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Things to Do in Madeira

Get away from it all on these small islands

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Homes on a hill in Madeira, Portugal

From clambering up rugged mountains to relaxing by the side of a waterfall, the eclectic topography of these spectacular islands has countless activities that make for an unforgettable trip. Vast beaches of soft golden sand stretch as far as the eye can see, lapping around the green mountains, while hiking paths lead up to viewing decks providing extraordinary vistas. And it’s not all about nature (in case you secretly get easily bored of it), because the cultural history here is just as alluring. You’ll delve into palaces and stroll through botanical gardens as you hop across the islands. So, buckle up, as we take you on a ride on a metaphorical cable car (as well as a very real one in the archipelago) to find you the ultimate things to do in Madeira. And you can trust this guide, because here at Plum Guide, we love doing the hard work so you don't have to. We've brought our expert heads together to provide you with this ultimate guide, so heed our advice and you won't be able to wait to book your ticket to the same place next year.

Explore the palace gardens

The Monte Palace Madeira is one of the highlights of the islands (which is why we’re writing about it, obviously). It’s more of a garden - a pretty large one, at 70,000 square metres - with a vast collection of exotic plants. Bring your little ones to say hi to the ducks, swans and Koi fish in the ponds, and delve into the Monte Palace Museum for its three floors of sculptures and impressive works of art. Note how the tiles shown in the museum are from various important palaces, churches and chapels around the world. Do some research in advance about the symbolism to impress the rest of your party.

Dragonfly Flutter, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Dragonfly Flutter, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Hike around the mountains

Mountains on a hiking trail in Madeira, Portugal

Mountains on a hiking trail in Madeira, Portugal

The Pico do Arieiro is the ultimate peak in the string of mountains rising and falling across the archipelago. And when looking for active things to do in Madeira, this is the one that’ll test your limits, comprising a 7.5-mile (12-kilometre) hike up through…oh wait, you can get there by car. Maybe do that, and just make sure to hide your wheels from the photos, in an effort to pretend you hiked it. Use water for fake sweat. (We're joking, it's definitely worth hiking for the views, experience, and fulfilment).

Alma, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Alma, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Jump in a cable car to see the sights

All aboard the Telefericos da Madeira, which is a system of cable cars that has you hanging by a thread over the red-roofed buildings of Funchal. Scary stuff. You’ll pass above the scenic gardens of the town, and spot some of your favourite highlights down below, as you sail high in the sky. Just don’t look down (just kidding, do look down, as that’s the whole point). Look out to the horizon, the blue shimmering ocean, and spot the amphitheatre among other gems beneath you.

Terracotta Sunrise, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Terracotta Sunrise, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Get down to the beach

Beach in Madeira, Portugal

Beach in Madeira, Portugal

Some of you have just scrolled straight down to this section, because, let’s face it: nothing beats a day at the beach (disclaimer: all the other things to do in Madeira in this list are equally worthy). The Praia do Porto Santo is among the top hitters, with its turquoise water, white fluffy sand and rugged cliffs. For something a little more secluded, watch the sunset from the Praia de Garajau.

Golden Hour, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Golden Hour, Plum Guide home in Madeira, Portugal

Treat yourself to some fine dining

The islands are packed with some of the best restaurants in Europe…or Africa…or wherever Madeira is. Try the Portuguese food and succulent steak at the exclusive Ilhakaffe. The Restaurante Beira Mar serves up stunning seafood, while Cris’s belies its nonchalant name with a classy selection of French culinary specialties. You’ll also love the Restaurant Goya, its chandeliers dripping from the ceiling and crafting a truly romantic atmosphere.

Relax in the parks

We’ve discussed the mountains, but the beautiful parks are another must-see in Madeira. Enjoy a picnic by the lake, and watch the fountains spurting up from the water. Admire the colourful floral displays in the Palheiro Gardens, and marvel at the waterfalls of the 25 Fontes and Cascada da Risco. Top it all off with a refreshing hike through the paths of the Levada Caldeirao Verde.

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