Ultimate Travel Guide to Madeira

Madeira Portugal scenic view

Madeira is a beautiful island situated right off the coast of Morocco, near the Canary Islands. The Portuguese Island has remained a low-key destination in Europe for quite some time. 

But the secret is starting to get out, thanks to its rugged mountain scenery, beautiful waterfalls, and coastal cliffs going viral on social media more and more often. 

The island is chock-full of incredible places to see and fun things to do, and for those dreaming of visiting for themselves, this ultimate travel guide to Madeira will help plan a trip there with ease.



5 Best Things to Do in Madeira

Madeira houses

Maderia is full of unique places to see and things to do, but here are a few that stand out from the crowd! 

1. Hiking along the numerous Levadas

Levadas, in Portuguese, refers to a channel that carries water down from the mountains to other parts of the island, where it can be used for drinking, farming, and washing. They are still used to this day, but hiking in Madeira is unique because almost every popular hike follows one of these Levadas. 

These irrigation channels are like highways through some of the most scenic views in Europe, with the most popular Levadas being: 

  • Levada do Caldeirão Verde (PR9)
  • Levada das 25 Fontes (PR6)
  • Levada do Rei (PR18)
  • Levada do Moinho (PR7)

These hikes crisscross the island, passing through mile-long tunnels, terraced fields, scenic mountain peaks, beautiful waterfalls, and sections of the forest that look like they’re straight out of a fairytale. 

2. See Waterfalls

All four of the Levadas lead to waterfalls, which is not uncommon in Madeira. Some of the most famous waterfalls, including Risco Waterfall, 25 Fontes Falls, Levada Nova Waterfall, and Caldeirão Verde, are along these water channels. 

But there are some more accessible waterfalls, too. Véu da Noiva, Aguage Waterfall, Água d’Alto Waterfall, and Garganta Funda can be visited without much of a hike!

There’s even a waterfall near Calheta (Waterfall of the Angels), which falls directly onto the road so travelers can drive underneath it! 

3. Take the Cable Car to Achadas da Cruz

On the island’s northwest corner is an iconic section of the coastline called Achadas da Cruz.

It’s far from a typical sandy beach, but people come here more for the dramatic scenery than the shoreline. Visitors can admire the view from above or take the Teleférico (Cable Car) down to the shore. 

Some walking paths and even a deserted village are at the bottom. It’s definitely a touristy thing, but it is much less crowded than most places in Maderia since the cable car can only transport about 12 passengers every 15 minutes.  

beautiful blue sky and coastline Europe

4. Ride the Toboggan in Monte

The Toboggan ride in Monte is basically a rite of passage in Madeira. 

Perched above the city of Funchal is a smaller neighborhood called Monte. This town is known for its beautiful botanical gardens and scenic cafes, but it’s also the start of the Monte Toboggan Run (wicker basket cars).

Tourists sit in a wicker sled while two dudes dressed in white clothes and straw hats steer the sled down some of the steepest roads in Funchal! It’s a blast, and everyone laughs with joy the entire time. 

5. Natural Pools

Porto Moniz and Seixal have natural public swimming pools formed by volcanic lava, some of the coolest places to visit on the island. 

Porto Moniz Natual Swimming Pools are more commercial, with cement-filled pools, locker rooms, and a restaurant. 

Seixal’s Natural Pools, on the other hand, are more ‘natural.’ The city has created a little structure around the pools and built steps to keep people safe, but it feels less tamed. 

However, visitors should come to these pools during low tide (especially Seixal) because they can be unsafe when it gets too high.

European summer coast vacation

What to Eat & Drink in Madeira

Foodies also love Maderia for the rich food scene. The meat and produce are often local, and because of its location, it has a delicious blend of European and African tastes. Here are a few things to try! 

Espetada

Espetada means ‘skewered meat.’ It’s simple, but it’s also the most famous food in Madeira. 

When sitting down at the restaurant, any meat is available: chicken, pork, beef, steak, sausage, seafood, and more. 

No matter which is chosen, the meat is grilled over charcoal with a laurel skewer. The laurel wood infuses the meat with a subtle, smoky flavor. 

Head to Viola Restaurant in Câmara de Lobos for the best espetada in town. It’s a local favorite! 

Bolo do Caco

This traditional garlic bread is comfort food in Madeira. It’s warm, buttery, and excellent as an appetizer or side dish to just about every meal.

When traveling around Madeira, people can order this bread as a side dish anywhere on the island. 

beautiful blue coastline pristine water

Carne Vinho D’ Alhos

This one’s a classic street food in Madeira, found on almost any menu. It’s basically a Bolo do Caco sandwich with pork that’s been marinated in a garlicky wine sauce. 

It’s a dish that’s been around for centuries and is also very affordable. Most of the time, Carne Vinho D’ Alhos with a Classis Coral beer will cost less than €8.  

The best place in Funchal for this sandwich is Snack Bar California

Traditional Madeira Wine

Madeira wine is very different from what most people are used to drinking. It’s served in sweet and dry varieties but differs greatly from regular wine. Madeira wine is thick, syrupy, and very strong. 

The history of Madeira wine dates back over 500 years, and a few wineries in Madeira have been in business since the 1800s. 

The most authentic and educational experiences are at Blandy’s Wine Lodge or Pereira D’Oliveira. These wineries offer official tastings, display historical artifacts, and give samples of each type of traditional Madeira wine.

Poncha

Poncha is another traditional drink in Madeira, often serving as an Aperitivo. 

The traditional Madeiran cocktail is a blend of sugar cane, rum, honey, and citrus. It’s delightfully sweet and easy to drink for its percentage. 

Poncha is served at any local restaurant, roadside stall, or bar in Madeira, but for the best Poncha, go to Venda do André in Câmâra de Lobos or Venda Velha in Funchal.

How to Get Around Madeira

Madeira blue sky sunrise

Figuring out how to navigate this rugged terrain of Madeira is one of the more intimidating aspects of traveling here, but it’s all a part of the adventure. Here are some of the most convenient options to get around with ease. 

Rent a Car in Madeira

The best way to get around Madeira is by renting a car. It’s the ultimate freedom, and so one of the most affordable options at less than $40/day. 

Madeira is also the perfect size for road-tripping because it’s easy to drive from one side of the island to the other in just over an hour. This makes it easy to string together several iconic destinations in a single day!

The largest car rental agency on the island is 7M Rentals, but to compare all local and international options, use DiscoverCars

Taxis in Madeira

A taxi might be better if someone is uncomfortable driving in Madeira or after a traditional wine-tasting excursion!

There is no Uber in Madeira, but some alternative ride-sharing apps like Bolt work fine. Also, public taxis are everywhere on the island.

All of the taxis in Madeira are yellow cars with a blue stripe along the sides. Flag one on the street, or head to the closest taxi stand (there is one in every town). 

Madeira coastline
Images courtesy of Caleb Pasiuk

Buses in Madeira

For people traveling on a super tight budget, there are very cheap buses in Madeira. Local buses are a reliable and affordable option, costing only a few euros per trip. 

They also cover most of the island and offer scenic landscape views, just like driving or taking a taxi. 

However, taking the bus means that it will take significantly longer. People traveling by bus should expect to wait a bit longer for each ride, and it can take about 2-3x longer than a taxi to get to the destination. 

Rodoeste operates routes in western Madeira, SAM bus operates in the east, and EACL is the main bus company with routes between Funchal and Caniço. 

Also, all buses are cash-only, so keep a few coins on hand. 

Final Thoughts: Visiting Madeira, Portugal

Madeira offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers. The island is a nature lover’s paradise, from its scenic hikes along the Levadas to its stunning waterfalls and unique volcanic beaches. 

It doesn’t matter where you stay on the island, since everywhere is less than an hour away, but many people like to stay in Funchal because of the proximity to shops and restaurants!

Just don’t skip out on the local cuisine, especially Espetada and Carne Vinho D’ Alhos!

Whether someone is a more adventurous traveler, a foodie, or enjoys relaxing at a resort near the ocean, Madeira is an incredible place to visit on holiday!