Things to do in Madeira

Must-see Madeira sights

There’s more to Portugal than the mainland. Madeira, an island-dot in the Atlantic, has some of the country’s wildest scenery and wackiest attractions.

  1. Go tobogganing
  2. Smell the flowers
  3. Visit a working wine lodge
  4. Hike the hills and mountains
  5. Drive above the clouds
  6. Have some beach fun
  7. Marvel at sacred art
  8. Dive the deep
  9. Visit the CR7 Museum
  10. See thatched palheiro cottages
  11. Explore São Vicente
  12. Shop ‘till you drop

Tobogganing down a town street? Check. Exotic flowers? Check. A museum dedicated entirely to local-boy Cristiano Ronaldo? Check. You’ll never be stuck on what to do in Madeira. So whether you’re a rambler, a culture vulture or a footie fan, there’s plenty here to make your soul sing.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Go tobogganing

Bored of museums? It’s your lucky day. One of the most famous things to do in Madeira is tobogganing from the hilltop town of Monte. Its famous wicker toboggans were once used to carry freight down the steep hill to Funchal. Then a British merchant hit on the idea that the toboggans could carry people - today, you can still sit in the baskets and careen down the hill. With two carreiros in traditional straw boaters setting the speed, it’s a whole lotta fun.

Best for: Anyone looking for a unique Madeiran experience

While you’re there: Don’t forget to pause in Monte town - it's a fashionable place!

2. Smell the flowers

Nowhere else is Madeira’s floral bounty shown off quite so colourfully as at the Jardim Botânico. We’ve visited a lot of gardens around the world, and this one still stands out. It’s a wonderland for any plant lover, with examples of virtually every plant that grows on Madeira and lots of subtropical flowers and plants from far-flung destinations. Take the Teleféricos do Jardim Botânico above the ravine west of the Botanical Garden up to hilltop Monte. It’s a fantastic trip.

Best for: Green-fingered visitors

While you’re there: Don’t miss all the endemic Madeira natives.

3. Visit a working wine lodge

Fancy a tipple? Look no further than Madeira’s oldest working wine lodge, Adegas de São Francisco, in Funchal. Madeira’s famous local brew is a rich and full-bodied fortified wine: sampling some is among the best things to do in Madeira.

Best for: Wine enthusiasts

While you’re there: Learn about how Madeira wine is made by taking a tour of the lodge.

4. Hike the hills and mountains

Getting out and exploring Madeira on foot is one of the island’s greatest pleasures. Madeira is a volcanic island: its rugged mountains peek through the clouds, and its cliffs crash down to the surf below. You can walk the island on a network of levada trails: simple irrigation channels that provide direct access to the best of the island’s natural beauty.

Best for: Breathing in the great outdoors

While you’re there: Keep a lookout for Madeira’s wildflowers, including the bright orange birds of paradise.

5. Drive above the clouds

For a heady experience above the clouds, drive to the top of Madeira’s third-highest peak, Pico do Arieiro (1,818 metres/5,900ft). As the road rises, the rugged countryside becomes spectacularly barren, though plunging volcanic hillsides have been softened and greened by time.

Best for:Taking in views from the Mars-like summit

While you’re there:The café on the summit is a great place to take refuge if rain takes you unaware.

6. Have some beach fun

Lay down a towel and soak up some rays: there’s bucket-and-space fun to be had here too. You’ll want to make for Porto Santo - actually some 40km (25 miles) off Madeira. As desert islands go, it’s not exactly undiscovered - you can get here on a two-hour ferry. Porto Santo is still, at heart, the resort of Madeirans, who seek what they have not: sand.

Best for: Families seeking a classic beach experience

While you’re there: Check out the rust-coloured rock and cliff formations of Porto Santo.

7. Marvel at sacred art

To get your culture fix, visit Funchal’s Museu de Arte Sacra. Housed in a 17th-century palace, outstanding works on view include a dozen or so rare 15th- and 16th-century Flemish paintings. There’s also a fine collection of Flemish sculpture.

Best for: Culture vultures

While you’re there: Don’t miss the exhibits on goldsmithery.

8. Dive the deep

Divers are in luck in Madeira, since one of Europe’s first underwater nature reserves was created along the Garajau coastline. Clear waters, colourful fish and spooky shipwrecks: what more could you want?

Best for: Water babies

While you’re there: The cold waters around the island, once prime whaling territory, are now a marine sanctuary for whales, dolphins and seal. So if you’d rather spot wildlife from the dry deck of a boat, you won’t be disappointed either.

9. Visit the CR7 Museum

Football mad? Don’t miss the CR7 Museum. One of the world’s top footballers, Cristiano Ronaldo is Madeira’s most famous native son and this museum is dedicated entirely to him. The CR7 Museum traces his life and his star-studded career. If you’re looking at Madeira holidays, why not book a night’s stay at the Pestana CR7 Hotel. Directly above the museum, the hotel is jointly owned by Ronaldo and the Pestana group.

Best for: Football fans

While you’re there: See Ronaldo’s golden boots, more than 100 of his trophies and reams of adoring fan mail.

10. See thatched palheiro cottages

Santana is home to an enchantingly picture-book style of housing – A-framed structures known as palheiros. Two palheiros, perfectly painted in red, white and blue, are the objects of many tourist selfies because they are located in the centre of the village. Another palheiro that you can explore is in the grounds of Madeira Theme Park. This is one of the best things to do in Madeira for children, with rock-climbing walls, adventure playgrounds and a boating lake.

Best for: Anyone keen on cultural heritage

While you’re there: One of the two most famous palheiros houses a tourist information centre.

10. Explore São Vicente

São Vicente may just be the prettiest village on the island. Its compact, well-kept centre is pedestrian-only, and attractive shops and cafés look out onto Igreja Matriz, a church with a painted ceiling depicting St Vincent. The village remains pristine - set inland, it’s protected from the harsh ocean winds. 

Best for: A village wander.

While you’re there: The town lies just south of an unusual little chapel carved out of rock.

10. Shop ‘till you drop

Madeira is an outstanding shopping destination, given its long craft heritage. The island is renowned for wicker items, exquisite handmade lace and embroidery, gorgeous flowers and local wines. 

Best for: Shopaholics or souvenir hunters.

While you’re there: Remember that although Madeirans don’t take a midday siesta, most businesses close for a one-or two-hour lunch break.

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