Following on from our family trip to Porto, we visited the small island of Madeira, Portugal. When I mention that we travelled to Madeira, the common response from my British friends is, ‘isn’t it an old people’s place?‘ Such a reputation could not be further from the truth. Madeira is a picturesque island with so much to offer from adventure activities to delectable cuisine. Not to mention the subtropical climate, meaning the weather is appealing year round. The landscape and vegetation remind me of Hawaii whilst the colonial buildings in Funchal echo those of Singapore from the same era. Madeira was elected “World’s Leading Island Destination” by the World Travel Awards for the past 4 years and I can’t believe it is not a more popular destination for tourists. To help inspire your wanderlust, here I have compiled all of the amazing things that you need to do on your trip to Madeira (either with or without the kids!)
GETTING TO MADEIRA, PORTUGAL
We flew from Porto to Funchal with Transavia and the flight was approximately 2 hours. We were fortunate to have extended family collect us from the airport who drove us to our hotel (approx. 30 minutes). On the journey home we flew directly to Manchester which was closer to a 4 hour flight.
It is worth noting that the Madeira Airport is one of the most challenging airports in the world to land at. The cross winds mean the airport is notorious for hair raising and cancelled landings. Whilst our landing was completely fine, I am not joking when I say that everyone clapped when we touched down.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADEIRA
We booked a presidential suite at the Royal Savoy (because I found it at a bargain price!). The hotel is not particularly marketed at families but it was absolutely brilliant. It is approximately a 10-15 minute easy walk into the center of town. There are several other hotels in the vicinity of the Royal Savoy which meant there are a few restaurants and convenient stores close by. Our room had a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean – there is nothing better than the smell of salt air in the morning. It also had a kitchen, two bathrooms and was luxuriously decorated! The hotel supplied a cot and high-chair for our daughter, making our stay very easy and comfortable.
Another couple of hotels which I considered staying at were:
- Savoy Palace – Brand new 5 star hotel which looks very luxe.
- The Vine – Located in the center of town with a fabulous infinity pool overlooking Funchal.
THINGS TO DO IN MADEIRA
Hire a car and DRIVE
We don’t normally hire a car on holidays but it would be my top recommendation of things to do in Madeira. There are so many places to explore on the island and around every corner there is something different to discover. From banana trees randomly planted everywhere to mountains which look as though they are from the set of Jurassic Park. The locals refer to the island being like ‘Swiss cheese‘. This is due to all of the tunnels that have been constructed in recent years, making commute times around the island very quick and easy. Many of the places recommended below will only be accessible with a car or on a tour.
Taste Madeira Wine at Blandy’s Wine Lodge
Madeira is not known for table wine but rather fortified wine, just like the Port in Porto. Blandy’s Wine is a famous wine company in Madeira and their lodge is located in the center of town. You can book a tour of the Blandy’s Wine Lodge which will give you the opportunity to explore Madeira wine history, or just stop by for a tasting like we did. The venue itself is gorgeous with cobblestone walkways and lots of old wine processing equipment displayed.
Do you think you could brave walking out on a glass bridge which is 580 metres above sea level? My toddler was completely fearless and ran straight onto it, and to be honest I didn’t give it much of a thought either. The view from the skywalk of the ocean, cliff face and Funchal is absolutely incredible. There is a restaurant and gift shop next to the skywalk, as well as a lot of tourists so consider visiting at an off peak time.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a hero is Madeira – they even changed the name of the airport to honor him and his achievements. The museum contains an array of memorabilia from this famous footballer’s career, including many of his trophies and medals. The museum is said to be very interesting even if you are not a huge fan, and it is definitely on my to do list for our next visit.
Whilst we didn’t have the opportunity to hike on this trip, there are lots of trails all over Madeira which are suitable for beginners through to the experienced hiker. We drove up above the clouds to Pico do Arieiro which is a popular location to set off for hikes. This peak is 1,818 meters high and is the third highest peak in Madeira. The landscape is unlike anything I had ever seen before and if it had not been for the howling wind, I would have spent hours up there taking it all in.
On the way up to the peak we stopped at Restaurante Casa De Abrigo Do Poiso for Poncha and espetada – a gorgeous restaurant serving traditional Madeira food.
Wander around the village of Câmara de Lobos
This fishing village was made famous by Winston Churchill during his visit post World War II. Winston liked to visit Câmara de Lobos during his time in Madeira and paint the landscape and fishing boats in the harbor. We stopped for (another) Poncha and I bought a beautiful handmade woolen poncho for my daughter in the souvenir shop. There is a statue of Churchill at the hotel Pestana Churchill Bay and some wonderful displays of street art (including by Bordalo II).
Winston Churchill stayed at the Belmond Reid’s Palace in Madeira and their afternoon tea is rumored to be amazing. Think old world luxe with a sense of British charm.
Travel from Funchal up to Monte in a relaxing and peaceful cable car ride. At the top of Monte is the botanical gardens, a couple of restaurants and the toboggan rides (see below). The car ride offers a spectacular view over the Port and city, taking approximately 15 minutes one way.
Did you know that none of the beaches in Madeira naturally have sand? There are a handful of man-made beaches where sand has been imported, but otherwise the beaches are all stones and pebbles. Very European! Try Praia de Machico for a beautiful sandy beach. Alternatively, if beaches are not your thing then try Aquaparque Madeira which will be fun for the entire family.
Monte Toboggan Ride
You have to see it to believe it! These old fashioned wicker toboggans were traditionally used by locals to make their way quickly down the hill to Funchal. Tourists now flock to Monte to experience the ride themselves which takes about 10 minutes through winding and narrow streets. The toboggan is steered by 2 men whom are dressed in straw hats and white cotton clothes. It is a stark contrast to the cable car that we took to reach the top of Monte, but makes for a fun adventure in Madeira.
We were warned by locals that the taxi drivers waiting to collect passengers at the bottom of the toboggan ride are notorious for extreme overcharging. So be wary before you jump in!
Stroll along Rua de Santa Maria
Also known as the “Painted Doors Street”, Rua de Santa Maria is the reason I love to travel. Admire the beautiful street art on the old doors, enjoy the smells of all the local cuisine and immerse yourself in the banter with the restaurateurs. This street in the Old Town section of Madeira is the hive of activity in the evening and an experience not to be missed.
When travelling with children, one is always on the hunt for a zoo or aquarium. If you know, you know! The Madeira Aquarium is built in a replica fort which was originally constructed in defense against pirate attacks. It is a relatively small aquarium with 12 tanks but has lots of species native to Madeira.
Eat all the food
There are lots of interesting and different culinary delights unique to Madeira. So much so that I have written about all the must try food and drink in Madeira. From Madeira wine, to cocktails which are said to cure the common cold, and an eel like fish with scary fang teeth.
Take a sail along the coast of Madeira on the Santa Maria – a replica of Christopher Columbus’s boat. Interestingly, Christopher Columbus first sailed to Madeira in the 15th century as a sugar trader. This half day cruise will provide the perfect vantage point to enjoy the majestic coast of Madeira.
So there you have it – everything you must see and do whilst in Madeira, Portugal. It’s not hard to see why this place has been winning all the travel awards in recent years. There is an abundance of unique and interesting things to see and do. Or you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the good weather. I hope I have inspired you to consider Madeira as a destination for your upcoming holiday, as I truly believe that Madeira Island is a well kept secret. Safe travels – Shell x