Top 10 places to see in Madeira
This island, located 900 kilometers from the Portuguese mainland and 600 kilometers from the coast of Morocco, is called the “floating Garden of Eden.” Numerous parks, mountains and valleys, nature reserves with rare animals and plants, a salubrious climate, delicious wine, tropical fruits and hospitality of the locals – all this awaits travelers to Madeira.
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The capital and largest city of Madeira, recognized as one of the safest in Portugal – The crime rate is close to zero. You start off by exploring the fortress of Sao Tiago (locals call it the “Yellow Fort”), built in 1614 as a protection against pirate raids. Today it is home to a museum of modern art, which you can visit for €1-1,5. For lunch we recommend the Do Forte restaurant in the fortress, one of the best in town. The prices are higher than average, but it is justified by the taste of the food, the level of service and the view from the terrace.
Be sure to visit the Cathedral of the Assumption, the oldest cathedral on the island, with a mosaic ceiling and Flemish paintings on the walls. The wine museum, the gardens of Quinta do Paleiro and the colourful Municipal Market in the old town, where you can buy fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish and handicrafts, are also worth a visit. Gamblers will find Madeira’s casino at the Pestana Casino Park Resort (Rùa Imperatriz D Amelia).
Suburb of Funchal , located on a hill. A cable car ride from the capital takes you there for €5.5-11 one way or €8-16 return (children under 6 years old are free).
At the top, apart from the beautiful views of Funchal and the surroundings, there are several interesting sights waiting for you:
- The Church of Our Lady, where the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was buried. There is an observation deck on the roof of the church, which is best reached in the evening (the morning sun hurts your eyes and impedes photography);
- the tropical garden of Monte Palace on the hillside. The area is large, you’ll have to walk a lot, so choose comfortable shoes. Tickets cost €12.5, admission is free for children under 15.
The most interesting “thing” of Monte – riding on a traditional wicker sled from the mountain. As you understand, there is no snow on Madeira, so the track length of about two kilometers asphalted. Fortunately, the coating is so polished that the speed is decent. Worth the pleasure of the order of €35 per person.
This is where the development of Madeira started – in 1419 the Portuguese sailors Gonçalves Zarco and Tristan Vaz Teixeira landed here. Then until 1496 Mascicu was the capital of the island.
The slopes of the surrounding mountains are dotted with so-called levadas, man-made canals that collect rainwater and are used for technical purposes. For those interested in military architecture, a visit to the Nossa Senhora do Amparo Fort (18th century) will be of interest. For hikers and lovers of beautiful scenery, we recommend a visit to the nearby nature reserve on the Ponta de San Lawrensu Peninsula. You’ll have to walk 4 kilometers one way, but the views and the chance to see rare birds and monk seals up close make up for this small inconvenience.
Also here is the only sandy beach in Madeira, for which the sand was brought from Morocco. If you are planning to visit the island with children, this resort is the best choice for a comfortable vacation.
Selvagens National Reserve
Located 280 kilometers south of Madeira, it includes three uninhabited islands: Selvagem Grande, Selvagem Pecuena and Ilhéu de Flora. Rare endemic plant species are collected here, as well as a huge number of birds (the ideal conditions for nesting). It is only possible to get to the reserve as part of a tour group.
Madeira Top 10 Sightseeing and Activities Guide
Upon arrival at Funchal airport, there is a large relief map of Madeira. You’ll see Funchal on the map and then point out other places you’ve read about. The map doesn’t tell you how varied the island is or how much it has to offer. Madeira’s coastline consists of steep cliffs giving spectacular, uninterrupted views of the Atlantic. However, this means that there are no beaches of good quality here, and the only sandy beach is in Porto Santo, a small island 50 km from Madeira. While Madeira may not be a beach vacation destination, the island has a lot to offer. Here’s our pick of 10 things to see and do in Madeira:
1 Spend a day in Funchal.
Funchal Cable Car (c) Martino Matijevic The capital of Madeira is compact enough to be seen in a day and has amazing architecture, a colorful market in the old town where locals buy fresh fruit and fish, exciting activities like sledding, and some great restaurants. A highlight is the interesting street art in Rua de Santa Maria. Doors along this street have been made available for local artists to paint, and some sculptures are on display too. Read also: 24 hours in Funchal
2Hire a car and explore the island
Although Madeira is only 800 km2, it has a variety of landscapes and interesting places scattered all over the island (see below). The north coast is particularly impressive. Imagine driving along a rough coastline with steep cliffs on your left and crystal-clear sea on your right. You can’t help but stop to take pictures of colorful roadside flowers or an entire hillside covered in banana trees.
3 Hiking the Levada
Click on the picture to enlarge it: Levadas are irrigation canals typical of Madeira. They still bring water from the mountains, winding among the lush mountain vegetation. Ramblers can follow their turns for hours. The scenery is beautiful, and the Lauricilva forest in Madeira is the largest laurel forest in the world, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Make your way to the top of the mountain for a beautiful view of the coast…
4Take a baptism at the Madeira Aquarium
Click on the picture to enlarge: One of the most impressive experiences at the Madeira Aquarium is the opportunity to dive into 500,000 liters of salt water, diving with sharks, stingrays, moray eels and hundreds of other fish. Before diving into the aquarium, an experienced instructor will lead you to an outside natural saltwater pool where you learn how to handle your equipment and breathe underwater. Friends and family members not participating in the dive can watch from the other side of the aquarium glass and take pictures…
5Natural Seawater Pools.
In the village of Porto Moniche, in the northwestern part of the island, you can find natural saltwater pools. They are framed by volcanic rocks that keep the seawater – replenished at high tide – cool and refreshing.
With dramatic cliffs and lush valleys on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, Madeira is the perfect place for paragliding. There are many excellent airstrips, especially in the Madalena do Mar area in the south, and several experienced paragliding companies such as Aeroclub of Madeira or Madeira Adventures.
7 Whale and Dolphin Watching
Madeira is one of the best places in the world for dolphin and whale watching. There are about 80 species of cetaceans in the world, and 29 of them can be seen in Madeira year-round. There is a 90 percent chance that you will see at least 1-2 species of dolphins swimming playfully around the boat and, if you are lucky, you may even encounter a family of whales. Make sure you take your camera, sunscreen and waterproof jumper.
8Go canyoning for an adrenaline boost
Located near Madeira’s capital, Parque Ecologico do Funchal offers a natural setting for canyoning, rappelling down 15-meter cliffs or jumping off waterfalls into natural pools and swimming in forest rivers.
9Listen to Fado.
Fado is a style of melancholy music that originated in 19th-century Portugal. The singer is accompanied by a pair of guitarists. Go to Sabor a Fado, a family-run restaurant in Funchal, a small restaurant with six tables. They serve typical Madeiran food, but the joy of the place is that the whole family takes turns performing fado for diners. There is a similar experience at Vila Snack Bar in Caleta.