Madeira Island: What to do in this Portuguese paradise

February 18, 2019

by Sara Nóbrega

Madeira Island is considered for the 4h time the World’s Leading Island Destination, so you may pack already your stuff and visit this “Atlantic pearl”, as tourists like to call it. This Portugal’s archipelago is full of breathtaking landscapes, sunny days and loving, caring people. I lived in Madeira Island for 18 years and it still surprises me, as I’m always finding new places to explore.

There are plenty of things you can do on this island paradise and you are probably wondering what to do in Madeira Island. It´s funny because it is not a big island but you never run out of things to do, see and visit. Full of mountain areas, waterfalls, lagoons, small villages, and amazing weather conditions, this place won’t let you stay in bed even on Sundays. I’m certain that you will feel at home as much as I do when I revisit this place. But let’s get into action. What should (must!) you do while visiting Madeira Island?

Nature and Sports

Scuba Diving

Have you ever dreamed of swimming next to the fishes? Or even touching and petting them? Well, you found the right place. Madeira Island has a natural sea reserve in Garajau, Santa Cruz and it is one of the best places to scuba dive. The main species of fish you will find while scuba diving is a grouper and they are so used to people diving there that they come close to you so you can pet them. It is an experience you just won’t forget.

Scuba Diving in Garajau, Madeira Island.

 

Canyoning

What about exploring a stream watercourse in Laurissilva´s forest? This is an activity full of adrenaline and wonder, as you will feel like an authentic explorer of nature. It takes approximately 3 hours to complete the route and you may swim, jump, climb and rappel. All of it combined in one activity, how cool is that? It’s an experience available all times of the year, depending on weather conditions.

Canyoning.

Levada Walks

Madeira is known for its walking routes across the mountains, or “levadas” as it is known on the island. There are more than twenty routes and the majority of them are accessible to anyone. You can’t help feeling amazed by its fantastic views, waterfalls, and lagoons that often stand at the end of the routes. Originally created to carry water from the northern region, today they are walking routes where tourists and locals find the most beautiful spots and hidden views of the island. You can try walking the little ones (4km) or the big ones (22km).

“Levada do Rei” or King’s Levada. Madeira Island

Whale and Dolphin watching

Madeira’s location makes possible to watch dolphins and whales (and sometimes turtles), all times of the year. If you ever dreamed of seeing these majestic beings in their natural habitat, Madeira’s seas are the right place to do it.

Madeira’s best sightseeing

And of course, you must experience the best sightseeings of the island. You can go to the highest peaks like Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo (the highest one), or to the Cabo Girao viewpoint (highest cape in Europe), or to the “Véu da Noiva” (where you can see a waterfall crossing an old road). There are a lot more viewpoints, but honestly, you get a beautiful view of the sea or the mountains anywhere on this island.

The highest peak in Madeira Island: Pico Ruivo

 

Culture and History

Museums

There are some interesting museums you can visit while on your trip, but you can’t miss these: the CR7 Museum (the museum of the world’s greater football player, Cristiano Ronaldo); The Whale Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art (great views from this museum too!) and The Embroidery and Handicrafts Museum (Madeira’s embroidery is known all over the world and it is a very traditional and cultural thing there).

Churches and Chapels

Madeira has a very religious background so you can expect a lot of churches and chapels to visit. You don’t even have to look for them because even in the smaller villages there is some kind of chapel or religious infrastructure you can enter. The most famous one is the Sé Cathedral and the Monte Church, both in Funchal. But there are a lot more, like the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace, Carmo Church…

Monuments

One curious thing about monuments in Madeira is that it has always a history attached to it. You have for example the Tristão Vaz Statue (one of the discoverers of the archipelago), the Statue of Christ-King (with an amazing view as well), the Jesuit’s College… There are also many forts and fortlets, like the Saint James Fortress, remembering back the days when pirates were close to the island. Besides that, there are other interesting places to visit like the Farmer’s Market in Funchal, São Jorge Ruins and São Jorge Watermill.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Statue near CR7 Museum

Farmer’s Market in Funchal, Madeira Island.

Events in Madeira Island

Carnival

Madeira Carnival is one of the most colored times of the year. It is a time of the year with a lot of activities, and you can choose to be a spectator or to participate actively in the festivities. The Carnival season is experienced with joy and in a festive atmosphere all over the island, with street festivities both official and spontaneous. This festival happens in February and/or March.

Flower Festival

Happening at the beginning of May, this festival is a true celebration of Spring and of the abundance of flowers that bloom in that season. Thousands of children and adults dress in the appropriate fashion flock and it is created a mural of flowers in the center of Funchal, containing flowers of all kinds. After that, there is a beautiful flower parade and artists create floral carpets that are exhibited in the streets of the city. If you’re looking for a festival to fill your heart, this one is appropriated for you.

New Year’s Eve

The Guinness World Records attributed to the 8-minute firework show in Madeira Island the “Greatest Fireworks Show in the World”. Known as one of the most beautiful and memorable New Year’s Eve in the world, the city of Funchal is crowded with tourists who cross the world to experience this breathtaking show. You can even watch it on a cruise, or simply in the center of Funchal. With more than 30 stations of launch, the city bay transforms into a giant amphitheater of firework.

 

Sara Nóbrega

By Sara Nóbrega

Hi there! I'm Sara and I currently live in Lisbon, Portugal. I love going to new places, learning languages and meeting locals from the places I visit. When I travel, I like learning about the history of that place, the people, the costumes, the tradition... so I can share with others. I'm always looking for things that can open my mind and heart.

Read more at saranobrega.com

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