One of Madeira’s most striking features is its outstandingly beautiful scenery. With landscapes comprising of rugged coastline, dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, imposing mountains, and lush green forest, it is hard to imagine a more idyllic natural setting. The reason behind Madeira’s magnificent scenery is that two-thirds of the island is designated as a nature reserve. But with so much breathtaking beauty on offer, it can be hard to know where to start when planning your Madeira itinerary. If you want to know exactly where to start your exploration of the island, here is a guide to the 26 of the most beautiful places in Madeira.
1. Faja dos Padres
If you want to experience a part of Madeira which feels completely cut off from the rest of the island, Faja dos Padres is the perfect place to go. This little slice of paradise is only accessible in two ways. The first is by cable car from the top, taking around two-and-a-half minutes, the other is by boat, which you would either need to book yourself onto one of the tourist boats or hire your own. Once you get there, you will be awed by the splendor of the scenery at Faja dos Padres, with its wide rocky beach, sparkling sea, and lush green vegetation.
2. Faja da Rocha do Navio
Located in the wild north of Madeira, Faja da Rocha do Navio certainly embodies the richness of the landscapes Madeira is famous for. Nowadays, Faja da Rocha do Navio is a marine nature reserve, but initially, the area was important for agriculture so a cable car was installed here to aid the farmers who needed to make their way down to tend their crops. The cable car is now primarily used for transporting tourists down to the area so they can marvel at the stunning scenery here. The journey down is beautiful enough, but then as you walk around the faja, you will be absolutely amazed at the lushness and tranquillity of the spot, with its abundance of vegetation, waterfalls, and levadas.
3. Faja do Mar, Faial
Another wonderful pebble beach but comparatively unknown when compared to some others on this list, a visit to Faja do Mar will make you feel like you have arrived on a secluded island. There are only three or four houses in the whole area, plus a quaint chapel that used to be visited by sailors and fishermen who were seeking protection against the dangers of the sea. But the real beauty of this spot is to enjoy the peace and quiet while you watch the sea lapping up against the shore.
4. Jardim do Mar
Literally translating as the ‘Garden of the Sea’, Jardim do Mar completely lives up to its name. Situated on the south-west coast of the island, this lovely village lies right by the sea and gets its name from its landscape which changes from steep slopes with a lack of vegetation to a beautiful, green seaside resort. This landscape is complemented by its three pebble beaches – Portinho, Enseada, and Ponta Jardim – which have long attracted both locals and visitors. Jardim do Mar is also well-known as the best surf spot in Madeira, so you will very likely see plenty of surfers taking to the huge waves which form here.
5. Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools
The absolute highlight of a visit to Porto Moniz, the natural swimming pools here are made of volcanic rock and seawater naturally flows into them. The rocks jut out throughout the pools, creating a rather dramatic setting for swimming. As well as being one of the most picturesque places you could ever wish to swim, Porto Moniz is an attractive town in itself, perched at the tip of north-west Madeira surrounded by epic mountains and a bright blue sea.
WHERE TO STAY IN PORTO MONIZ: Aqua Natura Madeira 4*
6. Pico Ruivo
Madeira is known for its mountains and Pico Ruivo is the highest of them all. As the peak is only accessible on foot – either from nearby Pico do Arieiro on what is considered to be one of the most challenging hikes on the island or on an easier route from Achada do Teixeira. This is one of the best ways to really admire Madeira’s gorgeous scenery, but only a part of the adventures Madeira offers. On clear days, you can see for miles around, taking in the mountain ranges, deep valleys, and tiny hamlets. However, if the weather is a bit cloudy, do not be put off; it is really amazing making the trek and finding yourself above the clouds and staring up at the blue sky.
7. Pico do Arieiro
Madeira’s third-highest peak, Pico do Arieiro also offers splendid views across the island. If you are lucky, you may even be able to spot Porto Santo, the neighboring island, which is situated 30 miles north-east. There are two routes to the top, each interesting in their own way. The most beautiful route is considered to be from Achada do Teixeira, which involves scrambling up the steep faces of Pico das Torres and Pico do Gato. Alternatively, you can choose to follow Levada Barreiro through the Parque Ecologico de Funchal.
8. Balcoes Viewpoint
If you would rather admire the magnificence of Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro without climbing them, the perfect place to go is the Balcoes Viewpoint. To reach the viewpoint, you will follow the Levada da Serra do Faial from Ribeiro Frio, which takes you through an area filled with endemic Madeiran tree and plant life, such as the Madeira mahogany, Madeira blueberry, and many types of orchid. When you arrive at the Balcoes Viewpoint, you will be blown away by the glorious panorama of the deep valley of Ribeira da Metade as well as the magnificent views of the Central Mountain Range and Penha D’Aguia cliff.
9. Curral das Fereiras
One of Madeira’s hidden gems, Curral das Fereiras – Nun’s Valley – is a small parish which nestles between two mountains right in the center of the island. The parish has a long history; it was originally settled by the island’s nuns back in the 16th century when French pirates attacked and pillaged Funchal. Nowadays, it remains an isolated place, meaning that the natural beauty of the area has remained relatively untouched. You can get fantastic views over Curral das Fereiras from the viewpoints at Eira do Serrado and Paredao.
10. Serra da Agua
Another isolated spot, Serra da Agua is a little village built halfway down the slopes of the Ribeira Valley and is the perfect place to see Madeira’s agricultural land as it is surrounded by fertile crops. To contrast with the green is a river that runs right through the valley. A great way of exploring Serra da Agua is by walking a levada, where you can enjoy spotting all the local flora and fauna.
Madeira is not only known for its beauty in the natural sense. There are also lots of places which have pretty architecture of the kind that you will see nowhere else in the world. One such town is Santana, located in the north-east of the island. Characterised by its unusual colourful, triangular houses, you will feel like you have stepped into some kind of fairy tale. The cute houses date back to the 16th century, are built of natural stone and straw thatching, and were used as both dwellings and stables. Nowadays, they are primarily a tourist attraction and are a must-do when visiting Madeira.
12. Quinta do Arco Roseiral
If you love flowers, you will absolutely adore Quinta do Arco Roseiral. This rose garden is home to one of the largest collections of roses in the whole of Portugal, totalingover 1,000 species, including some which are incredibly rare and endangered. If you need some time for quiet contemplation in a place of calm beauty, Quinta do Arco Roseiral is the ideal place to go.
13. Ponta de Sao Lourenco
One of the last remaining practically untouched places in Madeira, Ponta de Sao Lourenco forms part of the natural park and is characterized by its rocky terrain and swathes of vegetation. One of the most picturesque spots on the island, it is also a favorite hiking spot. The Verada da Ponta de Sao Lourenco allows you to marvel at the unique rock formations here, as well as enjoy being surrounded by Madeira’s magnificent flora and fauna.
14. Ponta do Rosto Viewpoint
If you want to see Ponta de Sao Lourenco in all its glory, make your way over to the Ponta do Rosta viewpoint. Madeira’s most famous viewpoint, Ponta do Rosta gives you unrivalled views over the north and south coasts of the island as well as the myriad of rock formations and off-shore islands.
15. Sao Vicente Caves
Fascinating as well as beautiful, the Sao Vicente Caves were formed approximately 890,000 years ago from a volcanic eruption in Paul da Serra that ran down into the sea and are some of the first caves of volcanic origin to be opened to the public in Portugal. Along the 700-metre visitor trail, you will get to see geology in the making, including volcanic stalactites, lava accumulations (more commonly known as lava cakes), and the ‘erratic block’, a piece of stone carried by the lava which then – because of its size – got stuck in one of the lava channels.
16. Veu da Noiva Waterfall
One of the most impressive waterfalls on the island, the Veu da Noiva resembles a bride’s veil due to its height of 30 meters and the way the torrents of water gushing down the hillside before crashing into the Atlantic Ocean. The waterfall is best viewed from the viewpoint of the same name; from here, you also have amazing views of the Atlantic and the northern coastline.
17. Garganta Funda Waterfall
Located at Ponta do Pargo, the walk to the Garganta Funda Waterfall is one of the easiest in Madeira – around one kilometer – and at the end, you will be greeted by a simply magnificent sight. The Garganta Funda Waterfall is one of the highest on the island, standing at over 140 meters. As well as the amazing power of the waterfall, the surrounding scenery is simply stunning. The waterfall is best viewed from the viewpoint of the same name.
18. 25 Fontes Waterfall
Technically a group of waterfalls, the 25 Fontes Waterfall is one of Madeira’s most famous due to it being easily accessible from the levada of the same name. Standing at 30 metres high, the various water streams come down the hillside, running into a small natural pool which is surrounded by rocks covered in small plants. Despite the number of people who visit, it can still be a peaceful and pretty spot.
19. Risco Waterfall
Although it is not the tallest of waterfalls in Madeira, Risco Waterfall is still high on many people’s lists of the most beautiful spots on the island. Comprising of two major cascades making their way down a practically vertical cliff, at some points the water seems to form a free-fall in the air, creating the most wondrous sight. Another highlight of visiting the Risco Waterfall is the Lagoa do Vento, a small beautiful lake at the base of the upper cascade filled with blue-green water. You will also find a small natural pool surrounded by rocks at the base of the lower cascade.
20. Laurel Forest
The 25 Fontes and Risco waterfalls are considered to be the highlights of hiking the levadas which pretty much connect them, but you should also not forget to witness the surrounding laurel forest on a cloudy day. This subtropical forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right and is home to an abundance of endemic flora and fauna. While spectacular at any time of day, if you manage to visit when mist has settled – usually early in the morning – it gives the chance to see the forest in a completely unique way.
21. Mercado dos Lavradores
The Mercado dos Lavradores – Funchal’s Farmers’ Market – is a riot of colour from the moment you enter. Open every day except Sundays and holidays, here you can buy all kinds of fresh produce, from fresh fruit and vegetables to herbs and spices. But even if you are not thinking of buying anything, it is worth visiting just to see all the colourful fruit and flowers which are guaranteed to brighten your day.
22. Sao Tiago Fortress
Located in the heart of Funchal, Sao Tiago Fortress principal purpose was to protect Madeira from pirate and privateer attacks. Over the years it has performed many functions, but it is its impressive exterior that makes it so special. Painted a bright yellow, it really stands out among all the other buildings in the city, plus its coastline location means you can get amazing views across the sea.
23. Old Town of Funchal
Despite being the main urban center of Madeira, Funchal remains a peaceful and chilled out city. Characterized by its myriad of cobblestone streets and alleyways and well-maintained facades, the old town of Funchal is a wonderful place for a stroll no matter what time of day. While simply wandering the streets of the old town has its own charms, there are a number of sights that you should definitely make time to see. At the heart of Funchal is the Corpo Santo Chapel, one of the few remaining 15th-century buildings in the city. Located close to the chapel is one of the oldest streets, Rua de Santa Maria, a Funchal old town highlight. Another sight you should see is the Funchal Cathedral, which allows you to step back in time to the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
WHERE TO STAY IN FUNCHAL: PESTANA CR7
24. Madeira Botanical Garden
Located in the hillside of Funchal, the views across the city are reason enough alone to visit the Madeira Botanical Garden. However, once you enter the garden you will also find much to enchant you. Featuring a whole host of plant species, the garden is split into six different sections, including indigenous and endemic species from Madeira and an arboretum, which is home to a variety of trees and shrubs. Due to its unusual layout, you will see that the garden is not only beautiful but also intriguing.
25. Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Another exquisite garden to discover on Madeira is Monte Palace Tropical Garden. Here you can see a wide variety of exotic plant life from around the globe. A big highlight of a visit here is the Oriental gardens, two gardens that recreate the symbolism of Buddhism and its high respect for nature. Remember to look out for the tile panels in the Japanese garden which tell the history of trade between Portugal and Japan. The lake is also a wonderful feature of Monte Palace Tropical Garden, with its many water features and unique structures. As well as the vast numbers of flora you can see here, you will also spot a number of bird species wandering freely around the garden, including ducks, swans, chickens, and peacocks.
26. Ponta do Sol and Anjos Waterfall
As the name might suggest, Ponte do Sol is the region of Madeira that receives the largest amount of sun throughout the year. Encompassing three parishes – Ponta do Sol, Madalena do Mar, and Canhas – the area is predominantly known for its excellent beaches and bathing conditions, although the extended forests and high plateau of Paul da Serra also attract visitors. Another reason why so many head to Ponta do Sol is the Anjos Waterfall, which crashes spectacularly into the sea over the rock face hanging over the old ER101 regional road.
As you can imagine, this is just a small selection of the beautiful places that Madeira has to offer. But if you are spending your holidays on the island, you can guarantee that you will definitely come across many, many more stunning places that will leave you in awe and wonder.