It’s no wonder that Madeira Island was chosen for the third time as Europe’s Leading Island Destination ahead of strong competitors such as the Canaries, Sardinia and Malta. The exuberance of the archipelago and the excellence of the services offered are worthy of the prize organized by the World Travel Awards.
Known as “The Atlantic Floating Garden“, the island has numerous gardens and parks, all very well maintained, as well as a wide variety of flowers and trees. It’s there that you’ll find one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, the Botanical Garden of Madeira.
Do you like tranquility, comfort, good restaurants, good wines and a beautiful panoramic view where you can enjoy the sunset? On Madeira Island you can find all this things and much more!
Or if you are the kind of traveler who likes simplicity, a good walk and love to venture in the midst of nature, the island is certainly the ideal location for you!
No matter what’s your style, Madeira Island certainly has a little place especially reserved for you.
The archipelago of Madeira – although relatively small – is very well structured and offers attractions for the most diverse types of travelers. The roads in general are in great condition and it is possible to move around easily and explore even the small villages.
On your next trip to Portugal, don’t forget to include this destination in your itinerary. We are sure you will not regret it. If you’re curious as to why, take a look at the list below:
- Exuberant Nature: Besides the sea which offers beautiful views to the visitors, the island also draws attention because of the beauty of its forests and the variety of shades of green;
- Cuisine: In Madeira, you will not eat Cod Fish! There, you will have to try the Espetada (a kind of barbecue), Grilled Limpets, the special bread called Bolo de Caco and the fried Polenta. And of course, all this accompanied by Poncha, the traditional alcoholic drink of the Island;
- Easy Access: The archipelago has an airport with several daily flights which makes the access very easy, in particular to the principal Island of Madeira;
- Cost: visiting the island is relatively cheap. There are many lodging options and many free tours;
- Pleasant weather: the climate of Madeira is very mild. Average temperatures range from 17 ° C in winter to 25 ° C in summer. In addition, due to the influence of the warm current of the Gulf of Mexico, the temperature of the sea water is between 18 ° C in winter and 22 ° C in summer.
In this article we try to gather the main attractions of the Archipelago and some useful tips for those who want to spend a few days and make the most of the beauties of the place.
About the Madeira Archipelago
Although Madeira Island (740.7 km²) is the most well-known tourist destination, the archipelago is also composed of the Island of Porto Santo (42.5 km²), the Ilha Deserta (14.2 km²) and Ilha Selvagem (3.6 km²).
There are eight islands in total, but only Madeira and Porto Santo are inhabited and can be visited.
Madeira is the largest island in the archipelago. It is 57 km long and 22 km wide. This means that it’s possible to travel all over the island in a single day. But of course, you probably won’t do that. After all, some landscapes deserve to be appreciated for longer! Access is provided by both Madeira International Airport and the port.
The biggest city on the island is Funchal and it’s there you can find the majority of the hotels and restaurants. It is also where the port is located and where the cruise ships arrive. Besides Funchal, there are four other towns and some villages on the Island, including:
- Câmara de Lobos, Ribeira Brava, Ponta do Sol and Calheta, on the West Coast;
- Santa Cruz and Machico, on the East Cost;
- Porto Moniz, São Vicente and Santana, on the North Cost;
- and the Caniço.
Porto Santo Island
With a very small extension – only 11.4km long and 6km wide – the Island of Porto Santo attracts many visitors not only for its landscape peculiarities (primitive landscapes) but mainly because of the therapeutic quality of both, sea water and beach sand.
In addition to being transparent and a turquoise blue color of rare beauty, it’s said that the water of the sea is good for the health. The sand of the beach, besides being fine and golden, is composed of calcium carbonate in the form of calcite, which causes it to present thermal therapeutic properties.
Despite being very close to Madeira – just 43km northwest – Porto Santo presents very peculiar and different characteristics of the neighboring island, such as:
- Fewer hills. The Pico do Facho, with approximately 517m, is the highest point of Porto Santo. In Madeira, we find some of the highest points in Portugal: Pico Ruivo (1862 m), Pico das Torres (1851 m) and Pico do Areeiro (1818 m);
- While in Porto Santo, the climate is dry and stable, in Madeira the climate is moderately humid;
- The soil in Porto Santo is sandy and poor in nutrients while in Madeira it is richer and more productive.
- The island of Porto Santo has a 9 km long beach with fine golden sand. There are no long beaches in Madeira. All are small and, in general, with darker sand than in Porto Santo.
As you can see, the two islands, although very close to each other, have very distinct characteristics. But, each with its peculiarities, are destinations that are worth a visit.
What to do in Madeira Island
Whether on land, in the sea or in the air, there are plenty of leisure and fun options in Madeira Island. We have gathered here some of the tours that you can not miss during the days you’re there.
Rent a car and explore the Island
The island is relatively small, and because of that, it is possible to travel it practically in one day. Rent a car, take a map and explore it without worrying about the weather. If the map does not help, simply lean out the window and ask the locals for information. You will be amazed by the breathtaking views that you will surely find along the way.
However, if you prefer not to have to worry about driving, you can hire one of the city’s travel agencies or opt for the tour buses available on the island.
Put laziness aside and hike the Levadas trails
Nature was certainly very generous with Madeira Island and the locals were able to build incredible ways that help us to contemplate it. Do not miss the chance to stroll through one of the many Levadas of the Island, without a doubt one of the most traditional and unforgettable tours on the Island of Madeira.
Levada is the name given to the irrigation canals that bypass the valleys and mountains. There are more than 200 Levadas scattered throughout the protected areas of the Island, among them the Natural Park of Madeira and the Ecological Park of Funchal.
The trails follow the canals and, in general, provide beautiful views. In some of them it’s necessary to walk through small caves, so it is important to be well prepared with flashlights. Others take the visitor to beautiful waterfalls.
Aside from the levadas, there are other seafront trails that you need to do. One of the most beautiful is called Ponta de São Lourenço. The views are gorgeous! Even if you are not accustomed to trails try to do that one. You’re sacrifice will be rewarded with the beautiful landscape.
Delight in the beauty of the parks and gardens
The list of Gardens and Parks on Madeira Island is extensive, but I recommend three gardens in particular:
- The Botanical Garden of Madeira is beautiful and is one of the tours you can not miss. In addition to numerous plants native to the Island, it also provides a very beautiful panoramic view of Funchal;
- Santa Catarina Park, right in the center of Funchal and with a beautiful view of the marina;
- Quinta da Vigia, next to Santa Catarina Garden. The Quinta is the official residence of the President of the Regional Government. In the garden, you will find palm trees, flowers and a great variety of plants. There are also some exotic birds.
Try the different flavors of the island
Be sure to visit the Farmers’ Market in Funchal and admire the variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers and typical products of Madeiran gastronomy that you will find there.
The market is a mix of everything in the region from Caco’s cake, Poncha, wheat soup, candies and the curious passion fruit banana. Also, do not forget to sit down in a nice restaurant and try the famous Espetada, the typical dish of the island.
And if you like seafood, don’t leave without trying another delicious island dish, grilled limpets.
Take the cable car up to Monte Palace
The cable car that takes you up to the Monte Palace offers you a great view of Funchal. To go back down the hill, take the toboggan and have some fun. Monte sledge is a wicker toboggan that have been in business since 1850.
The sledges are run through the stone pavement and through steep streets for 2 kilometers by two guides called “Carreiros”. They wear special boots with a thick rubber sole to stop the sledge and to avoid being knocked over. If you like adventures, you should try this!
Learn the history of Madeira’s famous son
For those who do not know yet, Cristiano Ronaldo, the most famous player in Portuguese football currently, is from Madeira. On the island, there is a space dedicated exclusively to the football ace – the CR7 Museum.
Inaugurated in 2013, the museum tells the story of the player. There you also find more than 100 trophies received by Cristiano Ronaldo including the two Golden Balls (2008 and 2013) and the two Boots of Gold (2007/08 and 2010/11). If you like football, it is worth checking out.
There are several other museums on the Island. If this is the type of program you like, check out the full list here.
Where to stay on Madeira
The question of lodging is very personal and depends on the budget and taste of each person. As already mentioned, Madeira’s hotels have been recognized among the best in the world and therefore, there are hotels to suit all tastes. We opted for a simple lodging, but in a quiet place. It afforded us not only a beautiful view of the sea, but at night we left the door to the veranda open, to let the gentle crashing of the waves lull us to sleep.
To facilitate your search for the ideal lodging, according to your preferences, we have selected some hotels according to the location and style.
Central area of Funchal, with a lot of restaurants nearby and access to the marina
- The Wine Lodges
- Arriaga Apartment
- Canavial Terrace (very good cost vs benefit)
- Pestana CR7 (partnership between Cristiano Ronaldo and Pestana Group)
- Quinta da Penha de Franca
Area around Funchal
Beaches near Funchal, with great views. Resort hotels
Porto da Cruz
For those who like a simpler and calm place in a small village
- Hotel Vila Bela (we stayed in this hotel, simple but with a great view right next to the sea)
- Sea Breeze Studios
- Quinta da Vila
Far from Funchal but in a beautiful area
Ponta do Sol
Good location to see the East side of the Island
Madeira Island resources
Madeira Island – Madeira Regional Tourism Board
Our tips for Madeira
1. If you have 4 or 5 days, a tip is to stay at different points of the Island, so you can explore it better;
2. Even if you are not adept at hiking, try to venture for at least a few kilometers on the trail of Ponta de São Lourenço, the eastern point of the Island. It will be worth the effort;
3. Another excursion that is good for those who are not accustomed to hiking, is to make the walk from Pico das Pedras to Queimadas. It’s just 2km and the path is flat. It’s also full of trees, and throughout the route you can hear the noise of the water running through the levadas.
4. If you have time, stop by the Santo da Serra Golf Club for a drink. If the weather is good, you’ll have the pleasure to enjoy one of the prettiest views on the island.