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The best places to visit in Madeira – attractions guide

The best places to visit in Madeira - Shows a scenic mountain view with a church

We’ve just returned from Madeira and what an adventure we had! Often confused as a relaxing year-round destination, just like the Canary Islands, Madeira has so much more to offer. It boasts year-round mild temperatures, stunning scenery, tropical havens and plenty to see and do.

If you’re visiting Madeira to explore, or just want some cool day trip ideas for your holiday, this guide is for you. After touring all four corners of the island, we’ve assembled the very best places to visit in Madeira. The list includes hiking trails, viewpoints, local towns, beautiful beaches and more. There’s really something for everyone!

What’s your favourite Madeira attraction? Let us know in the comments below. Without further delay, here are some of the best places to visit in Madeira.

Pico do Arieiro

Starting our guide with one of the best Madeira attractions, and in our opinion, the firm highlight of any trip, Pico Arreiro is a must-see for any itinerary. It’s one of the best places to visit in Madeira for hikers. However, it also appeals to those that just fancy some sightseeing. It’s the third largest peak on the island, sitting at a staggering 1,818m above sea level. Way up in the clouds and even above them on a clear day, the scenery at the summit of Pico do Arieiro is really something special.

If you’re an avid hiker, you can trek the 3.5 hour journey from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak in Madeira. The mountaintop walkways are very safe and you’ll find stunning scenery at every turn. If you don’t want to hike the trail, simply drive up the to mountain summit or join a tour bus and walk a small section of the summit route. Either way, you can’t miss this Madeira attraction off your list!

People on a hiking trail at Pico Arieiro

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Funchal Old Town

The capital of the island and a bustling mix of tourists and locals, Funchal is the beating heart of Madeira. The centre of Funchal is known as the ‘old town’. It features a long promenade that overlooks the cruise port, narrow city streets, small churches, a fortress and many more historic attractions. Wandering around Funchal Old Town on foot is the best way to explore. Alternatively, join a walking tour for a background on the key attractions from a knowledgeable guide.

We recommend checking out Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer’s Market), which is a great place to sample Madeira’s tropical fruits. There’s also Rua de Santa Maria, an old narrow street that’s covered in unique paintings and murals. In addition to the many sites, Funchal Old Town has a good selection of bakeries, Poncha bars, cafes and restaurants. A trip is not complete without sampling the foodie delights!

The best places to visit in Madeira - Colourful wall art in Funchal

Funchal cable car ride

Quite possibly the most popular Madeira attraction, Funchal cable car is an activity that shouldn’t be overlooked. Sure, it attracts hordes of tourists year-round, but for good reason. This smooth-moving cable car ascends above the city of Funchal, taking groups of 6 from the promenade sea-front, all the way to the Monte region on the mountainside. It provides a quick way to access the key attractions of Monte, the two botanical gardens.

Board the cable car for a roundtrip to the mountainside, taking in some spectacular views of Funchal below. If you’re afraid of heights, don’t worry. This cable car adventure isn’t as nail biting as others on the island.

Shows a view from Funchal cable car

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

At the top of the cable car ascent you’ll find Monte Palace Tropical Garden, which is the highlight of any visit to Funchal. It’s by far one of the best places to visit in Madeira if you like tropical scenery and unique Japanese-style gardens. The sprawling garden area was designed by José Berardo, opening its doors in 1991. Inspired by Asian cultures and mixed with Madeira’s tropical plants, plus some African history, the garden is a amazing place to get lost in for a couple of hours.

Wander the trails, cross river streams and marvel at the grand Japanese architecture of the garden. It also has a number of museum exhibits, a Madeiran wine tasting café, and Monte Palace itself in the centre of the gardens.

Japanese Garden at Monte Palace Funchal

Funchal Botanical Gardens

The other key botanical garden to visit in Funchal is also located in Monte, just a short second cable car ride from Monte Palace Tropical Garden. You can also get there by car or taxi. Different to its Japanese-style counterpart, the Funchal botanical Garden focuses on Madeira’s many tropical plant species and isn’t covered by a canopy of trees. It has a number of amazing viewpoints of the city of Funchal, a terraced café with a view, and plenty of walking trails.

Wander around Funchal Botanical Gardens at your leisure, marvelling at cacti, palm trees, bamboo, colourful flowers and many more species of flora and fauna. The botanical garden is huge and is best enjoyed on a sunny day. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Funchal.

The best Madeira attractions - Beautiful botanical gardens

Balcoes Levada

Deep within the mountains in the centre of the island, Balcoes Levada walk and viewpoint is hidden away above a small village. Although there are many Levada walks in Madeira, Balcoes is one of the most popular due to how easy the walk is. You can complete this small hiking trial in around 70 minutes, so it suits all types of traveller. Other Levada walks can be much longer and more difficult.

Not only is Balcoes easy to complete, it also provides some of the best views! Drive into the small neighbouring town and embark on a winding hike through the forest, walking by Levada streams, edging between cliffs and admiring the views of the valley below. The highlight of the trail is undoubtedly the viewpoint at the end of the trail, providing stunning views of Madeira’s mountains from a raised platform.

View from the Balcoes Levada trail - The best places to visit in Madeira

Fanal Forest

Fanal Forest isn’t just any forest… It’s a hillside of unique grand centenary Ocotea Foetens trees, which appear much like giant Bonsai trees. Their twisted branches and ominous appearance sets somewhat of a horror-movie scene, deep within the Madeiran mountains. It’s one of the best places to visit in Madeira for interesting scenery and every visit provides a different atmosphere.

Stop by Fanal early on a morning for layers of misty fog and low visibility. It’s awe-inspiring, yet slightly creepy. When the sun shines bright on a clear day, the trees of Fanal can be seen in their full glory. In addition, the hillside they sit on has some amazing views of the ocean in the distance. We personally found Fanal Forest to be one of the best Madeira attractions we visited.

Susie walking through Fanal Forest
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Ponta Do Sol

A small, colourful beach town that’s rapidly gaining popularity within the digital nomad and expat communities, Ponta Do Sol is a sleepy south-coast village with a long pebble beach. Rows of colourful buildings occupy the seaside promenade. Tall cliffsides then look down to the town on either side.

Ponta Do Sol is a great place to visit in Madeira for those that like small towns by the beach. It offers a local atmosphere, quiet beach relaxation and nice scenery to look at. We personally recommend visiting for a few hours, taking time to walk on the beach, have lunch in a small café, or grab a drink on the promenade.

Ponta do Sol town church and buildings - Madeira attractions

Cabo Girao cliff view

Cabo Girao is one of the most visited Madeira attractions. Very easy to get to from the south coast and Funchal area, this stunning viewpoint provides breath-taking views of the coastline. It’s the highest cape in Europe with a eye-watering heigh of 580m, offering panoramic views of the shores and distant valleys from its custom-built viewing platform. Are you brave enough to step onto the platform and look through its glass bottom?

Cabo Girao is a great place to visit in Madeira for those who want to see some cool scenery. Expect to spend around half an hour here. We recommend combining the viewing deck with a visit to the neighbouring town of Ponta do Sol or as part of a wider Madeira south-coast road trip. Oh, and it’s completely free to visit!

View from Cabo Girao viewpoint

Porto Moniz

Located on Madeira’s north-west coastline, Porto Moniz is far away from the tourist hub of Funchal. However, it manages to allure tourists and is one of the busier towns in Madeira, simply due to its beautiful coastal views and unique natural pools. These small sea-water pools have formed by the edge of the coastline, providing a refreshing place to bathe and cool down.

They’re also completely free to visit. Stop by Porto Moniz for a stroll around town, grabbing a coffee and a bakery treat in a café before going to bathe in the natural pools. The sea temperature is fairly warm year-round in Madeira but we recommend visiting on a sunny day for a more pleasant experience.

People relaxing at the natural pools in Porto Moniz

São Vicente and the Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima

Not necessarily an attraction but an amazing viewpoint in the town of São Vicente, the Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima is a hilltop church that overlooks the many rows of terracotta rooved houses. On one side you have rolling hills of mountains. The other is a panoramic view of the sea. It really is something special! To get to the viewpoint, you can drive most of the way up the hill. The final ascent can then be achieved on a winding staircase.

In addition to the church viewpoint, the town of the São Vicente is also worth exploring. Once known for its underground caves, which have now closed for entry, the town is a picturesque local village with some beautiful streets, buildings and cafes. Take a stroll around town and have lunch at Restaurante Lavrador São Vicente for some excellent dining with a view.

View of the church in the town of Sao Vicente - The best places to visit in Madeira

Seixal Beach

Madeira isn’t exactly famous for its beaches. Many of them are pebble or rocky beaches that don’t have the relaxing appeal of their European counterparts. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some amazing beaches to see! Seixal is certainly one of them. Known for its striking black sands and powerful waves that attract surfers, Seixal is a sandy beach that you can’t miss off your itinerary.

Located on the northern coast of Madeira, it’s a great place to stop for lunch, beach relaxation and a spot of surfing. There’s also a small waterfall by the beach where you can cool down and take some unique photos.

Seixal Black sand beach - Madeira attractions

Waterfall of the Angels

An unusual but captivating attraction to add to any Madeira south-coast itinerary is the famous Waterfall of the Angels. The waterfall is known for its unique location, falling directly over a road on the mountain pass. Drive underneath it and your car will get soaked! It’s a fun place to take some photos, and if you’re bold enough, stand under the falls in your swimsuit.

We recommend visiting Waterfall of the Angels alongside Calheta beach and Ponta do Sol.

View of the underside of the waterfall of angels
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Cristo Rei statue and Garajau Beach

We’ve all heard of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. However, did you know that Madeira has its own version? The statue looks out at the sea from its cliffside location in Garajau, on Madeira’s east coast. You can view Cristo Rei from behind, or walk down some stairs and out to a piece of land that stretches out into the sea to take photos from the front. It’s a nice viewpoint that’s well worth visiting.

Once you’ve admired the statue, board the nearby cable car for a steep descent to Garajau Beach. This popular beach sits just below the Cristo Rei viewpoint, featuring plenty of loungers for relaxation, plus snack and drink options.

Cristo Rei statue - The best places to visit in Madeira

São Lourenço coastal hiking trail

São Lourenço hiking trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the whole of Madeira. Different to many of the other trails, which are located in the mountains, São Lourenço is a piece of land that stretches out into the sea on the far north-east coast. Barren land, dramatic cliff drops, secluded beach coves and crashing waves all set the scene for one of Madeira’s most picturesque walks.

As São Lourenço is one of the only Madeira hikes accessible by bus, it’s one of the most popular. It’s also a fairly short and easy walk with custom-built stairs and trails. The whole trek takes around 3 hours for the return journey and its very rewarding. Be warned though; this area can get quite windy! Bring appropriate clothing, plus some sun cream.

Madeira attractions - Looking out at a beach

Moinho Levada trail

We’ve already featured some of Madeira’s most popular ‘Levada’ walking trails on our list. Whilst still very much worth seeing, many trails come with crowds and you can’t really enjoy the walks in the peace and quiet of nature. The Moinho Levada trail on Madeira’s south coast is a little different. Rated as an easier trail, comprising of mostly flat ground and taking 3-4 hours to complete a round-trip, it’s a much quieter Levada walk experience.

Trek alongside the mountain slopes, gazing at breath-taking views of the valley. Some of the trail is open; other sections are under a canopy of trees. It also has a number of cool places to see along the way, including waterfalls, hill climbs, streams and viewpoints. In opinion, it’s the perfect Madeira Levada trail for those that want a ‘beginner’ hiking experience without the tourist crowds. View the trail start point on Google Maps here.

Susie walking by Moinho Levada trail

Calheta Beach

Calheta Beach is one of the best places to visit in Madeira for a relaxing beach day. Its south-coast location has some of the most reliable weather on the island, with little cloud and lots of sunshine year-round. The beach itself is small but sandy; something which is hard to find on Madeira – which has mostly pebble beaches.

The beach town at Calheta has several restaurants and snack bars, a promenade area where you can relax and plenty of scenic views. We recommend including a visit to Calheta Beach as part of a wider south-coast road trip itinerary.

Viewpoint at Calheta Beach - The best places to visit in Madeira

Camara de Lobos fishing town

Camara de Lobos is a picturesque fishing town with a history dating back to 1430. A long-standing Madeiran fishing village, it has around 35,000 inhabitants and a laid-back atmosphere that’s very different to neighbouring Funchal. It’s not common for tourists to stay in Camara de Lobos. However, it has plenty to offer visitors for a half day-trip.

Câmara de Lobos has a historic town centre with old churches, narrow alleyways and corner cafes. It also boasts a marina area and a beach, which is where you’ll probably spend most of your time. Famously, it’s known for being a favourite spot for Winston Churchill; he’d often fly out to the fishing town and to ponder his thoughts while looking out at the sea.

Madeira attractions - View of the boats by Camara do Lobos town

Lido promenade in Funchal

If you’ve booked a package holiday in Madeira or just want some nice accommodation options, the ‘Lido’ area of Funchal is where you’ll probably stay. It’s the main tourist area on the island, packed full of hotel options for every budget. It also has plenty of bars, restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and attractions. Furthermore, it has one of the most popular beaches, Praia Formosa.

Whether you’re staying in the Lido area or somewhere else, this small corner of Funchal is well worth exploring. It has a long promenade that stretches for miles, with viewpoints, natural swimming pools and sunset bars along the way. It also boasts ‘The Forum’ shopping centre, plenty of recreational activities and excellent dining options. We personally love going for a long stroll on the Lido promenade at sunset.

Lido promenade in Funchal

25 Waterfalls hiking trail

The 25 Waterfalls hiking trail is one of the best places to visit in Madeira for getting lost in nature. Located in the centre of the island a short drive from Fanal Forest, this epic hike takes you through mountains, caves, Levada’s, forests and over streams. The highlight of the route is the waterfall, which is aptly named ’25 Waterfalls’, or ’25 Fontes’ for the illusion of many small falls beside each other. The 25 Waterfalls hike takes around 3-4 hours and covers a distance of 11km. It’s a fairly straightforward walk that isn’t too challenging.

12 waterfalls hiking trail - The best places to visit in Madeira

Ponta do Pargo lighthouse

The next Madeira attraction on our list is fairly remote, located to the far west of the island. West Madeira is situated away from the tourist hub of Madeira, with less people and lots of raw nature to enjoy in peace and quiet. It has a rugged coastline with the islands best sunsets, scenic driving routes, and tiny towns. At the western most tip of Madeira, you’ll find the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse.

To get to the lighthouse viewpoint, we recommend planning a road trip up the west coast, stopping at small towns along the way and planning to arrive at Ponta do Pargo for sunset. The remote coastal views and lack of tourists is a sample of Madeira nature at its best.

Madeira attractions - Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse

Boaventura

Boaventura is a small town on the north coast of Madeira. It’s known for its epic scenery and towering coastal views; the scenery is the real attraction here! The town is nestled in a valley with tall mountains on either side, leading to a cliffside of viewpoints and trails. We recommend visiting Boaventura as part of a north-coast road trip itinerary. It’s also a popular place to stay for a few nights for those that like peace and quiet in nature.

The top things to do in Boaventura include hiking the cliffside trails for beautiful views of the coast and taking a stroll through town for a sample of local village life.

Shows the cliffside in Boaventura Madeira

We hope we inspired you with some of the best places to visit in Madeira. It’s a destination that we fell in love with and will return to time and time again. The year-round warm climate makes it an island to explore when the rest of Europe is experiencing cold temperatures. It’s also the ideal climate for sightseeing, without being too hot and uncomfortable.

Do you have a favourite place to visit in Madeira? Let us know in the comments section below.

Ricky

By Ricky MARSHALL

Author bio:

An adventurer at heart that loves anything outdoors. Beaches, mountains and amazing scenery is everything I love about travel! I also enjoy home comforts and need a nice place to relax and re-charge after every trip.

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