Funchal is an excellent base if you’re staying in Madeira, and happily, since it only takes about 4 hours to drive around the entire island, you can reach most of the Island’s top destinations from Funchal.
Once you’ve explored Funchal’s quaint streets, mesmerizing botanical gardens, and delightful local eateries, these seven day trips – on land and sea -are a must.
A note on travel
The best way to get around Madeira is by car. This will give you the freedom and flexibility to explore the island on your own time. Alternatively, you can also hail taxis, book private drivers, or utilize public transport systems like buses or Bolt. A guided tour is usually the best way to go for some of these day trips, including whale watching and winery visits. These typically include hotel pick-up or will fetch guests from a central location in Funchal.
Let’s explore seven of the coolest day trips from Funchal!
1. Pico do Ariero
If you’re a hiking enthusiast or simply love the thrill of standing amid the clouds and looking down at the world below, Pico Do Ariero is undoubtedly worth a visit. This is the Island’s third-highest peak and one of the most accessible mountain locations in Madeira.
The site boasts incredible sites with the Miradouro do Ninho viewing point offering some of the best views, especially at sunrise. This is a fabulous spot to stroll through as you take in the jagged, lush landscapes and the captivating landscape of the Island’s eastern coast.
Avid hikers could also opt to hike from Pico do Ariero to Pico Ruivo (the highest point of the island.) However, this is a challenging hike (with steep inclines and dark tunnels.) It’s best to hike with a local guide for added safety! The hike is about 11 km there and back and takes about 4 hours, depending on how long you spend at Pico Ruivo.
2.Dolphin and whale watching tour
Whale and dolphin season is in full swing on Madeira Island between the months of May and September. Visitors can see several notable species during this time, including pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, Bryde’s whales, and sperm whales.
Luckily, there are loads of boat tours available during peak whale-watching season, allowing visitors to get close to these majestic creatures and experience them in their natural habitat. Smaller catamaran tours offer a more intimate experience and often include snacks, beverages, lunch, and snorkeling opportunities.
This is a brilliant way to spend the day at sea, taking in the oceanic landscapes and enjoying an abundance of wildlife.
Side note: If you’re an avid whale-watching fan, you might also love Hermanus, in the Western cape, South Africa.
3. Visit Santa Cruz and Santana
Santa Cruz is one of the island’s oldest towns and houses many historical sites of interest, such as the Santa Cruz Parish Church. There are also some gorgeous beaches here, including Praia das Palmeiras with its rocky shores and fantastical viewpoints, and the charming Machico beach, with its hidden alcove and lush sand.
Visitors can stop off at the colorful village of Santana on their way back to Funchal, marveling at the brightly colored traditional houses with their thatched, triangular rooves. You might also wish to have a stroll around the Parque Florestal das Queimadas gardens, catch a cable car to the Rocha do Navio Nature Reserve, or walk along the famous Levada do Rei aqueduct.
4. Desertas Islands (Baixa da Agulha)
A boat ride to Desertas Islands Nature Reserve is certainly worth a visit if you love nature, seascapes, and rich biodiversity. The area consists of three islands formed from volcanoes and serves as the last refuge for sea lions and an important nesting haven for many species of seabirds.
The Desertas Islands are about 50 kilometers from Madeira, and it takes two hours to reach them by boat. Keen divers will relish in the incredible Marine diversity and immense visibility levels (up to 60 meters). Enjoy the sea lion colony, or spot turtles, parrotfish, rock crabs, and barred hogfish.
There are loads of day trips from Funchal via Catamaran, making this a perfect day trip for those who want to splash in the crystal water and enjoy nature at its finest.
5. Porto Moniz and Volcanic Pools
A trip to the town of Porto Moniz and a dip in the magical volcanic lava pools is an absolute must. The name ‘lava pools,’ however, shouldn’t mistake travelers. These pools were formed centuries ago and have volcanic origin. However, today they contain Atlantic Sea water, meaning they can be a little cold when you’re not visiting during the hot summer months.
The saltwater pools fill up during high tide, offering a generous swimming area of 3800 m² for visitors. There are also changing facilities, a beach-side snack bar, and a car park.
The town of Porto Moniz is also worth a visit after you’ve spent the day lapping up the volcanic pools. Explore its steep mountains, stunning plantations, the Fort of St. John the Baptist, and enjoy the town’s laidback charm.
6. Ponta do Sol
This stunning spot is the sunniest part of the island and is characterized by quaint pastel buildings and the pebbly beach. This is a magical place to catch the sunset with a cocktail in hand or to relax on the beach. It’s also a famed spot for divers, thanks to the many treasures found off the shore.
Those interested in historical architecture can also visit the Church of Nossa senhora da Luz which was built in the 15th century. The many restaurants around Ponta do Sol make it a brilliant day trip for the whole family.
If you’re planning on trying all the local food spots, check out this guide on tipping culture in Portugal.
7.Wine tour and tasting experience
If you’re a wine lover, no trip to Madeira is complete without visiting some of the Island’s famed wine farms. Travelers will experience different wine varieties based on the unique terroir of areas such as Porto Moniz, Câmara de Lobos, and São Vicente. These trips give travelers a real feel of the island and the diverse landscapes that dot the coast.
Madeira is well known for its delicious fortified wine, and many of the wine farms will offer guests an array of delicious varieties. Happily, some fantastic tour operators will take you on a guided tour of Madeira’s whimsical wineries. Usually, these tours include lunch, making them a whole-day culinary affair!
Several of the best winereies in Madeira include Blandy’s Wine Lodge, Henriques & Henrique, Barbeito Madeira, HM Borges, and Pereira d’Oliveira.
There is so much to do on Madeira Island. These day trips will delight anyone with a penchant for history, nature, ocean swims, and wine! If you’ve been to the so-called land of eternal spring, what were your favorite destinations? We would love to hear!