Things to do in Madeira Funchal
There are so many things to do and see in Madeira, it has a lot to offer for all kind of travellers. It doesn't matter if you are interested in history, food or nature, Madeira can surprise you in various ways.
Let me confess that before my trip to Madeira, I had no idea about what this beautiful destination had to offer. When I got invited from Jet2.com, I did some research and found out that Madeira was in Portugal, but in the ocean, closer to the African coast than the Portuguese mainland. Its location sparked more interest to go there and explore. By now, you should know that I love exploring unique places like Madeira. Here I am going to share with you the top things to do in Madeira.
How to get to Madeira
You can either fly to Madeira or get a ferry. You can only take a ferry from Portugal and there is currently only the one ferry route running between Madeira Islands and Portugal which takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to arrive at Funchal in Madeira.
Taking a ferry wasn’t an option for me since I live in the UK, so I took a Jet2 flight from Manchester. Our Jet2 flight to Madeira was a direct flight, and I can confirm that I didn’t feel like a low-cost airline at all.
If you can’t fly from Manchester, there are various cheap flights from London to Madeira too. Also, Jey2holidays offers Madeira holiday packages.
Where to Stay in Madeira
Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, can be a great base for tourists, especially if you don’t want to rent a car, because Funchal is the main starting point for most organised tours and bus routes.
I stayed at a Jet2holidays 5-star hotel "The Vine", where you have the main town attractions only a 10 minutes walk away.
Levada Walks in Madeira
Madeira is a mountainous island with lush vegetation which offers various types of trails for nature lovers to walk or hike, known as Levada Walks.
Levada in the Portuguese language refers to the mini-canals that were developed from the early 16th century to carry water around the island. When you take on one of the Levada Walks, you walk along one of these canals, you can enjoy the outdoor activity during all seasons.
We hiked 11 kilometres in the Levada do Rei, one of the easiest Levada Walks. It took us around 4 hours since we had a picnic on the way and stopped a lot along the way to take photos.
You can, of course, go by yourself, but if you want to learn about the vegetations and the history of the path, you can take a guided tour. We did so with the Madeira Adventure Kingdom.
Canyoning (also known as canyoneering in the US) is a must do if you are searching for a fun outdoor activity. It is the best way to push your limits, enjoy nature and feel an adrenaline rush.
When you go for canyoning you will gorge walk, slide down rapids, swim, rappel and jump down into the water from waterfalls.
My first canyoning experience was in the Philippines, where the temperature of the water was warm enough to go only wearing the swimsuit, buoyancy aid and helmets but the situation in Madeira was quite different.
We had to wear wetsuits on top of our swimsuits, neoprene socks, harness and hiking boots suitable for water and, of course, helmets. All the gear was provided by the tour company Epic Madeira.
A couple of people were scared of jumping down the 5-meter waterfall, and they didn’t. If you are not comfortable with the jumps there is always an easier, walkable, route to rejoin the group.
There should be at least two instructors for each group, one in front and the other one at the back to make sure everyone goes through safely.
The jump wasn’t an issue for me since my current record was a 10 meters jump in Cebu Island. But this doesn’t mean everything was as easy as pie. No! My main challenge was abseiling. I had no experience using a rope to rappel down vertical rocks. I was not sure whether I would have been able to do it without hurting myself, but I gave it a try and I used the rope to descend all the way down without any injury. I was very proud of myself.
Madeira offers different types of canyoning, you can opt for the ones for beginners to start with but if you have the right experience you can choose the advance tours.
Mountain biking is an exhilarating way to explore Madeira’s mountains and admire the gorgeous scenery. Similarly to canyoning, there are suitable paths for beginners and challenging trails for those with more experience.
I have tried mountain biking on trails in Wales for the first time, where I promised myself to improve my skills and confidence. This tour was a great opportunity to practice what I had learned. We took a 4-hour mountain bike tour with Madeira Experience Tours which provided us with bikes and helmets.
Keep in mind that Madeira has different micro-climates. Although the Island is not very large, the weather can change several times during the day and especially if you move from place to place. For this reason, it is important to have a waterproof jacket and cycling gloves with you, just in case.
When we met our tour guide at the bottom of the hill it was sunny but when we drove all the way to the top it was foggy and rainy. At the end of our tour, the sun was back again.
Madeira Wine and Food Tour
I am sure that you have heard of Madeira’s wine, which has been popular for more than 300 years. The little island has a huge history of winemaking, so why not take a wine tour while you are in Madeira.
Our tour started in the old town of Funchal by going through the cute cobblestone streets where we stopped many times to take photos of the doors! Yes, you read it correctly, these doors were all artistically and beautifully painted, you can see some of them in the photos below.
Our first stop was Blandy's Wine Lodge where you can taste different types of wine, from dry to sweet. If you are searching for a place to buy Madeira wine, this is the right place. The oldest wine in the lodge is from 1948, which is still ageing, and I am not sure when it is going to be for sale.
The lodge building by itself has an interesting story. First, it was a monastery, then it became hospital and, after that, a prison while now it is a wine lodge.
We also visited a local chocolate factory and one of the most famous Madeira cookies and sweets factory. Then we headed to the Farmers Market in Funchal where we found some local fruits, which I have never seen before. We also saw the black scabbardfish, an ugly but tasty fish, which is very popular in Madeira. We also tried the fish as part of the tour and we concluded by having a local cheesecake and tea in the Funchal old town.
Dolphin and Whale watching
Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean, where you have a great opportunity to see whales and dolphins. Whale watching tours are quite popular in Madeira, so make sure you book in advance.
The tour lasts 3 hours but it took us one hour to reach the spot where we could see some dolphins. Some people on our boat spotted a pilot whale, but I am not sure whether I saw it or not because from the distance it might look like a dolphin. We definitely saw many dolphins jumping out of the water and I also got them on camera.
We were not lucky with the weather, but we were told on a sunny and warm day the boat would stop and passengers could swim. We had our waterproof jackets with us, but, hopefully, you will be lucky with the weather and you will be with your swimsuit instead.
Funchal cable car
The Funchal cable car is a 3200-meter journey from Funchal’s old town to the top of the mountains. You will have a spectacular view of the ocean and the lush green mountains and valleys during the 15 minutes ride.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take the cable car, but I added it to my wishlist for the next time I will be visiting Madeira. This is one of the reasons that will bring me back to Madeira some day. If you are not interested in Madeira, you can also book other locations in Portugal on Jet2holidays.