Along Madeira’s coast, majestic volcanic cliffs rise dramatically from the deep blue sea, while tranquil pebble coves give you the option to escape the crowds. Meanwhile, the island’s hinterland consists of lush green uplands and verdant valleys, offering plenty of outdoor activities. Sold on Madeira? Then all that’s left is to find a place to stay. It must be your lucky day because the travel experts here at Plum Guide have put together this guide on where to stay in Madeira. Whether you’re after peace and solitude or culture and history, find out where the island’s best areas are.
Panoramic view of Funchal, the capital city of Madeira island, Portugal
You can’t go wrong with a stay in Madeira’s vibrant capital. Nestled on the south coast, this city makes for the perfect base as it offers something for everyone. At its heart is the old town where you’ll find a wealth of historical monuments, such as the 16th-century Gothic cathedral, as well as tree-lined boulevards full of alfresco restaurants. Oenophiles shouldn’t miss a visit to Blandy’s Wine Lodge and the Madeira Wine Museum to learn about the archipelago’s famous fortified wines. If food is more your thing, stop by the local markets to pick up authentic Madeira sugar or sample a slice of traditional honey cake. However, if there’s only one thing you do in Funchal, make sure it’s taking a cable car to Monte for panoramic views across the city.
Miradouro Cristo Rei do Garajau sculpture in Caniço, Madeira
Less than a ten-minute drive from Funchal, Caniço is a popular place to stay with beautiful landscapes, attractive beaches and a marine nature reserve. Naturally, people flock here to experience the thrill of water sports like surfing and windsurfing, as well as snorkelling and scuba diving. When you’re not in the sea, stroll along the palm-lined promenade to the Garajau Marine Reserve, where you’ll find the fourteen-metre-high Miradouro Cristo Rei do Garajau. If you’re visiting at the start of September, be sure to catch the Noites da Promenade do Caniço festival. Join the locals who dress in traditional costumes, and enjoy live bands, entertainers and plenty of good food and drink.
When it comes to where to stay in Madeira for a more relaxing break, head to the north of the island to Sao Vicente. Showing off Madeira’s volcanic beauty, this picturesque coastal area is made up of intriguing lava caves and black-sand beaches. Its interior is equally stunning, with lush green vineyards and banana and sugarcane farms. To immerse yourself more in the local geology and flora, check out the Indigenous Garden and the Laurel Forest, or take on one of the many hiking trails. For something a little more chilled out, unwind in the Bathing Complex of Ponta Delgada, which offers beachside saltwater pools, solariums, a spa and – most importantly – a bar.
Ponta do Sol
Main street of Ponta do Sol, Madeira
Want to make the most of the sunshine? Make your way to Ponta do Sol on the southwestern coast. Translating to ‘sun point’, you’re guaranteed more sunny days than anywhere else in Madeira – soak up the rays on one of the four main beaches at Anjos, Lugar de Baixo, Madalena do Mar and Ponta do Sol. The area also attracts hikers and nature lovers who come to visit Paul da Serra, the largest and most extensive plateau in Madeira. At 1500 metres, it’s home to plant species found nowhere else on the island, as well as a large wildlife and migratory bird population. Don’t forget your binoculars.
Just a stone’s throw from the airport, Santa Cruz is a great choice for those looking to explore the history of Madeira. As well as being a working port, Santa Cruz boasts an old town filled with whitewashed houses with terracotta-tiled roofs, narrow alleyways and cobbled streets. A walk through the town will take you past medieval churches and chapels, with plenty of laid-back tavernas to stop and catch your breath. Although it’s located on the east coast, evenings are still a wonderful time to unwind on Santa Cruz’s beaches. Praia das Palmeiras is our favourite, where you can grab a beer and watch the sky turn orange.
Just up the coast from Santa Cruz is Machico, one of Madeira’s most-loved holiday spots. Its beach sets it apart from other areas of the island, as thousands of tonnes of sand were imported from Morocco and laid over the pebbles to create a golden-sand beach. With safe and calm waters, and plenty of bars, shops and sunbeds, Machico is an ideal destination if you’re bringing the little ones. Move further inland, and you’ll come across whitewashed, red-tiled houses dotted along the lush valley of the Machico River. Switch things up and tee off at Santa da Serra Golf Course, or explore the hinterland on horseback.
View of Machico town and bay with sandy beach
Backed by dramatic volcanic cliffs, the coastal resort of Calheta is the best option for a beach vacation. As soon as you drop your bags, you’ll want to head down to Calheta Beach with its golden sands and azure waters. If you feel like switching things up, the surrounding area is equally as beautiful, with lush gardens, plantations and vineyards dotted around. High above the cliffs is the modern Casa das Artes, a museum of contemporary art which offers fantastic views out to sea. Speaking of vistas, with Calheta’s location on the southwest of the island, you can be sure to witness magnificent sunsets each evening – the Raposeira Viewpoint is one of our favourite spots.
Couples or older travellers looking for somewhere to stay in Madeira away from the tourist crowds should stay in Ribeira Brava. Located on the island’s south coast, this beautiful village is nestled in the verdant valley of the Ribeira River. Despite translating to ‘angry river’ in Portuguese, you’ll find that the village is, in fact, a peaceful place to spend your holiday. Enjoy long, lazy days down at the beach where you can swim in the crystal-clear waters. Stay until sundown and sip on ice-cold beer at one of the bars along the promenade. If you’re looking to do a little sightseeing, the village has an excellent selection of attractions, including the 16th-century Igreja de São Bento Church, the Fort of São Bento, the Ethnographic Museum of Madeira and the lighthouse, where you can catch jaw-dropping views over the village.
Camara de Lobos
Panoramic view over Camara de Lobos, Madeira island, Portugal
Just a fifteen-minute drive from Funchal, Camara de Lobos is the perfect destination if you want both the excitement of the city and a quieter, more relaxed place to come home to at the end of the day. This is where you’ll find picturesque coves, soaring coastal cliffs and colourful fishing boats moored in the harbour. Heading inland, you’ll find banana plantations and vineyards. Camara de Lobos attracts an active crowd who take on the many walking trails around the area – one of our favourites is the coastal walk to Praia Formosa, a photogenic cove where you can swim and take in the views. Other scenic viewpoints include Cabo Girão, Fajã dos Padres and Curral das Freiras.
Another base for walkers and hikers is Caniçal, a small fishing village on Madeira’s east coast. Although it’s home to a handful of attractions like the History of Whaling Museum, it remains blissfully uncommercialised. Its natural black sand beach and pools are ideal for sun-worshippers, but it’s the countryside views which are the main draw. Two of the most popular walks are the Levada do Caniçal and the Vereda da Ponta de Lourenço. Having worked up an appetite, reward yourself with the catch of the day from one of the seafood restaurants serving locally-caught fresh fish and shellfish, often enjoyed with the local bread called bolo do caco.
Jardim do Mar
Drone aerial view of Jardim do Mar in Madeira island, Portugal
Looking to catch the waves? With its North Atlantic swell, Jardim do Mar is one of the best surfing spots in Madeira and has hosted numerous international surfing events. Translating to Garden of the Sea, this village is as pretty as it sounds. Stroll along the mosaic promenade and admire the whitewashed houses decorated with brightly-coloured flower pots. To work on your tan, take your pick between the beaches of Portinho, Enseada and Ponta Jardim. Architecture nerds can spend time wandering around the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade or the ruins of the old mill with its black and white Portuguese tiles.
Located on the most north-westerly point of the island, Porto Moniz is known for its natural lava swimming pools which are filled with seawater. Many visitors come for the day to relax in the pools, but we think it’s worth staying longer. Explore the caves of São Vicente, sightsee in the little town of Seixal and take in the views from the Achadas da Cruz cable car. Fancy a challenge? The Ribeira da Janela trail is one of the most popular walks in Madeira, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. At over 12 kilometres long, the hike to the top includes tunnels and sheer drops – that being said, the spectacular scenery is worth it.