Exotic gardens, natural seawater pools and incredible mountain views await you in Madeira.
The island is famous for its all-year-round warm climate, as well as its fortified wine and delicious tropical fruits. For nature lovers, there are hiking trails known as levadas that follow irrigation channels and pass through dramatic viewpoints.
Whether you’re coming on a cruise or arriving by plane, Funchal will likely be your first stop. As the capital of Madeira, the city is a great base to explore the island and is home to a variety of attractions. Visitors can rent a car, hop on a local bus or join a guided tour to visit other towns.
Below is a 3-day Madeira itinerary, including tips on what to see, where to eat, and where to stay. We begin our journey in Funchal and then head towards the west and north of the island. If you’re spending a couple more days in Madeira than us, you can also check our day trip suggestions
Tropical fruits rest on wicker baskets, and chilli peppers hang over the stands of this lively market in the heart of Funchal. Designed by architect Edmundo Tavares, the striking art-deco building has been an exchange point for fresh produce since 1940. Every day, locals and visitors come here to smell and taste the island's unique ingredients, such as bananas or passion fruit. While the fruit takes centre stage, you can't help noticing the tiles adorning the walls and the women dressed in traditional Madeiran wear. If you're visiting in the morning, you can watch the fishmongers prepping scabbardfish and other local seafood.
From the market, we headed to Rua de Santa Maria, one of the oldest streets in Funchal. Dating back to the 15th century, it’s famous for its series of colourful doors. The initiative called Arte de Portas Abertas (Art of Open Doors) began in 2010 when the city council invited artists to revamp the doors and entrances on the street. Walking past it today, you'll find more than 200 painted doors tucked between cafés and restaurants.
After admiring the street art, we took the Funchal cable car from the seafront up to the Monte neighbourhood. Within ten minutes, we reached the hill, capturing the sea views as we made our way to the top. The panoramic views over the city are the first thing you'll notice when you arrive at Monte, but there are many more reasons to visit this area.
Get lost in the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, an exotic garden dotted with sculptures, fountains and tropical plants.
Then, head to the Igreja da Nossa Senhora, a Baroque church framed by a steep stairway. Finally, take a stroll to the Parque Municipal, another peaceful park surrounded by century-old trees and water features.
You can take the cable car back to the city, but we decided to hop on a toboggan instead. The journey begins near the Monte church and ends at Estrada do Livramento. Once used to carry goods, the wicker toboggans are now a fun tourist attraction, whisking visitors down the hill. Dressed in white, the drivers pushed us along the road until we reached Livramento. From here, you need to take a bus or a taxi to the centre of Funchal.
We spent the afternoon exploring Funchal's old town. Also known as Zona Velha, it's where you'll find most of the city's historical attractions, such as the cathedral and the Jesuit College.
Dating back to the 16th century, the cathedral's entrance stands out with its mix of exposed tiles and white-plastered walls. For a while it was one of the largest dioceses in the world, covering Madeira and other Portuguese territories such as Angola and Brazil. Step inside to admire the ornate ceiling and the altar featuring Gothic panels.
From the cathedral, you can walk to the Jesuit Church. Completed in 1647, it features a lavish Baroque interior with blue and white tiles, gilded altarpieces and painted ceilings. If you have time, you can also climb the church's tower.
There are many places to buy traditional souvenirs in Funchal. We recommend Armazém do Mercado, the Caravel Art Center and Bordal. Set behind the Lavradores market, Armazém do Mercado houses a series of boutique shops, cafés and a toy museum. Here you can find a mix of traditional and modern crafts designed by local artists. The Caravel Art Centre is an art gallery, but you can also find some artisanal items in their gift shop. Finally, there's Bordal, a shop founded in 1962 that sells traditional Madeiran embroideries. You can visit their factory at Rua Fernão Ornelas. They also have a branch at the airport in case you need a last-minute souvenir!
Next, we headed to the Blandy’s Lodge to taste some local wine. Vinho da Madeira, or Madeira Wine, is a fortified drink that ages through heat. It can range from dry to sweet, and usually has the taste of caramel and roasted nuts. Blandy's is one of the most famous producers of Madeira wine, and you can visit their cellars in Funchal. We joined one of their afternoon tours and learned how they transform the grapes into wine and how they store it. The 45-minute tour ended with a visit to the museum and a sample of the wine.
We finished our first day in Funchal with a walk along the waterfront. The palm-tree-lined promenade is the perfect place to take in the ocean views and the mountains rising above the city. We started at the marina, and then followed the Avenida do Mar until Praça do Povo.
If you’re up for it, you can also stop by Parque Santa Catarina, a large public garden featuring an artificial lake, a chapel and a children's park.
On our second day in Madeira, we took a trip up to the mountains. By car, it takes a little less than an hour to reach Pico do Arieiro, the third-highest peak on the island. Standing at 1818 metres high, it offers incredible views of the landscape, especially on a clear day, when you can spot the island of Porto Santo. We visited two viewpoints in the area, Miradouro do Juncal and Miradouro Ninho da Manta, where the clouds seemed almost as high as us. From Pico do Arieiro you can take a hike to the highest mountain of Madeira, Pico Ruivo. The walk takes around two to three hours, so make sure to come prepared.
From Pico do Arieiro, we continued west to Curral das Freiras, aka the Nun's Valley. In the 16th century, this was home to a convent, which is how it got its name. The valley was the perfect place to hide from the pirate attacks at the time, as it's sheltered by steep mountains. These days, people head here for the breathtaking views and to follow the hiking trails. Before reaching the centre of the village, we visited the Miradouros do Paredão and the Miradouro Eira do Serrado. The first viewpoint had two sides, one facing Funchal and the other facing Curral das Freiras. Eira do Serrado also overlooks Curral das Freiras but takes you a bit closer. The village itself is pretty calm, and it's famous for its chestnuts which feature local dishes such as soups and cakes. There's even a chestnut festival which takes place in November.
After exploring Curral das Freiras, we headed back south to visit Câmara
de Lobos. Even if you don't have a car, you can easily visit this small
fishing town. There are direct buses from Funchal which take about 20
minutes. It's worth coming here to see the colourful boats resting by
the shore and enjoy a drink in one of the local bars.
Not far from Câmara de Lobos is the Cabo Girão Skywalk. This striking platform stands 580 metres above sea level. It is the second highest sea cliff in the world, offering spectacular panoramic views. If you're brave enough, you can approach the edge of the cliff, where the see-through floor allows visitors to look down into the water.
For our last day, we decided to explore the north coast of Madeira. We began in São Vicente with a visit to the volcanic caves. From Funchal, it takes around 40 minutes to reach these historic underground tunnels. The tour includes a trip through the lava tubes and ends at the Centro do Vulcanismo, an interactive centre where you can learn more about Madeira's volcanic origin. The town is also home to a church and a small 17th-century chapel carved into a rock.
Our next stop was Seixal, a coastal town located halfway between São Vicente and Porto Moniz. On the way there, we stopped at the Miradouro do Véu da Noiva, a viewpoint overlooking a waterfall that resembles a bridal veil (véu de noiva) as it drops down.
As you get closer to the village, you'll find several places to go for a swim, including two beaches: Praia do Porto do Seixal and Praia da Laje. If you continue down the road, you'll end up at the natural pools, with its inviting crystal clear waters and rocky arches. Even if you don't go in the water, it's worth coming here to admire the natural landscape.
In the afternoon, we returned to Funchal and visited Madeira's Botanical Gardens. You can get here via cable car from the Monte neighbourhood, take a bus or drive straight there if you have a car. Stretching for over 80,000 square metres, the gardens feature a variety of plants, from cacti to colourful shrubs and exotic trees. Plus, it boasts fantastic views over the city as it stands on a hill.
To end our Madeira trip, we went to a local bar and tried a glass of Poncha. It’s another typical drink from the island made with aguardente, sugar, honey and orange or lemon juice. There are several bars in Funchal that serve it, but we suggest getting one at Bar Number Two.
Porto Santo is another island belonging to the Madeira Archipelago. If you're spending a couple of days in the region, it's worth paying a visit to this little island famous for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. You can fly there directly from Lisbon or if you're already in Funchal take the ferry boat, which takes around 2 hours.
There is no shortage of hotels in Funchal, but you don’t need to spend your whole stay in the city. Below are four hotel recommendations, two in Funchal, one on the east coast and one on the west coast.
Porto Santa Maria is a four-star hotel set along Funchal’s waterfront. It’s only a few steps away from the historic centre, allowing you to explore the city's main attractions on foot. Guests have access to two pools, a spa, a fitness room and a terrace featuring a jacuzzi and incredible views over the city.
You’ll find the Belmond Reid’s Palace on the edge of a grassy cliff, overlooking the sea. Located a few miles away from the city centre, this 5-star hotel has been running for more than a hundred years. It offers all the luxury amenities, including a tennis court, a spa, an infinity pool, and a Michelin-star restaurant. Even if you’re not spending the night, we recommend coming here for their afternoon tea.
Set in Calheta, the Savoy Saccharum Resort & Spa is the ideal place to stay if you want to explore the west side of the island. This modern resort offers 243 rooms, and most of them feature private balconies and sea views. Guests can enjoy the three outdoor pools, the squash court, fitness club and the spa which includes a Turkish bath, sauna, and jacuzzi. The staff can also arrange a variety of activities across the island, including catamaran tours, golf, surfing or hiking.
If you’re heading to the east side of the
island, we suggest staying at Quinta do Lorde. At first sight, this
Madeiran resort looks like a small village, with its cluster of houses
surrounded by the sea. You can book a room here or an entire apartment
if travelling with family. Facilities include a multi-sports field,
outdoor pools, and even a chapel. Facing the hotel is a tiny pebble
beach and a seawater pool. There’s also a small marina nearby that
offers boat trips.
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