The sub-tropical archipelago located on the Atlantic Ocean is made of sandy beaches and dramatic mountainous landscapes. An autonomous region of Portugal, it’s also a place where you can discover the Portuguese culture. Excellent wines, festivities, and music are among Madeira’s highlights. There’s also the perfect weather (all year long), numerous resorts and hotels, so no wonder the island is such a popular tourist destination. To make planning easier, here’s a list of the best things to do in Madeira during your trip.
Go for a drive
The roads in Madeira offer some spectacular views, so driving is not only a way of getting from one point to another but also an experience in itself. Even though renting a car is quite costly, it’s worth spending the money. Steep cliffs on one side, crystal-blue waters on the other, a road in between, winding along the coast. Add a car and you inside of it, some good music and windows open – a dream coming true. Besides, driving gives you a chance to reach non-touristy places, authentic Portuguese villages, and secluded beaches. You can stop by a lovely, old-style Portuguese café and have a cup of aromatic coffee (not only aromatic, but also cheap – you spend on the car rental, but save by dining in the villages, prices are much lower than in the tourist towns).
Hike around Ponta de Sao Lourenco
In the very east of the Island, the nature reserve Ponta de Sao Lourenco is a great place for hiking. With the views of Atlantic ocean, massive volcanic rock formations, and colorful cliffs, Ponta de Sao Lourenco is a wondrous spot. There’s also lots of lovely seabirds and flowers, like ice plant, everlasting daisies or artichoke thistle. The scenery is especially beautiful in the evening when the sun is setting. Just make sure to do not leave too late, you don’t want to walk the trail in the dark. Down the cliff, before the trailhead, you can find an isolated, gorgeous beach with black sand.
Walk from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
The famous footpath from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is one of Madeira’s top attractions. The landscapes, made of jagged pinnacles and dark volcanic rocks, are simply stunning. The walk begins at the Pico do Arieiro and leads to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on the island. It’s rewarding, but quite strenuous, recommended for fit walkers. If you’re a nature-lover with some experience in hiking, walking this trail is one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Levadas, the irrigation channels, were built to provide water for dry parts of the island. The Portuguese started building them in the 16th century to distribute water to the agricultural regions. Now the Levadas not only carry the water, but they’re also the source of hydro-electric power and a great attraction. The maintenance paths serve as beautiful walking trails, meandering through green countryside and impressive mountains.
Spend the New Year’s Eve in Madeira and watch firework shows
If you have a chance, visit Madeira during the New Year’s Eve. Guinness World Records attributed Madeira’s firework illustrates the title of “Greatest Fireworks Show in the World.” The island kept this title for several years, until 2012, but amazing shows are still being held. The best place to watch the fireworks is the marina in Funchal. Besides, the town is beautifully decorated at this time of the year, so the atmosphere is unique.
Visit the Jardim Botânico Funchal
Situated a few kilometers from the center of Funchal, a botanical garden is a magical place, displaying thousands of exotic plants. There are both endemic species and those brought from all over the world. Orchids, azaleas, magnolias and ferns, a sea of flowers expose beautiful colors and scents. There’s also a small Natural History Museum, a bird park and a terrace café. Jardim Botânico Funchal is a lovely place to stroll around. If you love flowers, it’s one of the things to do in Madeira you shouldn’t miss.
Whale and dolphin watching
Whale watching has recently become a very popular activity in Madeira; so many companies organize boat tours. Accompanied by a marine biologist, you can observe the animals and learn about their nature. Sometimes the whales and dolphins can also be seen from the coast. The variety of species includes beaked whale, fin whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, just to name a few. You can also see some adorable turtles and graceful seabirds.