Why Travel to Madeira Islands?
The Madeira Islands are often referred to as the "Islands of Wonders", a fitting designation given their exceptional and incomparable natural beauty. Emerging as a lush gem in the Atlantic Ocean off the Moroccan coast, Madeira, located a thousand kilometres southwest of Lisbon, has been a beloved destination since the late 19th century. Blessed with a stunning volcanic landscape and subtropical climate, the island boasts more repeat visitors than any other part of Portugal.
Madeira has achieved the prestigious title of "Best Island Destination in the World" multiple times, by the World Travel Awards. This is just one of numerous recognitions that emphasize the extraordinary appeal of this archipelago, solidifying its status as an increasingly acclaimed global tourist destination. We invite you to experience it firsthand!
Top Places and Best Things to do in Madeira Islands
The charming capital, Funchal, will captivate you with its glittering bay, framed by majestic green mountains. The historic core boasts elegant government buildings and 18th-century mansions. Do not miss a tour of the Botanical Gardens, followed by the iconic Monte toboggan ride while you are exploring this wonderful city. East of the city and rising to a height of almost 600 metres is Cabo Girão, the world’s second-highest sea cliff.
Venture beyond Funchal to discover the island´s hidden treasures, including the traditional triangle-shaped houses known as "palheiros" in Santana and the secluded enclave of Curral das Freiras, where nuns sought refuge from invading pirates in the mid-16th century. The fishing village Câmara de Lobos is just a short drive from Funchal, known for its picturesque harbour, colourful boats, and the inspiration it provided to Winston Churchill.
Visitors who travel to the neighbouring island Porto Santo can enjoy a long sandy beach and explore the house where Christopher Columbus lived before his journey to the Americas in 1479. Besides being known for their healing qualities, the beaches and surrounding waters of Porto Santo are ideal for all types of water sports, including windsurfing and deep-sea diving.
Madeira is also famous for its "levadas", a system of narrow irrigation channels that crisscross the island. There are numerous Levada walks to choose from, offering scenic hikes through lush forests, valleys, and along mountainsides. Some popular options include the Levada das 25 Fontes and Levada do Caldeirão Verde. If you feel like it you can hike to the top of some of the highest peaks on the island such as Pico do Arieiro, a popular starting point for hikes and the third-highest peak on the island, offering breathtaking views. Pico Ruivo, the highest peak in Madeira, is a challenging but rewarding hike. The views from the top are truly spectacular, especially during sunrise or sunset.
The island offers a wide range of mountain biking experiences for riders of all skill levels. Madeira has an extensive network of mountain biking trails, and there´s something for everyone, from beginner to advanced riders. These are some of the popular trails: Poiso - Chão das Aboboreiras, João do Prado - Lamaceiros, Pico das Pedras, Bica da Cana - Lameirinhas and Pico Gordo - Lombo da Atouguia.
On the northwest coast, another place worth visiting is the small town of Porto Moniz famous for its natural swimming pools, formed by volcanic lava. It´s a great place to relax and take a dip. In Porto Moniz, you can also visit the mystical place of Fanal located between Seixal and the mountains of Ribeira da Janela. This vast forest area is one of the most emblematic places in this municipality, where you can see the centuries-old Laurissilva forest dominated by the majestic Til trees (Ocotea foetens). These ancient trees date back even earlier than the discovery of the archipelago, and they form an integral part of the indigenous Laurissilva forest.
Madeira is considered one of the best places in Southern Europe for whale and dolphin watching. Visitors have the opportunity to witness these magnificent marine creatures in their natural habitat. There is a variety of species, including sperm whales, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and even the occasional orca (killer whales).
Taste the Flavours of the Islands
Enjoy the local Madeiran traditional locally sourced cuisine... Black Scabbard fish, Espetada (marinated beef skewers), Lapas (Limpets), Bolo do Caco (a type of bread), the foodie list goes on! Madeira offers a delightful gastronomic experience besides its breathtaking landscapes. Whether you prefer fish or meat, the island´s menus cater to all tastes. Fresh catches, like tuna and swordfish, often come with exotic accompaniments such as passion fruit and banana.
To conclude your meal, Madeira´s tropical fruits, like bananas, mangos, grapes and papayas, promise a sweet ending. Typical desserts that you should not miss are, the local cheesecake "queijada" or the famous Bolo de Mel (Sugarcane Honey Cake). Porto Santo, also boasts a rich culinary tradition, with specialities like the local lobster "Babble" and octopus dishes.
Whatever your taste, Madeira´s diverse and delicious offerings are sure to please your palate.
Poncha and Madeira Wine, Liquid Treasures
Poncha is a traditional alcoholic beverage from the Madeira Islands. This magical potion originated from the fishing village of Camara de Lobos, a must-stop when food touring on Madeira. It is a fruity and flavorful drink that is a beloved part of Madeiran culture and is typically made from simple ingredients. The ingredients are aguardente de cana (a distilled sugarcane alcohol), honey, sugar, and fresh citrus juice, often sourced from local fruits like lemons or oranges. These ingredients are mixed together in a unique way, with a muddler or wooden stick known as a "pau de poncha," which is used to blend the mixture.
Madeira is also renowned for its fortified wines with rich and fruity flavours, which have been crafted here for centuries. The region´s success in viniculture is showcased through the terraced vineyards that ascend the island´s hillsides, serving as an integral part of the local economy. Funchal is home to several renowned companies that continue the legacy of Madeira Wine, including the historic Old Blandy Wine Lodge which offers a chance to taste Vintage Madeira from as far back as the mid-19th century, with the oldest surviving bottle dating to 1772. This wine lodge is a family-owned business operating since 1811 that was established within the walls of the 17th-century Convent of São Francisco and boasts the oldest Madeira Wine cellars in the archipelago.
There are other amazing un-fortified wines from Madeira, the Madeirense DOP appellation of origin, and table wines may also be made under the Terras Madeirenses IGP banner. A wide range of grape varieties are permitted for Madeirense DOP and the IGP. The main grapes are; Tinta Negra, Verdelho, Malvasia Fina (Boal), Malvasia, Folgasão (Terrantez), among others.
Our food, wine and walking experts have chosen the best tours, experiences, hotels, wineries, etc... based on walking, food and wine vacations in the Madeira Islands. You can check our list of the best food tours to the Madeira Islands and recommended hotels in the sections of this Madeira Islands travel destination guide.
Population: 253,945 (2019) inhabitants