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20 Must Do Outdoor Activities in Madeira

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Madeira is one of the best adventure holiday destinations in the world and should definitely be on your bucket list. This stunning Portuguese island, located in the Atlantic Ocean, has no shortage of incredible landscapes and exciting activities.

From hiking through the lush Laurisilva forests and exploring hidden waterfalls, to diving in crystal-clear waters and marvelling at volcanic caves; there are countless amazing activities to experience on this unique island.

In this post, we’re sharing the top 20 must-do outdoor activities in Madeira, highlighting the best ways to explore the island’s diverse landscapes and vibrant culture.

1. Spend the day at Seixal Beach

If you’re looking for a beach in Madeira, I highly recommend checking out Seixal Beach, one of the few black sand beaches on the island. The beach is framed by dramatic cliffs and lush greenery, creating a picturesque setting that is perfect for relaxing, swimming and photography. The natural pools formed by volcanic rocks at one end of the beach are a must-see, with calm waters if you don’t want to swim in the sea. 

2. Explore the mystical Fanal Forest 

Fanal Forest is one of Madeira’s most enchanting and mystical locations, with ancient, twisted laurel trees draped in moss and often shrouded in mist, creating a magical atmosphere. These trees are part of the ancient Laurisilva forest, which has existed for millions of years and is home to a unique ecosystem. 

The forest is the perfect spot for photography, with its dramatic scenery and ever-changing light conditions. Whether you’re capturing the misty mornings, the sun filtering through the trees, or the vivid green moss, it’ll be picture perfect.

There are also several hiking trails which wind through the dense forest, providing breathtaking views of the lush landscape. The PR13 Vereda do Fanal trail is particularly popular, offering a moderate hike through the forest with stunning viewpoints along the way.

3. Drive through Cascata dos Anjos

Cascata dos Anjos, located on the old coastal road ER101 near Ponta do Sol, is a unique waterfall that cascades directly onto the road, creating a natural shower. You can drive through the waterfall, or park nearby and walk there. The location is stunning, with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged coastline

4. Dive into a Canyoning Adventure

Madeira’s lush landscapes and many waterfalls make it an ideal setting for canyoning; an exhilarating adventure that combines hiking, climbing, swimming, and abseiling through the island’s rugged terrain. 

Popular canyoning spots include Ribeira das Cales and Ribeira Funda, where you’ll navigate through narrow gorges, jump into crystal-clear pools, and descend cascading waterfalls. Guided tours provide all necessary equipment and ensure a safe and memorable experience. 

5. Explore Madeira by mountain bike

Mountain biking in Madeira is an exciting way to explore the island’s diverse landscapes, from winding mountain trails to lush forests and coastal paths. With a variety of routes suitable for different skill levels, you can experience thrilling descents, technical trails, and scenic rides through Madeira’s stunning scenery. 

Rory getting dusty in the mountains with Freeride Madeira.

Bike rental shops and guided tours companies are widely available, providing everything you need. If you have some MTB experience already, we would highly recommend a day or two with Freeride Madeira to experience some of the best trails on the island.

6. Walk along Madeira’s Levadas 

Exploring Madeiras Levada walks is a must do activity that allows you to discover the island’s incredible landscapes and intriguing history. These irrigation channels, originally built to distribute water across the rocky terrain, now offer some of the most scenic hiking trails in Madeira. 

Wander through ancient forests, across vast valleys, and along cliffside paths while discovering countless waterfalls and panoramic views. Some trails we recommend are Levada do Caldeirão Verde, Levada das 25 Fontes, and Vereda da Lagoa do Vento. 

7. Escape to Porto Santo Island

Porto Santo Island is a hidden gem just a short ferry ride from Madeira, and is the perfect location for a day trip. With a 9 km stretch of golden sand and turquoise water, it’s the perfect location to relax on the beach, snorkel in the turquoise water and discover the many beach bars and restaurants. 

If you’re looking for a more adventurous day out, there are plenty of hikes, activities and incredible photo spots you can discover. One of the most popular hikes is the PS PR 1 – Vereda do Pico Branco e Terra Chã, which offers some of the best views over the island. Fonte da Areia is a great photo spot to visit, known for its unique rock formations and eroded sand structures.

8. Go Dolphin and Whale Watching

Madeira is one of the best places in the world for dolphin and whale watching, with the island’s waters home to numerous species of dolphins and whales that can be seen year-round. Although, the best time to spot multiple species is from May to October. We visited in September and spotted lots of dolphins!

Most tours depart from funchal, with trips ranging from a few hours to half a day, providing opportunities to spot majestic creatures like sperm whales, pilot whales, and several species of dolphins. We also had the chance to jump off the boat and snorkel during our tour.

9. Visit the Miradouros Around the Island

Madeira is known for its breathtaking viewpoints, known as Miradouros, which offer incredible views of the island’s diverse landscapes. Scattered throughout Madeira, these viewpoints provide some of the best opportunities to appreciate the island’s natural beauty.

Some of our personal favourite Miradouros are: Miradouro do Guindaste, Miradouro do Véu da Noiva, Miradouro da Bica da Cana, Miradouro da Eira do Serrado and Miradouro do Pico dos Barcelos. However, there are hundreds of Miradouros around Madeira, each offering a unique perspective, so we highly recommend visiting as many as you can. 

10. Swim in the Waters of Porto Moniz

Porto Moniz, located in the north of Madeira, is a scenic spot known for its natural volcanic swimming pools. These pools are formed by volcanic lava and naturally filled with crystal-clear seawater, providing a safe and beautiful place to swim and relax. The pools are surrounded by rugged volcanic rocks, creating a stunning contrast with the clear blue water, also making it a great photo spot.

11. Take a Ride on the Funchal Cable Car

One of the best activities you can do in Funchal is taking a ride on the Funchal Cable Car, which provides scenic views over the city. The cable car ride begins at the Funchal station, near the old town, and rises over the city, offering panoramic views of Funchal’s charming streets, the harbour, and the surrounding mountains. As you rise higher, the lush greenery and terraced hillsides become more prominent.

Upon reaching the top, you’ll find yourself in Monte, a quaint village known for its beautiful gardens and historical sites. From here, you can visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, a tranquil space with exotic plants, koi ponds and an art museum. 

12. Experience the Thrill of the Monte Toboggan Ride

After getting the cable car to Monte, the best way to get back to Funchal is by taking the Monte Toboggan Ride, one of Madeira’s most unique and exhilarating activities. This traditional and thrilling descent from the hilltop village of Monte to the city of Funchal dates back to the early 19th century when it was used as a quick means of transport for locals travelling from Monte to Funchal. 

Photo by Eva Bronzini

Today, it has become a popular attraction, where you’ll be seated in a wicker sled and guided down 2 km of winding roads by two “carreiros”, traditionally dressed in white uniforms and straw hats. The ride can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, so it’s the perfect activity for adrenaline seekers!

13. Hike the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Trail

The Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo trail is a must-do hike in Madeira; if there’s only one recommendation we could make for the island, this would be it! It’s an iconic and rewarding trail that takes you along Madeira’s highest peaks. 

The trail starts at Pico do Arieiro, the third highest peak on the island at 1,818m, and stretches 7 km to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak at 1,862m. The hike is well-marked and takes around 6- 8 hours round trip, depending on your pace and the number of stops you make.

The route takes you through a variety of landscapes, from rugged mountains and dramatic ridges to lush valleys and dense forests. Along the way, you’ll encounter breathtaking viewpoints, such as Ninho da Manta, offering panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. 

14. Dive into the Underwater World of Madeira

Madeira is a great place to Scuba Dive, with vibrant marine life, colourful reefs and intriguing shipwrecks in the surrounding waters. Located off the coast near Funchal, the Garajau Nature Reserve is a renowned diving spot with clear waters and abundant marine life. You can encounter a variety of fish species, including groupers, barracudas, and moray eels, along with impressive rock formations and caves.

For a more adventurous dive, explore the wreckage of the Madeirense, a sunken ship lying off Madeira’s coast. This site provides a unique glimpse into maritime history and serves as an artificial reef teeming with marine biodiversity.

15. Discover the São Vicente Caves

Located in the picturesque village of São Vicente, the São Vicente Caves and Volcanism Centre offers an immersive experience into Madeira’s volcanic past. The São Vicente Caves were formed around 880,000 years ago, when volcanic eruptions poured molten lava onto the island’s surface. Over time, the lava cooled and solidified, creating a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that stretch for over 1,000m. 

After exploring the caves with a guided tour, you can explore the interactive exhibits at the Volcanism Centre, which provides an insight of Madeira’s volcanic activity and its impact on the island’s landscape. 

16. Skywalk at Cabo Girão

Cabo Girão Skywalk is a glass-floored viewing platform jutting out of Europe’s highest seacliff, offering a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, Funchal, and the lush terraced hillsides below. It sits at 580m above sea level, with unobstructed views through the transparent floor; which is not for the faint hearted!

17. Explore the Dramatic Landscapes of Ponta do São Lourenço

Tucked away on the easternmost tip of Madeira, Ponta do São Lourenço is a unique peninsula known for its dramatic cliffs that drop steeply into the Atlantic Ocean, volcanic origins and unique rock formations. What makes this area so captivating is its diverse terrain, with colourful layers of volcanic rock and sedimentary formations, contrasting to the lush greenery found elsewhere on the island. 

One of the best ways to experience the full beauty of Ponta do São Lourenço is by hiking the PR 8 trail, which takes you on a 6 km journey through the peninsula’s diverse landscapes. The hike takes approximately 3-4 hours, and is one of our favourite walks on the island, so we highly recommend it. 

18. Step back in time at the Santana Houses

Located in the quaint village of Santana are these iconic triangular houses called “Houses of Santana”, one of Madeira’s most distinctive architectural highlights. These unique homes, with their triangular thatched roofs and brightly painted walls, offer a glimpse into the island’s rural past.

Originally built by local farmers, the houses were designed to withstand Madeira’s humid climate and are constructed from natural materials such as wood, straw, and stone. Several of these traditional houses have been preserved and restored, serving as museums, craft shops, and tourist information centres. 

19. Wander through the streets of Funchal 

Spend the day wandering through the city of Funchal, the capital of Madeira, known for its rich history, cultural attractions, and picturesque coastal setting. There’s lots to explore in Funchal, from the historic old town with narrow cobbled streets lined with colourful buildings, to Zona Velha, where artists have transformed old doors into stunning pieces of art. You can discover vibrant markets, charming cafes and impressive buildings, or take a walk to the waterfront, with its marina, parks and numerous restaurants.

20. Explore Madeira’s Hidden Gems

Madeira is full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered, here’s three lesser-known yet breathtaking locations that should be on your must-visit list:

Ribeira d’Ametade Bridge

Ribeira d’Ametade Bridge is a picturesque bridge that is tucked away between lush green forest and vast mountains, and is the perfect spot for some aerial photography or a scenic stoll with views of the Faial Valley below. It’s located along the ER 103 in Faial at the entrance of the road towards Central Eléctrica da Fajã da Nogueira. 

Ponta do Bode

Ponta do Bode, situated on the easternmost point of Madeira, is another hidden gem, with incredible views of the volcanic rugged cliffs and ocean. This area, with its unique rock formations and bright red colour, makes you feel like you’re on another planet. It’s a great spot for photography, and exploring the striking rock formations. 

Cristo Rei

Located in Garajau is Cristo Rei, an impressive statue of Christ, reminiscent of the one in Rio de Janeiro, standing on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The views from here are breathtaking, and you can take a cable car down to Garajau Beach if you’re in the mood for a seaside stroll.

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