Who would have thought there were so many things to do in Madeira Portugal. Two weeks spent on the Madeira Island and we still did not cover all that we wanted to. Madeira surprised us.
Madeira really has it all:
- top-class hotels and restaurants,
- stunning coastal and mountainous landscapes,
- beaches and natural swimming pools,
- cool architecture
- warm friendly people
- Not to mention the yummiest tarts!
We were fortunate to stay with our close friends and experience the island life as locals do.
Before we travelled to Madeira we did our research as always to give us a feel on what was available to see, do and where are the best places to eat.
- 1 Where is Madeira
- 2 Historical Highlights of Madeira
- 3 Madeira Map
- 4 Things to do in Madeira Portugal
- 4.1 Funchal Card
- 4.2 Visit the Jesuits College
- 4.3 Jesuits College and St John The Evangelist Church
- 4.4 Visit the City Hall
- 4.5 Visit the Legislative Assembly
- 4.6 Meet The History Tellers
- 4.7 Visit the Saint Clare’s Monastery
- 4.8 Madeira Cable Car
- 4.9 What to see in Monte
- 4.10 Jardim Botanico Garden and Cable Car
- 4.11 Funchal Cathedral
- 4.12 Farmers Market Funchal
- 4.13 Rua de Santa Maria and the Open Doors Project
- 4.14 Sao Tiago Fort
- 4.15 Church of Santa Maria Maior
- 4.16 Baltazar Dias Municipal Theatre
- 4.17 Holy Trinity Church Funchal
- 4.18 Madeira Wine Tours
- 4.19 Santo da Serra Sunday Market
- 4.20 Pica Alta
- 4.21 Pico de Arieiro
- 4.22 Cristiano Ronaldo
- 4.23 West Coast of the Island Tour
- 4.24 Yellow Bus Hop on Hop off Tour
- 4.25 Lido
- 4.26 Yearly Events
- 5 Madeira Hotels
- 6 What to eat and drink in Madeira:
- 7 Funchal Restaurants
- 8 Madeira Weather
- 9 Things to do in Madeira
- 10 Flights to Madeira
- 11 Porto Santo Madeira
- 12 Currency in Madeira
- 13 Car Rental in Madeira
- 14 Wifi in Madeira
- 15 Tourist Information
Where is Madeira
Madeira is the largest of the 4 Atlantic Ocean islands that make up the Madeira Archipelago off the coast of mainland Portugal. Madeira covers 801 km2. The capital of Madeira is Funchal and is located on the south coast of Madeira.
Historical Highlights of Madeira
In July 1419 two Portuguese explorers Zarco and Vaz, on the orders of Prince Henry the Navigator, were sent to chart the West Coast of Africa. Strong winds sent them off track and they landed on the island of Porto Santo Madeira. They reported back to Henry the Navigator on the richness of the island. A year later Madeira was discovered and the first colonizers settled there between 1420 and 1425.
Travelling through Portugal you hear a lot about Prince Henry the Navigator. He was a 15th-century explorer and Prince. A fascinating character. If you are interested in the life of Prince Henry, his incredible story is available on Amazon.
In 1478 Christoper Columbus arrived in Madeira. He married Filipa, the daughter of the 1st governor of Porto Santo and lived in what is known now as Colombus Square. The house was demolished in 1877, and in its place is the Sugar Museum.
Since the 17th-century Madeira wine has been Madeira’s most famous product.
First, we recommend that you purchase the Funchal Card which offers free entrances and discounts to major attractions, a transfer from the Airport to Funchal, discounts on transport, outdoor and nature experiences plus a free holiday dictionary and official city map. You can purchase online for Euros 30.00 per person.
We literally stumbled into the Jesuits College and standing in front of us was Joshua – who immediately offered us a free tour of the College. The College was founded in 1569 and at that time was the largest building on the island till the 20th century. King Sebastian of Portugal signed the charter for the establishment of the College. We were led into an open courtyard past a coffee shop which looked inviting, but one that we forgot to enjoy after the tour as the free tour of the Church was about to commence.
Currently, there is an exhibition in the College outlining the history of Madeira Island for the past 500 years. It is worth spending some time there.
Open from Monday to Friday from 10.00 to 17.00
Saturday at 11.00 to 12.30
Guided Tour: 1 hour
Cost: Euros 5
Address: Rua dos Ferreiros
Website: [email protected]t
The church started construction during 1629 and has been restored many times since. The 1-hour free tour that we undertook could possibly be the best tour we have ever had of a church. It helps that the Church is unique with priceless multi colored azulejos (Portuguese tiles) on show from the 17th and 18th century. The ceiling is a trompe l’oeil of painted domes with people looking over the balconies.
Monday to Friday Guided Tour at 11.00
Cost of tour: Free
Duration: 1 hour
Contact: The students of Associacao Academica de Universidade da Madeira at the Jesuits College.
The City Hall was once the Palace of Count Carvalhal. It is a fine example of 18th-century architecture with a pleasant interior landscaped courtyard.
Monday to Friday guided tour
Cost: Euros 3.50
Duration: 1 hour to 1.5 hour
Admire Funchal from the tower
Address: Praca do Municipio
Contact: The students of Associacao Academica de Universidade da Madeira at the Jesuits College
Visit the Legislative Assembly
Our guide was Kamil for the tour of the Legislative Assembly. We started off at St. Anthony’s Chapel which was erected in the grounds of the Old Customs House which is now the Legislative Assembly. It was constructed in 1714. Inside the Chapel, on the North Wall, you can view paintings of the 10 Apostles.
Inside the Legislative Assembly, you have the opportunity to visit the Noble Room with its Mudejar ceiling inspired by Islamic Art, the Library room which contains the book of the 1st Constitution of Madeira, the Meeting Room with its 19th-century tapestries and the Pink Room which is used as a discussion room. Kamil explained the history of the furniture in each of the rooms as well as the tapestries and paintings on display.
Friday 15.00 hours
Guided Tour Euros 3.5 Duration 1 hour to 1.5 hours
Address: Rua da Alfandega #62
Contact: The students of Associa Academica de Universidade da Madeira at the Jesuits College
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A guided walking tour by the students of the Associacao Academica da Universidade da Madeira through some of the oldest streets in Funchal learning about the history of Funchal Old Town along the way. The money raised through the tours are used to assist the disadvantaged students who attend the University assisting them in their meals and the purchase of the study books etc.
The History Tellers Walking Tour is highly recommended click the link to read more about our experience.
Monday to Friday from 10.00 to 17.00
Private Guided Tour: Euros 10 per person
Duration: 2 hours
St Clare’s Monastery is one of the most beautiful in Madeira with art from 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Monday to Saturday 10.00 to 12.00 15.00 to 17.00
Duration 2 hours
Address: Calcada de Santa Clara n 15, Funchal Madeira
A great way to view Funchal from above and the opportunity to visit Monte a small village situated high up in the mountains overlooking Funchal. Monte was once a health resort for Europe’s wealthy.
Open: All year except Christmas Day
Opening Times: from 09.00 to 1745
Journey time: 15 minutes
For all of you Cable Car enthusiasts here is some further information:
Average Speed: 4m per second
Height difference: 560m
Highest tower: 39m
Maximum span between towers: 3 and 4 540m
Total capacity: up to 800 passengers per hour one way
- Monte Palace Tropical Gardens Semi Precious Stone Museum
- Quinta de Monte Gardens
- Church of our Lady of the Monte
- Tomb of the Last Emperor of Austria
- Fountain of the Virgin
- Levada dos Tornos – a walk along the watercourse (see below examples of the Levada walks)
- Typical wicker toboggans
- Quinta do Terreiro da Luta
- Sanctuary of our Lady of Peace
- Quinta do Monte Hotel – they have a display of old toboggans close to the reception area with historical photos as well. Well worth a visit.
To Travel Too Tip:
Catch Bus 20 or 21 marked Monte from Centro and catch the Cable Car back.
There is a shorter cable car ride at Monte to the Botanical Gardens.
Funchal Cathedral was classified as a National Monument in 1910. It was constructed in the Gothic style and the exterior walls were made of stone that came from Cabo Girao. The cedar wood ceiling is created in the Mudejar style and is the largest in Portugal.
One of the most interesting markets we have come across in our travels especially if you visit on a Friday or Saturday – the two busiest days of the week. Colourful flower stalls, fruit and vegetables and a buzzing fish and meat market creates a fun place to spend a few hours. At the entrance to the market, to the right, is a shop that sells gelato, wines, sardines and other Madeiran produce, it is definitely worth having a visit.
What a great initiative Madeira! A derelict and run down part of town that has suddenly come alive with restaurants and bars and art galleries due to a clever Open Doors Project. Run down warehouses have been given a release of life with their doors being creatively painted, it is a photographers delight!
The Sao Tiago Fort was built during the 16th century to protect Madeira from pirates. Currently, it houses the Contemporary Art Museum of Funchal. Our favorite restaurant – Restaurante do Forte is located here. You must ride their vintage open top car to the restaurant and back again to where you are staying – make sure you book the car when you make your dinner reservation. It is so much fun!
In a pretty square with local restaurants, you can find the Church of Santa Maria Maior which was constructed in the baroque style during the 18th century. Check the traditional wooden doors, apparently, they represent the best works during this period.
Opened in 1888 the design has been based on La Scala Theatre in Milan. There is a tour available on Tuesdays at 10.00 at a cost of Euros 3.50 but why not take in a show instead? The ceiling is supposed to be incredible to view.
Built in 1822 the Holy Trinity Church has been the place for Anglican Worship in Funchal. The House was built a century later than the Church. It has a beautiful well cared for garden and is a peaceful place to visit in the heart of Funchal.
Church and Gardens are open between 09.00 to 17.00 weekdays and on weekends 08.00 to 14.00.
Blandys Wine Lodge runs tours and tastings from Mondays to Saturdays. The Blandys are the founders of the wine industry in Madeira dating back to 1811. Today the company is still in the hands of the 6th and 7th generations of Blandys.
Visit the Santo da Serra Market and enjoy a Poncha! Santo da Serra use to be the retreat for the British to cool down in the hot summer months. The town feels like an English village with large Quintas and Villas that were built for the British with their extensive gardens. Go to the back of the market and enjoy local cuisine for a fraction of the price in Funchal. One of Madeira’s golf courses Campo de Golfe de Madeira is located here.
There is a lookout at Pico Alta with views over Funchal and its harbor. The site is full of eucalyptus trees, you can smell the oil in the air, many of which were destroyed in the fires of 2016. There are bbq facilities as well as toilets but you will need to arrive there early to claim the table and bbq.
Standing at 1810m is Madeira’s 3rd highest mountain Pico de Arieriro. As you drive up to the mountain you will pass a brick igloo on the left-hand side of the road – Poco de Neve. Once built by a British family, who used the brick igloo for the storage of snow, ice, and hail from the mountains. During winter you can experience snow falls in this region. Do not be too surprised when you see locals driving down from the mountain will blocks of snow on their cars – just to show others that they have been to the top.
The view from the top is stunning, the mountains jagged and green which reminded us when we trekked to Machu Picchu and eventually arriving on day 4 of the trek. It is definitely cooler at this height. There are a lot of walking trails for those that are keen and for those that are not and just want to enjoy the views they can enjoy lunch or just a coffee at the cafe at the top.
There are toilet facilities but you will have to pay a small fee of Euros 0.50.
Madeiran’s have called Ronaldo ‘their little boy’. You can’t go far in Madeira without noticing how proud they are of him there is a Museum, a hotel and various statues in and around Madeira and now the airport is named after him.
A great way to enjoy the scenic west coast of Madeira is to travel with MJ Tours on their full day tour that includes visiting:
- the fishing village of Camara de Lobos
- the sky walk at Cabo Girao – the highest skywalk in Europe
- the village of Ribeira Brava
- walk the Levada at Paul de Serra
- visit the natural pools at Porto Moniz
- enjoy a 3-course lunch at Seixal
- visit the village of Sao Vicente
- visit Encumeada for views over the island
They have a host of other tours available.
Another great way to enjoy a day out is the Yellow Bus Hop on Hop Off Tour. Not only is it a good way to travel around Funchal for the day it is a great way to learn about all things Madeira.
The Lido swimming complex is one of the most popular areas with locals and tourists alike for swimming. The pools are sea water with direct access as well to the ocean for swimming. A morning exercise class takes place in the pool at around 11.00.
You may want to coincide your holidays in Madeira with many of the yearly events on offer.
Carnaval time – a week long party similar to Brazil’s famous Carnival. Friday Night is the Night of the Transvestites, Monday Night is Hippy Night, Tuesday afternoon is the Bumbling Parade with DIY masks and the Burial of the Bone ends the Carnaval on a Saturday night.
Festa da Flor – the historical center of Funchal is covered with floral displays.
Festival Literario – a book and film festival that is held over 3 days.
The Classic Car exhibition is held.
Festival do Atlantico, a pyrotechnical display, is held over the 4 Saturdays of the month.
Jazz Festival held over 3 days
Regata de Canoas – Local fishing boats race from the Bay of Funchal and Barrairinha Beach a distance of 2.5km.
Rally Vinho Madeira – one of Madeira’s largest sporting events where drivers tackle the hilly terrains on asphalt roads traveling through the most scenic areas of Madeira.
Festa do Vinho Madeira – grape treading festival in the wineries of Madeira
Downtown Funchal – an urban international bicycle race
Eco Trail – a trail run through the country and urban areas of Madeira
Noite de Mercado – 23rd December at the Mercado dos Lavaradoes where locals buy fruit and flowers to prepare for the big party (they don’t use the word Christmas) which lasts until dawn
We have a list of some of the best hotels in Madeira.
3 Star – Hotel Madeira is located in the heart of Funchal with a stunning pool located on the top floor with panoramic views over Funchal city
4 Star – Pestana CR7 a boutique hotel with sea views in the heart of Funchal. Pestana CR7 is a partnership between Cristiano Ronaldo and the Pestana Group of Hotels.
4 Star – Hotel Girassol – with 2 swimming pools to choose from in the heart of Funchal with views over the Atlantic Ocean.
4 Star – Hotel Porto Mare with 5 swimming pools and on site spa on the Atlantic oceanfront.
5 Star – the famous Belmond Reid’s Palace hotel – you can’t miss this hotel as it is painted pink and has had many famous people staying in its stunning location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Reid’s is located on a cliff with 10 acres of sub-tropical gardens.
5 Star – the award-winning 5 star Vine Hotel with their Vinotherapy Spa in the heart of Funchal.
Three hotel recommendations outside of Funchal:
Monte – Quinta do Monte Panoramic Gardens with an indoor pool, hot tub with panoramic views
Porto Moniz – Aqua Natura has 25 rooms overlooking the natural swimming pools and the Atlantic Ocean. The restaurant has great views.
Canical – Quinta do Lorde is a popular spa resort and marina on the East coast of the island.
What to eat and drink in Madeira:
- The local beer Coral is a lager beer produced on the island of Madeira
- Madeira Wine – a fortified wine from the island and has different varieties ranging from dry to sweet
- Drink the light white wine Vinho Verde
- Poncha – a local Madeiran alcoholic drink made from distilled alcohol from the sugar cane juice, honey, sugar and lemon rind – believe me it is an acquired taste
- Pasteis de Nata – famous Portuguese egg tarts
- Bolo do Caco – local street food, bread that is toasted and smeared with butter and garlic
- Enjoy the local black scabbard fish known as espada
- Espetada – beef kebabs
There are many restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets in Funchal and Madeira Portugal.
We have put together a list of the top 5 recommended restaurants:
- Michelin Star Restaurant – II Gallo d’Oro at the Cliff Bay Hotel, Estrada Monumental #147 Funchal Portugal
Our favorite – Restaurante do Forte on Avenue Santiago Menor 14 at the Sao Tiago fort – why not book a classic car transfer to and from the restaurant. The food is exceptionally good and the service 5 star
- Restaurante Mozart – local and European cuisine at Rua Dom Carlos #50
- O Tasco – does not have a set menu but famous for its daily fresh fish specials at Rua Bela Sao Tiago #137
- Doca do Cavacas – famous for its seafood and location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Praia Formosa
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Madeira has a subtropical climate and you can expect mild temperatures throughout the year. The coldest month is January where temperatures average around 16 degrees. August is the hottest month with average temperatures around 23 degrees. January is the wettest month.
Things to do in Madeira
Flights to Madeira
There are flights to Madeira from all over Europe. Skyscanner shows the latest airfare prices and availability.
Porto Santo is a small island off the south coast of Madeira. Flights are available to Porto Santo or you can take the ferry from Funchal Port. Locals from Madeira flock to the 9km of golden sand beach that Porto Santo has.
You can go for a day trip or stay longer.
Tripadvisor lists 42 restaurants on the island for you to try.
For details on Porto Santo Line the ferry operator for Porto Santo click here.
Currency in Madeira
Euros is the currency for Madeira.
Car Rental in Madeira
We recommend Auto Europe Car Rental for Madeira.
Wifi in Madeira
Free Internet check www.wifi-madeira.com to find out the best free hotspots.
Visit Madeira website is full of information to assist in planning your next holiday.
What things to do in Madeira Portugal will you do? We will definitely return, Madeira is a firm favorite of ours, hopefully it will be yours too!
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