Madeira was one of my favourites places I’ve visited this year! Here is my list of the 9 best things to do in Madeira, Portugal. From hiking, to sunbathing, to visiting waterfalls, there is something for everyone. Madeira is such a tropical place, there are some really amazing things to see. The weather is great, it was over 25 degrees when we were here in September. However, it also has the incredible fog that sometimes sets upon it. For a photographer and a videographer it was the dream! Don’t forget to pack your camera and book a trip ASAP!
1. Go hiking!
I didn’t realise just how popular Madeira is for hikers! We saw a lot of French and Polish people during our hikes, of all ages. Luckily, we didn’t see too many people during our hikes, so we were able to enjoy the nature and not have to give way to too many people. On the Levada walks especially, the path can get quite narrow at times. We went in September and it wasn’t too busy at all. Funchal is always much busier, but as soon as you leave the capital everywhere was very peaceful. Madeira has tonnes of hiking trails, so if you like hiking then it’s the perfect place for you.
These next two hikes really should be done at either sunrise or sunset. Even if you aren’t a photographer, these are spectacular at these times. Imagine the most beautiful sunrise or sunset you have seen, but even better. I will explain why these two hikes are so unique below.
Pico do Areiro
How to get here?
This hike is up to one of the highest peaks in Madeira. To get here, it is a 40 minute drive from Funchal. You will most likely be staying in Funchal, and I would recommend Sé Boutique Hotel.
What time to go?
It is definitely worth going at sunrise, as the minute it hit 8:30am, the tour buses started rolling in. If you really want this place to yourself, head here as early as possible. We got here for sunrise and were joined by only a few other people. However, there was also a gap just after sunrise and before 8:30 that we had this spot all to ourselves!
Do you have to hike?
To see this view, you actually only have to walk a very short distance from the car park. There is an incredible hike you can do here, which will take a lot longer. The hike is from Pico do Areiro to Pico Ruivo and is stunning. A round trip takes around 6 hours and is 12km long. It is definitely worth it if you want the best views!
The best part?
Standing above the clouds! As this peak is so high up, you are stood right above the clouds. It is really a unique experience. It is so beautiful to see the sun pop out from under the clouds and watch the clouds disappear as it gets later on in the morning. The weather in Madeira really is very changeable, so one minute it can be very hot, the next you could be surrounded by clouds.
Ponta de Sao Lourenço
This is also called the ‘Tail of Madeira’. It is the most eastern part of the island and can be seen from the plane as you land, if you are coming from that direction. It is an incredible rock formation and is an 8km round trip hike.
How to get here?
From Funchal it takes about 40 minutes to drive to the car park here. Once you reach the car park, you will see the start of the trail. There is a map here, and a food truck during the day.
What time to go?
The best time to go is at sunrise or sunset, for the most amazing colours and surrounding. Remember that for a round trip it will take around 2 and a half hours. We left the house at 5pm and had to walk back in the dark! This was in September, but make sure to leave plenty of time if you are doing this hike at sunset. The first part of the trail is a wooden pathway. However, the rest of the trail is just a dirt path, so make sure you have a torch or light if you are doing this walk at sunset. I would recommend sunrise if you can get out of bed early enough!
Read more: Guide to Ponta de Sao Lourenço Hike
2. Head to the amazing misty forest
Serra do Fanal
This is such a beautiful place! Again, around 40 minutes drive from Funchal, the whole drive is uphill up to the top here! This enchanted forest is set right on top of the highest points of Madeira.
Is it always misty?
It is not! We actually came here three times, as it is on the way to Seixal, and a nice way to drive. Once we even came early morning to see if that helped, but the weather is VERY changeable up here. We had great weather all week, almost too good! There is a page where you can search for live webcams of Madeira. I would recommend checking these to see if the conditions are how you’d like them! We came the last time at around midday and had the most amazing mist rolling in.
Do you have to hike here?
There are many great hikes you can do here. However, if you would rather not hike, there are easy ways to see these views. The misty forest is right by the car park! You really don’t have to walk very far at all. Just be careful of the cows, they are quite fast! Then to stand above the clouds, there is also a short walk from the car park. It is the start of the PR 13 Paul da Serra walk, but the beginning of it is so beautiful that if you don’t want to hike, you can stop right there!
3. Go on a Levada Hike
Levada do Caldeirao Verde
This means ‘The Green Cauldron’. The name comes from the huge opening in the rock at the end of the Levada hike, which has a waterfall within it. The hike is along a Levada, which is an aqueduct. There are lots of these levada walks in Madeira. The levadas used to be used to transport water from the mountains down to the homes below and for irrigation.
How long does it take?
The hike takes around 5 hours to complete and is around 13km long. We got here at about 9am and had lunch with us. If you don’t leave early it can get quite busy. On ur way we passed many people compared to on our way there. The paths are also not very wide, so you sometimes have to step onto the rock behind the levada with one foot and keep one foot on the path to make way to oncoming walkers.
What to wear?
Make sure to take some layers as it does get cold! You may also want a waterproof coat, as you have to walk through some tunnels which can be quite wet. The floor also gets quite muddy due to the humidity, so good shoes are a must. Then a head torch! The tunnels are very dark, a head torch is best but any light will do!
Read more: Guide to Levada Caldeirao Verde
4. Relax on the beach
Praia do Seixal
This black beach is just beautiful. I went swimming here in the sea even in September and it was lovely and warm. It is a very popular beach with locals, so I would avoid it here at the weekend as it gets very busy. Just remember – you will be covered in black sand and bring a lot of it back in your swimwear!
There is also a little restaurant near this beach, if you stay for lunch. On the other side of this beach is a sea pool, which is overlooked by the restaurant. There is also a lovely walkway in between the beach and the sea pool that you can wander long.
9 Best things to do in Madeira, Portugal: Number 5!
5. Visit a Madeiran town
Home to Praia do Sexial, Seixal is also a lovely town. There is also another beach nearby called Praia da Laje, which may be a less busy option.
This is the capital city of Madeira. I would recommend visiting the old town area. Here you will find some incredible street art! Every door here has an amazing piece of street art on it. There is also a lovely market to go to called the Mercado dos Lavradores. It is quite pricey, but nice to walk around. There is a parking just down to road from the market, by the sea. Here you pay 6 Euro 50 for a day of parking. There are also some great viewpoints, so wander around and explore! Of course there are also lots of restaurants to eat at.
Where to eat?
Sé Boutique Hotel Restaurant
For beautiful seafood head to Sé Boutique Hotel for dinner. Right in the centre of town, under the main cathedral. I would recommend the grilled salmon and the octopus.
Amazing pizza and delicious risotto! I had the seaweed risotto with scallops and I couldn’t recommend Portaliano more. Also amazing value, not too expensive at all and really good food.
Restaurante dos Combatentes
Head here for a proper Portugese meal! The seafood skewers are a must and each dish comes with vegetables and potatoes on the side.
Where to stay in Madeira? Sé Boutique Hotel
This town is a must see for it’s traditional Madeiran houses. These are triangle shaped houses with thatched roofs and lovely facades. Definitely worth a visit even if in passing.
6. Spot some Dolphins and Whales
We went dolphin and whale watching with Rota des Cetacoes. Their office is right near Sé Boutique Hotel. First you all meet there for a briefing and a short introduction to the different species you can find here.
Is it ethical?
They pride themselves as an ethical company. They have spotters that sit on the mountains with binoculars to find the movements of the animals that day. The small boats mean you get an amazing view, with no obstructions by anyone else. Whether you see any dolphins or whales is up to chance, as they do not lure them in at all with food. You can also go underwater to see the dolphins if the weather is good. However, you must always hold onto the rope and not swim freely. They take every precaution to not disturb the environment.
Did we see any dolphins or whales?
We saw plenty of dolphins but unfortunately no whales. The dolphins were in small groups and it was amazing to see them jumping I the waves.
What to take?
We were in a very small boat. The two people at the front gave up with their camera as the waves were huge and we all got soaked! I would take as little as possible and a waterproof bag for sure! The floor of the boat got very wet and so did our belongings. Best to take a GoPro if you want to film, to make sure nothing gets broken from getting wet.
9 Best things to do in Madeira, Portugal: Number 7!
7. Watch Sunrise/Sunset
This is really a must while you are in Madeira! There are so many amazing places to watch the sunrise or sunset as I have listed above. Here are the top 5 places for both sunrise and sunset in Madeira.
Best Sunrise Spots
- Ponta de Sao Lourenço
- Pico do Areiro
- Rooftop of Sé Boutique Hotel
- Miradouro do Guindaste
- Ribera da Janela
Best Sunset spots in Madeira
- Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools and restaurant above
- Ponta do Sol
- Paul do Mar
- Pico Ruivo
- Ponta do Pargo
8. Explore the many waterfalls
This is a huge waterfall! However, not in September when we were there. The best time to see the waterfalls would be in spring. The summer was very hot so most of the waterfalls were more of a trickle unfortunately. This one is free to see, and only a short walk away from where you can park. Although, there is only really space for about 3 cars so beware! It is also a one way road, so you may have to be prepared to do some serious mavouveres to get back out of here.
This waterfall is just out of Seixal. There is a viewpoint here, as you can’t walk right up to the waterfall. I think there used to be a path but all of the old paths around the rocks are crumbling away. We drove down one to see what it was like and it was very unsettling! Most of them are now closed and I wouldn’t recommend it. Bridal Veils is a great waterfall right into the sea.
Levada das 25 Fontes
This is another levada walk that contains a great waterfall. Highly recommended, and wish we had time to go here!
Levada Caldeirao Verde
This is the levada walk I mentioned earlier. There is a waterfall right at the end of this walk, and beautiful to see.
9. Swim in a sea pool
There are lots of pools to swim in Madeira, right by the sea. There is usually a wall of rocks separating the pool from the sea. So you can swim in sea water!
Best Sea Pools
- Porto Moniz
- Pool at Funchal
- Natural Pools at Seixal
- Doca do Cavacas
- Caniçal Natural Pool
I hope you have enjoyed this post on the 9 best things to do in Madeira, Portugal! If you have any questions at all, please let me know in the comments!
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