We must admit that we may be a bit biased in answering this question. After all, we’ve dedicated an entire blog to Madeira and clearly think that it is, well… marvellous.
But even though we love Madeira, we’ll be the first to admit that the island is not ideally suited to every visitor or every type of trip.
If you’re wondering if Madeira is worth visiting for you, here are a few pros and cons to consider.
AT A GLANCE
|Madeira is perfect for||Not ideal for|
|Nature & hiking||Beach holidays (see comments below)|
|Road trips through epic landscapes||Partying|
|Exotic gardens and parks||‘Off the beaten track’|
|Local cuisine & produce|
|Ecotourism (e.g. whale watching)|
|Adventure sports (e.g. canyoning)|
Madeira is NOT worth visiting if…
You’re looking for buzzing nightlife
Although there is some sporadic nightlife in Madeira, mainly in the capital Funchal, this is usually focused much more on the local population than on tourists. The island is a rather quiet and sedate place overall.
Madeira cannot be compared at all with the kind of boozy holiday destinations that are more common along the Spanish coasts. (If you don’t like such nightlife-centric destinations anyway, then this may well be music to your ears.)
There are some bars, clubs, and restaurants available, but the island’s nightlife is quiet compared to other European hotspots. If you’ve come to party, then Madeira is probably not the right destination for you.
You’re planning purely a beach vacation
Madeira is a great destination for spending time in nature — including in and around the water, such as on whale- or dolphin-watching trips or surfing. However, it does not boast an abundance of sandy beaches.
There is only a limited number of small beaches in Madeira, which inevitably get crowded during peak season. You will not find vast stretches of sand in Madeira (the only exception being the small island of Porto Santo). Instead, the beaches are typically small, rocky coves, and natural swimming pools, formed by volcanic activity.
If beach lounging is the main purpose of your trip, then there are different destinations to consider, such as the other Macronesian islands of the Canaries or Cape Verde.
That said, while Madeira is not primarily a beach holiday destination, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some sunshine and time in the water!
Small man-made beaches such as those in Ponta do Sol or Machico offer opportunities for some sunbathing on a sandy beach. Personally, although we come to Madeira for activities such as hiking or road tripping, we often like to spend an afternoon at a beach or jump into the water at one of the small harbours. Just think of these more as add-ons than the main attraction.
If you want to swim, you can also book a hotel with a swimming pool, of which there are numerous to choose from. The south side of the island has the best weather, so you may want to stay on this side if you’re looking for the most sunshine.
You want perfectly consistent weather
Speaking of the weather, since the island experiences various microclimates, Madeira’s weather can be somewhat unpredictable. While one area may be sunny and warm (usually the south), another could be cold and rainy, all within a short distance.
This doesn’t really have to be a negative; it’s just something to expect. Due to its mountainous topography and exposure to the Atlantic, you can experience sunshine, rain, and misty conditions all on the same day.
However, its sub-tropical climate ensures that Madeira has a pleasantly mild temperature year-round, which is definitely one of the amazing aspects of the island. Madeira is a great destination even in winter!
You long to go somewhere completely undiscovered
Exploring Madeira is a lot of fun, but if you’re the kind of traveller who dreams of hitchhiking through Transnistria or living with goat herders in Turkmenistan, then you’ll probably find Madeira “too touristy”.
Fair enough. Madeira is a bit of a holiday resort island, with almost a third of Madeira’s GDP relying on tourism.
That said, we think tourism has been developed in Madeira in mostly a tasteful way, avoiding the kind of brash large-scale development you can find in the Canaries, for example. And if you want to stay somewhere charming or quiet there are many options, particularly in the more remote west or north sides of the island.
Okay, enough with the downsides! Here’s why Madeira is actually an amazing travel destination.
Madeira IS worth visiting for…
Its epic landscapes and lush nature
The island’s terrain is mostly mountainous… in fact, it’s difficult to find almost any flat land in Madeira! This makes it incredibly scenic as well as an amazing island for hiking.
When you’re driving around Madeira, you will never be bored, as the landscapes are so dynamic and rugged.
The geography as well as the various microclimates also make Madeira a hiking paradise. The island is famous for its lush laurel forests, which provide a haven for countless species of plants, animals, and birds.
It should be said that the terrain is often steep and rugged, making some activities challenging for people with limited mobility or fitness levels, or if you’re travelling in Madeira with a baby.
The island’s narrow roads and steep cliffs can also make driving a bit daunting for inexperienced or nervous drivers. In our opinion, the difficulty level of driving in Madeira often gets exaggerated, but you should still know what to expect from the roads in Madeira.
However, Madeira wouldn’t be Madeira without its stunning and dramatic landscapes.
The incredibly varied hiking trails
The island is home to numerous levada hikes, which are irrigation channels offering various trails suitable for different fitness levels. The levada hikes often have interesting features, such as tunnels or hidden waterfalls, that make for interesting wayoints along the trails.
Besides the levadas there are hikes in the high mountains of Madeira, along the dry and rocky eastern extreme, and along the coastlines, allowing for lots of varied hikes within a relatively small region.
Check out the different types of hikes you can experience in Madeira!
Its wonderfully mild climate
Madeira’s sub-tropical climate and mild temperatures make it very much a year-round travel destination. It sometimes even called the “island of eternal spring”.
The months from October to April see more rainfall than summer, though the temperatures still hover around 20/21 degrees Celsius (68/70 °F) even during the winter months. From July until September, expect temperatures reaching up to 26/27 °C (79/81 °F).
It’s never too hot, never too cold. Whenever you’re thinking of going to Madeira, you can probably just go ahead and book those flights, because there isn’t really a wrong time to visit.
The local cuisine
For food enthusiasts, Madeira offers many delicious local dishes that combine traditional Portuguese flavors with fresh, local ingredients.
One local speciality is the espetada (grilled meat skewers). You should also definitely try the scabbardfish fillet served with fried bananas!
As you might expect, the fish and sea food on the island are generally great, even in local budget-friendly eateries known as tascas.
There are unique drinks in Madeira as well, as as poncha (aguardente with honey and orange juice) and its famous fortified wine, which is similar to Port and has been produced on the island for centuries.
Being relatively small, the driving distances in Madeira are very manageable, with few trips ever being more than an hour or so. We love this about Madeira as you get to spend more time doing activities and less time in transit.
The short distances make it easy to plan your sightseeing and makes pretty much all areas of the island easily accessible no matter where you choose to be based.
If you travel around by public transportation, do keep in mind that things can be a lot slower. It’s usually easiest to get around Madeira with your own rental car, or using organized tours.
Another pro for visiting Madeira is its affordability, especially when compared with other European travel destinations.
The island is somewhat less expensive than the Canary Islands and a lot cheaper than many popular Mediterranean islands (e.g. Corsica, the well-known Greek islands, etc.). By northern European standards, you could even consider Madeira cheap.
For reference, a typical meal in a local restaurant in a village will cost about 10 euros for a main dish with a drink. In a more trendy or international restaurant in the capital, this will be closer to 20 Euros per person.
That said, to get the most out of your time in Madeira, it’s best to have a comfortable travel budget to spend. €100 per person per day is a good mid-range budget that includes accommodation, activities, and car rental or tours, which will allow you to see the most of the island.
The excellent accommodation
Unlike some more remote islands, Madeira has accommodation is pretty much any form or shape you are looking for. We personally love the charming B&Bs and holiday homes you can find in particular in the smaller villages.
However, if you prefer to stay in a resort hotel, you can find many high-quality options around Funchal (especially in the hotel district of Lido). Anything from boutique hotels to budget backpacker hostels can be found in Funchal and other key points on the island.
Because of the varied accommodation, there is really something for everyone, so Madeira attracts many different audiences.
Its digital nomad scene
Finally, Madeira has been very much discovered in recent years as a remote working location. It all started with the ‘digital nomad village’, an initiative in Ponta do Sol launched during the pandemic, but now there are multiple locations on the island where you can find co-working facilities and medium or long stay accommodation. There is a strong digital nomad community in Madeira, with many events, networking opportunities, and a Slack channel where you can find support and information.
Staying for a few months in Madeira while working remotely is the perfect way to experience the island. The manageable distances to the sights makes it easy to plan your sightseeing or activities on the weekend while working during the week.
If you sign up at the digital nomads in Madeira site, they’ll send you a starter pack with more information.
All in all, Madeira is an island with many faces and with so many great reasons to visit. Whether you’re interested in hiking, the sports or water activities, or just want to spend a while in a sunny island, marvellous Madeira has got it all!