Here's Why Madeira Should Be At The Top Of Your 2024 Travel List

Go for the wine, stay for the stunning views.

madeira portugal travel guide

Fans of tropical island holidays are no doubt familiar with Caribbean hotspots such as the Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and the Dominican Republic. Looking to expand your travel horizons in 2024? Consider a sun-drenched destination with high cliffs and a lower tourism profile that’s a bit further from home.

Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal that lies off the northwest coast of Africa, is perhaps best known for its namesake wine. But perfect pours are just the beginning of its myriad charms. Volcanic beaches, green peaks, and botanical gardens entice nature lovers. The warm, subtropical climate makes it a fantastic year-round destination (and particularly well-suited to escape the winter blues). Whether you’re more into cycling, levada hikes, or surfing, it's ripe for outdoor action.

Beyond the outdoorsy stuff, the culinary scene has started gaining more attention recently thanks to a mix of seaside shacks that grill limpets plucked straight from the tides and fine-dining restaurants. And there are some wonderful hotels with stellar service and sea views for when it’s time to kick back. Thanks to direct flights between John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Madeira Cristiano Ronaldo Airport (FNC) operated by SATA Azores Airlines, it’s easier than ever for U.S. travelers to visit!

If you’re ready to plan an epic escape to Madeira, scroll on for the best places to eat, drink, stay, and play in this North Atlantic Ocean oasis.

What To Do


Madeira is an archipelago that’s comprised of four islands. The largest, also called Madeira, draws the bulk of tourists with its UNESCO-protected laurel forests, adventure, and wine. It’s easy to navigate the capital, Funchal on foot. Starting from the harbor, it’s nice to walk to many tasting rooms and some of the smaller gardens. To reach the famous flora and flamingos at Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, you’ve got a few options. It’s possible to arrange a car. A way more fun way to get there is to ride the scenic cable car. Speaking of thrilling modes of transport, adrenaline junkies won’t want to pass up the chance to do a toboggan ride on a traditional wicker basket.

One of the most popular outdoor activities for visitors to do in Madeira?

Walks along the levadas — the system of historic irrigation canals that traverses the island — which vary in length and difficulty. Cycling paths also wrap around the lush hillsides. To see a host of scenic attractions, namely Cabo Girão Skywalk, Fanal Forestry Station, and Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools, in one fell swoop, book a full-day private Jeep safari with Discovery Island Madeira.

The beaches on the main island of Madeira are volcanic in origin. That means pebbles or black sand. Some of the most dramatic and cinematic include cliff-backed Prainha do Seixal and the larger Prainha do Caniçal. If you’re looking for golden crescents worthy of a tourism brochure, plan a day trip to Porto Santo to hit the sun-splashed shores of Ponta da Calheta. There are few ways to reach the tiny, 16-square-mile island. Most folks opt for the ferry — which boats old-school cruise ship-level amenities such as a game room, cafeteria, and movie theater. The journey lasts about two and a half hours. In a pinch for time? The flight between Madeira to Porto Santo takes barely 25 minutes.

Where To Eat & Drink


Madeira is an island with a rich culinary and agricultural heritage. It’s a great place to savor both Portuguese classics like sizzling garlic shrimp and octopus rice as well as regional specialties including limpets, black scabbard fish with banana, grilled meat skewers and bolo do caco (a circular-shaped bread that’s typically served with garlic and butter).

Start the day eating your way through the assortment of tropical fruit at Mercado dos Lavradores. It’s right by Peixaria no Mercado if you want to go for a fresh fish lunch afterward. Casal da Penha and Taberna Ruel are other top-rated picks in Funchal.

Accessible via cable car, Fajã dos Padres is tucked away between organic banana plants and a peaceful pebbly beach. Sit down at one of the alfresco tables, order a pot of seafood soup, and watch the waves lap the shore.

While some of the best food on the island comes out of the kitchens of low-key, family-run establishments, some elevated eateries are upping Maderia’s fine-dining bonafides. Michelin-starred William Restaurant at Reid’s Palace celebrates the flavors of the island in a sophisticated setting that beckons (though doesn’t demand) guests to whip out breezy flower dresses and seersucker blazers. For an elevated dining experience that honors the traditions of Madeira in a cool, contemporary way, book a table at Galáxia Skyfood at the Savoy Palace. It’s also a stellar spot to go for a cocktail. Ditto goes for Vimes Bar, where patrons can even learn the secrets to making poncha from skilled bartenders.

Where To Stay


While you'll find many lovely places to stay around the island of Madeira, selecting a home base in or near Funchal definitely allows for the most ease of exploration.

Savoy Palace, part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, is an urban resort with swimming pools, sunning terraces, multiple restaurants, and a gorgeous spa. Bookings at The Reserve, an exclusive new hotel concept within the larger property, come with VIP airport pickup, a dedicated guest experience assistance to cater to your every whim (unpacking service, anyone?), and access to the Jacarandá Club for breakfast as well as a solarium with infinity and jet pools. And, of course, the well-appointed suites featuring separate living and sleeping spaces, sea-view balconies, and bathrooms with showers and soaking tubs are equally fabulous.

Luxury lovers will certainly enjoy Reid's Palace, A Belmond Hotel, Madeira. Perched atop a cliff overlooking Funchal Harbour, this five-star refuge has been treating guests to the finer things for over a century. Suites dressed in floral fabrics, embroidered linens, and dark wood furniture reflect a sense of timeless refinement. A Michelin-starred restaurant, posh afternoon tea, and mud masks and massages in a private treatment room add to the affluent ambiance.

For nature and tranquility without sacrificing accessibility, check into Quinta da Casa Branca a halcyon hideaway and member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World that’s tucked away in a quiet corner but still walkable to downtown Funchal. Awash with grassy lawns, giant trees, and flower-framed pathways, the property is super relaxing and quiet — so it’s ideal for couples and travelers who value serenity. There’s an outdoor pool, spa, and restaurant that puts out a delicious breakfast spread. Guests can choose to snooze in historic style in the manor house or opt for the contemporary charms of the more modern garden rooms.