Discovering the Best Madeira Island Outdoor Activities with Your Family

Estimated read time 20 min read

Where is Madeira Portugal?

There are around 600 miles between Lisbon and Madeira Island, a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. While Madeira is a relatively small island, it is becoming increasingly popular among tourists seeking outdoor adventure, beautiful landscapes, and mild weather. If your family is ready to explore Madeira Island, you may find some unique adventures perfect for your next amazing vacation. 

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How to Get to Madeira Island?

Getting to Madeira Island is relatively easy, thanks to the island’s well-connected airport, the Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport (FNC). The airport is located in Santa Cruz, approximately 15 miles from the capital city, Funchal. The airport has direct connections to many European cities, including Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt.

In addition to international flights, there are also several regional flights connecting Madeira Island with other islands in the archipelago, such as Porto Santo and the Azores. These regional flights are operated by airlines such as Binter Canarias and SATA.

If you are traveling from mainland Portugal, you can take a direct flight from. The flight time for flights to Madeira island is about two hours and is relatively inexpensive.  With good timing, you should easily be able to find tickets from $50 – 100 each, sometimes well under $50. You can also travel island to island by ferry between Porto Santo and Madeira.

You may recall hearing about Madeira’s famous landings and takeoffs from popular youtube videos.  It is known to be a challenging runway but you’ll find these skilled pilots maneuver it well.  We really didn’t notice anything different during our landing.  Upon arrival, there are many methods of transportation available including taxis, rental cars, and shuttle services. Car rentals on Madeira Island are just as easy as they are in mainland Portugal.  Public buses connect the airport with several tourist destinations on the island, including Funchal.

Many people also arrive on Madeira Island by cruise ship as it is a popular port of call for many ships that sail through the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. There are several cruise lines that offer cruises to Madeira Island, including:

  • MSC Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Holland America Line
  • Azamara

Find your .

The cruise ships dock right in the city center of Funchal, making it pretty easy to explore the town on your own or on a guided tour. Passengers can explore the island’s natural beauty, historic sites, and cultural attractions. Some popular shore excursions include a visit to the , a (irrigation channels) or a visit to the , one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. In addition, Funchal offers many attractions, from lively colorful doors, picturesque cafe’s, and open markets. Whether exploring on your own or with a guided tour, there are plenty of things to see and do during a cruise stop in Madeira Island.

No matter how you get there, feel free to wander in our footsteps with this 3 Day itinerary that will have you out and about from the coast to the peaks.  You can always change it up with activities that suit your family best like instead of hiking as you’ll find it fairly easy to get bike rentals also.

funchal sunset

Day 1: Madeira Hiking Trails

Finding family-friendly hiking trails may depend on your individual families needs but there are a  few that you’ll be able to enjoy and you can always customize it by using smaller portions of the trail. Make sure to do your homework when choosing a trail as there are some very challenging trails when hiking Madeira Island.

The Passeio Marítimo (Câmara de Lobos – Praia Formosa) is a coastal scenic hiking trail that stretches for approximately 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) along the coast. You’ll get to enjoy stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, towering cliffs, and the rugged coastline. The trail is rated as easy to moderate in terms of difficulty, making it suitable for hikers of all ages and skill levels.

The trail starts in the charming fishing village of Câmara de Lobos, located about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) west of the capital city, Funchal. From there, it follows the coastline, passing through quiet fishing villages, rocky beaches, and dramatic cliffs. This trail is well-marked and easy to navigate, with several rest areas along the way.  There are parking areas in several locations along it so you could start wherever is best for you.

The village of is known for its colorful fishing boats and narrow streets. From there, you’ll pass through several small fishing villages, such as Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, where you can stop for a refreshing drink or a bite to eat.  There will also be a few observation areas (miradouro) from time to time, such as Miradouro do Salão Ideal.

As you continue along the trail, you’ll reach the Praia Formosa beach, a popular spot for relaxing and sunbathing. Nestled at the feet of majestic cliffs that reach for the sky, the beach entices with its beautiful waters and black volcanic pebbly sands, beckoning visitors to bask in the sun while immersing themselves in the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature’s masterpiece.  

As the trail winds along the alluring shoreline, hikers can admire the views of craggy cliffs and wave-battered beaches, reminding you of the sea’s relentless power.

No need to feel lost when you can wander in the right direction with my detailed guide on visiting Formosa Beach on Madeira Island:

Getting to Formosa Beach:

Formosa Beach is located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) west of Funchal, the capital city of Madeira Island. The easiest way to get there is by car or taxi. There is a parking area near the beach, where you can park your car for a fee. You can also take a bus from Funchal to Formosa Beach, which takes about 20-30 minutes.

formosa beach in the distance

Activities at Formosa Beach:

Formosa Beach is an interesting stop, mostly pebbles and probably not the best place to try to swim but great for relaxing or sunbathing.  You may find lounge chairs and umbrellas available for rental at certain times.

There is a large rock that faces the Atlantic Ocean and even has stairs to climb it and take a one of a kind memorable photo.

Tips for Visiting Formosa Beach:

  • Bring sunscreen and a hat, as the sun can be strong on Madeira Island.
  • Wear sturdy shoes if you plan to explore the surrounding area, it is a pebble beach.

The tunnel (Túnel das Poças do Gomes) that connects to Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools will probably be closed but should reopen after May 2023.  This is where you probably should go for swimming.  The natural pools are popular attractions on Madeira Island. 

DIve in with this detailed guide on visiting Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools:

Getting to Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools:

It is easy to walk to if you stay in one of the hotels or condos nearby.  There is a small parking area near the pools, where you can park your car for a fee or you can take a bus from Funchal to the area, which takes about 15-20 minutes.

Facilities at Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools:

The natural pools are saltwater pools created in lava formations by the ocean.  Doca do Cavacas is a fully equipped facility, with several amenities available for visitors. There is a restaurant and bar on site. There are also public restrooms, showers, lockers, first aid, a lifeguard, and sunbeds available for use. 

There are no elevators or ramps for strollers or wheelchairs. It is a long way down the stairs and back up which could be challenging for some.

Doca do Cavacas is open all year from 10:00 to 18:00 (Winter) and from 08:30 to 20:00 (Summer).  The rates are about $3 per person and free for children under 3. You can rent sun loungers or umbrellas for about $5.

Snorkeling is a popular activity at Doca do Cavacas, and you are welcome to bring your own snorkel gear.

Want to stay overnight in the Surrounding Area?

  • Hotel Baía Azul is a 4-star hotel in São Martinho with 2 restaurants and 2 bars/lounges offering mountain and sea view rooms from $142/nt.
  • Rodamar I by An Island Apart is an Upscale São Martinho 2 Bedroom apartment with kitchen and balcony (and sea views) from $388/nt.
  • Pestana Ocean Bay Resort is a 4* Beachfront aparthotel in São Martinho with outdoor pool and restaurant with sea view rooms and suites from $147/nt.

An alternative shorter first day walk when you arrive in this area for your stay would be along the Lido Promenade, where you can get a breathtaking view of Poças do Governador. If you’re particularly fit and adventurous, you can journey closer down the rugged earthen path to its base.  Several of the local cafe’s did not disappoint at all.

We recommend:

  • Magic Tea House – you can’t miss it right on the Lido Promenade. My daughter loved it here so much that she insisted on taking a picture with the server and that is how she remembers the place.
  • Pedras do Lago – this Chinese restaurant had such freshly good offerings, we truly enjoyed it all. The owners were also very friendly and accommodating.
  • Le Petit Gâteau – a perfect place for breakfast or your morning coffee after a vigorous walk.
morning latte at le petit gateau
  • The Forum Madeira shopping mall has many additional offerings to suit whatever cuisine you’re craving.

Day 2: Botanical Gardens & Toboggan Ride

Start the day in the city center of Funchal with a short walk along Funchal Promenade.  There are many cafes and restaurants along the Promenade to choose from.  We stopped at O Verdinho for drinks and snacks which is very close to the Red Car Food Truck ( near several food vans in the park).  You’ll be just a few steps away from the Cable car station and on your way to the beautiful family-friendly botanical gardens.

Riding the cable car lift to Monte Palace from Funchal Promenade is a tourist favorite when visiting Madeira Island. The lift is also known as the Funchal Cable Car or the Monte Cable Car, and it offers a spectacular perspective of the city and the surrounding area. 

Everything you need to know about riding the lift to Monte Palace Madeira from the Funchal Promenade:

teleferico cable car

Boarding the Lift:

The lift station (Teleférico Funchal-Monte) is located at the end of the promenade, near the seafront. There are several ticket booths where you can purchase your ticket but the best way to avoid lines and be on your way into the line as smoothly as possible is to purchase your tickets at a kiosk or online. If visiting during peak season, expect long lines so get there early.

When purchasing online, you can purchase one-way or roundtrip. 

Expect to pay about $13 one way for an adult and $6.50 for a child.  Round trip is $18 (adults) and $9 (children).  You can also save time by purchasing a combo ticket for the gardens and the cable ride online, as there will be another line when you get there. Each car holds 4 – 6 people.

Riding the Lift:

Embark on a thrilling ascent to the pinnacle of Monte, as the lift hoists you 15 minutes skyward, sweeping you over the rooftops of Funchal in a breathtaking display of urban and natural beauty. Gaze upon the city, harbor, and coastline below, awestruck by the stunning panorama that unfolds before your eyes. With each passing moment, the landscape transforms, shifting from the hustle and bustle of the urban metropolis to the verdant splendor of the hillsides, a lush tapestry of greenery unfurling in all directions. 

Arriving at Monte Palace:

The lift drops you off  steps away from the entrance to Monte Palace.  This is where you will be ushered into a world of wonder and discovery. Immerse yourself in the tranquil splendor of the gardens, wander through the museum’s halls, or simply lose yourself in the panoramic vistas that stretch out before you. 

There’s no rush, no pressure, just endless opportunities to explore and revel in the natural and cultural riches that abound. When you’ve had your fill of Monte Palace’s enchanting allure, the lift awaits to ferry you back down to the Funchal Promenade, but the memories you’ve made will last a lifetime.

Tips for Riding the Lift:

  • The lift can be very crowded, especially during peak tourist season, so be prepared to stand in line and share the cabin with other tourists.
  • The lift is not suitable for people with mobility issues, as there are several steps to climb to get into the cabin.
  • If you are afraid of heights, you may want to skip this activity, as the lift travels over the rooftops of Funchal at a considerable height.

If you would like to visit Monte Palace without taking the lift, the easiest way to get there is by car, tuktuk, or taxi.   There is also a bus service that runs from Funchal to the palace, which takes around 20-25 minutes.

The palace was built in the late 18th century and has been converted into a museum and exhibition space; its expansive gardens are the main attraction and cover an area of around 70,000 square meters. 

Exploring the Gardens:

Wander through an oasis of botanical wonder as each garden reveals its own secrets and delights in its own unique style.  Pass through the serene koi pond of the Japanese Garden, skipping over stone bridges and be transported to the pavilions of the Oriental Garden.  Peruse historical azulejos of grandeur throughout the gardens until you are carried away by the melodic sounds of cascading water welcoming you to a breathtaking waterfall and captivating view of the sea below it. Continue to explore the Garden of the Island until you have uncovered all its hidden paths and don’t forget to find your way to the coffee shop for your free Madeira wine samples.

Visiting the Museum:

Within the museum, visitors can explore various exhibitions that delve into Madeira’s history and culture, alongside temporary displays featuring contemporary art and design. Noteworthy exhibits include an assemblage of African sculptures, a collection of minerals and crystals, and a selection of antique maps showcasing Madeira’s past.

Getting the Best Views:

It’s hard to capture in words the breathtaking vistas you’ll experience from atop this coastal hill. Monte Palace presents some of the most impressive perspectives of Funchal. The gardens are dotted with several lookout points that offer spellbinding panoramic views of the city

and coastline.

Tips for Visiting Monte Palace & Gardens:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, as there is a lot of walking involved in exploring the gardens. There are some ramps in lieu of stairs.
  • Bring sunscreen and a hat, as the sun can be strong on Madeira Island.
  • Bring a camera, as there are plenty of photo opportunities in the gardens. ANd an extra battery, you might wander for a while.
  • Children under 15 are FREE, adults are about $13.

Once you’ve finished admiring the exquisite gardens of Monte Palace, one of the most thrilling ways to descend to Funchal is by taking the renowned wicker toboggan sled ride, Carreiros do Monte

Here’s how to get from Monte Palace Gardens to the historic toboggan ride back down to Funchal:

Exiting Monte Palace Gardens:

As you exit Monte Palace Gardens, you arrive in the charming village of Monte. From here, you can take a leisurely walk through the village’s cobbled streets, lined with traditional houses and colorful flowers.  You’ll find the Toboggan ride starting point on Rua de Santa Maria, one of the main streets in Monte. It is a short walk from the exit and there is plenty of signage pointing you in the right direction. While the walk is short, it might be a bit exhilarating for some, it’s all uphill, and feels a little steep.  It’s completely doable though, just take your time and pace yourself.  Once you arrive at the starting point, you will see the toboggans waiting for passengers.

monte palace gardens exit

Purchase Your Ticket:

There’s a booth on the opposite side of the street from where the toboggans line up where you can purchase your ticket. You can ride as a single ($25), double ($30), or triple ($45). The ticket includes the 2km ride down to Livramento where you can either continue to Funchal by walking or take one of the waiting taxis.

Enjoy the Ride:

The toboggan ride is a truly unique and exhilarating experience. As you settle into the wicker basket, the carreiros will guide and propel the toboggan along the tight, winding roads of Monte.  You’ll experience breathtaking views of the city and the coastline. The ride is bumpy but safe, and it is a remarkable, never-to-be-forgotten adventure. Experience it virtually with us in this video on Instagram.

During your joyride, you’ll notice police stationed along the route, halting cross traffic to ensure a smooth journey. Additionally, photographers positioned along the way will capture your snapshot mid-ride, preserving the memory of this unique experience. (You can purchase it at the end for $10)

Tips for the Toboggan Ride:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, as the ride can be bumpy and jarring.
  • The toboggan ride is weather-dependent, so check the forecast before planning your trip.
  • This is a very popular activity for vacationers and cruisers on day excursions, so be prepared to wait in line during peak tourist season.

Day 3: Miradouros, Open Markets and Colorful Doors

On a lively island brimming with vibrancy like Madeira, making the choice between soaking up the scenery on a scenic drive or being immersed in the kaleidoscope of colors the city has to offer can be a daunting task. But why choose just one when you can have the best of both worlds? So, to help you make the most of your time, here is how to explore the multifaceted city of Funchal.

Embark on an unforgettable journey through the scenic and mesmerizing routes of Madeira Island, as you bask in its resplendent and breathtaking views. If you’re in the vicinity of Funchal, then you’re in for a treat, as this charming capital city is adorned with several magnificent viewpoints, or “Miradouros” in Portuguese. Each Miradouro offers a unique and awe-inspiring panorama of the sea, city, and mountains, which are sure to leave you spellbound. So, don’t miss out on these incredible viewpoints and make sure to add them to your itinerary:

  • Miradouro do Pináculo
  • Miradouro de São Gonçalo
  • Miradouro do Lazareto
  • Miradouro do Socorro
  • Miradouro do Jardim do Pico Rádio
  • Miradouro da Nazaré
  • Miradouro da Vila Guida

Start with the Colorful Doors:

Funchal is famous for its brightly painted doors ( Art of Open Doors), there’s over 200 of them! To truly experience the essence of this city, you must take a leisurely stroll through the charming streets and narrow alleyways. From the historically significant old town to the contemporary marina, Funchal boasts an abundance of vivid doors at every turn. So, take your time to wander through this vibrant maze of hues, and don’t forget to capture some striking photographs of these kaleidoscopic doors.  

Start on Rua de Santa Maria not far from the water’s edge. The artwork is amazing and it’s often nestled between the tables of a quaint cafe beckoning you to stay a while.

Visit the Mercado dos Lavradores:

One of the must-see attractions in Funchal is the Mercado dos Lavradores, the city’s famous open market. Here you will find a colorful array of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and local crafts. It’s a lively and bustling market, with plenty of fresh fish as well.

On the second level of this bustling market, you’ll discover a plethora of fascinating artifacts and warm-hearted vendors. Be prepared to be swept off your feet by the generosity of the merchants, who will eagerly offer samples of their unique wares. From endearing traditional children’s costumes and toys to exotic dried fruits that you never even imagined existed, there’s an assortment of goods for everyone. Personally, I couldn’t resist the temptation of the delectable dried blackberry pineapple, a true masterpiece of flavors that left me yearning for more.

The market is open every day, except on Sundays and public holidays.

second floor view of open mercado

Explore the Historic Old Town:

Indulge in the captivating beauty of Funchal’s historic old town, a picturesque and alluring area featuring winding cobblestone streets, lively-hued houses, and an abundance of remarkable landmarks. The Gothic-inspired Cathedral of Funchal is a must-see wonder, flaunting its breathtaking architectural splendor. However, there’s more to explore beyond the beaten path; venture into the narrow alleys and veiled courtyards, brimming with quaint shops, charming cafes, and sumptuous eateries, all waiting to be discovered.

Sunset Walk Along the Promenade:

Experience the magic of a spectacular sunset along Funchal’s enchanting promenade, also known as Avenida do Mar. This breathtaking 3 km seafront walkway will exhilarate your senses, as you revel in the invigorating sea breeze and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring vistas of the harbor and the city. The walkway is lined with an array of charming cafes, tantalizing restaurants, and spirited bars, providing the perfect ambiance for you to unwind and relish in the mesmerizing surroundings.

Looking for a multicultural dining experience that’s vegan friendly? Try Terra – Food Concept which offers a seasonal menu sourced from travel.  The vegan bourguignon is delightful.

Happy Wandering on Madeira Island!

Funchal, the vibrant capital city of Madeira Island, is full of history, flavors, and colors, making it a perfect family-friendly destination. Whether it’s the brightly painted doors, the historic landmarks, the beautiful gardens, the natural pools, or the open markets, there’s something for everyone to explore and discover. Take your time and immerse yourself in the local culture and way of life. Don’t forget to visit the Miradouros, offering stunning views of the sea, city, and mountains that are a must-see attraction for any traveler. 

We hope you find this itinerary useful when planning your next family-friendly adventure in Madeira. Do you have any additional tips or recommendations for exploring this beautiful island? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

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