The archipelago of Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, but it is located off the coast of Morocco in the North Atlantic Ocean. Comprised of four distinct islands, Madeira is home to the main islands of Madeira and Porto Santo as well as the smaller islands of Desertas and Selvagens Islands. Madeira is known as the Garden Island as well as the Pearl of the Atlantic, and it boasts a mild and comfortable climate year-round. From mountain landscapes to the bustling city of Funchal, there are plenty of amazing tourist attractions in Madeira that you’ll always remember.
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Above the city of Funchal is the Madeira Botanical Garden. When you’re done exploring these gardens, there is no need to walk back down on your own. Instead, you can experience the Monte Toboggan Run. This form of transportation was widely used by aristocrats since the middle of the 19th century. From the top, you’ll climb into a wicker basket with two seats, which glides down the mountain on wooden runners. Pushing and guiding the basket will be two men wearing the traditional all-white costume, straw hat and wearing rubber shoes that also serve as brakes!
Along the eastern tip of Madeira is the Ponta de Sao Lourenco, a scenic peninsula that is now a nature reserve. Unlike much of the island, the Ponta de Sao Lourenco is arid and windy with stunning volcanic rock formations. This is the place to explore if you’re excited about incredible natural landscapes. Hiking is the most popular way to get around, and there is no shortage of paths to check out. Consider a full day hike that takes you up and down stone steps, to vantage points overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and finally down to the black sand beach called Prainha.
More than 890,000 years ago, the Sao Vicente Caves were formed as the result of a volcanic eruption. The exterior of the lava flow cooled quickly, while the interior took longer. This created countless lava tubes, many of which have been open to the public since the 1990s. The price of admission allows you to walk through these incredible underground caverns, and it also includes a visit to the Volcano Center. This is a great collection of exhibits explaining more about volcanic activity and the geological formation of Madeira’s incredible landscape.
The northernmost island in the Madeira archipelago is Porto Santo. This island is widely known for its spectacular beaches, which stretch for nearly 10 km (6 miles). Porto Santo is not as developed as Madeira, which means that there are more coastal walks and hikes for nature lovers. Be sure to explore the walk around the Pico da Facho, which is the highest view on the island, for amazing views. Porto Santa also offers plenty of history, with the most popular landmark being the famed Christopher Columbus House, which is also a museum. Columbus lived and even got married on Porto Santo, so there are many streets and destinations that still bear his name.
At the northwestern tip of the island is Porto Moniz, a destination known for its tasty sugar cane and honey cake. Beyond just the bakeries, you’ll want to check out the natural pools in the area. These natural swimming pools were formed by the cooling of volcanic lava, and the water within them comes from sea. The salt water flows in and out of the pool, which means you’re always swimming in fresh liquid. Although the pools are natural, there are amenities like lockers and showers that you can use when you visit.
The Jardim do Monte Palace, or Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, are the gardens found outside of the former hotel called the Monte Palace. The garden is home to more than 100,000 species of plants, which would be impressive on its own. However, what sets these tropical gardens apart is the collection of so-called living fossils known as cycads. There are also lots of birds that roam the property freely, including swans, ducks, geese and peacocks. You’ll also find a museum with several floors devoted to everything from minerals from around the world to African sculpture. This means that the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is appealing on both sunny and rainy days.
If you’re searching for that epic view, look no further than Cabo Girao. This is one of the highest ocean cliffs in the world, and it offers a truly spectacular vantage point. To add to the already spectacular view from the cliff, there is now a glass skywalk. That means that you can see through the floor and straight to the water below. This creates an unparalleled experience, and it is what makes Cabo Girao one of the most popular tourist attractions in Madeira. Cabo Girao is located on the island’s southern coast just outside of Funchal.
Cabo Girao may be a spectacular viewpoint, but it is far from the only one in Madeira. Miradouro is the Portuguese word for viewpoint, and that is exactly what you’ll find at Pico do Arieiro. The mountain is the third-highest in Madeira, and it can easily be reached by car or along a hiking path that takes about two or three hours to complete. During the winter, Pico do Arieiro is one of the few places where you can find snowfall on the island. Best of all, the summit provides truly breathtaking views over the Curral das Freiras and the valley floor below.
One of the top attractions in the city of Funchal is the Madeira Botanical Garden. Known to locals as the Jardim Botânico da Madeira, the gardens are located just a mile from downtown and perched above the city. That means you’ll get to enjoy spectacular views while you explore the more than 2,000 plants that fill the hillside gardens. Many of the plants are indigenous, but there is a section reserved for rare foreign plants. The Botanical Garden is also home to the Parrot Park, where you’ll have the chance to see an impressive collection of tropical and colorful birds.
In Madeira, the levadas are a system of aqueducts, many of which date all the way back to the 15th century. The levadas play a critical role in providing local farms with the water that is necessary for agriculture. One of the best ways to explore Madeira is on one of the many different walking paths these levadas provide. The levada walks will take you along this open canal system, and they can be found in both the wet regions of the north and the drier regions of the south. If you’re in the area, don’t miss the very popular levada walk of Rabaçal. This walk is just 10 km (6 miles) long, passes three levadas and lets you see more than two dozen waterfalls along the way.