Planning to visit Madeira for a vacation? Staying for a week or two and don’t know what to visit? I felt the same when I first arrived. Many people suggested so many nice places, but where to start? If you feel the same, continue reading and find out which are the best 11 experiences you can have on Madeira Island.
Wake up early and energize your well-being on Pico Areeiro. Pico Areeiro is 1818m above sea level, and is the second highest mountain on Madeira, after Pico Ruivo. The main difference between the two is that Pico Ruivo is only accessible by walk (you have few hiking paths), while Pico Areeiro can be reached by car. Before heading there, I make sure to always check what time is the sunrise, in order to be there on time. From Funchal you can reach Pico arriero by car in around 40 minutes. Up there you will experience the birth of the sun, and its bathing in the ocean, accompanied by the Desertas islands. This place is just so powerful and a great way to start your day! On the way down from the mountain, you will see a rustic restaurant, where I advise you to stop for a cup of coffee and breakfast, and try their Family cake. This place reminds me a lot to eastern Europe. Surrounded by firs, and its winter charm, you will absolutely not feel like you are still on Madeira Island.
Sao Lourenco hike - If you are planning on doing only one hike during your stay, then Ponta de Sao Lourenco should be the one! First, you need to arrive to the last accessible point in the most eastern point of the island. From here you have a trail 3km long that will take you to Casa do Sardinha, the only restaurant you will find on the way! In certain points on the trail the island is only few meters wide, which will allow you to enjoy both – the rocky, windy, powerful north side, and the peaceful, sunny south side of the island. No special gear is needed. The trail is very easy and enjoyable.
Nun’s Valley (Curral das Freiras) – The legend says that nuns from Funchal were hiding in this isolated place during the times of pirates attacks in Funchal. Surrounded by mountains from every single side, this special village lives mainly from what they produce. What you need to try here are the local chestnuts. Chestnuts are so important for the locals, that the Nun’s Valley even has a Chestnut Festival. Before heading down to the village, make sure to stop at Eira Do Serrado miradouro from where you can admire the magnificent views of the village and its surroundings.
Cascada dos Anjos – Only few minutes away from Ponta da Sol, when passing the rustic tunnel and heading towards the next town, is located one of the best experiences you can have on Madeira Island. Cascada dos Anjos is a glamourous waterfall right in the middle of the local road. If you have never been under a waterfall, I strongly suggest you this place to rejuvenate your well-being with this untouched nature. The ocean and banana trees make this place even more special.
Porto Moniz is located on the very west side of the island. This little town is known for its volcanic pools. Here you can spend a nice afternoon swimming it the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The entrance to the swimming area is around 1,5 euro, and here besides the volcanic pools, you can find a restaurant, restrooms, and changing room. Just few minutes away from Porto Moniz, on your way back, you can find the beautiful miradouro Veu Da Noiva. Make sure to stop there and enjoy the wonderful views.
25 Fontes – It is a group of waterfalls hidden in the middle of the island. A levada walk from Casa do Rabacal (restaurant in the forest) will take you there in about 1 hour. Place note that this is a protected area, which means you cannot drive to the restaurant by car. There are two options – either you walk extra few km, or you take the shuttle that goes every half an hour. The shuttle costs around 5 euros for both ways, and the last ride up the hill is at 18h.
Beach life – Well, probably you are on a vacation, and you also want to just chill on the beach. When I first arrived here, I thought there are mainly beaches with rocks which do not offer the same experience, but I was absolutely wrong! With time, I got to visit many nice places for relaxation, and here are few.
- Calheta – Located in the southwestern part of the island, this beach also has a part with sand and beach chairs for the perfect experience. Probably is one of the best places to watch the sunset as well.
- Ribeira Brava – The beach in this town also has one part with sand, and what I really love about this place is that is not as windy as other parts of the island. The water is so warm and calm, making it the best place for paddleboarding, especially for beginners. On the beach is located a swimming complex with pool for affordable prices.
- Ponta do Sol – It is a rocky beach with an amazing view of mountains and waterfalls.
- Seixal – This natural black sand beach is located on the northern part of the island. It is surrounded by a breathtaking landscape with cliffs and waterfalls.
- Garajau - This beach is part of the Garajau Natural Partial Reserve. To access it I suggest you take the teleférico that starts from the Cristo Rei monument. This cable car will take you to paradise! The ride is around 5 minutes and costs 3 euros for a round way ticket. When arriving on the beach you will notice the breathtaking cliffs and calm water. Here is also located a nice cozy restaurant.
Dolphin watching tours – Make sure to reserve one afternoon for a dolphin watching tour. Most of the agencies offer a catamaran or a speedy boat. If you are looking for a more cozy and relaxed experience with a glass of wine, I suggest you the catamaran. If your goal is to see more sea life, such as dolphins, whales and turtles, then definitely choose the speedy boat. I’ve been multiple times with the Magic Dolphin agency, but you can choose what works for you the best (starting point in different city, price, duration of trip). I included this experience in the blog, since I believe is a very humane and friendly way to meet these amazing creatures, right in their natural habitat.
Camara de Lobos – Another town on the Island that you must visit! I suggest you visit it during the night, since night life here is just amazing. This lovely town is always decorated with art installations, mainly created from rubbish. During the Christmas time another art installation gives special holiday feeling. Besides the street art, you will also notice dozens of fish boats in the bay. Near by are all the local poncha places. One of the best poncha place is Bar Filhos D’Mar. Not only that they have one of the best ponchas on the island, but they also have a huge collection of Cristiano Ronaldo’s clothes, shoes, medals, as well as photos from his childhood. In a conversation with the bartender, we found out that Ronaldo’s family and the owner of the place are very good friends.
I believe you already know poncha. If you at least googled Madeira before booking your tickets, then you absolutely heard of it. This traditional Madeiran drink became our night ritual. I love to try new flavours, so when I first tried it I was so excited and surprised. It is made with local sugar cane rum, honey and fruits. The Regional is made with lemon and oranges and the Pescador with lime and sugar, but you also have many other options. I have two favourites, maracuja (passion fruit) and mint. The best place to try it and have a unique experience is definitely Taberna da Poncha in Serra d’Agua. However, if looking for good poncha in Funchal, I recommend either Venda Velha or bar Number two. Both of them are located in the old town of Funchal. Venda Velha also offers a meter of poncha shots with 6 different flavours! It is the perfect way to taste all of them!
Lido for dinner Lido is located just few km away from the center of Funchal. What I’ve noticed is that this is the place where you want to go for a dinner. The neighborhood is so lively at night, offers variety of cousins and live music. At the same time, Lido is less pricey than the old town. Here you can find traditional Madeiran food, Italian, Indian, fast food places and many more.
Extra tip on food - Local Madeiran cuisine is mainly based on meat and fish, so enjoying good vegetarian/vegan food for me was a challenge. Many times, restaurants offer just fries or rice, and bolo do caco (traditional sweet potato bread). So, here I decided to include extra hits for my veggie fellows.
- Art Food Corner – this coffee place is my forever favourite one! Most of the items on the menu are vegan or vegetarian, including vegan wine and coffee with vegan milk. Here you can enjoy bowls, wraps, carrot cake, and specialty coffee.
- Buddha Tandoori – It is an Indian and Nepalese restaurant in Lido. I love this places because of the huge variety of dishes they offer. There are at least 20 different dishes for vegetarians! Mind-blowing 😊
- Mundo vegan – I believe my information is still up to date – this is the ONLY completely vegan restaurant on Madeira Island. They offer many different starters, as well as many burgers. Their signature burger is made with “beyond meat”. Just delicious!
- Bioforma is a chain of healthy food and supplements stores. In the center of Funchal, as part of their store, they also offer cooked food. If looking for a healthy quick lunch, this is the place for you.
- Last but not least – Hamburgueria do Mercado. There are two places in Funchal, one is located by the ocean, and the other one is located near Santa Luzia Park. Both have the same menu which includes two veggie burgers. The mushroom burger is just yummy!
Extra tip on places to visit - Undoubtedly, one of the reasons why the whole world has heard of Madeira is Cristiano Ronaldo. The football megastar was born on the island and developed love towards football on one of the local stadiums. He moved to continental Portugal to play football when he was very young, but he is always proud to be Madeiran. Locals consider CR7 as their hero, not only because of his high achievements in football, but also because he is always donating and helping Madeirans when needed. Even the local airport was named after him.
Therefore, it is absolutely worthy to visit Cristiano’s bronze statue, which is located on the Sea Square in Funchal, right in front of the museum dedicated to him.
With all that said, I truly hope you will love and enojoy Madeira, as much as I do.