Is Madeira only for pensioners?

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Madeira has long had a reputation as a destination appealing to older tourists, particularly from the UK and Germany. If you’re in a different age group, you may wonder if the island is still right for you.

To this we say: don’t worry and just go!

While Madeira as a travel destination has sometimes been stereotyped, it actually appeals to many different audiences and not just any particular one.

In fact, the island underwent quite an image change in recent years as it’s been increasingly discovered by digital nomads and younger travellers, as well as tourists from North America. Part of our motivation for starting this blog was noticing how Madeira is getting on the radar of many new audiences. (By the way, whatever your age or country, we’re happy to have you as a reader!).

Quite a few young or young-ish tourists visit the island. If you are in, say, your 20s, 30s, or 40s and interested in some incredible hikes, visiting scenic coastal villages, or more active tourism such as surfing, canyoning, or mountainbiking then YES — Madeira is your oyster.

However, Madeira is not really a student- or backpacker type of destination (although there are a couple of hostels and surf camps). It’s also mainly a great place to go for nature lovers, hikers, and those looking for a quiet experience.

Madeira is quite an adventurous island!

The pensioner tour circuit

Of course, there’s still a reason why the query “is madeira for pensioners?” still pops up so much in search engines. It’s true that certain sights in Madeira have long welcomed an older crowd.

The island has actually long attracted wealthier and older tourists. Starting in the 18th century, it focused heavily on health tourism, in particular hosting European aristocrats wanting to escape the continental winter. Some of the modern tourism grew from these beginnings.

Some ‘posh’ elements from this time remain, such as the historic Belmond Reid’s Palace in Funchal, where the tradition of serving afternoon tea attracts many grey-haired visitors who enjoy this kind of refined experience.

The famous Toboggan rides have been going on for ages

Nowadays, Funchal is a popular port of call for cruises, whose passengers tend to skew older. Group tours from companies like TUI make their way to the island as well. You can tell this target market has long been the traditional bread-and-butter of the Madeira tourism industry.

You see more coach buses and cruise ship groups in popular stops like old Funchal, the Toboggan sledge rides, the traditional houses in Santana, and the volcanic rock pools of Porto Moniz.

However, when road-tripping around the island, exploring the villages, or along the hiking trails the demographic makeup tends to be very different, with more independent travellers and a range of different ages.

Madeira Surf Camp in Porto da Cruz

Is Madeira for younger people?

Yes, it is! We can think of two caveats though:

  1. Madeira is mostly a ‘medium budget’ destination. It’s not exactly a backpacker type of place and it will be harder to travel here on a low budget. It’s best if you can rent a car to explore the island. You can check our breakdown of travel costs in Madeira.
  2. If you’re young and expecting buzzing nightlife or lots of beach-based entertainment, then you’re definitely in the wrong place. It’s a quiet island and not really a beach holiday type of destination.

There are very few travellers in the youngest age groups (e.g. late teens or early 20s), but there are many things to enjoy for travellers of all ages.

In fact, some aspects are best enjoyed by those who are younger and/or have a high fitness level. More than anything, Madeira is really an island for active travel!

Some of the more challenging hikes in Madeira are also the most rewarding. And there are some amazing adventure activities you can do.

I mean, this is Madeira:

The island is a paradise for adventure activities, having several surfing spots ideal for beginners as well as the possibility of Level 3 or Level 4 canyoning. Shown above is the 60-meter-tall waterfall in Ribeira Funda that can be descended on a canyoning trip. Apart from such adventure activities, there is also the pleasure of simply hiking through stunning landscapes or checking out some amazing viewpoints.

So, whether it’s polite afternoon tea you crave, or some adrenaline-pumping adventure sports (or maybe a bit of both, you legend?!), you can find it in equal measures in Madeira.

It’s actually been interesting seeing the popular image of the island evolve. The pandemic accelerated this process, as it was one of the few places open for tourism for a while. This had the effect of exposing it to whole new audiences, including digital nomads and visitors from further afield such as the US and Canada, who often liken Madeira to Hawaii.

It’s clear that Madeira can’t be easily pigeonholed, so we hope this has given you a better sense of what to expect. While it’s certainly visited by many senior travellers, they are far from the only tourists around. And thanks to its charming culture and epic nature, Madeira has a universal appeal.

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