Explore Madeira, a Portuguese archipelago nestled in the Atlantic Ocean just north of the Canary Islands, which boasts spring-like weather throughout the year. With summer temperatures rarely exceeding 30 degrees and winter temperatures seldom dropping below 15 degrees, it’s the perfect destination for travelers seeking pleasant climates. While winters may bring more rain and summers less, Madeira remains an all-season vacation spot.
This island gem is more for active tourists rather than typical beachgoers, yet it offers many opportunities for relaxation at the seaside. Despite the small size of Madeira island, there’s a lot to explore. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some fascinating places and experiences, providing insights on must-visit locations and top attractions to make your Madeira adventure unforgettable.
Embark on a beautiful trek that leads you to the highest and third-highest peaks of Madeira, with the second-highest peak visible along the way. The trio of peaks includes Pico Ruivo (1862m), Pico das Torres, and Pico do Arieiro.
This trail promises a great experience, offering awesome views throughout the journey.
8.5km | Elevation Gain: 1100 meters of elevation gain (including Pico Ruivo summit) | Duration: 3 – 5 hours | Difficulty: Moderate to difficult trek
Pico do Arieiro – Pico Ruivo – Achada Teixeira (accessible by taxi or guided excursion)
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The trail begins at the summit of Pico do Arieiro, accessible by car, taxi, or through guided hike. You will follow the path towards the hut below Pico Ruivo, where you can even purchase beer in a can! 😀 If you wish to reach the Pico Ruivo summit (highly recommended), continue upwards from the hut along the trail. AFter that head towards the Achada Teixeira parking area. The trek is moderately challenging, with a duration of 3 to 5 hours.
If you arrive by car, you can start and end your hike at the Pico do Arieiro parking area. However, be aware that this option will add a few extra kilometers, more elevation gain, and you will follow the same route back.
For the least physically and time-demanding option, you can begin at the Achada Teixeira parking area, ascend to Pico Ruivo, and then return the same way. This route is approximately 6km in length.
Ponta de São Lourenço
Located at the northeastern tip of Madeira, this trek offers a completely different perspective of the island, with breathtaking cliffs replacing the ubiquitous greenery.
7.5km round trip | Elevation Gain: 400 meters | Duration: 3 – 4 hours | Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Starting Point: Baia d’Abra Parking Lot (accessible by SAM bus no. 113 from Funchal)
You can catch the 8:30 AM bus from Funchal, arriving at the trailhead around 9:45 AM. The return bus departs at 1:55 PM. However, if you wish to enjoy a meal at a restaurant before or after the final ascent, or take a refreshing swim, you can opt for the 4:00 PM bus back to Funchal, arriving at 5:20 PM.
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Starting from the Baia d’Abra parking lot, reachable by rental car or SAM bus no. 113 from Funchal, this trail takes you to the tip of the peninsula and back. The bus stops at various locations along the route and runs quite frequently, allowing for flexible planning.
Around a quarter of the way, you have the option to descend to Praia São Lourenço beach on the right side of the path. This secluded beach offers a peaceful retreat, often with minimal crowds or even a chance to have it all to yourself.
Despite the seemingly rugged path with scattered stones, just before the final ascent to the cliff’s summit, you’ll stumble upon a restaurant where you can sit and enjoy coffee, beer, or a meal. However, outdoor seating might be crowded, so expect a slightly longer wait for service.
The trek can be completed in 3 to 4 hours.
After returning to the Baia d’Abra turning point, you can head to the beautiful Praia da Prainha beach with its black sand to cool off. It’s possible to walk there from Baia d’Abra, but the route follows a narrow road. Having a car is more convenient, and there is a spacious parking lot alongside the road.
Levada do Furado: Ribeiro Frio – Portela, Vereda dos Balcões
Levadas are irrigation channels that bring rainwater from the mountains to the valleys. Madeira is home to over 2000 km of these levadas, many of which are accompanied by popular hiking trails. In this article, we will focus on one of the most popular routes, the Levada do Furado, and add an extra treat with a visit to the Balcões viewpoint.
11km + 3km (Balcões viewpoint) | Elevation Gain: Approximately 50m + 120m | Duration: 3 – 4 hours + 1 hour | Difficulty: Easy trek
You can catch the 8:10 AM bus from Funchal, arriving in Ribeiro Frio before 9 AM. If you’re a fast walker, you can even include a visit to the Balcões viewpoint and catch the 1:30 PM bus back to Funchal from Portela, arriving at 2:45 PM. However, if you prefer a more leisurely experience, take your time at Ribeiro Frio, perhaps enjoying a meal at a restaurant, and opt for the 4:05 PM bus from Portela back to Funchal.
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The adventure begins at Ribeiro Frio, where you can take either bus line 56 or 103 from Funchal. The main trek stretches approximately 11km, with a gentle ascent of about 50 meters.
Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Balcões viewpoint, adding an extra 3km to the journey and offering stunning panoramic views from a 120-meter elevation gain.
If you maintain a steady pace, you can complete the trek and visit the Balcões viewpoint in around 3 to 4 hours. After reaching Portela, you can catch the bus back to Funchal, arriving at either 2:45 PM or 4:05 PM, depending on your preference.
The trail to Portela starts a short distance from the restaurant and is mostly covered by trees, making it a great choice even on hot days. This trek offers a pleasant walk through the forest, where you will come across a small lake, and at the end of the trail, you can admire majestic Eucalyptus trees towering above you.
Most of you will probably be staying in Funchal, and even if not, it serves as an excellent base for exploring the island. We also recommend dedicating at least one day to discovering the charms of Funchal itself. You can take a cable car ride, admire tropical plants in botanical gardens, enjoy a refreshing swim in the sea, and indulge in delicious food and drinks. Funchal offers a delightful blend of experiences.
The Cable Car and Botanical Gardens
Combining the cable car ride with a visit to the botanical gardens is a fantastic idea. For 31 Euros, you will get a ticket for the cable car, taking you from the sea to the charming neighborhood of Monte. From there, another cable car ride will transport you to the expansive botanical gardens, including admission to the gardens themselves, and return tickets to descend back to Funchal.
Once you disembark the cable car in Monte, you have the option to visit another botanical garden located right next to it. If you take a walk around this garden, you’ll arrive at a place where you can pay for a downhill ride on wooden sledges. It’s a bit of a tourist attraction, but quite interesting, so if you’re curious, why not give it a try? Keep in mind that this ride covers only part of the journey, and you’ll have to walk back down to Funchal.
If you’re not interested in the sled ride, head right from the Monte cable car station to the next cable car station. This cable car will take you to a large botanical garden, which is undoubtedly worth a visit. There, you’ll see a variety of local plants, flowers, trees, cacti, and more.
Both the botanical garden and the cable car station offer restaurant and refreshment options. For a pleasant coffee experience, we recommend the Land Food & Coffee café at the Monte cable car station. It’s challenging to find good coffee on the island, and this café is one of the few places where they serve excellent coffee. So, take the opportunity to enjoy a nice cup of coffee amid the island’s picturesque surroundings.
Mercado dos Lavradores
Exploring local markets is always an intriguing part of any country’s culture. Although Mercado dos Lavradores has become more tourist-oriented over time, the fish market remains a raw experience. If you wish to witness a variety of fish, make sure to visit in the morning or early afternoon. Apart from fish, the market offers a wide selection of fruits, plants, flowers, and seeds.
However, it’s worth noting that some visitors have found the fruit prices relatively high, and the quality of the fruits they purchased didn’t always match the samples they tried at the market. Therefore, it is generally recommended to buy fruits from other sources.
Swimming in Funchal
In the western part of Funchal, you can enjoy swimming at the bathing complexes, Complexo Balnear do Lido or Complexo Balnear da Ponta Gorda, which offer access to the sea. The entrance fee is approximately 5 Euros.
Besides the bathing complexes, Funchal offers other interesting places to visit, such as the Sé Cathedral, the CR7 Cristiano Ronaldo Museum, and various city parks. Whether you’re interested in history, football, or simply relaxing in nature, Funchal has something to offer for every traveler.
Beaches and Swimming
As mentioned earlier, Madeira may not be known as a traditional beach destination, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find places to swim. If you’re staying in Funchal, the closest swimming spots are those mentioned before. Additionally, you can enjoy the black sand beach, Praia Formosa, located in the western part of Funchal. You can drive almost to the beach, or take a 5-minute steep walk down from the main road if you use the Horários do Funchal bus lines 1 or 2.
Another option is to take the Aerobus from Sam company, which costs 5 Euros, to reach the beach near the Pestana Ocean Bay hotel. At Praia Formosa, you’ll find several restaurants, with the easternmost one being probably the best.
Santa Cruz also offers a nearby pebble beach for swimming and relaxation.
Other swimming spots include Machico, which offers a city beach with imported sand, as well as another section with a pebble beach but sandy seabed. You can reach Machico from Funchal by various SAM or Horários do Funchal buses. The beach area provides restrooms and refreshment options, and there are restaurants within walking distance in the city center.
Near Ponta de São Lourenço, you can visit the black sand beach, Prainha, as previously mentioned. The nearest bus stop is Baia d’Abra, where SAM bus number 113 stops. From the stop, you’ll need to walk about 3.5km along the narrow main road. An alternative path might be available by heading north, but we haven’t tried it. Having a car would be a better option, and there is a large parking area along the road.
A beautiful pebble beach can be found in Ponta do Sol, close to Ribeira Brava, to the east of Funchal. You can reach this area by taking Rodoeste bus lines 4, 8, 80, or 146 . Further in the same direction, you’ll find Calheta, where you can enjoy a sandy beach. Refreshment options are available nearby, as usual.
Of course, there are more beaches and swimming opportunities on the island, but we’ll conclude with a different recommendation. If you make your way to Porto Moniz in the northwest of the island, indulge in a unique swimming experience in the natural volcanic pools.
Surfing on Madeira Island offers various spots throughout the year, making it accessible for surfers of all levels. The summer sea temperature usually stays around 22 degrees Celsius.
If you wish to learn or improve your surfing skills, several schools are available, with prices starting at around 50 euros. Many of these schools can be easily contacted and arranged through WhatsApp for a convenient and enjoyable surfing experience on Madeira.
Whale watching and dolphin watching
Several companies provide the opportunity to go on sea excursions and observe dolphins and even whales. Some of these companies even offer a guarantee that if you don’t spot any marine wildlife during the trip, you can join them for another excursion for free.
In addition to the mentioned activities and trips, there are a few more tips to consider. You can visit the Cabo Girão viewpoint, explore the Whale Museum in Caniçal, try Canyoning, or go rock climbing. If you have the time, you can also take a trip to the nearby island of Porto Santo.