Best Things To Do In Madeira Portugal
Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean, just shy of two hours from Lisbon by plane. Like the Azores, the other archipelago of Portugal — Madeira, has an abundance of dramatic natural landscapes, with dizzying cliffs and rugged mountain peaks.
What it doesn’t have are many sandy beaches and warm waters but then again Madeira is not that kind of destination. The island is the perfect place for travelers who like to hike, surf, and generally have an affinity for adventure. Madeira is surely more suitable for the active kind of traveler that will enjoy these things to do in Madeira Portugal.
Explore the City of Funchal
The picturesque capital of Madeira is a destination all by itself. Built amphitheatrically on a hill, with its terracotta tiled roofs peeking out row after row and a laid-back ambiance that only an island capital could have, Funchal is a great starting point to explore the island and try its tasty cuisine.
The scenic old town with the fine specimens of colonial architecture, the colorful farmer’s market, the gorgeous gardens, and a seductive waterfront right on the Atlantic Ocean form a romantic as well as alluring scenery.
Catch the Sunrise From Pico do Arieiro and Hike to Pico Ruivo
Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak of Madeira and one of the most spectacular vantage points on the island, especially during sunrise. Good things don’t stop there though, from Pico do Arieiro you can hike an 11km trail of unbelievable beauty straight to Madeira’s highest summit — Pico Ruivo.
This awesome trail is pretty narrow, exposed, and in many cases, dug out on the face of the vertical cliffs offering a thrilling experience. Some sections go along sharp ridges and others inside long and narrow tunnels.
Often, the clouds are beneath your feet, only the peaks protruding through a white blanket, making the landscape look like a fantasy land. The trail is protected by a rope railing, so even though it’s thrilling I can say that it’s pretty safe. Definitely, one of the musts when in Madeira.
Get Vertigo on the edge of Gabo Girao
Walking on the Gabo Girao skywalk is one of the most exhilarating activities you can do on the island, and to make it even more attractive, it’s totally free.
Being one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Madeira, the sky walk of Gabo Girao allows you to practically walk over the void, looking at the vertical cliffs and the coast an abysmal 580 meters below your feet through the glass floor.
But the fun doesn’t end there. You can take the cable car and descend to Faja de Cabo Girao, the narrow beach between the soaring cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean where you can wander around the small vineyards that miraculously exist there.
Hike along the Levadas
Levadas are irrigation channels that carry water from the west side of Madeira where water is more abundant, to the east in order to supply villages and crops.
Next to the channels, there is always a trail you can walk on, and since there are more than 2000km of levadas, there is also a plethora of routes with sections ranging from a few kilometers to really long ones.
Many of the trails pass through forests, waterfalls, and even tunnels, presenting a great way to explore Madeira and its pristine nature by hiking.
Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden
An amazing complex with a beautiful palace and some of the most extravagant gardens you have ever seen, form a setting right out of a movie. Tropical plants, oriental gardens with ponds full of Koi fish, a fascinating collection of tiles, and a fairytale lake are just a few of Monte Palace’s attractions.
It might be one of the most popular sights in Madeira but it’s not a tourist trap. Expect to spend there at least half a day since the complex is enormous.
Hop to Porto Santo Island
It might sound like a crazy suggestion to go to another island while in Madeira, but truth is that you will never get the chance again to go to Porto Santo in two hours by boat or ten minutes by flying.
Porto Santo is a small island 43km northeast of Madeira. It’s not green like Madeira but has 9km of golden sand beaches with turquoise waters that offer amazing opportunities for snorkeling and wreck diving.
Visit the Whale Museum
The whaling industry proved to be short-lived in Madeira, spanning from the early 40s to the early 80s, but it was a big part of the island’s history. The Whale Museum is located in the village of Canical on the east of the island.
Except for whaleboats, lifelike whale models and maquettes, the museum has an extensive collection of multimedia material explaining how the hunt took place and how the carcasses were stripped for every part of the animal to be used.
Take a Dive in Porto Moniz’s Natural Swimming Pools
Should you opt for the sea or the swimming pool? The eternal dilemma. Not anymore, not in Madeira. The natural pools of Porto Moniz are spectacular lava formations next to the ocean, offering the best of both worlds.
Crystal clear water from the Atlantic combined with the safety and comfort of a pool gives you the ultimate swimming experience.
There are two complexes, one on each side of the bay, and they have lifeguards and restaurant facilities so you won’t miss anything. It’s a win-win.
Explore Sao Vicente Caves
These lava caves to the north of the island were formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when a volcano eruption created magma rivers that got cooler of the surface due to lower temperatures but kept flowing underneath, creating these characteristic lava tubes.
The caves of Sao Vicente are a series of this type of tubes, presenting an impressive spectacle even to those who have not much interest in geology.
Go for Whale Watching
Madeira is a wild destination and you should take advantage of that. There are not many places where you can find whales and dolphins swimming just 5 kilometers off the coast.
Several agencies around the island are offering tours for every taste and budget. If you want to know how it feels to see a behemoth swimming next to you, definitely go for a whale watching tour.
One of a Kind
Madeira is unique. It has its own rugged and beautiful character that doesn’t compare to anything else. It’s a strange mixture. You can see the European influence all over the place and witness the proximity to Africa which is closer, but Madeira isn’t either.
Places located in the middle of nowhere, or the Atlantic Ocean on this occasion, have a purity, a distance from the rest of the world that is so desirable by travelers. It’s a fantasy land waiting to be discovered again and again.
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About the Author: Chrisostomos Kamberis
A travel writer by profession and an adventurer at heart, Chris loves hiking long trails and climbing mountains as much as exploring metropolises and tasting street food in some of the most obscure places in the world.