Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, is an archipelago comprising 4 islands off the northwest coast of Africa. We found a rather cheap flight from Amsterdam to Funchal, capital of Madeira and we went there in November 2019. It turned out to be a great destination because of pretty landscapes, sightseeings and great food and drinks. In this post, I will cover some of spots and activities that you can do it in you 4-6 days stay in Madeira.
It’s a good idea to rent a car to make your travel easier with-in Island. We also rented an apartment at Caniço through Airbnb. Since the Island is not that big, it’s better to rent one apartment for the whole vacation. As usual, before we jump into the post, here is our video from Madeira
We always tends to take first day a bit easier when traveling, meaning no extensive hikes or sightseeing but mostly strolling through the city, eating and enjoying a couple drinks 🙂
Funchal Cable Car
After you have drove from airport to your hotel/Airbnb, the first activity we recommend is Funchal Cable Car. The Funchal Cable Car, or Madeira Cable Car, is a gondola lift that transports people from the lower section of Funchal, Madeira to the suburb of Monte. There is a paid parking spot next to the lower station of cable car. I recommend parking car there.
The cable car takes about 15 minutes, rising 560 meters along a distance of 3200 meters. The journey allows you to see the city from a unique perspective.
Monte Church, Palace Tropical Garden and Municipal Park
After getting off from lift, take walk to Monte Church. The church contains elegant chandeliers, a statue of Our Lady of Monte revered since the days when the island was first settled. After visiting church, your next stop is Palace Tropical Garden.
With an entrance fee of ~13 euros, Palace Tropical Garden has about 100,000 plant species from all over the world. Spend an hour or two there and then take a walk to nearby Municipal Park which is covered by many indigenous and exotic species, including some centuries-old trees. Thanks in part to a stream that passes through it and ends at a waterfall, the park is refreshing and relaxing. The pedestrian walkways is paved with small basalt rocks ideal for pleasant strolls.
An alternate to Palace Tropical Garden and park is to visit Botanical Garden. One of the most beautiful gardens in the region, with marvelous views overlooking the city of Funchal. You can take 1600 meters long cable car to the gardens from Monte Church and go the gardens.
Monte Toboggan Ride
Originally a fast means of transport down to Funchal for people living in Monte, these toboggan sledges appeared around 1850.
Still in use today, they attract thousands of tourists every year who want to make this exciting experience of sliding at high speed on narrow, winding streets down to Funchal. These two-seater wicker sledges glide on wooden runners, pushed and steered by two men traditionally dressed in white cotton clothes and a straw hat, using their rubber-soled boots as brakes.
The downhill journey to Livramento, a little below Monte, Funchal is made in about 10 minutes on a total course of 2 km, reaching at times a speed of 48 km/hour. Adventurous, yet safe, an ‘old-fashioned’ toboggan ride to make your way down from Monte is the perfect contrast to the high-technology cable car going up to Monte.
Walk back to Funchal
From here, it’s ~2.8 kilometers downhill walk. Take a walk through nice streets and reach downtown. Spend some time there, grab a late lunch and visit shops.
Cabo Girão Skywalk
The Cabo Girão Skywalk is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe, located on top of the cabo Girão Cliff. From the glass bottom skywalk, you can witness amazing views of the town of Camara de Lobos, along with a large chunk of the beautiful South Coast of Madeira.
Pick up your car from parking lot and drive to Cabo Girão Skywalk parking lot, it’s a 20 minutes drive. We were there around sunset time and it was perfect. Both the parking lot and entrance is free!
Dinner at Leeno’s Bar & Restaurant
For the first night, we wanted to try Espetada which is the Portuguese term used for the technique of cooking food on skewers. We ended up going to Leeno’s Bar & Restaurant in Funchal. We tried Espetada and Tuna steak cooked on stone. I would totally recommend visiting ___ for dinner.
Levada are man-made channels created to carry water for irrigation of agricultural fields around the island. Although Levada are not unique to Madeira, their lengths and accessibility is what makes incredible. There are more than 2,170 km of levadas and they provide a remarkable network of walking paths.
We went to hike Levada das 25 Fontes. It is one of the most visited Levada in Madeira and for a good reason. We combined the Levada walk, 25 Fontes waterfall and the 25 Fontes Tunnel. The whole journey should take about 5 hours or so.
Drive to Levada do Alecrim(estacionamento/ Parkplatz) and park your car there. Try to be there a bit earlier around 9 in morning. It’s an hour drive from Funchal and you’ll be driving through some nice landscape on the way there.
Start your hike to 25 Fontes Fall. You will first hike on paved road for first 1.5 kilometers but after that, you will enter trail next to Levadas. Make sure you have sturdy hiking boots as you will be passing narrow and some time slippery trail. Also, sometimes it can be really crowded on the trail and since the trail is quite narrow, you have to coordinate with incoming people who goes first 🙂
Eventually, you should reach the waterfall. It can be really crowded there too. Take some photos and grab a snack.
After spending some time here, you will take the same trail back and go to Rabaçal tunnel. It’s a 800 meter dark tunnel with light inside it so make sure that you have a headlamp or torch with you. When we went there, me and my girlfriend were the only one in the tunnel so it was very fun spooky experience. 10 – 12 minutes later, we emerged on the other side to a complete different view.
From here, either you can take another trail directly to the car parking or you can take the tunnel back and head back to the same route you came from.
Your next stop is Porto Moniz. At ~40 minutes drive from the parking, you will be driving on a zig-zag road that offers amazing view to sea. Make sure to make a stop at Miradouro da Santa and enjoy the nice view from there.
The highlight of Porto Moniz is the seawater lava pools that are naturally filled by the ocean’s high tide, and offer a dramatic setting for swimming or paddling in. If weather allows, take a swim in those pool. You have to pay a small fee but that includes access to changing room and also towels etc.
Dinner at Restaurante Caravela
On the way back, we were very hungry and wanted to grab nice dinner so we ended up at Restaurante Caravela after checking ratings on Google Maps. It turned out to be very great decision as the dinner there was amazing with very reasonable prices. Black scabbard with bananas is a must try when you’re in Madeira and I think this restaurant is a good place to try that.
Ponta de São Lourenço
If you ever want to experience Faroe Island like cliffs and landscapes but for cheaper, Ponta de São Lourenço is the place to be. Drive to the parking spot of Ponta de São Lourenço. Make sure you have good anti slip hiking boots and a wind stopper and start the hike all the way to Morro do Furado. It’s a 8 kilometer round trip. You will passing through rocky paths and some exposed terrain but with several viewpoints that offer beautiful views.
Dinner at Restaurante Bar Amarelo
For dinner, we suggest to Restaurante Bar Amarelo. We tried shrimps, sea snails and muscles and all of the were really tasty.
Poncha at Funchal
Poncha is a traditional alcoholic drink from the island of Madeira, made with aguardente de cana, honey, sugar, orange/lemon juice and with different fruit juices according to the version of poncha, but traditionally lemon juice is used. When you’ve driven back to where you’re staying, time to go out to a near by bar and try Poncha.
Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro
The Pico Ruivo is the highest point on the mountainous Madeira and standing at 1,862m above sea level the summit provides spectacular views over the entire island. Unfortunately when we hiked, the weather was not that great and quite foggy so we couldn’t see the Island with from there but nevertheless, it was an amazing hike.
The weather can be very unpredictable during this hike so make sure you have water and rainproof jacket and very good hiking boots. This whole hike can take more than 10 hours so I advise that you start early in morning around 9 the latest.
Drive to parking spot of Achadas Teixeira and start hiking from there. It’s ~2.5 kilometer hike to the peak and offers tremendous views throughout the hike. Spend some time on the peak and get back through the same trail.
A kilometer on the way back, you will see house of the Pico Ruivo and here instead of going left to Achadas Teixeira, continue straight to PR1 – vereda do Pico do Areeiro. It’s a 7 km steep hike from here and it also passes through tunnels. It’s a 7 hour return trip to Achadas Teixeira and quite challenging so make sure you’re in good shape before you attempt this route.
Compare to whale watching options that we had in Arctic (Iceland and Tromso), I think the prices in Madeira are quite cheap. Most of the options are located at Porto da Calheta.
Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse and Cliffs
After finishing the whale watching tour, drive 40 minutes to Ponta do Pargo. The Ponta do Pargo lighthouse stands on a cliff, 300 metres above sea level, at Ponta da Vigia, the westernmost point on Madeira Island. It was built in 1922. The Lighthouse itself is very nice and has a small Museum and the surrounding area offer amazing views of cliffs.