Madeira, also known as the archipelago of Madeira is a group of 4 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located just 280 nautical miles from the African coast, it is more than 500 miles to Lisbon.
Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, with lush greenery, rugged high cliffs and beautiful pebbly beaches, so it’s no surprise why these volcano-born islands garner so much attention from tourists.
Fun fact: Madeira is closer to Africa than it is to Europe!
The capital and the largest city on all the islands is Funchal. Funchal is located on the southern side of Madeira island and has so much to offer tourists. From botanic gardens to the beautiful harbour which is close to so many renowned restaurants.
Madeira island is home to Cabo Girão, which stands over 1,900 feet above the sea. Why not climb up there to get a natural viewpoint of the island? With breathtaking views at the top and with several activities to do here, this is the perfect place for all thrill-seekers. If you are an adrenaline junkie you can take a leaf out with the famous parachutist, Mario Pardo, who jumped off of a motorcycle in Cabo Girão and parachuted to land.
You can also head to the glass observation deck called skywalk and see the top of the cliff both around and below you, and paraglide from the top of this cliff alongside base jumping which is jumping off a cliff and then parachuting to land!
Madeira island is mountainous with over 1300 miles of hiking trails, so this is the perfect place to get entranced in nature. Laurel forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, may be a great starting point. Some other great hiking trails include the Levada do Caldeirão Verde starting at Queimadas forest park. This trail is fairly straightforward with a few narrow paths but the views throughout the hike are definitely worth it! And do remember to bring appropriate shoes for the hike! For more information about what those could be, click here.
The Madeira Islands are the home of Madeira fortified wine. This wine dates back to the late 15th century when Madeira was a regular stop for ships and can range from dry to sweet. Depending on how you like your wine, we recommend booking a wine tasting tour whilst on this island to get a taste of what the island has to offer. You can also read our guide to the best Portuguese wines!
Espetada is a traditional dish made from beef seasoned in garlic, salt and bay leaf and left to marinate for a few hours in Madeira wine, vinegar and olive oil. The meat is then cut into pieces and placed on skewers to be grilled. A must try if you plan on visiting the island!
Though the Desertas Islands are not called this, they definitely should be! These tiny collections of islands are home to some of the most unique and diverse bird species in the whole of the Madeira islands! Why not visit for your chance to possibly see some unique species such as the Mediterranean monk seals and the Madeiran wall lizard!
Standing at 1818 meters high, Pico do Arieiro is Madeira Island's third-highest peak. From the top, you can easily look down on the clouds and watch them go by. On a clear day, it is possible to see the neighbouring island of Porto Santo, 30 miles to the northeast, and one o Portugal’s 7 Natural Wonders. The footpath northwards towards Pico Ruivo is a big tourist attraction leaving us awed with the atmosphere and breathtaking views.
Getting around Madeira island is fairly straightforward as there are many bus routes covering the whole island. Taxis and Ubers are also easily spotted around the island. Car rentals are also quite frequent with tourists as there are plenty of reliable and cheap cars for hire in Madeira island.
If you are planning on island hopping around Madeira, then we recommend using the government ferry. This ferry service is called Funchal Porto Santo and connects Madeira Islands with Porto Santo Island. The ferry crossing occurs up to 6 times each week and usually takes around 2h30. The times for this may differ now though due to covid, so make sure you check the ferry services’ official website.
There are many shopping centres located on Madeira island. Though the majority of them are located in the capital, there are many smaller local shops dotted around the island. Some of the biggest shopping centres in Funchal are ForumShopping, Madeirashopping, Le vie and Monumental Experience.
With hundreds of clothing stores, plenty of restaurants and entertainment within the shopping centres, these places are a perfect family-friendly activity.
With literally hundreds of bars and restaurants scattered around the islands, you’ll be spoilt for choice for places to go to and have a drink. If you’re in Funchal, we suggest you take a walk around and try some local cuisines. A great place to start is Taverna Madeira, located close to the coast. It is a beautiful restaurant serving up some of the best traditional Portuguese dishes including Espetadas!
Hole in one is also a charming pub located on the southern coast of Madeira island. Located in the capital, this pub has beautiful decor and a grand open beer garden. This is the place to be if sitting with a drink at hand and watching the waves go by from a cool distance sounds like a good idea to you!
Though these islands are small, they sure don’t lack in wonder. Beaches are no exception. With soft warm sand and beautiful blue waters, these islands are the perfect place to relax. If you are in Porto Santo island head to Praia do Penedo, Praia do Cabeço or Praia das Pedras Pretas.
All these beaches are free to visit and some of them (Praia das Pedras Pretas) are much quieter and a perfect hideaway if you want some alone time.
Other beaches you can visit are Prainha, Machico and Calheta. From these not only do you get front row seats of the amazing waves, but you’ll also get to see Ponta de São Lourenço.
Madeira only has one airport which is located on Madeira island. It’s called Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport (FNC). This airport is an international one and with many frequent cheap airlines such as Easyjet. Return flights from London to Madeira, for instance, cost on average €100.
The weather in the islands is usually warm. The summers (between April to September) are quite hot and dry whilst the winters (between October to March) can be quite cool but not cold as the temperatures usually never drop below 10°C. Rainfall is very low but not uncommon during the winter.
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