Madeira holidays will take you to a land of breathtaking landscapes and botanical beauty. This sun-drenched Portuguese island is known as the ‘Floating Garden’, so you can expect lots of colour. From the turquoise Atlantic coastline to its year-round climate promising exotic blooms and the scarlet poinsettias that decorate its backdrop, it’s hardly surprising that Madeira is a continuous winner of the ‘World’s Leading Island Destination’.
Holidays to Madeira beg you to explore. Get lost among the cobbled alleyways of Funchal’s Old Town and you’ll discover some of the best seafood tavernas, market stalls packed with tropical fruits and the awe-inspiring Zona Velha (a street of painted doors). Avid hikers will love trekking through the lush mountainous scenery met with cascading waterfalls, or you can head for the beautiful beach of Porto Santo for an afternoon of sandcastle building with the kids.
Things to do
If you’re wondering why Madeira is called the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’, it’s because of its beauty. Seeing is believing, so for unspoilt views from a 580-metre-high glass platform, check out the dramatic cliff face of Cabo Girão. And if that wasn’t high enough, gear up for a six-hour hike up Pico do Arieiro where you’ll walk above the clouds. A quicker way to reach this summit is by jeep safari, these tours not only take you 1,400 feet into the mountains, but through banana plantations and sugarcane farms.
Looking for history? Explore Funchal’s Gothic Sé Cathedral, or travel by cable car up to the charming little village of Monte. Meanwhile, watersport enthusiasts will make a beeline for the coastline, especially Garajau National Marine Park with its spectacular scuba diving.
If you’re travelling with kids in tow, Madeira holidays serve up plenty of family-friendly attractions. And top of the list has to be the Aquaparque Waterpark. When you’re not plunging down jaw-dropping slides, see if you can spot dolphins and whales on a boating adventure in the Atlantic.
Most of Madeira’s 150-kilometre coastline is made up of black sands due to its volcanic past. That’s why you’ll find popular stretches accessorised with a lido promenade, which features a range of swimming pools alongside direct sea access. Ponta Gorda is one of the best with its playgrounds, snack bars, sports activities and wide selection of eateries.
For natural wonders, Porto Moniz has a rock pool filled with seawater which was formed by lava and acts as a hot tub. Or, sail over to Camara de Lobos to discover the island's most photogenic beach and its fascinating history. It was put on the map by Winston Churchill in 1949, who set up an easel and painted this jaw-dropping sand spot - 50 years on and it’s still identical to his drawing.
Don’t worry, it's not all about pebbles and dark grains, Praia da Calheta Beach in Machico is made up of Moroccan imported sands and the only artificial shoreline on the island.
History and culture
The botanic island of Madeira is in the autonomous region of Portugal and first became a popular tourist destination in the 1850s. In the 16th century, Madeira was Portugal’s top producer of wheat and sugar cane, which brought in more wealth for the region. This started a variety of trade in the 17th century, including today’s most exported product, the famous Madeira wine.
Madeira is still rich in traditional culture that can be witnessed throughout its architecture and delightful customs. Recited by writer Ernest Hemingway as the ‘most exhilarating experience’ of his life, one of its most famous traditions is a toboggan ride down the hill from Monte to Funchal. Take a ride in wicker baskets pushed by a team of Carreiros de Monte, who will fly with you down the paved streets at 30mph and break using only their rubber-soled shoes.
Food and drink
This culinary gem is famous for its rustic food and delicious wine. Funchal’s Farmers Market has been around since the 1940s, here you can sample exotic fruits such as guava or sleeve (which is part of the mango family), herbs and spices alongside fresh fish. Speaking of fish, Madeira is famous for its Black Scabbard which is seasoned with garlic and served with banana.
See what all the fuss is about at So Far Bistro & Steakhouse, this fine dining spot in Funchal is not only famed for its tuna steak, but its wagyu and passion fruit pudding dessert. Other traditional favourites include hearty meals like espetada, which is marinated garlic and beef cooked with bay leaves on skewers. And look out for a yellow drink named Poncha, which is commonly found all over the island. There are several variations, but Taberna da Poncha is the most authentic batch. Combining honey, lemon, sugar and distilled alcohol (usually rum) produced from sugarcane, this zesty concoction is a delicacy.
Madeira’s nightlife is said to be quieter than those found on the mainland. That being said, you can still enjoy a late evening meal and a few cocktails in an array of waterfront bars accompanied by live music and entertainment. If you do want to party, the island really comes alive at the weekend. If you want to dance the night away, there are several nightclubs that stay open until the early hours. In Funchal, the atmosphere is more contemporary with an abundance of upbeat night spots to enjoy throughout the week.
Places to stay
Madeira’s thriving capital, Funchal, is located on the south coast of the island. Known for its stylish tapas eateries, chic rooftop cocktail spots and charming Old Town, this city pulls out all the stops. If an authentic Madeiran experience is high on your to-do list, the sleepy town of Machico guarantees traditional stays. Back in 1420, the first explorers settled on the island in this very location and it’s now teeming with history. Alongside its fascinating past, this hotspot is known for being a natural paradise.
Canico is dotted with fancy accommodation, but its dramatic surroundings and underwater world are its biggest draws, especially the stunning protected area - Garajau's Nature Reserve. As for sand spots, Canico’s shores are a far cry from your average beach days with pebbly and rocky options offering unique sunbathing opportunities.
More Travel Guides
We also have travel guides available for destinations including: Funchal