Madeira: Best things to do & a special Spring Flower Festival

Madeira Island is World’s and Europe’s Leading Island Destination 2020 according to World Travel Awards. Madeira is a beautiful Portuguese island on the Atlantic Ocean that attracts visitors with its great hiking trails, varied landscapes, great cuisine, interesting events and things to do and it enjoys pleasant weather all year round.

Best things to do in Madeira | Outside Suburbia
Thatched roofed and sharply angled houses of Santana

Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, but closer to North Africa – it sits 378 miles off the coast of Morocco. This Portuguese archipelago, also called the Island of Eternal Spring is best known for its namesake wine and soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo among other things.

It has been on my travel wishlist for some time, so here is a complete guide to the best things to do, see and eat in Maderia, Portugal including popular well known attractions, hidden gems, and the best place to see flowers. After all Madeira Islands, off the coast of Africa is famous for its flowers, gardens and hosts the best Flower Festival in Funchal during Spring.

Beautiful view of Porto Santo island, smaller of the inhabited islands of the Madeira | Outside Suburbia
Beautiful view of Porto Santo island, smaller of the two inhabited islands of the Madeira

Best Places to stay in Madeira

Wondering where to stay in Maderia, here are some ideas: As the weather tends to be better on the southern coast, that is where you will find some of Madeira’s best hotels, such as the 5-star hotel The Cliff Bay with amazing views & wonderful sea access or VidaMar Resort Hotel Madeira (5 stars) known for its two big infinity pools. The main hotel district is located around the Estrada Monumental in Funchal.

Belmond Reid’s Palace is another special place to stay in Funchal, Madeira.

If you love beautiful sunset facing infinity pools, check out the 5-star Savoy Saccharum Resort & Spa is ideal for honeymoons. Apart from the unique location on different levels of a cliff, among banana fields, modern design and great views, it also has an amazing spa and wellness center.

5-star Savoy Saccharum Resort & Spa in Calheta, Best place to stay in Madeira | Outside Suburbia
5-star Savoy Saccharum Resort

Closer to the center of Funchal you will also find three nice boutique hotels: The Vine, Castanheiro Boutique Hotel and Se Boutique Hotel. The 4-star Se Boutique Hotel is especially known for its colorful, instagrammable rooftop café.

A lovely, 4-star design hotel we truly recommend is also the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol. It is located on top of a cliff in a small village called Ponta do Sol, which is, by the way also the heart of the first European Digital Nomads Village.

Madeira’s Airbnb offering is also very attractive. You can choose between city or nature stays, through luxurious villas with a pool, to some really unusual stays in nature such as tipis, domes, glamping, secluded cabins and more.

There are so many places to stay on Madeira, suitable for all budgets. If you travel on a low budget, your best option are free campsites. You can stay there for free, but you need to apply for a camping permit from the local Instituto das Florestas e Conservação da Natureza. You also have a nice choice of hostels and really affordable 2/3 star b&b’s. They are usually called “Pensão” or “Residencial”.

Less travelled & hidden gems on Madeira

If you are looking for hidden gems on Madeira, here are some unusual options that you want to add to your itinerary:

  1. Fajã da Rocha do Navio in Santana, Fajã dos Padres or Fajã da Quebrada Nova in Achadas da Cruz – three different secluded areas located by the ocean, which are very hard to reach as they are located on the bottom of very high cliffs. Nowadays, you can reach most of them by cable car. Fajã dos Padres located close to Funchal is the most popular of faja’s and there is also a lovely restaurant, beach and pier. The two other faja’s are much more secluded, and if you are lucky, you might be the only one there.
  2. Very photogenic rooftop café in Funchal – Se Boutique Café located on the rooftop of Se Boutique Hotel is a lovely and very instagrammable place in Madeira full of bright colors, flowers and flamingos. Visit it for interesting interiors and great views on Funchal.
  3. Hidden fluvial beach inside a beautiful valley. If you are visiting Madeira in the summer, take a swim at Poço dos Chefes – lovely fluvial beach located in the Nun’s Valley.
  4. Quinta do Barbusano – a hard-to-reach winery with a priceless view.
  5. Pico da Torre Viewpoint – a viewpoint which is not as popular as other ones in the area, but definitely worth visiting for its magnificent view of the entire Câmara de Lobos bay from above.
Pico da Torre View point in Maderia | Outside Suburbia
Pico da Torre Viewpoint

See this article for other hidden gems on Madeira.

Madeira’s Best Attractions & Top things to do in Funchal, Maderia, Portugal

Madeira’s best rated attractions are mostly its hikes and wonderful viewpoints (Portuguese: miradouro’s). Do not leave the island without trying some of these top activities and attractions in Madeira:

Doing at least one levada walk

Walking through a lush primary forest, through tunnels and under waterfalls might be an unforgettable hiking experience. Some of the best rated levada walks are:

Levada das 25 Fontes, Levada do Rei, Levada do Caldeirão Verde and Levada do Alecrim.

Levada 25 Fontes
Levada 25 Fontes

If you are not scared of inclines, add to your hiking itinerary a beautiful walk – Lagoa do Vento. This hike takes you to a lovely lagoon with a high waterfall, where you are frequently able to see a beautiful rainbow. Another nice, but very easy & short walk is Vereda dos Balcões, which takes you to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking green hills and valleys. 

Hiking at least one mountain trail that is not a levada

If you have the stamina try the most beautiful walk on the island – Vereda Pico do Areeiro-Pico Ruivo. If you are not as experienced, do the Vereda do Pico Ruivo from Achada do Teixeira (Hike PR 1.2), which is a better alternative for the beginning & casual hikers.

Seeing Madeira’s mountaintops wrapped in beautiful, romantic clouds

If you are lucky, you will see beautiful dreamy landscapes when visiting Pico Ruivo or Pico do Areeiro, but might be able to find yourself above clouds also on the Eira do Serrado Viewpoint or simply driving around the highest parts of the island.

Madeira Hiking Trails: Best things to do | Outside Suburbia

Doing a road-trip around the island

Go on a road trip and explore all the points of interest and viewpoints on the way. Some of the most beautiful viewpoints on Madeira are Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto, Eira do Serrado, Balcões, Miradouro do Guindaste. Cabo Girão is an interesting one as it is a glass-floor viewpoint located on a 580m high ocean cliff.

Watching a sunrise on Ponta de São Lourenço, Pico Ruivo or Pico do Areeiro

Madeira is a perfect place to enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Visiting the dreamy forest in Fanal while it is foggy

The Fanal forest is located in the north-west part of Madeira around 10 km east of the town Ribeira Da Janela. If you are driving from Funchal the trip to Laurisilva of Madeira is 50 km long should take around one and half hour. 15 to 40 million years ago, much of Southern Europe was covered in this type of laurel forest. Now, it can only be found in Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands. It is pretty magical when it is foggy, makes for some excellent photos!

Seeing Madeira’s street art

Pass by the Old Town of Funchal to enjoy its painted doors and murals, as well as Machico and Câmara de Lobos, where you will find interesting trash art installations.

Visiting one of Madeira’s botanical gardens

Madeira may be small but this volcanic subtropical island packs a lot of flower power and is often referred to as the “floating flower pot.” If you love flowers plan a visit to Monte Palace Tropical Garden or the Madeira Botanical Garden.

Taking the Carro de Cesto and at least one of the cable cars located all over the island

The Carro de Cesto or car basket is essentially a wicker basket toboggan steered by two men, called “Carreiros.” Dressed in white and wearing straw hats, they chauffeur visitors on this downhill adventure from the steps of the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church downhill to Livramento — a suburb of Funchal.

Carro de Cesto or Car basket, a must do downhill adventure in Funchal, Madeira | Outside Suburbia
Carro de Cesto or Car basket, a must do downhill adventure in Funchal, Madeira

Trying Madeira’s specialties

Try some local Madeira specialties such as Espetada (beef skewers), Espada com Banana or Espada com Maracujá (scabbard fish with a baked banana or passion fruit sauce), Lapas (limpets baked with garlic). If you are vegetarian, try out different exotic fruit and chestnut dishes, typically served in the Nun’s Valley. Don’t miss trying a glass of the famous fortified Madeira wine!

And if you are visiting Madeira during the summer season:

Take the ferry to Porto Santo Island and explore its viewpoints or simply enjoy a day on a beautiful, sandy beach.

Swim in the clear ocean waters – either on Madeira’s prettiest, dark sand beach in Seixal or in Madeira volcanic pools in Porto Moniz.

Try out a new activity on land or water. The choice of different tours and activities is really broad – from dolphin & whale watching tours, to swimming with dolphins, surfing, kayaking, diving, coasteering and canyoning. Two great activities on Porto Santo Island are cave kayak tours and rockpool snorkeling.

Maderia: Best things to do | Outside Suburbia

Madeira’s Festivals & Flowers

Madeira loves to organize events, where tourists and locals alike can celebrate and have fun together.

Madeira is famous for the carnival celebrations, colorful spring Flower Festival, Wine Festival, Christmas Celebrations and spectacular fireworks show – not only during the NYE, but also the summer Atlantic Festival.

The newest festival introduced recently is the Nature Festival. It is a unique touristic initiative, a one of a kind festival, where anyone who wishes can try out different activities in nature. It is held during the first week of October. Tours such as coasteering, canyoining, diving or paragliding can be pricy, but in that one week in a year, you can enroll to try some of them – entirely free of charge.

Festa da Flor or The Flower Festival is one of Madeira's top attractions | Outside Suburbia

For many, the most beautiful and unique festival on Madeira is the Festa da Flor or The Flower Festival. It is one of Madeira’s top attractions and also the best time to visit is during Spring. During this week’s long event, there are daily concerts, dance performances, flower exhibitions and all sorts of flower-related attractions, flower markets selling flower bulbs, exotic fruit and even street carpets made of flower petals.

The Madeira Flower Festival usually takes place in April, or May, 4 weeks after Easter when the flowers are in bloom. In the city center of Funchal along the central promenade of Avenida Arriaga, vibrant floral carpets are created and at Praça da Restauração the traditional exhibition takes place followed by the Flower Market.  

The highlight of the Festa da Flor Festival is the Flower Parade. It usually takes place on a Sunday afternoon and has a lovely vibe. Expect to be amazed at beautiful flower parade floats, flower dresses, and dance performances.

An important aspect of the Madeira Flower Festival is the “Wall of Hope ceremony” – where more than a thousand children parade towards the Praça do Município to put a flower in the “Wall of Hope” which symbolizes a call for peace in the world. This tradition has been taking place for more than 30 years.

Festa da Flor Festival and the Flower Parade in

The current pandemic had a heavy impact on Madeira’s events. Most of them were postponed, changed or cancelled. Check the events calendar available on Visit Madeira when booking your tickets.

If you miss the Festa da Flor, but love flowers, check out the beautiful botanical gardens: Monte Palace Tropical Gardens & Madeira Botanical Garden. You will also find a lot of free parks all over Funchal and tons of different flowers all around the island, for example, Strelitzias (Bird of Paradise Flowers).

Cars, organized tours or buses?

There is no better and easier way to discover the island than in your own car. It allows you to discover all beautiful observation points and reach interesting trails.

There are some popular places and hiking trails on Madeira, which you won’t be able to reach using public transport. If you are not an experienced driver, your best option for those hikes will be one of the many organized tours provided by local tour operators.

Whether you are visiting Madeira to hike, explore, shoot pictures with a drone, or simply relax, Madeira has a lot to offer. If you are planning to actively explore, come to Madeira for at least 10 days. When planning your trip, get inspired on Instagram, make your own bucket list, but keep it flexible, since Madeira’s weather varies a lot per region. Weather cams located in different places around the island will help you adjust your day plans if needed.

How to get there

The best way to get to the island of Madeira is via a 90 minute flight from Lisbon to the capital city of Funchal. Madeira Airport is reasonably well-connected to multiple cities in and around Portugal, thanks to TAP Airlines and even a few, select parts of Europe. The daily TAP flights usually stop at the Madeira airport then go on to Porto Santo.

Where is Maderia | Outside Suburbia

Photos and Words by Edyta from Say Yes To Madeira

Planning a trip to Madeira? Find out more about Madeira’s hidden gems and photo spots on @sayyestomadeira

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