The 10 best sights of Madeira!
We stayed for two weeks on the flower island of Madeira and every day we did a different activity. The main reason why we went on holiday to Madeira was, as with many people, to walk in the beautiful nature and along the many levadas. We have therefore made a walk on Madeira almost every day. But there are also other places of interest that are worth doing. Here is my top 10 of the best Madeira sights and what to do!
1. Take a bath in the natural pools of Porto Moniz
In the pristine north, you'll find the natural rock pools of Porto Moniz along the rugged coast. Long ago lava pools were created there. There are two places in it Porto Moniz where you can swim. The cheapest option is the lava basins right next to the Madeira aquarium. The free Piscinas Naturais are located just in front of the island of Ilhéu Mole and offer an alternative to the monitored natural swimming pools. This paying complex (1,5 €) has changing rooms, lockers and a children's pool. It is located on the Rotunda da Piscina. Both swimming places have a concrete surface for sunbathing. We were there twice. The first time was sunny weather (April) and we went swimming in the free area. This free part also has a fresh water shower, which can be interesting if you still have to drive back to your apartment or hotel.
There are fish in the pools, so definitely bring your diving goggles. The water is naturally replaced by fresh water in high tides and strong winds. We saw that the second time, when we were planning to swim in the paying area. There was a lot of wind that day. Wow, that was a natural spectacle to me! As you can see in the video, it was impossible to swim there that day! Although we prefer a lot of sun and not too much wind, we thought it was fun and spectacular to see the water soaring. In good weather this is definitely one of the best sights in Madeira!
Tip:: There is a small cafe at the free pools where you can order anything. Next to the cafe there is a shop with a toilet. You can easily change there.
2: Go out to the sea with a catamaran
Take a catamaran to the sea to look for dolphins and whales. In the harbor of Funchal there are several kiosks where you can buy tickets for a sea excursion to dolphins and whales. We wanted to go on a catamaran this year and did it with VMT Madeira. We drove to Funchal on a Friday and booked for the evening trip. Since we booked with two adults and two children, we got a discount on this trip. We bought one family ticket for 90 euros instead of 105 euros. We sailed out at 15u00 (3 pm) and the children quickly took a place in the front of the net of the catamaran. There was a walking group from Belgium that day (Bootz) on board, which were also on the net. The capacity of the boat was for around 200 people, but we were only with 50 that day. We saw the first dolphins after fifteen minutes. That was a group of 10 common dolphins. Along the way, employees removed waste from the water three times. Once even a large rusted barrel.
That day we saw three species of dolphins, of which we saw a hundred of the Common Dolphin in a group at the same time. Great to experience, but unfortunately we didn't see any whales that day. The employees on the boat told us that a blue whale had been spotted two days earlier off the coast. Occasionally you can also see humpback whales, just like we saw a lot on one whale watching tour along the coast of Vancouver Island in Western Canada. At 18u15 we moored back in the port of Funchal.
Tip:: pay attention to the weather before you book. If you can choose, don't go if there are too many waves and only if the sun shines sufficiently. It is just so much nicer and more beautiful (especially if you want to take photos).
3. Hiking on the Sáo Lourenço peninsula
This peninsula usually bathes in the sun, even when the rest of the island is covered with clouds. It is then recommended to walk in this special eastern part of Madeira. When we took a walk there, it was cloudy and windy on the whole of Madeira. We were not lucky then, because it was cloudy. Still it cleared up at the end of the walk. In this part of Madeira no trees grow or there is little vegetation. You walk through an ocher moon landscape.
On the 7km long walk you will come across various places with beautiful views. You can even see Porto Santo in the distance. One of the most beautiful and bizarre walks in Madeira! Our children also thought it was a nice walk.
4. Climb the Pico Ruivo at 1862 meters
The top of Madeira! You can take this spectacular walk from two different starting points. We chose the easiest and shortest route with the children Achada do Teixeira. The road to it is a winding road that then partly went through the clouds. When we arrived at the top of the parking lot, the sky cleared and we had a beautiful blue sky. We started the walk in the sun and took some time for a picnic at a shelter. The panoramic view of the mountains, the endless sea and some passing clouds were breathtaking. It is one of the most beautiful walks we made in Madeira. After walking for an hour, from the first shelter, you arrive at a top of the mountain via a mountain hut.
Tip: Check the weather forecast and go as early as possible. In the morning there is less chance of clouds and too many tourists.
5. Cabo Girão skywalk - The highest cliff in Europe
One of the more tourist attractions in Madeira, but it is certainly worthwhile to look at the deep abyss. You usually pass on your route along the well-marked exit to Cabo Giráo. You walk across a kind of skywalk with a transparent glass floor. Not like in Western Canada or above the abyss in the Grand Canyon, but it was nevertheless spectacular. With a height of 580 meters, it is also the steepest cliff in Europe. For that reason alone it is a unique experience.
6. Visit Funchal, the beautiful flower gardens, the cathedral, the old town and the fruit and vegetable market.
Funchal is the capital of Madeira. It is a beautiful old town, where you can see and do everything. It has narrow streets and everywhere you look, you see nice restaurants and cafes. The food is not expensive and the atmosphere pleasant. Everywhere there are parks with the most lush plants and flowers. Salespeople don't accuse you, even though here and there a waiter asks for something to eat with them, but it was never intrusive. I have experienced it differently in other countries. You just have to see Funchal. We visited among others the old cozy part, Jardim Municipal with its beautiful flowers and special trees, the Jesuit College and other sights. Since there is so much to see, I have made a separate list of it: “What to do in Funchal".
7. The Sao Vicente Caves - The lava caves of Sao Viçente
Fun activity to do with the children. The tour started with a walk through the 1 km long lavatube, which was created 890.000 years ago. The height of the tube varies from 40 cm to 5 à 6 meter height and the temperature in the cave is throughout the year 18 ° Celsius / 65 ° F. An extra t-shirt with long sleeves can therefore come in handy. At the start of the walk we saw oddly enough containers in the pool with bottles of wine in the water. The temperature of the water the wine is in is fairly constant and throughout the year 12 ° Celsius / 54 ° F.
It is an experiment to see if it makes the wine better. Along the trail are lamps and in places where light shines, there are now plants. Normally those plants would not grow there. Seeds and spores enter the cave through the trickling water through walls and cracks of the tube. You will not see any stalactites and stalagmites, because there is simply no lime in the water. The tube was created because there were air bubbles in the lava flow when it reached the sea and solidified.
The 2de, 3de and 4de part of our visit to the caves
The 2de part goes along a space with all kinds of posters with information about volcanic eruptions all over the world.
The 3de part takes you to a cinema room with a small screen. The film, which lasts an 10 minute, is about the origin of Madeira.
The 4de part you go to the core of the earth by watching an 3D movie in a room with a larger screen. This film also lasts 10 minutes, but is of a slightly lesser quality. This technique is probably a bit outdated, but it is still ok. After one hour and 15 minutes you are back outside. The tour was a success for us, because it is unique to walk through an 890.000 year-old lavatube and also because it all didn't take too long.
Tip: Halfway through the walk a photo is taken in the cave. When you leave the garden on your way to the parking lot, they are waiting for you to buy the photos. We had not stayed together in the tube, so two packages of 10 euros were offered. Normally we never buy photos like this, but always buy a magnet for the fridge on every trip. Here you could only buy a magnet with the photo on it for 5 euros. We hadn't bought a magnet yet and we did it twice. Ideal activity to do with children when it rains. Click here find all the extra info about the tour.
8. Levada do Moinho or Levada Nova - Mountain walk above “Ponta do Sol”
This was our first levada walk that we made and we were all immediately impressed. It is a circular walk of approximately 8,5 km long. You normally park at the church of the village of Lombado, because the walk starts there. Please note, there are only around 7 parking spaces, but you can always park somewhere along the road. Most roads are very steep and for most people it is not always obvious, even if you are used to driving a gear lever to park on steep slopes.
Certainly for people who are used to driving an automatic, I just give this tip. If you park on a slope, be sure to put the gear first, after you have applied the parking brake.
During the first part the walk goes through meadows and past houses. Occasionally the path goes along a steep abyss, sometimes with a fence, but sometimes without too! In the beginning it is a bit strange and nasty to step along a steep edge without protection, but after a few minutes you will get used to it. The walk is therefore not suitable for small children. Our children were then 9 and 11 years old. From the beginning you have a beautiful view of the deep valley next to you. It is a fairly flat walk with a small difference in height of only 100 meters. On the route you will come across a nice waterfall halfway, behind which you can walk in an arch.
9. Fishing for Trout on the short walk “Levada da Ribeira da Janela”
Our son wants to fish on every holiday and I also enjoy doing it myself. Before we leave, it is always a search for permits that may or may not be required in the destination country. In Madeira, for example, you need a permit to fish in both fresh and salt water. The great thing about Madeira is that you can combine walks with trout fishing. In the levadas it is full of trout in some places.
I had read this somewhere that it is quite easy to catch one in a pool or in the levadas themselves. We were not equally lucky on every walk, but on the walk “Levada Ribeira da Janela” we caught several. The hike itself has a low gradient and is also fun to do, in other words the ideal combination hike. I made a separate blog post about it: “Trout fishing in Madeira“. You will find all necessary information and tips.
10. Visit the whale museum in Caniçal - Museu da Baleia
We prefer to look for living whales at sea ourselves, but if the weather is too bad to go at sea or you are very interested in whales and the history of whale hunting, then this museum is a must for you. Since 1981, it is fortunately forbidden to hunt whales under the pressure of conservationists. The museum offers all kinds of documentation, from skeletons to photos of whale fishing from 1940. Click here you can find all the info.
Less interesting Madeira sights
- Curral das Freirras
Curral das Freirras is also sometimes referred to as the nuns' valley, because the monastery of Santa Clara was located there. In 1566 the nuns fled from Funchal, when the city was attacked by pirates, to this valley. It was difficult to reach and safe for pirate looting. Nowadays you no longer have to follow steep paths or narrow levadas to get to Curral das Freirras, but you can simply drive through a tunnel to the village. We were a bit disappointed, because it was really just an ordinary village. When we walked around, we had something like: "could this be the wrong village?" If you have a lot of time to spend on the island, you might be able to pass by. Next time I would combine a visit to the village with a walk in the neighborhood. For example, in clear weather, take a walk to the viewpoint (Miradouro do Curral das Freirras) from the parking lot at Eira do Serrado. The day we were there, there was a lot of fog and unfortunately no view of Curral das Freirras.
- The marine aquarium in Porto Moniz
The sea aquarium in Porto Moniz. The last day we were in Porto Moniz and actually wanted to go swimming in the natural pools, but the weather was disappointing. It was rainy and there was a lot of wind that afternoon. The baths were closed and the children were not happy with just an ice cream. Then to the sea aquarium. The entry was 7 euros for an adult and for a child up to 12 years half the price. Ok, in itself 21 euro for four people was not expensive, but if you now know that you are not back in less than 10 minutes, then you still feel you paid too much.
The route of the aquarium runs in a small circle and has one large aquarium and a few small containers. Had I known, I would have let our children in without us. It is not that they could get lost there 😉.