Madeira is not your ordinary travelling destination and our Madeira blog post is about giving you the most essential and useful information about visiting the island. Although mostly sunny throughout the year, Madeira is not the place for the beach lovers, but for the outdoors enthusiasts. Located in the Atlantic Ocean 540 miles from the Lisbon shores, Madeira has long been known as the Spring Island due to its year-round lush vegetation and incredible variation of colourful flowers.
Here is everything you need to know in preparation for your trip to Madeira. Get ready to embark on a serious adventure, as Madeira is one of the most incredible island destinations.
An essential guide to Madeira - Contents
A quick guide to Madeira
With a constant temperature of around 20 degrees, Madeira is the perfect destination for hikers and nature lovers. It offers a variety of trails, from 45 minutes walks to day-long challenging treks. There are myriad of small villages dotted all around the island, where you are always welcome to take a break, eat a local speciality and enjoy a coffee overlooking either the green dressed mountains or the never-ending ocean. Being home to exquisite cuisine, fantastic activities, relaxing promenades and adrenaline-pumping opportunities, it's easy to see why in 2015, Madeira received the Gold Award for being the world's best island destination.
Getting to Madeira
Madeira has one of the world’s tiniest airports, which is almost 3 km long. Suspended above the ocean, it’s one of the most exhilaration (and scary) landings even for the most experienced of pilots. There are several international planes flying into and from Madeira, on a daily basis. From the UK, the average flying time is just over 3 hours and from Lisbon is just 90 minutes.
There are many low-cost flights operating between Lisbon and Madiera, and sometimes you can get really great deals.
The best time to visit Madeira
Madeira is a year-round destination, that's for sure. If you want to enjoy the hottest and driest months, then prepare for a trip from May to August. The averaging temperatures are in their mid-20s. Be sure to wear sunscreen during your hikes for when you get up the mountain. Even with these temperatures, the sun will feel very hot, that's for sure.
If you don't mind chillier weather, in the region of 16-21ºC, then you can visit in the winter too. The good news about visiting during Autumn or Winter is that prices will be lower but you can still enjoy around 7 to 10 hours of sunshine.
Although Madeira is an island, it's not the best place for sunbathing by the ocean as most beaches have pebbles. So for adventure seekers and hiking enthusiasts, these year-round temperatures are perfect for whenever you can afford to take time off work to visit Madeira.
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Where to sleep in Madeira
Once in Madeira, most people tend to base themselves in Funchal, the capital city. Funchal is located in the South, which is the sunniest side of the island. For those in favour of less touristy places and cheaper accommodation, I recommend renting an apartment in Caniço, which is only 15 min drive from the centre of Funchal. I stayed in Apartments Madeira, a brilliant one bedroom flat with a large kitchen and snug living room, overlooking the beautiful ocean. Couldn't get tired of waking up to such a magnificent view every morning. For a more detailed guide, make sure to check where to stay in Madeira.
Getting around Madeira
Although you can get buses and taxis almost everywhere around Madeira, there are many trails only accessible by car. Renting a car is relatively cheap and by far the best option to make the most out of your holiday. Rent a car in advance, as they usually have great special offers.
I got a class C Seat Ibiza, in perfect condition, with all-inclusive insurance for under 200 euros. Know that in Madeira there are motorways called Expresso, but the mountain roads are incredibly narrow and quite winding. Most roads are very steep, hence knowing how to manoeuvre a car and possessive great clutch skills are imperative. Invest in a good car which will be able to take you up the hill, as you will have moments when you will really need a serious engine and horsepower. Madeira has plenty of tunnels (some as long as 2 km) which too, are winding.
If in doubt, try to get an automatic car, which is a lot easier to drive. Looking back, I wish I did exactly that. But make sure to check our guide on why driving in Madeira is challenging.
What you need for Madeira
Madeira has a rather beautiful and constant temperature of around 20+ degrees. Even if it’s overcast, it very rarely gets cold. However, once you are exploring the deep and dark forests, things start to get a little chilli. Depending on your itinerary and holiday plans, you should bring plenty of summer clothes, but have a pair of hiking boots, a waterproof jacket and a couple of sweaters, just in case. For example, whilst in Funchal, I could walk around in shorts and sandals, but once I ascended to the botanic gardens, I could feel the need to put on my long sleeves.
Of course, if you want an in-depth guide, make sure to check the essentials for a trip to Madeira.
What you must eat in Madeira
Being on an island, Madeirans love eating fish and seafood in general. A beloved local speciality is the Espada, which is a dish made of a very long, black, creepy sea creature which is usually fished during night time only. It’s an easily recognizable monster with black skin, huge eyes and very scary teeth. You can eat it in pretty much any restaurant in Madeira.
For dessert, you can choose between passion fruit cheesecake or pastel de nata, which is essentially a custard tart with puff pastry. For a taste of Madeira’s local produce, head over to the Funchal market on a Friday morning. You will find locally grown passion fruits, tiny bananas and peach mangoes. Who doesn’t like the idea of tomato, lime, banana and pineapple passion fruit? They all taste different, ranging from sweet to sour. Feel free to ask the vendors for a sample as they are always happy to showcase the fruits of their labour. If you are interested in a full food tasting experience in Madeira, go with a specialized food tour guide called Madeira Food on Foot. This is a great way to experience the local cuisine, meet new people and learn the Madeiran culinary secrets.
What you must drink in Madeira
The Ginjinha is probably one of the most amazing Portuguese boozy inventions. It's essentially cherry liquor, served in a shot glass made entirely of edible, yummy dark chocolate.
There are many stories about the origin of the Poncha, but in reality, nobody knows how it came to be. You will find variations in the Poncha recipe as you go around the island, as some prefer it with lemon, whilst others make it with fresh orange juice or even passion fruit. Poncho is a rum-based cocktail which is said to give fishermen courage to go out in the ferocious Atlantic during night time and hunt for the Espada.
Madeira has a long history of winemaking. Due to the nature of the unique making process, Madeira is a robust wine which can survive the test of time for quite a while after it has been open.
What to buy in Madeira
Madeira was once famed for its embroidery and it is still an integer part of the culture. In order to find authentic items, handcrafted by the locals, keep an eye on the logo of authenticity, which looks like a silver sticker. Items made of cork are quite common crafts in Madeira and in Portugal in general. Perhaps the most interesting Madeiran things to buy are traditional biscuits or unheard of varieties of fresh passion fruit and dried hibiscus.
Madeira is known to also grow its own bananas. They are much smaller but they taste fantastic. I recommend buying some during your visit to the local markets.