Must see attractions in Madeira

  • Sights in Porto Santo

    Porto Santo Beach

    Porto Santo's 7.5km long sandy beach is the reason most people head to Madeira's little sister. The sand is actually tiny pieces of coral that shelve gently into the cool Atlantic waves. The beach has virtually no development along it and has a wild feel, especially in winter when you can have the whole thing to yourself.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Quinta das Cruzes

    Now a museum, the Quinta das Cruzes is a quintessential old Madeiran manor house complete with gardens and a private chapel. Originally the home of João Gonçalves Zarco, the Portuguese captain who discovered Madeira, it was remodelled in the 18th century into a stylish home by the wealthy Lomelino family. The exhibits here examine the life of Madeira's well-to-do from the 15th to the 19th century in an aptly aristocratic environment, the high-ceilinged mansion packed with priceless antiques from across the globe.

  • Sights in East Madeira

    Museu da Baleia

    Once a minor exhibition housed in small seafront building, Caniçal's Whale Museum was moved to a large multi-million-euro, ultra-modern complex in 2012, making it possibly the world's best museum devoted to the topic. The fascinating exhibition is divided into two sections – whaling on Madeira and whales – with an automatic commentary playing in your ears as you go. Count on spending at least 2½ hours here.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Mercado dos Lavradores

    Built in 1940 by architect Edmundo Tavares, Funchal's art deco market is one of its top attractions as well as still serving as the island's best fresh food market. Adorned with azulejos (hand-painted tiles) from the mainland, this is the place to experience some of the unique produce Madeira grows on its terraced fields and plucks from the Atlantic.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Zona Velha

    Once a run-down area between the Mercado dos Lavradores and the Fortaleza de Santiago, in recent years the 'Old Zone' of merchant's houses and 19th-century fishermen's cottages has been transformed into Funchal's hottest nightlife and restaurant area. Most of the action takes place on Rua de Santa Maria that runs the length of the Zona Velha, packed at night with milling visitors and almost blocked with restaurant tables. It's also here you'll find most of the artworks belonging to the Open Doors Arts Project.

  • Sights in West Madeira

    Cabo Girão

    Around 3km west of Câmara de Lobos, Madeira's highest sea cliffs rise 580m to loom high over the village and the Atlantic's sapphire expanse. The panorama from the viewing platform is nothing short of spectacular. Spectacular that is, unless you look down – the platform floor is made of glass and hangs over the cliff edge – a knee-weakening, toe-curling experience! Many Rodoeste services heading west now climb up here from Funchal.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Funchal's 16th-century cathedral once oversaw the world's largest diocese – all of Portugal’s overseas territories from Madeira to Brazil to Angola – and its importance is reflected by the Manueline architectural style and artworks inside. Once your eyes have adjusted to the dim interior, look up at the ornate ceiling made of Madeiran cedar inlaid with shell, rope and white clay. The main altar dates from 1517 and features 12 Gothic panels depicting the Life of the Virgin and the Passion of Christ.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Praia Formosa

    Anyone who says Madeira has no beaches should hop on bus 1 or 43 to the boulders and browny-black sand of this wild strand in Funchal's western suburbs. Cafe-bars, a car park and other facilities are all here and the salt-white Atlantic surf crashing onto dark volcanic sand is a sight you'll long remember.

  • Sights in Funchal

    Monte

    High above Funchal, the villa neighbourhood of Monte is one of the most popular half-day trips from Funchal seafront. The Igreja da Nossa Senhora and the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens are the top sights here, but most come for a unique attraction – the wicker toboggan ride down to Livramento. Many take the cable car from the seafront up to Monte, see the sights then return by toboggan and bus.

  • Sights in Machico

    Pico do Facho

    When you get bored of lying on Machico beach, the climb up to Pico do Facho that rises above the town to the north is a great way to spend an afternoon. By car, take the ER109 towards the old tunnel heading towards Caniçal. Turn right just before the tunnel and climb until you reach the top. The views of Machico, the airport and out across the endless Atlantic are simply stupendous.

  • Sights in Mountains - Interior

    Rabaçal

    The waterfalls, springs and hiking trails at Rabaçal are an easy-going highlight of Madeira's outdoor world. You can spend all day cooling off in the cascades and pools, inspecting the ferns and counting the 25 Fontes (25 waterfalls). Trips leave daily from Funchal – there's no public transport. A new abrigo (mountain guesthouse) means you can now stay the night here, though it only has a handful of beds. The waterfalls are 60km northwest of Funchal, off the ER105.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Jardins Botânicos da Madeira

    One of the island's top tourist attractions, Madeira's famous botanical gardens are a must for most visitors. Extending over 80,000 sq metres, the gardens are packed with exotic flora, some endemic to the archipelago. Huge cacti, flowers bursting in showers of colour and weird-and-wonderful shrubs and trees vie for your attention. The only competition to the plant life comes in the shape of the aviary in the southern section, which you can visit on the same ticket.

  • Sights in Funchal

    Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

    One of the highlights of any visit to Monte is a wander round the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. This former hotel began life in the late 18th century as a private residence belonging to the British Consul Charles Murray. In the late 1980s it was purchased by local entrepreneur José Berardo, who transformed it into a weird-and-wonderful tourist attraction by filling the grounds with fountains, grottoes, follies, sculpture pieces and lots of exotic plant life.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Funchal

    Pereira D'Oliveira

    Run by the fifth generation of the D'Oliveira family, this is Funchal's most easily accessible wine experience. Anyone can enter the strongly aromatic barrel room in central Funchal and try almost as much wine as they please, usually accompanied by a wedge of bolo de mel (molasses cake) and crackers. Bottles of wine dating back to the early 20th century line the walls and the company offers good shipping deals on wine you buy.

  • Sights in Mountains - Interior

    Balcões

    A 1.5km easy and well-signposted climb out of the village of Ribeiro Frio brings you to one of the most spectacular viewing points on the whole of Madeira, the aptly named Balcões – the Balconies. From here you get a bird's eye view of the island's highest peaks, the huge cauldron of rock below them and even out across the Atlantic to the island of Porto Santo. A snack bar hangs off the cliff edge half way along the path.

  • Sights in East Madeira

    Prainha

    For those in the know, this tiny beach east of Caniçal is the best outside Funchal. A romantically secluded suntrap, this wild arc of black sand is backed by cliffs under which there's a basic cafe. At high tide the water comes right up to the rocks leaving no sand – get there early and you'll have the place to yourself (for a while at least). There's parking on the clifftop and Caniçal buses stop here on request.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mountains - Interior

    Curral das Freiras

    Dramatically set at the bottom of a mammoth cauldron of rock, the village of Curral das Freiras is one of the most popular daytrips from Funchal. Some come to hike down into the village from Eira do Serrado, others to taste the locals' chestnut specialities and cherry liqueur called ginja. There are several walks that head out from the village – the downhill route leads to a bathing area by the river.

  • Sights in Funchal

    Blandy's

    Housed in the Adegas de São Francisco, the former Franciscan monastery, Blandy's brings together the British-Madeiran wine companies that were given special trading rights with Britain in the 17th century. The best known of Madeira's wine experiences, the 45-minute tours here are led by clued-up guides and there are two free samples at the end.

  • Sights in West Madeira

    Paúl do Mar

    Perching precariously on a ledge under high cliffs, pretty Paúl do Mar is the surfing capital of the Atlantic and has even hosted a leg of the World Surfing Championships. Its narrow lanes are a joy to explore, with their pretty cottages and flower pots. Rodoeste buses 80, 142 and a couple of obscure services make the run here from Funchal.

  • Sights in Mountains - Interior

    Pico do Arieiro

    You can drive to the top of Pico do Arieiro, Madeira's third highest mountain. At the top you'll find a cafe, a Portuguese Air Force radar station and stupendous views. Try to get up here for the sunrise, though you'll not enjoy the spectacle alone. To get here, take the northwest turn-off from the ER103 at Poiso.