Madeira is known as the European Hawaii, and the nickname is not that far from truth – the islands are some of the very few places in Europe dominated by evergreen tropical vegetation. Discovered in middle ages and settled by the Portuguese by the end of it, for most of its history the islands had low population, focused on agriculture. Even today, Madeira is dominated by small towns. The attractions of the islands are threefold: natural wonders, man-made wonders and attractions for tourists, though many attractions showcasing the beauty of the nature of Madeira were at least in part created by human hands. Let’s look into them more closely.

Wonders of man and nature

For these most interested in discovering the natural wonders of Madeira, a few places are expecially recommended:

  • Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a botanical garden set on the hills above Funchal. This relatively young attraction can be reached from the town by cable car. On the site, you can admire thousands of species of tropical plants as well as several species of tame animals. It’s an absolute must see for every tourist visiting Madeira.
  • Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools are mostly what is in the name – a series of natural pools modified by humans for accessibility and safety reasons. They have most of the advantages of a commercial swimming pool in addition to beautiful sights.
  • Um caminho para todos is a hiking route designed to give disabled visitors a chance of contact with Madeiran nature. It goes across a levada (irrigation channel traditional to Madeira) between two popular parks in Santana:Parque Florestal das Queimadas and Parque Florestal do Pico das Pedras. Here you admire the laurisilva, natural rainforests of Madeira.
  • Parque Natural da Madeira is a natural park protecting endemic flora and fauna of the archipelago, as well as mountainous environment. Another must see for every visitor.
  • Levada do Rei is a scenic hike alongside one of the most popular irrigating channels on Madeira. At the end of the hike you will find a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the walk you can admire lush environment and native bird species. A similar but longer hiking trail follows the Levade Ribeira de Janela, where you walk through numerous tunnels, both rocky and green.
  • Risco Waterfall is a narrow but very tall waterfall falling from a steep cliff into an almost perfectly round lake.
  • Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto is a hiking trail that offers one of the best views on Malta – from a clifftop over the ocean. Ponta de Sao Laureco National Park offers a similar hiking route, with the added bonus of the beach below the cliffs being used by adorable monk seals and sea birds.
  • Pelheiro Gardens east of Funchal are a garden complex taking full advantage of Madeira’s unique climate to cultivate a wide range of species and breeds, with its most famous plants being hibiscus, bougainvillea and jacaranda.
  • Pico Ruivo is the highest mountain on Madeira. You will need a decent condition and a whole day to climb and descend it, and if you do you’ll be rewarded either with amazing view on the island or (more commonly) a rare view of the clouds from above.
  • The Valley of the Nuns can be best visited with bus 81 from Funchal. At the site you can admire steep rocky hills and a tiny village located between them.

Something for every tourists

The second group of attractions of Madeira is made of places related to the history and culture of the islands as well as places developed specifically for the tourists. When on Maideira, make sure to visit:

  • Funchal – the capital of the island resembles a laidback Mediterranean town more than a lively modern city. It has many attractions of its own, and is well connected to all the places mentioned before.
  • Calheta is a small town with an architecturally interesting artificial beach located at the bottom of a cliff among interestingly shaped rocks. You will find other sandy beaches in Machico and Porto Santo (a smaller island you can take a ferry to).
  • Prazeres is a charming village with lush gardens, amazing views and some of the best tea houses on Madeira.
  • Sao Vicente is another pretty village located in a volcanic valley – you can explore numerous nearby caves on guided tours.

What are your favorite attractions of Madeira? Share your opinions in the comments! Before you go, check out our articles on the weather on Madeira, what to bring for your holidays on the island, and where to find cheap accommodation on Madeira.

What are the best attractions of Madeira? / photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
What are the best attractions of Madeira? / photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Also check out weather on Madeira and beaches of Madeira.