Madeira is a charming archipelago sitting off the south west of Portugal and the west coast of Morocco, in the North Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago includes other smaller islands, such as Porto Santo, and Madeira itself is built on the top of a huge volcano. Since the 1970s, Madeira has had autonomy from Portugal, and celebrates this on the 1st July with folk dancing, fishing competitions, jazz concerts and wild street parties. 
Madeira's capital, Funchal, has excellent street markets selling all kinds of fresh local food, backdropped by beautiful red-roofed houses in leafy streets. There are cable cars that take you over the city for amazing views or a perfect day could be spent just exploring. The Madeira Story Centre is in Funchal as well; an interesting museum devoted to the fascinating history of the archipelago.
For walking, the coastline is spectacular, with craggy volcanic rocks making up the edge of the archipelago, while the magical Laurisilva forest is a World Heritage site covered with Laurel trees and occasional pools of clear water. If you fancy swimming, there is the Lido pool - a glorious and huge swimming area looking out over the sea and rocky outcrop, or the natural pools formed by rock formations make little pools of seawater ideal for paddling. Madeira is a good place for whale and dolphin watching, or taking those diving lessons you have always thought about!
If you are feeling brave you could take a walk on the Cabo Girão – a glass floored sky walk that looks high over the archipelago and the sea. If you are in search of history and architecture, Madeira has a lot of churches, and the magnificent Sé cathedral that are worth trekking for.  
Madeira is famous for its wine, which locals make from different grapes grown on the archipelago, but there is also the local drink 'poncha' - a sort of alcoholic lemonade that can be drunk hot or cold. Some of the delicious local food - fresh fish cooked in lemon and salt or meat grilled on wood chips - can be enjoyed on a high terrace overlooking fantastic seascapes. The beautiful Portuguese Fado music can be heard here as well; seek it out at the end of a satisfying day of sun soaked exploration. 

 

Overview

The island is perhaps more well-known to slightly older generations with an interest in adventure, largely due to its vast networks of walking and hiking routes, vibrant forests and parks, and a great selection of tropical birds and wildlife to spot. As well as its stunning backdrop, Madeira is somewhat unique in that there is almost always an event or celebration in the pipeline all through the year. Early February sees Madeira Carnival paint the streets in bursts of colour and sound, while March parades the best of Madeira's spring blooms in the Flower Festival. August and September are the best months to sample a sip of Madeira's famous wines and finally December sprinkles the streets with sparkling Christmas lights and has in the past earned the Guinness World Record for the world's largest fireworks display on New Year's Eve.

Funchal, Madeira's capital city, is the place to go for a taste of cosmopolitan charm. Peppered with unforgettable restaurants, a great choice of shops, and good value four and five star hotels, the capital is a must if not for accommodation, then for a real taste of Madeira's wonderful culture. Put simply, Madeira engulfs its visitors in a world of stunning sights and natural beauty.

Key Facts

  • Currency: Euro (EUR)
    Language: Portuguese (but English is widely spoken)
    Approximate flight time from the UK: 3 to 4 hours
    Time zone: No time difference from the UK

Great For

Adventurers: Madeira's endless choice of nature walks and hilly hikes make this island an active explorer's dream. With some steep hills and sharp bends, you'll need your walking boots at the ready!
Foodies and Wine Connoisseurs: There is more than enough variety with Madeira's array of flavoursome foods and world-class wines, and with all of its festivals, there are plenty of opportunities to sample a bit of everything.
Over 50s: Madeira is a quiet island, with not much of a nightlife scene and a very low crime rate, making it popular for a peaceful break away from the hum-drum of livelier towns and cities.

Cabo Girao

For visitors looking for views they won't forget, look no further than Cabo Girao. As the second highest sea cliff in the world standing 580 metres above sea level, one can only imagine the spectacular panoramic views this spot has to offer. Having recently been redeveloped, the area around Cabo Girao now boasts souvenir shops, better roads and parking, and for the really brave - a glass-bottomed sky walk. This is a great spot to get some fantastic shots for the holiday album.
Entry cost: Free!

Porto Moniz Lava Pools

Here visitors have a unique opportunity to take a dip in the natural volcanic lava-formed salt water pools of Porto Moniz. Overlooking the sea, rolling waves lap the edges of the pool which also includes a children's pool and play area, as well as sun loungers for hire. Visitors can also enjoy a beverage or bite to eat in the snack bar during the summer months. The lava pools are a great place to stop off and cool down on your travels.
Address: Rua do Forte de S. Joao Baptista, Porto Moniz
Opening hours: 9am - 7pm (Summer), 10am - 5:30 pm (Winter)
Entry cost: Free

Madeira Botanical Gardens

These gardens are the best way to see and learn about the abundance of exotic flora and fauna Madeira is home to. Commissioned in 1960, the gardens boast five different sections ranging from regional plants, tropical plants and trees, to exotic birds. Madeira Botanical Gardens also strives to preserve endangered plant species and has become a key science centre in recent decades. Filled with rainbows of colour, this is a great place to visit for both nature lovers and photographers.
Address: Caminho do Meio, Bom Sucesso, 9064-512 Santa Maria Maior, Funchal
Opening hours: Monday - Sunday, 9am - 6pm
Entry cost: Free!
Website: http://www.sra.pt/jarbot/

Levada Walks

One of the best ways to appreciate Madeira's spectacular scenery is to truly be amongst its colourful expanses of land and vegetation, on a hilltop walk or trek through the forest. Levada walks are a popular choice with active tourists as they give visitors an ideal opportunity to discover Madeira's unique network of manmade waterways (Levadas) built to help early settlers to irrigate their land. This impressive reservoir system is a sight to behold, dusted with vibrant plants and trees, the Levada walks really put visitors at the heart of Madeira's nature and wildlife.
Address: Various locations across Madeira.
Opening hours: See individual companies.
Entry cost: Prices vary
Website: http://www.madeira-levada-walks.com/index.html

Scuba Diving

What better way to be immersed with nature than plunging into Madeira's crystal clear, warm waters and diving amongst the world of aquatic life lining the shores all around the island. From manta rays to tropical fish, divers will want to bring an underwater camera to capture the rainbow of colours waiting to be discovered under the waves. There are a whole range of diving courses and experiences on offer and for all of the family. Diving is a fantastic experience and Madeira is the perfect place to give it a go.
Address: Various locations across Madeira
Opening hours: See individual companies
Entry cost: Prices range per company. Standard dives can start at around 30 to 40 euros.

Have you been to Madeira recently? What are the must-do experiences that you'd suggest? Do you have tips on how to stretch that holiday budget a bit further or know of a hidden-gem that’s easy to miss?


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