A jewel of the Portuguese islands, Madeira lies south of Portugal and 320 miles (515 km) off the coast of North Africa. Famous for its wine, mild temperatures and spectacular volcanic landscapes, Madeira offers plenty to do and see. Whether its hiking the scenic landscapes or exploring tiny villages and historic museums, travelers can experience Madeira's past and present both outdoors and in.
Day 1: Get to Know Madeira
You’ve landed on this small island in the Atlantic – now it’s time to have a look around. Funchal has been the capital of Madeira for five centuries; it’s also the largest city on the island with a population of 100,000. Wander around, get a feel for the leisurely pace of life and visit the 15th-century Se Cathedral. It’s common to see children practicing their soccer skills here—this is Portugal team captain Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthplace after all. Then head out for a grand tour of the island. Travel to the island’s Encumeada summit; stand on top of the world’s second-highest sea cliff at Cabo Girao; and visit volcanic swimming pools at Porto Moniz. In the evening, see the island from a different viewpoint on an evening cruise along the coast.
Day 2: Explore the Island Towns
Now that you’ve gotten a taste for the beauty of Madeira, dive a little deeper. Head out to the village of Camacha, famous for its wickerwork artisans, and Santana, a town known for its pointed thatched-roof cottages. Or try another famous island specialty, Madeira wine. Come nightfall, learn more about the history and folklore of the islands with a night of traditional food and dance.
Day 3: Go Wildlife Spotting
Given its wild beauty, it’s no surprise that Madeira teems with wildlife. Go whale-watching and dolphin-spotting, or head out to the untouched Desertas Islands, a European Biogenetic Reserve, to see turtles and seabirds. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can go birdwatching or take a hike in Laurel Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site full of birds and butterflies.