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The Top 10 Things To Do in Madeira, Portugal

February 28, 2024

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Madeira, the largest island in Portugal, is a truly magical destination. It’s a volcanic island known for its rugged cliffs, incredible hiking trails, coastal views, amazing wine and mild, subtropical climate.

People visit Madeira for many reasons, but in my opinion, hiking should be top. The island has some of the most rewarding and epic hiking trails in the world. Most famously, the PR1 trail manages to combine steep cliffs, tunnels, the highest point on the island and some of the best views I’ve seen. In addition to hiking, outdoor adventurers can enjoy canyoneering, swimming and scenic views throughout the island.

Along with the epic outdoor activities, Madeira and its main city of Funchal offer beautiful gardens, unique forms of transportation, delicious restaurants, resorts with waterfront views and more.

This guide includes some of the best hikes on Madeira and many of the best things to do when you visit. It is based on my experience visiting Madeira in November 2023.

When To Visit Madeira

Madeira is unique in that it can be enjoyed year round! The peak season for visiting is in the summer, which is also a great time to take advantage of the swimming areas across the island. However, the summer also brings large crowds and higher prices.

November to February is the rainiest time of year, and thunderstorms are common. This means you’re more likely to experience fog on popular trails such as PR1. However, it’s a quieter time of year where you’ll get to enjoy fewer crowds and lower prices.

That means that Spring and Fall offer that “sweet spot” where you’ll have mild temperatures and it won’t be too crowded. However, you really can’t go wrong visiting any time of year.

I visited at the end of November and while it was a little rainy on some days, I had plenty of clear days too. I thought it was a wonderful time to visit Madeira!

Lydia standing and looking out mountains around sunrise on the PR1 trail.A view of jagged mountain peaks from the PR1 trail in Madeira.

How To Get To Madeira

Madeira is located 600 miles (1000 km) off of the coast of mainland Portugal, so the only way to reach it is via boat or plane. Madeira is a popular cruise destination, so visiting that way is certainly an option.

These are some of the best cruises that include stops in Madeira.

However, you’ll need to fly if you want to spend multiple days exploring the island, hiking and immersing yourself. I flew in and out of Lisbon and it was an easy flight.

Looking out at the ocean at sunrise. The sky and water is glowing pink.
Sunrise from the Cliff Bay Hotel in Madeira

Getting Around Madeira

There are a few ways to get around Madeira. You can travel by bus using the Madeira public transportation system. You can travel by taxi and use the Bolt app for rideshare. Or you can rent a car and drive yourself.

A tiny rental car parked on a street in Madeira.A view of driving in Madeira. The road is surrounded by tall, green mountains.
Driving in Madeira

I personally recommend renting a car in Madeira if you want to do hikes and other activities around the island on your own. However, I recommend it with a few warnings.

Many of the roads on the island of Madeira and the city Funchal are VERY steep. Plus, it is much more common and affordable to rent a manual transmission vehicle. If you’re uncomfortable driving on steep roads, I would avoid it.

Tip: From the research I’ve done, automatic cars tend to be about 3 times more expensive than manual cars. You can easily compare prices and options at

If you’re uncomfortable driving, you can still have a great trip by using taxis, hiring tours with hotel pick ups and using the bus when needed.

The 10 Best Things To Do in Madeira, Portugal

These are a few of the best things to do in Madeira - from hiking trails to canyoneering to exploring the city of Funchal!

1. Go Hiking in Madeira

Madeira has some of my favorite hikes in the world! From hiking along jagged mountain peaks to walking along the coast to navigating through tunnels, the trails here are truly incredible.

Please remember to leave no trace when you visit! I saw an alarming amount of toilet paper along the popular trails. Please pack out all trash, stay on the trails, do not feed wildlife and respect those around you.

I always like to use All Trails to read recent reviews and navigate while I’m hiking. The premium version allows you to download the trail offline, so that you won’t get lost if you lose service (and you can save money on an international data plan).

Below are what I think are some of the best hikes in Madeira!

Hike PR1 to Pico Ruivo

Lydia looking out at the view of mountains on the PR1 Trail. She wears a light purple coat and holds trekking poles.Lydia hiking away on the PR1 trail. There are steep drop offs on both sides of the trail.
Hiking PR1

This is the most famous trail in Madeira for good reason. Beginning from Pico do Arieiro, you will walk along the spine of the mountains. There are some narrow points where you’ll have extreme drop offs on both sides. There are also many steps and some areas that are quite steep. This is not the trail for you if you’re very afraid of heights.

But if you’re comfortable with the drop offs, this trail offers jaw-dropping views! Not only are there mountains in all directions, but the surrounding scenery is so lush and green.

I started this hike at sunrise, which I definitely recommend. The sunrise lighting was gorgeous and this helped me beat a lot of the crowds that came later in the day.

A trail with a railing following along the edge of a mountain
The PR1 Trail

Tip: There is a paid bathroom, restaurant and shop at the trailhead. However, it was not yet open when I started the trail before sunrise.

If you’re interested in seeing the incredible steps and the most dramatic mountains, you may only want to hike the first mile of the trail and then turn back. While I think the entire trail from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo was incredible, this was the best part.

If you decide to keep going, make sure you’re prepared. This is a difficult hike with a ton of elevation (3,654 feet). Make sure you have plenty of water, snacks and the other 10 essentials for hiking. I also recommend trekking poles.

In addition to endless views, the trail has several tunnels, which are very unique. Some of them are long, so it’s beneficial to have a flashlight or a headlamp on you. The trail is also on cliff edges for pretty much the entire journey. Luckily, there are ropes/handrails, which made me feel much safer.

Lydia looking at the view of mountains and clouds from the top of Pico RuivoLooking down at the inn from the top of Pico Ruivo
Views from Pico Ruivo

Pico Ruivo is the highest point on the island of Madeira and you’ll get to take in 360-views from the top. Plus, there is a hostel and cafe right below the peak, so you can purchase food or drinks. There is also a bathroom. The reward at the top is worth the climb!

It’s also worth noting that there are other routes to reach Pico Ruivo that are shorter than hiking from Pico do Arieiro. The shortest route is 3.7 miles on the PR1.2 trail. This is a great option if you’re short on time! Some visitors will also hike a one way route and use a taxi or bus to get back to where they started. (the two trailheads are an hour apart).

Overall, this incredibly beautiful hike is well worth it for hikers. It’s one of my favorite hikes of all-time!

Hike the Boca do Risco Coastal Trail

Lydia sitting and looking at the view of the water and coast from the Boca do Risco TrailMountains along the edge of the water covered in green trees.
Boca do Risco Coastal Trail

The Boca do Risco coastal trail is built along the edge of a cliff and follows along the ocean. You’ll have many opportunities to admire the water down below!

I hiked 5.7 miles round-trip, starting at Miradouro do Teleférico and turning around at Vereda do Larano. In my opinion, the best views were in the middle of the trail. This was where the ledges were the most narrow and you had the best view of looking at the water and the mountains in both directions. So, you could hike a shorter portion if you’re short on time.

While I felt that this was not nearly as exposed as PR1, there were still plenty of areas where you’re close to the cliff edge. This is probably not the trail for you if you’re very afraid of heights.

In addition to the cliff edge views, some portions of the trail are shaded, and you can see a couple waterfalls next to the trail.

Tip: Go early to beat the crowds. Passing others coming in the opposite directions can be annoying in the narrow areas.

Hike PR8 Ponta de Sao Lourenco

Lydia sitting and looking out at the view from Ponta de Sao LourencoA few pointy rock formations seen from the PR8 trail
Ponta de Sao Lourenco

The PR8 Trail - Ponta de Sao Lourenco - is another must-do hike in Madeira. The hiking trail follows along the spine of a peninsula that reaches out into the ocean. There are ocean views the entire time, plus several views of dramatic, red rock formations sticking out of the water. The dramatic landscape is well worth the hike.

Tip: There is a one euro fee to hike this trail and you’ll need to pay online.

The trail is moderate with multiple ups and downs throughout. You’ll certainly get a nice workout in. When you’re close to the final viewpoint, there is actually a cafe that sells food and drinks, and it has a restroom you can use for a fee. Plus, they offer boat tours that end back near the parking lot if you don’t want to hike back!

The final bit of the trail is the hardest, when you’ll climb up a steep area to reach an epic view looking down at rocky islands and a lighthouse in the distance. It’s worth the effort!

This trail gets super crowded, so I recommend going early to beat the crowds. However, it’s incredibly rewarding either way!

Hike PR11 Vereda dos Balcoes

Lydia looking at the view of mountains from the Vereda dos Balcoes trailLydia looking up at canyon walls during a narrow part of the PR8 trail.
Vereda dos Balcoes

PR11 to Vereda dos Balcoes is a short trail that makes a great addition to a road trip around Madeira! The trail is 1.8 miles round trip, is quite wide and has a small and gradual incline. There is even a snack bar along the way.

The trail leads to a stunning viewpoint overlooking a large valley and the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, you will also be able to see the ocean in the distance.

This is a great easy hike in Madeira that is fun for all ages!

More Amazing Hiking Trails in Madeira

There are so many trails in Madeira - these trails are high on my list for my next visit!

2. Go Canyoneering

If you’re adventurous, canyoneering is such a fun experience to have in Madeira! It was my first time canyoneering and I had a fantastic time.

Lydia and Joe standing in front of a waterfall wearing wet suits while canyoneering in MadeiraLydia rapelling down a waterfall in Madeira
Canyoneering in Madeira

I went with Harmony in Nature, booked via Viator. Being that it was the off season, my husband and I were the only ones on our tour! We got suited up in wetsuits, helmets, special shoes and a harness, and started making our way down the river. We rappelled down multiple waterfalls, and navigated over river rocks on the way. Plus, we had a chance to slide down a waterfall, make a couple of jumps, and more. It was so much fun!

During my tour, I learned how incredible Madeira is for canyoneering. There are lots of opportunities to rappel down waterfalls all over the island. Of course, this beginner route was one of the easiest places to do it, but there are many more options for those who are more advanced.

I highly recommend adding this to your Madeira itinerary - it’s sure to be a memorable adventure!

3. Ride the Cable Car and Visit Monte Palace Gardens

The Funchal Cable Car and a visit to the Monte Palace Gardens at the top is one of the best things to do in Madeira! The cable car provides some incredible views and allows you to admire the city from above.

A view of houses and buildings from the Funchal Cable CarLooking up at a cable car going by in Funchal
Funchal Cable Car

When you reach the top, the Monte Palace Gardens are located right next door. They span about 70,000 square meters, so you can easily spend hours exploring. There are ponds, sculptures, greenery, indoor exhibits, waterfalls and more. A couple highlights included the lake surrounded by stone pathways, the exhibit on minerals and the many ceramic tiles throughout the gardens.

There are a lot of steps located all over the gardens, but there is a free golf cart service that can transport those who have difficulty walking to certain areas.

A pond with koi fish and Japanese architecture in the Monte Palace GardensLydia walking along a path next to water in the Monte Palace Gardens
Monte Palace Gardens

At the bottom of the gardens, you can enjoy a view overlooking the city of Funchal. There are endless photo opportunities and so much to discover throughout the gardens. This spot should absolutely be on your Madeira itinerary!

4. Ride in a Wicker Basket Down a Steep Hill

You can take advantage of an extremely unique form of transportation after exploring the Monte Palace Gardens - being pushed down a hill in a wicker basket! The Monte Toboggan Sledges first originated in the early 19th century and were used as a means of transportation for locals. Today, this is a popular tourist activity in the area.

Looking out at a steep road from the Wicker Basket ridePeople being pushed in a wicker basket on a steep road.
The Monte Toboggan Ride

You’ll be pushed down a steep hill by two men wearing straw hats and rubber shoes. There are beautiful views as you wind through the narrow streets. Keep in mind that this is an active road, so there may also be cars passing you.

The experience takes about 7 minutes and costs 35 euros in cash plus tip (in 2023). It’s definitely touristy, but I’d say it’s worth doing once!

Keep in mind that this does not get you back to where the cable car started. You will either want to take a taxi or take a long, steep walk to return back to the main area of Funchal.

5. Swim Where the Ocean Meets the Pool

The Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools need to be on your Madiera list if you’re visiting in the summer, or if you don’t mind swimming in cooler temps. These pools are intermixed with volcanic rock formations and they reminded me of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland (without the hot water).

A swimming area surrounded by patches of black, volcanic rocks
Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools

You can also find a nice swimming area next to the ocean in Funchal at Complexo Balnear da Barreirinha, but I highly recommend making the trip to Porto Moniz to see the volcanic rocks.

6. Enjoy a Scenic View (No hiking required)

There are several stunning viewpoints all over the island. If you have a rental car, it’s easy to discover them. Many are labeled as viewpoints on Google Maps, so it’s fun to see what you can discover just by exploring the map!

Looking at layers of mountains on the water as the sun setsAdmiring greenery up close and mountains in the distance as the sun sets over the ocean
Miradouro do Ponta da Ladeira

On the Northwest side of the Island, there are some amazing views in and near Porto Moniz. I recommend checking out Miradouro do Ponta da Ladeira and Ponta do Tristão. Both are roadside stops in quiet areas, and have trailheads if you want to explore further. Since they are located on the west side of the island, these spots are perfect for sunset!

On the east side of the island, Miradouro do Pico do Facho is another beautiful viewpoint. You can see the Cristiano Ronaldo Airport from here, so it’s a fun place for planespotting. Plus, there are picnic tables and a snack shack up here.

There are many more viewpoints all over the island and it’s fun to get off the beaten path and see what you can find.

7. See the Art Doors in Funchal

A door painted with colorful abstract art.Looking up at a balcony with a cat painted on the building.
Art Doors in Funchal

It’s worth taking a walk down Rua de Santa Maria during your time in Funchal. The street is lined with about 200 colorful, painted doors on restaurants, houses, businesses and more. The street is lined with places to eat and close to the Socorro Viewpoint, which offers a great view of the swimming area down below.

8. Visit the Funchal Farmers Market, or take a Food Tour

The Funchal Farmers Market is a fun place to visit if you’re interested in trying local fruits when you visit Madeira. The market first opened in 1940 and is a colorful place to immerse yourself in the local area.

A stand full of colorful fruits at the Funchal Farmers MarketThe courtyard space in the Funchal Farmers Market
Funchal Farmers Market

A few fruits that you might want to try in Madeira include the Anora or custard apple, passion fruit, guava, bananas and pitangos.

A food tour is also a great way to try the exotic fruits and learn about the history and culture of Madeira from a local guide. This food and wine tour includes a visit to the Farmer’s Market!

9. Stay at the Cliff Bay Hotel

I had an amazing experience staying at the Cliff Bay Hotel in Madeira. It’s more on the luxurious side, but not all-inclusive. This was my honeymoon, so we wanted a nicer place to return to after days full of hiking, rappelling and exploring.

A cheers with two glasses of passion fruit juice on a balcony of the Cliff Bay HotelTwo pool chairs under an umbrella in a secluded and tucked away area at the Cliff Bay Hotel
Cliff Bay Hotel

The Cliff Bay Hotel is one of my favorite hotels to date! Not only do the rooms offer incredible views of the ocean and Funchal Bay, but the hotel has some great amenities. There are indoor and outdoor pool areas, a spa and multiple restaurants onsite.

I especially loved the outdoor pool area positioned below the cliffs. Situated along the cliffs in front of the hill, there is tons of greenery and flowers. You’ll find palm trees, beautiful volcanic rocks, pops of color from the flowers and lizards scattering around. Plus, there are some secluded areas with beach chairs and umbrellas. It’s the perfect place to relax after a challenging hike!

This hotel is fantastic if you’re looking for something a bit luxurious and very unique. You can also get much more affordable rates by visiting outside of peak times!

When it comes to where to stay in Madeira, Funchal is the largest city and offers the most options. I highly recommend the Cliff Bay Hotel, but there are many other fantastic hotels as well. A few more to look at include Hotel Porto Santa Maria, Pestana CR7 Funchal and TURIM Santa Maria Hotel.

10. Eat Delicious Food in Madeira

If you’re wondering the best places to eat in Madeira, there are many places to choose from! However, as a vegetarian, there were a couple places that really stood out: Terra Food Concept and MadMarket Restaurante.

A plate with two round veggies covered in cheese, topped with flowers and surrounded by sauce. There is also rice and a meat dish on the table.
Terra Food Concept
A plate of mushroom curry and rice next to a salad at MadMarket
MadMarket Restaurante

Terra Food Concept offers a unique and innovative menu that draws inspiration from all over the world. The menu changes with the seasons and is vegan friendly!

I loved the Sahara Oasis, which is inspired by a traditional Egyptian dish, while my husband enjoyed a Peruvian stir-fry. We also loved the Levant cauliflower dish. Not only was the food great, but the cocktail menu was incredible too. Terra is located in the heart of downtown Funchal and has both indoor and outdoor seating, and the service was top notch. If you’re a foodie, a vegetarian or vegan, or just love unique menus, I can’t recommend this spot enough!

MadMarket Restaurante is unassuming - it’s actually located inside of a shopping mall. The menu has a lot of traditional Portuguese dishes, but with a twist. They also have vegetarian options and use locally sourced ingredients. Plus, the restaurant doubles as a wine market, so they have a fantastic wine selection available. I really enjoyed the mushroom curry and the cheese plate as an appetizer.

FAQs for Visiting Madeira

How many days in Madeira is enough?

If you like hiking, I recommend spending at least 2-3 days so that you can enjoy a couple different trails along with other activities! But ideally, I recommend that everyone spend 5 or more days to get a nice taste of the island and enjoy a variety of what it has to offer.

Is Madeira worth visiting?

100% yes! From the incredible trails to the scenic views to the steep hills, Madeira is very much worth exploring. Travelers will love the lush greenery, the mild weather and the ocean views, along with the epic outdoor adventures such as hiking and canyoneering.

Looking down at the city of Funchal and the ocean from the Monte Palace Gardens.
The View from Monte Palace Gardens

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re spending a day or two, or a week or longer, I hope this helps you plan the perfect trip! The volcanic island is full of so much beauty and you’re sure to be in awe whether you hit the hardest trails or hang out by the pool. Madeira makes for an unforgettable getaway and should certainly be on your European bucket list.

For More Europeon Travel Guides, check out these articles:

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