Located in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is closer to Africa (700km) than Portugal (1000km). In 1419 Joao Goncalves Zarco landed on this island while escaping from a huge storm. As then the island was completely covered by impenetrable forests, the island was named "Madeira" meaning "a tree, a forest". Near this island are located other islands of the archipelago - Porto Santo and several wild uninhabited islands like Selvagens and Desertas.
Even though Madeira has ideal weather all year round, in winter, temperatures in the morning can be as low as 5°C and go up to about 20°C during the day; so be prepared.
Funchal is the capital of Madeira and an interesting place with numerous fascinating attractions like Se Cathedral made of lava with the ceiling inlaid with ivory and wood, Franciscan Monastery, the Santa Clara Church and the famous botanical gardens. The main attractions of the city include popular carnivals, the festival of the Atlantic Ocean and Columbus, the holiday of flowers and wine, as well as water rides along levada channels.
Beautiful panoramic views and Air Defence Radar Station can be found at Pico do Arieiro, at 1, 818 m high, on Madeira's third highest peak.
The archipelago of Madeira is proudly the birthplace of countless artists. The Henrique and Francisco Franco Museum pays tribute to two of them and is free to visit!
The late 15th-century Gothic Cathedral Sé was built using thousands of blocks of volcanic rocks carried from the cliffs at Cabo Girão. The interior is quite beautiful, having three naves, arches, several chapels, Moorish motifs and a beautiful gold statuary as well as an altar decked in gold.
The Church Santa Maria Maior, in front of Mirador de Socorro with views to the beach of Barreirinha, shows the typical features of a baroque construction of the middle of the 18th century, although influenced by the characteristic austerity of the insular constructions.
Rúa de Santa Maria is an open art gallery, not just a lovely street full of bars and restaurants.
São Tiago Fort is located at the end of Art Painted Street. The Portuguese built the brick and stone fort in 1614 to defend Funchal from pirate attacks and corsairs. This construction was probably long overdue considering pirates attacked the city in 1566. Today there are several expensive classic cars, a high-end restaurant and museum in the castle.
Camara de Lobos is a picturesque fishing town where Winston Churchill used to stay and paint. According to a local legend, when its discoverer João Gonçalves Zarco visited this area and saw a bay, in which seals were sitting on rocks just like members of the senate in the chamber, he called this area Camara de Lobos or “the chamber of seals” in Portuguese. These animals are still popular and respected in the town. There is even a cute fountain in the shape of a seal.
The Cabo Girao Skywalk is the most famous viewpoint reaching 589m, making it the tallest in Europe. The scenery is truly mesmerizing.
The icon of Madeira, Santana Traditional Houses date back to the discovery of the island. These small, triangular, colorful houses were made of straw as it was cheap and abundant and helped balance the temperature of the interior. The high slope of the roofs allowed the rainwater to drain, thus ensuring the impermeability of the house.
The most-Western town of the island is Porto Moniz. Famous for its natural pools created by volcanic rocks, the town has a laid-back atmosphere. From Santinha Viewpoint, you can have an overall view of the town. Points of interest are the lighthouse (Farol do Porto Moniz), João Baptista Fort, a replica of the ancient fort from 1730, that was built to protect against pirate attacks as well as an aquarium. You can also get to see the beautiful islets of Praia Iheus da Ribeira Janela from here. It might seem familiar as this scene has been Window’s desktop theme!
São Vicente is a small town of less than 6.000 inhabitants on the northern coast of the island. It is located between Santana, and Porto Moniz. One of the most beautiful churches in Madeira is dedicated to patron Saint Vincent. Dating back to 1692, it is extremely well maintained.
Did you know that Cristiano Ronaldo, as the native of the island, has a museum and the airport named after him?
Madeira is famous for its excellent regional products, largely due to the extraordinary fertility of its soils combined with the subtropical climate it enjoys. The Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal is a living museum where the freshness, vivacity and tropicality of the archipelago's flavours take centre stage. Madeira has a long history of sugar cane transformation. There are several old factories that have been turned into small museums. Some of them are still producing a little during harvest season, like the one in Porto da Cruz. One of the main fruits cultivated on Madeira is the banana. Plantations can be found everywhere. If you want to visit one, there is a small walking route in the village of Madalena.
Essential to know that there are rather dangerous roads such as Estrada Regional in the northern part, known as one of the best coastal drives in the world. This one-direction paved road running along the ocean, with several cliffs and tunnels is the oldest and most beautiful road of the island. The good part of the rainy season is that you get to see the beautiful waterfalls that cascade down from the sheer cliff and sparkle in the sunshine. Referred to as "free car wash” (!) by the locals, the waves may simply sweep away anything on the road and even collapse some parts of it though.
I think the tunnels with the best views are here in Madeira; simply astonishing. And there are only 170 of them on the island! Madeira has 7 cable cars. Although, the more famous are in Funchal and the South Coast, the one in Porto Moniz, the Achadas da Cruz claims to be the steepest in Europe.
If you have time, consider visiting Monte Palace Tropical Garden or going whale and dolphin watching. Moreover, an unusual but fun activity could be the toboggan sled ride where you sit in a basket and get transported down the steep streets back to the center of Funchal 🙂
Even though Portugal is known for its Port Wine and Madeira has its own, poncha is the official drink of Madeira (recommend John’s Poncha @Ribeiro Frio). Try this mix of rum, honey, sugar, and lemon or orange (done with a mexelote).
Did you know Christmas is a big thing in Madeira? Madeirans celebrate Christmas with a great deal of enthusiasm. Last Christmas, 7 cruise ships chose to dock or anchor their ships near the emblematic Funchal bay, to watch its fantastic fireworks, with a privileged view from the sea.
Have you checked out my Madeira gallery?
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