7 Things to Do on Portugal’s Madeira Island: The Hidden Gem of the Atlantic

Photo by www.istockphoto.com

7 Things to Do on Portugal’s Madeira Island: The Hidden Gem of the Atlantic

Madeira Island is a small, hidden gem located off the coast of Africa. With its volcanic origins, the island is rocky, hilly and has pebbled beaches instead of sand. But if you think that takes away any of Madeira's appeal, think again.

Madeira has been elected 'World's Leading Island Destination' four times in the last five years by the World Travel Awards, also known as the 'Oscars of Tourism'. There is plenty to do, see and experience and here's some of the best the island has to offer.

table of contents

[x] close

7 Things to Do on Portugal’s Madeira Island: The Hidden Gem of the Atlantic

The Levadas Trails

Photo by PortoBay Hotels & Resorts/Flickr

The Levadas are water canals that bring water from the rainy northern coast to the southern, warmer coast of the island. They were built when the population on the island started to grow, around the 16th century, and needed more water to irrigate their land. Today, they are still in use as an irrigation system, but also double as trails to the heart of the island. It's here, surrounded by the laurel forest, where you'll discover a flora unique to this region of the globe. Each trail is different, but you can expect to see waterfalls and small lagoons with crystal clear water along the way whilst birds sing. It’s a wholesome experience where you can become one with nature and awaken all your senses.

Ponta de São Lourenço

Photo by www.istockphoto.com

As with all volcanic islands, Madeira also has quite a few geological hotspots that will delight every enthusiast. But none can compare to Ponta de São Lourenço, the easternmost point of the island. At this small peninsula, even the untrained eye can spot hundreds of layers within the rocks and understand that this natural treasure has been countless years in the making. Even if you are not particularly interested in geology, it is still enjoyable as a seven kilometer trail. Marvel at the landscape, notice the contrast between the north and the south shores, and make this your viewpoint to other parts of the island and across to other islands as well. From here, you can get a clear view to the Desertas Islands, which are uninhabited, by humans that is, because it's home to a large population of sea lions.

Scuba Diving

Photo by anaisa/Shutterstock

For those that love the sea and its creatures, a trip to Madeira is also an opportunity to scuba dive to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. There are several popular spots for diving and snorkeling reachable by boat, but you can also use several beaches on the south shore as a starting point. The most popular diving spots are around the Garajau Nature Reserve, known for its marine biodiversity, sea bed and lava finger reefs. Common species include dusky groupers, moray eels, garden eels, barracudas, anemones and rays. If you're lucky, you can also catch remnants of old shipwrecks and artifacts, such as the Bowbelle near Madalena do Mar or Afonso Cerqueira at Cabo Girão.

Another option you should consider is making the trip to Porto Santo, a sandy smaller island known for its warm and clear waters all year round, you often can see up to 40 meters underwater here.


Photo by Darkdiamond67

We've covered sea and land, but there's another element you can't miss out on here: air. Madeira is a hilly island with steep cliffs, which means you can paraglide all the way from the top of the island to the rocky beaches underneath. One of the best places to try this is at Ponta Sol, where you'll land at the Madalena do Mar beach. If you're not afraid of heights, you can also visit and paraglide at Cabo Girão, a 580-meter-high viewpoint on top of the island's steepest coast.

New Year's Fireworks

Photo by Mark Woodbury/Wikipedia

Madeira is one of the world's best destinations for celebrating New Year's Eve. Every year, boats loaded with fireworks surround the bay of Funchal, the capital city, giving the illusion of being surrounded by colors and glitter. It's a stunning spectacle especially if you can view it from the sea or some of the city's best viewpoints.

Mercado dos Lavradores

Photo by Glyn Lowe PhotoWorks/Flickr

One of Funchal's biggest tourist attractions is Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer's Market), and it shouldn't be missed on a visit to the city. It's here where farmers from all over the island used to bring their produce, and continues to this day. You can find all sorts of tropical fruits, including local varieties of banana and passion fruit, vegetables and fresh fish. Vendors usually give a little bit of each fruit to customers, so you can try all of them while visiting the market, sweet granadilla, banana passion fruit, tamarillo, apple bananas and custard apples are just a few examples of what's normally on offer. Inside and around the market you can also find food stalls and restaurants.

Get a Taste of the Island's Cuisine

Photo by Veronika Kovalenko/Shutterstock

Madeiran cuisine is based on traditional Portuguese dishes, but the island's relative isolation and access to different crops gave it a distinct and delicious twist. For example, both bolo do caco (a traditional flat bread) and pão de casa (a traditional homemade bread recipe) use sweet potato as well as wheat flour, while local sweets rely on sugar cane honey. Staple dishes include swordfish, fresh tuna and seafood, such as grilled limpets. But there's something for meat lovers too: espetadas (grilled beef with laurel), picado (beef in a creamy mushroom sauce) and carne em vinha d'alhos (pork with garlic and laurel seasoning), all served with cornmeal are equally delicious. Finish the meal on a sweet note with some honey cake and a glass of Madeira wine.


Whether you want to relax, hike to the top of the mountain or dive to the bottom of the ocean, Madeira has something for you. It might be a small island but it is jam packed with things to do, see and eat.