A guide to things to do in Madeira

The island of Madeira exudes with exotic greenery and activities where you can get into this lush landscape. Located southwest of Portugal, and known for its sub-tropical climate, it offers a wonderful environment abundant with fantastic flora and fauna, banana plantations and fruit groves, plus an incredibly rare laurel forest.

Take a cable car to the top of Monte

Madeira is a stunning mountainous island that began life as a volcano. And perched on a hill above the capital, Funchal, Monte is a village that can be reached by cable car, stretching up from the Atlantic Ocean. The seven-seater cable cars will take you six kilometres up to Monte, which was once a health resort for European high society. The 15-minute ride passes hillsides abundant with banana plantations, fruit trees and vineyards, and as you exit the stop at the top, you can purchase a souvenir photo.

A thrilling ride back down on a toboggan sled

Once you’ve explored Monte – an area with a rich history and home to the oldest church in the region – the most exhilarating way to get back down is on a wicker toboggan sled with wooden runners. This isn’t a fad, it goes back to the 19th century and was the original means of transport down to the capital Funchal. The toboggans are driven by two carreiros – men dressed in white with straw hats and thick-soled shoes, which they use for brakes. Beware, the toboggans travel quite fast for two kilometres along windy roads until they stop in the suburb of Livramento. Hold on tight!

Be in awe of the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

There are two stops with the cable car, one is Monte, and the other one will take you to Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. Madeira boasts a gorgeous sub-tropical climate and these incredible gardens house 100,000 species of plants, and the largest collection of cycad plants in the world. The gardens are set against fountains and lakes with peacocks and swans roaming freely. While in among the flora and fauna you’ll also discover the Monte Palace Museum, boasting wonderful sculptures and a fantastic collection of minerals sourced from around the world.

UNESCO site Madeira's Laurel Forest

Laurisilva of Madeira is thought to be the largest forest of its kind in the world. Approximately 10,000 years ago, laurel forest began to disappear from Europe and the Mediterranean because of climate change. But, as temperatures began to drop elsewhere, Madeira’s unique sub-tropical climate ensured the survival of this species of tree.

Thousands of hectares of woodland can be found around the mountains, valleys and ravines in the north covering approximately 22 per cent of the island’s landscape. And a large portion is at altitudes of between 300 metres and 1,300 metres. You can meander through the trees and fabulous flora and fauna on an escorted levada walk, a real must-see on your Portugal holidays.

The levada paths and walks

Madeira is known for its intriguing levada paths that twist around the mountains. The levadas are an extensive system of mini-canals that distribute water from the rainier north part of the island to the drier and sunnier south. They cover a total distance of 2500 kilometres and date back to the 16th century. You can follow the levadas’ maintenance paths that not only offer the opportunity to get up close to the laurel forests, but the views are breathtaking and it’s a great way to exercise. There are trails to suit every ability and desire and you can choose from exclusively mountain, forest, seaside trails, or even mix it up.

The football club where Cristiano Ronaldo started out

You can’t book a package holiday to Madeira and not visit their premier league football club C.D. Nacional where Cristiano Ronaldo kicked a ball around as a child. He was born in a neighbourhood of Funchal and the club are very proud of his early association with them, no doubt crediting his super status to their own professionalism. In honour of their most famous player they named their youth training facilities ‘Cristiano Ronaldo Campus Futebol’. If you really want to get into the spirit of this wonderful area, you could buy one of their football tops to wear while tobogganing your way down from Monte.