Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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A beautiful subtropical archipelago sitting next to mainland Portugal, Madeira Island packs a punch for its small size with its mesmerizing landscapes and small towns steeped rich in history and culture. It’s an outdoor lover’s dream with a collection of memorable hiking adventures, while tranquil beaches and culinary treats delight even the most discerning traveler. In order to fully enjoy the island’s natural beauty, make sure to put one of these items on your itinerary of things to do on Madeira Island.
Start your journey in Madeira Island in the Funchal Old Town, where you’ll be enthralled with the centuries-old buildings, seafood restaurants and colorfully-painted doors. Step inside one of the local museums to learn about the region’s history, while sports fans can browse the Cristiano Ronaldo-related exhibits in Museu CR7. You can travel down the streets by toboggan, or soar across the cityscape in a scenic cable car.
A must for food enthusiasts, Mercado dos Lavradores is a great place to take a stroll. Wander around the vibrant market and pick up local specialties, such as Madeira cake and wine, or sit down for a meal at one of the dozens of traditional restaurants and taverns. Pop into a nearby wine cellar, or simply admire the New State architecture that showcases beautiful tile panels that decorate the facade, the entrance and the fishmonger.
If you’re traveling with the kids, the Lido Bathing Complex is a great way to beat the heat. One of the most popular bathing areas in Funchal, it offers a large and small seawater pool and direct access for those who prefer the waves of the ocean. You’ll find sunbeds and parasols to soak up the sunshine, while there are lockers and a snack bar for when you’re traveling with the family.
Located on the northern tip of Madeira, Porto Moniz boasts a geographical phenomenon that cannot be missed on a visit to the island. Its lava pools were formed by volcanic lava and are now filled with clear seawater, creating natural swimming pools that make for an amazing sight. The entire family can enjoy a dip in these refreshing pools, while the nearby Madeira Aquarium boasts tanks that help you get up close and personal with the island’s diverse sea life.
Found in a nature reserve with striking volcanic rocks that are streaked with reddish hues, Ponta de São Lourenço is a worthwhile hike to enjoy the island’s impressive cliff scenery. You’ll be taken aback by the views found around every turn, including the scenery at various lookouts, like the beautiful Ponta do Furado, in addition to several bird species and seals.
Known for its almost 2,000-foot skywalk that sits on a cliff, Cabo Girão is located on Madeira’s south coast. The observation point will test your bravery, as it overhangs the edge of the cliff and has glass floor tiles that give you a dizzying view of the ocean and the towns of Camara De Lobos and Funchal below. The cliffs are said to be the highest in Europe and are a great place to catch one of the island’s beautiful sunsets.
Nestled near green cliffs and mountains of the island’s north coast, visit Seixal Beach to see a natural black sand beach. Located next to the Seixal Port and a natural pool, you can visit this natural wonder to soak up the island’s scenery where the green of the mountain boasts a stark contrast to the crystal blue of the sea. You can also visit nearby Praia da Jamaica, which is a picturesque pebble beach that is great for taking peaceful strolls.
A must for outdoor enthusiasts, a visit to Madeira Island isn’t complete without participating in a bucket list levada walk. The island’s unique irrigation system has water running through channels called “levadas,” where freshwater is transported from the mountains to communities across Madeira. You can explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site on a scenic hike past cascading waterfalls, such as on the Levada dos 25 Fontes, which winds through some of the island’s best scenery.
Take the cable car in Funchal to Monte Palace Tropical Garden to discover over 100,000 species of tropical and indigenous plants. You’ll find cycads from South Africa and rare Mocanu from the Laurisilva Forest, in addition to heather from Scotland and European azaleas. Meander around its tranquil lake to watch the ducks wade in the water or visit the Japanese garden to see a pagoda and pond, then admire over 1,000 sculptures created by Zimbabwean artists that dot its landscape.
If you’re up for a hiking adventure, lace up your boots and prepare for the challenge of Pico do Arieiro. It’s the third highest peak of Madeira and located in the hills of Funchal, where you’ll be rewarded with views over the island, including, São Lourenço, Paul da Serra and Porto Santo when you reach the top. Pico do Arieiro begins one of the best walking routes on the island, which reached all the way to Pico Ruivo lasting around four kilometres through cliffs, steep slopes and tunnels.
If you’ve got extra time, make sure to also explore one of Madeira’s other islands. Porto Santo Island can be reached by taking the ferry from Funchal, where after a 27-mile journey you’ll discover a hotspot for beach lovers. Delight in the white sand beach that stretches over five miles, where locals believe that its sand has healing properties that help soothe aches and pains. A variety of water sports are available, including windsurfing, paddle boarding and surfing.
Located on the north coast of the island, São Vicente is known for its green nature and abundant forest landscapes with beautiful slopes and historic landmarks. See the small chapel built inside a basalt rock at the mouth of a stream that runs into down, explore local flora in the Indigenous Garden, and explore the Museum Centre Rota do Cal.