Portugal

Best things to see and do in Madeira


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Madeira is the main island of a small group of Portuguese islands (confusingly, also called Madeira) sitting in the Atlantic Ocean. With plenty of direct flights from the UK and beyond, as well as some beautiful videos showing up on Instagram, Madeira is fast gaining popularity as Europe’s alternative to Hawaii. It’s not hard to see why. With its steep high cliffs leading down into the ocean, the landscapes across the island are simply stunning. Hiking is certainly the main draw of Madeira, but even if you aren’t an avid hiker there are still plenty of other things to see and do on the island.


1. Hike the spectacular Pico to Pico trail

Madeira is famous for having beautiful hiking trails but the PR1 trail from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo is considered one of the best.

The hike takes you on an amazing 7km trail between the two highest peaks of Madeira – Pico Ruivo at 1,862 m and Pico do Areeiro at 1,818 m. It winds its way around and sometimes through (via narrow dark tunnels) the cliffs. Although it’s not the longest hike distance-wise, it is one of the hardest as the trail is constantly up and down with very few flat sections. Plus, unless you take a tour or organise a taxi back to the parking lot, you’ll have to hike there and back again. But whilst the hike certainly isn’t easy, the views more than makeup for it. They are simply incredible!

Its popularity does mean that the Pico to Pico trail is one of the busiest on the island. For this reason, most people start the hike early, either watching the sunrise from Miradouro do Juncal near the car park or along the first section of the trail. However, the sunrise can cause a lot of people to start the hike all at exactly the same time, so we’d actually recommend starting later in the day if you want to avoid the main crowds.

Pico do Areeiro
Landscape views – Photo © Dziewul | Dreamstime.com
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2. Hike to Pico Grande

If you’re looking for a challenging but less busy hike whilst in Madeira than the hike to Pico Grande is perfect.

The trail starts at the Boca da Corrida Viewpoint and initially follows the PR12 Caminho Real da Encumeada trail. This trail is not one of the most popular and so doesn’t get that busy. But in any case, after about 3.5km you’ll leave the PR12 trail and follow a 1.2km steep uphill path to the top of Pico Grande. The turn off isn’t marked so you’ll need to use an offline maps application to find it, but it’s for this reason that Pico Grande remains one of the more unknown peaks of Madeira even though it’s one of the best!

This final 1.2km is hard! It’s a 400m ascent with the last 100m being a vertical climb using ropes up to the top of a huge rock. It’s really worth it though, with amazing panoramic views from the top. The landscape is stunning!

Pico Grande landscapes
Pico Grande hike – Photo © Dorinmarius | Dreamstime.com

3. Swim in the natural pools

If you want to have some time relaxing or simply want to cool off after a long hike, then head to some of the natural pools along the coast. Piscinas Naturais do Seixal one of the options and is found in the small town of Seixal on the north coast of the island, these natural pools are separated from the sea by natural rock barriers, meaning that you have the same natural experience of being in the sea (rather than an artificial pool), but with calmer and warmer water.

You’ll need to park in Seixal town then make a short but steep walk down to the pools, but they’re a great and a totally free activity in Madeira.

Another spot is in Porto Moniz where you’ll find even more places to swim in natural pools such as below.

Natural swimming pools in Madeira
Porto Moniz Pools – Photo © SimonDannhauer | Dreamstime.com
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4. Relax on a Black Sand Beach

Praia do Porto do Seixal (Seixal Beach) is a black sand beach on the north of Madeira. It is popular for being one of the most picturesque beaches on the island. The black sand and deep blue water with the imposing cliffs directly behind are very photogenic. Especially when you add in the little waterfall at the south end of the beach which falls directly onto the sand.

Spend your days here relaxing on the beach and swimming in the sea. If you want a break from the sun, there’s a nice seafront cafe just behind the beach which does food and drinks for very reasonable prices given its location.

Both here and the natural pools are located in the small town of Seixal so can be combined if you want a relaxing day.

Seixal Beach
Black sand beach – Photo © Eugenesergeev | Dreamstime.com

5. Hike to the tip of the island

Right at the northeast tip of Madeira on a long thin stretch of land jutting out into the sea you’ll find Miradouro Ponta do Furado.

To reach here you’ll need to hike trail PR8 Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço. The trail is about 6km long (including return) and pretty easy, with just the final 100m or so being a steep uphill to the Miradouro. Once there you’ll discover amazing views out to the sea and even better views looking back to the mainland. It’s beautiful and probably one of the best hikes in terms of effort and reward ratio.

The trail is very open and exposed so if it’s a sunny day then make sure to wear sunscreen and bring lots of water. Alternatively, head up at sunrise or sunset to see either the sunrise over the ocean or the sunset over the mountains of the mainland. The latter is likely to be a lot less busy than other times of the day, but make sure to bring a torch for the hike back in the dark.

Ponta de Sao Lourenco hiking
Miradouro Ponta do Furado – Photo © Dziewul | Dreamstime.com

6. Watch sunset from the highest mountain in Madeira

Pico Ruivo is the highest peak on Madeira at 1,862 m. It’s usually visited as the finale of the PR1 trail from Pico Do Arieiro, however, there is a shorter and less difficult trail that will take you to the top, which is perfect if you want to head up here for sunrise or sunset.

You’ll need to park at Achada do Teixeira and then take the PR1.2 trail to reach the peak. This trail is only 2.8km (about half the length of the PR1 trail) and so you should be able to reach the top in about an hour depending on how fast you walk.

Watching the sunset from up here is simply incredible. It’s hard to describe how amazing it is to watch the sunset from above the clouds. Make watching the sunset from the top of Pico Ruivo a must-do on your trip to Madeira, and you may just see the best sunset of your life.

Pico Ruivo at sunset
Sunset from Pico Ruivo – Photo © Radek Sklenicka | Dreamstime.com

7. Take the steep cable car

On the east side of the island you’ll find Teleférico das Achadas da Cruz, a steep cable car that quite literally transports you down the cliffs to the beach down below.

The views from the top of the Teleférico are stunning and at the bottom you’ll find a pretty coastal walk where you’ll pass pebble beaches and beautiful blue water. It’s certainly not a beach for swimming though, the waves here are big and strong. But the walk is flat and not too long, meaning it’s a nice activity if you’re looking to see some more of the island without doing a strenuous hike.

Achadas da Cruz cable car
Cable Car – Photo © Jacek Sopotnicki | Dreamstime.com

8. Explore Funchal

Funchal on the south coast of the island is the capital city of Madeira. Although the highlights of Madeira are undoubtedly its nature and scenery, it’s still worth spending a day exploring Funchal while you’re here.

The best way is simply to stroll around the town, making sure to stop by Funchal Cathedral and The Church of Saint John the Evangelist in the centre. Walk along the coast and also through Zona Velha (Downtown), with its narrow cobblestone streets lined with restaurants and bars.

Funchal is full of many good restaurants, mostly serving fresh seafood and traditional dishes like scabbard fish with banana, which sounds strange but is a Madeira speciality. If you’re looking for a more higher-end gastronomic experience, then book a table at Akua or Kampo, two restaurants owned by the famous Portuguese chef, Julio Pereira. They’re slightly more expensive than your local restaurant in Madeira but the food is simply divine and worth every penny.

Funchal in Madeira
Funchal – Photo © Mfron | Dreamstime.com
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9. Hike around the cliffs

A relatively easy hike but with beautiful coastal views is the Vereda do Larano trail to Boca do Risco viewpoint.

The hike starts at the now defunct Teleférico do Larano and from here follows the coast all the way along to the viewpoint. You’ll be walking on a spectacular trail around the edge of the cliffs with beautiful sea views the entire time.

Although the hike is flat, it’s still 5km one way, so pretty long. Make sure to take a packed lunch which you can eat at Boca do Risco whilst admiring the view.

10. Visit the beautiful waterfall of Caldeirão Verde

Madeira is known for its levadas, which are like mini canals used as irrigation systems to distribute water from heavy rains and from the wetter regions of the north of the island to the drier regions on the south of the island. Madeira actually has over 2000 kilometres of levadas and so unsurprisingly there are many hiking trails which follow them, but PR9 Levada do Caldeirão Verde is one of the best.

The hike starts at the Queimadas car park and takes you on a trail along the levadas until you finally reach the stunning 100m high waterfall of Caldeirão Verde. It’s a long trail but mostly flat and so not too difficult. Just note that the trail is mainly through the forest and so it can be very muddy. There are also some very small and narrow tunnels that you’ll need to go through so a headlamp could come in handy.

Caldeirao Verde
Caldeirão Verde Waterfall – Photo © Michal Balada | Dreamstime.com

Summary

The scenery of Madeira is simply stunning and unlike anywhere else in Europe. If you want to see gorgeous landscapes and especially if you enjoy hiking, Madeira is the perfect destination. When visiting add some of these best things to do in Madeira to your itinerary to ensure you see some of the best that this island has to offer.


Tours and activities for Madeira

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Author

Written by

Sophie Small

Sophie has been travelling around the world since September 2019. Originally from London, she lived and worked in Vietnam for 4 years before deciding to pursue her passion for full time travel. She loves exploring new destinations, adventure activities and sampling local cuisine. Sophie has travelled all over Central and South America, Asia, Europe and many other regions. She shares her pictures on her Instagram and her portfolio sophiesmall.contently.com. [Read full bio]

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