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Latest update: 14 August 2023

I knew Madeira from Instagram and travel blogs, so I knew it was beautiful. But this insanely beautiful?! The übergreen Portuguese island really surprised me. You can go for fantastic hikes, and there are many more fun things to do in Madeira. Check the 11 of the best things to explore in Madeira.

Step 1: rent a car in Madeira

It’s best to explore the mountainous Madeira by car. Tunnels have been made in many places so you can easily and quickly cross the island. Hydrangeas and African lilies grow wild on the roadside, and there are many banana plantations all around. So just driving to and from the different to-do’s in Madeira is already worth it. And honestly, you need a rental car because many places will otherwise remain inaccessible. And that would be a shame. Check and compare prices at Sunny Cars and EasyTerra.

Madeira to do 1 – Visit the colorful fishing village Câmara de Lobos

Câmara de Lobos is 15 minutes by car or half an hour by bus from Funchal. It is a small, colorful fishing village. The bay has dozens of old-fashioned fishing boats, but the fish is now brought directly to Funchal instead of here. The small center always gets a decorative upgrade toward the summer. Colorful street decorations made from recycled materials brighten up Câmara de Lobos.

Did you know that the typical drink of Madeira, Poncha, was born in Câmara de Lobos? It is a mix of rum from sugar cane, honey, sugar, and orange juice or lemon juice. Usually, it is diluted with fruit juice; otherwise, you’ll drink yourself under the table in no time. The alcohol percentage of the rum is about 40 to 50%.

Winston Churchill once visited the village. He painted the view during his stay, which was reason enough to exploit the visit. Many hotels and restaurants use his name, and there is even a statue of Churchill placed in the village.

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Madeira to do 2 – Brave the Skywalk of Europe’s highest cliff Cabo Girão

The Cabo Girão cliff is Europe’s highest cliff and the second highest cliff in the world. The highest point is about 580 meters above sea level. So you can imagine that you have a beautiful view of the ocean and the coast of Madeira.

A glass walkway has been built at the viewpoint so that you can gaze into the depths. Now I can tell you that this all sounds quite intense for someone afraid of heights. But strangely enough, I don’t find the Cabo Girão Skywalk that scary at all. The glass part is only small, and because there are gray dots on the glass and you can clearly see the construction beams. My fear of heights doesn’t bother me at all.

Be prepared for crowds at Cabo Girão. Of course, everyone wants to experience and capture this view. The entrance is 2 euros (in 2023), which you pay at the machine at the gate.

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Madeira to do 3 – Take the cable car to Fajã dos Padres

The beautiful plantation garden of Fajã dos Padres is very remote on the south coast of Madeira. You can only get there by cable car or boat. How’s that for remote? In 2.5 minutes, you descend the cliff and end up in a paradise garden by the ocean. The mangoes, bananas, tomatoes, and courgettes grow well here. Butterflies flutter, and lizards dart away as you walk by.

Fajã dos Padres has been owned by the same family since 1921. Everything that grows in the garden is used in the onsite restaurant. It’s a simple restaurant with honest food. Be sure to leave some room for dessert: the mango cheesecake is delicious. The grapes from the garden go to a Madeira wine producer, but the family keeps part of it. The Malmsey grapes usually provide a fairly sweet taste, but the family prefers to make the Madeira wine less sweet. They only make a small batch, mainly for personal use and the restaurant.

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Madeira to do 4 – Discover the capital Funchal

Funchal is the capital of Madeira and is big enough to give you a city feel but small enough not to feel overwhelmed. The city has several smaller sights, so a city walking tour is a good idea for sure. Visit the Ronaldo museum, explore the local market, and enjoy the cafes and restaurants.

From Funchal, you can also easily take the cable car to Monte. There you will find beautiful tropical gardens. Find out in this blog what else you can do in Funchal.

Madeira to do 5 – See the views of Pico do Arieiro (and do the hike!)

You can simply drive to the top by car and take in the views from the 1818-meter-high Pico do Arieiro. Or you can do the full PR 1 hike between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo – Madeira’s highest mountain. The hiking trail is the most famous of the pequenas rotas in Madeira. The hike should take 3.5 hours, but I’d maybe count on 4.5. Sometimes the hiking trails are so narrow that you cannot keep to your own pace, and the views are so beautiful that you’ll want to stop for pictures often.

You can hike by yourself, but if you have parked the car at Pico do Arieiro, you must return too. Another option is to have a tour bus drop you off at the starting point and pick you up at the ending point. On some tours, a guide joins the hike. It depends on what you feel most comfortable with.

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Madeira to do 6 – Take a levada walk in Madeira

When you think of Madeira, you think of hiking. That’s what the Portuguese flower island is known for. Famous are the levada walks. You follow the ancient irrigation canals through the mountains. There are endless levada trails in Madeira, so you can choose how long and challenging (or short and easy) your hike is.

Are you opting for convenience but a fantastic view as a reward? Then choose the PR 11 Vereda dos Balcões. It is only 1.5 kilometers (but you also have to go back) and ends on a viewing balcony. It offers fantastic views over the valley, the mountains, and you can even see the ocean. Because this is such an easy walk, it is often quite busy on the trail. You can find more levada walks on the Visit Madeira website.

Madeira to do 7 – Taste the Madeiran cuisine

Are you a bit adventurous when it comes to food and drinks? Great! Then order lapas as an appetizer. They are tiny snails with a lot of garlic. A bit firm in texture and delicious in taste. The espada is also a local delicacy. This fish is usually served with banana and passion fruit sauce. And of course, you should order a Madeira wine and a poncha at a bar. Read more about typical Madeira food and drinks here.

Madeira to do 8 – Do a fun jeep tour!

You can obviously do many things in Madeira with your rental car (tip: rent from EasyTerra or Sunny Cars), but do consider booking a jeep tour anyway. The drivers will take you off-road and show you places you cannot find yourself.

Discovery Island Madeira, True Spirit Madeira, and Adventure Land Madeira are reliable providers of jeep tours in Madeira. And you have a lot of choices: make combinations of a jeep safari with levada walks, wine tastings, or the sunset.

Madeira to do 9 – Plan a beach day in Porto Santo

Unfortunately, Madeira has no sandy beaches to offer. To get to those, you have to sail to Porto Santo, the smaller island. It takes you more than two hours. From the port of Funchal, you leave on a large ferry with a restaurant and cafeteria. The ferry has plenty of relaxing chairs to chill out on, but I still recommend taking a motion sickness pill – I needed it. It is easiest to buy your ferry ticket in advance.

Porto Santo is only a tiny island, but it has enough to offer to justify booking a jeep tour here (I went with Lazermar). It’s an excellent way to tick off the main sights, leaving you with plenty of beach time afterward.

Because the boat trip takes quite a long time, you can also consider staying overnight in Porto Santo. I took the boat there in the morning and back in the evening, which I found pretty intense. So take it easy and take time for some wining, dining, and resting. I would definitely do that next time. Check your options at Booking.com.

Madeira to do 10 – Spot whales and dolphins

On the ferry to Porto Santo, you also have a chance to spot dolphins, but if you want better chances, choose a whale and dolphin tour. Especially in the summer, you have a good opportunity to see whales and dolphins. Most tours depart from the port of Funchal. There are many providers, so compare the prices and services!

Madeira to do 11 – Wander through the mystical Fanal Forest

Fanal Forest is also called the Lord of the Rings forest and the fairytale forest of Madeira. Strangely enough, the Fanal Forest is at its best when cloudy and foggy. Because then there is a magical atmosphere in the air. When it is sunny, it is ‘just’ an ancient forest at an altitude of 1100 meters. Pretty nice, but you want to see the clouds. They move past the old laurel trees. The dancing clouds make a winding tree disappear one moment, and then it reappears from the fog the next.

It is smart to bring a raincoat and a thick sweater to the Fanal Forest because it is damp and cold. Especially if you plan to do one of the hikes here, good equipment is a must! When I arrive at the parking lot, I wonder aloud if the people returning from the forest took a swim. But no, the wet hair is due to the humid climate. I can even hear the water dripping from the trees. I clearly went wrong with my choice of clothing. 😉

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The best things to do in Madeira

So that’s it. The 11 best things to do in Madeira. But honestly, I was only on the island for four days, so there is probably much more to explore in Madeira. So if you have any cool tips for what to do in Madeira, please share them in the comments – you’ll help future travelers explore the best things to do in Madeira!

More Madeira inspiration?

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I was invited to Madeira by Visit Madeira and Interface Tourism Netherlands.

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