Portugal’s Madeira Island is a well-known destination, traditionally popular with honeymooners and retired couples.
But most online guides about this semi-tropical Atlantic paradise focus on the same list of tourist-centric activities.
Instead, for this guide, I asked the island’s locals and long-term expats about their favorite things to do in Madeira.
I’ve been living in Madeira for almost two years, and I’ve tried most of these activities myself. Some of them are tourist classics, while others are hidden gems you won’t find anywhere else.
So you can rest assured – this truly is the ULTIMATE guide for things to do in Madeira. What’s more, I plan to update it constantly with new places and activities as I discover them.
OK, what are we waiting for – let’s dive in!
53 Unique Things To Do In Madeira
Things to do in Funchal
First up, let’s look at things to do in Madeira’s capital, Funchal. This is where the majority of the population live and where most of the action happens.
1. Experience the cable car & hillwalk combo
Take the cable car (teleférico) from Funchal old town all the way up the mountainside to Monte. You’ll get some amazing views along the way.
Then have lunch and enjoy some of Madeira’s best speciality coffee at Land, Food and Coffee cafe, located just underneath the last station of the cable car.
They also have Madeira’s main coffee roasters, Odd Coffee Roastery, where you can buy bags of coffee to take away.
Finally, walk all the way back downhill to Funchal and soak up the interesting local vibes en route.
2. Stroll on black volcanic sands
Madeira Island has some interesting beaches and this is one of the most popular. Located just outside of Funchal city centre, the beach called Praia Formosa is a stunning expanse of sparkling black sand and imposing rocks.
There’s a lovely seaside walkway where you can run, stroll, or just gaze out over the ocean with a glass of wine or a coffee at one of the cafes dotted along the walkway.
It’s also a fabulous place to watch the sunset – which is one of my favorite things to do in Madeira.
3. Swim in lava pools
Madeira is a volcanic island and so it has several lava pools dotted around. The most famous pools are at Porto Moniz on the north coast.
But what many people don’t know is that Funchal has its own lava pools too.
Located just down from the Praia Formosa beach, the Doca do Cavacas natural pool complex is an easy bus ride away from central Funchal.
It’s a great activity to combine with a walk on the black sand beach. The restaurant next to the pools also does a very good fish soup, fresh bolo do caco (Madeiran bread, usually with garlic butter), and some killer poncha.
4. Cool off at a water park
Locals and tourists alike love spending a hot summer afternoon at one of the swimming complexes dotted around Funchal.
You can find a nice one just next to Barreirinha Cafe (Complexo Balnear da Barreirinha), and several options in the Lido area, including the more upmarket Club Navale do Funchal and the Lido Bathing Complex.
Most swimming complexes charge an entry fee, which allows you to stay as long as you like. They’re usually very clean, with changing and showering facilities, and a restaurant/bar.
Swimming areas can get extremely busy at the weekends, when the locals bring their families out for the day. If possible, I recommend you go there on a weekday.
5. Snorkel, swim or sunbathe in the city center
São Tiago Yellow Fort (Fortaleza de São Tiago) is the place for this. You can’t miss it – it’s bright yellow. Just walk from the town center to the sea front, face the water and look to your left.
It’s not exactly a beach (ok not at all), but there’s a paved area where locals go to sunbathe and swim during the summertime. On hot days, the place gets absolutely packed out.
São Tiago is a great spot to relax in the sun with a good book or some friends. There’s also a small bar there, which serves drinks and simple food.
6. Drink rooftop cocktails with 360° views
Three House Hotel is the place to go for this. Head up to the top floor, where you’ll find a nice setup with a DJ, speciality coffee, and an interesting range of cocktails. They also serve lunch and dinner and bake their own sourdough bread.
7. Sip fancy coffee and admire art
Try Funchal’s best specialty coffee at Art Food Corner. They have all the good stuff a coffee snob could want – including proper flat whites, V60 filter brews, barista oat milk, and matcha lattes!
There’s also an array of healthy food and cakes, amid colorful artworks. Everything is super instagrammable!
It’s a lovely place to sit, watch the world go by, and meet visiting digital nomads.
8. Eat gelato and people-watch
Try some of Funchal’s best gelato (plus banana splits and peach melbas) at the Ritz Cafe and watch the world go by along Funchal’s busiest avenue – Avenida Arriaga.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot someone famous, like the prime minister of Portugal!
9. Saturday night cabaret
While you’re at the Ritz, why not grab a ticket for the lively Saturday night dinner cabaret show? It’s a great place to chat with longtime Madeira expats, and, if you’re British or Irish, you’re sure to meet plenty of people from back home.
10. Join digital nomads for rooftop networking
Drop by the Next Hotel on a Saturday night to meet an interesting mix of locals and internationals, many of them working remotely in tech, at the regular digital nomad networking event.
It’s free to get in – just tell the reception desk staff that you’re a digital nomad, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
11. Indulge in traditional afternoon tea at Reid’s
Reid’s Palace Hotel is a Madeiran institution; the oldest hotel on the island, and probably the best (although the Savoy Palace is a strong contender).
The hotel is tucked among a backdrop of magnificent greenery. Wandering into the lobby of Reid’s feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
The afternoon tea makes for a lovely relaxed afternoon out. Make sure to book it in advance.
12. Challenge your general knowledge
Every Thursday night, Moynihan’s Irish Pub puts on a quiz night, where teams of tourists and regulars do battle over all kinds of general knowledge questions. If you were born after 1980 you might struggle with some of the questions, but it’s still a lot of fun.
13. Go on a golden beach adventure
Had enough of volcanic black sand?
Then you need to experience the fabulous 7km golden fluffy sand beach at Madeira’s second island, Porto Santo. It’s a classic among the best things to do in Madeira.
There’s a ferry service between central Funchal and Porto Santo that runs several times every day. The journey takes around 2.5 hours, and you can either stay overnight or just go for a day trip.
14. Drop by a live jam session
Hang out with a nice mix of cool locals and foreign residents at this regular jam session held at the super central Museu Cafe (which also has excellent lunch specials).
15. Ever tried Mozambican food before?
Well, you can in Madeira.
Hoyo Hoyo restaurant in Funchal’s São Martinho district (close to Praia Formosa) serves a range of Mozambican dishes and local Mozambique beer.
At the time of writing, I haven’t got round to trying it yet. But it’s high on my to-do list.
16. Outdoor concerts & coffee mornings
This Anglican church in central Funchal, known as the English Church, has long been a meeting point and lively hub for the British expat community. It was founded over three centuries ago.
The church organizes outdoor concerts, coffee mornings and other events – where you’re sure to meet plenty of long-term Madeira foreign residents, mainly retirees from the UK.
17. Go clubbing at Living Room
Tucked away in a pretty square in the city center, you’ll find this relaxed little ‘microclub’ – Living Room – that’s popular with digital nomads. It plays techno, house, tech house, DnB, and electronic music.
18. Try Madeiran craft beers
There’s a small bar tucked away on a quiet street behind the La Vie shopping center. It’s called Fugacidade, and it serves an excellent array of Portuguese and Madeiran craft beers.
The friendly bar staff will probably let you sample a few beers before making your choice. Most of the beers are good, but be warned – some are super strong!
19. Take a Madeira wine tour at Blandy’s
Okay this one’s a bit touristy. But it’s high up on the list of top things to do in Madeira.
A group of us did the tour last year and found it quite absorbing – plus they give you several sample glasses of Madeira wine! My favorite is the medium-dry Verdelho.
You can also visit the Blandy’s wine store and buy a bottle for a souvenir.
20. Browse Madeira’s oldest department store
Check out the slightly random and quirky selection of products for sale in Bazar do Povo, which was once Madeira’s ONLY department store.
21. Enjoy live music with ocean views
Enjoy great drinks and dishes (try the black bean burger or the chicken burrito) with sweeping ocean views at local Funchal Old Town favorite, Barreirinha Bar Cafe, which often holds live music events.
22. Do happy hour – Cuban style
Fancy happy hour with two-for-one cocktails, Cuban food, & real Cuban coffee? Check out MadCuba – tucked away on a Funchal backstreet – super central, yet hidden. Their mojitos and strawberry daiquiris are superb.
23. Join a group workout
If you’re feeling energetic and love burpees, you could join one of the free seafront workouts with Madeira Fitness Friends.
They also organize social events, so plugging into this network is a good way to find new things to do in Madeira.
Normally, Saturday mornings at 10 am, but check the website in case the time has changed since I last went (a while ago!)
24. Savor the rooftop infinity pool at the Savoy Palace hotel
This stunning pool has amazing views over the city. Plus, it’s adults-only.
Things to do in Ribeira Brava
There’s plenty to do in Funchal, but let’s not forget the rest of the island for great things to do in Madeira.
Ribeira Brava is Madeira’s second city, located just a 25 minute drive along the south coast from Funchal.
Let’s have a look at what you can do there.
25. Stroll the pleasant boardwalk
The boardwalk between Ribeira Brava and Tabua is wide and has great sea views. Have a drink on the beach and then hit the shops. You’ll be surprised at what you might find.
26. Eat proper local food
Check out Snack Bar Stone House for authentic local food, plenty of character, and a fisherman’s parrot that might chat with you (if you’re lucky).
27. Mingle with fishermen & banana farmers
For more low-key local food, check out Taberna e Mercearia Canto do Passo, where you can eat alongside the fishermen and banana farmers fresh from a day on the plantations.
28. Buy organic products
People from all over the island come to Fiqueli farm shop to buy organic food and other products. It’s a great place to have a browse and meet some interesting people.
29. Try the real poncha
Funchal is full of touristy places to sample the local drink, poncha. Trying poncha is high on the list of things to do in Madeira.
But you’ll find the proper stuff – Madeiran fisherman-style – is quite different from the fruit flavored versions served to tourists.
For the real thing, check out this poncha bar at the top of Ribeira Brava.
Tip: don’t stay at the bottom of the road like most tourists do, but keep going up all the way to the very top. There you’ll find the best and most original fisherman’s poncha – smooth like the locals have it!
30. Soak up stunning views from up high
Ribeira Brava is home to one of Madeira’s best viewpoints, Miradouro São Sebastião, from which you can see a beautiful panoramic view of the Ribeira Brava valley (and take photos like the one at the beginning of the section).
Things to do in Ponta do Sol
31. Explore the historic cinema
This intriguing old cinema in Ponta do Sol village center is a great place to soak up some Madeiran history.
Opened to the public in 1934, this art deco building served the people of Ponta do Sol for many years, delivering everything from silent Charlie Chaplin films to high society gatherings.
More recently, the cinema hosted a small international film festival, which is currently on hold in the aftermath of the pandemic.
32. Walk the old seaside road
Start at Ponta do Sol and follow the tunnel that leads out of town to get onto the old road.
This windy seaside route used to be the only way to travel between PDS and the next town, Madalena do Mar. You can stop off along the way to get a drink at the old store next to the community fishing village.
33. Party hard at Purple Friday
Madeira’s original party night, Purple Friday Sunset Social, happens every Friday at the Estalagem Hotel, Ponta do Sol (free of charge, booking needed).
It’s a great opportunity to watch the sunset from the clifftop, while mingling with digital nomads and tech-y people from all over the world. Awesome DJs too!
Things to do on Madeira’s north coast
34. Sample local wines at a hilltop vineyard
The Quinta do Barbusano vineyard in the hills of São Vicente is an excellent day out. You can taste local wines, stroll in the vineyard and enjoy a jaw-dropping view out over the green hills and coastline.
35. Swim in peaceful rock pools
On Madeira’s cooler north coast at Porto Moniz, you can find natural rock pools. The water here is smooth and still – great for relaxing swims. The moody scenery and striking backdrops make the experience even more magical.
Things to do – other Madeira locations
36. Join Machico’s community lunch
For laid-back east coast vibes, check out the community lunch every Thursday in Machico – Madeira’s oldest town.
37. Head for the plateaus
Drive up to the top of the island, the plateau of Paul da Serra, where you’ll experience a totally different landscape.
It also gets a lot cooler the higher you go, so this trip is a great option for those hot summer days.
38. Take a sunrise hike at Madeira’s highest peak, Pico Arreiro
39. Get an adrenaline rush on the buses
Take a local bus ride just for the adrenaline rush of careering along Madeira’s high up and twisty mountain roads. You’ll get some great views out the windows – if you dare to look out.
40. Capela Miradouro Sagrada Familia
The quirky and interesting Capela Miradouro Sagrada Familia (Lookout Chapel of the Holy Family) was built single-handedly by Manuel Maceda, who was born in the area but spent much of his life in Venezuela.
The chapel is full of statues and images donated by Madeiran emigrants from all over, including Brazil, Venezuela and Mozambique. It’s a fascinating window into Madeiran religious life, plus offers some excellent views over the hills.
41. Hike the eastern peninsula
São Lourenço Point is the easternmost peninsula of Madeira Island. Along the trail that goes there, you’ll find some of the finest cliff scenery the island has to offer. Hike along winding paths and look down for dramatic views – if you dare!
42. Hunt for fossils amid copper sands
This hidden gem is the only natural golden sand beach on Madeira Island. The unusual sand has a coppery hue that reflects its volcanic origins.
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.
43. Brave the skywalk at Cabo Girão
Stroll the glass floor across some of the highest cliffs in Europe (580 meters above sea level) at the Cabo Girão viewpoint.
This is also a good place to pick up a traditional Madeiran hat.
44. Go glamping in the hills
The glamping trend has hit Madeira, with several places now offering glamping trips.
I can recommend one in particular, Calheta Glamping Pods, which two friends of mine said was a great experience. The pods are cosy with comfortable beds, outdoor hammocks, a swimming pool, and fantastic views across the island.
Another glamping option is Canto das Fontes in Ribeira Brava. It’s highly rated online, but I don’t personally know anyone who’s tried it. They have both yurts and tents available – it looks fun!
45. Overnight in a cave
Spend a hot summer night in a seaside cave. Some of these caves have been in local families for generations and accessible only by boat.
46. Go sea fishing
Have a go at catching thousand pound marlins and 250 pound tuna! Check out Madeira Sport Fishing with their boat Luna, in the south coast town of Calheta.
47. Walk among the bananas
The banana trail (‘rota da banana’) in Madalena do Mar is an easy 1.9km walk among lush green banana plantations with intricate water management systems. See how bananas grow and get some relief from the sun!
The Taberna when you reach the end is perfect for grabbing an ice-cream or cold drink.
48. Wander winding streets
The little town of Jardim do Mar is well worth a visit for its intriguing winding streets and sea views.
49. Surfers and sunset mojitos
Head out to the charming little town of Paul do Mar, watch the surfers and enjoy a mojito at Maktub Pub. Best at sunset.
Things to do in Porto Santo
Porto Santo (as you’ve probably figured out by now) is the second biggest island in the Madeira archipelago.
While Porto Santo is far smaller and less populated than Madeira Island, it has the great advantage of a long (7km) natural golden sand beach. That makes it a popular destination for holidaymakers seeking the full beach experience.
Here’s a short list of our favorite things to do in Porto Santo.
50. Zip around on an electric bike
Although Porto Santo is small, it can be tricky to get around because there’s not much public transport. There are taxis, but otherwise you’ll need a car or bike.
The best option I’ve found is to rent an electric bike, scooter, or quad bike to take you easily up the hills.
51. Go wild with water sports
You can rent all kinds of water sports equipment (including body boards and jet skis) directly on the beach from Mr Humb Jet Fun.
52. Visit Madeira’s oldest ice cream parlor
Lambeca is a special kind of Madeiran ice cream created in Porto Santo over 50 years ago. It’s a thick and creamy soft scoop served in a wafer cone and comes in around 25 different flavors. The name ‘lambeca’ comes from the Portuguese verb lamber (‘to lick’).
The man who invented lambeca all those years ago, Mr. João dos Reis Leão, still runs the original ice cream kiosk in the center of Porto Santo’s main town, Vila Baleira. You’ll find it on Rua Dr. Nuno Silvestre Teixeira, in the big square.
53. Have dinner with amazing views
Finish off your Porto Santo visit with dinner at the Panorama Restaurante, where you can see all of Porto Santo from high up. The fresh tuna steak is especially good.
Before you go…
There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Madeira. From captivating views and energetic water sports, to simply lying on a golden sand beach – there’s something for everyone on this paradise island.
Madeira has a habit of reeling people in. If you want to stay longer, check out our guides to living in Madeira, and how to get residency with the Madeira Golden Visa.
For remote workers and those with passive income, the Portugal D7 visa is another good option for long-term stays in Madeira.