17 Awesome Madeira Beaches [Essentials & Hidden Gems]

madeira beaches

There’s something about the ocean that just makes you feel alive.

Maybe it’s the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, or the salty air blowing in your face.

Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that a day at the beach is a day well spent. But what are the beaches like in Madeira?

If you’re looking for some of the best Madeira beaches, look no further.

In this article, let a local (me!) show you around 17 of the nicest beaches in Madeira, including some of the lesser-known spots.

About Madeira Islands

The Madeira Islands are a Portuguese archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Africa.

The archipelago consists of Madeira, Porto Santo, the Desertas Islands and the Savage Islands.

Madeira is volcanic in origin and are known for its dramatic cliffs, lush vegetation, and beautiful beaches.

Madeira is a popular destination year-round for tourism, but gets especially busy during the summer months.

There’s also been a rise in the number of internationals – including digital nomads and remote workers, as well as retirees – choosing to live in Madeira.

It’s fairly easy to get residency in Portugal, even if you’re not from the EU.

Some people even go for Portuguese citizenship, which is possible after five years living in Madeira.

At the time of writing, the Easter holidays have just begun.

The streets of the capital, Funchal, are buzzing with tourists, while the harbour is full of cruise ships.

Madeira beaches – from hot volcanic rocks to soft golden sand

When it comes to beaches, there’s something for everyone on the islands of Madeira.

From the black volcanic sands of Praia Formosa to the soft golden sands of Porto Santo, you’re sure to find a beach that suits your tastes.

In fact, two of the Madeira beaches – Porto Santo and Seixal – were voted among Europe’s best of 2022.

And if you’re looking for a little adventure, there are plenty of Madeira beaches with dramatic cliffs and dramatic waves.

No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it on one of these beautiful islands. 

However, a quick word of warning.

Madeira Island itself is more about black sand beaches and pebble beaches than golden sand.

Personally, I find the black volcanic sand beaches striking, unusual and interesting. On Madeira Island, there are two artificial golden sand beaches at Machico and Calheta, and a small natural one at Prainha.

But for the proper golden sand experience, you’ll need to travel to another island: Porto Santo.

The good news is, Porto Santo beach is 7km long, stunningly beautiful, and very much worth the journey.

You could do a day trip by ferry, or stay overnight. The Porto Santo ferry company offers good value package deals with ferry ticket and overnight stay combined.

You can also fly from Funchal, which takes around 20 minutes. Personally, I enjoy the ferry trip, so I’ve never gone there by plane.

So, let’s dive in and explore 17 amazing beaches in Madeira!

17 Awesome and Diverse Madeira Beaches

  1. Porto Santo
  2. Praia Formosa
  3. Camara de Lobos 
  4. Fajã dos Padres
  5. Ponta do Sol
  6. Madalena do Mar
  7. Calheta Beach
  8. Jardim do Mar
  9. Paul do Mar
  10. Seixal Beach
  11. Porto Moniz Rock Pools 
  12. Prainha Beach
  13. Machico Beach
  14. Santa Cruz Beach
  15. Reis Magos Beach
  16. Garajau Beach 
  17. Sao Tiago (Funchal)

#1. Porto Santo – Best for soft golden sand and long beach walks

madeira beaches
The fluffy golden sands of Porto Santo beach

If you’re looking for a beach with soft golden sand and beautiful blue waters, look no further than Porto Santo.

This beach is located on the island of the same name, which is just a short (2.5 hours) ferry ride from Madeira.

The ferry is well equipped and makes for an interesting excursion in its own right.

Onboard there are several restaurants and bars, some souvenir stores, and even a cinema! If you need to stretch your legs during the journey, walking around the helipad on top is a great place to do so.

The long stretch of sandy beach at Porto Santo is perfect for a relaxing walk, or you can take a swim in the crystal-clear waters.

There’s also a golf course on the island, so you can tee off while enjoying stunning ocean views.

The island is small but there are some steep hills in the middle, so the best way to get around is by hiring an electric bike or a quad bike.

You can also rent a car, or use one of the yellow taxis. 

How to get to Porto Santo from Funchal:

  • Porto Santo Ferry (2.5 hours)
  • Fly from Funchal airport (20 mins)

#2. Praia Formosa – Best for black volcanic sand & dramatic waves

Praia Formosa beach on a calm day

Praia Formosa is one of the most popular Madeira beaches. It’s a black sand beach located in Funchal, about 5km from the city centre.

There are plenty of buses going here and it’s an easy 10 to 15 minute ride by taxi or car.

You can even walk from central Funchal to Praia Formosa along the seaside path, which takes around one hour.

The waves at Praia Formosa can be quite strong, so it’s not always the best beach for swimming. I once witnessed a very unlucky swimmer who not only got his face bruised up on the seabed but also lost his swimming trunks in front of a beach full of people.

Even when the waves are too strong for a swim, Praia Formosa is still a great place to relax and soak up the stunning scenery.

There are several good restaurants along the main boardwalk (try the one nearest the public toilet block), where they serve a range of drinks and typical Madeiran dishes.

My favourite is fish soup and bolo do caco (delicious local garlic bread).

Praia Formosa has a beachside walkway, perfect for strolling or running.

I lived in Praia Formosa for my first month in Madeira. I went running every day from Praia Formosa beach to the nearby town of Camara de Lobos, which is a nice little 5K route.

It’s especially fun to run along the sea path when the waves get dramatic. Water sometimes gets thrown up over the walkway, which certainly livens up the run! 

Check out Praia Formosa on a live webcam

How to get to Praia Formosa from Funchal:

  • On foot (around 1 hour)
  • By car (10 mins)
  • By bus (15-20 mins)

#3. Camara de Lobos – Best for poncha & chill

Camara de Lobos bay with fishing boats

Camara de Lobos is a small town located just outside Funchal, on the south coast of Madeira.

It’s home to one of the best beaches on the island. The beach here is sheltered by cliffs, making it the perfect place for swimming and sunbathing.

There’s also a range of great restaurants and cafes, so you can relax with a refreshing drink or a bite to eat.

Camara de Lobos also has several excellent poncha bars, where you can try this local speciality (poncha is Madeira’s favourite alcoholic drink, a mixture of rum and fruit juice). Careful, it packs a punch!

How to get to Camara de Lobos from Funchal:

  • On foot (1.5 hours)
  • By car (15 mins easy drive)
  • By bus (20 mins)

#4. Fajã dos Padres – Best for seclusion & organic foods

Off the beaten track: Fajã dos Padres beach

Just outside Camara de Lobos you’ll find the secluded pebble beach of Fajã dos Padres.

Because it’s tucked away at the foot of a large cliff, this beach remains off the beaten track and hence doesn’t usually get busy.

There’s an organic farm nearby, which supplies ingredients used in dishes at the beachside restaurant.

All in all, Fajã dos Padres is a great spot to relax in peace and quiet, not far from Funchal but away from the summer crowds.

How to get to Fajã dos Padres from Funchal:

  • By car: 15-20 mins drive along the VR1 highway

#5. Ponta do Sol – Best for chilled digital nomad vibes and beach yoga

Ponta do Sol beach on a wild December day

The village of Ponta do Sol is well-known for being the sunniest spot in Madeira. Its name means ‘point of the sun’ – go figure!

Home to the Digital Nomad Village initiative, Ponta do Sol also has its very own beach, located in the middle of the village.

It’s a pebble beach, as many Madeira beaches are, but it’s still good for swimming.

There are several beachfront cafes where you can get fresh octopus sandwiches and other local delicacies.

Try the one up on the high point overlooking the beach. It has the freshest, tastiest octopus.

You can walk up the surrounding cliffs for excellent sunrise and sunset views over the ocean.

Have an evening drink at the clifftop Estalagem Hotel and watch the sun go down.

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: 30 mins drive
  • By bus: Around one hour on the Rodeste line, either direct or via Ribeira Brava (bus not recommended)

#6. Madalena do Mar – Best for calm strolls & banana lovers

Waves at Madalena do Mar

The village of Madalena do Mar has a small pebble beach tucked away along the south coast.

It’s a calm place for strolling on the promenade and admiring the looming green cliffs.

Temperatures are here among the warmest on the island, and the water is clear and great for swimming.

There’s a boardwalk, with several facilities, including bars, toilets, changing rooms, solarium, a small playground and a lifeguard.

Madalena do Mar is home to Madeira’s largest banana plantation, due to it being one of the island’s warmest and most fertile spots.

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: Around 30 mins drive west along the VR 1 highway
  • By bus: Again, you can take one of the Rodeste services (line 4 or 8) from Funchal (again….not recommended, unless of course you enjoy bus rides)

#7. Calheta Beach – Best for swimming and sunbathing

A hazy summer’s day at Calheta Beach

Calheta is a small municipality on the south coast of the island, just beyond Ponta do Sol. It’s home to one of the most popular Madeira beaches.

You can reach Calheta in about 30 minutes by car. It’s also possible to take a bus, but the journey will be much longer with frequent stops.

Calheta Beach is man-made, created by filling in a volcanic crater with sand imported from Morocco.

The result is a beautiful sandy beach with crystal-clear waters, perfect for swimming and sunbathing.

The beach is protected by walls on each side, so it’s very calm water and safe for swimming.

Check out the Manifattura Di Gelato pizza restaurant on the boardwalk for some of the best pizza in Madeira.

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: Around 30 mins
  • By bus: Take one of the Rodeste services (80, 107 and 142) from Funchal (not recommended as it’s a long and arduous journey by bus)

#8. Jardim do Mar – Best for surfing

madeira beaches jardim do mar surfing
Dramatic cliffside at Jardim do Mar, Madeira’s most famous surf spot

The west coast of the island is where you’ll find the best Madeira beaches for surfing.

Jardim do Mar is probably the most famous. According to Surfer Today, the waves here are best suited for intermediate and advanced surfers.

If you’re a newbie surfer, we recommend heading north to Seixal beach, where you’ll find calmer waves and surf schools suitable for beginners.

For non-surfers, Jardim do Mar makes for a nice beach walk amid dramatic waves and big cliff views.

How to get there from Funchal:

By car: Around 1 hour west along the VR 1 and VE 3 highways

#9. Paul do Mar – Best for beach cocktails

The main beachfront of Paul do Mar

Slightly off the beaten track along from Jardim do Mar, you’ll find Paul do Mar, a calm town with one of the most popular pebble beaches in Madeira.

It’s trickier to reach, so it usually stays peaceful and is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon and evening.

One of my favourite things to do in Paul do Mar is to sip a cocktail at the Maktub beach bar while watching sunset over the ocean.

How to get to Paul do Mar from Funchal:

  • By car: Around 45 minutes easy drive along the south coast.
  • By bus: Reaching Paul do Mar by public transport is awkward and takes ages (over two hours). If you don’t drive, I recommend hiring a taxi for the day, or just staying locally and enjoying the easy pace of life.

#10. Seixal – Best for calm water & green cliffs

madeira beaches seixal
Seixal beach at high tide

Located on the wild north coast, Seixal offers a very different experience from any of the Madeira beaches on this list so far.

In general, the north side of the island is cooler, damper, and more dramatic than the south.

Many people prefer the south because it’s sunnier, but the north side is well worth exploring.

Seixal beach is striking to look at – with black volcanic sand surrounded by towering dark green cliffs.

The water is calm, with soft sand underfoot, making it a great place to swim, snorkel, or take surfing lessons (especially if you’re a beginner surfer). 

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: Around 45 mins drive north

#11. Porto Moniz – Best for rock pools & multi-coloured crabs 

madeira beaches
Serene rock pools at Porto Moniz

For something entirely different, or when you feel like a change from the typical Madeira beaches, why not head to the north coast and check out the town of Porto Moniz?

The rock pools here, while not technically a beach, make for an enchanting and unusual swimming experience.

Because they’re sheltered from waves and the current, swimming in them is peaceful and relaxing – almost like a natural spa.

Watch out for the different coloured crabs scuttling around on the rocks!

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: Just under 1 hour’s drive north along highways VR1 and VE2
  • By bus: 3 hours 10 mins using the Rodeste service, departing Funchal 4 times per day.

#12. Prainha Beach – Best for wannabe geologists

Unusual copper-coloured sand on Prainha Beach

This hidden gem is the only natural golden sand beach on Madeira Island.

You’ll notice that the sand is slightly unusual, with a coppery hue that reflects its volcanic origins.

Prainha Beach is located on the island’s eastern peninsula of São Lourenço.

The area around Prainha, the Piedade Dunes, has an interesting landscape, where it’s possible to find fossils tucked away among the volcanic rocks.

You can also find a number of caves in the cliffs surrounding the beach.

Prainha Beach is unique on the island and it’s definitely a must-visit among all the Madeira beaches.

How to get to Prainha Beach from Funchal:

  • By car: Around 30 mins drive along the VR1 highway
  • By bus. Very tricky, no easy route. If you don’t drive, we recommend hiring a taxi for the day.

#13. Machico Beach – Best for golden sand (if you don’t mind it artificial)

Machico Beach, another of the man-made Madeira beaches

In the eastern town of Machico, you’ll find the second of the artificial golden sand Madeira beaches.

This is the longest golden sand beach in Madeira. It’s very well protected from the waves, so it’s a great place to swim.

Machico Beach has plenty of facilities, and easy plentiful parking.

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: An easy 20 minute drive
  • By bus: Take bus 56 from Funchal in the direction of Lombo Galego then get off at stop Estação de Machico

#14. Santa Cruz Beach – Best for a family day out

The Santa Cruz beachfront area

Another popular option on Madeira’s east coast is Santa Cruz beach.

This is another pebble beach, which offers a bathing complex, water park, and exciting views of planes coming in to land, as well as a good view of another part of the archipelago: the Desertas Islands.

There’s plenty to do at Santa Cruz, both for kids and adults, so a trip to Santa Cruz beach can easily become a whole day out for all the family.

How to get there from Funchal:

  • By car: 20 mins drive along the VR1 highway
  • By bus: Take the 77 or 29 bus from Teleferico, then get off at stop Igreja da Camacha. Then take the 113 towards Santa Cruz Via Gaula and get off at stop Igreja STA Cruz T-113. The beach is a 500 metre walk from the bus stop.

#15. Reis Magos Beach – Best for relaxing and safe swims

Reis Magos Beach is a small, relaxing pebble beach in the popular expat district of Caniço de Baixo, just 15 mins drive from Funchal.

The beach is in a secluded area surrounded by sea walls, so it’s a safe place to swim or snorkel.

Plus, there are lifeguards on duty at busy times of the year. The water is clear and calm, so you won’t run into any trouble with the current.

You’ll also find plenty of restaurants and bars in the area, perfect for watching the sunset over the ocean.

How to get to Reis Magos from Funchal:

  • By car. An easy 15 min drive with parking close by
  • By bus. From Funchal bus station, take bus 155 towards Zimbeiros

#16. Garajau Beach – Best for snorkelling

Aerial view over Garajau Beach

Garajau Beach is another of the many Madeira beaches with pebbles, but a good option within easy reach of Funchal.

You can access the beach by taking the cable car from Caniço, or by driving down the (very narrow, steep and winding) road until you arrive at the beach.

It’s a small pebble beach with clear blue water, perfect for swimming and snorkelling.

How to get to Garajau from Funchal:

  • By car. Head to the town of Caniço then follow the narrow road down until you reach the beach
  • By bus. From Teleferico (Funchal), take bus 110 in the direction of Boqueirão Via Caniço, then change at stop Cancela-Zona 35 and take bus 155 in the direction of Zimbeiros. You’ll still have to walk around 25 minutes to reach the beach. We recommend renting a car or hiring a taxi!

#17. Sao Tiago Fort (Funchal) – Best for quick city swims & socialising

madeira beaches
The famous yellow fort – a popular local swimming spot

While it’s not technically one of the Madeira beaches, Sao Tiago Fort gets an honourable mention here.

It’s a popular sunbathing and swimming location in central Funchal, which attracts a regular crowd of locals and expats, plus some tourists – especially in the height of summer.

Sao Tiago Fort is a great place to hang out with friends, soak up the sun, dip into the water, and have a drink or picnic while watching the waves.

At times the waves get very powerful, in which case swimming might not be a good idea.

How to get to Sao Tiago from Funchal:

  • Sao Tiago Fort is an easy 5-10 min walk from the city centre, along the seafront. Just head in the direction of the bright yellow fort, then walk through the boat yard and down to the concrete area where everyone sunbathes.

FAQs: Madeira Beaches

Does Madeira have white sand beaches?

No, Madeira doesn’t have white sand beaches, as it’s a volcanic island. But there are two golden sand beaches on Madeira Island, in the towns of Machico and Calheta. The neighboring island, Porto Santo, has a 7km-long golden sand beach.

Can you swim in the sea in Madeira?

Yes, you can swim in the sea in Madeira in a number of locations around the island. The sea is typically warm enough for swimming, even in winter. The water is good quality and clean. Watch out for large waves and be aware of weather warning, as the sea can get rough at times.

Can you swim in Funchal?

Yes, you can swim in Funchal in several places, including Barreinha Beach complex (east of Funchal near the old part of the city), Lido, and Praia Formosa (around 5km outside central Funchal. You can also swim at Sao Tiago Fort, close to the city center.

What is the best month to go to Madeira?

The best months to visit Madeira are between April and October, when temperatures are highest and the sun shines almost daily. But winter time can also be pleasant, with daytime temperatures in Funchal often around 20C (68F) in December and January.

Are there sandy beaches in Funchal?

No, there are no sandy beaches in Funchal itself. although you can find a black volcanic sand beach at Praia Formosa, 5km from Funchal center. If you want golden sand, you can find man-made beaches at the towns of Calheta and Machico, both around 30 mins drive from Funchal.

Does Madeira have black sand?

Yes! Madeira has many black sand beaches. As it’s a volcanic island, black sand is found all over the island’s coastal areas. The best black sand beaches include Praia Formosa (5km from central Funchal), and Seixal (on the north coast).

Can you swim in the sea in Madeira in January?

Yes! Daytime temperatures are normally around 20C in December and January (on the south coast of Madeira; the north coast and mountainside areas will be cooler). The sea is great for swimming, even if there’s rain. In fact, I swam in the sea near Funchal on New Year’s Day 2021, and it was very pleasant.

What is the hottest part of Madeira?

The southwest coast of Madeira is the hottest part of the island, including the coastal towns of Ponta do Sol, Calheta and Jardim do Mar.

Final Thoughts

There are many great Madeira beaches to explore, each with its own unique features, with black sand, golden sand or pebbles.

Whether you’re looking for a place to swim, sunbathe, surf, hike, fish, or simply relax, you’ll find the perfect spot on this beautiful island. Here’s our jumbo list of things to do in Madeira.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Madeira today. You never know, you might end up staying longer than planned

If you do decide to stay, check out the long-term residency options in Madeira, including the Golden Visa, D7 visa, and digital nomad visa.

Join the Digital Émigré newsletter for tips on making your big move.

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