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The BEST things to do in Madeira, Portugal!


A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do

Heading on holiday and looking for the best things to do in Madeira? This post is full of the best places to visit, the best hikes, and some budget travel tips… perfect for the ultimate adventure: backpacking in Madeira!

Madeira is a backpacker’s dream, packed full of dramatic scenery, amazing hikes and unique swimming spots. It’s a wonder this island has managed to stay off the radar of the typical European backpacker’s trail. It is definitely one of those hidden gems in Europe that is becoming more popular. Also, because the hiking in Madeira is the main attraction, it means that if you are backpacking in Madeira you really can travel on a budget because hiking is one of the best free things to do!

I visited Madeira for a week, joining a friend who was backpacking in Portugal. Madeira is one of the best places to visit in Portugal, and for good reason. We were able to cover most of the island in our week there and I think it’s the perfect amount of time to experience the wide range of things to do in Madeira. 

For more ideas on what to do for a week in Madeira, check out this 1-week itinerary.

If you’re an energetic backpacker who’s looking for a unique adventure then look no further than Madeira. This guide is packed full of all the insider tips and tricks you need for your trip! You can expect to see some of the best things to do in Madeira, the best places to visit in Madeira, as well as the best hikes in Madeira and everything you need to know before you go backpacking.

Other travel guides you might find useful…

Portugal Google Map Legend

Get lifetime access to my endless hours of research and time spent on the ground finding the best places to eat, drink, relax and explore in the area. You simply open the Google Map on your device and all my pins are at the touch of your fingertips.

Where is Madeira? How to get to Madeira…

Madeira is a Portuguese island and is considered to be politically and culturally European. However, Madeira is geographically closer to the African continent and the island is located off the north western coast of Morocco. The only way to reach the island is by plane and you can fly from most of the major airports in England. I flew direct from Manchester and prices were very reasonable, about £100 for a return flight. 

What’s the weather like in Madeira?

Due to its geographical location Madeira has a subtropical climate, meaning that even in the depths of winter the temperature rarely drops below 14 degrees celsius and in summer has highs of over 30 degrees, making it the ideal year round backpacking destination. It’s the perfect place to catch some winter sun!

Whilst the temperature remains mild in Madeira, if you visit during the winter be sure to pack a raincoat as it can get wet! When I visited Madeira in November we got caught in the rain a few times, though this just made the waterfalls even more impressive and brought out the luscious green forests that cover the island. 

How to get around Madeira… 

Hiring a car is the best way to get around Madeira. The island is relatively small and can be driven around in about three hours. Having a car allows you to really explore the island and discover all of the hidden gems it has to offer. I would recommend that you are a confident driver and should be prepared for the steep winding roads that cover Madeira’s mountainous landscape. 

If you’re unable to hire a car you will be able to use buses and shuttles to get between the larger towns around the island and visit the more popular tourist attractions. On the plus side, this is a much cheaper way of travelling, something that might be important when backpacking in Madeira! On the other hand, public transport can run infrequently and doesn’t offer the same flexibility as a car, especially if you’re short on time. 

Where to stay in Madeira… 

I stayed in three different towns in Madeira: Funchal, the capital city based in the south east, Porto Moniz, in the north west, and Porto da Cruz, in the south west.

I used Agoda to book all of my accommodation in Madeira and that worked well for me, although it’s important to note that as Madeira’s backpacking scene is relatively new not all towns have hostels. In Port Moniz, for example, I stayed in a cheap hotel. Moreover, some of the hostels don’t have much of a backpacker vibe and can have a relatively quiet atmosphere, which can be great if you’re looking for a more chilled holiday, but not what everyone is looking for. I’m sure that as backpacking in Madeira becomes more popular, more options will open up!

There are two hostels I stayed at in Madeira that I would definitely recommend to sociable backpackers!   

Hostel 29, Funchal: a lively social hostel with a large outdoor courtyard making it easy to meet other backpackers.

Jaca Hostel, Porto da Cruz: Jaca Hostel was my favourite place that I stayed during my week in Madeira. It’s a great place for both backpackers and digital nomads alike. As a relatively small hostel it has a family vibe as you end up spending most of your time with other guests in the large living area and courtyard that the hostel provides. Jaca Hostel was so popular that many of the people I met there ended up extending their holidays for weeks and months just to stay at this particular hostel!

See our top tips for your first hostel stay here.

Where to eat and drink in Madeira…

If you’re backpacking in Madeira on a budget, chances are that you’re going to be cooking in your hostel fairly often. However, I’m a firm believer that experiencing some local cuisine is important when you’re visting somewhere new (not every night, but every now and then!), so here are some of my favourite places to eat in Madeira. 

Snack Bar A Pipa, Porto da Cruz (next door to Jaca Hostel): You can’t stay in the town without visiting at least once. I had salmon with chips and salad when I went which was delicious. It’s also a great place to have poncho, Madeira’s traditional alcoholic drink and a must try!

A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do
Snack Bar A Pipa
A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do
Pastel de nata

O.Giro Churros & Paninis, Funchal: it lives up to its name and does the best churros and paninis in town. In fact the paninis were so good I came back multiple times just to try the different menu options! It’s somewhere you have to visit at least once for lunch or a quick bite if you’re based in Funchal.

Padaria Pastelaria Mariazinha, Funchal: Located in the Old Town, they make the most amazing pasteis de nata, an authentic Portuguese tart that consists of a flaky pastry filled with a sweet egg custard filling. Whilst Padaria’s pasteis de nata were my favourite, you can find them in any bakery or café in Madeira. I don’t think I had a bad one in the week I spent in Madeira, and trust me, I tried a lot.

Feeling nostalgic after your trip to Madeira? Check out our pasteis de nata recipe here.

Portugal Google Map Legend

Get lifetime access to my endless hours of research and time spent on the ground finding the best places to eat, drink, relax and explore in the area. You simply open the Google Map on your device and all my pins are at the touch of your fingertips.

HIKES & LEVADA WALKS

This one goes without saying as one of the best things to do in Madeira, as Madeira’s dynamic hikes are the reason many people visit the island! I went on a different walk most days during my week backpacking in Madeira and every single one was unique. Madeira’s volcanic landscape coupled with rich green forests makes for dramatic scenery full of waterfalls and mountains which cannot be missed! 

Levada walks follow the historic Portuguese aqueducts, still in use today, as they weave around the mountains and the great thing about these walks is they are (mostly) flat as water cannot defy gravity and flow upwards! This means these walks are great for people of all abilities and allow you to immerse yourself deep within the natural beauty of Madeira without breaking too much of a sweat!

Some of my favourite hikes and walks in Madeira were…

1. Levada das 25 Fontes / Levada do Risco

This levada walk is the most famous hikes in Madeira and lives up to the hype! This walk involves two different trails that start at the same point and are relatively short so it’s easy to do them one after the other, although be warned, there are steep steps heading to 25 Fontes!

The Levada das 25 Fontes walk takes you through the forest in the heart of the island and brings you to the 25 Fontes lagoon, which we were lucky enough to experience without other tourists around, making it feel even more magical. 

However, Levada do Risco was the star of the show! The walk to Risco waterfall is under a kilometre, but so worth it. Risco waterfall is 100m high and has two main falls; as a whole it is utterly breathtaking. Risco waterfall was easily at the top of my favourite things to do in Madeira and it alone justifies why this walk is so popular with locals and tourists alike.

A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do
A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do
A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do

2. Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço

This is unlike any other hike I did in Madeira. The hike follows a path along the coast taking you to the easternmost point of the island along cliff tops that can get quite steep at points. Throughout the hike you experience extraordinary sights across Madeira’s rugged coast and after climbing the steep hill at the end you’re rewarded with unobstructed views of the infamous dragon’s tail over the ocean.

A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do

3. Levada do Caldeirão Verde

This was the first walk I did in Madeira and it gave me high expectations for those that followed. Levada do Caldeirão Verde is a flat levada hike that follows a trail through the forest high up in the mountains with stunning views of Madeira’s mountains and waterfalls. You end up at Caldeirão Verde, or the green cauldron, another of Madeira’s most impressive waterfalls with a magnificent lagoon at the bottom. We found the rocks surrounding the lagoon were the perfect place for us to stop and have lunch. If you’re backpacking in Madeira and looking for astounding views of Madeira’s unique landscape coupled with dramatic waterfalls wrapped up in a straightforward walk, then I couldn’t recommend this route enough.

Looking for more hikes in Madeira? Check out this list of the best things to do in Madeira for more trails! 

A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do
A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do


explore ACTIVE TRAVEL on THE blog here

FUNCHAL

Continuing our list of best things to do when backpacking in Madeira, it’s time to explore the capital… 

4. Funchal cable car

If you’re worn out from all the hikes and walks that Madeira has to offer, then the cable car in Funchal is a great way to wind down and see the sights of Madeira’s capital city. The cable car costs €11 one way or €16 return for an adult and takes around 20 minutes each way. It starts in Funchal’s old town and offers panoramic views of the city. At the top you arrive in Monte, where you can visit the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens or stop in some of the local cafes to grab a pastel de nata.

5. Funchal’s street art

Looking at the street art is something you cannot miss if you’re backpacking in Madeira – and guess what? It’s free! Located throughout the old town of Funchal are beautiful pieces of street art that cover the old town. The street art is also known as the ‘art of open doors’ as almost all of the doors in the old town have been uniquely painted and decorated which contrast beautifully with the cobbled streets and history of the old town. Take some time to sit down at one of the many restaurants that offer outdoor seating to marvel at the art surrounding you.

NATURAL SWIMMING POOLS

Madeira isn’t much of a beach location… but that doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t any to be found! We list our favourite beaches in Madeira in our best things to do in Madeira travel guide, but you can go swimming elsewhere in Madeira…

One of the things that makes Madeira unique are the natural swimming pools, which is how we are continuing our list of best things to do when backpacking in Madeira. Made from volcanic rock, these pools allow you to go swimming without being subjected to the harsh waves and currents of the sea.

6. Porto Moniz natural swimming pools

Porto Moniz offers two different sets of natural swimming pools; Piscinas naturais velhas (the old rock pools) and Porto Moniz piscinas naturais. I went to the latter. It cost €1.50 which is very reasonable. There were stands and restaurants dotted around where you could buy food and drinks and though it was a beautiful place to swim it did feel quite touristy.

If you’re looking for a free swim (free things to do are a win when you’re backpacking in Madeira!) and a more natural vibe, aim for Piscinas naturais velhas, which is on my Madeira bcuket list for next time!

A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do

7. Seixal natural rock pools

I can’t rave about the natural swimming pools at Seixal enough! We discovered them whilst driving along the north coastal path and just had to stop and take a dip. I’m so glad that we did, as it was one of my favourite things to do in Madeira.

Unlike the new pools at Porto Moniz, these haven’t been reinforced with any tiling and look completely natural. Alongside this there was no entry fee and we didn’t see a single other person the entire hour we were there! 

There are two separate pools, one slightly smaller where the waves from the sea crash in and one which was larger and deeper like a normal swimming pool. If you only have the time to make it to one of the sets of natural pools while you’re backpacking in Madeira, then I’d have to recommend the ones at Seixal for an authentic experience that feels like discovering a hidden secret.

A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do
A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do

What are your favourite things to do in Madeira?

Where are your favourite places to visit in Madeira? Anything you’d add to this backpacking in Madeira guide?

Love as always and happy adventuring… 

Portugal Google Map Legend

Get lifetime access to my endless hours of research and time spent on the ground finding the best places to eat, drink, relax and explore in the area. You simply open the Google Map on your device and all my pins are at the touch of your fingertips.

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A guide to backpacking in Madeira: the best things to do

A backpacker\'s guide to Madeira, PortugalA backpacker\'s guide to Madeira, Portugal



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