Jewel of the Atlantic, the Hawaii of Europe – Madeira is often described as an extraordinary place. My expectations were high when I got the chance to spend 5 weeks on the Portuguese island in the summer of 2022. Did Madeira live up to the descriptions? Not only that – Madeira exceeded them.
Never before have I seen a place that combines so many rich and diverse natural settings in a rather small space. Madeira awaits with dramatic volcanic peaks, thick rain forest, flower-filled gardens, deep-blue waters, and a pleasant climate. Already on the drive from the airport to our accommodation it occurred to me – Madeira really must be something very special.
I didn’t quite know it at that time. But over the next 5 weeks, I would fall for Madeira. And I fell hard. In the end, my time time on the island not only flew by, but saying goodbye was an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Why? See for yourself: Here are my absolute favorite places in Madeira, Portugal.
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My 11 Favorite Places and Highlights of Madeira, Portugal
#1 Porto da Cruz
Porto da Cruz is a small picturesque village in the north-east of Madeira. The village nestles neatly on the island's rugged north coast. Here, you’ll find an impressive saltwater pool, a sheltered bay, several good restaurants, and the Engenhos do Norte Rum Factory. The rum factory is one of the last active distilleries on the island and can be visited on a guided tour (tasting included).
Porto da Cruz was my base on Madeira during our five-week stay and I honestly couldn't have imagined a better place. Overall, the village feels less touristy, there are no large hotels and most tourists just stop through as part of a day tour.
I immediately fell in love with the lush greenery, the picturesque hills and the rugged coastline. This rich setting makes the village one of my absolute favorite places on the island!
In the summer, Porto da Cruz and the adjacent beach of Maiata is the hotspot for surfers. If you also want to try the waves, you will find several surf schools in Porto da Cruz. If you want to stay here longer, you might want to check out Vila Bela Hotel. The sea view from the rooms is exceptional! Jaca Hostel also boasts a great location very close to the beach.
#2 Parque Florestal das Queimadas
What makes Madeira so special is its impressive variety of landscapes. A different view awaits around every bend, from lush green hills to picturesque coastal villages framed by banana plantations to mist-soaked rainforests.
One particularly beautiful area, and one of my absolute favorite places in Madeira, is Parque Florestal das Queimadas. Queimadas Forest Park is located outside the city limits of Santana in the north of Madeira and is easily accessible by car. From Santana, take the serpentine road, lined with lush beds of strelizias and hydrangeas, up to the park.
The small parking lot is the starting point for most of the hiking routes that run through Queimadas. The routes pass through the laurel forest typical of Madeira, which in Queimadas is often shrouded in mystical mist. Some paths lead along rippling levadas, which creates a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere. The impressive Caldeirão Verde Waterfall can also be reached from here in about 2 hours.
The main hub of the park is a small café, which is located in a traditional thatched house. For me, Queimadas is one of the most beautiful places on the island!
#3 Out on the Water
Madeira has a lot to offer not only on land. During your stay on the island, you should take at least one boat trip – for two reasons. On the one hand, you get to enjoy magnificent views of the island from the water. On the other hand, a boat tour gives you the opportunity to get to know the rich (under)water life of the Atlantic.
Off the coast of Madeira, dolphins, turtles and various species of whales cavort all year round. A boat tour is therefore an absolute must.
Most tours start from the south coast, for example directly from Funchal. There are a variety of operators offering daily tours. It should be noted, however, that most operators use very large boats, which tend to fill up. Therefore, it pays off to compare before deciding on a tour.
I also did a lot of research beforehand and finally decided on this tour. Unlike most providers, Gavião Madeira uses a smaller sailboat, which offers space for only about 20 people. The captain as well as the guide took a lot of time to look for dolphins and whales and provide some background information in the meantime. The price of 30 EUR per person for the 3-hour tour (including a drink) seemed very fair.
And indeed, we not only spotted dolphins but even several pilot whales. The captain made sure not to remain too long near the animals and not to cross their route. Overall, it was a very rewarding, enjoyable, and impressive trip.
Lying on the deck looking out at the waves – with the island providing a dramatic backdrop – was a particularly beautiful moment and an absolute highlight of my time in Madeira. If you're looking for a boat tour, I highly recommend Gavião Madeira!
#4 Secret Beach – Ponta do Sol
I hesitated a bit whether I should reveal this beautiful place. After all, who likes to give away access to a beach that has been almost deserted until now. Yes, such places – unlike in many other European destinations – still exist on Madeira.
While most visitors head straight for the nearby Cascata dos Anjos – the famous "car-wash" waterfall – few stop along the banana-lined coastal road between Ponta do Sol and Madalena do Mar to venture down to the water's edge. Admittedly, it doesn't look easy at first glance. But at a couple of spots along the road, trails lead down to the beach.
Once down, you don't want to leave. The crystal clear water, the pebble beach and the lush green of the banana trees make this one of my – if not the – absolute favorite place on Madeira.
#5 Coastal Road – Santana to Arco de São Jorge
For those who base their stay in Madeira in the south, around Funchal, I highly recommend at least one trip to the rougher north of the island.
The easiest (and probably most beautiful) trip to the north is by driving your own rental car. A particularly scenic section is the road ER 101, which is not yet connected to Madeira’s expressway system. On the drive from São Jorge to Ponta Delgada, you climb up and down several hundred meters over numerous switchbacks, along lush hills and picturesque villages. Here's a short video of my first drive along this stunning road.
The road is lined with numerous flower fields and leads along waterfalls and thick forests – a true natural spectacle. Halfway along the road, you pass the Miradouro da Beira da Quinta, which offers stunning view of the coastline. The road ER 101 and the viewpoint is easily one of my favorite places in Madeira.
#6 Miradouro da Rocha do Navio
On Madeira, you are spoiled with views no matter where you look. An absolutely stunning example is the Miradouro da Rocha do Navio. The viewpoint is located near the town of Santana, right on the coast, which drops dramatically here. From Miradouro da Rocha do Navio, you get to observe an impressive natural theater of crashing waves, steep cliffs, waterfalls, and plantations.
If you have a little more time, it's also worth descending to the beach via a designated hiking trail. Please keep in mind that you have to take the same way back up – there is no road connection down and the cable car is currently out of service. That shouldn't deter you, though.
The deserted beach paired with the waterfalls and banana plantations is an absolute highlight and one of my favorite places in Madeira. In the afternoon, I found the atmosphere especially calming here.
#7 Fanal Forest
The special atmosphere pervading this forest results from its exposed position on the central plateau. It is here that the clouds move up the cliffs of the coast and then pass through the forest. The moisture contained is absorbed by the centuries-old laurel trees, whose trunks are covered with lush moss.
On other days, however, it can happen that blue skies and sunshine prevail here. Therefore, a look at the weather forecast does pay off. The fairytale-like scene is experienced best when the clouds pass through the forest. All in all, Fanal Forest ist yet another distinct natural highlight of Madeira.
#8 Seaside Town of Machico
Of course, there is no way around Funchal during a trip to Madeira. As much as I got to appreciate the undisputed capital of the island – my heart has conquered its second largest town: Machico.
In fact, Machico is the oldest town on the island. For it was here, where the first Portuguese settlers went ashore in 1419.
Today, Machico has developed into a relaxed little seaside town with great charm. In the center, a handful of restaurants line the central marketplace, where old plane trees provide shade.
What makes the town one of my absolute favorite places in Madeira is not only the laid-back vibe that permeates Machico, but first and foremost the picturesque promenade.
Here, in addition to a pebble beach, you'll even find a gorgeous sandy beach. Although the latter was artificially created, it blends wonderfully into the townscape. Whether for a stroll in the evening or for sunbathing and swimming during the day – a visit to Machico is a highlight of any trip to Madeira.
#9 Promenade of Santa Cruz
During the first weeks of my stay in Madeira, I was initially reluctant to visit the tourist heart of Madeira. I was rather attracted to the lesser visited areas of the island. But when I did end up in Santa Cruz one evening, I immediately fell in love.
I can well understand why most visitors to Madeira are drawn to the sun-soaked south coast around Santa Cruz. The sunsets here are particularly picturesque, there's a good selection of hotels, and authentic restaurants and bars line the streets. Another plus is the impressive view of planes taking off and landing from here.
And on the palm-lined promenade of Santa Cruz, you get to experience it all. If you've had your fill of the pebble-lined promenade, it's also worth taking a detour to the adjacent market hall (Tuesday-Friday: 7:00 am - 5:00 pm, Monday and Saturday: 7:00 pm - 4:00 pm, Sunday: 7:00 am -1:00 pm) or the Jardim Municipal of Santa Cruz. After my initial skepticism, Santa Cruz has quickly become one of my absolute favorite places on the island.
Because of its location, Santa Cruz is also a convenient choice if you have an early flight out / a late flight into Madeira and, therefore, want to spend the night close to the airport. I spent my last night on Madeira at Hotel Solar Bom Jesus. Breakfast was plentiful and the transfer to the airport took a little more than 5 minutes.
#10 Miradouro dos Balcões
Another of my favorite places on Madeira is the Miradouro dos Balcões. It is located in the inland of the island and is best reached by car from Funchal (in the south) or Santana (in the north), by following the serpentine road ER 103 into the mountains. The Parque Natural do Ribeiro is the destination.
If you can't spend too much time on the various hiking trails of the park, I highly recommend a visit to the Miradouro dos Balcões. can reach it after a short walk from the road.
Arriving at the viewpoint, you will be offered a breathtaking panorama. Elevated on a platform, you suddenly find yourself standing in the cauldron of the park, surrounded by lush greenery. In the background, the rocky peaks of Pico Aerio and Pico Ruivo tower majestically over the cauldron. The atmosphere is especially pleasant in the evening, when the sun is slowly sinking and most of the island's visitors are already bound at the dinner table.
If you're lucky, you'll have the viewpoint to yourself. In any case, the view from Miradouro dos Balcões is a true natural spectacle and an absolute highlight of Madeira that you should not miss.
Another bonus: Not far from the entrance to the short hiking trail to the Miradouro, you will find the Restaurante Snack Bar Faísca. Not only do they serve very tasty meat dishes here, but also one of the best Espada con Banana I've had on the island.
#11 Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Definitely not an insider tip, but simply an absolute highlight of Madeira. A visit to Monte Palace Garden should not be missed during a visit to the flower island. The park is located above Funchal and can be reached by car, bus or even a cable car, which links the mountain village with Funchal.
Admission costs 12.50 EUR per person – and is worth every penny. The park offers a natural spectacle of exotic trees, flowers, ponds and art. The tasteful cultural works such as Asian pagodas or African sculptures blend wonderfully into the lush vegetation.
The real highlight, however, is and remains the plant life. On Madeira, it seems that every exotic plant in the world can grow effortlessly. And in Monte Palace Garden, this can be admired most easily.
For me, the park simply exuded a totally calming and at the same time refreshing atmosphere. When I stood in the midst of the lush plant life and let my gaze wander over the natural amphitheater of Funchal and the shining Atlantic, I fell in love with Madeira once again.