Madeira is one of those beautiful islands some people have heard of, some may know it exists and many completely ignore. Well, with the exception of travel and tourism professionals of course, otherwise it wouldn’t have been voted “World’s Leading Island Destination” in 2015 and 2016 at the World Travel Awards, and “Europe’s Leading Island Destination” in 2013, 2014 and 2016 against heavy lifting contenders such as the Canary Islands, Malta, Cyprus or Sardinia. In spite of (and maybe thanks to) its volcanic origins, Madeira is home to many wonderful and green valleys and gorges. However not your typical beach destination, Madeira has so much more to offer. And to make sure I give you only the best tips, I went there myself a few weeks back, to try to test this mini-guide before I present you with how to make the most of a week in Madeira. Even tho a week isn’t nearly enough, not everyone has time to stay longer. So, following the previous week-escapade to Lanzarote, here you go:
the best tips to enjoy a week in Madeira to the fullest
Madeira is usually well-connected to all major European cities through both charter airlines like Tui and Thomas Cook, and line airlines like TAP Portugal. I found a really awesome deal with TUI Germany through Urlaubspiraten.de (a great travel deals site here in Germany). Downside, we had to take a train all the way to Frankfurt from Bremen, still was worth the deal. Sometimes, to get the best prices you have to be a bit flexible. Anyhow, the flight was impeccable…and as we approached Madeira, any grumpiness from being caged on a flying bus for 4.5 hours was completely whipped off of us. The island, covered in a thin layer of fog, majestic appearing in front of our window. It does look like the real-life version of Jurassic Park or King Kong Island, but in a cool magical way.
As we landed, found our bags and went to our shuttle to the hotel. If your hotel doesn’t have a shuttle or prefer soloing it, a bus stop is right outside the arrivals terminal. From the airport in Santa Cruz to Funchal, it takes only about 15 minutes. Our hotel, the Four Views Oasis in Caniço, took even less. Checked in, and refreshed we went to explore the area, find somewhere to eat and off to bed to be fully re-energized for a week in Madeira full of adventures.
Oh and don’t forget, as you fly to Madeira, you’ll become an hour younger (don’t fret, you’ll get it back as you fly back to mainland Europe), so turn those watches an hour back! Also, even though I’d recommend renting a car for the most flexibility, we didn’t and just went rogue by busing it around. An adventure on itself!
DAY 1: Exploring Funchal, Riding the Cable Car and Visiting the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
Whether you are staying in Funchal, or like us a bit outside, the capital city should be your starting point. A nice stroll by the marina, a walk along the old town, up and down the hills enjoying the street musicians’ talented melodies while taking in the chilled atmosphere in Funchal.
If you are looking for somewhere to eat, I can highly recommend a small restaurant in the corner of Rua dos Barreiros with Rua de Santa Maria, with a blue door and many postcards and old mementos stuck to the windows. It is reasonably priced and the Swordfish with banana was outstanding!
After lunch, we jumped into the Teleferico (Cable Car) up to Monte and the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens (one of the World’s 13 most beautiful gardens by Condé Nast Traveler). The combi ticket (Return Teleferico + Garden) costs 26,50 € (If you just want the return ticket it will cost you only 15 €). The ride last about 15 minutes, you go up at about 5 meters per second and the views over the bay are incredible.
Once you arrive, you can buy your souvenir photo (or not), and head left to the Gardens. But more about those in due time!
Day 2: Half-day trip to Nuns’ Valley followed by a Madeira Wine Tour at Blany’s
For this half-day trip, you have two options. One, book an organised group tour, or go your own way. Either way, Curral das Freiras (Nuns’ Valley) is worth the visit. If you decide to go “solo” as we did, don’t fret, the way is easier than you’d think. From Funchal’s intercity bus station you look for bus number 81 at 10 or 11 am to Curral das Freiras. You buy the tickets on the bus (3,35 € one way) and tell the driver that you want to go to Eira do Serrado. There’s a viewing point to the valley worth visiting and the starting point to an easy walk down to the valley. Then, from Curral das Freiras you can take the bus 81 back to Madeira, just in time to go to a sweet wine tasting.
At Blany’s, one of the best known wine producers in Madeira, you can book a tour and tasting for as little as 5,5 € p.P. and, much like we did in Lanzarote, during this 90 minute walk you’ll find out and learn about a very different approach to traditional wine. Read more about our experience tasting and learning more about Madeira wine here.
Day 3: Exploring West Madeira
Madeira is a very small island, 57 km long and 22 km wide approx., so one would think it’s easy peasy super easy to see and do everything. The tricky part is Madeira’s roads, mostly mountain ways. Twisty and turned. So whether you like it or not, getting anywhere safely it’s going to take you a bit longer than you expected. Not at all negative, the views along the road are simply majestic! Anyhow, in this the third day of our week in Madeira we decided it was time to explore more. To try a different approach to Madeira we booked an organised trip in a mini van with 6 other people through Madeira Seekers (30 € p.P + 12 € p.P. for a delicious meal in Seixal).
They pick you directly from your doorstep and bring you back at the end. You hop from one stop to the next along serpentine roads, up and down the valleys. The atlantic vs. the island fighting to decide which one is prettier.
All in all, even though this is not our usual way of travelling, it was nice to get to enjoy the views and learn the ins and outs from our local guide and driver Joseph.
Day 4: Porto Santo Island
As I mentioned before, Madeira isn’t your typical beach destination. Outdoors, all you want, but if your plan was to chill at a sandy beach all day, you’re wrong here. Or, are you? Madeira has a secret. An open secret all locals and Madeira lovers know about. About 43 Km northeast of the main island you’ll find a second smaller island (42.5 km2) called Porto Santo. What does this Porto Santo have to do with my beach vacation, you may ask. Well, Porto Santo is also part of Madeira and is home to a paradisiacal 9-Km-long gold sand beach.
To get there all you’ll have to do is either fly in, or catch the Porto Santo Line ferry early in the morning! Definitely worth a visit and not only because of the sandy beach!
Day 5: Funchal Museums and Botanical Gardens
After acquainting ourselves with Funchal during the first day of our week in Madeira, we decided to spend our 5th visiting landmarks and checking the botanical garden out. That being said, most museums and landmarks in the island are either free or very cheap to get into. Here I’m talking about 2 to 3 € (max. 6 € entrance fee), with exceptions of course.
We made our way to the Museo Militar (2 €) and Palacio de Saõ Lourenço, and the Forte do Saõ Tiago (3 € / Free for students) in the morning, then took the bus (31/31A) up to the Botanical Gardens in the afternoon (5,5 €). It can usually be reached via Cable Car, but during our trip it was closed.
When they closed, at around 6 PM, we took the bus down to the marina, just in time to witness one of the most beautiful pastel sunsets I’ve ever seen!
Day 6: Mini-Levada Walking in Ribeiro Frio and Santana
If you know anything about Madeira, it’s probably that a really big chunk of the island’s 741 km2 (286 sq mi) is covered in forest. One of the best known and autochthonous in Madeira, the Laurissilva tree, has fresh and welcoming home in the Ribeiro Frio National Park (yet another UNESCO World Heritage site). Here you’ll also find your way to the highest peaks in Madeira, Ruivo (1,862 m) and Arieiro (1,818 m), which unfortunately can only be reached either with a tour or by car. Ribeiro Frio is also a crossroads for many of the famous Levadas. Whether you feel like walking for hours or just want to take a short stroll along the forest, here is the place to start.
We didn’t have a lot of time in between buses (and unfortunately, the weather was horrible) so decided to do the short Levada walk to Bacões. A beautiful simple walk (about 1 hour), with a rewarding end destination. Before taking the next bus to Santana for lunch and a walk along the Triangular Traditional houses.
So, guys, this was how we explored Madeira in a week. Of course I was left wanting more, because a week in Madeira is not even close to enough. But what can you do when you only have a week in Madeira? Did I forget anything? Would you recommend any must-see for a future week in Madeira? Anyhow, that was it for now, keep an eye on this space for more detailed posts about all the things we did in the island. And here is a shot of Madeira from the plane, because i tell you, just to see that, the trip was already worth every second.