This woefully underrated travel destination forms part of the cluster of Portuguese owned islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Volcanic in origin with rugged interiors lined with lush vegetarian and exotic flowers, the tourist masses tend to avoid this subtropical paradise leaving its natural beauty to those in the know. Here are some of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Madeira, Portugal…
1. Funchal – the stunning and pristine capital of Madeira and a great base for your holiday
As this is the largest town in Madeira there should be plenty to see and do. As with most things with a Portuguese influence, you’ll find plenty of mosaiced streets and cute churches. For a true verdant feast, jump on the Monte cable car and get off at the upper station.
There you’ll be able to explore Monte Palace Tropical Garden, which is strewn with water features, sculptures and a picture-perfect stately home.
If you are more of a thrill-seeker, one thing Madeira is famous for is its hills! Jump in a handmade wicker toboggan, keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and let an experienced driver-guide your sledge, at speed, through the streets down to the town below.
If you’re staying in the capital and looking for a beach there’s a public beach (Formosa Beach) located a 10 minute car drive away or a 25 minute walk.
My must-do highlights of Funchal
- Ride on the scenic Monte Cable Car to get the best views overlooking this grand town, perfect for Insta-worthy shots.
- Wander through the streets of the old town to discover an array of interesting shops and local restaurants.
- For a unique and thrilling experience, sledge down the Carro de Cesto road on a wicker basket taboggan ride.
Our Cool and Unusual Hotel choice for Funchal – NEXT – by Savoy Signature
- To book, check prices or dates for NEXT – by Savoy Signature Funchal
2. Calheta and Praia da Calheta – a gorgeous beauty spot and low-key resort to stay in Maderia
Relax and wiggle your toes in Moroccan sand whilst staring out into the deep blue Atlantic. No that is not a typo! It is Moroccan sand because it was imported as one of Madeira’s three man-made Praia’s (that’s ‘beaches’ to you and me).
A Blue lagoon protects you from the buffeting ocean which can have a decent swell a lot of the time. Catch the sun and when your factor 50 runs out turn around and head to one of the many waterside restaurants or bars.
Located on the South West coast of the island around a 40-minute drive from Funchal, this is spot is a gorgeous low-key resort perfect for beach lovers looking to have a relaxed holiday. The nearby villages of Paúl do Mar and Jardim do Mar are also known for strong surf.
My must-do highlights of Calheta and Praia da Calheta
- Book a tandem paragliding flight over the picturesque landscape, you will get the most spectacular views.
- Visit one of the beaches to have a go at snorkelling where you can explore the underwater world.
- Check out Museu de Arte Contemporânea which is perched up on a high cliff and filled with contemporary art.
Our Cool and Unusual Hotel choice for Calheta – Estalagem Da Ponta Do Sol
- To book, check prices or dates for Estalagem Da Ponta Do Sol
3. Porto Moniz Lava/Natural Swimming Pools – easily one of the best destinations to visit in Madeira
The lava pools at Porto Moniz may be a long way from Funchal – located at the far north-west tip of the island – but are certainly worth the drive.
A series of natural pools formed on the rugged coastline, visitors can swim in the cool waters while watching the Atlantic lapping against the rocks around them.
There are changing facilities and lockers, and even sunbeds for those wanting to relax for the day. On stormy days the pools become mesmerising, as the huge waves crash against the rocks.
My must-do highlights of Porto Moniz Lava/Natural Swimming Pools
- Relax along the beach surrounding the natural pools and soak up some sun.
- Take a dip in the water for a refreshing cool down on a hot weather day.
- Discover the diving board where you can jump off into crystal-clear ocean waters.
Our Cool and Unusual Hotel choice for Porto Moniz – Aqua Natura Bay
- To book, check prices or dates for Aqua Natura Bay
4. Monte Palace Tropical Garden – one of the prettiest places to explore in Maderia
One of Madeira’s top attractions, the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens are set in the hills high above Funchal. The gardens feature thousands of exotic plants, along with a host of wildlife, from Koi to Peacocks.
José Berardo created the gardens in the early 1990s, and his passion for art and nature is evident everywhere – from the Oriental pagoda and gardens to the waterfalls and ornamental sculptures.
Take the cable car from Funchal early to avoid the crowds, and ride a toboggan back down the hills for an exhilarating end to the day.
My must-do highlights of Monte Palace Tropical Garden
- Wander through the absolutely magnificent exotic plants, lush greenery and interesting features.
- Admire the beautiful tiles located around the tropical vegetation, its the biggest collection in Portugal.
- Visit the on-site museum which houses a collection of sculptures and unique minerals.
5. Prazeres – one of the prettiest villages to visit in Maderia
Herbaceous gardens, pots of dark steaming tea (or iced if you prefer), and a village with views that will leave you in awe. You’ll need your binoculars to see land when looking at the view over the ocean(the next stop heading West would be Bermuda)!
This village is tiny, with under 1000 inhabitants it isn’t too touristy, but that’s exactly what you want. Head out of the village and get your walking shoes on there are plenty of steep tracks to find your ideal vantage points for a super selfie.
My must-do highlights of Parzeres
- Hike up to the viewpoint towards the end of a day to witness a vibrant sunset over the waters.
- Explore through the tranquil and beautiful forests surrounding the Levada Nova walk.
- Go on a guided bike tour filled with a variety of exciting, flowing and fast trails.
6. Jardim do Mar – one of the best resorts to stay in Maderia
The ‘Garden of the sea’, which is what the name of this town translates to, is actually world-famous as a surfing mecca. So, if you want to get on your board and truly frighten yourself, this place, with its Atlantic swells, is the place to do it.
Even if you aren’t an adrenaline junky, you’ll find neatly tended streets awash with indigo flowers, manicured gardens, and maybe a restaurant or two where you can enjoy the fruits of the sea and perhaps even a cheeky taste of the local poncho, which is in fact a super-strong lemon brandy… Drink after surfing not before!
My must-do highlights of Jardim do Mar
- Go surfing on the turquoise waters to ride some of the best waves that Madeira has to offer.
- For an easy yet breathtaking hike, take the Vereda do Jardim do Mar footpath reaching 530-meters above sea level.
- Visit the ruins of the old mill to see the wonderful Portuguese tiles.
7. Paul Do Mar – a traditional fishing village and a great surfing spot
And if Paul does, so should you. This harbour town is super cool and feels like a different world. Which in Madeira is saying something.
It was entirely inaccessible up until well into the 20th century and was reachable only by the sea. As a result, it’s been preserved and its charm has prevailed as it is almost immune to development.
If you pay it a visit, and after you have stopped shaking from the steep drive down, you’ll be greeted by a tiny harbour village clinging to the foot of some truly gargantuan cliffs.
The village relies on fishing to survive and retains the kind of laid-back vibe only found in such communities. Have a coffee, and watch the world go by.
My must-do highlights of Paul do Mar
- Stop by the Maktub Pub to taste the delicious flavors of traditional food created from local produce.
- Walk up the carved rock steps to stand next to the bronze statue of O Homem do Mar.
- Slow down and relax at the peaceful beach located on the west side of the parish.
8. Parque Florestal das Queimadas – one of the best spots to pay a visit to in Madeira
Madeira is a lush green island, and for a real taste of just how leafy it gets, pay a visit to this forest park. It can get a little bit damp at times, so take your pack-a-mac!
It’s a bit of a cross between European woodland and a rainforest. If you’ve timed it right, and you go when it is quiet, it can feel like you have gone back to the land that time forgot.
Think of mist-filled gullies, waterfalls, loud birds shrieking, and vegetation so lush that there should be a picture of it next to the word ‘green’ in the dictionary.
My must-do highlights of Parque Florestal das Queimadas
- Pack a picnic and enjoy a spot of lunch whilst being surrounded by a rainforest-like landscape.
- Walk through the forest to discover wildflowers, the tranquil sound of nature and a dramatic waterfall.
9. São Vicente – a pretty coastal village to visit
Volcanic caves, tiny bridges, and interesting churches, with a bit of a past. Take a guess who the village is named after? Saint Vincent apparently magically appeared in a rocky cove here, he had no bags so he may have flown Ryanair… jokes aside this place is well worth a visit or even to stay.
It is nestled in the cleft of a volcanic valley giving ample opportunity to explore the numerous caves on guided tours. Once you have checked out the caves head into town for a stroll amongst higgledy-piggledy streets.
Take the weight off with some grilled sardines and sit amongst orange-roofed white houses with a view of the impressive steep-sided valley.
My must-do highlights of São Vicente
- Take a guided tour through the Sao Vicente Caves and Volcanism Center, a geological wonder and interesting activity to do.
- Sip on the refreshing flavours of the local Poncha drink, consisting of sugar cane, rum and lines.
- Adventure up to the tallest peak on the island for 360-degree views, Pico Ruivo, not for the faint-hearted.
10. Machico – home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Madeira
Compared to some of our other suggestions Machico is of a decent size. It is famous as it was the site of the first settlement in Madeira, but we aren’t quite sure why it ended up the ‘second city’…Maybe it’s because Funchal had an airport?
You’ll be able to take a paddle in the sea, just mind your feet as the beach is in fact quite pebbly. Speaking of things from the sea that will make you less than comfortable…
Pay a visit to the 18th-century fort located in Machico, as it was erected to fend off pirates who decided that they also really liked the look of Madeira.
It isn’t that sizeable, but it does house a tourist information centre to give you plenty of other ideas. One of which is taking the short drive to Miradouro Da Portela, where you can take in the view of the entire town.
My must-do highlights of Machico
- Lay around on the golden sand covering the shores of Praia de Machico.
- Visit the interesting exhibits at Museu da Baleia, featuring 3D movies, old artefacts and the history of the area.
- Soak up the picturesque views of the vibrant-colored ocean whilst enjoying a refreshing swim.
11. Parque Natural da Madeira – one of the island’s most famous attractions
Now, full disclosure. Our Portuguese isn’t great, but even we could translate this.
Madeira natural park is jam-packed with interesting sights and the odd thing you won’t see anywhere else on the planet. It actually occupies quite a large segment of the island and is home to a few endangered species.
It was designated a nature reserve in order to preserve the natural elements that make Madeira so beautiful. You can roam to your heart’s desire, provided you stick to the paths. As it’s a nature reserve you’ll be allowed to take two things, and two things only. Pictures and memories.
My must-do highlights of Parque Natural da Madeira
- Wander through The Laurisilva Forest which was located here long before the Portuguese discovered this area.
- Explore along Ponta de São Lourenço, via this trail you will see coastal views, Rocha do Navio Nature Reserve and Cais do Sardinha.
- Make sure to have your camera ready for those Instagrammable shots of the majestic landscape.
12. Levada Do Reí – for a wonderfully scenic hike
Loosely translating to ‘walk of kings’ the Levada Do Reí offers green tunnels, forests and sweeping vistas. You’ll be able to admire local flora and fauna before heading further down the trail. The 3-mile path ends at a UNESCO world heritage site, designated for its natural beauty and splendour.
Whilst taking a deep breath and admiring the view, with enough imagination you can really envisage what the island looked like 600 years ago when it was first settled. Keep your eyes out for the native bird species, breathe deeply and enjoy some natural wonder.
My must-do highlights of Levada Do Reí
- Take a moment to soak up how truly magnificent the surrounding nature of this location is.
- As you walk along the path, shower under the small waterfalls dotted along this trail.
- Enjoy the diverse range of flora and fauna covering the area.
13. Risco Waterfall – a natural beauty spot in Madeira
It’s pretty well known and can get busy. The trail up to the waterfall isn’t the widest in parts. So, unless you want to indulge your inner Britishness and be apologising to shoulder-barging folk of different nationalities, set off early.
Provided you do, you’ll be rewarded with a narrow cascading waterfall complete with misty spray, dense forest and a crown of clouds.
Leave the flip-flops back in the room as it’s occasionally steep and perhaps a little slippery in places, sturdy footwear and a bottle of water is the order of the day.
My must-do highlights of Risco Waterfall
- Don’t stop. Keep going along the trail that leads to the waterfall as you will not be disappointed by what you discover.
- Have your breath taken away when you reach the jaw-dropping view of the 100-meter high waterfall.
- Grab a memorable shot at the viewpoint to remind you of this wonderful adventure.
14. Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto – one of the best views in Maderia
Now this is a view! Imagine a place that mixes the landscape of the Scottish Highlands with the Sapphire blue of the Caribbean sea… this is what you end up with. The walk to reach this wonder will be around 2 hours. About a third of the way in, you can pick which route you would prefer.
The lower route passes an area where you can save your weary trotters and admire the view from the sea on a boat, or just stop at the tiny café for a coffee and a comfort break.
The higher way is for enthusiasts who would prefer to be rewarded with one of the best views in Madeira. Alternatively, as you end up back at the same place regardless of which route you have chosen, you can actually do both.
For the plane spotters out there, this is an ideal vantage point to watch the planes making their attempts to land into Funchal airport.
My must-do highlights of Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto
- Watch a gorgeous sunrise above the cliffs at this impressive viewpoint.
- Walk along the cliff edge to make sure you have the best views of the rock formations and horizon.
- Pack a snack to enjoy after watching the sunrise, before heading back along the breathtaking trail.
15. Palheiro Gardens – a must-see attraction in Madeira
Madeira is an island of flowers, and what better to way to see the best examples than in a well-tended and cultivated setting? The climate in Madeira is one of the most stable in the world, with the least variation in rainfall, daylight, and temperature by season.
As a result, and twinned with rich volcanic soil, it makes an ideal growing environment. In fact, so much so that, in Palheiro Gardens, you can see some offerings that were planted by its original owner.
Take your time and amble throughout the grounds, regardless of the time of year something will be in bloom, or just relax on lush green lawns and wonder where your day went.
My must-do highlights of Palheiro Gardens
- Wander through the array of different lush areas located across this famous landmark.
- Take a break and enjoy a drink at the small tea house which also offers fresh homemade cakes.
- Gaze at the magnificent old trees that stand tall in the gardens, well know for being a gem of Madeira.
16. Porto da Cruz – a little fishing village is a charming spot to explore in Madeira
You’ll find this ‘sleepy town’ just under an hour north of Funchal if you take the scenic route. The drive is interesting in itself as you burrow your way through countless tunnels, designed to avoid the ups and downs presented by the mountains.
Once you emerge from the main arterial route, you’ll make your way down a (very) small road into the town.
After you’ve got bored of taking pictures of the imposing Penha d’Aguia, a huge rock protuberance that dominates the western side of the town, you’ll be able to enjoy all the village has to offer.
Remember when we talked about Poncha a little further up? Well here there’s a museum and distillery dedicated to both Poncha and rum, where you can learn (and drink) in equal measure.
After you’ve finished your tour, head down to the seafront where you can have a strong coffee, clear your head, and giggle like a bunch of children at the ‘interesting’ sculpture that you’ll no doubt notice!
My must-do highlights of Porto da Cruz
- Walk to the Portela viewpoint for breathtaking panoramic views overlooking the petite village and Faial.
- Catch a beautiful sunset either along Maiata Beach or by hiking up the quiet mountain to Fortim.
- Indulge in a famous Gaiado sandwich at bar A fragateira and sip on the flavors of the award-winning poncha at Praia da Alagoa bar.
17. Porto Santo – a pretty beach to visit in Maderia
Said to be Madeira’s best-kept secret this is a beautiful undeveloped island. This is a neighbouring island which forms part of the Portuguese archipelago.
Almost like a giant stretch of sand with a bit of an island attached, you’ll find nine km of soft peaceful sands and only a handful of restaurants, hotels and inexpensive holiday villas.
Its volcanic sands are even said to be therapeutic and people have been coming here for years to cure all manner of aches and pains.
My must-do highlights of Porto Santo
- Check out the impressive windmills at Miradouro da Portela no Porto Santo where you can also admire stunning views across the coastline.
- Go on a Porto Santo Pirates and Corsairs Tour around the island for a different perspective of this hidden paradise.
- Enjoy a relaxing day on the golden sand beach which stretches nearly 6-miles long and hosts a few bars and restaurants.
18. Pico Ruivo – for amazing views
Pico Ruivo is Madeira’s highest peak – at over 6000 feet – and a favourite for those wanting to experience a little adventure on their break.
Walk the trail from Achada da Teixeira; a 5.6km hike that takes around an hour and a half each way (depending on your fitness levels!) but rewards the hardy with incredible views.
Pause for a while to look down on the clouds below before carefully making your descent. Look out for guided walks too – the mountain guides can provide a wealth of information, and often include hotel transfers.
My must-do highlights of Pico Ruivo
- Capture amazing Instagrammable shots of the surrounding landscape along the trail and once you hit the peak.
- Pack a picnic and stop for a short break whilst soaking up the incredible views across this location.
- Book a guided tour to make the most of this hike, well known for being one of the most beautiful in the world.
19. Laurel Forest (Laurisilva) – a unique and beautiful destination to explore
This beautiful subtropical forest is so historically important is has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Madeira, it’s the largest (and last) refuge of the Eurasian arboreal forest and dates back to prehistoric times.
The forest gets its name from the evergreen species of tree that resides there and contains unique flora and fauna including the long-toed pigeon and the rare Madeira Firecrest.
My must-do highlights of Laurel Forest (Laurisilva)
- Take a guided tour to ensure you don’t get lost but get to see the best parts of the forest.
- Make sure to take a moment to appreciate the enchanting and unbelievable lush scenery.
- Visit the forest on both a sunny day and foggy day to see the dramatic picturesque change of the surroundings.
20. Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns) – an incredible display of geology
Set in the heart of Madeira, the Valley of the Nuns is an incredible display of geology, as the steep rocky peaks rise up above the tiny village below.
Those with nerves of steel can drive the twisting EN 107 road up through the mountainous terrain to stop at Eira do Serrado and look out on the breathtaking view down into the valley at the Grande Curral – nicknamed the bellybutton of the island.
Alternatively, take the 81 bus from central Funchal and let the experienced bus driver navigate the hairpin bends as you wind your way through the lush green hills for less than 4 Euros.
My must-do highlights of Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns)
- Visit the Eira do Serrado viewpoint for gorgeous views overlooking the village.
- Wander along the main street before heading to the viewpoint to buy a memorable souvenir of the trip.
21. Pico do Arieiro – the third-highest peak in Madeira
This is the third highest peak in Madeira with an altitude of 1818 metres. There’s a drivable road to the steep summit and visitors flock here for the incredible views and also to make the trek to neighbouring Pico Ruivo (Madeira’s highest peak) via the footpath located here.
If the weather’s good it’s possible to view the island of Porto Santo, located 30 miles to the north.
My must-do highlights of Pico do Arieiro
- Hike to Miradouro do Ninho da Manta which features a balcony viewpoint, perfect to watch the sunrise.
- Keep going until you are above the clouds to witness a magical inversion.
- To see other popular sites along the way, book a guided tour.
22. Ponta de São Lourenço Nature Reserve – a stunning must-see spot
This is a protected part of the coastline located at the Eastern end of the island is where rugged volcanic rock formations meet the ocean.
The nine-kilometre stretch of peninsula is also home to interesting plants and wildlife including monk seals and many species of birds.
Visit for the secluded beach, cliff top walks and gorgeous panoramic views of the Atlantic.
My must-do highlights of Ponta de São Lourenço Nature Reserve
- Check out the volcanic origin peninsula and fascinating rock formations along the coastline.
- Be surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and scenery, with panoramic views at every point.
- Arrive before the crowds to experience this hike in a tranquil atmosphere.
23. Levada Ribeira de Janela – a great place for an adventure
If you want a bit of a long walk, then this is for you. At just over 5 miles you’ll need sturdy footwear and maybe even a sense of adventure.
On the way, you’ll find tunnels, waterfalls, moss-covered rocks, and views that will of course make it all worthwhile.
If it gets a bit warm, take solace in the fact that there are one or two freshwater bathing pools along the way that you can take a quick dunk in.
My must-do highlights of Levada Ribeira de Janela
- Explore through the tunnels along this trail for a unique experience, make sure to take a torch.
- Have your camera ready to capture some of the most beautiful landscape.
- Admire the pretty flowers throughout the hike and discover the magical waterfalls.
We also have posts on…
- Places to visit in Portugal
- Places to visit in Spain
- Places to visit in the Canary Islands
- Places to visit in the Azores
- Places to visit in Italy
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Beth Pinches – writer and photographer
Beth was born under a wandering star, with drama in her veins and ink in her pen. After stints studying theatre in Dublin and Utrecht she used her creative streak to see as much of the world as she could on as little money. She toured Italian Schools with a children’s theatre troop, lived as an au-pair in both Rome and Washington DC, explored the British countryside, worked her way through much of Europe, Salsa danced in Cuba and road tripped down America’s west coast where she discovered her spiritual home; Portland, Oregon. Other places she loves include Croatia, Finland, Japan and India. In between adventures, travel writing and performing she resides peacefully with her family, cats and ukulele. Find Beth on Linkedin or Facebook.