The Madeira Islands are an archipelago situated just off the south coast of Portugal; the largest island of the group is also called Madeira, and is an immensely popular holiday destination thanks to the incredible scenery and beaches, and pleasantly mild Mediterranean climate.
Where to Go and explore in Madeira
Funchal is widely regarded as one of Portugal’s most beautiful cities, a title that is well-deserved, and most apparent when the city is lit in the evenings. Funchal is an ideal base for family holidays in Madeira, with nearby attractions such as the Monte Palace Gardens, Funchal Cable Car, sightseeing and boating tours, and a water park. There are plenty of good restaurants, and a few bars too. Many package holidays in Madeira include accommodation in Funchal, although there are other options, such as Canico de Baixo and Santa Cruz, both of which are located nearby.
Canico de Baixo, located on the island’s south coast, is the ideal destination for villa holidays in Madeira. High on the hillside, an authentic village overlooks a new, modern resort with a variety of hotels, as well as private rental accommodation. The beaches in this area are pebbled rather than sandy, but are still gorgeous in their own way, and this small town is a good place to hop on a boat to nearby Santo Porto.
The proliferation of flowering plants on Madeira have earned it the nickname of the Floating Garden of the Atlantic, and this title is particularly well-earned, as there are many large and beautiful botanical gardens on the island. The incredible scenery isn’t just limited to the gardens, of course, and there are awe-inspiring views everywhere you look. Many hotels that offer luxury holidays in Madeira take advantage of these views to provide the ultimate holiday experience. From elegant cliff-top private villas, to beach-side five star luxury resorts, Madeira offers the very best in up-market accommodation.
What to See and Do in Madeira
- Whale watching is a popular activity for visitors, with the opportunity to view a wide variety of species of both whale and dolphin: spotted, striped, and bottlenose dolphins, as well as pilot whales, sperm whales, and beaked whales.
- Scuba diving and snorkelling are very popular tourist activities. The crystal clear waters, and the diversity of marine life, make Madeira’s waters perfect for diving. The best dive sites are found at Ponta de Sao Lourenco, which features some beautiful and mysterious underwater caves; at the Garajau Marine Reserve near Funchal; and at some of the islands near Madeira, such as Santo Porto.
- Ponta de Sao Lourenco is also an excellent destination for hiking, with a safe and comfortable hiking trail that comprises a walk of several hours, amid imposing volcanic rocky outcroppings and unusual plants.
- Levada walks—which follow the paths of the centuries-old aqueducts that transport water to low-level farmland—are another fantastic way to see the beauty of Madeira up close. Various operators offer guided Levada walks in many locations, including Serra D’Agua, Rabacal Valley, and Ribeiro Frio. One of the most popular walks is a full-day tour of the lakes in Madeira’s western plateau.
- Kayaking around the coast at Ponta de Sao Lourenco is a good way to see marine caves and hidden bays for people who don’t dive. The marine caves are only accessible by water, so to see them, so diving or travelling by boat are the only ways to see them.
- Other outdoor activities for the adventurous include mountain biking, canyon tours, and big game fishing, along with horse riding and sailing.
- Renting a car and going for a drive is a great way to see Madeira’s gorgeous coastline: most roads are in excellent condition, and the views are simply superb. It’s also a good way of touring the countryside to visit some of the smaller towns and villages out of the main holiday areas. Note that a car with a good engine is a must, as the terrain does include some steep hills.
- The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is an immense complex of more than 70,000 square metres, with a central lake surrounded by a variety of garden spaces. While the gardens are at their best in spring and summer, they’re gorgeous all year round. Visitors can drive directly to the gardens, or take a cable car from Funchal.
- The beauty of the island lends itself perfectly to a holiday that includes plenty of sunbathing, swimming, and outdoor leisure activities, but there are plenty of ways to spend some enjoyable hours indoors, in local museums and galleries, and attractions such as Blandy’s Wine Lodge, for sampling Madeira’s most famous export.
Need to Know Info for Madeira and Portugal
The official language of Madeira is Portuguese, but as on the mainland, many people on the island speak at least some English. The unit of currency is the Euro.
Madeira’s Mediterranean climate is pleasant all year round, with mean temperatures of 16 to 18 degrees between November and May, and the low 20s from June to October. The temperature rarely exceeds 25 to 27 degrees, or drops below 12 to 13. The wettest months of the year fall between October and February, with peak rainfall typically occurring in November and December.
The easiest way to get to Madeira is to fly directly to Madeira International Airport, located near the capital city of Funchal. A passport is required to enter Portugal, but a visa is not required for stays of under three months; this applies to residents of the UK, US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Under the terms of the Schengen agreement the visa requirement is similarly waived for many European countries.
Funchal has a good basic public transport system, with several bus companies, and a 7-day bus ticket can be purchased that is valid on all of the city’s bus companies and routes. Taxis are available in the main centres, but to travel around the rest of the island, a rental car is typically the best option. Alternatively, it’s also possible to hire a motorcycle, moped, or scooter. From Madeira, the nearby island of Porto Santo can be reached via air or ferry.