We refuse to let Madeira be known for nothing more than cake and Christiano Ronaldo’s right foot. There’s so much more to this far-flung Portuguese port of call. So much so, in fact, that you’ll never see it all in a day, but don’t worry, you can always come back. Boy, should you come back.
Here are three of our favourite ways to do a day in Madeira, each of them a new opportunity to see the natural beauty behind this leafy isle.
Madeira has arguably one of Europe’s greenest capital cities, no mean feat! There are a ton of things to do here, enough to fill an overnight stay and more, but here are some of our favourite places to begin. Start with a visit to the Sé, the 15th century cathedral right at the heart of town. From there, take a boozy detour to Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge at Ava Arriaga 28 for an hour-long tasting tour.
Stroll Funchal’s vibrant Mercado dos Lavradores, grabbing lunch along the way on Rua de Santa Maria, a slither of a street famed for its painted doors. Take a seat on the city cable-car for a post-lunch rest, riding over the rooftops to quaint Monte. Once Madeira’s most well-heeled suburb, nowadays it attracts visitors with Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and the pretty Nossa Senhora do Monte church. Daredevils can take the toboggan back down the hillside, careering to the bottom in a wicker basket manned by drivers with only goat-skin boots for brakes.
Hike the levada pathways
Madeira’s coastline is a real cracker, but its rugged interior has some real gems that are worth the workout. The walk from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo will take a couple of hours but the views from two of Madeira’s highest peaks are showstoppers.
If lockdown has left you with a newfound love of getting out on two feet in the great outdoors, Madeira services the need to get moving better than many. There are more than a thousand miles of levada paths criss-crossing the island with varying levels of fitness required to navigate them. Don’t forget water and sunscreen, and layer up – temperatures drop at altitude and conditions change quickly here.
You’ll be ravenous by the time you’re back at sea level, so make reservations in advance for afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace. If that won’t cut it for bigger appetites, devour delicacies like espada and espetada with a local beer back in Funchal.
Meet the really wild locals
Madeira’s archipelago-mates include sandy Porto Santo, a serene little isle that sits a 2.5–hour ferry ride away, and the Ilhas Desertas. These three uninhabited islands are home to sea birds, seals and endless marine life, with boat trips showing it all off.
Madeira has endless boats coming and going from Funchal’s painterly harbour, each of them boasting the chance to spot whales or swim with dolphins. May to October is peak sperm and Bryde’s whale time, while winter brings majestic humpbacks.
Back on dry land, four legs are better than two at Quinta do Riacho. Choose your gentle steed and your levada and go, taking in ancient woodland and hilltop trails with incredible views. It’s a real pinch yourself moment, even if horse riding isn’t usually your thing.
Have we put Madeira on your wish list? Speak to our Cruise Experts today and put the Portuguese port on your holiday agenda.