Visiting the island of Madeira

Picture of town of Faial on Madeira. By S.Räsänen under CC-SA4.0

If you are considering planning a trip and want to learn more about Madeira, or whether you are already there and want recommendations, this is the article for you. In this post, I have written down the things you should not miss when in Madeira, as well as some tips on where to eat or sleep in another article.

Why should you visit Madeira?

Cascata do Véu da Noiva on Madeira. Image by GualdimG under CC-SA4.0

Starting with the basics, why even bother travelling to Madeira, you might ask. I will give you just one quote from Lonely Planet:

“Pearl of the Atlantic, island of eternal spring… Madeira well deserves its fanciful nicknames and the affection visitors and locals alike feel for this tiny volcanic island that offers so much”

Ok, while this sentence might not say much, it does point out the uniqueness of the island. That it is far from the mainland and the nature and landscapes there are unlike anything you might find in Europe, despite it being a 1h40min flight from Lisbon.

Its volcanic origin has given the island a very dramatic topography, as can be seen in the pictures above.

Must do things when on Madeira

While the island is small and in the middle of the ocean, it doesn’t mean that it lacks infrastructure and activities to do. In this part, I explain the things I recommend you do when visiting the island

Image from the market in Funchal. Open everyday except Sundays

Visit the capital: Funchal, and discover the history of the island and its culture

Madeira has a peculiar history, considering that it was colonized by the Portuguese in 1420, but had already been visited by the Vikings and the Romans allegedly knew of its existence.

Funchal is the place to get know all of this history as well as its diverse culture. The city has colorful parks and several historical landmarks like the cathedrals and churches.

I also recommend taking a look at the farmer’s market called Mercado dos Lavradores. It has different opening hours depending on the day of the week, except Sundays when it is closed.

If you are a soccer-fan, there is the Cristiano Ronaldo museum with all his trophies.  

View over the town of Funchal. Many cruise ships stop here: recommend to visit when there is no cruise ship harbored. Image by B.Nyman under CC-SA2.0

Hike (or drive) to the Pico do Arieiro

As you might guess, hikes on Madeira are highly recommended since the views are amazing. Pico do Arieiro is the most famous place to hike, so this would be a good start. Some people even start the hike early morning before the first light so that they manage to catch the sunrise from the peak! However, mind that the mountains are very prone to have dense fog. I recommend checking NetMadeira (clickable link here) which shows live video from the area so you know if the hike will be done in good conditions or not.

If you are not able to do a hike, worry not! There is a great parking next to it as well as wheelchair-adapted path to admire the view.

Pico Ruivo is also a great hike. It is the highest peak on Madeira. A great experience to hike from Pico Arierio to Pico Ruivo: not easy but a memory for a lifetime without doubt.

Many enjoy the sunrise over Pico do Arieiro. Make sure to check the weather before. Image by B.Walton under CC-SA2.0
View of the peaks from Pico Ruivo. Image by CatCollector under CC-SA2.0
One of the waterfalls of the "25 Fontes" trail. Image by D.Santos under CC-SA3.0

Discover the many waterfalls with the “25 Fontes”

While it is a hike, it is way easier than the hikes in the mountains mentioned above. This walk is mostly done on flat land and you would pass 25 different waterfalls. It is a 3h walk at the most without breaks: thus most people should be able to complete this.

If you want more information on this hike I recommend looking at the website run by the tourism association of Madeira linked here which has an article on the hike specifically.

Madeira also offers natural pools despite the cliffs along the coast. These pools are close to Seixal on Madeira. Image by A.Hap under CC-SA4.0

Enjoy the view at the Miradouro do Curtado and visit the town of Santana

This viewpoint is located near the town of Faial (not to be confused with island of Faial) and town of Santana, It is situated on the north-eastern coast of Madeira and the view point can be reached by car (as it is next to the road).

After soaking in the beauty of the island from the viewpoint, I recommend to head to the town of Santana, where you can find historical houses. These houses were used to the settlers in the 15th century when living off the land. While these houses lacked in size, they managed to give comfort to the islanders. Today these houses are associated with the island of Madeira and many of them can be visited.

Typical houses from Santana, some can be visisted to immerse yourself in Madeira in the 1500s. Image by S.Räsänen under CC-SA4.0
Viewpoint or "Miradouro" do Curtado. Is reached easily by car. Image by S.Räsänen under CC-SA4.0

and much more…

I can’t list all things that you can do on Madeira, however here is a shortened list of the things you can look further into:

  • Miradouro do Véu da Noiva: gives a view over a waterfall that erupts through the cliffside into the sea.
  • Balcões de Ribeiro Frio: is a viewpoint next to the Vereda dos Balcões. Stunning views over the mountains and valley.
  • Ribeiro Frio: is a Natural Park with a luscious green nature.
  • Levada do Caldeirão Verde: Beautiful and scenic waterfall.
  • Cabo Girão Skywalk: is a viewpoint over a 580-meter tall cliff: tallest cliff in Europe and second one in the world on the seaside.

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