Things to do in Madeira

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Lovely is this island. It is mild and gentle in the middle of a roaring sea. The so-called flower island is a paradise for people who not only like flowers but who even see in them ambassadors of bliss. We are talking about Madeira, the Portuguese enclave in the Atlantic. The distance to Morocco is closer than to the Algarve, but the European mother country is still proud of its pretty child and its sister Porto Santo. The climate here is almost always pleasant with spring-like temperatures in winter.

It is said that Madeira is an ideal place to strengthen nerves, circulation and heart. The legendary “Sisi”, the Empress of Austria, who one and a half centuries ago hoped for a cure for her lung disease there, obviously already knew this. Today, numerous luxurious hotels have established themselves in Madeira. With a dignified Mediterranean touch and of course with wellness oases. Below we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in Madeira.

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1. Ride in a basket sled

A unique experience is the ride in a basket sleigh. The writer Ernest Hemingway once described the slide from the villa town of Monte over almost five kilometres down to the city of Funchal as one of the most exciting experiences of his travels through Europe. The basket sled is a mixture of a comfortable sofa and a kind of laundry basket on runners.

The Carro de Cesto was invented by a British businessman in the 19th century and is particularly popular with holidaymakers. The starting point is below the church “Nossa Senhora do Monte”. From there it goes steeply downhill in many curves. But the speedy ride in a basket sled is safe, because the traditionally white dressed companions steer and steer the unusual means of transport.

2. Caves of Sao Vicente

Among the most interesting sights of the island are the caves and grottos of Sao Vicente. They are located in the north of Madeira and are about 35 kilometres away from the metropolis of Funchal. The “Grutas” are of volcanic origin and are said to be 400,000 years old. The tunnel system of solidified lava was opened to the public only in 1996. In three galleries, the bizarre underworld extends over about seven hundred metres. The caves are almost everywhere five meters high.

In the visitor centre at the end of the tour there are interesting details on the history of Madeira’s origins. The former fishing village of Sao Vicente is also a popular destination for surfers. The baroque church “Igreja de Sao Vicente” is located in the centre of the picturesque town.

3. Jardim Tropical Monte Palace

Funchal’s Monte district has made itself a beautiful gift with its tropical garden. This is a masterpiece of ingenious and imaginative florists, made possible by the Portuguese investor José Berardo, who had already immortalised himself with his private collection in the Colesao Berardo Art Museum in Lisbon. The initiators of the Jardim Tropical in Madeira were inspired by Asian models.

Typical tiles, the azulejos, can be found everywhere in this botanical wonderland. Among other things, they tell the story of the Portuguese in Japan. A large pond with colourful shimmering Kois and proud swans is the centre of the impressive complex.

4. Ponta de Sao Lourenco

Bizarre are the rock formations on the peninsula Ponta de Sao Lourenco in the east. A strong trade wind almost always blows here, which led to the fact that in this nature reserve the vegetation is not as luxuriant as in other regions of Madeira. But in the rainy weeks of spring a photogenic carpet of flowers spreads out there.

Ponta de Sao Lourenco is ideal for an extensive hike. An eight-kilometre tour begins at the Baía d´ Abra vantage point. After the sweaty ascent to the “Ponta”, the hiker is rewarded with a magnificent view. Who wants to take a refreshing bath later, can do this at the Praia das Sardinhas.

5. Cable car to Monte

Teleférico do Funchal – this is the official name of the cable car that connects the capital with the Monte mountain. It was opened for use in November 1960 and overcomes 560 metres in altitude in a quarter of an hour. Eight hundred passengers can be transported per hour in 39 cabins. So there’s hardly any waiting time.

If you want to see the Botanical Garden at a lofty height, use another cable car after a short walk. From there visitors can also take a taxi or bus back to the valley. But first you should have a look at the pilgrimage church Nossa Senhora. In the left side aisle Charles I, the last Austrian emperor, found his peace for eternity in a coffin.

6. The Cape of Conversion

In the south of Madeira there is the highest cliff in Europe, the Cabo Girao, which can be translated as “Cape of Reversal”. The rock has a height of 580 meters and the panorama from the viewing platform is spectacular there. The cliff is one of the biggest sights of the island and is the starting point of the interesting hike Levada do Norte. The impressive rock is also an attraction for paragliders who have found their starting place there.

7. Fortress Sao Tiago

To protect against the attacks of pirates, the Fortaleza Sao Tiago was built on Madeira in the 17th century. For a long time, the fortress served exclusively military purposes. Today it houses the Museum of Contemporary Art. Works by famous Portuguese artists can be seen in the old walls of Fortaleza.

The fortress in the harbour with its bright yellow walls is part of the historic old town. During a visit, one should take a look at the cistern in the inner courtyard, which was carved into the rock. The entire complex is a listed building.

8. Lavapools in Porto Moniz

Those who want to swim safely in the sea water should go to the lava pools of Porto Moniz. The basins were formed by volcanic activity and erosion. They are permanently flooded by the floods of the Atlantic Ocean and are also suitable for swimming with children. They are open all year round and can be used free of charge.

Porto Moniz is a small town at the northwestern end of Madeira. Until the eighties of the last century there was a harbour for whalers here. Besides the lava pools, the fish restaurants of this region are particularly popular.

9. Old town of Funchal

The alleys and squares of the old town radiate a very special charm. The Rua de Santa Maria was the nucleus of Madeira’s capital in the 15th century. It used to be a rundown area, but more recently it has been home to a number of restaurants and bars that have polished up the image of the old town.

The art project “The Art of open doors” presents itself as an “open-air gallery”. Numerous artists painted the doors of the houses there. On a small square there is the chapel Corpo Santo. It dates back to the 15th century and has a remarkable wooden ceiling.

10. The Great Cathedral

The Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao is the religious centre of the island. It was consecrated in 1517 as the seat of the bishop and was built with twelve different types of lava stone found on the island. Several historical exhibits of the cathedral are exhibited in the nearby Museum of Sacred Art. The altarpiece of the high chapel was commissioned by King Dom Manuel I.. It is crowned by an impressive headliner.

Among the sights of the church are the beautiful wooden ceiling and the choir stalls, which are based on the Flemish style. In front of the cathedral is the statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited Madeira in 1991.

More things to do and activities for your Madeira holiday

Best time to visit Madeira

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of Madeira:

April, May, June, July, August, September, and October

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for Madeira.

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