If the beautiful beaches of the Portuguese coast are not enough, you can still continue your trip to Lisbon with a pleasant deviation to Madeira, an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean located about 500 km from the African coast.
The main island is the one that gives its name to the Madeira archipelago. The island was used as the set of a stunning cinematographic scene from the Fifties: a beautiful Romy Scheineder playing the romantic Princess Sissi who became Empress of Austria walks on a terrace decorated by a jubilation of fresh flowers. This enchanting beauty is not reserved only to nobles and rich aristocrats: today the extraordinary beauty of the island of Madeira is available to everyone.
A mild and temperate climate all year long, the blue of the sea, the abundance of tropical flowers, the largest laurel forest, which was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site turn Madeira into a dreamy destination for nature lovers. Those who rent a car will have the opportunity to move around, looking for the most romantic panoramic lookouts; those who prefer a more active experience will have plenty of choice: on the island there are numerous trekking paths surrounded by nature. Funchal, the capital of the island, is a nice place to visit.
The most important product of the island is the Madeira wine, a liqueur wine famous all over the world. Its vinification system was discovered randomly.
The second inhabited island of the archipelago is Porto Santo, which is characterized by long sandy beaches to the south and by rocky cliffs to the north. In Vila Baleira, the main town of the island, it is possible to visit the house of Christopher Columbus.
Dominated by the deep blue of the sea and by the emerald green of its lush vegetation, with a temperate climate all year long, these islands represent a solid alternative to the more touristic Canary islands.
Madeira is an island rich in history and nature: you can fill your days with exciting activities! It’s hard to cram everything into one vacation, but to make sure you don’t miss out on the best, we’ve selected Madeira’s top attractions for you.
Funchal would be enough to justify a flight to Madeira: the island’s capital is a fascinating city, very lively and full of cultural attractions.
The most characteristic district is Zona Velha: until a few years ago it was a former semi-abandoned fishermen and merchants’ district, today it is the nerve center of Funchal’s nightlife. Delicious restaurants and lively bars with outdoor tables enliven the old part of Funchal at all hours, but this district is at its best after sunset.
Other attractions not to be missed in Funchal are the traditional Farmers’ Market, the Frente Mar promenade and the city beach of Praia Formosa, the suburb of Monte that can be reached by cable car. It is worth moving a few kilometers from the center to visit a magnificent Botanical Garden.
To the list of what to see in Funchal should be added the CR7 Museum, an attraction reserved for soccer fans. It is a museum dedicated to one of the protagonists of the world football scene of recent decades born in Funchal, the multi-champion Cristiano Ronaldo.
Leave the crowded capital for half a day or more and immerse yourself in the lush nature of Madeira’s hinterland. In just 30 minutes by bus from the seafront, you can reach Curral das Freiras, a village nestled at the bottom of a volcanic amphitheater: it’s a cluster of houses emerging from the green, hidden by imposing cliffs.
The journey to get there is fascinating in itself, and once you arrive you can explore the area on foot by taking one of the many hiking trails that pass by. Another thing to do in Curral das Freiras is to sample the local chestnut specialties.
If after seeing this lovely village you want to add others to your travel plans, head to Santana, famous for its thatched houses (casas do colmo), and Camacha, where you can visit a museum dedicated to wickerwork.
It is less famous than other European cliffs, such as those of Moher in Ireland or Dover in England, but if you love dizzying cliffs overlooking a raging sea or breathtaking views you should definitely add Cabo Girão to your personal list of places to see at least once in your life.
At 580 meters, it can boast of being the highest promontory in Europe and the second highest in the world. From this exceptional vantage point you can admire the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and a small portion of land at the foot of the cliff that, surprisingly, is cultivated. In the past, farmers used to come here by boat, but today they can take a special cable car.
Cabo Girão’s viewing terrace, called the Skywalk, has a transparent floor that not only increases the view but also the thrill!
Madeira’s sandy beaches are almost always a man-made invention. Along the island’s rugged coastline, it is almost impossible to find long sandy beaches, which is why the most convenient beaches to reach, such as Calheta and Machico, have usually been artificially created. Many of the most beautiful beaches are difficult to access or swimming is dangerous because of the currents.
The solution to make a wonderful day of sea in a non-artificial beach without running any risk is to bathe in the natural pools of Porto Moniz. These are pools of seawater close to the ocean, bordered by a rocky perimeter that calms the violence of the waves. They are not the only natural pools on the island, but they are considered the most beautiful.
It is worth stopping in Porto Moniz even after swimming. The town has a lovely waterfront, a historic church and an eighteenth-century fort; there is a good selection of trails in the surrounding area.
A fraction of Porto Moniz that deserves more than a fleeting visit is Seixal, a beautiful village where many attractions are concentrated.
You can still indulge in beach life, choosing between the natural pools and an impressive beach of sand and black pebbles(Praia da Laje).
For a different kind of day out you can immerse yourself in the green Laurissilva forest, one of Madeira’s natural wonders: the Chão da Ribeira area is perfect for exploring this unspoiled landscape. The more adventurous can try their hand at canyoning and plunge into the streams that run through the forest; those who don’t feel up to it can admire a waterfall from the viewpoint of Veu da Noiva.
Near Machico is Ponta de São Lourenço, Madeira’s easternmost point, the one that first appeared in the eyes of European sailors. Bathed by blue waters and constantly beaten by the trade winds, it is an area of great natural interest, so much so that to preserve its beauty it has been declared a nature reserve.
The promontory can be explored on foot along a path, at first simple, then steeper, leading to the top, but instead of admiring the ocean from above many tourists prefer to plough through the waters.
The plus of a boat trip to Ponta de São Lourenço is the high possibility of spotting whales and dolphins. Some excursions include a stop for a swim during which you can swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat, in complete safety for you and for the animals. Another option is to explore the Punta San Lorenzo Riviera by kayak.
Another exciting boat trip that you can take takes you to Ilhas Desertas, three of the five uninhabited islands that are part of the Madeira archipelago. These are Ilhéu Chão, Deserta Grande and Bugio, all grouped in a single nature reserve.
If with a trip to Punta San Lorenzo you will have the opportunity to spot dolphins, in these islands you can see in its natural habitat the monk seal. The tours by sailboat and catamaran usually include a trekking stop on the island Deserta Grande and the possibility of snorkeling and kayaking.
More difficult to visit are the other uninhabited islands of the Madeira archipelago, the Ilhas Selvagens, however if you are interested you can inquire if there is any tour scheduled during your vacation. These islands are also declared a nature reserve; in particular, they are important nesting sites for seabirds and are considered an ornithological sanctuary.
At 1,818 high, Pico do Arieiro is Madeira’s third highest mountain and the one that best lends itself to easy hiking.
It is a very peculiar landscape, combining some typical elements of high mountains, such as sharp rocks, with the dark reddish color typical of volcanic territories. The view from the top is spectacular and on clear days you can see Curral das Freiras and even Porto Santo.
Many tourists arrive here on a 4×4 jeep tour and then walk a short distance to the top. However, if you love to walk from here you can take the paths that lead to Pico das Torres and Pico Ruivo.
The most famous typical product of Madeira Island is the wine of the same name, a fortified wine whose origins are shrouded in legend.
There are four different types, from the sweetest to the driest. The matching of this wine with food is very greedy: the classic one is in fact with chocolate or with spoon desserts, however it is also ideal with cheese.
Many restaurants and wine shops offer Madeira tastings, also with food matching, but it would be a pity to stop at the table.
If you love good wine, treat yourself to a wine tour of the island with a visit to the wineries: you can meet the producers, walk among the vineyards, have an expert enologist describe the characteristics of Madeira wine… and of course taste the four Madeira varieties! This day in the green will be a different way to know more about the island and its flavors.
We recommend that you do not miss some historic wineries such as D'Oliveiras9, the oldest on the island, Henriques & Henriques10 or Blandy's11.
The other inhabited island of the Madeira archipelago is Porto Santo, located just over 40 km from the main island and connected by daily ferries. Why not take advantage of these convenient connections to combine the two islands into one vacation?
Porto Santo is a whole other world compared to Madeira: it is small, quieter and boasts a 7 km long sandy beach (a rarity in these parts…) where you can comfortably lie down to sunbathe.
For a break from the beaches you can visit the house-museum of Christopher Columbus, climb to the top of the Pico Castelo or Pico da Facho, enjoy a splendid view from the Miradouro dos Flores.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Madeira’s climate is decidedly mild, with temperatures ranging from +16/+18 °C in winter to +24/+25 °C in summer. You can visit Madeira any time of the year, but if you are a wine lover, we suggest you visit in September, when the Madeira Wine Harvest Festival takes place, an important celebration of one of the most emblematic products of the island.
The ideal base for a vacation in Madeira is the city of Funchal, for several reasons: the choice of accommodation is definitely greater, there are many things to see and do, services are good and the most important roads of the island start from here.
For a purely seaside vacation, look for your hotel or b&b on the south coast. Jardim do Mar, Ponta do Sol and Calheta are the recommended resorts in this area.
The north coast is more suitable for a vacation that wants to combine sea and hiking. Look for your accommodation in Estalagem de Mar or Porto Moniz.
If instead of the main island you want to stay in Porto Santo, the two choices are Cabeco Da Ponta, a stretch of coast along which there are many all-inclusive hotels facing the beach, and Vila Baleira, the main town of the island.
The island of Madeira is well connected to the rest of Portugal: from Lisbon and from other Portuguese cities there are direct flights operated by different companies (like the national company TAP Portugal, Azores Airlines and the low-cost EasyJet), which will take you to your final destination in a little bit more than one hour and a half.
Also the island of Porto Santo is connected to Lisbon via direct flights of one hour and 40 minutes.
What's the weather at Madeira? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Madeira for the next few days.
The following are the most popular tickets and tours in Madeira that we recommend you don't miss.