Mention Madeira, and many people can’t locate it on a map, or they think that Madeira is a sleepy backwater. Although life on this subtropical Portuguese island moves at a relaxed pace, Madeira offers plenty of things to do for visitors. Here are eight of the best things to do on Madeira.
Tour a Wine Lodge
For many people, the name “Madeira” is synonymous with wine. On Madeira, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to visit local “wine lodges,” where you will learn about the process of producing this unique fortified wine. You’ll also get to taste and purchase the final product. As wine has been one of Madeira’s most important exports for hundreds of years, learning about Madeira wine is a key to understanding the history and economy of the island.
Some of our favorite authentic wine experiences can be found at wineries like Vinhos Barbeito, Blandy’s Wine Lodge, and H. M. Borges, which is one of the oldest wineries operating on the island. It’s highly recommended that you book tours and tastings in advance. If you’re unsure about how to go about planning your wine trip, consider scheduling a full-day 4×4 tour that includes stops at several wineries and the Madeira Skywalk. Alternatively, you can book a private, customizable half-day wine trip with Pearl of the Atlantic.
Take a Levada Hike
Madeira is a hiker’s paradise, with many trails that follow the island’s agricultural canals, which are known as levadas. Hiking a levada trail allows you to explore some of Madeira’s most beautiful landscapes on foot, and the trails range from easy walks to challenging hikes. If you plan to hike a levada trail, you should thoroughly research the trail that you will be taking, as many of the paths are steep and not appropriate for people who suffer from vertigo. Plus, some trails become muddy and inaccessible after a heavy rainfall. Many tour companies on Madeira offer guided levada hikes.
Visit Cabo Girao
If a steep levada hike isn’t enough to take your breath away, perhaps a visit to the highest cliffs in Europe will leave you breathless. At Cabo Girao’s lookout point, a glass-floored “skywalk” that juts from the side of the cliff gives you the sensation of floating in the air two thousand feet above the ocean. In addition to expansive ocean views, you’ll be able to see Funchal – the island’s largest city – and the uninhabited Ilhas Desertas, or “Deserted Islands,” on a clear day. Cabo Girao also has a cafe, restrooms and a souvenir shop.
Ride the Cable Car to Monte
The cable car ride from downtown Funchal to the small community of Monte, perched at an elevation of 3,000 feet in the mountains, is worth it for the superlative views alone. However, once you reach Monte, you should take time to stroll through the lush botanical gardens near the cable car stop. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try another of Monte’s famous diversions, a toboggan ride down the hill in a sled made of wicker. The toboggan ride is a favorite pastime for both children and adults. There are restrooms and a small snack bar near the cable car stop in Monte.
Eat, Drink & See the Fireworks in Funchal
Funchal presents a wonderful opportunity for gastronomic-focused travelers to immerse themselves in the cuisine of the island. We highly recommend taking a wine and food walking tour here. Taste your way through local favorite restaurants and authentic markets in a guided fashion to better understand the gastronomic history and unique ambiance of the town. To top it off, sample local wines and mingle with friendly locals.
On New Year’s Eve, the sky above Funchal lights up with a stunning display of fireworks. The weather is usually mild in Madeira in the winter, so you’ll be able to sit outside to enjoy the spectacle. If you plan to be in Madeira for New Year’s Eve, be sure to book your accommodations early, as hotels can sell out at this peak period for tourism.
Explore Traditional Madeiran Houses
Not far in physical distance, but a world away from Funchal’s high rises, there is a village where you can get a glimpse of the way life used to be for rural Madeirans. In the village of Santana, brightly painted thatched houses contrast colorfully with the green hillside. Some of the houses, near the center of the village, are open to visitors. In addition to showcasing historic living conditions, some of the thatched houses have become studios where local people practice embroidery and other traditional crafts.
Some people visit Madeira solely for its giant waves. Also, many surfers appreciate the island’s laid-back lifestyle. If you have never surfed but want to learn, check out one of Madeira’s surf schools. Before heading out to catch a wave, check with local sources about the current conditions at the island’s surfing areas, as some of these places can be dangerous for inexperienced surfers.
Take a Trip to Porto Santo
Madeira’s sister island of Porto Santo boasts a long, sandy beach and a dry climate, making it a favorite of sun-worshipers. Porto Santo is just over two hours by ferry, or half an hour by airplane, from Funchal. You can take a day trip to Porto Santo or stay overnight at one of its small hotels. Other diversions in Porto Santo include golfing, hiking and water sports. Some people also visit Porto Santo to experience the reputed healing powers of the island’s volcanic sand.
Madeira boasts a variety of activities that will delight visitors of all ages. Whether you prefer physically active pursuits such as hiking and surfing, or just relaxing with a glass of Madeira wine, you’ll be sure to find something fun to do on Madeira.
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