Free Travel Guide To Madeira
Great places to eat, see, drink and enjoy – tips from a local!
(I did this guide once for a friend of a friend that came to Madeira for the first time, a few months ago. It was based on my personal preferences. I’ve decided to share it on the blog so that you can use it and share it as an extra help to planning your stay. Hope you enjoy it and find it useful. )
If you’re coming to Funchal, you should allow yourself at least 3 nights stay.
There’s so much to see, taste and enjoy, you’ll leave with the will to come back for more, or at least I hope you do, with my tips 🙂
If you want to explore the full Island then come for at least 6 nights and rent a car to make the most of your time.
(If you don’t like driving then there are also many tours available. You can book them directly at your hotel or online .
There are many taxi drivers that do private tours, north coast tours are one of the most popular, you can ask for prices in the tourism office as well).
If you’re a beach lover, please include a day trip or a night stay in Porto Santo Island, in one word: Paradise!
(Notice: in Madeira Island you’ll find rocks “calhau” or black sand which is beautiful, unique and typical of its volcanic origin, although might not be very comfortable to reach water, that’s why in most beaches, there are piers with ladders to the sea)
But before we start, there’s 3 things you should know about Madeira:
- First, we love tourists and we’re used to having their company all year, so most people speak a foreign language, mostly English.
- Second, don’t trust the weather. It could be a sunny day in Funchal and raining in the West part of the Island. We are a tropical Island and we can reach 500 mt above sea level in 30′ drive which means it gets colder up there and although we’re very close to Africa , we can have all seasons in one day. ” Carry a jacket, just in case”
- Third, be prepared to relax.Whether it’s the climate, the sea, the friendly people, the food, the wine or the natural beauty. Don’t pack too many attractions in one day, and please don’t go all around the Island in one day. The roads are full of curves, you ll get car sickness! I´ll try to be more convincing by telling you a secret, I live here for over 30 years and there are places I’ve never been, so keep this in your mind while planning your stay; just because it’s an Island doesn’t mean you have to see it all this time.
Madeira is a unique place to be discovered, be ready!
Where to Sleep:
Depending on your budget and the kind of experience you’re looking for, there are many options from luxury to budget. I leave you with a few of my favourites:
Porto Bay Hotels (award winner hotels, ratings are top! Porto Mare hotel is one of my favourites, love the swimming pools, garden and spa, and excellent customer service. They also have a great Italian restaurant called Basilico and it’s right in front of the sea)
Choupana Hills (beautiful bungalows, great spa and restaurant, up in the hills like a little hideaway secret, surrounded by trees, and beautiful views of Funchal)
The Vine Hotel (amazing design by the internationally acclaimed madeiran designer Nini Andrade Silva with the best rooftop terrace with swimming pool I’ve ever seen! Great location in town)
Reid’s Palace, the most famous hotel in Madeira, try the afternoon tea in the balcony for a taste of luxury and go back in time for how the first tourists experienced Madeira.
Fajã dos Padres, beautiful, peaceful, unique place. Little houses by the beach, in a spot that can only be reached by boat or elevator, 20 minutes away from Funchal by car. If you’re looking for a place to escape and disconnect from the world…this is it.
If you’re looking for apartments to rent check this article.
Some tips outside Funchal:
Estalagem da Ponta do Sol and its infinity pool
- In the North west coast check: Solar da Bica review, we loved it.
- In the South east coast check: Casa da Baleia
- In the North east Coast check: Quinta do Arco
Where to eat:
Remember these words (or print them :)) “Bolo do caco” typical bread with garlic butter, “Brisa Maracuja“passion fruit, local fizzy drink, “Coral”, local beer, very good, “poncha” strong but deliciously sweet alcoholic drink, try the flavour passion fruit, “milho frito”, fried corn in little cubes, “lapas”, limpets, “bolo e broas de mel“, honey cake and biscuits, “rebucados de funcho” fennel sweets and “queijada“, cottage cheese cake , they sell in coffee shops (I like the one from Penha d’ ‘aguia) If you’re not vegetarian, you can also try “espetada” cow meat on a stick, “peixe espada“sword fish, and “bife de atum” tuna steak with a typical sauce (I’ve just told you the most typical traditional food and drinks of Madeira, without forgetting, of course, the unforgettable Madeira wine, have a visit to the wine cellars for a tasting session) Some of my tips for restaurants:
- Basilico for italian
- Riso for risotto
- Jango for typical food in the old town or Atalaia for Pizza (In Rua Santa Maria there are many options, with a lot of variety and prices for every pocket)
- Shua ka for sushi
- In Rua da Carreira you can enjoy many lunch deals na old classic is Londres, wich is popular as a lunch break, affordable generous portions.
- In Estrada Monumental try Atlantic beautiful terrace by the sea and lovely food.
- Outside Funchal is Casa Santo Antonio my favourite place for a typical espetada.
- For budget places to eat check this list: http://budgettraveller.org/cheap-eats-guide-to-madeira/
What to see and do:
- In Funchal:
Take a day to walk around Funchal city centre. If you’re traveling with children check this map with points of interest. You can also book your tours, depending on what you’re interested in: air, land or sea.
Keep walking into the old town and enjoy the painted doors by local artists. Reach Socorro Church and have a break at Barreirinha.
There are also hop in hop off buses and Tukxi Tours that take on tours around these areas.
(If weather allows, don’t miss a boat ride in the marina to see the dolphins but also the see the view of the island from the sea, beautiful indeed….If you’re planning to go to Porto Santo, you should book in advance)
Take the cable car to Monte, and enjoy the ride up the hills. When you come down you have two options back on the cable car again or on the toboggan rides, wicker cars pushed by man “carreiros”, a classic. There’s a beautiful Monte church and tropical garden to visit there.
- North west Coast: Sao Vicente (with its lava caves), via serra d’agua ( if you’re not driving, have a break in Taberna da Poncha, original poncha bar), and Seixal (mini eco bar is a nice spot there to relax) and Porto Moniz and its beautiful natural lava pools.
- South west Coast: Camara de Lobos (beautiful fisherman town), Ponta do Sol (nice beach and front sea avenue), Jardim do Mar (for food try Portinho) and Paul do Mar (for sunset and mojitos), are some of my favourite locations.
- North East Coast :Santana(theme park) e Sao Jorge
- South East Coast: Machico (an artificial golden sand beach, for a change, this is a town located in the biggest valley of Madeira) e Canical (with its beautiful Baia d’Abra, visit the whale museum if you’re travelling with Kids)
- For Levada Walks:
There are around 2,000 km (1,240 miles) of levadas. These drainage canals built by man, allow now easy walking access to the island’s dramatic mountain peaks and coastline. Beware some of the paths are difficult to reach and find your way, you should take a walking tour.
There’s also an app called Walk me to guide you through the levadas.
I would recommend these 4 walks that I’ve once done:
1.Queimadas- Caldeirao Verde (5-6h)
2.Ribeiro frio ( Balcoes ) – Portela(4h)
3. Rabacal- Risco- 25 Fontes(3-4 h), my favourite!
4. Pico Do Areeiro ( It’s worth going there just to feel what it’s like to be up above the clouds! You can reach it by car, and if weather allows you can go by foot to Pico Ruivo the highest peak in Madeira. It’s not suitable for people who suffer from vertigo and its better to do it with a mountain guide)
- For Shopping
Madeira has 3 main shopping Malls, 2 of them with a cinema (movies are mostly shown in the original language), many popular international brands are there. If you’re looking for souvenirs here are my tips:
- For wine, I would advice buying it in the airport, because of the liquid carrying restrictions in airplanes. Although you have many more options in the wine cellars, just make sure you can carry it on the airplane.
For food and souvenirs there are shops with Portuguese brands, here are 13 special gifts from Madeira.
(Note: Sometimes products like the Honey cake, cookies or fennel sweets are much cheaper in supermarkets, check the prices.)
For drinks and nightlife check:
My favourites are Barreirinha Bar Cafe, Mini eco Bar, Boteco, Copacabana Garden, hole in one (typical irish bar), Venda velha and Vintage bar in the old town, Cafe do teatro, Marginal, jam and Vespas disco for late night dancing.
So many choices so little time, leave something for next time and come back again 🙂
Have a nice Holiday!
P.S.You can also check my instagram for inspiration, click on the map and see what is near you.