Madeira is the island of eternal spring, as you can experience pleasant temperatures all year round, thanks to its subtropical climate. The island is also often referred to as the “Hawaii of Europe“, as its exotic plants, tropical fruits, steep cliff edges, beautiful coastline and several waterfalls remind people of the landscape in Hawaii for a good reason.
Madeira, belonging to Portugal, is best explored by car because public transport is not the best on the island. However, please be careful and only rent a car if you are a confident driver! The island is very mountainous, which means that there are several narrow and steep roads and lots of bridges and tunnels. Hiking in Madeira is the most popular activity.
The levada walks are perfect to explore the island’s hidden gems. These are Madeira’s irrigation system, which were built to get the water from the island’s wet, north side to the drier, south side. Nowadays, they attract outdoor lover tourists and locals as well. Here are the TOP 10 things to do in Madeira!
1. Hike Pico do Arieiro – Pico Ruivo
This hike, which connects the two highest points of the island, is probably the most exciting and scenic in Madeira. The return hike is 14 km and it should take 6-8 hours. It is a fantastic experience to walk above the clouds. Along the way, you will encounter many amazing views.
I don’t recommend this trail for people with vertigo, as there are many narrow sections, often right next to the cliff edge. Check out here the rates for a guided hike. You should have good hiking boots, hiking poles and a torch with you, as the trail will lead through some dark tunnels. The trail is physically demanding and I only recommend it to people who hike regularly.
I would also suggest having a “personal locator beacon” for emergencies if you are doing the hike on your own. However, anyone can experience the views from the top, as there is a parking lot just a short walk away at both Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro.
2. Hike 25 Fontes
One of the most scenic Levada walks is 25 Fontes, which means 25 springs. You can park your car next to the town of Rabacal. From here, you can use a minibus to the start of the walk, or simply take a 20-minute walk down the road. The trail to the waterfall is well signposted. While I thought our main destination, the 25 Fontes, was beautiful, I really enjoyed the trail leading there as well.
There was something romantic about walking next to the canal early in the morning when most tourists were still in bed. The hike is a 9 km round trip if you don’t count the section from the parking lot to the start of the walk, which can be done by the minibus. If you’re doing this for the first 100 times, it’s okay to book a guided hike. It’s always safer to hike with a guide than without.
If you’re doing it on your own, the bus journey costs 3 € one way and 5 € return. I suggest taking the bus on the way back, as walking up the last section can be exhausting and not particularly interesting.
3. Enjoy the views at Ponta de São Lourenço
The peninsula reaches into the ocean for 8 km on the eastern side of Madeira. It is quite common that while other parts of the island experience rain, you can enjoy beautiful sunshine at Ponta de São Lourenço. There is a huge car park at the beginning of the 7 km hiking trail.
The terrain is mostly quite easy, and it is suitable for families with children as well. However, be prepared to combat strong winds! During the whole hike, we enjoyed fantastic scenery: steep cliff edges, small islands and bare rocks in many different colors. The views are some of the favorite tourist attractions in Madeira.
4. Have a swim or sunbath at Calheta Beach
Madeira isn’t famous for its beaches. They’re not as famous as the many beautiful beaches in Malaga, Spain. However, if you like sunbathing and going for a swim, don’t miss Calheta! This sandy beach is the locals’ favourite. Even on our trip in March, there were many people in the water. Also a lovely place for a paddle in an “inflatable kayak.”
There are many restaurants on the beach as well and you can go on whale and dolphin watching boat trips from the port. It’s definitely an exciting thing to do in Madeira.
5. Walk through the fairy tale village of Santana
Visiting the traditional huts of Santana is like being in a fairy tale. These thatched roof, triangle huts can be visited free of charge. You can have a peek into the history of Madeira and how the local people lived. The old town of Santana is one of the top attractions of Madeira Island. There are only 5 huts here, each selling different handmade crafts inside.
If you would like to see more of these buildings and learn about the history, traditions, and daily life of the locals, I suggest visiting Parque Temático da Madeira.
They charge a small entrance fee, but there are many interesting exhibitions and a lot of them are suitable for children.
6. Visit the rock pools in Porto Moniz
Porto Moniz is famous for its lava rock pools. There is a parking lot, toilets, changing rooms, showers, and steps to the pools. You will need to pay a small fee to enter. The rock pools can only be used in good weather as otherwise, it would be too dangerous.
On windy days, the huge waves crashing into the pool offer an amazing sight. Check here the rates for a guided tour to Porto Moniz.
There are several wilder rock pools located next to the ocean as well, which are free to visit. These pools have a special atmosphere and even though the water temperature is quite cold, going for a swim here is a fun adventure and unique experience.
7. Find the hidden rock pool in Seixal
8 km from Porto Moniz, you will find the town of Seixal, where you can find more lava rock pools. These are less known, so you can have the whole place to yourselves.
Great chance to cross off skinny dipping from your bucket list! From the parking lot, you will need to walk 300 m down a steep road to reach the hidden rock pools.
On windy days, going for a swim here can be fatal! However, in nice calm weather, going for a swim in these natural pools with amazing views can be a fantastic watersport experience.
This is one of the top non-touristy things to do in Madeira.
8. Conquer your fears at Cabo Girão
Not far from Funchal, is located this viewing platform, which provides a great opportunity to photograph the island’s coastline. A big parking lot, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and toilets wait for the visitors.
This viewing platform is unique because of its glass floor. This provides a scary environment as you stare down to the abyss 580 m below you. Check here the rates for discovering Cabo Girão.
When in Funchal, Madeira, you should definitely include the Madeira Botanical Garden and Madeira Story Centre in your itinerary. Both are great places to learn more about the history of Madeira and its tropical gardens.
9. Visit Garganta Funda
This waterfall is not very well known among tourists. There is a very narrow, windy road, which leads here. However, this place is certainly worth a visit. At the end of the windy road, there is some place to park for a few cars, but this is not a proper parking lot.
From here, you will reach the viewing platform after a 600 m walk. The terrain is easy and can be done in trainers as well.
From the viewing platform, you will be able to see the waterfall, the Atlantic Ocean and the Ponta do Pargo lighthouse. In the hot summer months, the waterfall dries out completely, so there is no point visiting this place at that time.
10. Enjoy the views at Bridal Veil Falls
If you are on the north side of the island, don’t miss the viewing platform for Miradouro do Veu da Noiva. You will experience great views to the Atlantic Ocean, the coastline, and of course the Bridal Veil Falls, which falls straight into the Ocean and which is a very unique sight. Enjoying these views is some of the best free things to do in Madeira.
About the author, Eniko of Travel Hacker Girl
Eniko is a 25-year old Hungarian girl, who lived in 5 countries. She is now based in London and works as a full-time nanny. She spends her weekends exploring the UK, but also has a few bigger trips every year, mainly in Europe. She loves the outdoors and encourages people to have an active holiday.
Her blog Travel Hacker Girl is mainly focused on bucket list experiences and outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, kayaking and camping. She travels with her boyfriend Tom, who is great at landscape photography. Find her on Instagram at Travel Hacker Girl.