Madeira archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal, beautifully situated in the Atlantic Ocean about 900 kilometers from the coast of the Iberian Peninsula (European continent) and 600 kilometers from the coast of north Africa, is often called the "floating garden of paradise". And not for nothing!
The volcanic island offers for visitors magnificent natural parks and botanical gardens, impressive mountains and ancient laurel forest, reserves with rare animals and plants, a pleasant climate, delicious food and Madeira wine, tropical fruits and the hospitality of local residents - all this awaits travelers in Madeira Portugal.
There are ample opportunities to explore the waters in sheltered bays or take part in thrilling aquatic activities like deep-sea fishing or whale watching.
Spend your days exploring the great outdoors with unique hikes along Levada trails and rugged terrain, as well as visit luscious botanical gardens showcasing vibrant local species of plants.
Nightlife here is dynamic, with live music and events happening all year round for everyone to get involved. For the ultimate vacation experience, try out some of the mouth-watering local cuisine and wines that are sure to keep you coming back for more!
Madeira island is famous for its mild climate, the average annual temperature is around +22°C, and even in the coldest months it does not drop below +16°C, and the warm Gulf Stream guarantees a pleasant water temperature all year round.
Let's take a look at 11 must-see places for everyone visiting Madeira Portugal.
Madeira island history
People learned about the existence of the island in the 15th century, when Enrique the Navigator, the founder of Portuguese seafaring, gathered together the best sailors and cartographers of the kingdom to expand their knowledge of the west coast of Africa.
Armed with everything necessary for the expedition, the Portuguese sailors under the leadership of Captain Juan Gonsalves Zarques set off. Having deviated from their course due to bad weather, they came upon a small island which they named Porto Santo island, which means Holy Harbor in Portuguese. It happened back in 1419. On their return to Portugal, they reported that they had also seen a much larger island shrouded in clouds to the south.
Thus, in 1420, the Portuguese discovered this large island, which they named Madeira - the island of the Forest. Skeptics claim that the discovery of the island was no accident, because all the islands of the archipelago were marked on a map drawn up by Genoese cartographers already at the end of the 14th century.
Other historical sources mention that the ancient Romans already knew about the existence of the island. Let scientists argue about it further. But one fact is irrefutable - Madeira island was first inhabited by the Portuguese and officially declared as Portuguese territory in 1425.
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Funchal is the capital city of Madeira island located off the southern coast, is recognized as one of the safest in Portugal - the crime rate here is close to zero. We recommend that you start getting to know the city with the Sao Tiago fortress (locals call it the "yellow fort"), built in 1614 to protect against pirate attacks.
Today, the fortress houses a museum of modern art. You can have lunch in the one on the territory of the fortress Do Forte restaurant, which is considered one of the best in the city. The prices are above average, but this is outweighed by the taste of the local food, the level of service and the fabulous view from the terrace.
An object worth seeing is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - the oldest church on Madeira island, the ceiling is decorated with mosaics, and the walls are decorated with paintings by Flemish artists.
We also recommend the Madeira wine museum, Quinta do Palheiro botanical gardens and the colorful market in Funchal's old town, where you can buy fruit, vegetables, flowers, fish and handicrafts.
Festivals in Funchal
The capital city of Madeira holds several festivals throughout the year, the Flower Festival and the Madeira Wine Festival are two of those that you must visit if you find yourself in Madeira during these periods.
Get ready to witness a spectacle of color, scent and beauty in Madeira! Every spring around 4 weeks after Easter the vibrant capital city celebrates with an incredible Flower Festival.
If you visit Madeira in this period, it’s your chance to experience fantastic floral displays from all over Portugal's “Island of Flowers' ' - you won't believe how colorful and beautiful this place can be!
The last week of August and first week of September marks the celebration that is the Madeira Wine Festival! Indulge your senses in a sea of earthy, sweet aromas wafting from cellars while taking in charming street performances.
Discover Madeira wine culture like never before by visiting historical wineries or tasting different blends at local stalls- an experience sure to tantalize even the most discerning palette.
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Monte is a hilltop suburb of Funchal. You can get here by cable car from the center of the capital.
When you arrive at your destination, in addition to the most beautiful views of Funchal and its surroundings, several interesting sights await you: the Church of the Holy Virgin, where the last Austro-Hungarian emperor is buried.
There is a viewing platform on the roof of the church, which is best visited in the late afternoon, as the bright morning sun prevents you from enjoying the views;
Monte Palace's tropical gardens, set into the hillside. It should be taken into account that the territory of the Monte palace tropical garden is large and you will have to walk a lot, so choose comfortable shoes.
The most unusual attraction of Madeira island and probably in the whole world is the opportunity to go down the mountain in a traditional wicker sledge - Monte Toboggan.
As you understand, there is no snow in Madeira, so the approximately two kilometer track is paved. The surface is specially ground so that the sled can develop a decent speed.
Make sure you don't forget to enjoy this unique attraction when you visit Madeira Island!
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It was in this place that the development of Madeira island once began - in 1419, Portuguese sailors landed here. Until 1496, Machico was the capital of Madeira island.
The slopes of the surrounding mountains are dotted with so-called levadas - man-made channels that collect rainwater for later use as needed.
Trails have been built next to the irrigation canals, providing access to areas that are difficult to reach by means of transport. For lovers of active recreation, there are routes of various degrees of difficulty, some of which can only be conquered with the help of an experienced guide.
Lovers of hiking and picturesque landscapes are also recommended to visit the nearby nature reserve on the Ponta de São Lourenço península. You have to walk 4 kilometers one way, but the views and the chance to see rare birds and seals up close make up for it.
Machico is also home to the only white sand beaches in Madeira island that were brought from Morocco. If you plan to visit the island with children, this resort will be the best choice for a comfortable vacation.
Moreover, near Machico is located the Madeira Whale Museum that will be liked by both children and also adults.
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4. Selvagens Islands
Selvagens islands or Savage islands is an Madeira islands that located about 280 kilometers south of Madeira and 165 kilometers north of the Canary Islands, consists of eight uninhabited islands.
The Selvagens Islands Nature Reserve is one of the few places in Portugal where visitors can explore unspoiled, untouched nature.
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, these eight small islands and their surrounding waters comprise a unique biodiversity that makes it a paradise for lovers of nature.
Animal species like monk seals, Cory's shearwaters and migratory birds, as well as vegetation such as endemic helianthemums and dragon cactus, abound on these beautiful islands.
The sparsely inhabited islands are home to those lucky enough to call them home; at best they’re visited by seasonal tourists in fishing boats, who come to fish and observe all this beauty with admiration and respect.
If you’re looking for a truly amazing place that still remains largely undisturbed by civilization, a visit to the Selvagens Islands Nature Reserve is certainly worth considering!
It should be noted that you can enter the reserve only with a tour group.
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5. Santana Traditional Houses
The small town in the north-east of the island is notable for its original triangular houses (Casas Típicas de Santana) built of stone, reeds and straw (16th century).
Santana can be called an open-air ethnographic museum. If you want to know all about the country's history, traditions and culture, you must visit the theme park. In July, a folklore festival takes place here, featuring folkloric groups from all over Portugal.
The most hardy tourists who are not afraid of difficulties can climb to Madeira's highest peak- Pico Ruivo (1861 meters above sea level), which offers one of the most impressive panoramic views of the entire island.
On the other hand, those who want to enjoy a more peaceful vacation are invited to Quinta do Furão - a wine farm that offers wine tasting while admiring the views of the ocean.
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6. Ponta do Sol
Ponta do Sol is a stunning coastal village located in the south coast of Madeira island. This picturesque seaside town features incredible scenery of lush green valleys dotted with palm trees, gray pebble beaches washed by turquoise ocean waters and rugged coastline.
The small fishing harbor of Ponta do Sol offers a glimpse into traditional life on the high seas and its craggy bluffs are ideal for those seeking seclusion and serenity. There is also an interesting object for diving lovers - the ship Bowbelle, which sank to the bottom during a devastating storm.
There's plenty to explore between the cafes, quaint streets, colorful shops and local eateries, allowing visitors to experience a unique part of Madeira culture.
With excellent hiking trails winding through both mountain terrain and verdant countryside, this tranquil destination has something for every traveler.
This is the sunniest point of Madeira island, where water and air temperatures are usually even 5-10 degrees higher than in other resorts on the island. People come here to enjoy lounging on the beach and beautiful sunsets. True, the coast here is rocky, so it is not really suitable for families with small children.
Whether it be lazing away by the coastline or adventuring through unspoiled nature, Ponta do Sol will not disappoint!
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7. Cabo Girao
Located on the archipelago of Madeira, is the precipitous Cabo Girao. At 580 meters above sea level, this is one of Europe’s highest sea cliffs offering the highest Skywalk in Europe which provides incredible views of the Atlantic ocean and rugged coastline.
Visitors can go up with a scenic cable car, the slope of which is 70 degrees. The nerve-wracking ride over the abyss allows you to enjoy a special experience.
Visitors to this vantage point can take in all these sights as well as watch for whales offshore or spot swimming dolphins in the crystal waters below.
With its diverse landscape, Cabo Girao is a stunning testament to nature’s power and beauty. A must-visit for anyone who wants an inspiring outdoor experience in Madeira island!
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8. Paul do Mar
Surfers are drawn to this fishing village by the spectacular ocean waves. In 2001, the World Surfing Championship was even held here!
With the end of the surfing season, Paul do Mar becomes a very quiet and peaceful village, which is worth spending a day exploring - walking along the empty beaches, climbing one of the surrounding mountains to capture the beautiful views and, of course, feasting on fish and seafood.
Swordfish (espada) should be tasted first. No one who has visited the local fish market will forget the appearance of this fish - the saw-like teeth and the repulsive, almost impudent look of the fish.
Will you still want to taste this fish afterwards? But of course, because its meat is so tender and tasty that you can swallow your tongue, and if it is served with a banana fried in butter!
Big fans of ocean cuisine can also try parrot fish (bodiao), tuna (atum), sea bream (pargo), hake (pescada) and mackerel (carapau).
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9. Porto Moniz
This is a small town in the northwest of the island that attracts tourists with the opportunity to enjoy swimming in natural pools of volcanic origin.
On your way to Porto Moniz, it is also worth visiting the fort of São João Baptista, which was built in 1730 to protect the city from pirates, but has now been converted into an aquarium with around 70 species of fish.
Families with children and those who love science should schedule a tour of the Modern Science Center.
Near Porto Moniz is the Miradouro da Santa viewpoint, which offers a beautiful view of the city and its surroundings.
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10. Faja dos Padres
The isolated village, which can only be reached by cable car, is located in the south coast of Madeira island. There are only 10 houses and no more than 50 natives.
The first inhabitants of the village were monks who already in the 15th century grew Malvasia grapes on the hillsides and made wine from them (one of the best in Madeira).
Thanks to the unique microclimate, tropical fruits and vegetables that cannot be found in other parts of the island also grow here.
The only historical place of interest is the ruins of the chapel, which was destroyed by pirates in 1626, but this is not important, because usually Faja dos Padres is chosen by those who want to enjoy peace and quiet undisturbed.
If you are inspired to get to know the amazingly diverse Madeira, here you will find great deals for a trip to the island of eternal spring.
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11. São Vicente
On the Madeira Island, tucked away in a stunning valley lies São Vicente - an idyllic village with much to offer. Take a tour of the spectacular 400,000-year old Sao Vicente caves and be amazed by its natural beauty!
Head over to the town's center for some culture at St Vincent Church. Built in the 17th century and featuring breathtaking ceiling paintings it will certainly take your breath away.
For thrillseekers there is a pebble beach that provides perfect conditions for surfing so why not give it a try? With such diversity on offer, you won't find another place like this anywhere else!
Conclusion: So there you have it, 11 must-see places in Madeira Portugal that simply cannot be missed. From stunning natural landscapes to unique historic sites, this small island has a lot to offer visitors.
Whether you’re looking for breathtaking views, hiking tours or just want to try some delicious food, Madeira is sure to please. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your visit to Madeira today!