The Madeira Island Guide | Europe’s Hawaï
This Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean isn’t that easy to find on the world map. However, once discovered, you won’t leave her out of your sight. Here’s your travel guide to the island they call the Hawaï of Europe. Madeira.
Before you head to Madeira
- Travelling to Madeira is safe
- Transavia offers direct flights to Madeira which takes about 4 hours.
- If you visit Madeira, it can be a good idea to hire a car. This way you are able to see most of the island. This also means that you can pick your accommodation outside of the busy and touristic town of Funchal.
- There is always a breeze on Madeira! Because of this, the weather can change on each individual side of the island. Bring enough clothes to adapt. Bring your hiking boots!
- Football player Christiano Ronaldo is from Madeira a therefore a national hero. You will see his face everywhere and the airport has even been named after him.
Recently, Madeira has won the best island of Europe Award. It is the 6th time they have won this prestigious award.
More than a hiking destination
Most people that have heard of Madeira know that it’s a great hiking destination. But did you know that you can also sail, spot dolphins & whales, participate in abseiling and kayak activities and do so much more. Discover the infamous levada walks and surround yourself with lush green scenery, natural pools and waterfalls.
Check out the best hikes in Europe!
Tip: Visit Ponta do Sol, the sunniest town on the island! There is a road nearby with tunnels and a little bit further you will find a waterfall that comes out on the road. Get a free car wash or take a refreshing shower!
There is enough nature on Madeira, but if you are looking for a short city escape with lot’s of restaurants, a few bars and shops, you should visit Madeira’s capital. Some highlights in Funchal that we recommend are:
- Merdaco dos Lavradores, the market that is popular with travelers and locals alike. A place where the colours of fruit the smell of fresh herbs come together.
- Walk around the old town to spot the ‘Street Art’ on almost every door. Houses and abandoned shops are now colourful displays since this art project launched a few years ago.
- Visit a traditional Poncha bar! Poncha is the nr. 1 national drink mixed with rum, honey and fresh juice. Try Clementine, it’s my favourite!
Tip: From Funchal you can take the cable car to the historical village Monte that offers beautiful houses, churches and gardens.
Where to stay on Madeira
There are many hotels and guesthouses to choose from, but at Wander-Lust we like to tip you with the most unique and special accommodations on the island of course! During our stay we stayed at 2 different hotels/villa’s. However, we have a few extra tips for the best place to stay for each budget.
- Fajã dos Padres is only accessible by cable car or boat which makes this place a hidden gem. On the premises they grow bananas, mango’s and figs. Bungalows are available from around €70,- Book your stay here.
- Estalagem da Ponta do Sol is a luxurious hotel that used to be a historic land house that has been refurbished and extended. The hotel is located in the sunniest town of Madeira. Jump in the wonderful pool or dine with sea view. During high season rooms go between €139,- and €300,-.
- If you are looking for a private apartment with sea view, book Casas de Levada for €130,- per night. You can easily share.
What to eat
On Madeira you can enjoy a good meal for a reasonable price. Fish and shell fish are often caught locally and the black scabbard fish with banana (Espada com Banana) is a local favourite that you will find on every menu. Another dish that we love is the grilled octopus with potatoes and garlic olive oil. Madeira has many restaurant options, but if you want our recommendations, we advise you to check out these restaurants:
- Quinta do Furão in Santana for the best lunch view! It’s located on top of the mountain so perfect to combine this with a road trip over the island.
- Vivaldi is located in the busy Funchal so perfect for drinks afterwards. The food is OK but not out of this world.
- Fajã dos Padres, this is also where we stayed. It was the best lunch we had on the island! Their herbs come straight out of their own garden.
- Nini Design Centre for a lavish dinner overlooking the port. This design centre offers exhibitions and events.
See the sun set & see the sun rise
Drive up to Ponta do Pargo, the most western part of Madeira. You can easily park your car here and have dinner at a restaurant with sea view. If you want, you can also hike past the beautiful cliffs. Here you can see the sun set in the sea. If you are a morning person, we highly recommend you to book the sunrise tour with Hit The Road Madeira. You will have to get up around 5am, but the views are absolutely worth it! Tip: dress warmly, it can get windy and cold up the Pico do Arieiro mountain. This sunrise tour also takes you on an off road jeep adventure around Cova da Roda (hold yourself because it can get bumpy).
Beaches & Natural Pools
Madeira is not known for her beautiful sandy beaches because it’s a volcanic island. However, there are some beautiful rocky bays and black sandy beaches around. Next to that, Madeira offers some nice natural pools! Here are the best ones:
- Prainha is one of madeira’s best natural beaches and located near popular Ponta de São Lourenço. It offers sun beds, parasols and toilets.
- Calheta, this man-made beach has a beach restaurant and bar and is also popular with the locals.
- Porto do Seixal Beach, is a natural black sand beach located right next to Seixal harbour. It has no services though but available nearby (Clube Naval do Seixal).
- Porto Moniz are probably the most popular natural pools on the island – the Municipal Pools that can be busy during high season.
- Seixal Natural Pools are surrounded by stunning nature and a black beach. You can rent a lounger here.
- Pocas Do Gomes/Doca Do Cavacas in Funchal are not big but quite worth a visit! There is a natural pool next to the normal one and you can see the fish swim around your feet!
- Cachalote Natural Pools are located at the entrance of Porto Moniz Village, right next to Cachalote restaurant and to the Aquarium at São João Baptista Fort.
Tip: If you really want the golden sandy beaches you can take a day trip to sister island Porto Santo, also named the “Golden Island”.
Must visit places on Madeira
- Camara de Lobos is a cute fishers-man village with a few bars and restaurants. Take a seat where the locals sit and enjoy the easy life.
- Miradouro do Guindaste in Faial is the spot that you see on the header photo of this article. Do we need to say more?
- Ponta de São Lourenzo is one of Madeira’s most stunning cliff sides and therefore also very popular with tourists. However, we thought it was worth it and if you come late afternoon, it won’t be too crowded.
- Achada do Marques is a tiny place in the village of São Jorge that is only accesible by foot and surrounded by green mountains. We got this tip from a local, so this is off the beaten track!
In conclusion, Madeira really surprised us! This is an island for those that love a bit of adventure and don’t always need a sandy beach to complete their holiday. The locals are very proud of their lush volcanic island and people that have been, always seem to return.