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Things to Do in Madeira

The Portuguese archipelago Madeira features wild coastal landscapes and tranquil charm, and delights outdoor adventurers with a wealth of activities. Known affectionately as the Pearl of the Atlantic, Madeira island offers thrill seekers the chance to take a canyoneering tour in Ribeira das Cales or a hiking tour through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Queimadas Forest Park, whose fairy-tale forests boast emerald green lagoons and waterfalls. The island’s relatively small size means even travelers short on time can enjoy most of its delights: take a hop-on hop-off tour of Funchal, the archipelago’s picturesque capital, to discover colonial monuments at your own pace; or tick off top attractions such as the Valley of the Nuns (Curral das Freiras), Pico do Arieiro, which affords spectacular island views, and Nossa Senhora do Monte Church on a full-day sightseeing tour by Jeep or minibus. From Funchal, day trips to southwestern shores reveal the natural pools of Porto Moniz, the volcanic caves of São Vicente, and Cabo Girão, one of Europe’s highest promontories. Go whale or dolphin watching on a boat tour; or excite your palate on a vineyard tour where you’ll taste famous Madeira wine. Take in the region’s spectacular natural landscapes on a hiking excursion, or walk through the “levadas” (canal ways) in the Laurissilva Forest.
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Sé Cathedral of Funchal
9 Tours and Activities
One of only a handful of late fifteenth century structures to survive the test of time, this Gothic-style cathedral is evidence of an impressive history and rich architectural past. Its impressive exterior gives way to an understated, spiritual gathering space and altar that make Sé Cathedral Funchal a perfect spot for quiet reflection or contemplative prayer. Visitors can marvel at the detailed ceiling and beautiful side altars while attending morning mass at 8 a.m. The church’s unique bell can be heard throughout the town just before services start.
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Santana
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Most visitors come to winsome farming village of Santana for famed Madeira Theme Park, seven sprawling hectares of family fun. Most activities and exhibits, appealingly presented in rolling country gardens, showcase traditional Madeira culture, from rowboats in a gentle lake and traditional hedge mazes, to pirate-themed rides and live shows.

The winsome farming village of Santana, however, is also worth exploring. Most famously, the rolling wheat and rye fields are studded with traditional triangular bungalows, topped with distinctive straw-thatch roofs. Santana is also a good base for hikers, with trails through laurel forests, along the rugged coast, and through Navio Nature Reserve.

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Paul da Serra Plateau
33 Tours and Activities

To the south of the Laurel Forest lies the Paúl da Serra Plateau, a favorite destination for hikers, nature lovers, and those wishing to seek out the famous levadas of Madeira, several of which are located in nearby Rabaçal, at the western tip of the plateau.

Levadas are a network of manmade waterways that bring water across and down from the mountains; alongside them run narrow but sturdy walkways that hikers have come to call their own. But the plateau itself is also a worthy destination that is easy enough to navigate while providing thrilling views and plenty of fresh air.

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Madeira Botanical Gardens
15 Tours and Activities
One of Madeira’s loveliest green spaces, the island’s Botanical Gardens (Jardins Botânicos da Madeira) debuted in 1960. Stretching across 20 acres (9 hectares) and home to more than 2,000 species of exotic plants, the oasis is best known for its colorful geometric flower beds and carefully groomed topiary gardens.
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Church of Our Lady of Monte (Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte)
12 Tours and Activities

The Nossa Senhora do Monte Church is the most important pilgrimage site on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The original church was built in 1741 on top of the foundations of an old chapel that was said to be built by the son of the settler of the island, but it was soon destroyed by an earthquake. The church that stands today dates to 1818. The interior features elegant chandeliers, a statue of Our Lady of the Mountain and the tomb of Charles I of Habsburg, the last emperor of Austria who lived in exile on Madeira until his death in 1922. Also inside the church is a silver Pieta that was the only relic saved from the earthquake. Every year in mid-August the surrounding village of Monte is home to a large festival that includes a procession to the church in honor of Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of Monte).

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Laurel Forest (Laurisilva)
12 Tours and Activities
One of the many reasons why visitors come to Europe is to steep themselves in history. But the Portuguese island of Madeira is home to a piece of history that goes beyond the ruins of Rome and the battlefields of France–the Laurel Forest. Vegetation such as the kind found here used to carpet southern Europe, and it is believed that the forest is at least 15 million years old! Now it is a rare sight, and those going to Madeira put it high on their list of things to see.
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Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
3 Tours and Activities
Lush Japanese gardens, brilliant tropical flowers and scenic river bridges may be part of what draws travelers to this botanical destination, but what makes a trip to Monte Palace Tropical Garden unique is its extensive collection of historic tiles that decorate the landscape. These handmade artifacts have traveled from palaces, chapels, homes and churches across Portugal, and some date as far back as the 18th century. More than 150 of these ceramic tiles tell the story of Portuguese visitors in Japan, and include details on the trade relationships and cultural ties between the two countries that inspired portions of this garden.
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Armazém do Mercado
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Skip shopping for ordinary souvenirs and instead head to Funchal’s Armazém do Mercado, or Market Warehouse. The cultural and commercial hub is located in Funchal’s old quarter, and allows visitors to check out a unique and historic space that is home to equally unique products.

Situated on a side street near the produce- and out-of-towner-filled Mercado do Lavradores, the Armazém do Mercado is very much a different breed of market. This is where you’ll find everything from tasty eats, to events, and artisan crafts that definitely aren’t your run-of-the-mill tourist trinkets. While there, you can also visit the market’s Toy Museum, or just appreciate this brilliantly renovated building that once served as an embroidery factory.

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Madeira Story Centre
This modern museum pays homage to Madeira’s rich history and colorful culture. Visitors can begin their chronological journey through the island’s history at the entrance level, where the Madeira’s volcanic beginnings are outlined before guests journey to the panoramic terrace. Here, travelers can explore the vibrant flora unique to the archipelago before entering the main exhibit floor. This final passage tells the story of Madeira’s discovery, its history of trade and success as a society. Visitors of all ages will appreciate the multi-media experience, which includes interactive games, smell boxes and audio, too.
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Museum of Natural History (Municipal Museum of Funchal)
Rare fish and examples of unique Madeira plant life are on display at this historic museum located in the former residence of the Count of Carvalhal. Since about 1850, botanists and biologists have collected species and artifacts that demonstrate the diversity of Madeira’s fauna, flora and mineral reserves. While visitors say the tired taxidermy displays look far past their prime, collections of marine species, geological rock samples and a slightly more-modern aquarium promote the museum’s message of environmental protection and preservation.
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More Things to Do in Madeira

Cabo Girão

Cabo Girão

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In 2012 a glass-floored viewing platform was installed in this already-popular lofty sea cliff on the southern coast of Madeira, making it an even more popular destination for visitors to this scenic island. While the glass observation ledge can be unnerving for those afraid of heights, visitors who don’t fear vertigo will experience unobstructed views of crystal clear water, rolling hills and emerald green farm land. Bring a picnic and admire the coastline away from the crowds, then climb the 289 steps that lead to Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Fatima before heading back into town.

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Machico

Machico

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Belonging to Portugal and lying in the Atlantic more than 550 miles west off the coast of Morocco, the archipelago of Madeira is not exactly a place one stumbles upon while traveling. But visitors soon realize it is a destination worth planning for, and the town of Machico is its shining star.

Along with the island's largest city, Funchal, Machico quickly became a full-fledged town shortly after the discovery of the island in the early 15th century. In fact, it was the first place where explorers landed and as such, is the historical heart of the island. Sights include Franciscan chapels, defensive forts, and the original fire beacon to warn of intruders. There are also beautiful vistas, modern beach clubs, world-class diving spots, and the town itself, with its welcoming locals.

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Pico do Arieiro

Pico do Arieiro

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For being so small, Madeira is mountainous, which means that for many a lot of the island is off limits, whether because of vertigo or poor health. But visitors who simply must get that bird's eye view, Pico do Arieiro is the place to go. It's the third-highest peak in Madeira and best of all, it's completely accessible by car.

The view Pico do Arieiro affords depends on the weather. On a clear day it's possible to see as far as 30 miles, and the views are tremendous. But even on a cloudy day – at least, when it's cloudy down below – visitors will be above the clouds and feel as though they're flying without wings. Add in a lunch at the nearby restaurant, and it's a fantastic day trip from Funchal that will provide lifelong memories.

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Porto Moniz

Porto Moniz

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Valley of the Nuns (Curral das Freiras)

Valley of the Nuns (Curral das Freiras)

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Pico dos Barcelos Viewpoint (Miradouro Pico dos Barcelos)

Pico dos Barcelos Viewpoint (Miradouro Pico dos Barcelos)

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The city of Funchal on the Island of Madeira rises gently from the coast back into the hills. As such, just a short way back from the shore there are fantastic views not only of Funchal, but the surrounding mountains and the sea. As any local can readily tell a visitor, the best point from which to survey this vast domain is the Miraduro Pico dos Barcelos.

Despite Madeira being a hiker's dream, the Pico dos Barcelos is accessible to all and not a “trek” in the traditional sense. From the car park to the observation point is about a 15-minute walk, and the promontory is well-paved and includes safety fences. Recently the city has also built a cafe, restrooms, and other facilities there for visitors, making it more than just a ride up the hill and back. It's a wonderful place to have a lunch with a view; shutterbugs will want to head there at sunrise or sunset for some calendar-worthy shots.

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Eira do Serrado

Eira do Serrado

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On the way to Curral das Freiras from Funchal is a popular spot for many visitors: The Eira do Serrado, an observation point, is high up in the craggy mountains at a whopping 3,200 feet in altitude. It's a bit of a walk, and there are some steps involved, so it's not immediately accessible and takes some work.

But once at the Eira do Serrado, the view is absolutely breathtaking. From the mountain peaks to the isolated village in the valley below, it is a dreamscape that every hiker and experienced walker hopes to find at the end of the trail. The large terrace, complete with safety railings, provides ample room for a panoramic view that is one of the highlights of any visit to Madeira.

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