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Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination

In 2023, the Madeira Islands earned the prestigious title of Europe's Leading Destination at the World Travel Awards. This archipelago, comprised of four islands, stood out as the favored island destination.

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By Eglė

Published: Oct 24, 2023 min read

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination

Considering a trip to Madeira Island in Portugal? Curious about the top attractions and experiences on this island, often dubbed the Atlantic's Gem? Dive into this guide to discover the must-visit spots and activities in Madeira you shouldn't miss!

Frequently referred to as the 'Isle of Flowers', Madeira stands out as a distinctive destination in the Atlantic. The island boasts a backdrop of mesmerizing mountainous terrains, picturesque coastlines, quaint hamlets, and an abundant mix of exotic flora. While Madeira might not be your go-to for golden beaches and mainstream seaside activities, it does offer some serene sandy stretches close by. However, if your heart yearns for untouched nature, rugged shores, offbeat local spots, cultural heritage, and delightful gastronomy and wines, Madeira will captivate you! ( The same goes to Lisbon  or any other Portugese city.)

Don't be fooled by its modest size; Madeira's offerings are vast and varied. With so much to explore, you might find yourself wishing for more days to spend here. Given everyone's time constraints, we've handpicked the ABSOLUTE BEST attractions and experiences in Madeira that promise maximum value for your time.

This guide showcases the prime attractions, activities, and crowd-favorite tourist spots in Madeira, tagged as 'can't-miss'. Along with each recommended spot or activity, we provide insightful suggestions based on firsthand experiences to enhance your visit.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - Funchal - covered by ratepunk

1. Funchal

Funchal, the heartbeat of Madeira, is a picturesque seaside city you shouldn't overlook during your visit. Though its dimensions might seem modest, the city unfolds an array of experiences awaiting the curious traveler, with most highlights being accessible on foot. The city invites explorers with its captivating blend of monochrome mosaic pathways, heritage structures, and a bustling harbor. Additionally, Funchal is enriched with vibrant green spaces, most notably the Monte Palace Tropical Garden and the Madeira Botanical Gardens.

Dive into Funchal's diverse historical treasures ranging from the eminent Cathedral (Sé) and the serene Santa Clara Convent to the thrilling wicker toboggan rides that have become synonymous with Madeira's charm. For soccer aficionados, a visit to Cristiano Ronaldo's CR7 trophy museum is a must, and for those with an artistic bent, the Rua de Santa Maria's street art won't disappoint.

Pro Tip: Consider scheduling your Funchal exploration on days with minimal cruise ship dockings. The town tends to get crowded with multiple ships anchored. A quick online search for 'Funchal cruise schedules' can give you an idea.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - Cabo Girao - covered by ratepunk

2. Cabo Girão

Situated a stone's throw away from Funchal, Cabo Girão stands out as a prime attraction in Madeira. Boasting its title as one of Europe's loftiest sea cliffs, it ascends to a staggering height of 580 meters (1,900 ft). On bright days, the panoramas from Miradouro do Cabo Girão are nothing short of breathtaking. Yet, it's the observation deck that truly amplifies the experience.

The cliff features a uniquely designed terrace with a glass floor known as the Cabo Girão Skywalk. This allows visitors to gaze directly down at the dramatic drop below. If the sheer height gives you the jitters and you'd prefer to avoid the glass section, you can still relish the view from adjacent areas.

Did You Know? From this elevated vantage point, you can spot tiny plots of land right beside the sea. Historically, local farmers braved these heights, descending the cliffs with baskets to cultivate this land. But times have changed, and such perilous endeavors are now a tale of the past.

Travel Tip: For a more serene experience, consider visiting early in the morning or as dusk approaches. Driving to Cabo Girão is relatively straightforward, but be cautious on the winding roads, especially with large vehicles like buses approaching from the opposite direction.

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Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - monte cable car Madeira - featured by ratepunk

3.Monte Cable Car

A trip to Madeira isn't complete without exploring the charming Monte village, perched above the vibrant city of Funchal. The most scenic route to this hilltop haven? The Monte Cable Car (Teleférico do Funchal).

While Monte has its own set of attractions (which we'll delve into later), the cable car journey itself is a mesmerizing experience. As you ascend, the panoramic vistas of Funchal city and its sparkling harbor unfold before your eyes, making every moment aboard truly memorable.

Spanning a considerable distance, the ride provides a leisurely 15-20 minutes of breathtaking views, allowing you to fully soak in the beauty of Funchal and its encompassing landscapes.

Useful Details: The Monte Cable Car runs daily from 9 AM to 5.45 PM, though operational hours might vary during peak seasons. Tickets are typically available on-site, giving you the flexibility to choose between one-way journeys, round trips, or combined rides that include a visit to the Madeira Botanical Garden.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - monte tropical garden palace in Madeira - featured by ratepunk

4.Jardim Tropical Monte Palace

Nestled in Madeira, the Jardim Tropical Monte Palace stands as one of its most illustrious gardens. Once the backdrop for a plush estate and later the opulent Quinta Monte Palace hotel (now a museum), the gardens now flaunt an array of exotic flora from around the globe, complemented by the island's native species.

The vision of local entrepreneur and art enthusiast Joe Berardo in the late 1980s, this verdant oasis boasts not just diverse plant life, but also fountains, serene ponds, cascading waterfalls, intricate azulejos, and Japanese-inspired spaces adorned with pagodas and carp ponds. Moreover, the vast collection of 15th-century tile panels narrating Portuguese history enriches the garden's allure.

Directions: The best way to journey to this verdant paradise? The Monte cable car, connecting Funchal's heart with Monte, stopping right at the garden's gates. While driving is an option, parking is nearly a Herculean task. Taxis and public buses offer viable alternatives.

Useful Tips: The gardens welcome visitors throughout the year, taking a brief respite only on Christmas. Entry is free for children under 15, accompanied by an adult. Dive deeper into details on their website. Navigate the vast gardens with caution; some paths might be slick. Comfortable footwear is a must!

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - botanical garden in  Madeira - featured by ratepunk

5. Jardim Botanico - Madeira Botanical Garden 

The Jardim Botânico stands out as a mesmerizing destination for nature lovers. While it's a bit more secluded compared to the famed Jardim Tropical Monte Palace, it promises an equally breathtaking experience. Sprawling across 5 hectares, this garden boasts a vast collection of flora from around the globe. Visitors can marvel at meticulously curated flower arrangements, a unique bird sanctuary, and even delve into a compact natural history museum on the premises.

Segmented into specialized areas like the arboretum and medicinal plant sections, every plant here is marked, making it a treasure trove for botany enthusiasts. The best times to soak in its vibrant beauty are during the spring and summer months.

TIP: A must-visit is the geometric topiary section, known for its intricate designs, vibrant blooms, and panoramic views of Funchal.

Visitor's Guide: The garden welcomes visitors every day, except Christmas, from 9 AM to 6 PM. Entry is complimentary for children below six. For detailed insights, consider visiting their official website.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination Pico do Ariero Madeira - featured by ratepunk

6. Pico do Ariero

Pico do Arieiro, standing tall at 1,818 m, is one of the crowning jewels of Madeira. Accessible by car, this peak is the island's most popular and a must-visit. Although the road leading to the summit can be a bit of a serpentine, worry not, as buses frequent this route, ensuring connectivity even during peak times. And once you arrive, a brief walk will introduce you to vistas that are nothing short of spectacular, making it a favorite for both sunrise and sunset admirers.

For the adventurers, the Vereda do Arieiro hike is a gem. This trail connects you to Pico Ruivo, the island's zenith. The route promises unparalleled views that epitomize Madeira's natural beauty. However, be prepared for a challenge. Covering 7.1 km one way (or up to 14.4 km round trip, depending on your chosen path), the journey can be daunting with its sheer drops. It's a test of nerve and endurance but worth every step.

TIP: If a long hike isn't in the cards, you can still relish in the splendor. A mere 15-30 minutes' walk from the parking zone reveals a landscape so alien yet beautiful, it feels otherworldly. It's undeniably one of Madeira's must-sees.

Getting There: A car or taxi is the most convenient mode to reach Miradouro Pico do Arieiro. Do bear in mind that during peak hours, parking can be a challenge. If your focus is on soaking in the vistas without trekking much, consider timing your visit for the golden hours of dawn or dusk. For those without a vehicle, various agencies in Funchal offer organized tours, ensuring a seamless and memorable trip.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - pico ruivo Madeira - featured by ratepunk

7. Pico Ruivo

Pico Ruivo stands as Madeira's pinnacle, reaching an impressive 1,862 m. Its grandeur is undeniable, yet it remains accessible only from the previously mentioned Pico do Arieiro. There's also a direct route – the Vereda do Pico Ruivo, leading from Achada do Teixeira.

This pathway is one of Madeira's standout experiences, weaving through its dramatic terrains and unveiling unparalleled views. While the journey rewards hikers with stunning vistas, it's essential to stay prepared for a plethora of steps and unpredictable weather shifts. The trail initiating at the Achada do Teixeira parking zone is roughly 2.8 km long. Anticipate a 1.5-hour one-way trek, amounting to around 3 hours for a complete round trip. 

TIP: It's advisable to dress warmly. The significant drop in temperature at this height can catch you off guard. Additionally, checking the weather forecast is crucial; a cloud-free Pico Ruivo can offer mesmerizing above-the-clouds experiences, turning your trek into something truly magical.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination -8.Ponta de São Lourenço - featured by ratepunk

8.Ponta de São Lourenço

While many trails in Madeira offer leisurely walks, the 8-km journey to Ponta de São Lourenço offers a unique coastal experience. This path leads adventurers through Madeira's easternmost peninsula, culminating at the spectacular Ponta do Furado viewpoint. What's more? The panoramic views here are unrivaled. Even if you venture only to the Miradouro de São Lourenço — a short 20-30 minute walk from the starting point — the sights make the trek entirely worthwhile.

TIP: Considering the trail's popularity, it's wise to start early to avoid crowded pathways. Since there aren't any amenities on this trail, packing refreshments and snacks is a must. Also, given the area's open nature, be prepared for gusty winds.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - Natural Pools of Porto Moniz- featured by ratepunk

9.Natural Pools of Porto Moniz

Porto Moniz, nestled on Madeira's rugged northwest coast, is renowned for its enchanting natural swimming pools. These naturally formed volcanic marvels are a must-visit, whether you're planning a swim or merely admiring the spectacle. Picture it: a serene day, gazing at the waves crashing against the coastline, time seemingly still. Regarded as a highlight in Madeira, Porto Moniz often features in most travel itineraries and sightseeing tours.

Thanks to the tidal influx, the pools here are replenished with fresh seawater. Notably, several of these pools have been enhanced for visitors, with safer access points, amenities like changing facilities, and even lifeguards for those seeking a safe dip. 

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination -Rabaçal Levada Hikes Madeira - featured by ratepunk

10. Rabaçal Levada Hikes

Rabaçal Valley stands out as the go-to spot for those craving the quintessential levada walks that Madeira is famed for. Levadas, once constructed as irrigation channels to distribute water, have since morphed into scenic hiking trails that meander through Madeira’s diverse landscapes. Rabaçal boasts several of these trails, offering hikers glimpses into lush landscapes and captivating waterfalls.

Among the myriad trails originating from Rabaçal, Levada das 25 Fontes holds a special place, often touted as the favorite among travelers. More details about this enchanting trail can be found in our comprehensive guide to Madeira’s best hikes.

For those new to hiking or traveling with family, Rabaçal’s trails present an ideal blend of tranquility and adventure. The terrain here is characterized by gentle paths, canopied by green foliage, leading to mesmerizing waterfalls. However, a word to the wise: post-rain, these trails can get a tad slippery.

Expect: The valley attracts a considerable number of visitors given its charm and easy-to-moderate hikes. To fully embrace the serenity of the place, consider arriving early or opting for weekday visits.

Traveler's Tip: Weather in Madeira can be unpredictable. A sunny coastal morning might evolve into a misty afternoon in Rabaçal. It's wise to monitor the weather forecast and pack accordingly. Sometimes, the most magical moments come wrapped in misty surprises!

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination - Nuns valley Madeira - featured by ratepunk

11. Nuns Valley

Tucked away in Madeira's rugged interior, Curral Das Freiras, often referred to as the 'Valley of the Nuns', beckons travelers with its intriguing history and natural splendor. Its strategic location close to the capital makes it a favorite among day-trippers and tour groups exploring the island.

This secluded valley, cradled within an ancient volcanic crater, was once only reachable by challenging mountain paths. Modern infrastructural advancements have gifted us a tunnel, making accessibility much smoother, albeit a few roads still offer a test of nerves.

Visitors can either immerse themselves in the charming village nestled in the valley or choose the panoramic delights at the Miradouro Eira do Serrado. A brief walk from the parking area, this viewpoint offers breathtaking vistas, making it a prime spot for capturing Madeira's majestic mountainous essence.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination -São Vicente Caves in Madeira - featured by ratepunk

12.São Vicente Caves

While subterranean marvels might not be new to many, the uniqueness of these caves lies in their origin - not as mere hollow spaces but as ancient lava tubes, crafted over nearly 900,000 years by flowing molten rock. These tubes span a length of 1,000 meter. Round off your caving experience with a visit to the adjacent Volcanism Center, shedding light on Madeira's geological birth.

Useful Information: The São Vicente Caves welcome visitors every day except Mondays. Reservations aren't mandatory; simply walk in and join the next available tour. For the most recent updates, it's advisable to browse their official website. Amenities include ample parking, restroom facilities, a souvenir shop, and a café to quench your post-exploration thirst.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination -Santana Traditional Houses - featured by ratepunk

13.Santana Traditional Houses

One of Madeira's standout attractions you probably already have seen.  The Santana houses captivate visitors with their distinctive triangular shape and straw-thatched roofs. Their allure is such that they've graced countless postcards and remain etched in Madeira's visual narrative. While centrally located in Santana, a scenic town on the island's northern coast, these houses retain their original charm and authenticity. During daytime visits, one can even purchase local produce from a few homes that are open for business. From a distance or up close, their charm never fades, presenting an architectural delight.

Travel Tips: Reaching Santana is straightforward by car, and many tour services in Madeira make it a staple on their itinerary. Parking, however, can get competitive, especially during peak hours. It's recommended to start early or time your visit to avoid the main tourist rush.

Madeira: Your Next Must-Visit European Destination -Queimadas Forest Park Madeira - featured by ratepunk

14.Queimadas Forest Park

Queimadas Forest Park is a blend of rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park boasts some of the last remaining Laurissilva trees. Explore its picturesque trails, including the renowned Levada do Caldeirão Verde that takes you through mystical tunnels to the Caldeirão Verde Waterfall. Combine your visit with nearby Santana's traditional houses. While a one-hour drive from Funchal, there are convenient tours available.

Quick Note: Weekends are busy, with locals often picnicking. Parking is available for a small fee or at nearby Pico das Pedras.

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15. Madeira Vineyards

A trip to Madeira is incomplete without tasting its iconic fortified wine, akin to sherry or port. With producers like Pereira d'Oliveira in Funchal and Henriques & Henriques in Câmara de Lobos, the island's wine heritage is rich.

For an immersive experience, consider a tour at Blandy's Wine Lodge in Funchal. As one of Madeira's oldest and most reputable wine producers, Blandy's offers daily tours where visitors can taste the renowned Madeira wine.

For an amazing experience, opt for Funchal's food & wine tours. They combine wine tasting with local delicacies and also showcase the city's charms. Additionally, many tours venture to wineries and vineyards beyond Funchal.

How Long to Stay in Madeira

Madeira offers a wealth of attractions, suitable for multiple weeks. However, for a comprehensive experience, aim for a 7-10 day visit. This allows you to explore major sites without rushing.

For a condensed 1-4 day trip, base yourself in Funchal, the capital. Opt for organized tours that highlight either the eastern or western parts of the island.

For those with 3-4 days, consider renting a car to explore Madeira's must-see spots at your own pace. To truly immerse in its beauty, especially if hiking is on your agenda, allocate at least 5-7 days for a relaxed experience.

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