One of the guarantees about visiting Madeira is that you’ll never be short of things to see and do. In fact, chances are a return will probably be on the cards to experience some of the attractions missed first time around.

Here at Travellowdown, we recently enjoyed a five-day break on this beautiful sunny island. Its bright colours, abundance of greenery, pleasant people, spectacular mountain ranges and myriad other reasons make it an ideal destination for everyone.

To help plan your Madeiran break, here are some of our favourite things to see and do…


Visit the Gardens & Enjoy a Cable-Car Ride

The Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens and Palheiro Gardens are not to be missed; and to reach the first two, you can enjoy a cable-car ride which will afford you spectacular views of Funchal and beyond! It’s a 15-minute trip to Monte, a hilltop parish above Funchal, where you’ll find the Palace Tropical Gardens, showcasing exotic plants from around the world.


The steeply-terraced Botanical Gardens, meanwhile, are discovered at the end of another cable-car ride. Here, you’ll find virtually every type of plant grown on the island plus countless more. It’s estimated that there are around 3,000 plants originating from five continents.


Don’t forget Palheiro Gardens, which is located in the hills east of Funchal and reached by bus or car. Far from being a tropical garden, where there is little distinction between winter and summer, these gardens offer a successive waves of bulbs, shrubs and flowering trees bursting into bloom, month after month.


A Tranquil Paradise

Grab a cab or hire a car and head for Faja dos Padres, 20 minutes from Funchal. An oasis of tranquillity, this speck of land at the bottom of an 820ft cliff face is accessible only by boat or cable car. Owned by the same family since the 1920s, it’s all about relaxing, swimming and enjoying a bite to eat. With this level of simplicity and peacefulness, expect your troubles to fade away.


Hop Across to Porto Santo

Enjoy a day trip to Porto Santo, 20 miles away from Madeira. The island, where explorer Christopher Columbus lived, is just a 15-min hop away by plane or a two-hour ferry crossing. Despite its size – only seven miles by four – you won’t be short of things to see and do on Porto Santo, making it an interesting destination to visit.

The island’s beautiful six-mile long beach spanning the entire southern coastline is, arguably, its main draw. Research shows that its golden sand contains therapeutic properties. Rich in minerals, it helps restore, for starters, lack of salts in the body caused by stress and fatigue.


Hire a Car and Explore the Island

Hire a vehicle for two or three days to explore beyond the capital. Stop off at Calheta and relax on the beach for a moment. Although Madeira isn’t known for its beaches, this one has been manufactured with sand from Morocco. It’s one of two sandy beaches on the island – the other is found at Machico.

After walking along the promenade, head on around the coast to the northwestern resort of Porto Moniz, a delightful spot where you can swim in natural rock pools, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants boasting sea views and while away an hour or two simply sitting on the sea front watching the world go by.

In the northeast of the island, Santana is worth visiting, if only to see the A-shaped houses which adorn many Madeiran postcards. These brightly-painted buildings show the kind of dwellings which served Madeirans well for many years.

As well as the coastal routes, time should be taken to venture in to the interior to experience the remarkable scenery. Paul da Serra shouldn’t be forgotten either. This plateau proved to be among our favourite spots on the island. Although it attracts much of Madeira’s rainfall, the flat plain, standing juxtaposed alongside craggy mountain landscapes, is an ideal spot for picnics on a clear day.


Wander around Funchal

There is much to enjoy in Funchal which sits on Madeira’s sunny south coast overlooking the Atlantic. Resembling a giant amphitheatre, its houses hug the lower slopes of a vertiginous 3,900ft mountain range. Historic buildings, museums and classy boutiques are discovered along the capital’s streets while the attractive palm tree-lined promenade is a delight.

The Old Town bursts into life every evening so wander along the maze of narrow, cobbled streets flanked by restored houses plus cosy cafés and restaurants to satisfy everyone’s tastebuds. Make sure you tread the cobbles of Rua de Santa Maria. Dating back to the 15th century, it’s arguably the city’s oldest street where countless doorways have been rejuvenated by artists with an array of vivid paintings – including mermaids and peacocks – transforming the street into a permanent art gallery.

Relax in one of Funchal’s colourful parks, each brimming with beautiful flowers and plants. Try centrally-located Municipal Gardens or grab a bench in Santa Caterina Park and sit in front the fountains while enjoying views over the bay.

Don’t miss the bustling Farmers’ Market, either, with its Art-Deco-styled frontage, where a profusion of succulent fresh fruit, veg and flowers provide a feast of colour.


Enjoy Afternoon Tea

Savour afternoon tea overlooking the bay on the sun-drenched terrace at Reid’s Palace. You can’t miss the pink facade of this iconic Victorian hotel – favoured by Winston Churchill – perched high above the harbour. Enjoy its unmatched, timeless elegance.

Other options worth trying for afternoon tea include Savoy Palace Hotel and Choux Patisserie, which is located in Funchal’s main shopping avenue and where my daughter and I enjoyed a vegan afternoon tea. Joana, the owner, tries to accommodate all dietary requirements but it’s worth contacting her in advance, though.


Take a Hike

Madeira is a magnet for walkers of all capabilities, many keen to follow the levadas, a network of mini-canals dating from the 15th century and built to distribute water from the wetter northern regions to the drier areas in the south.

Many trails provide relaxing, undemanding walking as they twist their way through dramatic countryside populated by laurel forests; others offer more challenging walks over peaks and mountains, through tunnels and under waterfalls.

One of our favourite walks explores Ponta de São Lourenço, a rocky, finger-shaped peninsula marking Madeira’s easternmost point. Its undulating landscape, stark cliffs and rocky coves are reminiscent of Cornwall’s coastline.

Richard Webber enjoying a coastal walk in eastern Madeira.

While much of the island is cloaked in dense vegetation and exotic flora, the peninsula’s landscape is semi-arid. Exposure to northerly winds off the Atlantic has sculpted the low vegetation and caused a dearth of trees.

The walk begins high above Abra Bay, before snaking along the peninsula. Lizards dart across the stony path as you stroll admiring views of sister island Porto Santo to the north and the serrated outline of the Desertas Islands to the south-east.

It’s home to over 200 species of flora and fauna, 30 per cent endemic to Madeira. Mauves, pinks and whites punctuate the landscape as sea stocks and the tall, purple flower spikes of Pride of Madeira sway in the breeze.

A steep incline leads to Madeira’s most easterly point, save for a string of smaller rocky outcrops stretching out into the Atlantic. Now it’s time to retrace your steps. Distance: 6 miles Time: 3 hours


Take to the Water

The deep waters of Funchal Bay are rich in sea life. Book a three-hour cruise aboard Magic Dolphin’s two-deck eco catamaran and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales and turtles while cruising the south coast. Spotted dolphins, pilot whales and loggerhead turtles are regular visitors, but if you’re unlucky with no sighting, book another cruise for a reduced price.



Vidamar Resort Hotel


This luxurious five-star hotel, surrounded by gardens packed with exotic plants and palm trees, overlooks the Atlantic. Guests enjoy direct access to the ocean plus the choice of several pools and spa.

Many of the hotel’s spacious bedrooms have fab sea views. We adored the 10th floor rooms and spent so much time simply relaxing on the balcony while admiring the ocean.

Vidamar is situated close to the popular Lido area and is a 20 to 30-minute walk from the city centre and Funchal’s Old Town.



Sometimes, it seems like there is an endless list of components to consider when booking a short trip or choosing your main family holiday. That’s where a company like Holiday Extras comes to the fore.

Whether it’s airport parking, airport transfers, lounge access, overnight hotel stays before flying or other aspects involved with travelling, try Holiday Extras to help make your trip run smoothly.

 For further information about Madeira, go to


[Visited: October 2023]