We have spent 10 days on Madeira island this January. We would like to share our itinerary how we visited the island by a rented car. Without the departure days, if you have 7 days, you can easily follow this plan and you won’t miss out on anything important. So let’s see our Madeira bucket list broken down into 7 consecutive days.
- 1 DAY 1 – Eastern Madeira
- 2 DAY 2 – Northern Madeira
- 3 DAY 3 – The surrounding villages of Funchal
- 4 DAY 4 – Western Madeira
- 5 DAY 5 – Southern Madeira
- 6 DAY 6 & 7 – Funchal
DAY 1 – Eastern Madeira
We dedicated the first full day to the eastern part of the island. Our final destination was the Peninsula of São Lourenço but on the way we stopped at several viewing points. The road conditions are very good to easily reach all of these places.
The Christ the King statue (Portuguese: Cristo Rei) also known as the Sacred Heart statue, is an Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in Garajau district on Madeira. The location of the statue is important. As only Catholics were allowed to be buried on the island until 1770. All non catholic Christians were thrown from these cliffs. In 1770 they opened the British Cemetery of Funchal for non catholic Christians. The Jewish Cemetery of Funchal was established in 1851. The statue was built in remembrance of the function of the area’s history.
The statue was built in 1927 and consecrated on October 30, 1927. Financed by the local lawyer Aires de Ornelas and his wife, created by French artists Georges Serraz and Pierre Charles Lenoir. The statue was completed 4 years before Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.
The last king of Hungary & last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Charles IV spent a little time on the throne. Charles (in Hungarian: Károly IV) took over the estate of Emperor and King Ferenc József in November 1916. Just two years later, he needed to relinquish his sovereign rights. Károly IV. died in exile, on the Portuguese island of Madeira, on April 1, 1922, by the Spanish flu. One of the most infamous and most devastating epidemics in modern history.
During the time in which he lived on Madeira, he lived in Quinta do Monte. Today this district bears the name of Quinta Jardins do Imperador. There, in the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of the Mount) his mortal remains are laid to rest. In front of the church we find his statue. And just next door – in Casa dos Romeiros (Pilgrim’s House), there is a permanent exhibition of the life of the former Emperor of Austria and former King of Hungary.
The hike out to the Peninsula of São Lourenço is one of the most beautiful and stunning walks Madeira has to offer, with amazing views of the Atlantic ocean. Even if you’re not an experienced trekker, you will enjoy this walk very much. Be prepared that it’s much longer than as it seems for the first sight. So it’s better to have enough water with you, and also clothes that cover you from the strong wind.
At the main starting point of the hike you will find the parking where you can leave your car. On a sunny day, we recommend to arrive on time. It can get full very quickly. Usually, there is quite a lot of people. The upside to so many visitors of course is that the route is very well maintained, wide, and relatively easy to walk.
Caniçal is the principal cargo port in Madeira. Its main industry has been always agriculture and fishing. During the decade to 2006 the port of Caniçal was extensively developed to become the principal cargo port for Madeira, with new facilities for containers, bulk shipping and fishing. In 2007 cargo shipping operations at Funchal ended, and the remaining trade transferred to Caniçal. That gave higher importance for territory. The town is well-organized and it’s worth taking a walk around it’s old center.
Praia de Machico is a beach located near the town Machico. It is one of the few sandy beaches of Madeira, with sand imported from North Africa. However, these sand-imports were quite controversial, as the sand was taken from Western Sahara, a Non-Self Governing Territory which has been largely occupied by Morocco since 1975.
DAY 2 – Northern Madeira
The second day we went to North direction and visited several places on the northern coast. You can do it in whichever order, as the road ends in the middle at São Vicente so no matter what you need to go back and fourth in both eastern & western direction.
You could say that São Jorge is not more than another viewing point among the hundreds you can find on Madeira. Indeed, it’s a viewing point, but since it’s on the main road, it would be really a pity to miss it. There is a proper parking as well built around it, so you won’t have problem with that either. Thanks to the wooden bench and the hanging sign, became one of the most Instragamable spots on Madeira.
Characterised by its small thatched triangular houses, Santana is a beautiful village on the north coast. These small houses, built of natural stone and thatched with straw, have served the locals for centuries as stables and dwellings. This region, which comprises six villages (Arco de São Jorge, Ilha, Faial, Santana, São Jorge and São Roque do Faial), lives essentially from agriculture, craftwork and tradition. The mountainous landscapes are dominated by the lush green that characterises the Laurissilva Forest, which was classified as ‘World Heritage’ by the UNESCO, encouraging locals even more to do everything for maintaining its beauty.
Seixal is a little village in the municipality of Porto Moniz. The population in 2011 was 656, in an area of 36.37 km². It is located on the eastern frontier of Porto Moniz on the border with the municipality of São Vicente. The largest village in Porto Moniz by area, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean into the interior of Paul de Serra. It is famous for its black sand bay and beach. As well as for its natural swimming pool. On sunny days, you can experience here real beach life.
Véu de Noiva viewpoint is an incredible scenic lookout on the north coast of Madeira Island, with views of a waterfall that pours into the ocean. It’s super easy to get to with a parking lot right at the viewpoint, which makes it a great location to add to your itinerary on the northern coast of Madeira.
Discovering São Vicente is just a trip to the quintessence of Madeira, its people, culture and lifestyle. São Vicente is a small town of less than 6.000 inhabitants on the northern coast of the island. It is located in between Santana, famous for its thatched houses, and Porto Moniz, well-known thanks to its natural pools on the Ocean.
Just on the coast, there is an Ocean front with bars and restaurants. Behind the rocks, hidden like if the locals still fear the old times pirates, there is the ancient town a short distance to the inner land. São Vicente has an amazing heritage such as the set of beautiful houses downtown as well as the church that sits on a basalt rock at the small river of the town. It is surrounded by beautiful landscapes with volcanic caves and some interesting trekking paths.
DAY 3 – The surrounding villages of Funchal
The third day seemed ideal for less driving and visiting some surrounding villages that are highly recommended. Especially Câmara de Lobos is one of the real jewels of the island.
Câmara de Lobos is a beautiful fishermen village on Madeira island. The specialisation of the area is the black sablefish fishing. Therefore its main bay gives home to local fishermen boats, and they come in many vivid colours. They call them “Xavelhas”. The former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill visited Madeira in 1950. While he was in Madeira, he painted an outstanding portrait about the bay with the “Xavelhas” on January 8. The village till today remembers his visit, and we can see many sites named after him. You can read more about the sites here: Churchill on Madeira.
The municipality of Ribeira brava gained its name due to its river – Ribeira Brava, which translates as ‘the angry river’. In rainy seasons, the river had an extremely strong and powerful current, that often wreaked havoc over the entire eight kilometres of the route. It is located along the southern coast (approximately in the centre), and is west of Câmara de Lobos.
DAY 4 – Western Madeira
On the worth day we headed to the western coast and visited many beautiful natural swimming pools again. Also we went to the most western point of the island, where we can find Farol da Ponta do Pargo.
Ribeira da Janela is a calm and tranquil village of Porto Moniz municipality. It is located in a mountainous area and whose main economic activities are related to agriculture and rural tourism accommodation. At the mouth of the stream there is an impressive rock that rises from the sea and has an opening that resembles a window (Ribeira da Janela is actually named after this unique rock). In this area you’ll find a pebble beach, as well as parking spaces, toilet facilities and showers.
Porto Moniz is considered one of the top attractions on the island of Madeira. Many people and organised tours stop here during a day tour. It is famous for its natural swimming pool. But Porto Moniz is also a charming town that was isolated for a long time. It offers amazing mountain views, beautiful plantations, a fort and a peaceful atmosphere. It’s worth bringing your bathing suite with yourself, as you can get into the natural pools freely!
The Farol da Ponta do Pargo is an active lighthouse located in Ponta do Pargo. The lighthouse was built in 1922 on top of Ponta Vigia, a rocky cliff escarpment and has a focal height of 312 metres. In 2018 15,301 people visited the lighthouse. Honestly, it’s not the most beautiful lighthouse, but it’s somehow cool to know that you reached the most western point of the island. So only for this, it’s worth the short ride.
DAY 5 – Southern Madeira
The southern coast has many places that you shouldn’t miss. Depending on the time you have we would recommend to break it down into two days instead of one. But if you want you can squeeze this plan into 1 day as well.
Santa Cruz has an area of 81.5 km² and 43,005 inhabitants. The village of Santa Cruz is one of the oldest on the island, dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century. The municipality was created on 26 June 1515, was granted city status on 2 August 1996.
As for architectural heritage, we can highlight the Santa Cruz Parish Church, built by King Manuel I, which began as a small chapel built in 1533, and has a Gothic portal, the Caniço Parish Church, founded in 1536. The Chapel of Consolation in the sixteenth century, was reworked in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries and presents works in carved and inlaid wood, religious ornaments in silver and various religious imagery.
Santa Cruz is also home to some beautiful beaches such as the Praia das Palmeiras, a rocky beach with a great view from which to view the sunset and spend a fantastic day relaxing. The Machico beach, where you can find an alcove with sand brought over from Morocco if rocky beaches aren’t your thing.
Cabo Girão is a lofty sea cliff located along the southern coast of the island of Madeira. It is a popular lookout point, with up to 1800 visitors a day. The location is also a popular starting point for hikers. The Cabo Girão Skywalk is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe, located on top of the cliff. The skywalk opened in late October 2012 and is similar to the one in America‘s Grand Canyon. Both are made of transparent glass to provide stunning views to visitors.
The Cascata dos Anjos (Angels Waterfall) is a waterfall located in the village of Anjos. The waterfall cascades over the rock-face onto the old E.R.101 regional roadway. Then spills into the sea below. You can use the water as a quick carwash. But just to run under or through the cascading water is an epic experience. Don’t miss it out!
Ponta do Sol is one of the cutest villages on the island. It’s tiny, and it doesn’t take more than an hour or so to walk around. But we highly recommend not to miss it. Especially the upper terrace that overlooks on the entire village. Besides that, Ponta do Sol is considered the hottest point on the island, with the highest number of hours of sunshine. It is, without a doubt, the perfect place to see a good sunset from its viewpoint over the beach.
Prazeres in English means pleasures. The population in 2011 was 704, in an area of 10.03 km2. So it’s a tiny village. Prazeres is located along the main Regional 222 Roadway, linking it to Fajã da Ovelha and Estreito da Calheta. Agriculture continues to be the driving activity in the region, although commercial establishments are scattered within the community. The village has seven restaurants, a nice café and it’s famous for its Parish church.
The origin of the name “paul do mar” is linked to its geographic position, since paul refers to an elongated zone. This is justified by the village’s location along the southwest coast of Madeira. Historically, the area experienced flooding from the sea. When the Atlantic submerged and inundated fields to a depth of one metre. As a result, a salt factory was established. But, this was closed long ago. Since the construction of a new higher sea wall and ocean front with road and parking the sea flooding has stopped.
Jardim do Mar is a civil parish in the western part of the municipality of Calheta. The population in 2011 was 204, in an area of 0.74 km². Jardim do Mar is a sliver of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the cliffs of the neighbouring village of Prazeres, accessed by a single roadway and tunnel system to Prazeres and Estreito da Calheta. The waves here can be very large in the winter months and during these time of the year surfing is practiced by experienced surfers.
DAY 6 & 7 – Funchal
You cannot and won’t miss Funchal for sure. It is the capital of the island and the majority of the services are based here. It is in fact a modern, cosmopolitan, rejuvenated city, well known for its many top class restaurants, stunning new 4 & 5-star hotels, warm all year round climate. Located in the stunning south of Madeira, on its sunniest coast amidst banana plantations and wonderful gardens where flowers bloom all year round in the shelter of the verdant mountains, it is an extremely lush, green and relaxed city.
The exact date, when the construction of this fortress was first started, is not yet known. Although, it is believed that the construction had already begun in 1606, the fortress was only finished during the second half of the 17th century. At around that time its name was also changed to São Filipe, then in the 19th century to São Miguel and later back to São João again.
In the 20th century the fortress was ceded to the Navy, which installed their communications centre here. Classified monument of public interest in 1943, this fortress (Fortaleza do Pico) offers a magnificent view over Funchal to all those who made it up the steep alley!
As the Portuguese almost completely dominated the North Atlantic routes at those times, the defence of the island did not seem of special importance. Because of this negligence, in 1566 Funchal suffered a terrible pirate attack, where many people were slaughtered. In spite of the constant danger of another attack, only in 1614 the São Tiago Fort was finally built to protect Funchal from the corsairs. In 1767 it was enlarged and exclusively served military purposes until 1992, year in which Madeira’s Regional Government decided to use it for cultural activities.
Funchal’s first fortress was only built in the years 1529 to 1540 on a plea by the population of Funchal after a boat, moored in the harbour of Funchal, had been pillaged. But the construction completed until the second half of the 16th century was not really appropriate for all fortification needs and consequently it succumbed easily to the attacks of the French pirates in 1566. In the following years until up to the 19th century, many improvements, alterations and extensions to the original primitive construction were made so that the Palácio de São Lourenço that has survived until today, belongs to one of the best-preserved examples of Portuguese fortification from the 16th and 17th century.
In the beginning of its history the Fortaleza de São Lourenço served as residence for many captains and governors of the island and then it became gradually a national residential palace. It was classified National Monument in August 1943, now serving as residence for the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Region and the Military Command.
Santa Catarina Park (Parque de Santa Catarina) is one of the largest parks in Funchal, The site of the park was originally occupied by a chapel. The chapel, called Santa Catarina Chapel, was built out of wood in the early 1400s, and then upgraded to stone in the 1600s. This park is about 36,000 square metres in area. It has multiple aviaries, and is located near the Bay of Funchal. There are several paths with benches, in addition to some statues and Santa Catarina Chapel.
Sissi made her first trip to Madeira for health reasons. A lung specialist recommended a cure at the seaside. In the winter of 1860 she travelled to Madeira to cure her cough. The Austrian K&K-Marine had no ships suitable for the Atlantic, so an English ship had to be organized. A winter stay turned into an extended journey and lasted from 29 November 1860 to 28 April 1861. Elisabeth resided in the Quinta Vigia, which is now replaced by the Casino Park Hotel. A life-size statue of Sissi commemorates the legendary empress. She lived on Madeira very withdrawn.
Most probably, there is no living human on this plane who wouldn’t heard of Cristiano Ronaldo. He was born in Funchal in 1985 and raised there too. Once he became successful he started donating significant amount of money to his home island. Hence, all around the island of Madeira the iconic footballer is worshipped like a god.
Ronaldo is undoubtedly Madeira’s most famous export – and the locals are incredibly proud of his sporting achievements. They named the airport, and an entire square after him. Besides his famous statue we can visit his restaurant and hotel as well.
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