*This post on the best things to do in Madeira, Portugal, features a press trip with Jet2 & Visit Madeira.
Looking for the perfect destination to combine adventure, a short flight and mind-blowing scenery? What if I told you Portugal has everything you've been looking for and it's right on your doorstep? I took a trip to explore the incredible island of Madeira and it completely blew me away. It's been a long time since I experienced such breathtaking natural beauty within Europe and it was exactly the reminder I needed that we don't always have to take a 10 hour flight to find incredible places to explore. Time and time again, this multi-award-winning island has been hailed a must-see for travellers in Europe. Yet it still feels as though you've stepped off the beaten track and stumbled upon a largely under-explored treasure off the coast of Portugal.
I was told before I visited that Madeira was the "Hawaii of Europe" and wondered how the island would ever live up to this description. But it truly did. If you're an adventure traveller who loves an active getaway filled with hiking, climbing, sailing, off-road adventures and much more, Madeira is the destination for you. It might be a favourite for older travellers, but the island has so much to offer for budget travellers and active adventure-seekers.
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Everything you need to know before you visit Madeira:
Exploring the island of Madeira, I felt like I had stepped on to the set of Jurassic Park. The incredible microclimates create this lush, green vegetation growing from the cliffs that make up the dramatic coastline and drop to meet the ocean. The island is only 35 miles long and 13 miles wide. Yet this tiny island is home to some of the most spectacular scenery I have seen in Europe.
Madeira is part of an archipelago off the South-West coast of Portugal. It sits at the same latitude as Casablanca. It's just 450km away from the Canary Islands and yet the climate couldn't be any more different. Average temperatures range from 25ºC in summer to 17ºC in winter which makes it a popular place to visit all year round. The town of Funchal is home to the port which welcomes multiple cruise ships daily and more than half a million passengers per year. There are around 270,000 inhabitants in the region of Madeira. The rest of the islands that make up the archipelago are nature reserves.
Travelling to Madeira:
We took a Jet2 flight to Madeira, who have been voted TripAdvisor's Best Airline - UK, from London Stansted. It was such an easy, quick and stress-free journey. Just a four hour flight from London Stansted to Madeira with Jet2holidays and prices start from £50. Flights are available on Monday's and Friday's which works perfectly for a 5-day holiday. Or you could stretch that trip to 10 days if you fancy a longer stay. You could also book a weekend break in Funchal with Jet2Holidays if you want a shorter getaway.
How long do I need for a holiday in Madeira?
Due to the flights availability and amount of activities available, I would recommend no less than 5 days on the island. If you can travel there for 7 days, I would say this is an ideal amount of time that will allow for a few days of activities and plenty of relaxation. It's also super easy to travel to Madeira with Jet2holidays whether you want to book a package holiday or prefer to book just the flights.
Where to stay in Madeira?
We stayed at the stylish and very Instagrammable Next At Savoy Signature with Jet2holidays which was located close to the port in Funchal. It was a fantastic location and the hotel has recently undergone a total makeover with hints of relaxed California vibes and gorgeous interiors. The hotel had a super relaxed and friendly feel where every comfort had been thought of. The beds were insanely comfortable and we stayed in the ocean view suites which had spectacular panoramic ocean views. Don't forget to check out the rooftop pool for amazing cocktails and a live DJ.
COVID-19 Travel Advice for Madeira:
Madeira was a very easy place to travel during Coronavirus. We visited just as most of the restrictions were lifting, so we needed evidence of our coronavirus vaccinations. But we no longer needed to fill out a passenger locator form or any other paperwork. Returning to the UK required no paperwork. This was as of March 2022, but as restrictions are constantly changing and evolving. Please do check your Government website for COVID travel advice and Visit Madeira for up-to-date COVID-19 restrictions. During our visit, masks were still required when entering a restaurant/bar/hotel and even the outdoor market.
What's the best way to get around Madeira?
If you are simply visiting Funchal, the airport is just a short taxi ride or shuttle bus away. Everywhere within Funchal is accessible on foot including the bars, restaurants, sights, cable car, tropical gardens and much more. If you are booking activities with transport included such as jeep safaris, you could easily manage the trip without hiring a vehicle and rely on the buses and taxis. However, many of the true attractions of the island and the most spectacular sights are quite spread out. If you plan to hike or visit some of the other parts of the island, I recommend hiring a car to explore at your own pace. With lots of brand new roads and clear signposting, it's a great place to drive and explore.
What's the currency in Madeira?
The currency in Madeira is the Euro (€) which makes it easy for those travelling from Europe or the UK. If you are travelling from the UK, I recommend getting an account through Starling Bank, Monzo or Revolut. All three of these banks have no extra charges for using abroad. I've been using Starling for years and I can't recommend it enough.
When is the best month to visit Madeira?
The weather in Madeira is wild and due to the microclimate on the island it can really vary from day to day. Due to the sub-tropical climate, Madeira is a great place to get small amounts of sunshine and warmth all year round. But be sure to research before planning a trip, particularly if you are planning lots of adventure activities or hiking. When we visited in March there was rainfall every day, but we also experienced sunshine, wind, even snow and hail. March is the coolest month to visit the island so if you want to sunbathe, I would visit later in the year. The best time of year to visit is August and September, particularly August offers temperatures ranging from 21-27ºC.
What language do they speak in Madeira?
The official language of Madeira is Portuguese. You will hear it widely spoken across the island, but English is also spoken everywhere. With multiple cruise ships full of international travellers docking at Funchal daily, tourism is the island's biggest driver of revenue. Everyone we came into contact with spoke excellent English, so you will find it easy to communicate in English wherever you go.
30 epic things to do in Madeira:
Adventurous things to do in Madeira
Take a sunrise jeep tour to Pico Ruivo (or hike!)
On one day of our trip, we woke up very early and drove up one of Madeira's mountain peaks in hopes of catching the sunrise. Pico Ruivo is the highest point of Madeira at 1862m above sea level, and watching the sunrise from high above the clouds is a must for anyone travelling to the Portuguese island. We were spending the day with Madeira Mountain Expeditions and started out with a sunrise jeep tour. Unfortunately the day we were there was very stormy with a lot of cloud cover so we didn't get the incredible sunrise you see on Instagram. But it was still an amazing experience and one I really recommend – the rest of the day spent off-roading and exploring the island with our brilliant guides was our favourite day! You could also choose to hike up the mountain. (Jeep Safaris start from €35)
Visit Monte Palace tropical gardens
Of all the things to do in Madeira, this is one of the best ones for all ages, abilities and levels of fitness. These stunning gardens sit just above Funchal and you can catch the cable car directly to the entrance. It's a great activity, particularly if you're short on time and want to immerse yourself in the island's beauty. Costing just €10 for entrance, you can explore up to 17,000sqm of gardens including waterfalls, tropical plants a Japanese pagoda and shrine, museums, galleries and much more. I could have easily spent a whole day in these gardens.
Sunset boat tour in a solar-powered catamaran
Support sustainable tourism in Madeira by booking a sunset boat tour on the island's first solar-powered catamaran. We joined Onda Solar Tours for a night we won't forget and our most spectacular sunset of the trip. This eco-friendly tour helps to protect and support the wildlife and delicate ecosystems surrounding the island, while encouraging tourism and giving you the opportunity to see the island from a new perspective. It also makes a huge difference to have a solar-powered engine – the ride was silent and allowed us to really enjoy the lapping of the waves against the boat. The team also said they regularly see whales and dolphins when out on the water.
Hike to 25 waterfalls – Vereda das 25 Fontes
Sadly we didn't get to do this hike during our trip to Madeira because this would have been an absolute highlight for me. I love waterfalls and hiking so to combine the two in such a beautiful location would have been incredible. If you're looking for active things to do in Madeira, look no further! It's an easy hike that takes around two hours there and one hour back due to varied terrain. Go early in the morning and you'll likely have the whole trail to yourself. One of the highlights of the trail is the giant Risco Waterfall which will blow you away. Pack your swimming costume – you might even be able to squeeze in a little wild swim.
Take in the views at Ponta do Garajau
The 360º panoramic ocean views speak for themselves and this spot is well worth a stop to explore. Located 5km east of Funchal, you'll find another cable car on this small peninsula. You could be forgiven for thinking you're in Rio de Janeiro when you see the iconic Cristo Rei statue (Jesus) towering over the cliffs. If you look closely, you'll also notice the lightning strike on the back of his head!
Hike the levadas of Madeira
A perfect adventure activity for anyone who wants to stay active while on holiday in Madeira. The whole island is built on this irrigation system of water channels that wind through the countryside. They provided water for the villages, farmland and terraces across the island – now they are mainly used by farmers. Some is still diverted to treatment plants to be filtered into drinking water, while the rest goes to hydroplants which generate around 30% of the island's power.
View Madeira from above in Funchal cable car
Get a new perspective on the island while enjoying one of the best things to do in Funchal, Madeira. You can jump on the cable car at the waterfront in Funchal, just a short walk from where the cruise ships dock. It takes you up to the mountain where the entrance to Monte Palace tropical gardens can be found. The views are incredible from Teleférico do Funchal and well worth the €12.50 for a one-way trip, or get a return for €18.
Enjoy spectacular views at the Valley of the Nuns
Photos will not do this area justice, you have to see it to believe the incredible landscape. Visit for the truly astounding viewpoints and history of the area. We visited as part of our jeep tour with Madeira Mountain Expeditions and stopped at Miradouro Eira do Serrado for the dizzying views over the valley below. You can also visit a restaurant here to enjoy a tasting menu made from chestnuts grown within the valley – keep reading for more information.
Take a sledge ride with Carreiros do Monte!
If you're visiting Monte Palace tropical gardens, I recommend catching the cable car up the mountain before taking a toboggan ride down. These traditional sledge rides have been running between the mountain and Funchal for 100 years and they are such a unique experience. Run by Carreiros do Monte, you clamber into a handmade wicker sled and are guided 2km down the mountain by two of the "carreiros". It costs €25 per person, or €30 for two people, but is worth every penny! The start point of the run is by the steps of the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church.
Wild swim in Madeira's natural ocean pools
This was one of my favourite things to do in Madeira and if you love a wild swim, it will be the perfect way to start your day. Dotted around the island are a series of natural pools which provide shelter from the sometimes choppy seas. The island may not have natural sandy beaches, but that doesn't mean you have to miss out on feeling the ocean on your skin. Skip the swimming pools for a salty dip – they have a great diving spot at the back of the Savoy Hotel in Funchal. Or head to one of these natural pools: Porto Moniz, Seixal Natural Pools, Pocas Do Gomes/Doca Do Cavacas, Cachalote Natural Pools.
Stand under Madeira's "Waterfall of Angels"
Now this is one you won't want to miss - an incredible sight as water cascades down the cliffside and on to the road below. Cascata dos Anjos flows down the sheer rock face from a broken levada and provides a natural car wash if your hire car is looking a bit grubby after a few days of exploring. It can be found on the E.R.101, around 30 minutes drive west from Funchal.
Hike Vereda do Areeiro - Madeira's most beautiful hike!
This mountain trail takes you through the two highest peaks on Madeira (Pico Ruivo and Pico do Areeiro). While it’s only 7km (4.3mi) in length, the steep slopes, uneven terrain and tunnels mean it’ll take around four hours to hike. Bird spotters should keep their eyes peeled for rare species, such as berthelot’s pipit. It can get quite busy, but the views are worth it. Start early to avoid the crowds.
Check your vertigo at the door – Cabo Girão skywalk
Are you brave enough to stand on a glass floor overlooking a 580m sheer cliff face to the ocean below? Head to Madeira's south coast where the Cabo Girão skywalk is located. One of the scariest things to do in Madeira, this skywalk is completely free. It also offers great views of Funchal.
Go diving with dolphins, turtles and monk seals
Thanks to the mild ocean temperatures all year round, Madeira is home to some amazing wildlife and has become a European hub for divers. It's a great place to take your SSI or PADI course and to spot creatures such as dolphins, turtles and monk seals on the nearby Savage Islands. If you're lucky, you might also spot grouper, octopus and moray eels.
Parque Forestal de Queimadas
Step into a fairytale when you visit Parque Forestal de Queimadas, on the northern lower reaches of the Pico Ruivo. Here you can see a building designed like the traditional Santana cottages which were home to craftsmen and women. The enchanting laurel forest is bathed in a high humidity for enough of the year that the forest floor is covered in moss, ferns and lichens. You can also access great walking trails and even some of the levadas from here.
Visit Funchal Old Town's painted doors
The capital city is full of beautiful street art so if you're looking for things to do in Madeira, just walking around and exploring the old town will keep you busy. Head to the Rua de Santa Maria to find the Funchal's most colourful street. Here you will find around 200 painted doors in all designs which have brought the historic street back to life thanks to a project started by photographer José Maria Zyberchem.
Go whale and dolphin spotting
Visiting Madeira in summer? It's the best time of year to spot dolphins and whales off the coast of the island. Did you know that around 20 species of both creatures have been spotted in Madeiran waters, which equates to more than a fifth of all species in the wild! Watch out for bottlenose and spotted dolphins all year round, but in summer you might also spot pilot whales, sperm whales and Bryde's whales.
Get active – surfing, canyoning, paragliding, kayaking
Somehow Madeira became super popular with older travellers and retirees, but it has so much to offer the active Millennial and younger travellers. There are so many activities and fun things to do in Madeira for those who like to stay active, get outdoors and seek adventures.
Go to a festival in Madeira
If you're planning a trip to the island, why not plan to visit when one of the Madeira's festivals are on? They have the Madeira Flower Festival in April/May which is perfect for those who want a colourful holiday. Or check out the Madeira Rum Festival for a taste of their locally produced rums.
Take the ferry to beautiful Porto Santo
If you're missing sandy beaches while in Madeira, why not take a ferry over to nearby Porto Santo? It's an even smaller island where the Madeiran locals go on holiday when they need a break from their own island. Known as the "Golden Island" it is only 11km long and 6km wide, but boasts 9km of white sandy beach and turquoise waters.
Eat & Drink in Madeira
Watch the sunset & enjoy an epic seafood feast at Maktub
This was by far my favourite dining experience of the trip and I really recommend. We headed to Paul Do Mar which boasts some of the best sunsets on the island. Maktub has all the Caribbean and Reggae influence, stunning ocean views and the best mojitos and capirinhas on the island. This amazing little surf shack/pub/bar oozes authenticity and chilled out vibes, plus the staff and food are incredible. We had the Fish Experience which consisted of fresh tuna tartare, céviche prepared right in front of us, delicious grilled snapper with rice and vegetables. They offer meat experiences, vegetarian and vegan options, and you can enjoy them all with a stunning sunset view and a cocktail.
Tour a winery and taste locally-produced Madeira wine
Head to Blandy's Wine Lodge in Funchal to try traditional Madeira wine from a family business which dates back to the 19th century. The history of the building, which now houses over 650 barrels of locally produced Madeira wine, dates back to the 17th century. The wine is stored using the traditional canteiro method which gives Madeira wine that unique sweet flavour. Take a wine tour to find out more about the way wine is produced on the island.
Eat the traditional Honey Cake (NOT Madeira Cake)
I lost count of the number of people who asked me about whether Madeira Cake really was from Madeira and I can now report that no, it is not! The Madeira Cake we know in the UK is actually nothing to do with Madeira food, it was actually named after the Madeiran wine it was usually served with. Instead, the honey cake which is traditional on the island is denser, darker and is traditionally torn instead of sliced. It's sweetened using Madeiran honey which isn't actually produced by bees, it actually comes from the sugar cane produced on the island. Go to Santo António Factory to try – this is the oldest confectionary factory in Madeira and dates back to 1893.
Drink Poncha – made from locally-produced sugar cane rum
Did you know Madeira is home to a sugar cane factory? They make their own rum from the sugar cane and it's got one heck of a kick to it. The best way to try it is in the local Madeiran drink, Poncha, which is made from aguardente de cana honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice served over ice. If you prefer drinking and eating your way around the island to the more active things to do in Madeira, this is something you won't want to miss.
Don't forget to try the delicious 'bolo do caco’
Calling all garlic bread lovers - this one's for you! This mouth-watering bread is cooked on a stone slab and drenched in garlic butter. It's the perfect accompaniment to any meal and has an interesting history. Apparently, it is "caco" or cake because the landlords used to charge a tax for anyone who baked bread in their home, so naturally the locals found a loophole to ensure they could still enjoy bread.
Visit the market for fresh fish, fruits and crafts
For the full market experience, get up early and head to the Mercado dos Lavradores to visit the fish market. You'll see as the local fishermen bring in fresh tuna, Black Scabbard, snapper and many more. It's a great place to pick up fresh produce, to try tropical fruits and pick up crafts, fresh flowers and souvenirs.
Try handmade local chocolates and coffee
If you're looking for the perfect luxury gift at a great price, head to UAUCACAO. They sell artisanal hand-made chocolates with the most incredible list of flavoured ganaches. Not only do their chocolates look incredible, but they're sweetened using only natural flavours. make sure you order a couple to try in-store and pair them with a coffee.
Enjoy a mouth-watering chestnut tasting menu
By far the most surprising dining experience of the trip, Sabores do Curral is located in the Valley of the Nuns. This restaurant comes with stunning views and an incredible tasting menu designed around the chestnuts which grow in the hills surrounding the restaurant. It was a truly unique and special meal which incorporated some incredible flavours that simply can't be compared to anything else. As far as local delicacies go, this blew us all away! The chefs have taken such a simple ingredient and paired it with so many other beautiful flavours. We tried honey roasted chestnuts, chestnut soup, a huge spread with roasted chicken, pork and tofu dishes bathed in Madeira wine and served alongside roasted potatoes, vegetables and fried maize. Then we finished with a sharing platter of desserts which included a chestnut and honey cheesecake. By far one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Dine on fresh seafood like ‘Black Scabbard’ (Espada)
Not the most enticing name for a dish but if you love seafood, I really recommend trying Black Scabbard. Just don't head to the fish market first and see what the fish looks like fresh from the ocean. It's not the most attractive fish, but it doesn't need to be when it lives at 1000m deep! Despite its appearance, it tastes magnificent, especially paired with passionfruit, mango and other fruity sauces.
Book a luxury dining experience at the Nini Design Centre
If you're looking for a luxe experience while visiting Madeira, book a tasting menu at the Nini Design Centre. While it wasn't my favourite dining experience of the trip, the quality of the food and the service was impressive. Don't forget to check out the gallery and art pieces while you're there.
Would you like to visit Madeira? What would you most like to experience in Madeira? Have you been before - what recommendations can you share for things to do in Madeira?