Well this (mammoth) guide to Madeira is long overdue, isn’t it lads? Here’s a reminder to future Lucy to always write travel guides straight away when you get back from a trip so you’re not left wondering what the hell you got up to on your time away nine months ago… Nine months ago!!! Blummin’ heck, I think I’ve hit an all-time low.
If you weren’t following me last summer and have no idea that I visited Madeira, firstly: where have you been? And secondly: I fell head over heels in love with Madeira! If you’re not familiar with Madeira, it is a Portuguese island located in the North Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal. Whilst it’s largely frequented by older generations and cruise ships, which tend to go hand in hand, Madeira really is a hidden gem for all ages, especially young travellers like myself wanting to get off the beaten path in Europe.
So here’s my attempt at detailing what I consider the ultimate seven day guide to Madeira. Note: I apologise in advance for kickstarting any serious bouts of wanderlust in ya. Madeira just has that kind of effect on a person, ya see…
Depending on what time you arrive and how long you’ve been travelling for, you may either want to get out and explore straight away or you may want to collapse in bed. We were certainly the latter. As we were in Madeira for a week we weren’t too pressed for time, but if you were visiting the island for only a few nights you’d probably rather get out straight away.
As soon as we arrived in Madeira, my parents picked us up from the airport and drove us into Funchal, the capital of Madeira, to check into our Airbnb. We stayed in this gorgeous, modern studio in the centre of Funchal for only £314 between us for seven nights. For only £157 each, this place was an absolute bargain and couldn’t be more convenient. For the rest of the day, we just chilled and explored the surrounding area to get our bearings. An early night (and the latest episode of Love Island – don’t judge) was on the cards for us so we were ready to start exploring the island the following morning…
On our second day in Madeira, we went on a road trip along the West Coast of the island and up to the North coast. Here’s where we stopped off at…
Our first stop on our road trip was to Cabo Girão, Europe’s highest sea cliff and the second highest sea cliff in the world. As you can see from the photo above, this attraction is a total hidden gem and was really quiet. But seriously, the views warrant the crowds. At 580 metres above sea level and with its famous glass-floored skywalk, Cabo Girão is the perfect place to admire the views of Funchal and the almost sheer drop to the ocean! And best of all, it’s absolutely free.
Next along the coast, we accidentally stumbled across a viewpoint looking over Ribeira Brava, which turned out to be one of our favourite viewpoints of the whole trip. Although we didn’t stop in the town, the views alone were beautiful and well worth the stop. One of the things I loved most about Madeira is that it offers exceptional 360 views wherever you go. This small town, named Wild River after its river, is located on the southwestern coast of the island and boasts a picturesque seafront and promenade.
Ponta Do Sol
Ponta Do Sol is a peaceful and beautiful little village with a church, scenic seafront and lido. Known as the sunniest and hottest point of the island, you can enjoy sunbathing and beautiful sunsets here.
Paul da Serra
Driving inland you will find yourself in Paul da Serra at 1500 metres above sea level. Paul da Serra is the flattest place in all of Madeira with stunning views of the green mountains and valleys. This area is the starting point of many paths and Levada walks so if you have the time I’d definitely recommend seeing more of what this area has to offer! We also enjoyed lunch at the Jungle Rain Cafe, the only shop or restaurant you’ll find for miles around here.
Perched on the dramatic northwestern tip of Madeira you will find Porto Moniz, a town you definitely shouldn’t leave Madeira without visiting. Famous for its natural swimming pools, formed by volcanic lava, and naturally filled with crystal-clear sea water, it’s the perfect place to go for a dip or catch some rays! The geography and volcanic terrain of Madeira mean that coastlines are rugged and sandy beaches are non-existent so this is the closest you’ll get to a beach holiday on the island.
Seixal and São Vicente
We didn’t stop in these two places for long so I didn’t get any photos #badtravelblogger, which is why they have been lumped together. However, you will find some spectacular views in both places. Seixal boasts more natural pools, which are much smaller and far less touristy, and Laje Beach, a free of charge black sand beach, from which you will get great views of the Bridal Veil (Véu de Noiva), a waterfall that flows into the ocean. São Vicente is truly beautiful; the area is characterised by green nature and abundant forest. Here you can visit the São Vicente Caves. Formed 890 thousand years ago, these are among the first caves of volcanic origin to be opened to the public in Portugal!
Valley of the Nuns
The Valley of the Nuns, ‘Curral das Freiras’, is a small, isolated village nestled between almost perpendicular mountains in the heart of the island. The valley acquired its name in 1566 when the nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from pirates attacking Funchal and found seclusion here. The views from the main viewpoint of Eira do Serrado are nothing short of spectacular. You can also visit the villages at the bottom of the valley too though we decided against this.
The journey up to the Valley of the Nuns may as well be an attraction in itself too. So heads up, if you’re not a confident driver, maybe give the Valley of the Nuns a miss or take a tour bus up there instead. The drops from the roads are definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Fajã dos Padres
Searching for paradise in Madeira? Look no further than Fajã dos Padres. This quiet and unspoiled secluded coastal spot can be found at the bottom of a cliff approximately 250 metres high, on the southern coast of Madeira. Fajã dos Padres is a secret haven home to its own vineyard, exclusive beach and a restaurant serving traditional Madeiran cuisine where we sat down for lunch. The fruit and vegetables served in the restaurant are organically grown on-site thanks to the island’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil.
But how do you access this hidden paradise? By cable car, of course! A return cable car ticket is ten euros per person but it’s worth it if you want to spend an afternoon away from the crowds. Plus the cable car ride itself is great fun. Through the cable car’s panoramic windows, you can enjoy beautiful views of the coast.
Pico dos Barcelos
Before heading out for the evening, we came back to Funchal to relax and grab food for a few hours. Madeira’s summer temperatures make a gal very sleepy indeed. However, before we returned to our Airbnb we thought this would be a good opportunity to stop off at Funchal’s famous Barcelos viewpoint. At an altitude of 355 metres above sea level, this viewpoint offers fantastic panoramic views over Funchal bay and the city area!
Pico de Arieiro
By far the highlight of the trip and, to be honest, one of the highlights of my entire life was Pico de Ariero. The word ‘speechless’ is thrown around a lot but never have I been more speechless in my life. At 1,818 metres high, Pico de Ariero is Madeira’s third highest peak and can be accessed by car. We decided to drive up just as the sun was setting and it was the perfect time to visit. We counted only about five other people on the entire mountain, but I’m sure you’ll find hundreds of people up here in the daytime. Having Pico de Ariero to ourselves at sunset was truly something else, so if you do anything during your time in Madeira, please make it this!
Our fourth and fifth days in Madeira were much slower and could easily be combined if you have less time on the island.
Cristo Rei Viewpoint
Our first stop on day four was at the Cristo Rei viewpoint. With steps leading down to the sea, this viewpoint offers some amazing views of Funchal bay, the Garajau Reserve, Caniço de Baixo and the Atlantic Ocean. The majestic statue of Christ, not pictured, stands on top of a hill which drops into a ravine towards the sea. It’s so picturesque that the above picture currently serves as my laptop background! I will definitely never tire of looking at that view…
Next, we stopped off in Machico for a wander and lunch at Baia Beach Club, accompanied by me singing It’s Chico Time on repeat. There’s a lovely little harbour here and a cute church, Igreja Matriz de Machico, in the town. Machico was the landing point of the discoverers of Madeira so from a historical point of view, it’s a really interesting town to explore.
Ponta de Sao Lourenco
Finally, we ended up at the long thin peninsula at the most eastern point of the island, Ponta de Sao Lourenco. Here you will find some of the finest cliff scenery in Madeira! We spent a couple of hours clambering over rocks and walking along the peninsula. This area was surprisingly busy but we managed to get off the beaten path and enjoy some isolated views.
Porto da Cruz
Day five was another reasonably quiet day. Our first stop was the quiet but charming Porto da Cruz. This area is great for surfing, swimming and nature walks. One of the many agricultural products here was sugar cane and today the processing factory is still in full operation mainly producing rum. You can enter for free so we spent a while walking around the factory and along the seafront. On our way down to Porto da Cruz, we stopped off at the beautiful Miradouro da Portela viewpoint, from which you can see the whole of Porto da Cruz. I’d definitely recommend stopping at the viewpoint if you get the chance!
One of Madeira’s tourist hotspots that can’t be missed on your trip to the island is Santana. Characterised by its small thatched triangular houses, originating from the 16th century, Santana is a beautiful village on the north coast. In Santana, you will also find Madeira Theme Park, and no, before you get excited, there’s no rollercoasters at this theme park. Madeira Theme Park is an exhibition for all ages to learn more about the history, traditions and cultures of Madeira. It’s great for tourists and locals alike wanting to brush up on their Madeiran knowledge!
Happy days! You won’t need to drive for days six and seven in Madeira. Instead, you’ll finally be getting a chance to explore Funchal.
Cable Car up to Monte
A must-do on any travel guide to Madeira is taking the famous cable car up to the mountaintop village of Monte. The fifteen minute journey up to Monte offers spectacular views of Funchal’s bay and valleys. A single journey costs 11 euros per person and is definitely worth it for the views alone and the opportunity to explore Monte.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Once you’ve reached the top you can treat yourself to lunch in one of Monte’s cafes then start exploring the magnificent Monte Palace Tropical Garden, one of my personal favourite attractions in Madeira. The Monte Palace Tropical Garden occupies an area of 70,000 square meters and houses a huge collection of exotic plants from all over the world. Here you will also find the Monte Palace Museum, an exhibition space nestled within the garden. The museum houses sculptures and a unique mineral collection from across the globe. Entry is 12.50 euros per person and as you can tell, this day is shaping up to be the most expensive of your time in Madeira. If you’re short on cash and/or time you can miss this day off your list but it was one of my favourites so I’d recommend it!
There isn’t much to do up in Monte, aside from the botanical garden, but I’d recommend visiting Monte Church before making your way back down to Funchal.
Wicker Toboggan Sled Ride
Now for one of the most fun, albeit overpriced, parts of the trip. The wicker toboggan sled ride down to Funchal! Before the cable car was built, the wicker toboggan run was the traditional way to get back down to Funchal. This thrill ride is now a tourist activity in which you ride down the streets in a wicker sled with wooden runners driven by two carreiros (men dressed in white with straw hats).
The ride cost us 30 euros between us so it will make a bit of a dent in the bank but it’s definitely worth the experience. Be wary though that the ride ends in the suburb of Livramento. Taxis and buses are available in Livramento to take you back down to Funchal, but personally, I’d recommend just doing the twenty minute walk down to the bay by yourself to save money.
So it’s your last day in Funchal and you finally get a chance to actually see it! Throughout our week in Madeira, we enjoyed getting lost in Funchal’s many squares whilst hunting down places to eat. We also went for a few strolls along the waterfront. But on our final day in Funchal, we dedicated time to visit the colourful and picturesque Old Town. This was also sadly accompanied by packing our bags for our flight home.
Funchal’s Old Town is touristy for a reason. It’s just so bloody pretty! The Old Town is characterised by narrow cobblestone streets and colourful buildings. We ate dinner a couple of times in the lively and romantic square by the diddy Socorro Church. If you’re after a buzzing nightlife, the Old Town is bursting with bars and restaurants.
Funchal’s Old Town is probably most famous for its colourful street art by both local and foreign artists which covers the walls and doors of many buildings throughout the area. Definitely worth a snoop around!
So have you ever visited Madeira? I’d love to know what you thought of the island! Or are you tempted to visit now? Let me know in the comments below.
This post was written in collaboration with Bolsover Cruise Club but as always all opinions are my own.
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