Madeira is a unique archipelago of stunning volcanic islands. Only two, Madeira Island and its neighbour, Porto Santo, are inhabited. Madeira Island is renowned for its wild beauty, with dramatic mountain peaks, semi-tropical forests and seawater pools encircled with walls of lava. You’ll love exploring it on foot, a jeep safari, or even scuba-diving around the coastline.
On a Madeira cruise you’ll find out that towns and villages here have a culture entirely their own. Discover quaint fishing villages, where colourful boats bob in bays surrounded by terracotta-topped houses. Try local delicacies such as Madeira wine, and espetada – grilled beef kebabs skewered on aromatic laurel sticks. Madeira has a lively side, too – its annual Mardi Gras carnival celebration is one of the most vibrant in the Atlantic.
Popular Ports in Madeira
Most ships visiting the Madeira archipelago dock in Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island. Funchal is a picturesque town of whitewashed houses nestled into the slopes of the Central Massif mountains. It’s bursting with colour and culture, renowned for its green spaces and its quirky attractions.
Visit the city’s highest neighbourhood, Monte. Don’t worry, there’s no need to walk up the steep streets – you can take a cable car instead! Slowly rising above the city, looking down on the ocean and the mountains dotted with white houses, is an attraction in itself. What’s more, you can ride back down the steep streets in a wicker toboggan with greased runners, guided by men wearing boaters and white suits. It’s the city’s most unconventional and exciting activity.
Enjoy exploring the Zona Velha, or historic district. Wander down cobbled streets lined with quaint, colourful houses. Traditional meets modern here, as you’ll find some amazing street art and quirky cafés next to local restaurants. Find an outdoor bar where you can enjoy a glass of poncha, a local drink made with citrus juice, honey and brandy.
If you’re after beautiful sandy beaches head to Madeira’s neighbouring island, Porto Santo. This small, unspoilt island is renowned for its five-mile stretch of golden sand, one of the most pristine beaches in Europe. The crystal waters make this a perfect place for scuba diving, too.
The capital of Porto Santo is the small, laidback Vila Baleira. The town is renowned for its delicious cuisine, with a host of local bars and restaurants to choose from. It’s also renowned for being the place where Christopher Columbus resided after marrying his first wife. Visit Casa de Colombo, his former house and now a museum dedicated to his exploration.
What are the best cruise ships for a Madeira cruise?
Although Madeira doesn’t feel touristy, it’s a popular cruise destination serviced by lots of different liners. Here are two ships that will take you there in style, without breaking the bank.
The Marella Explorer is a luxurious ship that will impress you with its high-quality amenities. Adults will love the expansive spa with 11 different lounging areas, including one exclusively for couples treatments. The Veranda, an adults-only lounge area with Balinese day-beds and cocoon chairs, is also a hit. Meanwhile, children will be kept occupied at the Kid’s Club with movie nights, art activities and sports. There’s even childcare available in the evening so you can enjoy a cocktail at the Indigo Bar, which offers panoramic ocean views. Onboard the Marella Explorer you’ll be able to eat food from around the world, including handmade sushi and Italian pizza.
The stylish Marella Dream makes you feel like you’re in a five-star hotel as you relax in your spacious, air-conditioned cabin. But you won’t want to spend all your time in your room, as there’s so much to do on board. There are two outdoor pools, including one just for adults, where you can enjoy lively daytime entertainment, alongside a gym, spa and sauna. Children will be entertained at the dedicated Kids’ Club, and will enjoy the Showtime stage school. There are no shortage of bars and restaurants for dining in, including Kora La, which serves a delicious spread of pan-Asian cuisine.
Shore Excursion Ideas
These shore excursions will help introduce you to Madeira’s stunning natural beauty, and will enable you to explore different parts of the island.
The stunning island of Madeira is best explored on foot. It has a unique irrigation network, and is criss-crossed with water channels called levadas which carry water from the mountains to the fields and villages in the foothills. Take a guided walk down a footpath that follows the levadas, passing through verdant forest. Chances are you’ll make a stop in the traditional village of Camacha, renowned for its wicker work.
Porto Moniz Natural Pools
Take a trip across Madeira Island to Porto Moniz, a quaint fishing village on the north coast. The town is renowned for its picturesque swimming pools, formed by walls of volcanic rock that the sea naturally flows into. These sparkling turquoise waters are sheltered from the waves, and are perfect for children. Enjoy a local seafood lunch in the nearby town afterwards.
Take a trip to some of Madeira Island’s most beautiful sights. You’ll be driven to the beautiful fishing village of Camara de Lobos, followed by Cabo Girao, a towering cliff that falls sharply into the sea. After that you’ll visit once of the island’s most captivating spots – the viewpoint of Eira do Serrado. From here you can see undulating valley and soaring volcanic peaks, as well as remote villages. Enjoy the awe-inspiring view and the fresh mountain air.
Top ports of call in this destination
- Porto Santo