One of the best things about Madeira is that it's a small island, so you can explore its different villages and towns fairly easily and really get to know the vibe of the island. But just because it's small doesn't mean there's a shortage of things to do. Here are some ideas to consider should you decide to visit the 'Island of Eternal Spring.'
One of the best things to do in Madeira is wine-tasting. This island has some amazing vineyards which produce very high quality wines, and you don't want to miss an opportunity to taste them!
The most popular wine varieties in Madeira are Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial. These wines are known for their intense aromas and flavours. In order to do wine-tasting, you will have to head out of the capital and find one of the many vineyards. There are about 130 wineries on Madeira that produce a variety of wines made from grapes grown in their own estates or purchased from other growers.
Some of the most famous wineries in Madeira include:
- Blandy Wine Company: one of the oldest wine companies, established in 1811, has many wineries in the island, the main one is in Funchal, located on Avenida Arriaga.
- Barbeito: This winery is in southwest in the village Câmara de Lobos
- Oliveiras: In Funchal there`s a 17th century building whcih has been converted into one of the most famous Madeira wineries on the island, with a great selections of aged madeira wines
- Terras do Avô: This winery in Northwest is a family business and produces mainly red and white wines, as well as some spectacular sparkling wine, which has won many medals
- Barbusano: This winery is on the West part of the island where the main vineyards grow. This winery produces white and red wines.
To learn more about how these wineries came into being, visit the Carlos Monteiro Museum - it's located at Quinta de Santo Antonio da Areia Grossa in Machico and was founded by Carlos Monteiro himself. It offers all sorts of information on what made this area such an important part of Portuguese culture back when they were first established during colonial times.
2) Walk along the Levadas
The levadas are small canals that run through the mountains on Madeira. They provide hydroelectric power, as well as irrigation for crops and water collection in dry months. Walking along the levadas won't just be about taking photos or admiring nature; there's plenty of history here too - the first ones were built mainly during the latter years of the 15th century
and the beginning of the 16th century.
The levadas cover most of Madeira's landscape, so it can be difficult to pick a specific one. Consider the Ribeiro Frio route, where you can admire the Laurel Forest and the village of Faial, and see a view over the south part of the island near the end of the 11km walk.
Or perhaps the Referta Walk, which offers views over “Penha de Águia,” a magnificent rock formation, also Porto Da Cruz village.
There is also at least one hiking route available from Monte da Roca in Funchal that leads all the way down to São Vicente - this takes about six hours but provides fantastic views along the way.
3) Hike up Pico do Arieiro
One of the best hikes on the island is to Pico do Arieiro, Madeira's third-highest peak, which offers some fantastic scenery including lush green valleys, a stunning coastline and rocky cliffs. Hiking up this mountain takes about seven hours round trip if you follow the route from Pico Ruivo, but it's worth every step, as this route provides the most outstanding scenery. The peak ascends to a height of 1,818 m with moderate difficulty and offers some of the best views on the island.
4) Indulge in some delicious Portuguese cuisine
One of the best things you can do in Madeira is eat some delicious Portuguese food. Some popular local treats include “Bolo do Caco” or Madeira Bread with garlic butter, espada, a typical madeira fish dish served with banana or with passion fruit sauce, carne vinho alhos, a. sandwich with pork meat marinade with garlic, wine, and laurel leaves; tuna fish with potatoes and olive oil, or cooked with onions and a “secret” sauce...the list goes on.
You'll also find a ubiquitous grilled fish dish called "Pescada" made from local fish like grouper, cubera and sargo. For dessert, try one of Madeira's pudding desserts made from passion fruit or other local fruit grown in the island's volcanic soil.
A good spot to find these dishes is in the town of Ponta do Sol, where there is a large market focusing on fresh produce from local farmers. Or, head over to Sardinheiro on the east coast of the island where there are plenty of small eateries and restaurants serving traditional dishes.
As for recommended restaurants on Madeira, here are a few options:
- Quinta dos Roques - in the town of São Vicente, this restaurant is known for its grilled chicken dishes.
- Sabor a Fado - In Funchal's Old Town, they are well-known for their delicious seafood.
- Prima Caju – a modern restaurant/cafeteria which offers a great variety of
dishes, and is an especially good choice for vegetarians or vegans.
5) Explore Funchal
Explore the Old Town of Funchal: This is a beautiful walk with lots to see and do! You will find some churches, old buildings, colourful plazas, bustling streets with locals going about their daily lives. Highlights of Funchal include:
- Visit the Jardim Botânico - This botanical garden is a great attraction to visit while in the Funchal. The gardens are beautiful with winding paths and lush green vegetation perfect for an afternoon stroll or picnic (if you wish). It's about 4 km from the city centre, and can be reached by cable car as well.
- Sé Catedral de Funchal - This beautifully restored Cathedral has a Romanesque style and boasts some stunning stained glass windows, paintings, sculptures, an amazing organ with nearly 7000 pipes and much more. Definitely worth taking extra time to explore while you're here.
- Ride the Teleférico do Funchal: This is the best way to explore Madeira's majestic natural features and take in breathtaking views of Funchal. The Cable Car in Funchal goes to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, near Monte Village, which is located at
500m above sea level. There's another cable car here that goes from Monte to the entrance of the Botanical Gardens.
6) Check out Monte Palace Tropical Garden
A hidden gem on Madeira Island that few tourists seem to know about, these gardens are stunning, especially in springtime when everything's blooming. This place has been used as a location for many films so it should be on your list if you're into film/tv locations. The unique climate of Madeira means that you can stroll through lush landscapes filled with tropical plants, bamboo groves, fern forests, pine trees and palm trees.
They also have some famous orchids that can't be found anywhere else which was really cool to see up close!
7) See the coastline of Madeira by boat
One of the best things to do while on a visit to Madeira is by taking a boat ride along the coastline. This will give you the best possible view of the dramatic cliff faces and deep water that surrounds the island, and a chance to see some of the wildlife on the coast, including dolphins, turtles and whales. Given that the weather can be unpredictable, this activity is best done early in the morning on day without too much wind.
8) Visit the Desertas Islands
Another great day trip while on the island of Madeira is to take a boat ride out to the Desertas Islands. These islands are most famously home to a unique species of monk seals who have a colony here, and are a protected species in Madeira`s Natural Park system. The islands are also known for their interesting geological formations.
It takes roughly an hour and a half to get out there, so this is best done on the days with more favorable weather. You'll need to book your boat through one of the local tour companies or ferries - they tend not to be too expensive but do vary based off what company you go with.
The Desertas Islands are part of Madeira's Natural Park system, which means that fishing isn't allowed anywhere around them and boating has restrictions as well. The islands themselves are uninhabited with the exception of a small research station.
9) Enjoy afternoon tea at Reid's Palace
Tea is served either at the hotel's terrace, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (which was a favourite spot of Queen Victoria) or at the cocktail bar, where the views of Funchal Bay are superb. The ambiance and environment here will make you feel like royalty as well! Enjoy an assortment of finger sandwiches and pastries while being serenaded by live harp music. Although this event is very elegant, the vibe quite casual and it makes for a wonderful afternoon.
10) Take in the view from one of Madeira's spectacular viewpoints
The views from these viewpoints are magnificent and the best way to take in all that Madeira has to offer. Some of the best viewpoints include Pico dos Barcelos, from where you can admire the entire view of Funchal; Pico do Facho in the southeast with a view over Machico village and an amazing view over the east point of Madeira; Ponta do Pico which overlooks both Funchal and Porto Moniz, and Serra do Facho which overlooks the Belem district and the Atlantic Ocean.
There's also Encumeada, which is in the middle of the island, at at 1007m is a nice spot to admire the south and the north part of the island. The island is renowned for its natural beauty, and these viewpoints will let you see it in all its glory.
The 'Island of Eternal Spring' is the perfect winter getaway destination, as the climate here is mild year-round. With beautiful hikes, delicious food and wine, and stunning natural scenery all over, Madeira has a lot to offer the traveller coming for an extended stay.