Madeira sights, most beautiful places and destinations and insider tips

5/5 (22)

Madeira is trendy, more and more creatives and digital nomads are drawn to the island in the Atlantic Ocean, which belongs to Portugal. Because the best thing about Madeira is probably the weather. Most people who live here feel that the climate here is the best in the world – it doesn’t rain too much and it’s never too hot.

This is due to its unique location in the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the warm Gulf Stream. Even in February, the „coldest“ month, temperatures rarely drop below 14 degrees. And in August it gets „only“ 27 degrees, although Madeira is on the same latitude as Casablanca.

Blick auf Berge und Meer
Madeira's north coast near Faial © Siegbert Mattheis

Natural paradise and flower island

But we were also surprised by the beauty of nature, the biodiversity of plants, the breathtaking cliffs and the picturesque places. And last but not least by the friendly population. And furthermore by the manifold sights from the long history of the „Island of the Blessed“ in the Atlantic, as Greek poets described it already in ancient times.

Funchal alone, the capital of the archipelago, offers a whole range of worthwhile sights:

View of Funchal
View of Funchal © Siegbert Mattheis

1. Old town of Funchal

The city is divided into two districts. To the east is the former fishing district, the Zona Velha. The buildings around Funchal’s oldest street, Rua de Santa Maria were in danger of falling into disrepair in the early 2000s, as many residents had moved to more modern homes in other neighborhoods. In 2010, the old town was hit by a devastating storm with mudslides.

small white church
Old town at Largo do Corpo Santo in the morning © Siegbert Mattheis
small street with colourful houses
Rua de Santa Maria in the morning © Siegbert Mattheis
old town in the evening sun
View from Calçada do Socorro to the old town © Siegbert Mattheis

Afterwards, the houses were renovated and revived through the initiative of a Portuguese photographer and the German painter Wolfgang Lass. The project arte de portas abertas, the art of open doors. For he had the idea to paint the doors of the buildings. And so life returned to the neighborhood. Today, with its many restaurants, bars and small stores, it is the most popular nightlife district in the city.

Rua de Santa Maria in Zona Velha © Siegbert Mattheis
Door painted by Wolfgang Lass © Siegbert Mattheis
Painted corn cobs
Painted door in the old town © Siegbert Mattheis
Painted door in the old town © Siegbert Mattheis
Café and street by the sea
The charming Café Barrerinha at the end of the old town © Siegbert Mattheis

Tip 1: If you want to photograph the closed doors, you should be there before 10 am, before the stores open and also the cruise tourists do their sightseeing tours.

Tip 2: The most beautiful place for us is at the very end of the district at the Miradouro at Largo do Soccorro, from which you have a beautiful view of the sea and the southern uninhabited islands. There you’ll also find the charming Café Barreirinha, which hosts some evenings with cool music.

Tip 3: The restaurant at Restaurante Do Forte in the yellow Fortaleza de São Tiago from 1620. Star level enjoyment from Chef Jorge!

Yellow Tower
Black scabbardfish in panko with beet rice at Restaurante do Forte © Siegbert Mattheis
Yellow Tower
Fortaleza de São Tiago © Siegbert Mattheis

2. Mercado dos lavradores, the old market place

The center of the old town is undisputedly the Mercado dos Lavradores! Here you will find all the island’s wealth of flowers, fruits, vegetables and other delicacies. The stalls are bursting with guavas, pineapple bananas, papajas, anonas, mangos, pitangas, tamarillos (English tomatoes that are not) or red dragon fruit pitaias and especially passion fruit in all possible variations and flavors, even as passion fruit bananas.

view of stands with fruits and vegetables
Mercado dos Lavradores © Siegbert Mattheis
stand with spices
All types of spices © Siegbert Mattheis
Pineapple bananas, papajas, anonas, mangos, pitangas ... © Siegbert Mattheis
Parrotfish and groupers
Parrotfish and groupers © Siegbert Mattheis

At the adjacent fish market you can get not only the famous black scabbardfish peixe-espada-preto, but also everything else that the sea off the coast has to offer: Parrotfish, percebes (barnacles), groupers and of course octopus, shrimp and countless other seafood items.

Fisherman in the fish market
Here the espada is professionally cut © Siegbert Mattheis
Yellow Tower
The black scabbardfish espada may not look particularly appetizing ... © Siegbert Mattheis

3. Baixa of Funchal

To the left, or west, begins the Baixa, the lower town, today’s city center. The central square is dominated by the monument of the city founder João Gonçalves Zarco and the mighty palace of the Banco de Portugal. Across the square is the traditional Golden Gate Grand Café, and around it, in the multi-story buildings, are small stores and, above them, law firms and other offices. Another place of interest is the Sé Cathedral, built in 1517, with a precious coffered wooden ceiling that is over 500 years old. Along Av. Arriaga, you will find the Golden Gate, the Hotel Ritz (in the evening there is often live music) and the Funchal theatre with café.

colurful painted houses with tower in the background
Baixa quarter with tower of the cathedral Sé © Siegbert Mattheis
View from the terrace of the Golden Gate © Siegbert Mattheis
Monument and building
Monument of Zarco and the Bank of Portugal © Siegbert Mattheis
inside the cathedral with wooden roof
Cathedral Sé © Siegbert Mattheis

Tip 1: Have a coffee in cozy wicker chairs at the venerable Golden Gate Grand Café.

Tip 2: Stop in for a tasting at Blandy’s Wine Lodge. The business has been the only family-owned producer of Madeira Wine since 1811.

Tip 3: Maybe take a break afterward at the Jardim Municipal do Funchal across the street from the Ritz Hotel and look for the liverwurst trees 😉 .

Tip 4: If you prefer something more stylish, head to Bistro Theo’s Bazar Café and Gastro Lounge for a snack, which turns into a wine bar in the evening.

(Still) an insider tip: The Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva on top of a cliff at the pier with 360-degree views over Funchal and an exquisite restaurant!

4. A ride on the cable car

The cable car, the Teleférico do Funchal is another sight to see. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the posh villa district of Monte. On a distance of more than 3 kilometers a height difference of 560 meters is overcome. You have a fascinating view of the bay of Funchal. The bottom station is right down by the harbor and can’t be missed. At the top of Monte there are some more beautiful sights like the Museu Monte Palace with tropical garden or the Igreja de Nossa Senhora. There Charles I, the last emperor of the Danube monarchy, found his resting place. Below the church is the starting point of the basket sleigh rides.

View from the cable car to Funchal © Siegbert Mattheis
View of Funchal from about 520 meters above sea level © Siegbert Mattheis

Cost: A one-way ride on the cable car costs 12.50 euros (children 7 to 14 years 6.50 euros, younger ones ride for free, round trip 18 euros (children 9 euros).

Tip: Combo tickets are available with the cable car and a visit to the Monte Botanical Garden.

5. Monte Palace Madeira Tropical Garden

This garden is considered one of the 13 most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. It houses on an area of 70,000 m², in addition to an innumerable amount of exotic plants, among other things, art objects, tile paintings and minerals. It seems like a small wonderland. Here you can wander for hours through the plant forest, along Buddhas and pagodas of Japanese and Chinese gardens, over bridges, waterfalls and ponds. Three monumental panels are dedicated to the elements of nature, everywhere you will find sculptures, vases or coats of arms among 1,000-year-old olive trees, monsteras, orchids or laurel trees. In the museum above, there are also about 700 fascinating mineral exhibits, mainly from Brazil, Portugal, South Africa, Zambia, Peru, Argentina and North America.

Tropical Garden
Tropical Garden Monte Palace in Funchal © Adobe Stock
One of the monumental panels in the park © Claudia Mattheis
Japanese pagoda and view of Funchal under the clouds © Siegbert Mattheis
Monstera with edible pineapple banana © Siegbert Mattheis
Quartz stone from Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil in the Mineral Museum © Siegbert Mattheis

Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and remember that it is usually a few degrees colder up here than down in Funchal.

Opening hours: daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (museum 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Cost: 10 euros per person

6. A ride with the basket sledges

Whizzing through the streets in a sled for 10 minutes? The basket sledge ride was not invented especially for tourists, but was one of the first means of transport in Madeira. Today, however, the ride is actually one of the highlights on Madeira, which there is nowhere else. On the other hand, also a not quite cheap, for 2 people, for example, 30 euros are due. The fast ride ends in Livramento, about halfway to Funchal, from where you can easily walk the rest of the way into the city. Of course, you can also take one of the cabs that are waiting there and bring you down for about 7 euros (it should not cost more).

Several men dressed in white and basket sledges
The "Carreiros" are waiting for customers © Siegbert Mattheis
Couple with child in basket sledge
Still quickly stowing everything ... © Siegbert Mattheis
Basket sled with white dressed drivers from behind
... then it's a fast descent © Siegbert Mattheis

Opening hours: daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (the last ride is at 5:45 p.m.)
Cost: 1 person: 25 euros; 2 persons: 30 euros; 3 persons: 45 euros; (children under 5 ride for free)

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7. Skywalk Miradouro do Cabo Girão

Cabo Girão is said to be the highest cliff in Europe at 580 meters. Your breath catches and your heartbeat stops, even if you are mostly free of giddiness, before you take your first step onto the glass floor. There is nothing but air below you, you are looking directly at the waves on the coast. But then the feeling is indescribable and the view of the sea and the cliff is just fantastic! Still the entrance is free, but soon about 1,50 entrance fee is planned. But that should not deter you.

Tip: Avoid the rush hours in the morning and late afternoon, when the tourist buses stop here.

Yellow Tower
View over the cliffs to Funchal © Siegbert Mattheis
560 meters above the sea ... © Siegbert Mattheis
Breathtaking view © Siegbert Mattheis

8. Hiking at the levadas

Because the rain in the north rains down on the mountains, but the water was needed in the south of the island for the sugar cane and banana plantations, and later for the vineyards, the Madeirans painstakingly built water channels, called levadas. This way the water from the mountains could be distributed to the plantations. These levadas stretch across almost the entire island. At many of these canals, the original inspection paths have been turned into beautiful hiking trails. For example at the Levada das 25 Fontes with impressive waterfalls. Some of them also lead to a so-called balcão, from where you can enjoy magnificent views over the landscape, e.g. at Ribeiro Frio.

Tip: If you don’t want to or can’t hike too far, it’s best to park further down at the Casa do Ribeiro Frio and climb the stairs to the right of the Snack Bar Faísca restaurant. From there it is only 10 minutes to the balcão.

View over mountains and forests to the sea
Wide view over the mountains © Siegbert Mattheis
View of mountain range
View from Levada dos Balcões near Ribeiro Frio to the 1861 m high Pico Ruivo © Siegbert Mattheis
2 meter wide rocky gorge at water channel
Comfortable hiking trail along a levada © Siegbert Mattheis

9. Whale Watching

The waters around Madeira are home to whales and dolphins. The best way to spot them is from aboard the Santa Maria de Colombo, a stylish replica of Columbus‘ caravel. Alternatively, from one of the many boats or catamarans that take you from the port in Funchal to the whales. High up on the coast, whale watchers with telescopes scout out where the whales are and relay the position to all the ships.

Santa Maria © Siegbert Mattheis
Man looking out to sea from wooden railing
In search of whales and dolphins © Siegbert Mattheis
On the Santa Maria © Siegbert Mattheis

Tip: The trip with the Santa Maria is really an experience! For 35 euros you are 3 hours on the way to below Cabo Girão. The price includes a glass of Madeira wine and bolo de mel.

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10. Beaches in Porto Santo

The only thing Madeira can’t offer are really nice beaches. There are stony pebble beaches and some concreted areas in Funchal or the villages, but only in Machico and Calheta the beach was filled up with light sand. In Porto Moniz in the north, however, you can swim in a spectacular rock pool.

Tip: For a nice beach, take the ferry to Porto Santo, the northeastern island. Here, by the way, the archipelago was „rediscovered“ by the Portuguese captain Zarco in 1419.

sandy bech
Ilheu da Cal in Porto Santo © Adobe Stock

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11. Straw houses in Santana

In Santana you will find the landmarks of Madeira, which are not missing in any brochure about the islands. Colorfully painted, pointed gable and thatched houses, so called casas de colmo. In former times the farmers lived in these simply furnished, often red painted houses. They are scattered all over Santana, but hardly any of them are still inhabited. Right next to the town hall, some have been restored and are the main point of entry for tourists. One houses the tourist office, and in the others you can buy handicrafts and other things.

Tip: In the restaurant of the hotel Quinta do Furão * in Santana you can eat very well and have a fascinating view of the northern coast.

waterfall falls on road by the sea
Typical farmhouse in Santana © Siegbert Mattheis
North coast near Santana © Siegbert Mattheis

12. Ponta do Sol

Ponta do Sol, with colorful houses on a palm tree promenade, is the most Mediterranean-looking place on the south coast and one of our favorite places on Madeira. The name of the place says it all, as it has statistically the highest number of sunshine hours. It is worthwhile to wander through the charming little side streets. Especially the small church with imitation marble and precious wooden ceiling from 1500 is worth seeing. The grandfather of the American writer John Dos Passos lived here, which is why you will also find the Centro Cultural John Dos Passos in the village.

Ponta do Sol © Siegbert Mattheis
View of the sea through alley
Alley in Ponta do Sol © Siegbert Mattheis

Tip 1: The most beautiful view of the town and the sea is from the restaurant Sol Poente.

Tip 2: A bit further north through the tunnel you will come to the Cascata dos Anjos (Angels Waterfall), which pours from the mountain directly onto the street.

yellow restaurant on rocks by the sea
Restaurant Sol Poente © Siegbert Mattheis
waterfall falls on road by the sea
Waterfall Cascata dos Anjos © Siegbert Mattheis

Accommodation, vacation apartment in Funchal

This vacation apartment was really brilliant: the bed right by the sea, wonderful views with a large terrace and spacious floor plan in Funchal! The stylish Barreirinha frontline sea view with 2 bedrooms.

View at *

Sea view from terrace
Stylish accommodation in Funchal © Siegbert Mattheis
Sea view from terrace
Sun terrace © Siegbert Mattheis
Bed in apartment by the sea
Sunrise at the sea © Siegbert Mattheis

Siegbert Mattheis

Reiseführer Madeira

Dieser Reiseführer von Dumont von Susanne Lipps mit knapp 300 Seiten hat uns in der Vorbereitung der Reise und auch vor Ort sehr geholfen.

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