Madeira has been referred to as the Hawaii of Europe due to its volcanic landscape, lush greenery, black sand beaches, and amazing waterfall hikes. I can confirm that the islands are quite similar, and visitors to this North Atlantic Ocean island will not be disappointed. These are some of the best things to do in Madeira for all ages.
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Where is Madeira?
Madeira is a group of four Portuguese islands located off the North African coast. Madeira island and Porto Santo are populated, but the other two islands (Selvagens and Desertas) are not. The size of Madeira makes it possible to explore the whole island in two days, but I’d recommend a longer stay.
It’s easy to reach the island’s main airport, Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport (aka Funchal Airport), from mainland Portugal. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes direct from Lisbon, and two hours direct from Porto.
What is the best month to visit Madeira?
The weather is warm year-round, but the best time to visit Madeira is from June through to September. Try to avoid the peak summer break if you can. During the summer months the temperatures range from 50 to 65° F.
What to do in Madeira with kids
The main attractions of the island include Levada walks, basket rides, lava pools and water sports. There’s something for everyone here. I vacationed with family ranging in age from 60 to 18 months, and we all found things to do together and separately.
1. Explore Funchal Botanical Gardens
The first place on my list is the beautiful gardens at the top of the mountain in Funchal. Madeira botanical garden is perfect for nature lovers, as long as you don’t mind heights! I’ll talk about how to get there and back in a moment.
If you love nature you can look up which flowers you can expect to see on the garden’s website. Whatever season you choose, you will find lots of colorful displays and layouts to enjoy at different levels. There are incredible views of Funchal from the gardens so make sure you take them all in.
If all of that exploring makes you hungry, stop off at the Cafe Teleferico do Jardim Botanico for a drink and a bite to eat.
2. Go on a cable car ride
If you want to visit the gardens and aren’t afraid of heights, the cable car is the best way to get up the mountain. Make sure you choose a clear day so you can fully appreciate the spectacular views!
There’s no need to book ahead of time so you can be flexible about which day you go. You can also get the cable car back down the mountain, however, there’s a better way!
The cable cars and the top of the mountain are stroller friendly, so it’s a great activity for all of the family. It takes a while to get up as it’s long and steep, so consider bringing snacks or playing “I Spy” games along the way.
3. Take a wicker basket ride
This is such a unique experience! The wicker toboggan ride down the mountain! That’s right, two men dressed in boater hats will push you down most of the mountain in a wicker basket!
The queues can get long but they are worth the wait. There are two people to a basket and little ones can sit on laps. So essentially there’s quite a young age limit. Once you get to the bottom of the route you can either walk the rest of the way down or get a taxi from the taxi stand.
Tip: If you are traveling with young children they usually let you skip to the front of the queue.
Tip two: Even if the queue looks long, it usually goes quickly once the vans bring the baskets and men from the bottom of the route back to the top.
4. Go shopping at the Mercado dos Lavradores
If you are looking for fun things to do in Funchal, and you’re renting a house, you must visit the Funchal farmers market. In the city center, you will find fresh produce, bananas, nuts, zucchini, whatever you need, they will have it. Ninety percent of the produce sold here is from the island.
Wouldn’t it be great to pick up locally grown fruit and vegetables to make a Portuguese family feast on the final night of your vacation?
Tip: Get there nice and early, and try to go on a Friday when there are the most vendors.
5. Head out to sea on boat trips
There are a lot of opportunities to explore the Atlantic Ocean on catamarans and bottomless boats when staying on Madeira. However, I’d recommend the pirate ship, especially for families with young children.
Set sail along the coast of Madeira in search of whales and dolphins! It’s also very educational, as the most popular pirate ship cruise is on the Santa Maria de Colombo which is a replica of Christopher Columbus’s flagship.
If you’re traveling with a large group it could be cost-effective to hire a private boat. A private tour for 8 people, a mix of adults and children, averages at around $90 per person for a 2.5-hour cruise including drinks.
6. Take a Levada walk
Levadas are one of the signature features of the island of Madeira. A Levada is a water channel built by the locals to move water around the island to areas with less rainfall.
There are many walks and plenty of tour companies to choose from. Another option is to rent a car. However, parking is extremely limited and incredibly popular. You can choose from short, half-day walks to long walks that can take a whole day including travel.
If you have the energy and like walking, I would recommend the 25 fountains tour. It is one of the best hikes on the island. it’s not extremely tiring, there were 8-10-year-olds in our group.
The tour takes you past a huge waterfall and then down to another smaller yet equally magnificent one, that is made even more special by the extra fountains coming out of the rock.
Tip: Ask the tour operator for recommendations based on length and skill level.
7. Visit the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum
If you have any soccer fans in the group, don’t miss the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum. The museum also has a hotel and restaurant, as well as the famous statue outside, which is more famous for looking unlike him, than like him.
At the museum, you can see photos and memorabilia from his childhood, all the way up to the more recent years. It houses trophies from several leagues and his golden boot.
8. Have an off-road adventure with a Jeep safari tour
If you are looking for adventure Madeira is full of it, and where better to start than with a 4×4 trip, reaching places you never would in a regular car?
For large families, I’d recommend looking through Viator. You’ll find plenty of options that are part 4×4, part swimming, part hiking, whatever combination you are looking for, you’ll find it.
There is so much greenery and forests on the island, this is truly the only way to explore them! Most tours go to the northwest of the island, but if you’d rather go elsewhere have a chat with your hotel about options.
9. Go swimming in lava pools
This was the only thing on my to-do list that we didn’t do, which is all the more reason to go back!
These natural swimming pools were created after volcanic eruptions. Sadly, Madeira has no sandy beaches, but it does have these beautiful natural pools on the northwest side of the island in Porto Moniz.
I would recommend taking a private tour, or a taxi, if it is within your budget. Group tours don’t tend to stay too long at the pools, and if you take a private tour, you can make the most of the pools once tourist leave.
There’s also a Madeira aquarium in town, so you can enjoy a full day out.
10. Head to a local water park
The Funchal Aqua Park has something for everyone, tiny slides for very young children, giant water slides for older teens and adults, and everything in between.
It’s not very big, so I’d recommend taking a half day to go, but it is an easy time filler if you have a spare afternoon. When we went it was mostly full of local school children, but the staff have a great system in place to make sure the most popular slides run smoothly.
There are changing rooms and a cafe for lunch and ice creams, there are also loungers and umbrellas but they come at an extra charge. If you’d like to hire one just ask at the front desk when you buy your ticket.
11. Try some local water sports
Even though there aren’t any sandy beaches on Madeira, there are plenty of opportunities for water sports.
Coast side hotels usually have access to the water via stairs, or by jumping in from the rocks! Madeira WaterSports is based in Funchal and has everything from jet skis and kayaks to flyboards and parasailing.
The minimum age for parasailing is six years old, so if you’ve some brave, adventure-hungry children in your group, this is one for them to try!
12. Blandy’s Wine Lodge
Last but not least is my bonus adult suggestion. If you have an afternoon free from the children, this is what you should do.
The Blandy family plays a huge role on the island and are a very important part of its history. Madeira wine is a fortified wine, like Port, and goes great with dessert. So if you’re into sweet wine this tour only takes an hour and is in the center of Funchal.
The first part of the tour takes you through the family history, the wine-making process and the small museum. Afterward is the tasting, and what you get depends on what you book.
Tip: You can also buy bottles of wine to pick up from the airport on your way home.
So there you have my list of things to do in Madeira with kids (and one without!). Let us know if you’ve ever been to this beautiful island, and if so, what did you enjoy doing most?
About the author: Sian is a London based writer and travel enthusiast. She works as a Campaign Manager in the education industry, and eats, sleeps and breathes travel in her spare time.
Her love for travel and adventure began in 2009 when she went quad biking through the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Since then she has traveled to a number of countries, searching out unique spots and activities wherever she goes.
In the last year she has been to Portugal, Berlin and Madeira and hopes to visit Jamaica next.
Europe Travel Tips
Book Your Flights
You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.
Book Your Accommodation
We regularly use Expedia.com and Hotels.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.
Book Your Transportation
For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service.
When traveling in Europe, we use AutoEurope to make our bookings. They find the best rates and allow you to compare different car rental agencies. Europcar is another option.
If you would prefer to travel by train in Europe we recommend Eurail who offers discounted packages for rail travel.
Book Your Tours and Travel Photos
We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages.
If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Both are worthwhile investments.
Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours.
One of our favorite things to do annually is take photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threat or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master to find the best policy for your group.