Top 10 Things to Do in Madeira
In the Atlantic ocean, mid-way between Portugal and Africa, you will find the beautiful Madeira island group, four to be exact. Due to its abundance of exquisite and bright colored flowers, it is lovingly known as the “floating garden”. It is also known for its varied marine life, with dozens of species of dolphins and whales swimming along the coast all year round! As Madeira is created by volcanoes, you’ll find the island bursting with spectacular cliffs and peaks, deep gorges, beautiful waterfalls and amazing forests. Nature lovers are fans of Madeira as there are an abundance of natural parks and reserves, as well as unusual fauna and flora you won’t find anywhere else. We’ve put together a list of things you must see and do while in Madeira:
1. Go on a Toboggan ride!
A true adrenaline experience in which you will find yourself descending winding roads at top speeds! Located in Monte, these two seater wicker baskets were created in the 1800’s as a means of transportation to Funchal, for people living high up in Monte, and is still a very popular tourist attraction to this day! Your two “drivers” will seat you comfortably in the basket and away you go! This is a fast and fun 10 minute journey, in which you will reach speeds of up to 45km an hour – not bad for a little wicker basket!
2. Explore the Levadas!
Levadas are ancient water channels created to transport water from the north of the island to the drier south. Along with being a highly effective irrigation system to the island, they are also really fun to visit! Along the water, there are walking trails that lead you along spectacular location on the island! There are over 200 different levadas, and the top levadas to visit include: Rabacal 25 Fontes, Caldeirao Verde, Levada do Rei, Levada dos Cedros and Levada do Alecrim. There are many more to explore, including Levada das Queimadas, which has trails that are wheelchair friendly! You con find some great levada tours HERE!
3. Taste a delicious Espetada!
A delicious traditional dish, consisting of marinated meat on metal or laurel skewers and grilled to perfection! A must try dish when in Madeira, we recommend you forgo the fries and order milho frito (which is actually fried polenta). You’ll also want to accompany your meal with some bolo do caco, which is a flattened bread smothered in garlic butter. the perfect meal after sightseeing on the island!
4. Search for Whales and Dolphins!
Due to its prime location on the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is known as a haven for dolphins and whales, and there are numerous tours you can join to see them! As exciting as this may be for the kids, it is no less exciting for grownups, as it is frequent to see these beautiful mammals swimming alongside the touring boats! You can even swim with dolphins! Along with dolphins and whales, water based tours will also give you a glimpse into the rare and varied bird population, with species you won’t find anywhere else!
5. Visit the Deserted Islands
The Ilhas Desertas, or Deserted islands, are a high point of most visitors holiday in Madeira! Of volcanic origin, these three islands are home to a variety of birds and monk seal. It is also home to exquisite plant life, and now considered a natural reserve. There are a variety of boat tours to the Ilhas Desertas, some even with overnight camping, so if you are a true nature lover, this is one activity you do not want to miss when visiting Madeira!
6. Swim in Lava Pools!
We recommend visiting the Volcanic Lava Pools in Porto Moniz. As named, the natural pools are formed by volcanic lava and the waters of the Atlantic flow freely into these pools offering you a fantastic one of a kind swimming experience! Covering almost 4000 square meters, with children’s areas, car park and disabled access, this is the perfect place to visit with family and friends! This pool has a paid entrance, so if you would like to explore a free option, we recommend the Natural Pools of Seixal.
7. Ride the Cable Cars!
A cable car ride is a great way to view the island from high above! Madeira offers two amazing options you’ll want to try when on holiday. The first, is the Funchal Cable Car. This trip will take you from the center of Funchal, high up to Monte village (where you can take the journey back down by toboggan!). The second cable cars, takes a bit of a greener route, as it begins in the Botanical Gardens. Traveling up to Monte village as well, you will get a peek at the amazing plant life of the gardens, as well as spectacular sea views on the way up!
8. Visit the Houses of Santana!
A sight to behold, the village of Santana is known for its lovely little thatched roof triangular houses. The Madeira Theme Park is a wonderful place to visit to learn all there is to know about the history of the islands and its unique gastronomy. Exhibitions include the traditional houses of Santana, a replica of the old Monte train, its lovely lake and a variety of fun activities! Indoors, you can participate in interactive activities and movies, where you will learn all about the islands and its production of sugar and wine. The park also hosts a restaurant and cafe where you can stop for a bite to eat!
9. Walk the Cabo Girao Skywalk!
If you’ve got a bit of an adventurous streak, try the Cabo Girao Skywalk! This glass walkway off the cliffs of Cabo Girao, at over 500 meters above the sea, will offer you breathtaking views all along the coast leading down to the lovely Camara dos Lobos. The best part of this attraction? It’s free!
10. Go Shopping at Mercado dos Lavradores!
A fantastic shopping experience in Madeira! If you’re looking for special souvenirs for your loved ones, try browsing around this market! A combination of indoor and outdoor spaces, with a wide variety of food, fresh flowers and local crafts, you are sure to find the perfect gift to take home! The fruit stalls in the central courtyard allow for tasting before buying, so grab some pineapple, banana, mango and more before heading upstairs to explore the local craftsman! The fish market in particular is a highlight of this local market.