Funchal: Madeira Islands Travel Planner

  • 01 of 05

    Madeira Island Location Map and Travel Guide

    madeira location map
    Madeira Location Map: The marker is on the capital city of Funchal. OpenStreetMap contributors

    Madeira is a Portuguese island group located just off the west coast of Africa. The small archipelago is blessed by the warm breezes of the Gulf Stream and is a favorite winter destination of tourists in the know.

    As you can see on the map, the Madeira islands are just over 300 miles from Morocco. A flight from Lisbon, about twice as far away, will get you to the capital of Funchal in less than 2 hours.

    Madeira was discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1418. The archipelago is made up of the main island of Madeira, the Madeiran's island paradise of Porto Santo and the pair of deserted islands called  Selvagens and Desertas.

    Madeira is one of two islands called "the island of eternal spring", the other being Tenerlife. The climate is rather enticing; the average high in December hovers around 69 degrees Fahrenheit. The average highs in summer don't crack 80. Check out the historic climate and current weather for Funchal.

    You don't even need a car. Just park yourself in...MORE Funchal and you can take inexpensive taxis as well as boats and funiculars to the island's hot spots--and the curious can even careen downhill in a woven-reed toboggan called a Carro de Monte.

    There's a lot to do on the main island, Madeira, and we'll zoom in and show you next.

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  • 02 of 05

    Map of the Madeira Islands

    Madeira Islands Map
    PeterHermesFurian / Getty Images

    Madeira Islands Facts

    The main island you see on the map is Madeira Island, the largest of the island group with a length of 57kms and 150 kilometers of coastline. Funchal is the largest town with a population of just over 100,000 people. It's the capital of the Madeira Autonomous Region.

    There are two airports in the island group, on Madeira (FNC) and Porto Santo (PXO).

    Madeira and Porto Santo Islands are the only populated islands in the group. Unlike the green Madeira, Porto Santo, called the "Golden Island" has little vegetation but its 9km long beach and moderate climate make it a major tourist draw for folks looking for tranquility if not desolation at the edge of Europe.

    Madeira has few beaches, but locals take off for Porto Santo when they want to lie out in the sun. They get there by car ferry, which usually leaves Funchal harbor at around 9 in the morning. Here is the route and prices.

    Most of the population of Porto Santo lives in Vila Baleira, where you can visit a...MORE Christopher Columbus museum in a house reputedly occupied by the famous explorer. Otherwise, you'll have to relax on a beach or enjoy horse-riding, diving or game-fishing. It's all about the sand and the sea.

    But Funchal and vicinity offer the most interesting and unique things to do, so let's discuss that next.

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  • 03 of 05

    What to Do in Madeira

    blandys barrel picture
    A Bottle of Madeira Wine Made from the Verdelho Grape. © James Martin

    What to do in Madeira

    Madeira Carnival is a big attraction in Funchal, considered one of the best in Europe. There are events year round, of course. In spring there are the flower celebrations and in summer there's even a Limpet festival. See all the events: Madeira Island Events.

    Madeira's big wine is...Madeira. Blandy's Wine Lodge is right in the heart of Funchal.

    The adventurous might try Monte Toboggan Rides. The wicker sled ride and other ways to get around Madeira are the subject of my video: Madeira: Unusual Transportation.

    There are quite a few golf courses on the Madeira Islands, as befits the climate.

    The Madeira Story Center in Funchal is an interactive museum that tells the history of the Archipelago.

    According to UNESCO, who have awarded it World Heritage Status, "The Laurisilva of Madeira is an outstanding relict of a previously widespread laurel forest type." You can see the unique Modeiran long-toed pigeon if you look hard enough there. Easily reached from...MORE almost anywhere on Madeira island, the Laurisilva is a popular attraction for tourists.

    Mercado dos Lavradores, or "worker's market" is a popular Friday indoor market in Funchal where you can see and buy exotic fruits, flowers, fish, and legumes. See a few select Pictures of the Funchal Market

    Lavada Walks are popular. What's a Lavada Walk? Well, since water was scarce on the islands, in the 16th-century folks started carving canals to distribute water from the wet areas in the north of Madeira Island to the more parched areas of the south. Since the canals pass through the forest they tend to be quite scenic.

    If you don't have a car on Madeira, don't worry, there are many ways to get around. An introductory tour like the Grand Madeira Island Tour from Viator would give you a very good idea of what the island is all about.

    Next, let's look at some spectacular places to stay.

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  • 04 of 05

    Places to Stay in Funchal, Madiera Islands

    Pestana Carlton
    View from a room at the Pestana Carlton in Funchal. Courtesy of Pestana Hotel Group

    We enjoyed a fabulous stay at the Pestana Carlton Madeira on the waterfront. The site offers a low price guarantee, and prices are quite reasonable for the quality of the hotel.

    Pousadas like the Pousada Dos Vinhaticos offer traditional cuisine in rural settings, in this case near the Laurissilva forests.

    The luxurious Quinta do Monte is in the heart of Monte in the hills of Funchal.

    Looking for romantic? We recommend Reid's Palace Hotel in Funchal for Valentine's day and other romantic celebrations. They've thought of nearly everything.

    Find User Rated Hotels: Funchal Hotels (Book Direct), or find Madeira and Porto Santo Hotels via their locations on a map.

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  • 05 of 05

    Madeira Island, The Bottom Line

    pirate ship picture
    Madeira: The Pirate Ship Tour of the Coast. © James Martin

    It's easy to stay a week in Funchal, your hub for exploring a very interesting island. Spring is a good time to come, the tropical plants in the botanical gardens at Monte, a funicular ride from Funchal, are spectacular in spring. Winter, of course, is also a great time to go.

    And if you really want to get into the spirit with all that water around you, just go to the port and get some tickets to the Santa Maria de Colombo Pirate Ship (pictured). It's a great way to see the coast of Madeira and you'll get to taste the local wine as well.

    Enjoy travel planning for your trip. Madeira Island combined with great cities in Portugal like Lisbon or Coimbra could make a very rewarding vacation.