A family holiday to Madeira is a wonderful way to experience a destination that is a little more rugged than your usual island getaway.
Madeira is a beautiful volcanic island in the Atlantic Sea. It neighbours the Canary Islands to the South and is directly East of Casablanca in Morroco. However, Maderia is nothing like those places. In fact, we think Madeira might be the Atlantic’s version of Hawaii in many respects.
The beautifully temperate climate, the amazing exotic plants and the wild, rocky and exciting terrain make Madeira one for the bucket list – with or without kids! Here’s our pick of 8 of the best things to do on a family holiday to Madeira.
1. Funchal – family holiday to Madeira
Funchal is the beautiful garden city and capital of Madeira. It is situated on the south of the island and because of this, it tends to have the best weather throughout the year (so the locals tell us). This means it’s a great place to base your adventures from when visiting Madeira.
Funchal is simply a gorgeous place to be. The city fans up and out into the mountains from the small stretch of central coastline. This means there’s so much more to the city than what is next to the water.
The views of the thousands upon thousands of terracotta roofs in every direct are extremely pretty. The galleon ships in the dock, the pretty and practical green spaces all along the front and the sheer amount of tropical plants and flowers makes Funchal the perfect place to just hang out and eat ice cream – which we did multiple times. Plus, ice cream is cheap!
I could talk about this place for ages, but instead, here is a list of the best things to do:
- Cristiano Ronaldo statue – this guy makes up a huge part of modern Madeira. The airport is named after him, he has donated millions to help the country rebuild after some natural disasters, he has several properties around the island and he is their ultimate ambassador! The statue is right outside his hotel CR7 and if you are a true fan there is a museum you can have a look around too.
- Santa Catarina Park – a beautiful park just north of the CR7 hotel. The elevated position of the park gives great views out along the water and it’s also a great place to spot all those tropical flowers!
- Forte de São Tiago – Originally a fort built to protect the city, it is now a place to entertain the city. Forte de São Tiago is a great place for swimming too. I would recommend swimming here than the beach along the front as it is much much nicer.
- Funchal Cable Car – wonderful day trip to Monte to be had with the cable car. There are other stops you can add in to the price of your ticket too.
- Shopping and eating – if you wander a road or two back from the front you will find some great shopping and restaurants! The main part of town is around the cathedral.
- Jardim Municipal do Funchal – A great little garden with a small local crafts market most days. Great place to stop for a drink or a picnic!
2. Monte – family holiday to Madeira
The best way to reach Monte is via the cable car in Funchal. You can of course drive or get a taxi, but the cable car is more fun!
The main things to do in Monte are:
- the Monte Palace Gardens
- the church Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora do Monte along with the views from the steps
- Parque Leite Monteiro and, of course,
- the toboggan ride Carreiros do Monte!
Monte Toboggan Ride – family holiday to Madeira
The Toboggan ride isn’t cheap. However, it is something truly iconic to Madeira. It is also great fun.
At the bottom there are taxis on hand to take you back to the top for a flat cost of €10. However, we chose to save our €10 and walked the 2 km back up. I’ll let you decide what is best.
3. Cristo Rei
Cristo Rei is a statue of Jesus Christ and is also known as the Sacred Heart statue.
If i’m honest the statue isn’t very impressive. It’s a bit broken and needs a little bit of TLC. However, there is a lovely walk down to a lookout point with a great few of Funchal around the coast. The coastline is also extremely pretty.
Praia do Garajau – family holiday to Madeira
Once you’re at Cristo Rei the other thing well worth seeing is Praia do Garajau.
To get to this beach you have to take a small, but very steep, cable car ride, which is very inexpensive.
The beach is rocky so take rock shoes, but the water is gorgeous, the cliffs are remarkable and there is a lovely restaurant there. We thought this was certainly one of the best things to do in Madeira with kids (or without them too).
4. Praia de Machico
The beach at Machico is one of the few sandy beaches in Madeira. Although beautiful, this beach is not natural. The sand has actually been imported from North Africa!
Regardless, it’s a wonderful place to spend a day at the beach. The kids can build sand castles, run around the waters edge and spend hours in the waters of this sheltered little bay.
There are food stalls, cafes and restaurants nearby and a major bus station in town.
This means it’s very easy to get a bus here from Funchal, just make sure you get the right bus back. I managed to take us on an extended bus journey in the other direction on the way home, which was not very welcomed at the end of a busy beach day…. whoopsy.
Praia de Machico is also not far from the airport so you get a great view of all the aeroplanes taking off! When you have two little boys mad on anything that flies, this is a great addition to the day!
5. Santana – family holiday to Madeira
Santana is the home to the traditional Santana houses. These houses date back to the discovery of Madeira and were used as homes on the ground floor and the attic area was used to store agricultural products.
Santana city centre is the best place to see these houses. Some have been transformed into tourist shops, but a couple are still lived in.
Parque Tematico – Santana
One of the things to do in Madeira with kids is Parque Tematico. The park is free to enter and you only pay for what you would like to go on.
The first impression of this place isn’t that great. However, stick with it as it gets better as you walk around it.
This is a great place to see replicas of the traditional Santana house and get to know what they were used for.
There are a few rides to go on that revolve around educating you about Madeira, plus some traditional crafts on display.
There are also play areas, climbing walls and slides – all totally free! If you are looking for something to do with kids this is a great half day out.
6. Canical – Prainha do Caniçal
Prainha do Caniçal is one of the few naturally sandy beaches in Madeira. This beach is so exciting because it has black sand!
There is a little walk down from the road. However, it’s not difficult. I would suggest leaving buggies in the car and walking down. This will be much easier!
7. Ponta do Rosto Lookout Point – family holiday to Madeira
Ponta do Rosto is a popular stop off for tour buses and I can see why. The views are gorgeous and if you have a car it’s well worth a little stop off.
You can also start the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (PR8) walk from here, which looks amazing!
However, we didn’t manage to do this as it is not buggy or little kid friendly. It does looks like one of the best things to do in Madeira so we shall certainly come back when the kids a bigger.
Faial is not far from Santana and Praia do Faial is a beach very popular with the locals.
There are some great views of the coast line, a little lido to use, some fascinating basalt rock formations and a small restaurant called Faial Beach Club that is very very good value. In short, if the locals like it, there is usually a good reason why!
Things we would do next time
Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (PR8)
This is the cliff walk in Caniçal. We didn’t do this particular walk as our kids at the time were too little. The terrain didn’t look buggy friendly and I didn’t take a baby carrier. A good excuse to go back when the kids are all a bit older!
The levada walks follow the unique water channels that were built to bring fresh water from the north of Madeira to the south of the island. They flow through some of the most gorgeous forest and the walks look amazing. However, again, they are not very buggy friendly. We felt the kids needed to be a little older to get anything out of this.
Seixal is home to another beautiful black sandy beach. We didn’t visit as we simply didn’t have time.
Porto Moniz has natural volcanic swimming pools and is one of the most photographic areas of the island. However, we didn’t think it was the right time to go there with such a small baby. Plus, lots of the beaches and lido around the coastline are very similar to this.