Every year, Madeira, an autonomous region just south west of Portugal, welcomes nearly a million visitors to its sunny shores. And small wonder! With an excellent, year-round climate, accommodation for all budgets and a huge range of activities, the island is a magnet for sun-seekers, wine pilgrims, fishermen and culture junkies.
This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Madeira has to offer. But having visited and sampled the delights of the place, I can tell you that you will be missing out if you don’t include these things in your itinerary.
1. Cabo Girão
The highest sea cliff in Europe (and the second highest in the world!), Cabo Girão viewpoint sits at a lofty elevation of 580 meters. From the cliff skywalk, you’ll have excellent views of the cultivated lands just below the cliff. You can also enjoy panoramic vistas over the ocean and the nearby municipalities of Funchal and Câmara de Lobos.
Not for the faint of heart, Cabo Girão also has a glass skywalk to give you even better views. The skywalk is open daily, typically from 8am until at least 7pm. Although this destination can be crowded during the busy season, you can access the winding route by driving to the very top of the peak, where there is a free parking lot.
2. Visit a black sand beach
If peering down at the ocean below you from hundreds of feet in the air isn’t your idea of a good time, you may want to spend some time relaxing on one of Madeira’s many black sand beaches.
These beaches are rare in Europe, found primarily in volcanic regions. Black sand is caused by basalt, lava, and other volcanic materials, all of which are broken down over many hundreds of years by the pounding of the ocean.
There are several black sand beaches in Madeira, but one of the most popular is Prainha Beach. This small beach is a vision, offering a sharp contrast to the more crowded, pebble-strewn beaches of the rest of the region. This beach lacks no amenities, offering changing rooms and even restaurant services.
One piece of advice, however – make sure you bring a beach blanket and a change of clothes. The black sand has a tendency to stick to everything it touches!
3. Do a Madeira tasting
Madeira wine is world-famous, and of course, very easy to find on this island, where it originated. There are numerous types of Madeira, including dry wines and dessert wines. Madeira has a unique, centuries-old winemaking process that involves oxidizing wine through the process of heat and aging – today, the wine is best enjoyed at one of its many wineries.
Madeira Vintners is one of the islands’ newest wineries, founded in 2012, but you can engage in a tasting just about anywhere. A great tour to consider is one at H.M. Borges, a winery founded in 1877 that offers tastings every working day.
4. Eat some espetadas
The espetada is a classic Portuguese dish. It involves cooking foods like monkfish, squid, beef, pork, or chicken on skewers. In Madeira, one of the most common variations on the espetada is beef on bay laurel skewers.
And if you’re looking for the best place to give espetadas a try, you should head over to Restaurante Santo Antonio. This restaurant is known for its grilled espetada, which features top-quality beef and is delicious paired with any of the restaurant’s flavourful house wines.
5. Go diving
Diving is a popular pastime in Madeira because there is so much rich, diverse marine life to enjoy. One of the most popular places to dive include the National Park Garajau.
Dive at night or during the day, in the open water or in one of the many caverns – either way, you’re sure to see a lot. Sightings of dolphins and other wildlife are common – in fact, Madeira is home to over 20 types of whales and dolphins.
If you head out for a dive, make sure you’re suited up with the popular attire. A good dive outfit will cost around £300 or more.