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Since our first visit to Madeira back in 2020 we have fallen in love with the Portuguese gem of Madeira, in fact we loved it so much that we found ourselves returning the following year for twice as long!
One of the things that struck us the most about Madeira is the astonishing diversity of landscapes packed within its relatively small area. It’s almost hard to believe that an island measuring just 34 miles long and 14 miles wide could hold such a wide range of scenery. From rugged volcanic peaks and lush mountain ranges to dramatic cliffs and picturesque valleys, Madeira never fails to surprise and amaze us – we hope that this guide will help you to plan the perfect trip to the incredible island of Madeira!
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What to see and do in Madeira
When it comes to exploring Madeira, there’s no shortage of beautiful and unique things to see and do so here are just a few must-do’s that will make your Madeira adventure truly unforgettable.
It’s not a very big place and the roads are fairly easy to navigate as long as you’re comfortable with steep roads, however, the public transport network is not amazing outside of the city. For this reason, we would 100% recommend hiring a car, at least for a few days, to make the most of what Madeira has to offer.
Hiking & Walking
One of the highlights for us was the popular (for very good reason) Pico do Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira. For the price of only a short drive from Funchal, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most breath-taking views we have seen anywhere in the world. Seriously, you must not skip this – over the 3 weeks we have spent in Madeira we easily came up here over 10 times and each time was just as good as the last! And if you have time, definitely consider the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike, taking you on an epic journey through the mountains to the highest peak in Madeira.
However, Pico do Arieiro certainly isn’t the only adventure to be had. Make sure you explore the island’s network of levadas; the trails that run along Madeira’s old irrigation channels, guiding you throughout Laurissilva forests charming villages, and stunning waterfalls, providing a unique way to immerse yourself in Madeira’s natural beauty.
Whale & Dolphin Watching
Of course you can’t come to this Atlantic paradise without paying a visit to it’s marine residents with a whale and dolphin watching tour. Madeira is home to around 20 different species of whales and dolphins and offers one of the best opportunities witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
Bica da Cana Viewpoint
If you’re up for an adrenaline rush, this has got to be one of the best places in the world for a canyoning tour. A truly unique way to experience some of the island’s hidden gems, these tours will take you abseiling down waterfalls, leaping into crystal-clear pools, and sliding down natural rock slides as you explore the island’s rugged gorges and hidden canyons.
Madeira isn’t exactly famous for having loads of beaches but the few that it does have more than makes up for it! So why not take a day to unwind at the stunning Seixal beach, swim in the natural volcanic rock pools at Porto Moniz or walk the volcanic coastline of Ponta de São Lourenço
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When is the best time of year to visit Madeira
Madeira can be an excellent choice all year round and while we have only ever visited in the summer, thanks to its mild climate, it can be a pretty nice escape in Winter too.
Spring time (March to May) is when the island blooms with vibrant flowers, and temperatures are pleasant for hiking and other outdoor activities. Summer (June to August) brings slighly warmer temperatures and long daylight hours, however, be prepared for more crowds.
If you’re looking to escape the heat and the crowds, Autumn (September to November) still offers pleasant weather but with fewer people It’s an ideal time for hiking, exploring levadas, and experiencing breathtaking views at sunrise and sunset.
Winter (December to February) brings mild temperatures and occasional rain showers, and while it’s not beach weather, it still offers a unique charm, including ocasional snow-dusted mountain peaks, festive celebrations, and Christmas markets.
You should be prepared for anything at any time of year in Madeira, especially higher up in the mountains, make sure that you pack layers and be prepared for cold wind occasional rain showers.
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How expensive is Madeira
While it’s not the cheapest destination in the world, it’s still possible to have a memorable experience without overspending. On our first trip to Madeira we only paid for our flight, accommodation, food and car hire as there was so much to see around the island that we didn’t find it nessessary to spend anything on additonal tours and activites!
Accommodation options vary from budget-friendly guesthouses to luxury hotels and resorts and dining out will be much more affordable if you stick to local eateries and avoid obvious tourist traps at the most popular destinations.
Views cost nothing
Activities range from countless free nature walks and stunning views to all-inclusive island tours and adventure activities, so you’re pretty much covered for any budget.
Whenever we travel we use our Wise international bank account and debit card to spend and withdraw cash at the true exchange rate – it’s such an easy way to save time and money when you travel!
Is Madeira safe to visit
Madeira is generally considered a safe destination for travellers, with a low crime rate and friendly locals.
Outdoor activities are generally safe, but it’s important to follow safety guidelines, use appropriate equipment, and listen to experienced guides – as always carrying travel insurance is recommended.
However, you should be aware of the natural dangers that come with exploring the mountainous terrain, weather conditions can also change quickly so you should always be prepared for rain, wind, and cold temperatures – even in the summer!
Make sure you’re covered with travel insurance – it’s a small investment that could make a big difference if something goes wrong!
where to stay in Madeira
When choosing your accommodation location, consider the activities and attractions you’re most interested in and the ambiance you want to experience.
Whether you prefer the vibrant city life of Funchal, the coastal serenity of Caniço, the rural charm of Santana, or the mountain adventures in Encumeada, Madeira offers a diverse range of options to suit your preferences.
As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t a very big places so it doesn’t make too much difference where you are based if you want to explore the entire islands but here’s a breakdown of your main options:
As the capital city of Madeira, Funchal offers the widest range of accommodations, from luxurious hotels to cozy guesthouses.
Staying in Funchal, as we did on our second trip, provides convenient access to restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. The Old Town (Zona Velha) is a particularly charming area, with its narrow streets, historic buildings and street art.
But if you prefer somewhere quieter, consider accommodations in the outskirts of Funchal, such as São Gonçalo or Monte, where you can enjoy beautiful views and tranquillity, while keeping a central and convenient base.
Madeira’s coastline is dotted with picturesque towns and villages that offer a more relaxed and scenic atmosphere. Caniço, located east of Funchal, provides a pleasant coastal retreat and easy access to the ocean. Machico, on the northeast coast, is home to one of the islands few sandy beach and a charming town center. Ponta do Sol, on the southwest coast, is known as being the sunniest town in Madeira and a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.
The northern coast of Madeira is characterized by its rugged cliffs, dramatic landscapes, and lush greenery. Towns like São Vicente, Santana and Porto Moniz offer a unique experience, with their volcanic rock formations, natural swimming pools and traditional triangular thatched-roof houses, all while being close to countless stunning hiking trails.
In the Mountains
Mountainous Regions: Madeira’s mountainous central regions are a paradise for nature lovers and hikers. Consider accommodations in places like Encumeada or Curral das Freiras, located in the heart of the island and surrounded by stunning mountain vistas.
how to get to and around Madeira
Madeira has an international airport, Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport (FNC), located near Santa Cruz. Many major airlines operate regular flights to and from Madeira, connecting it to various European cities – often for a very reasonable price!
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Renting a car is a popular option for exploring Madeira, and in our opinion it is by far the best as it provides the most flexibility and convenience to explore the harder to reach places.
The relatively new road network in Madeira is generally well-maintained, but it does include some steep and winding roads, particularly in mountainous areas. You must be comfortable with driving a manual car up and down steep hills!
Madeira does have a reliable public transportation system, primarily consisting of buses. However, we wouldn’t suggest exploring the entire island this way as some routes outside of the city only run a couple of times a day and it would be easy to find yourself getting caught without a ride home.
Information about routes, schedules, and fares can be obtained from the bus company’s website or local tourist information centres.
Cable Cars and Funiculars
Being so steep and hilly, it makes perfect sense that Madeira features multiple cable cars routes up and down the cliff sides. The most famous being the Monte Cable Car, with breathtaking views over the city as it takes you from Funchal to Monte, where you’ll find the famous Carros de Cesto (traditional wicker toboggans) for rapid descent back down from Monte to Livramento.