Visiting Madeira - What to See and Do
(Madeira Airport FNC, Portugal)
Known affectionately as the Pearl of the Atlantic and also as the Garden Islands, Madeira
is a volcanic archipelago that supports blossoming flowers and luscious green landscapes throughout the year. The island chain is located to the south-west of Portugal
, about 90 minutes by air from Lisbon
. Not surprisingly, the main island has become something of a year-round resort destination, featuring plenty of natural attractions for outdoor lovers, not to mention a host of relaxation opportunities to boot.
Even though sightseeing is somewhat limited, Madeira boasts several important landmarks, including a historical aquaduct network and lookouts that give priceless views of the island landscape. The natural sights of the island generally outweigh most other features of the archipelago.
Golfing, surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling and paragliding are just some of the activities that visitors may participate in. The New Year's celebrations are globally renowned as the largest fireworks production in the world. Remember, Madeira is a volcanic island chain, so the rugged yet picturesque peaks, valleys and plateaus of the islands make for superb hiking opportunities.
Ten things you must do in Madeira
- Hiking at the Ponta de Sao Lourenco Nature Reserve is both a memorable and healthy activity in Madeira. In the past, the well-landscaped gardens and floral species throughout the site were sometimes challenging to reach. Nowadays, a footpath and railings make it easier for visitors to navigate the park. A full circuit is no easy feat though, taking several hours to complete. Prepare and carry supplies before uncovering the Ponta de Sao Lourenco.
- Golfing has its place among the beautiful landscapes and bustling resorts. Several golf courses make it easy to find the perfect course. The Porto Santo, Palheiro and Santo da Serra golf courses are the most visited sporting attractions on the islands. The beautiful greenery and mountainous / coastal environments certainly make some pretty backdrops for a game of golf.
- Surfing the waves of Madeira can be done by beginner surfers, experts and every one in between. There are surf schools and equipment for hire throughout Madeira's main beaches. Paul do Mar is one of the most important beaches for surfing in the archipelago, while Jardim do Mar is another great site for learners and expert surfers.
- The entire coastline of Madeira is blessed with an awesome array of underwater exploration opportunities. Both snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities, as there are dozens of renowned sites throughout the archipelago worth exploring. Tours and packages provide boat transportation, equipment and diving / snorkelling instructors for reasonable prices. The water is generally clear and clean, although one side of the island is much windier and therefore more exposed to unsettled waters.
- Lookouts are common place in the tourism industry of Madeira. Called 'Miradouro' in Portuguese, lookout points are a perfect place to take a loved-one or travel to by tour. The island's best views can be seen from such places like Pico de Facho, Curral das Freiras and Pico do Arieiro. It is best to build stamina for the trips up some peaks, as the trek (if it is even required) is sometimes challenging.
- The coasts and interior of the islands are subject to incredible forces of nature that shape innumerable natural landmarks and attractions, like the Sao Vicente Caves. These caves were created through volcanic forces and are famous for their lava tubes. Tours of the site are recommended, as the tectonic instability makes it a better and safer option.
- The 'levadas' (narrow waterways / canals) make up a significant network of sites, being constructed between the 15th and 20th century. They include classically built aquaducts that were used to transport water from the mountains to the farmlands of the surrounding coastal and interior areas. Some of the ducts are still operating today, although not as relied upon as in the past.
- Learn more about the archipelago's history by visiting the Madeira Story Centre. This fascinating complex is teeming with historical facts of the islands. Visitors don't have to be history buffs to enjoy this site. The small islands do have a long and fruitful history, so patrons will likely spend a fair bit of time sorting through the displays on offer.
- Head to Madeira for the New Year's Eve fireworks. This celebration boasts the largest fireworks display on the planet, attracting many thousands to the islands over the New Year's holidays. Go to the Funchal marina or jump on a cruise ship for the best viewing spots. Pico dos Barcelos is another stunning view point for the fireworks.
- Paragliding is an adventure in itself. However, paragliding across the landscape of Madeira is something else altogether. Most of the flights are tandem, but experienced paragliders may opt for individual thrill rides. The island's natural environment is almost perfectly suited to amazing air-sailing experiences. The winds, valleys, mountains and cliffs all make it an ideal spot.