Madeira and Porto Santo are part of a group of Portuguese islands located in the Atlantic, about a 4-hour flight from the UK, and make for quite an interesting place to visit for a holiday. The islands are located approximately 1,000 km from the European mainland and just 500 km from the African continent.
Madeira is the most visited of the islands, a popular place to go for a holiday. Here you will find stunning landscapes, dense verdant forests, volcanic mountains and beautiful flower gardens with exuberant colours, surrounded by the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Madeira really is brimming with options for all types of travellers. While Madeira is not a beach holiday destination, with the only sandy stretch of beach on Porto Santo, there is plenty to see and do. We are only scratching the surface of what’s available with our list of top tips and must-see activities.
Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns) is only half an hour from Funchal, but it feels like you are on a different island. It is situated in a deep valley and surrounded by steep mountain slopes.
You can view the valley from above at the Eira do Serrado viewpoint, a common stop during many day tours, but it is also worth hiking down to the valley and walking around the villages and seeing a very different, almost hidden, side to Madeira.
The Cabo Girão viewpoint offers an astonishing view of the fajãs of Rancho and Cabo Girão as well as magnificent panoramic views over the ocean and the municipalities of Câmara de Lobos and Funchal. The viewpoint has been renovated and the skywalk, a suspended glass platform, was built. The viewpoint is situated on the highest peninsula in Europe at an elevation of 580m.
Eira do Serrado and Cabo Girão are not the only Miradouros, or Observation Decks, on Madeira. There are a whole host of different observation decks throughout the island. Some are easier to access than others but they are all beautiful viewpoints from which to enjoy your stunning surroundings. If you don’t have time to visit them all, make sure you visit at least a couple – Balcões, Miradouro do Guindaste, Véu da Noiva or Eira da Achada, to name just a few.
Levada is the Portuguese word for mini canal. The Levada’s were originally created in the 16th Century to bring water from the rainy north of the island to the sunny south where crops such as sugar and bananas grow. In total there are 2500 kms of Levada’s on the island and Levada walks are very popular. Maintained paths running along the waterways make for a fantastic experience with a scenic background of nature. It also allows access to many parts of Madeira not available to those driving, if you’re the type to love an adventurous holiday, you won’t want to miss this. A truly enjoyable experience.
Due to the terrain of Madeira, there are several cable cars you can ride. The most famous connects the Old Town of Funchal with the top of the Monte Hill and Monte Palace Tropical Gardens Park, and then with another park – Botanical Gardens. This cable car is a great way to get amazing views of the entire bay of Funchal and is a shorter and more modern option than the other cable cars at Fajã dos Padres and the Garajau Beach.
The most widely known lava pools in Madeira are the pools in Porto Moniz, created from the lava flows of long extinct volcanoes and filled by the ocean’s high tide. These pools offer a dramatic setting for swimming and paddling.
The western pools in Porto Moniz have been converted into a Lido pool complex and are a much safer location for swimming. There are lifeguards and the rocks are not as sharp. There is a small entrance fee and a whole host of other facilities to use as well as the beautiful and secluded town to explore.
Funchal also has its own pool complex called Doca do Cavacas. They are smaller but offer a magnificent view of the Cabo Girão cliff and are well worth a visit.
Madeira is one of the best places to see whales in southern Europe. The waters around the island are visited by more than 20 different species of dolphins and whales throughout the year so you are sure to see them no matter when you visit. Numerous boat trips are on offer from Funchal to allow you to see these incredible creatures as well as enjoy the breathtaking views of the island from the water.
There is a crazy Madeira attraction you just won’t want to miss. Tourists visiting Funchal can scale the Monte Hill and then they can ride down it again on wicker sleds with the help of two experienced sled drivers. Such a fun way to travel!
Madeira Islands’ location and mountainous terrain provide a climate ranging from 25°C in summer to 17°C in winter, with very mild average temperatures and moderate humidity. If you like the weather to be hot, the best time to book Madeira holidays is in the summer when temperatures can reach up to 30°C. However, the best time to go to Madeira for warm weather and more comfortable temperatures is in spring or autumn when it’s still very warm and you’ll have at least nine hours of sun per day.
As the clouds tend to form inland, those looking for a sunny and warm holiday should head for the coastline, particularly the south coast and Funchal. Funchal offers the sophistication of a modern city whilst losing none of its old-world charm and is the centre of everything on Madeira including the best accommodation, island tours, boat trips and a wide selection of excellent restaurants. It is the perfect place to base yourself on a Madeira holiday.
However, if you are a nature lover looking for a great base for hiking and Levada walks, then the north coast would be the ideal location for you to stay.
Car hire is a great option if you want to get around at your own pace but there are many other options available. Coach trips are plentiful, and costs are minimal. You can visit almost all areas of importance on a coach tour. Taxis are also readily available as is the local bus service. If you are based in Funchal, this city is incredibly easy to get around on foot and is extremely flat compared to the rest of the island.
Of course there are also some more unusual transport options, including cable car, toboggans and even cliff lifts! Wonderful experiences and attractions for visitors to the island.
Madeira is an absolute gem which is jam packed with picturesque fishing villages, stunning coastal views, and an ideal year-round climate. There is no doubt that a trip to Madeira will provide you with a holiday to remember for years to come.
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