Discover Madeira and shake off any misconceptions

Rachel Mills

written by
Rachel Mills

updated 17.04.2024

Madeira will surprise you. It's not a staid holiday choice now. It's part of Portugal but closer to North Africa. And it's been discovered. Find out what indie travellers like about Madeira. The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Portugal, your essential guide for visiting Portugal.

Misconception 1 - Madeira's good for a beach holiday

Madeira's had no volcanic activity for 6500 years. But it's a volcanic island. And black sand is natural on the beach.

You will find some golden sand in the south. But it's imported.

Need a beach day? Do as the locals do. Catch a ferry to Porto Santo. It's a couple of hours away. But worth it for excellent seafood and Atlantic views.

Embrace volcanic Madeira. Take a full day skywalk and Porto Moniz pools tour.


© Shutterstock

Misconception 2 - Madeira is just cruise ships and OAPs

Enormous cruise ships often dock in Funchal. The quaint island capital's appealing. So passengers tend to stay there. And they're back on board by evening.

After dark, Funchal Old Town comes alive. Madeira's nightlife is cool and European. Nothing kicks off until midnight. And it's mostly locals in clubs and bars.

Dolphin and whale watching is big in Madeira. Most boats are rigid inflatables. So beware. Atlantic swells can be alarming.

Don't worry too much. Engines cut when dolphins are spotted. Then you simply commune with nature.

Surfers love Madeira's Atlantic. Beginners should try Porto da Cruz. Pros head to Jardim do Mar.

Go inland for peaks and ravines. Madeira's known for climbing, canyoning and off-roading. And steep rides challenge mountain bikers.

Hikers can get deep into the forest. Just follow the 2000km of historic levada. These narrow canals are uniquely Madeiran and network the island.

Don't just watch dolphins. Take a swimming with dolphins cruise from Funchal.


© Shutterstock

Misconception 3 - not the holiday for independent travellers

Madeira still has bland hotel chains. But now there are boutique hotels in Funchal. And you'll find quirky rentals in the mountains.

Avoid hotel swimming pools. Try volcanic ones instead. They're all round the coast. Visit northern Porto Moniz. It's known for Atlantic waves and deep pools.

Then go local in Funchal. The morning Mercado dos Lavradores is a must. Expect big, ugly but delicious fish. Admire the island produce. And stop for coffee. Served with Pastéis de nata.

Looking for an original stay? Book Fajã dos Padres on the south coast.

  • Only reachable by cable car.
  • Restored traditional cottages.
  • All cottages beachfront with garden and terrace.
  • Spectacular Atlantic views.
  • WIFI, flat screen TVs, satellite channels.

Prefer to leave planning and booking to experts? Have a look at some sample itineraries. Both Complete Portugal or Portugal Itineraries offer inspiration. All Tailor Made Trips can be modified together with your local expert, then booked for a stress-free holiday. Click 'Modify this itinerary' to contact a local Portugal expert.

Festival in Madeira, Portugal

Festival in Madeira © Shutterstock

Misconception 4 - It’s always sunny

Where is Madeira? It may be part of Portugal. But Europe is 955km away. North Africa is much nearer. Hence the year-round sun misconception.

In reality it's a subtropical island. Temperatures are mild most of the time. It's rarely too hot. And seldom gets colder than 17°.

Madeira has six micro climates. So there's usually some sun somewhere. October to March can be wet. But downpours pass quickly. And the upside of rain's Madeira's remarkable greenery.

A varied climate is good for activities. Attempt the toboggan run from Monte. It's a Madeiran tradition.

Try more sedate transport. Take a Tukxi tour of Monte with local guides.


The Monte to Funchal toboggan run is a Madeira tradition © Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Portugal? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to Portugal. Read more about the best places to visit and best things to do in Portugal. For inspiration use the Portugal Itineraries from The Rough Guide to Portugal. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image: © Shutterstock

Rachel Mills

written by
Rachel Mills

updated 17.04.2024

Rachel Mills is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster based by the sea in Kent. She is a co-author for Rough Guides to New Zealand, India, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain a contributor to Telegraph Travel, the Independent, AFAR, DK Eyewitness and and an expert in sustainable, responsible tourism. Follow her @rachmillstravel on Twitter and Instagram and listen to her show Over Here on

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍