Madeira – The hidden travel gem of Europe

An Island Paradise

Madeira, an 800km squared, four island compilation secretly tucked away 520km from the north west African coast, is an under appreciated travel spot that is begging to be explored. Although not a sandy beach or nightlife hotspot, the main island of Madeira is affordable, easy to get to and is far enough south to present beautiful warm weather year round. A great spot for hikers, history buffs, nature lovers and sunny weather chasers alike, Madeira is truly a hidden travel gem of Europe.

It may not be included in the itinerary of many big travel companies, but don’t be fooled, there is plenty going for this hidden paradise. What it lacks in famous museums and beaches, it more than makes up for in lush green landscapes, impressive cliff faced coastlines and world class hiking. Or if you’re on the lookout for more of a relaxing trip, the slow sunny towns full of cheap bars, the natural volcanic pools and the astonishing sunrise and sunset locations make this island suitable for any traveller.

Coastline sites in the capital of Funchal

An Easy Destination – Madeira’s extra perks

Off The Tourist Radar

Because Madeira isn’t a staple on most travellers Europe trips, this means that it hasn’t yet become an overcrowded tourist location. While still busy all throughout the year, the top hikes, beaches, bars and viewpoints are rarely crowded. This makes for a more enjoyable experience as well as keeps prices down at accommodation, tours and hospitality. And while it may not be the best for Social Solo Travel, its loaded with super friendly local people.

But be warned, Madeira will not remain as the hidden travel gem of Europe for long. Recording upward of 2 million tourists in 2022 alone and smashing their previous tourism record. Madeira will continue to grow in popularity as more people add it to the bucket list and it soars in social media trends. So don’t wait! Start planning before it becomes the next big tourist hotspot.

Great Weather

Even better, Madeira is not just another summer island to visit during the chaotic Europe summer period. Although it is technically a region of Portugal, it lies much closer to the African continent. And due to it’s proximity to the equator, it delivers sunshine and fantastic weather year round.

The island’s coldest month of the year is February, with an average temperature of 19 degrees Celsius and overnight lows dropping to only 14 in the capital of Funchal. The warmest month of the year in august averages 27 degrees and lows of 21. Meaning that year round the weather sits with only a 7-8 degree variation. That consistency, combined with an average of only 4.5 rainy days per month, makes the island a warm and sunny location to visit at any time of year.

Easy to Get to/Get around

Propped in a relatively remote area and not known as a tourist hotspot, it’s easy to imagine that this special location may be difficult and expensive to access. But there is more good news. Madeira has many direct flights available from the United Kingdom and mainland Portugal. There are multiple flights per day, sometimes as affordable as less than £10 ($18 AUD/$12USD). Making this paradise not only inexpensive but also easy to access from anywhere in Europe.

Once touching down, there is a shuttle bus at a cost of €5 (cash only) which has multiple stops on it’s way through the centre of the capital of Funchal. There is also plenty of companies providing well priced transfers all across the island as well as Bolt ride-shares and taxis available very simply via the Bolt app.

Funchal airport in Madeira is not for the faint of heart though. As there is minimal flat land available, the runway is built upon 70 metre high columns extending out over the ocean. Reported by the history channel as the 9th most dangerous/difficult airport in the world, it’s sure to cause a little heart flutter for passengers and pilots alike. Despite it’s difficulty, there hasn’t been an accident at the airport since 1977 and the views upon landing and takeoff are certainly enough to distract from any worries.

View from the plane window before landing.

Affordable

Another great perk of this wonderful island is the affordability. Beyond being a cheap flight destination, accommodation, tours, food, drink and transport are all very easy on the wallet. Experiencing everything Madeira has to offer without breaking the bank at all makes the visit even sweeter.

A look at some average prices on the island from our 9 days spent exploring while based in Funchal

  • Accommodation – €45-65 total per night in hotels/bnb’s close to the city centre.
  • Food – €5-10 per person for a basic meal at inexpensive restaurants.
  • Tours – €30-50 per person for a full day guided tour including activities.
  • Transport – €5› for a 10 minute Bolt Trip.
  • Car Hire – €10-15 per day for regular 5 berth vehicle.
  • Drinks – €3 for a pint of beer/cider/basic mix drink.

Conversion rate at the time =

€1=$1.62AUD/£0.88GBP/$1.09USD

In total, for 2 people for 9 days on the island we spent €1000, less than €500 (£440GBP/$811AUD/ $544USD) each. This included flights and was with multiple tours, while enjoying regular restaurant meals and drinks. Madeira could be travelled even cheaper if budgeting strictly!

Beautiful Landscapes

Madeiras landscapes are almost indescribable and certainly one of its most impressive features. Hosting beautiful botanical gardens, 500+ metre sea cliffs, volcanic pools, black sand beaches, lush green forests, stunning waterfalls and above the clouds mountain peaks. Madeira is loaded with sights for anyone and everyone. Even non-nature lovers can fall in love with the landscapes on offer in this place.

Beyond that, as it is not a huge island, you can view many of these landscapes in the same day. There are many popular hikes on the island that will take you through multiple terrains all in the span of a few hours. Or if the hiking boots aren’t your fancy, guided tours via buses/vans can offer almost as good experiences.

Landscape of the mountains on the Pico Ruivo trail.

My top 5 Experiences in Madeira

A location that is simple, pretty, affordable and not overcrowded is inviting enough. But some of the experiences here make this place even more worthwhile. If you’re not convinced by now, I’m sure a few of these awesome spots can finish the job.

Now this island is spectacular, I could certainly add a longer list of my favourite things there. I also covered a 9 day itinerary, you could spend weeks exploring this beautiful place and still not cover everything. But from what I was lucky enough to explore, here is some of my personal favourites.

Sunrise at Pico do Arieiro

Starting off on a strong note, watching the sunrise from the top of Pico do Arieiro is one of the most breathtaking scenes I have ever seen with my own eyes. Located in central Madeira, the third highest peak standing at 1818 metres above sea level is a wonderful viewing platform. Accessible via road, this lookout point is easy to get to and certainly worth the early wake up for a sunrise.

The uniqueness of this spot lies within its easterly facing viewing platform paired with sitting above the cloud level. Because of this, on a regular good weather day, this spot provides a view of a bright sunrise over an ocean of steady clouds. Something that is a rare and truly stunning experience. As spectacular as any photos are, they still serve no justice to the truly amazing views that can be witnessed here. An absolute must do when visiting Madeira.

Pico Do Arieiro sunrise above the clouds.

Pico de Pico Hike

Following on from the viewing point at Pico do Arieiro is this unbelievably scenic hike. Starting from Pico do Arieiro, this 7km hike is filled with steep inclines and declines leading all the way through to Madeira’s highest peak: Pico Ruivo at 1861 metres at the peak. This 4 hour hike is a difficult one, but safe, well marked and achievable for all levels of hikers.

As it maintains above a 1500 metre altitude at all times, this hike never drops below cloud level. Meaning you can literally walk above the clouds for the entire journey. Wandering through steep cliff faces, mountain piercing tunnels and lush green forests above the clouds, it’s a unique location. This trek attracts hikers from all over the world and is a cornerstone of what makes Madeira a hidden travel gem of Europe.

Monte Palace Gardens

Changing tune of the mountain topping hikes and viewpoints, a stop at Monte Palace Gardens is another unique attraction. Located in Monte, a small town up in the mountain overlooking Funchal, Monte Palace Gardens is a man made gem amongst the wonders of the natural sights.

Accessible via a 15 minute cable car from the heart of Funchal, which is a fantastic experience in itself. The cable car covers over 3km distance while ascending over 500 metres, so the €18 return journey is well worth it unless you really feel like pushing your luck with opportunistic exercise.

Opened in 1991, this gorgeous garden has more than 70,000 square metres of African, Asian and European influenced exotic gardens. The centrepiece involving a stunning man made waterfall, dropping into a huge pond, all overlooking the original Monte palace. At only a €12 entry cost, pack a picnic and enjoy a full day exploring these beautiful gardens.

The centrepiece of the stunning Monte Palace Gardens

Exploring Funchal

The capital city of Madeira, Funchal, is a hidden gem of Europe in itself. Nestled into the southern coast of the island and boasting a population of over 100,000 people, this special city is full of life through its music filled streets, laid back bars and friendly locals.

The city was founded over 600 years ago, making a wander through these streets an enjoyable history tour. There is a plethora of restaurants and bars to choose from. All while being surrounded by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Dotted with centuries old churches and a cobblestone street old town the historic side shines strong. It also contains a museum dedicated to Cristiano Ronaldo for the sport lovers, as he was born in the city.

Funchal is the heart and soul of the island and is a great place to base your Madeira adventures.

Natural Volcanic Pools

Madeira was created as a result of underwater volcanoes piercing up through the ocean surface. This is one of the reasons it hosts such spectacular landscapes, but it also creates another great attraction. The coast of Madeira contains many naturally occurring volcanic ocean pools, creating a great spot for a swimming day.

We explored the Doca do Cavacas natural pools just west of Funchal. As well as the Porto Monica Natural Pools, located all the way on the north west tip of the island. They provide a wonderful and relaxed swimming spot by the ocean and can be turned into a full day activity or a quick dip.

We spent a full day swimming and sunbathing in Doca do Cavacas and it made for a great relaxed day. In Porto Moniz we were unable to swim as the area was partially blocked off for the filming of the new Star Wars movie. Looks like I’m not the only one impressed by the awesome landscapes. Get there before Hollywood turns it into a tourism swarm!

Porto Moniz natural pools.

Madeira Secret Won’t Last Long.

An affordable, accessible location full of stunning sights and attractions for all ages and travel types. Madeira will not remain the hidden travel gem of Europe forever. Growing tourism, popular social media and now Star Wars.. the bubble is due to burst sooner or later. I’ll be right her to say I told you so. A stunning destination that is well and truly worth it.

Have you visited Madeira? Or is it on your bucket list? Let me know your thoughts or questions below! No time like the present to start planning your trip to Madeira, and see for yourself why its regarded a hidden travel gem of Europe.

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