A 10 day Madeira itinerary to an island that attracts those seeking warm weather, relaxed island life, and nature fuelled activities.
There is something exciting and very intriguing about flying into a new destination, your senses heightened as you eventually spot the unknown land arrive into view through the airplane window. Instantly, you know Madeira is an island you will remember for a long time when the plane descends onto the airport strip perched above the ocean on concrete stilts. It is definitely worth bagging a window seat to capture the inflight views of this fascinating airport.
- A brief intro to Madeira Island
- A perfect 10-Day Madeira itinerary
- Day One – Chill Day
- Day Two – Explore Funchal
- Day Three – Monte & Botanic Gardens
- Day Four – East Coast
- Day Five – Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Hike
- Day Six – Levada das 25 Fontes Walk
- Day Seven – Surf Porto Do Cruz
- Day Eight – Eagle Nest Hike
- Day Nine – Scuba Diving and Paddle Boarding.
- Day Ten – Catamaran & Afternoon Tea
A brief intro to Madeira Island
Madeira is a Portuguese Island closer to the coast of Africa, 520 km away, than mainland Portugal found 1,000 km North. Because of its location, it enjoys year-round warm weather with temperatures in the low to mid 20C, perfect for those who can travel any time of year.
What is Madeira famous for?
Madeira is famous as the birthplace of the world-famous footballer (soccer) star Christian Ronaldo and is known as the floating garden of the Atlantic Ocean because of the vibrant flora and fauna that live there. An island that attracts those seeking all-year-round tropical sunshine, relaxed island life, and a love for nature fuelled activities. The breathtaking landscapes throughout the island will have you planning your next trip before you have even left the island. I know I did.
Although Madeira is a small island on paper, it is jam-packed with experiences ready waiting for you to arrive.
Is it easy to travel around Madeira?
Normally, I would recommend hiring a car to explore an island the size of Madeira. This is still an option, with plenty available from the airport or the capital, Funchal, but keep in mind the mountainous terrain requires a confident driver. You have nerve-racking steep hills and tunnels built through rock waiting to be maneuvered.
Therefore as a solo traveler, I recommend the use of tours and public transport to explore this island.
Get ready to sit back and enjoy this enchanting land.
A perfect 10-Day Madeira itinerary
This ten-day itinerary will provide you with ideas to plan your visit and see the very best of Madeira. It will cover everything from how to get there, what to see, and where to eat.
Day One – Chill Day
Regardless of where you have traveled from, I would recommend a chilled start to your trip to acclimatize to island life. Enjoy your first day either:
By the hotel pool
There is a complete area in the capital, Funchal, known as the ‘hotel zone’ because of the sheer abundance of accommodation options available. Most have stunning views with pools overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, allowing you to daydream, enjoy that holiday read you have packed, and plan out the next few days.
At the Lido
If your accommodation doesn’t have a pool, don’t worry there is a Lido swimming pool complex in Funchal. Alongside a large and a small seawater pool, there is direct access to the sea for an ocean swim. There is everything you will ever need to chill including sunbeds, parasols, changing rooms, lockers, and a snack bar perfect for a full day of relaxing.
At the Beach
Formosa beach is just west of Funchal city center and is the nearest one you can walk to if you’re staying in the city. Machico beach is one of the two beaches with golden sand in Madeira, where, interestingly, the sand has been imported from Morocco. This sandy spot is a 45-minute bus ride away.
Day Two – Explore Funchal
The capital, Funchal, is perfect for a day strolling the streets taking in the culture and attractions of this enchanting island. Here is a selection of highlights to keep you busy:
Cristiano Ronaldo Museum – CR7 Museum
The museum shares the life story of the Madeiran football player Cristiano Ronaldo. The museum, which sits on the promenade, displays the trophies won by the Portuguese international throughout his brilliant career. Outside the museum entrance, you will find a replica statue of the football legend ready for a cheeky photo. There is also a café that sits facing out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Nelson Mandela Monument
As you stroll along the promenade enjoying the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean make sure you check out the memorial to Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa. The sculptural piece comprises N and M, inspired by colored panels in the patterns of shirts worn by Nelson Mandela.
Take this time to enjoy the bustling activity around the promenade, where you will likely spot local men fishing.
From the promenade head into the Avenida Zarco, one of the busiest streets in Funchal, to capture photos of the stunning colonial architecture. In particular, look for:
- Pico Fortress
- São Lourenço Palace
- Sé Cathedral
- Municipal Theatre Baltazar Dias
- Funchal’s Town Hall
- São Pedro’s Church
Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ Market)
The Farmers’ Market, which opened in 1940, sells all kinds of products but mainly acts as a fruit, vegetable, and flower market. From here you will be able to source some of the more exotic fruits only found in this area of the world. During the year, there are also pop-up stalls offering handmade gifts and creative delights ready to take home with you.
This is also the perfect spot to eat like a local and try the Bolo de Caco (Madeiran sweet potato bread) served warm with lashings of garlic butter and your choice of filling. There are a couple of cafés with seating inside the market serving up the bread snack.
Old Town Street art
The Old Town (Zona Velha) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Funchal.
Following an initiative led by local artists, the area is now home to some amazing art. The “The Art of Open Doors” project has created a vibrant and fun tourist activity – enjoy finding the art on the buildings and doors. The best time to visit is when the businesses are closed to get full access to the creative pieces, but it is also a nice area to explore to enjoy the daytime alfresco dining vibrancy.
At the end of the day head to Fort of São Tiago ( Fort of Saint James) a stand-out landmark along the seafront with eye-catching yellow colored walls. You will be surprised to find the locals using the space in front of the Fort as a place for sunbathing – join them and enjoy the ocean views as the sun goes down.
Day Three – Monte & Botanic Gardens
Caravel Art Center and Art Food Corner (Café)
Enjoy the start of your day at this art-infused cafe with good coffee and a selection of healthy foods; the acai bowl is definitely one to try. Part of the Caravel Art Centre where the café is housed in a colorful vibrant building that also acts as an art museum and gift shop. There are exhibitions in the upstairs space with events also held here so keep a lookout for any events advertised.
High above Funchal, accessed by a cable car, the neighborhood of Monte is one of the most popular trips from the Funchal promenade. The top sights here are:
- Igreja da Nossa Senhora – Gothic Church
- Monte Palace Tropical Gardens – Admission fee
- Wicker toboggan ride down to Livramento. It is a sight to witness and even experience in person. Admission fee.
Alongside visiting Monte, most tourists also combine this with one of the island’s top tourist attractions, the Madeira famous botanical gardens. This is also accessed by a Cable Car, but a different one. This time from Monte – you hop off the cable car from Funchal to Monte, and after a short walk, you hop onto a separate cable car from Monte to the Gardens. The gardens extend over 80,000 sq meters with the stunning Funchal coastline as your backdrop.
Patio Das Babosas Cafe
After you have enjoyed the Botanic Gardens and have made your way back to Monte, there is a café that sits perched on the way back towards Monte village from the Cable Car Exit with the most stunning view. Make sure you try the cake of the day.
At night, enjoy dinner in Cuban Restaurant Madcuba to add a Latin twist to your trip. It sits at the end of a vibrant street with other bars and restaurants.
Day Four – East Coast
The East tour is a popular trip to enjoy the stunning and varied landscapes, with an abundance of Madeira’s culture, history, and traditions on offer. Tours are available online or from the many tour agencies based in Madeira. Highlights of the tour include:
Green fields, flowers, and fruit plantations surround the village. Camacha is known for its folklore tradition and wickerwork, where there is a handicraft center for you to discover many wicker furniture made by hand.
This is the heart of the Laurissilva Forest (Laurel Forest), classified by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage site because of its unique habitat with a diversity of rare fauna and flora.
In Ribeiro Frio, you can also visit the famous trout farm, where the trout grows in the freshwater that comes from the Levada.
Santana is home to the traditional triangular thatched roofed houses which were the standard accommodation back in the day. The government now owns these homes. Santana is a top tourist attraction because of the quirky nature of the structure and the vibrant colour. These wooden homes are now small boutique shops or museums.
The viewpoint of Ponta do Rostro
Experience where the North and South coasts of the Island meet. Ponta de São Lourenço is a peninsula where the landscape differs completely from the rest of the Island. The climate and exposure to North winds have sculpted the land. In 1982 UNESCO declared this area a geological nature reserve to preserve its fauna and flora.
Machico was where the Portuguese founders disembarked in 1419 when they discovered Madeira. The historical city is home to the stunning bay, which invites you for a walk by the sea. In the bay, you will find a small yellow sand beach that was imported from Morocco.
Day Five – Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Hike
This epic 11km return trek starts at Pico do Arieiro, the island’s third-highest peak at 1,818 meters and home to the military receiver. There are stunning views from the lookout here, so spend time before your trek taking in the scenery.
After meandering along a challenging terrain you reach the Pico Ruivo Summit at 1,862 meters above sea level. This route leads hikers along narrow pathways, with epic ridge views, up and down challenging staircases, and through dark tunnels built into the mountain range. With steep inclines, you will definitely feel like you have completed a trek workout by the end.
Although this is graded a difficult trek, the track is well-maintained with hand-rails to provide security/support. They advise a torch for the dark tunnels. For a regular hiker, it is safe but a challenge – nothing too wild though. If it is your first hike in a while, prepare to feel your calves burn.
If you have a rental car you can park at the Pico do Arieiro car park and enjoy the return hike.
There are tours that start at Pico do Arieiro and finish at a car park beyond the Pico Ruivo where you are collected by the minibus.
At night treat yourself and enjoy dinner at the iconic Restaurante Do Forte. The São Tiago Fortress is the backdrop providing an architecture and gastronomy experience you will remember for a lifetime.
Day Six – Levada das 25 Fontes Walk
No trip to Madeira is complete with enjoying a Levada walk, to experience the agricultural water channels blended into the island forest and used to transport water around the island. It is truly intriguing. Each levada walk has its own character and charm.
The Levada das 25 Fontes hike is one of the most popular levada walks on Madeira which starts in Rabaçal and descends via the valley into the forest where you’ll pass many waterfalls along the way. The Risco waterfall is truly impressive.
Along the way, you can explore a wide variety of different species of the flora and fauna of the region. The highlight is the 25 waterfalls that fall into the refreshing pool where you can swim or enjoy your lunch.
Some other popular levada walks are:
- Levada Do Rei – Kings Walk – Easy 10km
Varied vegetation of endemic and exotic species can be seen along the Levada Do Rei path. The sweeping views of the valley will surprise you as you spot in the distance the towns of Santana and São Jorge with the ocean backdrop.
- Levada Do Caldeirao Verde – Easy 8km
This hike is unique as the many waterfalls are joined with beautiful lush green jungle surroundings.
Day Seven – Surf Porto Do Cruz
Porto Do Cruz is a small rural village on the North Coast that sits in the shadow of Eagles Rock. The black volcanic sand and gentle waves are perfect for surf beginners. The Atlantic Ocean, banana plantations, and vineyards surround the village making it feel like a retreat. In the area, there are several restaurants where you can taste the regional gastronomy with a focus on fresh fish and seafood.
- Beginners Surf School – lessons can be arranged from the main surf schools below where wetsuits and boards are provided alongside tailored lessons. Wetsuit and board hire only is possible. The two most popular surf schools are Madeira Surf Camp and Calhau Surf School.
- North Mills Distillery – Next to the small beach of Praia da Alagoa is a museum dedicated to rum making. A nearby tall red brick chimney is a feature of the building where the museum showcases engines, copper vats, barrels, and other brewing utensils, with information boards providing helpful details about the distilling process. There is also a shop and cafe in the next-door building. Admission is free.
Madeira Surf Camp Guest House is in the heart of the village. They renovated it in 2020 and is perfect for those looking for a surf base.
Hotel Vila Mela is a small hotel that sits on a small promenade with cute sea view rooms, perfect for sunrise.
Note: There is a small shop in the village which sells basic food items and also bakery items.
How to Get there:
SAM bus #53 and #208 have a relatively frequent service – check the timetable though. Duration: 1 hour.
Day Eight – Eagle Nest Hike
The Penha de Águia (Eagles Rock) hike is the perfect activity to break a sweat while in Porto Da Cruz. It is a steep climb to the top of the rock, known as Eagle’s Nest, that sits in between the two towns of Faial and Porto Da Cruz. The trek is a little wild but offers amazing coastal views.
There are a couple of options for the hike.
- Hike straight up to the viewpoint on the Porto Da Cruz side then return the same way. 3.4km in total.
- Hike straight up, across the rock, and down into the Faial side. From Faial, you either walk back to complete the loop or catch a bus/taxi. 8km total loop.
Hike details: The full trail route is accessible using the app maps.me.
You will need to manage some rocks, tree roots, and uneven surfaces to reach the top of the trek. There is always a defined path but it can be overgrown so don’t worry. The trail leads you along the levada and through a banana plantation (with some rowdy hens) until you see a wooden sign that says Penha de Águia and leads you up the dirt path to the summit.
Day Nine – Scuba Diving and Paddle Boarding.
Back in Funchal, there are a number of water-based activities that should be added to your itinerary for a fun, refreshing, experience.
For something a little extra why not try a paddleboard tour using the board as the mode of transport. The Madeira SUP tours allow access to the local beauty and lush landscape, usually limited to other vessels.
For scuba diving courses Azul Diving Centre, based at Quinta Da Penha De França hotel, provides a 3-hour beginner course where you practice in the hotel pool before you head out into the ocean.
Pick any local bar in Funchal to taste the traditional Madeiran drink of Poncha. Made with aguardente de cana, honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice. Some varieties include other fruit juices like Passionfruit. It definitely packs a punch.
Day Ten – Catamaran & Afternoon Tea
A Catamaran tour is the most popular activity to explore the sea in search of dolphins and whales. The boat tour takes 3 hours and goes out twice a day, every day – Mornings ( 10h30 – 13h30 ) and Afternoons ( 15h00 – 18h00 ).
You will experience the highest sea cliff in Europe, Cabo Girão, for a swim and a chance to do some snorkeling. The Catamarans have a covered area and have refreshments and toilets onboard.
Reid Hotel Afternoon Tea
After a morning catamaran trip, treat yourself to Afternoon Tea in the majestic surroundings of the Reid Hotel. The brainchild of one man, William Reid. The Scotsman left his family farm for Madeira where he set up a successful business in the Madeira wine trade. Reid bought land on the rocky promontory where Reid’s Palace now stands after spotting the Cruise ship tourism potential.
The hotel has more British connections as Winston Churchill came to write his memoirs. Afternoon tea is enjoyed in the verdant gardens overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Madeira is a one-of-a-kind exotic island that feels like Europe with a twist. I have provided a varied guide to allow you to enjoy the best of this island but this is just the tip of the iceberg as Madeira has an abundance of activities and sights waiting for you. I hope this guide inspires you to take the leap into Madeira. Below are some extras that may pique your interest. As I mentioned, the adventures and experiences awaiting in Madeira are endless.
This will allow you to develop an itinerary to suit you.
Other Madeira adventures and events worth a visit
West Coast Tour – The West Coast of Madeira is full of outstanding lookouts, traditional fishing villages, and awe-inspiring natural wonders.
Sky Walk – A 2-minute walk from the village of Cabo Girão. The skywalk is an exhilarating attraction where you will stand over the tallest cliffs in Europe with incredible views of the Madeira coast including Funchal. The attraction is free.
Peninsula Sao Lourenco Walk – A 9km rugged walk with a dreamy landscape where you will have the sea on both sides. You can jump in the ocean at the end to refresh for the return walk back. The start of the hike is accessed via public transport.
Porto Santo Island – Explore the second inhabited Island of the Madeiran archipelago. Porto Santo is perfect for bike rides and beach time, reachable by ferry from Funchal port.
Flower Festival – Hosted after Easter the city becomes a vibrant flowery wonderland with flower walls and carpet displays made by locals.
Wine Festival – A folk festival held in early September when the grape harvest begins.
New Year Celebrations – The Funchal promenade lights up with an epic fireworks display.
Useful Madeira Island Info
- The Euro is the main currency with ATMs accessible throughout the Island.
- Free Wifi is available at some points in the capital, Funchal.
- The main language is Portuguese, with English widely spoken.
Keep reading: Guide to Sao Miguel island, in the Açores archipelago
Jacquelyn Armour’s first travel memoir titled ‘Follow Your Joy’ is an ode to learning about herself and discovering the joy of life along the way.