Madeira is a sub-tropical archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean and is an autonomous region of Portugal. The archipelago is made up of two populated islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of unpopulated islands called the Desertas and Selvagens Islands. Geographically in Africa, it is an ultra-peripheral region of the European Union. It is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Portuguese football (soccer) player Cristiano Ronaldo.
Known worldwide as the Islands of eternal spring, Madeira, "Ilha Jardim" (Garden Island) or "Pearl of the Atlantic", has a mild climate throughout the entire year.
Madeira island is 500 km from the African coast and 1,000 km from the European continent, a 1½-hr flight from mainland Portugal and about 3 hr from all the main countries in Europe.
Listed around the island, counterclockwise from Funchal:
- 1 Funchal – Island capital and largest city in Madeira, home to tourist resorts, gorgeous panoramas, and local color.
- 2 Calheta — town, home to one of the only working sugarcane mills / rum distilleries on Madeira
- 3 Câmara de Lobos — The "chamber of the sealions" is a town near Funchal.
- 4 Machico — second biggest city on Madeira
- 5 Paul do Mar — scenic village on the west end of the island
- 6 Porto da Cruz — beach village in the northeastern corner of the island
- 7 Ribeira Brava — town
- 8 Santa Cruz — city and home of the Madeira airport
- 9 Santana — town, home to its colorful historic thatched houses
The Madeira (/[mɐˈðejɾɐ/, muh-THAY-ruh) Islands are just a short trip from Europe (more or less 4 hours from UK), to a destination where you can combine holidays by the sea, in the mountains or in the city.
Discovered early in the 15th century by the Portuguese navigators João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo, Madeira was an important waypoint on the Cape Route, and is today an autonomous region of Portugal.
Madeira is a popular destination for tourists of all ages. Its constant mild climate (temperatures between 20 and 27°C) keeps the spring on Madeira all year round. The levadas, an ingenious system of stone- and concrete-lined watercourses distributing water from the rainy north to the dry south, help flowers and crops flourish all year. That's why this island is called the Garden in the Atlantic. The maintenance pathways for these water canals provide wonderful level trails for hiking in the mountains (up to 1861 m) and through the tremendous landscape.
Madeira has the same immigration laws as the rest of Portugal, and is therefore part of the Schengen Area.
- 1 Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport (FNC IATA formerly known as Santa Catarina Airport/Funchal Airport) (about 30 minutes from Funchal, in Santa Cruz municipality), ☏ . The following airlines fly regularly to Madeira International Airport: TAP Portugal, Portugália, SATA, British Airways, Norwegian Airlines, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Air France, easyJet, Finnair, First Choice Airways, Thomson, LTU, Condor, SAS, Sterling, Transavia, My Travel, Binter Canarias and Jet2.com.
There is boat/ship service between the two islands.
If you go to/from the airport by (rental) car, ask for directions to the parking area you need; there are 7, and they are badly signposted. Note that some smaller rental companies operate from sites near but not at the airport, and provide transport between terminal and depot.
Bus timetables are very confusing as they do not include clear route details. Pay special attention to any footnotes for your route listed on the schedule, as holidays or school days can change the presence of the route.
Tickets can be bought from the driver, who can provide change. For extra-urban buses, fare varies by distance traveled so tell the driver your destination and he'll give you a transfer if necessary. If you'll be taking the bus often, multi-day bus passes are available from most bus companies, but they are limited to one operator, so only useful if you'll by staying in the same general part of Madeira.
There are three bus companies on Madeira.
- Within the city of Funchal, Horarios do Funchal (yellow buses) operates lines no 20/21 Funchal - Monte, line no 29 Funchal - Camacha, no 56 Funchal - Santana (via Ribeiro Frio), no 77 Funchal - Santo Antonio da Serra (via Camacha and Sitio Quarto Estradas), no 81 Funchal - Curral de Freiras and no 103 (Funchal - Arco de Sao Jorge (via Faial, Santana and Sao Horge).
- Connecting the west side of Madeira, Rodoeste (grey/white with red stripe) operates lines no 3 Funchal - Estreito de Camara de Lobos, no 6 Funchal - Arco de Sao Jorge (via Encumeada), no 7 Funchal - Ribeira Brava, no 80 Funchal - Porto Montiz (via Calheta and Prazeres), no 96 Funchal - Jadrim da Serra (Corticeirias), no 139 Funchal - Porto Moniz, no 142 Funchal - Ponta da Pago (via Prazeres) and no 148 Funchal - Boa Morte.
- Connecting the east side of Madeira, S.A.M. (green or white buses) operates lines no 23 Funchal - Machico (Espressbus), no 53 Funchal - Faial (via Airport), no 113 Funchal - Canical (via Airport) and no 156 Funchal - Marocos (via Machico, changes bus at Machico).
All Rodoeste and S.A.M. buses converge in the center of Funchal.
- Car rental: Driving in Madeira is not for the faint-hearted. A few main routes marked "Via Expresso" or "Via Rapida" (VE and VR on maps) are well-maintained, reasonably straight and level, thanks to a large number of tunnels, bridges and viaducts. All other roads are narrow and often steep. If a member of your group really enjoys the challenge of driving up ceaseless-seeming hairpin bends up mountains against oncoming traffic and usually with a sheer cliff face on one (or both) sides, then you may wish to consider hiring a car. Otherwise, it is best not to attempt driving on most of the island and instead to use buses and taxis. Of course a holiday based on public transport is less flexible, but for a driver with less than 100% confidence many of the roads are tiring, stressful and even dangerous. No-one should feel ashamed relying on the local bus, taxi and tour drivers (who after all are much better used to this kind of road). If you do decide to drive, then renting via the Internet is usually cheaper than walking-in. Free parking space in Funchal is severely limited: those marked with an M are only for residents, so you'll also have to pay for parking garages.
Group tours (mostly guided)
Some of the popular hikes, like Pico Ruivo, Levada das 25 Fontes and Levada do Caldeirão Verde are not reachable by public transport, but served by various tour companies, although that often includes a guide for the walk, adding to the cost of transport. Apart from being safer than self-driving, this might still turn out cheaper than car rental, at least for solo travellers. The company www.picotransfers.com offers transport only tours at about €30 per destination, mostly for the Pico Ruivo hike in non-pandemic times. This comes with the added benefit of allowing a oneway hike from Pico do Arieiro via Pico Ruivo to Achada do Teixeira, as they can drop you off in one place and pick up in the other, as opposed to you with your rental car, where you have to walk the same way back to the parking spot.
English is as common as in mainland Portugal, although people will always appreciate it if you try and learn a few words of Portuguese. Note that the Portuguese spoken in Madeira tends to be heavily accented.
- Levadas An impressive system of aquaducts built between 1461 and 1966 to bring water from the mountains to farmland.
- Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro. The second and third highest peaks in Portugal.
- 1 Cabo Girão. One of the world's highest ocean cliffs (590 m/1,935 ft. above sea level).
- 2 Jardim Botânico. Funchal Botanical garden.
- 3 São Vicente Caves. Volcanic caves (grutas) where you can visit lava tubes.
- Jardim do Monte Palace Magnificent gardens of the former Monte Palace hotel.
- Jardim Orquídea Orchid garden.
- Fireworks on New Year's Eve The biggest fireworks in the world (Guinness world record 2007). Best places to see the fireworks include the tip of the marina of Funchal, on a cruise ship and Pico dos Barcelos (on the side where you can see the Funchal's marina).
- Miradouro means viewpoint. Splendid views of the island can be seen from various viewpoints, including Pico dos Barcelos, Pico do Arieiro, Pico de Facho, Curral das Freiras, Monte.
- The 4 Laurisilva of Madeira — a special kind of subtropical forest found only on Madeira, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- Hiking at 1 Ponta de São Lourenço, the eastern part of Madeira is a nature reserve with wonderful panoramic views of the Atlantic and spectacular volcanic rock formations. Many unusual species of plants are found here and are best seen from the footpath, such as the Ice Plant, Everlasting, Cardoon and many more. The hiking trail, which has stone steps and safety railings, can be walked comfortably with a pair of good hiking boots. The full walk, including a circuit of the reserve at the far end, will take several hours, so carry food and drink. Down the cliff from the road before reaching the trailhead is a secluded beach called Prainha, the island’s only natural black sandy beach. Very popular with the locals, it’s great for swimming.
- Hiking to Pico Ruivo from Pico do Arieiro (2½ hr) or Achada do Teixeira (1 hr). You can reach both starting points by car, but a public bus could only bring you up to 4 mi downhill from Pico do Arieiro. After hiking up to Pico do Arieiro along the road you might not have enough energy or time left for the moderate to difficult 5-hr round trip hike to Pico Ruivo and back, but the first hour on the trail offers the best views anyways. If you must get to Pico Ruivo and don't have a car, consider a group tour or transfer. Be flexible with the date, as the weather on the mountain can be dangerous.
- 2 Santo da Serra Golf.
- 3 Palheiro Golf.
- 4 Porto Santo Golf.
- Scuba diving
- Surfing The Atlantic offers waves for moderate to experienced surfers. Jardim do Mar and Paul do Mar are the most popular surfing places.
- Canyoning in Madeira is great for beginners and pro's alike. Abseiling down high watersfalls and jumping into crystal clear pools of fresh water is something you shouldn't miss.
- Horse riding.
- Jeep Tours and Bicycle (BTT) excursions.
- Madeira Sidecar Tours.
- Sports Training Camps
- Whale and dolphin watching. Various companies offer daily boat tours starting at €30-40, bookable online or from touts at the harbour, often with guaranteed sighting, meaning a free second trip in the rare event that the first one was unsuccessful.
- Madeira wine, of course. Available in many varieties in all supermarkets and specialist shops.
- Espetada. Madeiran barbecue.
- Bolo de mel. A Christmas cake.
- 1 Adega da Quinta, Rua José Joaquim da Costa (Quinta do Estreito, Estreito de Câmara de Lobos), ☏ . Traditional restaurant where you can eat "espetada" in an old winery uphill from Câmara de Lobos.
- 2 Restaurante Coral, Praça da Autonomia (Largo de São Sebastião) 2, ☏ . 11:00–22:00 daily. Fresh fish and shell fish.
Madeira wine is a fortified wine prized equally for drinking and cooking. There are four major types of Madeira: Malvasia (also known as Malmsey or Malvazia), Bual (or Boal), Verdelho, and Sercial, the latter two being drier.
Poncha is the most traditional drink of Madeira.
See individual city articles for listings. Those below are mostly outside towns.
- 1 Estalagem do Mar, Avenida Marcos Marques Rosa 25, São Vicente (just outside São Vicente on the north coast), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Rooms with private bathroom and tub and view to the Atlantic. Indoor and outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and a sauna, lots of parking space. Low-season €50.
- 2 Quinta da Quebrada, Caminho Municipal da Furna, Sítio da Quebrada, Arco de São Jorge (on the N coast), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The place has pleasant weather, with sun all year round. Very warm and dry in summer, gentle temperature and very few rainy days in winter. The unit has 7 bungalows all with a beautiful view over the Atlantic Ocean, TV, and telephone. Each one is made up of a double room, a private bath-room, and a kitchenette/living-room.
- 3 Vila Galé Santa Cruz, Rua de São Fernando 5, Santa Cruz, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Five minutes away from Funchal International Airport, top-quality hotel where you only have the sea for a vista. A few kilometers away from the tourism centre of Funchal.
- 4 Casas Valleparaizo, Estrada Regional 102 161, Camacha, Santa Cruz (from highway ER101 take exit 15 towards Cancela; at the roundabout, enter the tunnel; at the next roundabout go left; at the T-junction (SA supermarket), go left; entrance is after the long pink wall at the bus stop), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Nine mountain cottages and a main house scattered around a beautiful large sloping garden. Quiet surroundings, a 20-minute drive from Funchal.
- Pestana Hotels & Resorts. The Pestana Group has 10 hotels in Madeira, 9 hotels in Funchal and 1 hotel in Porto Santo.
- 5 Quinta das Colmeias, Caminho do Poiso, Casais Próximos, Santo António da Serra (from Funchal/airport, drive past the golf course; just before the round about, there is a turning to your left; it's the fourth gate on your right), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Two holiday homes. The main house sleeps 8 and the Cottage sleeps 6. They share a swimming pool. A few minutes drive from Santo da Serra Golf Course and Horse Riding Centre.
Emergency Service telephone number is 112. Some police in Funchal have red armbands, this signifies that they speak another language other than Portuguese, mainly English and German. Crime figures for Madeira are very low.
- Internet - In some of the larger towns and cities on Madeira there is public free Wi-Fi Internet access sponsored by the Madeiran government. You'll find a 2-m-tall white and blue board telling you that Wi-Fi is available. There is free access in the airport terminal. Some bars and cafés offer Internet access too.