51 Best Sights in Madeira, Portugal

Blandy's Wine Lodge

Fodor's choice

The Blandy family has been making Madeira wine for more than 200 years. At Blandy's Wine Lodge, visitors can hear how the wine is made, visit the wine cellars, see the wine museum, and listen to tales about Madeira wine from knowledgeable guides. There's plenty of time for a generous tasting at the end of the visit.

Cabo Girão

Fodor's choice

At 1,900 feet, Cabo Girão is on one of the highest sea cliffs in the world, and the observation platform—with a clear glass floor so you can gaze straight down—gives you a bird's-eye view down to the coast. From here you can see the ribbons of terraces carved out of steep slopes where farmers daringly cultivate grapes and garden vegetables. During high season, the walkway can get crowded with bus tours, so get there early if you want to beat the crowds.

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Carreiros do Monte

Fodor's choice

The village of Monte is home to one of Madeira's oldest and most eccentric attractions: a snowless sled ride down the mountain. The toboggan sleds were first created to carry supplies from Monte to Funchal. Nowadays the rides are just for fun, and no visitor to Madeira should miss out on this white-knuckle adventure.

Dressed in white and wearing goatskin boots with soles made of rubber tires, drivers line up on the street below the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte. Resembling big wicker baskets, the sleds have wooden runners that are greased with pig fat so they'll go even faster. Two drivers run alongside the sled, controlling it with ropes as it races downhill on a 10-minute trip halfway to Funchal. At the end of the ride there are several souvenir shops where you can pick up a photograph of yourself taken by a sneaky photographer shooting you somewhere on the ride. To get back to Funchal, walk about 1 km (½ mile) or take one of the many waiting taxis.

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Eira do Serrado

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About 16 km (10 miles) northwest of Funchal, this miradouro (viewpoint) overlooks the Grande Curral, once thought to be the crater of a long-extinct volcano in the center of the island. Local legend says the surrounding peaks are the fortress of a princess who wanted to live in the clouds so badly that her father—the volcano god—caused an earthquake that pushed the rocky cliffs high into the sky. Today the views are breathtaking in all directions; you can appreciate them even more if you stay the night or dine at the panoramic Eira do Serrado Hotel & Spa. If you are driving here from Funchal, head north toward Curral das Freiras and turn at the sign for Eira do Serrado. The roads do get a little narrow and nerve-wracking at times, but they're worth embracing for the view.

Fundacao Livraria Esperança

Fodor's choice
This amazing bookshop is one of the oldest and largest in Portugal. As you walk through the twisting corridors over three different floors, you'll find it hard to find any empty spots on the shelves or walls. There are over 100,000 different titles lining every inch of this shop from top to bottom, pinned neatly to every available space. The books are almost all written in Portuguese, so unless you're a native speaker, this shop is more a place to marvel at the literary beauty than buy anything, but it's well worth visiting to get lost among a world of fiction.

Jardim Botânico da Madeira

Fodor's choice

The Botanical Garden is on the grounds of an old plantation 3 km (2 miles) northeast of Funchal. It's home to more than 2,000 well-labeled plants—including anthuriums, bird-of-paradise flowers, and a large cactus collection—hailing from four continents. From the grounds, it is possible to savor wonderful views of Funchal, and check out the petrified trunk of a 10-million-year-old heather tree. There's also a natural history museum and a small birds garden. You can get here on Bus 29, 30, 31, or 31A, or you can ride the cable car, departing from the small hilltop settlement of Monte.

Jardines do Palheiro

Fodor's choice

This 30-acre estate 5 km (3 miles) northeast of Funchal is a lovely spot to see the many colorful plants that bloom year-round in Madeira. Visitors will see hibiscus and bougainvillea most of the year, while jacaranda and bauhinias crop up seasonally. Owned by the wine-producing Blandy family, the manicured gardens make for a pleasant afternoon, and the teahouse here serves delicious homemade cakes and tarts. It's a steep drive—Nos. 36, 37, and 47 buses pass several times a day, and it's a popular stop on organized tours of the island.

Mercado dos Lavradores

Fodor's choice

This vast art deco building will delight architecture buffs, while the interior is a riot of colors and scents. In the center patio of the market, vendors sell orchids, bird-of-paradise flowers (the emblem of Madeira), anthuriums, and other blooms, alongside enormous piles of fruits and vegetables. The bustling lower-level seafood market displays the day's catch. (Note the rows of fierce-looking espada: their huge, bulging eyes are caused by the fatal change in pressure between their deepwater habitat and sea level.) On the upper floor—where you can stand and watch the colorful market scene below—you will find handicrafts and a handful of cafés and coffee shops that offer a chance to refuel with a bica (espresso) and a sandes de carne vinho e alhos (pork, wine, and garlic sandwich).

Miradouro do Paredão

Fodor's choice

For a spot with such impressive views, it's remarkable how few people visit the scenic overlooks at Miradouro do Paredão. One side overlooks the Curral das Freiras and its jagged peaks, while the other looks towards the ocean. The road to reach Miradouro do Paredão is narrow and winding, which scares off the bus tours. You'll be rewarded with almost empty observation decks and some of the most dramatic views on the island from high above the clouds.

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Fodor's choice

This colorful garden is known around the world, and for good reason. Tiled panels recall the adventures of Portuguese explorers, pagodas and gateways lend touches of Asia, and cannons pour their salvos of water from a stone galleon in a lake. The garden was once part of a luxury hotel that closed in 1943 and languished for years. Fortunately, millionaire entrepreneur José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo bought the property in 1987 and transformed it into the garden you see today.

Pico do Arieiro

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At 5,963 feet, this is one of Madeira's highest mountains. On your way here, you'll travel over a barren plain above the tree line: watch for errant sheep and goats wandering across the pavement on their way to graze on stubbly gorse and bilberry. Stop in the parking lot near the top and make the short climb to the lookout (next to a giant NATO radar), where you can scan the rocky central peaks. There are often views of the clouds below (unless you're in them), but on a clear day you can see the Curral das Freiras to the southeast. Look in the other direction and try to spot the huge Penha de Águia (Eagle Rock), a giant monolith on the north coast. The trail from the lookout that crosses the narrow ridge leads to Pico Ruivo (6,102 feet), the island's highest point, winding over the second-highest point, Pico das Torres (6,073 feet), along the way—it's one of the best hikes on the island, though it is a tough 13-km (8-mile) round-trip trek, and sections are sometimes closed by landslides. You might consider taking a guided tour from one of the many outfitters in Funchal.

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Pico do Castelo

Fodor's choice

The island's series of lofty peaks make for great exploring. The summit of Pico do Castelo, at 1,433 feet, has a small 16th-century fort that provided defense against the frequent attacks of French and Algerian pirates. It's a tough climb to the top, but one that's peppered with pretty flora, from cacti to berry bushes. From the summit, the views are rewarding: below you to the west is Porto Santo Beach, and to the east is the conical shape of Pico de Baixo and the Ilhéu de Cima. From here it's an easy walk to Pico do Facho (1,552 feet), the island's highest point.

Piscinas Naturais do Porto Moniz

Fodor's choice

Though not a beach per se, the otherworldly natural sea pools in Porto Moniz are one of the most popular sites in Madeira, with children and adults splashing in the waters around the volcanic rocks or soaking up some sun on the concrete "beach." There are pools of varying sizes, some shallow and calm (perfect for kids), and some deeper and rougher for more adventurous types (one even has a diving board). Several pools have wheelchair access. You can rent deck chairs and umbrellas and dine at the snack bar during the summer months. The water here is significantly colder than elsewhere on the island. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: swimming.

Ponta da Calheta

Fodor's choice

Just below Pico das Flores lies Calheta Point, where the café-restaurant O Calhetas marks the western edge of the beach. There is probably no better way to enjoy the whole island than to stop for a drink or bite to eat, then walk back along the beach during the sunset as you admire the astonishing landscape.

Praia da Calheta

Fodor's choice

When you think of the perfect tropical beach, you're probably envisioning something like this quiet, pretty swath of white sand nestled around a series of coves carved out of black volcanic rock. This beach—not to be confused with the beach of the same name on Maderia's main island—is made for staring out at the impossibly blue sea and the interesting rock formations on the uninhabited islet of Ilhéu de Baixo. Though swimming is dangerous on the western end at Ponta da Calheta, a little farther east you'll find calmer waters perfect to wade in. There's no shade, so bring an umbrella. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: solitude; sunset; walking.

Praia da Fontinha

Fodor's choice

The closest beach to the town of Vila Baleira is family-friendly Praia da Fontinha, which offers soft, clean white sand and calm, warm waters ideal for swimming. About half a mile in length, the beach seems quiet even when it's packed. You can eat lunch at Pizza N'Areia, right next to the beach, or grab a drink and a plate of barbecued meat at the beach bar, O Corsario. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for a small fee. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

Rua de Santa Maria

Fodor's choice

This narrow alley of Santa Maria in Funchal's Old Town is worth walking down for the atmosphere alone: diners eat at small sidewalk cafés (though many of them are touristy), restaurant owners beckon you in for a glass of poncha, and the smell of grilled fish fills the air. But this street holds an even greater lure, as there's colorful artwork that covers almost every door. There are more than 200 paintings, depicting everything from bookshelves to musicians, created by local artists in an attempt to revitalise the area. Go early if you want to capture the paintings on camera as the street can get busy towards the afternoon.

Teleférico da Madeira

Fodor's choice

The sleek, Austrian-engineered cable car service travels from Funchal's waterfront up to Monte at 1,804 feet above sea level. The trip takes 15 minutes each way, and there are great views to enjoy as you float silently up and over the city's white-washed houses. The orange roofs form a patchwork from above, complemented by swooping birds of prey, scampering mountain goats, and new blooms on the trees. A great option is to ride the cable car up, then take one of the renowned snowless "basket toboggans" part of the way back down.

Teleférico das Achadas da Cruz

Fodor's choice

About 12 km (7 miles) south of Porto Moniz is the Achadas da Cruz cable car—an engineering marvel that transports visitors down the almost vertical drop to the windswept farming area of Fajã da Quebrada Nova. Before the cable car was built a few years ago, the only way to get there was by boat. The tiny carriages operate only when needed, so press the button to confirm you're ready to go. At the bottom you'll find a truly beautiful part of Madeira, with wind-contoured fields, black-stone beaches, deafening waves, and a tangle of grape vines used for local wine making.

Antiga Alfândega

The stately Old Customs House is home to Madeira's parliament (which is closed to the public). From here deputies govern the island, which is part of Portugal but enjoys greater autonomy than the mainland provinces. The building's original 16th-century Manueline style was given baroque touches during renovations that followed the devastating 18th-century earthquake that almost leveled faraway Lisbon.

Casa Colombo Museo do Porto Santo

In his former home, this small museum is dedicated to the life of explorer Christopher Columbus. You can visit his restored kitchen and bedroom, look at maps of his journeys, and gape at treasures from a Dutch boat that sank off Porto Santo in 1724.

Casa-Museu Frederico de Freitas

This delightful rose-colored museum has been renovated in the style of a 19th-century quinta (country estate). You can find antique furniture, hand-woven carpets, and paintings collected by the Madeirian lawyer and world traveler Frederico de Freitas, who resided here in the early 20th century. Don't miss the adjacent Casa dos Azulejos, a museum dedicated to decorative tiles from Spain, Persia, Turkey, Holland, and Syria that date from medieval times to the 19th century, as well as Portuguese tiles rescued from demolished buildings on the island.

Casino da Madeira

Located inside the Pestana Casino Park, this betting house was designed by the world-renowned Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. You must be at least 18 years old to enter, although children are permitted in the Bahia restaurant. Dress is smart casual (no beach sandals allowed). There's also a dance club downstairs called the Copacabana, which holds neon light-filled parties—often with live Brazilian music—on weekend nights.

Engenhos da Calheta

Dating back to the 19th century, this working sugar cane factory is at its liveliest in April and May, right after the harvest that leaves a honey-like scent hanging in the air. You can take a self-guided tour to see how the local rums and liqueurs are made, then sample a few in the tasting room for a small fee.

Engenhos do Norte

A visit to the working sugar cane mill is a reminder that the industry once played a pivotal role in the region. The mill operates during April and May, immediately after the sugar cane harvest, but a visit any time of year will let you see the various stages of the steam-driven production. After walking around the mill, you can finish up in the Rum House to sample some of the beverages made with the crop.

Fonte da Areia

Near the village of Camacha, this spring once had the purest water on the island, which is why it was used for medical treatments. The water does not spring forth with such abundance today, but is still considered sacred by locals. To reach the spring, drive west out of the village along the coastal road.

Fonte da Areia, Portugal
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Rate Includes: Free

Fortaleza de São João Baptista do Pico

It's a steep walk to get to the fortress, but it's worth the effort for the dazzling views of Funchal. The Fort of the Peak was built in 1611 to protect the settlement against pirate attacks. Today, you can view parts of the ramparts, as well as visit a small museum that has prints of the building over the years on display. A coffee shop with great views over the city offers a chance to refuel before heading back down the hill.

Calçada do Pico, Funchal, 9000-206, Portugal
291 645 377
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Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sat. and Sun.

Fortaleza de São Tiago

The robust yellow fortaleza dates to 1614, if not earlier, when French corsairs began to threaten Funchal's coveted deepwater harbor. Thanks to continuous use—by British troops when their nation was allied with Portugal against Napoléon, and during the visit of Portuguese King Dom Carlos in 1901—much of the military stronghold has been preserved, though it's now a bit decrepit. You can wander around the ramparts, which offer interesting views over the old town and sea below.

Rua do Portão de São Tiago, Funchal, 9060-250, Portugal
291 213 340
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Rate Includes: Closed Sat. and Sun., Free

Grutas de São Vicente

Just outside the village of São Vicente, you'll find a series of underground caves formed during Madeira's last volcanic eruption around 890,000 years ago. Half-hour tours led by enthusiastic guides descend about 1 km (½ mile) into the chocolate-colored rock caverns. Next door, the Centro do Vulcanismo is a slightly dated but still interesting interactive exhibition detailing the region's volcanic past, complete with a 3-D film that transports you to the center of the earth. Note that the caves are currently closed for maintenance and scheduled to reopen in 2023, so check before you visit. Dress appropriately: it's slippery underfoot and you'll often get dripped on from above.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte

A peek into the cool interior of this hilltop church reveals several ornate carved golden altar pieces, a grand organ, and gilded chapels decorated with colorful azulejo tiles. The tiny statue above the altar was found by a shepherdess in the nearby town of Terreira da Luta in the 15th century and has become the patron saint of Madeira. The church also contains the tomb of Emperor Charles I of Austria, the last Hapsburg monarch. He was exiled to Madeira, developed pneumonia, and died on the island in 1922. Standing in front of the church rewards you with dramatic views of the city and ocean.