Madeira is full of surprises – beautiful churches, fantastic food, stunning scenery. From the port town of Funchal to the quirky traditional houses in Santana, there’s lots to see. Read on for our full list of 6 Madeira must see attractions.
Madeira Must See Attractions
The island of Madeira has a good quality road network, so if you hire a car you can easily travel around. There isn’t a lot of public transport outside of the main towns, although you can also book excursions to most of the main Madeira sights.
1. Old Town, Funchal
The capital city of Madeira is Funchal, a charming city named after the fennel plant funcho. It has approximately 110,000 inhabitants and is the 6th largest city in Portugal.
The cobbled streets of the old town have some beautiful designs. As the climate in Madeira is so mild all year round, there are lots of nice pavement cafes.
There’s a shady park near the theatre, and the Jesuit College and Church is located close by on the main square. Completed in 1647, it has an impressive collection of golden carved altarpieces.
One of the best restaurants in Funchal is O Calhau on Rua de João Gago. The decor is modern and you can eat on the terrace outside. We had a delicious lunch of spaghetti linguine followed by chocolate tart.
There’s also a fantastic ice cream shop in the Old Town, Ottavia. They have a great variety of flavours and seating inside and outside the store.
At night, the main square or Praca do Municipio is often lit up and open air concerts are held there. On the edge of the old town, towards the Painted doors district, you’ll find the Workers Market, the Mercado dos Lavradores.
This popular Funchal market is a bit of a tourist trap but interesting to have a wander around. In case you want to make a purchase, the currency in Madeira is the euro and bank cards are widely accepted.
2. Rua de Santa Maria
This street near the Old Town has some striking artwork created by local residents and shop owners as part of the Open Doors Art Project. There are also quite a few colourful doors in the surrounding streets too.
The area is nicknamed the Painted Doors district thanks to the number of decorative entrances. If you walk to the top of the hill after the painted doors district, you will come across a beautiful church, Igreja do Socorro.
There is a fantastic fish restaurant in the Painted Doors district, Jaquet at Rua de Santa Maria 5. It only has a few tables and you eat what the chef is cooking.
We tried the grilled limpets to start, which are a bit of an acquired taste – they’re a type of aquatic snail. However the main fish course was absolutely delicious.
3. Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
There are many beautiful gardens in Madeira and the Tropical Gardens in Monte are a must visit. You can travel up on the cable car and down on the famous Funchal toboggan ride.
Dating from the 1850s, the Funchal wooden sledges are steered by men wearing rubber soled boots. There are no brakes, so it’s quite a hair raising ride!
In Monte Palace botanical garden, you can see many colourful orchids and flowers of Madeira. You will also find a beautiful 18th century palace in the centre of the park. Behind the palace you can admire a statue of a girl skipping rope.
There’s a cafe past the palace but choice is limited so if you want anything other than a sandwich it is best to eat before your visit to the gardens.
A few minutes walk from the exit, you will find the picturesque church of Nossa Senhora do Monte.
4. Cabo Girao
Cabo Girao is one of the highest cliff faces in the world, at 589 metres above sea level – just look at the drop from here. Situated along the southern coast of the island, there is a glass platform which you can stand on to admire the view from below.
The viewing platform shields you from the wind as it can be quite breezy up here. If you want to stop for lunch or dinner near to Cabo Girao, we can recommend Bacchus restaurant.
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We had one of our best lunches, a delicious stew pot of chicken at Bacchus restaurant overlooking Camara dos Lobos. It’s part of the Charming Hotels group and certainly lived up to it’s name.
Bacchus has a charming garden with spectacular views to the sea. The beaches of Madeira are very unspoiled and Camara de Lobos, the one below Cabo Girao is no exception.
5. Madeira Levadas
Hiking in Madeira is extremely popular as the scenery is so spectacular. The levadas are a series of canals that irrigate Madeira’s hillsides.
They are fantastic places to walk along if you plan it out properly. Ideally, you need proper walking boots and a torch.
We didn’t have these so did a “levada light” version on the Levada dos Tornos. The views from the hillside were spectacular.
You are likely to come across many beautiful flowers such as wild lilies. It could well be misty and chilly so we’d definitely suggest wrapping up warm.
6. Thatched Houses of Santana
Some of the houses in Madeira are extremely distinctive. Santana is famous for its traditional triangular thatched houses, known as patheiros.
Situated on the north coast of the island, some of the houses are still in private hands and used as extra storage or summer houses. Most have become shops and one houses the tourist information office.
Practical Information for Visiting Madeira
- Currency in Madeira – Euro
- Electricity – Voltage is 220V. It’s wise to bring an adaptor
- Health – no vaccines are required
- Language in Madeira – Portugese. English is widely spoken
- Tipping – a service charge isn’t normally added however it’s customary to tip 10%
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Have you been to Madeira? We’d love to know what are your own favourite things to do on the island.
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