When you arrive at Funchal Airport, a large relief map shows Madeira. The map will show you Funchal and allow you to pinpoint other locations that you’ve read about. The map does not show you how diverse the island is or how many things it has to offer.
Madeira’s coast is composed of cliffs that offer spectacular views over the Atlantic.
This means that there are not many beaches of high quality. The only beach with sand is on Porto Santo, an island located 50km from Madeira. Although Madeira is not a popular beach destination, it has many attractions.
Here’s our selection of 10 things to do and see in Madeira.
Spend a day in Funchal
Madeira’s capital can be seen in one day because it is so compact. You will find amazing architecture and a vibrant market in the old city where you can buy fresh fruits and fish. There are also thrill-seeking activities like the toboggan ride and great restaurants. Rua de Santa Mara’s street art is a highlight. These doors were given to local artists for painting and some sculptures to be displayed.
Rent a car to explore the island
Madeira covers only 800km2, but it is home to many beautiful scenery and points of interest. (See below). Particularly impressive is the northern coast. Imagine driving along a rugged coastline with the sea and cliffs to your left. It’s impossible not to stop and take photos of colourful roadside flowers or entire hills covered in banana trees.
Enjoy a hike along the Levada.
Madeira’s irrigation channels are the Levadas. They still carry water from the mountains and meander through lush mountain vegetation. Ramblers can follow them for hours. It is a beautiful area, and Madeira’s Laurisilva Forest – the largest laurel forest in the world – is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. For stunning views of the coast, make your way up to the top of the mountain.
Take a Madeira Aquarium baptism dive.
Madeira Aquarium offers one of the most amazing experiences: you can dive into 500,000 litres of saltwater and interact with sharks, morays, and hundreds of other fish. An experienced instructor takes you into a natural, external seawater pool before you can dive into the aquarium. You will learn how to use the equipment and how to breathe underwater. Friends and family who are not involved in the dive can observe from the opposite side of the aquarium and take photos.
Natural seawater pools
Natural saltwater swimming pools can be found in Porto Moniz in the island’s North-West corner. These pools are surrounded by volcanic rocks, which keep the seawater cool and refreshing.
Madeira has stunning cliffs, lush valleys and the Atlantic Ocean to its side. This makes it an ideal location for paragliding. Many great landing and take-off sites are available, particularly in the Madalena do Mar region. There are also experienced paragliding companies like Aeroclub of Madeira and Madeira Adventures.
Watching dolphins and whales
Madeira is a great place to see dolphins and whales. Madeira is home to 29 species of cetaceans out of the 80 worldwide. You can expect to see at most 1-2 species of dolphins swimming around your boat. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a family of them. You should bring your camera, sunscreen, and a waterproof jacket.
Canyoning is a great way to get an adrenaline rush.
The Parque Ecologico de Funchal is located just outside Madeira’s capital. It offers a natural setting to go canyoning, jump from waterfalls, or swim in natural pools.
Fado is your friend.
Fado, a melancholic style of music, has its roots in 19th-century Portugal. A couple of guitarists accompany the singer, who play those doleful sounds.
Visit Sabor a Fado, a family-owned restaurant in Funchal that serves traditional Madeiran cuisine. There are only six tables. This place is a joy because the entire family can sing fado to the delight of the diners.
Snack Bar Vila, Calheta offers a similar experience.
Take a look down from Cabo Girao’s Skywalk.
Cabo Girao Skywalk, at 589m, is Europe’s highest cliff skywalk and the second-highest in the world (after 1,450m Grand Canyon). The platform’s glass floor allows you to step into the abyss and gaze down on the sea. The Skywalk, which attracts 1,800 people daily, is Madeira’s most popular tourist attraction.