered the best season for spotting whales and dolphins off the coast. If you want to increase your chances of spotting these fascinating marine mammals, you can take a whale watching tour. The local skippers know the best places to look and the signs you might see around a whale pod.
And if you’re really interested in whales, you can also visit the Madeira Whale Museum at Canical on the east coast. Here, you’ll see exhibits about the whaling industry, whales, and marine preservation.
Madeira Travel Tips
- Buses are the main form of public transport, but we didn’t try it. As many places are quite remote, we decided to rent a car. It is very easy to drive a car around the island, and interesting activities in Madeira also have some parking lots close by.
- Where to stay in Madeira? You can find hotels all around the island, and it depends on what you want to do in Madeira. For us, it was best to find an accommodation in Funchal, as it is very easy to get from there all around the island. After we checked the prices of hotels in Funchal, we booked an apartment on Airbnb because it was cheaper. You can read our tips on Airbnb or check our tips and tricks how to save on hotels.
- The weather in Madeira can be very variable, and it depends on the exact location on the island. That’s why most of the regular weather services don’t work properly. We were told to use a special free app called MadeiraWeather (Android, iOS). It’s very good and thanks to this app, we changed our plans and enjoyed mostly sunny weather during our stay on the island. Here are other travel mobile apps we used during all our trips.
- Beach time and swimming in Madeira is not a very usual activity, as the ocean is cold nearly all year round. The coastline only has a few spots for swimming. On the other hand, natural pools are very nice and unusual swimming spots. The best pools for us were Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools. Just one hint about these pools – check the time of the high tide because, during high tide, a big part of the pools is unsafe and closed.
What are your best things to do in Madeira? Let us know in the comments.
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