Madeira’s coastline is made up of steep cliffs, giving spectacular, uninterrupted views over the Atlantic. However, this means there are no good quality beaches and the only sandy stretch of beach is at Porto Santo, a small island about 50kms from Madeira. While Madeira may not be a beach holiday destination, the island has lots to offer.
Madeira’s capital Funchal is compact enough to see in a day and has amazing architecture, a colourful market in the old town where locals buy fresh fruit and fish, thrill-seeking activities such as the toboggan ride, and some great restaurants. Almost mandatory is a ride on the cable cars, which offers you great views looking up the hills and looking down towards the Atlantic.
In the village of Porto Moniz, in the North West part of the island, you can find natural salt water swimming pools. These are framed by volcanic rocks that keep the sea water – replenished at high tide – cool and refreshing. There is one that is rather new and run by the local council and all the signs are steering you to go there, but just a little bit before entering the town there is a restaurant who owns the land of the more ‘natural’ natural pools. A local told us that the council has been fighting to win back this piece of coast so they can monetize it too.
At 589 meters, the Cabo Girão Skywalk is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe and second highest in the world (after the Grand Canyon at 1,450 meters). Since the construction of the glass-floored platform in 2012, you can now step into the abyss, looking down at the sea. And of course, just like in Açores, on one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the world, it was completely covered in fog when we got there.
The island is also a paradise for hikers; follow one of the levada trails and be amazed by countless waterfalls and jaw dropping mountain views. And an island floating about in the ocean, means there are many opportunities to go dolphin- and whale watching. And for many people this is the reason to visit Madeira. But of course this same swell attracts surfers; beginners can’t go wrong at gorgeous Porto da Cruz, but pros might prefer rocky Jardim do Mar.