Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: Madeira as a family

Madeira as a family @FullSuitcase Jurga's kids enjoy the view in Madeira © Jurga Van Steenbergen

The small Portuguese island of Madeira is overflowing with adventures that are sure to spark young imaginations. Lonely Planet Pathfinder Jurga of fullsuitcase.com recently took her family exploring in Madeira, and discovered stunning landscapes, tranquil beaches and a completely chilled pace of life.

Madeira has been on our travel radar for a while, but it was Lonely Planet's Travel with Children book that convinced us to finally book a trip to this fascinating island. With a mild climate, spectacular scenery and lots to see and do, Madeira is a perfect year-round destination for families travelling with children. Whether you are looking for time to relax, or a more active vacation, we found that Madeira offered the perfect mix of activities for all ages. Here are our top experiences of visiting Madeira as a family.

Take a levada walk

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Levadas are irrigation channels found throughout Madeira, created in the 16th century to bring water from the mountains to the sunny and dry coastal areas. There are over 2500km of levadas and maintenance trails on the island, many of which are now used as hiking paths, leading you to some incredible areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. One of the most popular levada walks is the 25 Fountains Levada pictured here. Our kids loved the adventurous hike, spotting trout in the crystal clear waters and tucking into a picnic by the waterfalls.

Visit traditional villages

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Madeira has many little villages that are fun to visit with kids, but there is one you really shouldn’t miss. The colourful traditional houses of Santana are fun to see for young and old. Did you know that Madeira is also known as the 'flower island'? Spring and summer are therefore the best times to visit – there are so many flowers everywhere you go!

Take the kids to the beach

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Madeira doesn't have many sandy beaches; there are just a few places where you can sunbathe or swim. You can, however, find several natural swimming pools – something that would definitely appeal to the whole family on a hot day! Since it wasn’t really swimming weather when we visited, we chose to explore different kinds of beaches instead. We found some beautiful hidden gems, like this stunning tiny beach in Ribeira Da Janela, where the kids could play with stones and shells and we could watch the impressive waves hit the rocks.

Visit a local market

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If you like visiting local markets when you travel, you’re in for a treat in Madeira. The Mercado dos Lavradores is a fruit, vegetable, flower and fish market in Funchal, the capital city. It has a very unique selection of exotic fruit, flowers and fish we had never seen before. Visiting a market with children is always fun; our kids are quite picky with what they eat these days, but here they tasted all kinds of fruit they would have never tried at home. We tried nespra and banana passion fruit to name just a few!

Take the kids hiking above the clouds

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Our kids loved the idea of a walk above the clouds, but we never expected to find some of the most spectacular mountain scenery we had ever seen... The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is a must if you ever visit Madeira! It's a long, challenging hike and we did just a small part of it with the kids, but we all agreed that it's the most incredible hike we've ever taken (and if you know us, you'll know that's saying something)! Even if you are visiting Madeira with young kids, you can walk at least the first section of this hike. It's worth a trip on its own, so don't miss it.

Go whale and dolphin spotting

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Madeira is a perfect destination to take your kids to spot whales and dolphins. Whale sightings are a bit more seasonal, but dolphins seem to be around pretty much the whole year. It was a rainy and windy day with high waves when we set out on a speedboat whale-watching tour, so we didn't have much hope that we would get to see a lot. But then, all of a sudden, we were surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. Literally a sea of dolphins! The kids didn't know where to look first; they had the time of their lives. Seeing dolphins in the wild is our boys' favourite memory from Madeira for sure.

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