17 Amazing Things to do in Madeira
View sunrise above the clouds, hike through enchanting forests, encounter endless waterfalls, swim in the island’s clearest waters, admire interesting street art, take a unique form of transport, learn about the island’s irrigation system and so much more. Read on for more amazing things to do in Madeira!
The Portuguese island of Madeira is an absolute beauty. Its volcanic origin has led to rugged and diverse landscapes from craggy coastlines, deep valleys and high mountains to dense jungle, endless waterfalls and mystical forests shrouded in fog.
You’ll quickly notice just how varied the scenery is as you come into land. From high above you’ll see the dramatic rock formations and sheer cliffs plunging into the ocean and as you get closer you’ll fly past villages nestled into the side of the mountains.
We spent 10 days in Madeira, experiencing the best of what this beautiful little island has to offer and the many wonderful attractions it holds.
In this guide, we’re going to cover 17 amazing things to do in Madeira followed by everything you need to know before you visit; including the best time to go, how long you need, how expensive it is and much more.
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Amazing Things to do in Madeira
See Sunrise at Pico do Arieiro
We’re kicking off our guide to amazing things to do in Madeira with the absolute highlight of our trip; watching the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro.
This is an absolute must-do when you visit Madeira. Sitting above the sea of clouds with the jagged peaks of Madeira’s central mountains surrounding you as the day begins is the experience of a lifetime!
Hike Between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo
This follows nicely from the one above as they can be done together and completed our sunrise highlight perfectly; hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo.
Pico do Arierio is the third highest peak in Madeira and Pico Ruivo is the highest. Hiking between the two is one of the best hikes in Madeira and the scenery is jaw-dropping!
For most of the trail, you’ll usually be hiking above the clouds. However, as you’re hiking between the two peaks, you’ll probably come down through the clouds and back up again which keeps you nice, cool and slightly wet!
Steep narrow staircases, ledges and dark tunnels can make this hike pretty challenging and if you suffer from vertigo, which Helen does, you’ll most probably experience it on this trail.
Saying that, however, this hike was one of our favourite things to do in Madeira and we definitely recommend it. Just make sure you have proper hiking footwear, plenty of snacks and water, suncream and layers.
Our Top Tip: if you’re doing this hike after sunrise, the start of the trail is very busy. Don’t panic, most people will only be heading to the viewpoint 5-10 minutes from the trailhead. We found the hike to be fairly quiet in the morning.
The afternoons, however, are very busy with tour buses bringing in crowds of people to hike one way. Due to the narrow paths, on the way back to Pico do Arieiro, we had a lot of waiting around for groups to finish climbing stairs so we could continue.
Swim in the Sea at Seixal
One of the best things to do in Madeira is to visit one of the top beaches on the island; Seixal Beach.
Madeira isn’t known for its pristine white-sand beaches; most of them are pebbly. Seixal, however, is truly unique, set in a gorgeous location and an absolute must-see in Madeira!
A stretch of soft black sand with an awesome mountain backdrop. Can you swim in the sea with a better view anywhere?!
The verdant cliffs tower above the ocean, the highway wraps its way around the coast and, if you look close enough, you’ll see waterfalls flowing through the ridges of the cliffs.
Another feature of Seixal Beach that makes it truly unique is the waterfall. A natural shower and perfect for a freshen-up after a dip in the sea.
Drive Through Cascata dos Anjos
One of the most unique things to do in Madeira is to drive through a waterfall!
Cascata dos Anjos is fed by a Levada; one of numerous irrigation channels that transport water around the island for agriculture. It falls down a sheer rock face on road ER101 just outside of Ponda do Sol.
The road gets quite narrow around the waterfall but if it’s not too busy there’s a small space you can pull up, get out and watch cars drive through it.
Hike Caldeirão Verde
Hiking Caldeirão Verde was one of our favourite things to do in Madeira!
The trail winds its way through the enchanting Queimadas Forestry Park, starting at the Queimadas’ House which looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a fairytale.
Following a Levada, water is ever-present and it seems like at every corner, you’ll meet another waterfall.
Top this off with sweeping views over the village of São Jorge and the neighbouring mountains, dense jungle surroundings, steep cliffs towering above you, narrow tunnels and an impressive waterfall, makes this one of the best hikes in Madeira!
The out-and-back trail is approximately 12 kilometres. It’s pretty much all flat making it perfect for those who don’t want a particularly challenging hike but want to see some of Madeira’s most spectacular landscapes.
Our Top Tip: this hike is one of the most popular on the island so we’d recommend staying in Santana and arriving early to beat the crowds.
Also, there are quite a few tunnels along the trail so a headtorch will come in handy.
Hike Caldeirão Inferno
Hiking Caldeirão Inferno follows nicely on next as you hike it at the same time as Caldeirão Verde.
Following the same route, until you reach Caldeirão Verde, the path veers off to the right and you continue on for another 2.5 kilometres through the jungle, past more waterfalls, through more tunnels and up a steep staircase until you reach a massive canyon.
There’s usually another waterfall in the canyon, however, the day we hiked, there wasn’t. The canyon and its surroundings were still absolutely stunning and we’d definitely recommend visiting even if there isn’t a waterfall.
Visit the Traditional Santana Houses
These small, triangular, colourful houses date back to the discovery of Madeira and represent a part of the island’s heritage.
They were once made from straw and wood as they were cheap and abundant in this region and essential in balancing the temperature of the interior of the house.
Inside, there’s an attic, where agricultural products were kept, and a ground floor divided into two separate parts; the kitchen and the bedroom.
The best place to see the traditional houses of Madeira is in Santana City Centre where you’ll find numerous houses and beautifully kept gardens you can amble around and poke your nose into.
For a truly unique experience, you can stay in one of these traditional houses up in the mountains where you’ll usually wake up above the clouds! This was one of our favourite places to stay in Madeira!
Explore Fanal Forest
Plucked from the pages of a fairytale, Fanal Forest is one of the eeriest things to do in Madiera!
This enchanting forest usually has a mysterious fog draped around the twisted branches of 600-year-old Ocotea Foetens trees giving it an incredible atmosphere and a great place to take photos.
There are several walking trails that start from Fanal Forest or it’s a great place to park up and amble around with your camera; which is what we did.
Our Top Tip: go early for the best chance to see the forest in the fog. We arrived at 10am and within 20 minutes it was clear. We went back earlier the next day and again by about 10:30 it had disappeared. It is, however, still beautiful without the mystical fog.
Hike Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
Hiking Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço has to make it onto your list of things to do in Madeira as the views are unreal!!
Most hikes in Madeira lead you through dense jungles, past waterfalls, next to Levadas, up and down staircases and meandering around twisted branches.
This hike, however, will treat you to a dramatic rugged coastline, sheer volcanic cliffs plunging into the ocean, interesting rock formations and panoramic viewpoints.
The trail takes you to the easternmost point of Madeira, which you can access on land, and the views are spectacular the whole way!
The hike is a fairly easy and flat 7-kilometre out-and-back trail with toilets and a bar/cafe close to Miradouro Ponta do Furado, the easternmost point you can access by foot.
Our Top Tip: this is one of the most popular hikes in Madeira as it’s half an hour from Funchal. Either leave early or stay in Canical.
Swim in the Porto Moniz Natural Pools
You can’t come to Madeira and not swim in the natural pools in Porto Moniz!
These swimming pools were formed over thousands of years, through the cooling of volcanic lava and they naturally fill with seawater; swimming pools don’t get much better than this!
You can either visit the natural pools in Porto Moniz as a day trip or stay in the town so you can have access to them before and after the tours come in from around the island.
Our Top Tip: if you stay in the beautiful Aqua Natura Madeira you get free access to the pools. Also, the hotel’s Seaview Restaurant is a must-visit for delicious seafood.
Explore Ponta do Sol
Located on Madeira’s south coast, Ponta do Sol is renowned for being the sunniest place on the island.
It’s an incredibly photogenic village with colourful buildings, vibrant red roofs and the view from the pier across the village nestled into the bottom of a valley.
Ponta do Sol is perfect for a couple of hours if you’re driving along the south coast. The cobbly streets of the Old Centre are lined with cafes, the pebbly beach is perfect for swimming as it’s sheltered from the wind and the viewpoint across the town is a must-see.
Visit the Viewpoints
It goes without saying that one of the top things to do in Madeira is to visit some of the miradouros; it’s an island of viewpoints!
If you hire a car and drive around the island, you’ll quickly notice how many signs there are pointing to ‘miradouros’ and you’ll be wanting to get out at every corner and whip out your camera.
Madeira has some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in Europe. From narrow rugged coastline and waterfalls tumbling out of cliffs into the ocean to jagged mountain peaks swirling above a sea of clouds and crystal clear water lapping at black sand beaches.
It was hard to narrow down our list of the best viewpoints in Madeira but we’ve dedicated a blog post to our favourites; click on the link below to check it out.
Hike Levada das 25 Fontes and Levada do Risco
Levada das 25 Fontes and Levada do Risco are two of the most popular hikes in Madeira and it’s easy to see why.
You begin by taking the same trail for both waterfalls and after a while the road forks. Risco Waterfall is 800 metres in one direction and 25 Fontes Waterfall is 2 kilometres in the other so they’re easy to see on the same day.
This trail is one of the most iconic levada trails in Madeira. The scenery looks like the stuff from storybooks. Twisted branches hook their way over the trail, waterfalls erupting from the sides of the path and sweeping views across the valley.
You’ll spot Risco Waterfall before you reach the viewpoint as it’s huge! The waterfall is naturally quite powerful, but if you’re here after a big downpour, it’ll be even more so.
After spending some time at Risco Waterfall, head back the way you came and take the other trail at the fork in the road to 25 Fontes Waterfall.
25 Fontes Waterfall is, unsurprisingly, made up of many waterfalls flowing down the walls into a natural pool below. Again, depending on when you’re here and how much rain there’s been, will make a huge difference to how powerful the waterfall is.
If the waterfall isn’t too powerful, it’s a great spot for a dip to cool off before making the hike back.
Our Top Tip: this is one of the most popular hikes and top things to do in Madeira so arrive early. We arrived around 10:30am and the car park was already full so we had to park on the side of the road.
There were a lot of people on the trail including tour groups which ruined the atmosphere a bit so the earlier you get here, the quieter it will be.
Admire Funchal Old Town
When you visit Madeira, you’ll undoubtedly spend a bit of time in the island’s capital city; Funchal.
Funchal is a beautiful city with a quaint Old Town that deserves some time being explored. Cosy cobbled streets lined with shops, bars and restaurants where locals and tourists alike come for a stroll and soak up the vibrant atmosphere.
You’ll quickly notice something about the buildings on Rua de Santa Maria; one of the city’s oldest streets. None of the buildings has the same door and there won’t be a dull, ordinary one in sight.
In 2010, photographer José Maria Zyberchem wanted to bring the historic street back to life and make it a centre of art so he started the Painted Doors Project.
Many local artists got involved and started painting the old doors on the street and completely revived the area. There are over 200 painted doors in Rua de Santa Maria and neighbouring streets and it has become an attraction in itself.
Discover the Hidden Gem of Calhau da Lapa
Due to the size of the island, many of the attractions and places to see can get very busy by mid-morning so one of the best things to do in Madiera is to find a hidden gem.
Calhau da Lapa is a beautiful hidden gem as it’s quite an effort to reach, but if you want to escape the crowds and see somewhere completely unique, we’d recommend a visit here.
At Calhau da Lapa you’ll discover a waterfall, a remote beach at the foot of volcanic cliffs, fishermen’s cave houses built into these cliffs and some of the clearest water in Madeira.
You might be wondering why this stunning place is still off the beaten path. To reach it, you have to walk down approximately 700 steps which, at points, are extremely steep and uneven. Also, without a car, it’s quite hard to get to the trailhead.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind place to stay, you can even rent a cave house at the bottom of the stairs.
This is on every list of things to do in Madeira and for good reason!
Dating back to the 1850s, these toboggans were the primary means of transport for people living in Monte to get to Funchal. Today, they’re one of Madeira’s most popular tourist attractions and a great way to get the heart racing!
A maximum of 3 people can sit in the large wicker baskets and behind them, two men traditionally dressed in cotton clothes and a straw hat will push and steer you through the narrow winding streets to Livramento; a suburb of Funchal.
At times, you may reach speeds of up to 48 km/hour on this 2-kilometre downhill stretch. It’s completely safe, a great source of income for the locals and you can enjoy spectacular views over Funchal on the way down!
Once you get to Livramento, it’s a 15/20 minute downhill walk back to Funchal.
Ride the Funchal Cable Car
To top off our list of things to do in Madeira is ride the Funchal Cable Car.
Starting by the seafront in the Old Town, the cable car travels a length of 3,200 metres and rises 560 metres in 15 minutes to the village of Monte.
This experience provides you with the best views of Funchal starting with the rustic red roofs over the city, to the quaint neighbouring suburbs and lush green countryside with the Bay of Funchal in the background.
At the top, you can visit the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens which are usually on people’s lists of things to do in Madeira but we’ve not included it as we weren’t massively impressed; especially for the €25 per person price!
To get back down, the tobogganing is a no-brainer!
Our Top Tip: don’t purchase a ticket in advance for the cable car, get one when you know you want to travel. If it’s too windy the cable car won’t run and you’ll lose your money.
Everything You Need to Know to Visit Madeira
Where is Madeira?
The Madeira Archipelago is in the Atlantic Ocean, 978 kilometres south of Portugal and around 700 kilometres west of Africa.
How long would you recommend spending to see the top things to do in Madeira?
Due to its small size, you can base yourself in Funchal and see most of the top things to do in Madeira in a few days either on day trips or renting a car.
We spent 10 days driving around the island and stayed in several other towns and villages. This gave us the freedom and flexibility to visit places at our own pace and we got to know more of the island rather than just the capital city.
This also allowed us to start the most popular hikes early before the crowds arrived.
When’s the best time to visit?
One of the best things about Madeira is you can visit at any time of the year. It has a sub-tropical climate with hot summers and mild winters offering year-round sunshine.
Saying that, however, the interior of the island is very mountainous and can be very unpredictable. Where you might have glorious sunshine by the coast, 20 minutes inland to the mountains, it might be raining.
What currency do I need?
Madeira is part of Portugal and uses the Euro. At the time of writing, $1 is approximately €0.95. We used our Monzo and Revolut cards for the majority of the time as most places accepted cards.
How do I get around Madeira?
The best way to get around Madeira is to rent a car so you can travel at your own pace. The roads can be quite narrow and windy as a lot of the time you’re driving in the mountains but the road conditions are good and people are considerate drivers.
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy driving or you just want the hassle out of organising it yourself, Get Your Guide has some fantastic tours with hotel pick-up and drop-off to pretty much everywhere on the island.
How expensive is Madeira?
Compared to London, where we live, it’s very cheap and compared to the UK, it’s cheap.
We stayed in a range of places during our visit; a 3* apartment 5-minutes walk from Old Town Funchal for €90 a night, a 4* hotel in Porto Moniz for €110 a night, a traditional Santana house for €50 and a 5* beachfront hotel in Calheta all-inclusive for €250 a night.
A bottle of local beer or the local Poncha rum drink costs around €1.50, a basic meal around €15 for a starter and main and one evening we had a lovely 3-course meal with a bottle of imported wine for €70 for both of us.
What plug do I need?
Like most countries in Europe, you will need either type C or F. Both of these have two round pins.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the best things to do in Madeira. Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve got any others you’d like to add.