Are you considering a break on the beautiful island of Madeira? In this blog we’ve put together a number of the best places to stay in Madeira, to make sure you can enjoy a first-class visitor experience during your holiday.
Situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa, Madeira doesn’t suffer the high summer temperatures and dry, arid terrain of its volcanic Canarian cousins.
One of four main islands in the archipelago, Madeira instead has a more semi-tropical climate. Its fertile soil provides lush green uplands and verdant filled valleys inland. While majestic volcanic cliffs rise from the sea, and pebble beach coves can be found around the coast.
Madeira can provide a holiday for everyone, but especially so for older families, couples, and seniors. Sun worshippers can enjoy long days of warm sunshine on the beaches or around the pools.
Hikers, and lovers of local flora and fauna can find plenty of walking trails to explore local areas.
Gastronomes can enjoy nights dining and drinking al-fresco in the myriad café/bars and restaurants serving traditional local cuisine. International restaurants offer a-la-carte menus, while fast-food outlets cater for lovers of chicken and burgers.
Scuba divers can explore man-made reefs and wrecks. Golfers can golf, and party animals can party the night away during the many fiestas and festivals held throughout the year.
The Best Areas Where to Stay in Madeira
1. Funchal, a destination for all age groups
Nestling in the south of the island, from the top of Central Massif down to the coast, it is a city of tightly packed businesses, houses, and old Portuguese colonial architecture.
Begin exploring in the old town area, at the 16th century Gothic Funchal Cathedral and its ancient Iberian style ceiling, before moving on to the 17th century Collegiate Church, and its gilt interior woodwork.
In the centre of town, make your way to Blandy’s Wine Lodge, and the Madeira Wine Museum, where you can learn the history of making Madeira’s famous fortified wines, while you enjoy a tasting.
At the old Bishop’s Palace area, look out for the Largo do Municipio, the Museum of Sacred Art, holding a large collection of 15th and 16th century Flemish art amongst its many exhibits.
As you meander through the streets take some time out to visit the local markets and try some genuine Madeira sugar or a slice of honey cake, a local delicacy.
Look out for Santa Maria Street, and its multi-coloured doorways in the old town area. It was a project which saw local artists turning the area into an outdoor art gallery, by painting the entranceways bright colours with traditional scenes, or Picasso style modern artwork.
Ride the cable car to Monte. It’s a fabulous ride with stunning views across the city you won’t get any other way, so be sure to take your camera. On arrival, check out the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, a Japanese style garden complete with colourful Koi, pagodas, bright red woodwork, and stone bridges.
If your landscape choice is more formal, the Botanical Garden should fit the bill. With rigid borders and bright colourful planting, a mature cactus garden, and a café to rest those weary legs, what more could you wish for on a pleasant summer’s afternoon.
If you fancy something a little different during your afternoon rambles, make your way to Reid’s Palace at Estrada Monumental 139, Funchal, and enjoy a genuine English afternoon tea on the hotel’s balcony, with views over the city and out to sea.
With so many attractions around the city, the beach area, a bustling night life, and an excellent selection of accommodation, Funchal is popular with couples and families of all ages as a base for their stay in Madeira.
2. Santa Cruz, where to stay in Madeira with kids
Originally a small coastal village port, Santa Cruz is one of five local village parishes dating back to the 15th century, and sits just north-east of Funchal. The area was declared a municipality on 26th June 1515, and became a city on 2nd August 1996.
Close to the international airport, it is a working port popular with cruise ships, and a favourite destination for European visitors. It is also a good place to stay in Madeira if you have young children.
An old city of whitewashed terraced properties with terracotta tiled roofs, narrow alleyways, and old cobbled streets; Santa Cruz oozes its early 15th century beginnings.
All around the city you will find churches and chapels that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries including, in the centre of town, the municipality’s original parish church, dating from 1479.
Entertaining the children shouldn’t be a problem at Santa Cruz’s large aqua-park complete with flumes, slides, kiddies pool, and all the amenities you need for a good day out.
The Madeira Theme Park is also an excellent draw for adults and children alike. A theme park with a difference, it is based around science, tradition, and the history of the Madeira Islands.
Split into four main categories, the exhibition uses a range of multimedia deliveries to keep the attention of even the youngest visitors. The ground also has an attractive garden holding a selection of endemic plant life.
A lido complex with swimming pools, diving boards, lifeguards, and a food court is attached to the beach, and the beach front has a good selection of bars, cafes, and shops.
Whether you’re self-catering and looking for supplies, or window shopping for take-home gifts and souvenirs, the local shops can cater for most of your needs.
With the exception of some excellent restaurants and local taverns to enjoy a quiet evening’s relaxation, there is little in the way of lively evening entertainment. If that’s what you want, Funchal is just 15 minutes away by cab.
Santa Cruz has an excellent selection of accommodation across all levels from self-catering apartments and complexes, to guest-houses and hotels.
3. Machico, one of Madeira’s most popular destinations
In 1419, Portuguese explorers João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, became the first to step onto this beautiful island, and claimed Madeira for Portugal.
The Island’s whitewashed and red tiled houses sprawl through the lush green valley of the Machico River, with a backdrop on three sides of cliff-like, forest clad hillsides.
The beach area also sets it apart from many of Madeira’s beaches. In 2008, thousands of tonnes of white desert sand was imported from Morocco, and laid over the pebbles, to provide Machico with the Island’s first golden sand beach.
Lifeguards are on duty, and long groynes stretch into the bay to keep the water calm and safe for kids. Bars and shops stretch along the beach walkway, and parasols and sunbeds are available on the beach.
Around the main town area there are plenty of 15th century churches, chapels, and statues to be viewed, as well as excellent fish restaurants, international diners, and bars to enjoy some evening relaxation.
For those who prefer to mix a little exercise with relaxation there are three nine hole courses at Santo da Serra Golf Course, scuba diving onto man made reefs, horse riding on countryside trails, and whale watching trips.
Other places of interest include, The Whale Museum at Canical, charting Madeira’s history in the whaling industry. The Solar do Ribeirinho; in 1998 the remains of this 17th century plantation were excavated, restored, and turned into a museum exhibiting artefacts from over 400 years ago.
The Mother Church of Machico (Igreja Matriz de Machico), is probably the oldest piece of 15th century Gothic architecture in Madeira.
Machico has an excellent selection of accommodation for your stay in Madeira including self-catering holiday apartments and villas, guest houses, single rooms, and three to five star hotels.
4. Calheta, a great place to stay in Madeira for sun, sand, sea, and exploring
Nestling below a backdrop of high volcanic cliffs, on the southwest edge of the island, the coastal resort of Calheta is a stunning area of natural beauty, cleverly combined with a modern beach resort and marina.
Founded as a village in 1502, its Portuguese name means ‘small cove’, and that’s exactly what you see when approaching from the water. But there’s much more to Calheta than just sun, sea, and water-sports.
For those who enjoy lazy days on the beach combined with exploring the local area, Calheta is Madeira’s main grower of bananas, grapes, and sugar cane, and plantations and vineyards can be found dotted around inland.
In town you can visit Calheta’s parish church, dating back to 1430. A few yards from the church stands Engenho da Calheta, one of just two sugar mills still working on the island. Part museum, the mill still produces honey for the island’s favourite bolo de mel (honey cake), and an equally popular white rum called ‘aguardente’.
If you enjoy old chapels, churches, and cathedrals, you’ll find plenty to keep you happy all over Madeira. A 15 minute stroll from town will get you to Loreto and its 15th century chapel. At Lombo dos Reis is the 16th century Chapel of the Three Kings.
General interest attractions include the modern Casa das Artes, a museum of contemporary art, which sits high on a clifftop, and provides dazzling views across the marina and beach.
Just along the coast is Jardim do Mar, a still working busy little fishing village, and at Rabaçal you can find the 25 waterfalls, which cascade down over 100 metres into the river gorge below.
For those who prefer more active outdoor activities you can choose from, windsurfing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, fishing, and various boat trips for whale watching and to explore some of the smaller islands.
Calheta has an excellent selection of accommodation for your stay in Madeira, including a spa hotel, private rentals, self-catering, guest houses, and family friendly hotels to suit all pockets.
5. Jardim do Mar, a surfers paradise
Jardim do Mar, in English, Garden of the Sea, is a pretty little village lying on the southwest coast of Madeira. With all around being devoid of any vegetation, the name derives from the village garden (square), being alive with colourful wild flowers during the spring/summer months.
Now it is part of the attractive mosaic promenade which winds its way along the front, and the flowers can be found on balconies, in hanging baskets, and pots around the houses and lanes.
The village has three small pebble beaches, Portinho, Enseada, and Ponta Jardim, and the sea in the area is a deep blue.
It is a place popular with those seeking water-sport facilities. With its North Atlantic swell, it is recognised as the best surfing area in Madeira, and has hosted a number of prestigious international surfing events.
Low-level whitewashed buildings with their red tiled roofs sit haphazardly above the promenade. With narrow cobbled alleys and lanes running between them, and vineyards and banana plantations dotted around the outskirts, the whole area provides a feeling of peace and tranquillity.
For lovers of sacral architecture, you can visit the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, and the beautiful Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade. You can also explore the ruins of the old mill, with its black and white Portuguese tiles.
For those who want nothing more than to rest and relax during their stay in Madeira, Jardim do Mar could be just the venue. Self-catering accommodation is plentiful, along with guest houses and private hotels.
6. Caniçal, a popular base for walkers and hikers
Said to be the oldest municipality in Madeira, Caniçal is a small fishing village on the east coast of the island, between São Lourenço and Machico.
Although still very un-commercialised, it has enough attractions, such as its History of Whaling Museum, to appeal to a good number of annual visitors.
The area has a natural black sand beach and pools for the sun lovers, but for many, it is the inland areas they visit for. Once up on the coastal paths the vista across the countryside and along the coast can be truly breath-taking.
There are an excellent selection of walking tours available, with two of the favourites being the Levada do Caniçal, and the Vereda da Ponta de Lourenço. You will also find tours available to other areas of the Island, as well as sea going trips such as whale watching.
The 16th century Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy sits high on a hill, and each September the town has its ‘Our Lady of Mercy Festival’ where the chapel’s statue of the Virgin Mary is carried down to be displayed on one of the many decorated fishing boats, before being returned to the chapel. You can also visit the Church of Caniçal, built in 1783.
As you would expect from a fishing village, there are a selection of good seafood restaurants offering everything from locally caught fresh fish, to prawns and limpets, often enjoyed with the local bread ‘bolo do caco.’ Evenings tend to be quiet affairs, with restaurants and local taverns often keeping their own hours.
Accommodation choices are good around Caniçal, with resort hotels around the marina, self-catering villas, apartments, and hotels.
7. Ponta do Sol, the place to stay in Madeira for sun lovers and nature lovers
If maximum sunshine is your top priority when choosing where to stay in Madeira, then Ponta do Sol is the place to head for. Founded in 1425, and situated on the south of the island, it enjoys more sunshine annually than anywhere else in Madeira.
The area is made up of the three parishes of Ponta do Sol, Canhas, and Madalena do Mar. Seafronts are picturesque areas of tall colourful hotels and apartments above local businesses on the one-side, and pebble beaches with palm trees lining the promenades on the other.
There are four main beaches in the area, at Anjos, Lugar de Baixo, Madalena do Mar, and Ponta do Sol, and each has its own unique charm and attraction.
While Ponta do Sol attracts many sun seekers, it is also home to the Paul do Serra, Madeira’s highest plateau. At 1500ft it has plant species found nowhere else on the island, and with its varied wildlife and migratory bird population, attracts a large number of hikers and nature lovers to the area.
The plateau also houses many levada; irrigation ditches which provide the agricultural areas their much needed water supply, and visiting hikers many of their most popular walks.
If you enjoy exploring by day, the Ponta do Sol has the church of Nossa Senhora da Luz, and the Lugar de Baixo Palace to be investigated.
The Canhas area also has a number of monuments to Portuguese saints, and other interesting items such as the Water Clock, built in 1890. While the Madalena do Mar has a church dedicated to Santa Maria Madalena.
Accommodation in the area is plentiful with self-catering options, and a good selection of mid-range hotels available.
8. Camara de Lobos, a place for walkers, photographers, and artists
Camara de Lobos has plenty of attractions in its own right, to entice its annual influx of European visitors. But, being just a few kilometres from the Island’s capital of Funchal, it also plays host to those visitors wanting to spend time in the city, but who prefer quieter, more relaxed evenings.
The village dates back to the 15th century, and is a place of rocky picturesque coves, colourful fishing boats bobbing about in the harbour, and coastal cliffs that stretch over 500 metres skyward. Move a little inland, and the richly fertile soil supports terraces of banana plantations, vineyards, and cherry bushes.
Although keen hikers will be happy trekking from their hotel on the many walks available, for the rest of us, a hire car is a good idea if you want to fit in as many viewpoints as possible. Consider some of the following.
Cabo Girão: As if 580 metres wasn’t high enough to give you vertigo, in 2012 a glass skywalk, the highest in Europe, was fitted to the top of the cliff, taking the braver souls several metres out from the cliff edge.
Fajã dos Padres: A cable car which runs down the side of the cliff is the only way to reach the guest houses and restaurant on the beach front.
Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns):Sitting on a plateau way down in a valley, only recently has a tunnel been cut through the rocks to improve access to this pretty village.
Praia Formosa: A pleasant 30 minute coastal walk will get you to this attractive little beach with a couple of eateries, where you can enjoy a beer and take in the views.
Camara de Lobos has an adequate selection of bars and restaurants for your evening entertainment, and accommodation starts with shared rooms, country cottages, self-catering apartment complexes, and a variety of hotels, including one at the bottom of the cable car.
9. Ribeira Brava, a quiet attractive village for couples and seniors
Sitting on the south coast of Madeira, Ribeira Brava nestles in the valley of the Ribeira River. Its name in Portuguese means ‘Angry River’ due to the fact it swells and speeds up considerably during periods of heavy inland rain.
A popular day out with many day trippers, it has the Igreja de São Bento Church, built during the 16th century, which is open to the public.
Other attractions include the Fort of São Bento, The Ethnographic Museum of Madeira, which charts the habits, customs and culture of Madeira and its peoples, and the lighthouse, which offers great views over the village.
It also has a large sports centre, attracting sportsmen and women from across Portugal.
With groynes to reduce incoming swell, a black sand beach, and kiddies swimming pool, it is a safe area for children of all ages.
The beach front walkway has a number of good restaurants, cafes, and small bars where you can enjoy a light lunch, or pleasant evening meal.
Ribeira Brava is a village that attracts those who just want to relax and recharge the batteries, and those wishing to use it as a base for exploring the island.
Accommodation is good in, or close to the village for your stay in Madeira, with self-catering apartments, guest houses, and hotels.
10. Caniço, a popular year round destination where to stay in Madeira
Being less than 10 minutes from Funchal, Caniço is an attractive, bubbly resort, offering a host of different activities. Visitors can enjoy gorgeous landscapes, delightful beaches, a pleasant climate, a marine nature reserve, and excellent infrastructure, by way of restaurants, bars, and shops.
Caniço’s wide promenade, with palms planted down the centre, makes for a pleasant stroll as it winds its way along the pebble beach seafront.
If you visit at the beginning of September, you can enjoy the Noites da Promenade do Caniço festival. A festival held on the promenade, with locals dressed in traditional costumes, bands, entertainers, and plenty of food and drink to help the festivities along.
Caniço also attracts those interested in water-sports. Surfing, wind-surfing, and kite-surfing are very popular, as are snorkel and scuba diving in Caniço’s marine reserve, where groupers will come up to swim with the divers.
If your promenading takes you as far as the Garajau Marine Reserve, you can admire the Miradouro Cristo Rei do Garajau, a 14 metre high statue of Christ, that looks very similar to the one towering above Rio de Janeiro.
Although the promenade is a pleasant flat walk, the surrounding area of Caniço is made up of narrow, cobbled, steep streets, not really suitable for those with mobility issues. Many of the hotels can only be reached after negotiating steep, windy roads.
If you reach the Miradouro Cristo Rei, the view down on tiny Garajau beach is spectacular. If your driving skills are up to it, you can drive down the steep, narrow road to the beach, or take the easy way, and use the cable car.
There are a good number of cafes, bars, and restaurants available when out and about, with many more in the hotels and complexes. Caniço has an excellent choice of all types of accommodation to suit all pockets and tastes for your stay in Madeira.
11. Porto Moniz, for day trips or longer stays?
Sitting on the most north-westerly point of Madeira; Porto Moniz, once isolated from other areas of the island, relied heavily on the whaling industry to maintain its economy right up to the 1980s.
Now, the town’s big visitor attractions are its natural lava seawater swimming pools, its scenic hinterland, and one of Madeira’s most popular walks.
Coach trips arrive on a daily basis from Funchal and other resort towns, for visitors to spend a few hours strolling around the town centre and sunbathing and swimming in the lava pools. There is however, much to be gained from more time spent in Porto Moniz.
While day trippers fill the lava pool terraces, cafes, bars, and restaurants around the town centre, those enjoying a longer stay can explore farther afield. Visit the caves of São Vicente, the Aquario da Madeira aquarium in the old fort, the attractive little town of Seixal, and the cable car of Achadas da Cruz.
The Ribeira da Janela trail is one of the most popular walks on the island, but not one for beginners. The hike is over 12 kilometres long, and includes walking through tunnels and alongside sheer drops as you make your way to the top. The spectacular scenery and amazing views though, makes the effort worthwhile.
With most coaches departing between 15:00 and 16:00, and the crowds disappearing, you can begin to soak up the local culture in town, while enjoying leisurely drinks and excellent food on the terraces of the bars and restaurants.
For your stay in Madeira, Porto Moniz has a good selection of self-catering complexes, apartments, and villas, as well as hotels at all levels.
12. Sao Vicente, for a relaxing break include a spa day
Situated on the north coast of the island, Sao Vicente is another of those picture perfect coastal villages that Madeira seems to have made all its own.
Its volcanic beginnings are made more obvious by the numerous lava caves that you can explore, and even its 16th century parish chapel stands at the entrance to the village on a large basalt boulder.
The municipality is made up of the parishes of Sao Vicente, Ponta Delgada and Boaventura. Moving inland from the coast, the area is lush and green, with areas turned over to banana and sugar cultivation, and vineyards.
For those with an interest in geology and local flora, there is also The Indigenous Garden, an area of over 2,000 square metres of endemic flora, and the Laurel Forest, which is a big draw, and was classified a Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
If you choose to do a little hiking inland, you may come across one of the 18th century, two-storey colonial plantation houses still standing. Animal feed, farming implements, and even animals were kept on the ground level, while the nobility and his family lived on the upper floor.
If you fancy a chilled, laid back day, take a drive through to Delgada, and enjoy a few hours in the Bathing Complex of Ponta Delgada. The complex has two saltwater pools, solariums, spa, first aid station, and a bar to round off your day.
Other activities available at Sao Vicente are a good selection of hiking trails, and photographing the magnificent sunsets this island has been blessed with. A popular pastime with the majority of visitors.
For your stay in Madeira, Sao Vicente has an excellent selection of budget accommodation, guest houses, self-catering options, and hotels.
If you still feel spoilt for choice, and a little bemused about where to stay in Madeira, don’t be. You can drive round the island without stopping in around 120 minutes, (although you’ll miss so much).
Even without a hire car, wherever you choose to stay in Madeira, getting from one place to another is relatively quick and easy by cab or public transport. Meaning all you’ve really got to do is pick a spot, and enjoy your holiday.