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’s my choice for the best and most beautiful places to visit in Madeira…
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Funchal – the stunning and pristine capital of Madeira
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 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 sled, at speed, through the streets down to the town below.
4. Calheta and Praia da Calheta – a gorgeous beauty spot 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 pac-a-mac! It’s a bit of a cross between a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, breath deeply and enjoy some natural wonder.
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.
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.
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.
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 you 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!
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 therapeutic and people have been coming here for years to cure all manner of aches and pains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.