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Madeira is one of my favourite islands in the world. However, it’s often over looked as a holiday destination. For reasons I’ll never understand people assume that Madeira is only for the 50+ age group.
I mean, it’s a mountainous, volcanic island filled to the brim with adventure activity options and cheap wine – what about that isn’t suitable for a younger tourist?! Where did this “only for the older” reputation come from?!
Luckily for me the Portuguese tourism board and TAP Air invited me to visit Madeira for a second time. I got to see more of the island and explore exactly what it has to offer tourists of all ages. From canyoning to catamaran tours I’m going to take you through the perfect Madeira itinerary including where to stay, where to eat, what to do and more.
- Complete Madeira Itinerary
- Best Madeira Excursions and Day Tours
- The Best Places to Stay in Madeira
- How to Get to Madeira
Complete Madeira Itinerary
Madeira is a great destination for a short weekend break or even a full week-long holiday. For the purpose of covering all my bases I’ve opted to outline a 4 day Madeira itinerary.
However, I’ll also be going through the best day tours and excursions to take during your time in Madeira so if you’re staying longer than 4 days you’ll find a few options for those extra days too. Honestly, I could spend months on this island, so I wouldn’t blame anyone spending a few extra days.
4 Days in Madeira
- Breakfast in your hotel (I’ll take you through accommodation options later)
- Catamaran whale and dolphin watching trip with VMT Madeira
- Chilled late afternoon at the hotel/exploring Funchal
- Dinner at Hostel Santa Maria Restaurante in Funchal (always order bolo do caco and the risotto was delicious too)
- Try Poncha (Madeiran alcoholic drink made from distilled sugar cane juice, honey, sugar and fruit juice) at Venda Velha bar
- Early breakfast in the hotel
- Levada hike with Adventure Kingdom
- Stop to check out Cabo Girao view point on the way back to the hotel and walk on the glass-floored platform
- Dinner at Restaurante Chalet Vicente (more bolo do caco and plenty of wine)
- Breakfast at your hotel
- Canyoning with Madeira Experience at Ribiero Frio
- Late lunch/early dinner at Faja Dos Padres (You have to get a steep cable car down and the views are insane. The food is also all freshly grown on site and it’s glorious). Trust me, this is unmissable!
- Cocktails at your hotel or in one of the many cocktail bars in Funchal
- Breakfast at your hotel (I’m sure you’re seeing a pattern here)
- Drive to São Vicente Caves and Volcano Centre and learn about how Madeira was formed
- Drive to Porto Moniz and lunch at Aqua Natura (incredible ocean views and delicious food)
- Explore Porto Moniz, one of my favourite parts of Madeira, maybe go swimming in the natural sea pools if you feel like it
- Sunset mojitos (the best on the island) and dinner at Maktub Bar in Calheta
Of course there are plenty of other things to do in Madeira. Check out my recommended excursions and day tours below or have a read of my article all about things to do in Madeira.
Best Madeira Excursions and Day Tours
Madeira Levada Hikes
The levadas are a must see when visiting Madeira, but what are they?! The levadas are man-made waterways with a gentle slope used to transport water from the North of the island to the South of the island. The North gets more rain, where as the South is drier and has a larger population.
The walkways that exist alongside these levadas now are used for hiking. However, they were previously used by people doing maintenance on the levadas. Sometimes the walkways are narrow and rocky in places but the hikes in general are pleasant, varied and afford stunning views.
There are lots of different levada hikes in Madeira with different routes, views and locations. It’s best to do the hikes with a guide/ tour company as local guides know the best routes, will be familiar with the changing weather conditions and will be full of local knowledge.
I did my levada hike with Adventure Kingdom and I’m more than happy to recommend them. They picked me up from my hotel and we even had a quick coffee/bathroom break before the hike.
If you do book a levada hike tour I highly recommend bringing a rain coat, some water and some snacks if they don’t provide them. No matter how hot and sunny it is down in Funchal it will most likely be cold up in the mountains, so make sure you have layers to keep you warm.
Of course, make sure to wear suitable footwear, the paths are usually flat but can be rocky, uneven and narrow. The North Face hiking shoes I reviewed previously on the blog (read the full review here) are my go to and they were perfect for the hike. Be very careful not to step into the levadas. That might sound silly but the water can become covered with leaves and look very similar to solid ground.
If the weather is good the views from the levada hikes are spectacular. However, if it’s misty you might not see anything other than the path you’re navigating. Don’t let that put you off, it was misty when I went and it was still a fantastic experience.
Whale and Dolphin Watching Catamaran Tour
If you’re looking for a chilled out activity in Madeira whale watching is it. Sitting on a catamaran in the beaming sunlight with the wind in your hair and the ocean spray on your face – it’s glorious.
The best time to see whales in Madeira is April to October, but the possibility is there all year round. However, a whale sighting cannot be guaranteed. I did my tour in October and didn’t see any whales, but I did see plenty of dolphins and turtles.
The most common species of whale you might spot in Madeira are the sperm whale and the pilot whale. You may also spot humpback whales, bryde’s whales, sei whales, fin whales and minke whales as well as other even rarer species.
I did my catamaran trip with VMT. It was very smooth, I just turned up at their booth by the harbour and booked myself on a trip. I think if it’s low season you could just buy a ticket on arrival but in high season you would want to book in advance. It cost €35 for a 3 hour trip.
Make sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, water and sunscreen. There is a bar on board where you can purchase snacks and drinks. The catamaran will periodically stop along the way if they spot any wildlife or to remove any litter that they spot in the ocean. The crew were also very respectful and conscious about only stopping for short periods of time around the wildlife.
Even though I didn’t see any whales it was great to see the dolphins and be out on the ocean. The trip also awarded me great views of the island! 100% happy to recommend VMT, it was the perfect laid back day tour.
This was one of my favourite experiences on the island. I did my canyoning with Madeira Experience, however, there are several canyoning tour operators on the island.
Madeira Experience picked me up from my hotel. The drive up the mountains to Ribeiro Frio was beautiful, almost like Ireland. Ribeiro Frio is the perfect beginners canyoning spot as there are less people around (actually there was no one around when I was there) and the abseiling parts aren’t too high.
Canyoning in general is a lot of scrambling over slippy rocks, abseiling down rockfaces, wading/swimming through icy water and jumping off waterfalls/rockfaces. What I love about it is that you’re completely alone (at least we were in that location) and in an area that you’d normally never be able to get to. It was proper wilderness!
Maderia Experience provide everything except for footwear, so make sure you have a pair of runner/trainers with you that you don’t particularly care about. My North Face hiking shoes still smell like canyon water. Shimmying into the wetsuits was also quite the experience.
You have to get dressed/undressed on the side of the road, so make sure you’re wearing your best swimwear. It’s not a busy road, but still.
I’m not a big fan of cycling in any way shape or form, but I know most people are and I know that Madeira has great terrain for it.
My group went on a mountain biking excursion with Lokoloko while I was off on the catamaran trip. They all came back absolutely raving about it, so that’s a fairly solid endorsement.
Lokoloko offer mountain biking tours suitable for all levels of experience from beginners to pros across various parts of the island.
Day Trip to Porto Santo
If you fancy a day off Madeira then consider a day trip to Porto Santo island. There is a daily ferry service during peak season provided by Porto Santo Line. The times work perfectly for a day trip departing early in the morning from Funchal and returning in the evening. A return fare costs around €60/person during peak season.
Porto Santo is famous for its 7km long sandy beach. There are plenty of hiking opportunities and other beaches to visit on the island as well. I’ve never done the day trip, though I was always curious when I saw the signs and ads outside the tour company offices. However, I found a great blog with all the information you could ever need – HERE.
Quadding is a fun and exciting way to see more of the island. Tours start with a quick lesson and once you know what you’re doing then it’s time to explore the island from a unique point of view.
Plenty of companies offer ATV/Quadding tours of island in different location and most of them offer pick ups from local hotels. I’m certainly happy to recommend Madeira Experience, who took me on my canyoning adventure. Prices start from €80.
São Vicente Caves and Volcano Centre
This is a nice, easy and informative activity for all ages. The museum explains the volcanic history of Madeira and how it was formed. The tour takes you through the caves formed by lava and then there is an information centre afterwards which children (and easily entertained adults) will love. Admission is €8/adult and there’s a coffee shop and some lovely gardens on site too.
I LOVE FOOD TOURS! A food tour is a great way to get to know any new destination and Funchal, Madeira’s capital, is no exception. Hop from restaurant to cafe tasting the best of what Madeira has to offer with a local guide giving you the down low on all things delicious.
You can check out a full list of Madeira food tour options here. I like the look of the Madeira Food and Wine Tour which lasts 3 hrs, visits 9 venues, has 11 food tastings and 6 wine tastings all included for €60/person. The Food on Foot Tours also come highly recommended and cater for vegetarians. They’re a bit longer and cost €69.75/person.
The Best Places to Stay in Madeira
Hotel Alto Lido (Lux)
During my most recent trip to Madeira I stayed in Hotel Alto Lido in Funchal. It’s a 4* hotel in the Lido area of Funchal and has been recently renovated. The rooms are big, bright and modern with plenty of them having stunning seaviews. I never wanted to leave my room, it was so beautifully designed.
The breakfast buffet is vast and full of variety. The on site bar serves very reasonably priced bar food and decent cocktails. There is an outdoor and an indoor pool as well as spa facilities. There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants nearby and it’s about a 30-40 minute walk to Funchal main harbour and old town. Very happy to recommend Hotel Alto Lido! I’d definitely stay again.
Savoy Saccharum (Lux)
On my first visit to Madeira I stayed in the Savoy Saccharum in Calheta. It’s a 5* design hotel in a quiet part of the island. The rooftop infinity pool has the most breath-taking sunset views. There is also a heated indoor rooftop pool and several other outdoor pool options.
The breakfast was splendid. The design is stunning, inspired by a sugar cane mill. There are several dining and drinking options on site as well as some restaurants nearby. The on site thermal suite and spa are perfect for a relaxing after a day exploring Madeira.
As this hotel is outside Funchal you would benefit from renting a car if you plan to stay here. The Saccharum hotel is also shockingly under-priced (in my opinion) for such a gorgeous 5* hotel. It remains one of the best travel bargains I’ve ever gotten.
Hostel Santa Maria, Funchal (Budget)
This colourful boutique hostel is above the restaurant I mentioned in my itinerary earlier. The prices are very reasonable and breakfast is included in the rate. They have 8 bed dorms, 4 bed dorms and private rooms. There’s a fully equipped communal kitchen which can be used for preparing meals as well as a lounge area with TV and reading nook.
The location is perfect, right in the heart of Funchal. If you’re on a budget and need a great base from which to explore the island then I think Hostel Santa Maria is the one for you.
How to Get to Madeira
Getting to Madeira from Dublin is simple. You can fly with TAP, connecting via Lisbon. From London you can fly direct with British Airways.
Funchal airport is notorious for bumpy landings due to the wind and position of the runway. I’ve never had a problem, but it can sometimes take a couple of goes to get the landing right, so don’t be surprised if it happens.
I think TAP pilots are particularly used to landing in Funchal because they fly Lisbon to Funchal multiple times a day, every day, so they’re very well practised.
Why I Will Always Revisit Madeira
OK, so if it wasn’t clear already, I absolutely love this little Portuguese island. The people are friendly, the food is great, it’s affordable and, of course, it’s absolutely beautiful. If you were one of the people who thought Madeira was an older destination then I hope I’ve dispelled that myth and I truly encourage you to visit, you won’t regret it.