Madeira with a baby or toddler: our tips & experiences

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If you’re wondering if Madeira is a good destination to visit with a baby or toddler, then YES, it definitely can be.

However, some aspects are important to be aware of — including the mountainous terrain and varying weather conditions. Here we’ll share some general tips as well as our personal experiences.

Every bebé is different

Before we get into it, we should probably make a little disclaimer. It’s always difficult to give any advice about travelling with a baby because…

  1. every baby has a different personality
  2. every parent is different
  3. every baby is also wildly different at different ages (travelling with a baby of 9 months is truly a world apart from one who’s 6 months!)

As an example: we can generalize and say that babies love road trips because they can easily rest in the car. The engine’s vibrations will even gently put them to sleep. Then again, we know parents whose baby daughter detests car seats and is impossible to take on the road.

Probably the best advice is to get to know your baby as they may have their own travel style. Some babies are natural-born backpackers, others may need lots of luxury naps! 

We’ve taken our daughter on several trips in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, including a trip to Madeira, and it was different every time based on her age and the destination.

Isabel loved her time in Madeira

Madeira with an infant: pros and cons

So, can you travel to Madeira with a baby? The basic answer is ‘sure, why not!’.

It may not be the perfect baby destination; the mountainous terrain can make it more difficult to get around, for instance. But there is nothing that should prevent you from going to Madeira with a little one (or more) in tow.

Pros: Driving distances in Madeira are very manageable, so you can easily do an activity or two each day without the need for hours of driving. There are several baby-friendly beaches with calm waters, lots of lovely restaurants with ocean views, and the climate is mild so you generally don’t need to worry about it being too hot or too cold. There are plenty of sights, small museums, and botanical gardens that are relaxing to visit as a family.

Cons: The terrain is a challenge for pushchairs or strollers, Madeira’s more adventurous hikes or activities you can probably strike off the list for now, and the driving can be challenging at times. We mention the latter only because it could add an extra element of stress for inexperienced drivers.

What to expect in Madeira

With Portugal being a developed country, the practical matters shouldn’t be much cause for worry. Although Madeira may seem like a remote place, it is well-developed and well-connected. If IKEA can deliver furniture to the island, then you probably shouldn’t worry about there being baby food.

Of course, travelling with a baby can still be an adventure in itself — and not all facilities may be available in Madeira at all times.

Changing stations

It’s a toss-up whether you’ll find changing stations in restaurants or other public bathrooms. A modern restaurant in Funchal is likely to have them, whereas a basic tasca (local cafe) in a rural location might not. You may have to change your baby on a park bench or the back seat of your car from time to time.

Baby seats

In our experience, nearly all restaurants have baby chairs available. Perhaps a small village cafe might not, but even casual restaurants will typically have a high chair around. Only once did we need to have our baby on our lap, at a small beach bar/cafe in Seixal.

Pretty much all car hire companies offer car seats. Ours was provided free of charge, but some car rental companies may charge extra for it. Be sure to include a car seat in your reservation.

Terrain

The mountainous terrain in Madeira is not always ideal for using a stroller or pushchair. You can use the sidewalks in Funchal or the main streets of smaller villages. However, there can be steep inclines and once you’re out of the urbanized areas you might find it really tough going with a stroller. 

Consider bringing a baby carrier (such as this one we have from Ergobaby) or a baby/child carrier hiking backpack (such as the famous Deuter Kid Comfort).

If you happen to forget some essential gear, there’s still a Decathlon store in Funchal that sells all sorts of backpacks and carriers. There are also various baby and kids stores in Funchal and elsewhere.

Hikes

Some hikes in Madeira are a little adventurous, such as the Pico Ruivo and Pico do Ariero hikes which are at high elevations and feature narrow paths on mountain rims. We wouldn’t recommend bringing a baby on these challenging hikes. 

São Lourenço (the northeastern peninsula) is one of the other top hiking areas, though it can be very windy and the landscape is fully exposed to the elements, so protecting your baby from the sun is a consideration here. Our daughter was staunchly anti-hat-wearing during our trip and repeatedly threw sit-in tantrums to make her feelings clear, so this made hiking in open areas more difficult for us. 

You may find shorter hikes in the lower forested areas more ideal. You can check a lot of kid-friendly trails in Madeira here. We also loved strolling around the forest of Fanal; since this is not so much a trail but just an open area to wander around, it was a nice low-pressure activity.

With only some exceptions, don’t bother doing hikes with pushchairs as the terrain is simply too uneven. 

Beaches

One of the awesome aspects of Madeira is that there are several beaches perfectly suited to your baby playing safely in the water.

We spent time mainly at Machico Beach, which has fine yellow sand, shallow waters and very gentle waves thanks to being protected by a pier. Even in late spring or early autumn the water temperatures are nice and mild, and during the bathing season there will be a lifeguard on duty (at least June to September, sometimes longer depending on the beach).

Such calm and protected beaches are pretty rare, so they really give you a great opportunity for your baby to dip their toes in. It’s actually in Madeira that we discovered Isabel is no longer afraid of the water and is, in fact, an absolute beach monster who loves to play with the sand and splatter all around.

Of course, depending on your baby’s age, you may still be dealing with them trying to shove handfuls of sand in their mouth at every available opportunity. A parent can never truly rest!

Apart from Machico Beach, similar ideal conditions exist at Ponta do Sol and Calheta Beach where the waters are very calm. The shallow pools at Martim Moniz, which have seawater but are man-made, are also an option. 

Baby food & diapers

Any supermarket in Madeira should have nappies, powder baby formula, and baby food including porridge, small jars with soup or vegetable/meat puree, or squeezies with multifruit puree.

The selection in smaller convenience stores may not be huge, but the supermarkets in Funchal should have anything you need.

Children’s parks

There are quite a few playgrounds with swings, seesaws, or climbing objects, especially in the more urbanized south and southeast. If you’re not able to find them, just type ‘Parque Infantil’ in your map app.

Travelling with a baby or toddler

While Madeira is quite baby-friendly in terms of the logistics, you may still wonder what to expect from the overall experience of travelling with a baby here.

Again, everyone will surely have very different experiences. In general, just be mindful that what you may find interesting in Madeira may not at all be what your little one finds interesting!

You may be eager to get to that panoramic viewpoint while your baby is utterly enraptured by some pebbles in the car park.

Depending on your child’s age(s), having a quiet and peaceful meal on an outside terrace could be a challenge. When we visited, our daughter couldn’t stop seeing Madeira as one giant playground, especially wherever there were any stairs to climb. (There are a lot of stairs in Madeira… honestly a few more than our hearts desired given we had a baby obsessed with climbing them non-stop!)

Unless they’re still very young and happy to sleep in a carrier most of the time (e.g. up to 4-5 months), travelling with a baby definitely has a different rhythm and can be very tiring. It’s a good idea to keep your plans flexible and not be too ambitious with your Madeira itinerary.

Our experiences in Madeira

We first went to Madeira with Isabel when she was 18 months together with another family with a toddler just over 2 years old. It was a lovely experience (just a little tiring at times!).

We stayed in this wonderful holiday home in São Vicente, which has a fully enclosed garden with some stunning views of the valley. This accommodation proved to be amazing as the children could play in the garden without any worries. It also has a crib available and even some toys and books in the living room. 

We like staying in an apartment or holiday home rather than a hotel room, as having multiple rooms means your baby can sleep while you can still have the lights on in the other room.

We were usually able to do at least one or two activities each day. Madeira is great for taking short walks, driving between villages, and having lunch with some epic sea views. If you time things well, the little ones can nap in the car while you drive around after lunchtime. 

Do keep in mind that the mountainous terrain isn’t always ideal and a stroller will be of limited use in some places. When Isabel was 5 and 8 months old we did some trips to Spain and Italy (e.g. Bilbao and Florence) where there was more flat terrain and many museums we could visit at a relaxed pace. Exploring these destinations may have been slightly easier, though the incredible Madeiran landscapes will easily make up for any minor additional challenges.

Older toddlers or kids

We’ll have to update the blog when Isabel is a little older and have more experiences to share, but if you plan to travel with a toddler or young child in Madeira, you will have some more options for activities. 

Some hotels around Funchal have a kids’ club where they will be looked after and entertained while you can catch some rest. The minimum age for these kids’ clubs is usually 3 years.

Dolphin- and whale watching can be a very memorable adventure for kids, there is a water park near Santa Cruz, an aquarium in Porto Moniz, and many cable cars that will be exciting for them to ride. If they’re old enough, you can even go sea kayaking or SUP. We look forward to trying this out with our daughter in the future and will report back when we do!

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