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Madeira the Hawaii of Europe - 15 Instagrammable spots & things to do

Located in the Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal and northwest of the Canary Islands, the volcanic island Madeira is like the Hawaii of Europe.

A hidden gem waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers that appreciate breathtaking landscapes, viewpoints and unique experiences.

Natural pool of Seixal - Madeira
Natural pool of Seixal

While situated near Africa, this Portuguese archipelago is actually part of Europe, and has a surprisingly big range of photogenic spots.

Regardless, Madeira is highly underrated and still lesser-known to most, in my experience.

That's why I was happy to explore more of this 'Pearl of the Atlantic' last month, after my first visit 6,5 years ago, which already impressed me.

National Park of Madeira

Retirees & hikers paradise

With its year-round mild subtropical climate, beautiful scenery, and relaxed atmosphere Madeira is mostly popular with those seeking a peaceful retirement or a leisurely holiday and some winter sun.

Avid hikers also know their way to the island already, as the extensive hiking trails (levada's) are one of the island's most unique features.

Levada in the north - Madeira
Levada trail in the north

And the scenic walks, gardens, and cultural attractions make it popular among seniors. But still quite underestimated by a younger target audience, while it has so much more to offer!

The main island of Madeira is known for its volcanic landscapes, colorful flora, and charming villages, with only few sandy beaches. While Porto Santo, its smaller counterpart, has long stretches of golden sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Funchal harbor Madeira
Funchal beach & boulevard

How to get to Madeira?

Madeira has an international airport with regular flights from Europe and beyond. From cities like Lisbon, Porto, London, Frankfurt, as well as some destinations in Africa, you can fly here directly. There are also ferry services available from mainland of Portugal, but flying is generally the fastest and most convenient option.

Funchal city Madeira

From the Netherlands Transavia flies from Amsterdam directly to Funchal 3 times a week, in under 4 hours.

Instagrammable photographer’s hotspot

Madeira's unique combination of volcanic landscapes, lush vegetation, and coastal beauty makes it a photographer's paradise. Easy to explore and very diverse with an abundance of spectacular viewpoints.

Let me convince you through my ultimate 1 week itinerary and travel guide. Fully based on my recent 6-day trip with Visit Madeira, including many photogenic spots, all pinned in below custom Google Map.

It also includes several restaurants, hotels and wineries, about which I will share more info in my next blog.

And for each Instagrammable spot below I'm happy to give you more info and tips based on my own experience, complemented with many of my own pictures:

Madeira, the Hawaii of Europe - 15 most Instagrammable spots & things to do

1. Cable Car Funchal

Departing from the boulevard of Funchal, a ride on the cable car in the capital is a must!

For just €18 p.p. for a roundtrip, €9 for children up to 14, and free for kids under 6 years, this scenic ride will take you up to Monte in just 15 minutes.

The ride is quite convenient with a maximum of 6 people per cabin. This way you can easily enjoy panoramic views over the city and the surrounding coastline, while ascending to Monte, where even more beauty can be found.

Funchal harbor & beach Madeira

2. Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

To me this was a real hidden gem! The lush beauty of the palace and tropical gardens felt like a botanical wonderland, with no less than 70,000 m2, filled with exotic plants, tranquil lakes, and ornate tile work.

You can easily wander around here for hours, see the palace, Chinese gardens, get lost between the foliage, enjoy the ponds and waterfalls, visit several exhibits and admire the unique collection of traditional tiles, dating back to the 15th and 16th century.

The contrast of tropical plants, with birds roaming freely, against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, creates an idyllic setting for photography enthusiasts. Accessible for just €15 p.p. and free for kids under 15 years old!

3. Dolphin Catamaran Tour with VMT Madeira

This responsible tour company offers dolphin and, in season, whale watching tours by catamaran. On a tranquil 3 hour boat ride you will depart from Funchal to glide over the sea for about an hour, after which you will almost certainly witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

A breathtaking sight, and very photogenic with Madeira or Porto Santo in the background.

Dolphin tour VMT Madeira

VMT will make sure not to bother the animals, as they approach them quietly and will not get too close. The company is awarded with a blue flag for eco-tourism and sustainability of marine biodiversity, therefore you are assured of a responsible tour when booking with this sustainable tour company.

VMT guarantees dolphin sightings on their tour and if not seen during your trip, they even offer a 2nd tour for free, with lifetime guarantee!

4. Camara de Lobos

Discover this picturesque fishing village, immortalized by the renowned artist Winston Churchill long ago. And easy to combine with a visit to the spectacular Cabo Girão.

The colorful boats bobbing in the harbor and quaint streets lined with traditional houses provide plenty of opportunities for capturing that true authentic Madeiran charm. 

Here you will also find 2 unique local restaurants, perfect for sunset dinners, of which I will share more in my hotel & restaurants blog.

Camara de Lobos harbor Madeira

5. Ponta do Sol & waterfalls

This tranquil village is located on the southwest coast and known for its sunny climate, with the most sun hours on the island.

A sleepy town with a nice pebble beach, however the lush surroundings of banana and sugar cane plantations and several waterfalls by the road make it truly interesting.

Ponta do Sol beach Madeira

I indicated 3 of these waterfalls on my Google map, of which the most well-known, especially on Instagram, is the Waterfall of the Angels. This stream literally cascades on the coastal road, creating a unique and Instagrammable sight.

This road can be barred from time to time, as rocks fall down here quite often. Therefore remember that if closed, you can walk to the falls in about 10 minutes.

6. Typical Madeiran houses in Santana

Step back in time in this charming village in the north, famous for its iconic triangular houses with thatched roofs. Against the backdrop of verdant hillsides and tropical flowers, these traditional dwellings, which now mainly house shops, offer a glimpse into Madeira's rich cultural heritage.

7. Fanal Forest

This woodland of enchanting beauty is shrouded in mist and mystery. It can be reached by car in about 1 hour from Funchal.

The forest has been listed as Unesco site for its centuries old Til forest with ancient Laurissilva trees, dating back to even before the discovery of Madeira, making a unique sight.

The area has its own ecosystem creating fierce weather conditions, changing by the hour. Unfortunaly we did not have mist during our visit, which this area is famous for on Instagram. We did however have much wind, which made 1 hour of exploring quite enough. But with its extensive walking trails you can easily wander around here for hours.

Towering ancient trees, moss-covered boulders, and winding trails create a fairytale-like ambiance that is perfect for capturing those Instagrammable shots.

8. Levada & Miradouro dos Balcões

To get to this viewpoint you can follow one of the easier levadas on the island: the PR11 Ribeiro Frio, to get to the plateau of dos Balcões in about an hour.

These narrow irrigation channels crisscross the island's rugged terrain, lined by hiking trails, leading to the most beautiful spots on Madeira.

This particular trail goes to Miradouro dos Balcões, a nice, yet small viewpoint, overlooking lush valleys. Small birds come here to forage and even eat out of your hand, if you're lucky.

Do note: the small plateau can get quite busy, so come before 10 am or during lunch time to get this place all to yourself for the best shots!

9. Pico do Arieiro

The third-highest peak of the island, easily accessible by car. This was my second visit and each time we were rewarded with impressive views of jagged cliffs and endless horizons.

Come early in the morning if you want to walk above the clouds, a majestic sight with the golden sunrise. Or find it shrouded in mist, while, as unpredicatable as the micro-climates on Madeira are, the views and circumstances will always be different.

From 1,818 meters height you can see the Mountainous Massif with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. And whether you follow the levada or just go to the main viewpoint, like I did, the dramatic landscape and views offer endless photo opportunities.

10. National Park & north coast exploring with Green Devil Safari

An off-road adventure with this tour company is a must to explore the untamed beauty of Madeira's central plateau, Paul da Serra, via the island’s longest straight road, to the rugged north coast.

With our private guide we explored several areas and the National Park of Madeira, only accessible by jeep. Driving over rugged trails, past rocky cliffs, with many local cow encounters, while discovering hidden waterfalls and panoramic viewpoints that showcase the island's raw natural beauty so well.

Our tour was finalized with a wine tasting and traditional lunch at the Quinta do Barbusano winery and vineyard, which was truly unique and only available upon request.

Check Green Devil Safari for all details and to book your own tour, which should not be missed!

11. Waterfalls & Natural Pool of Seixal

Discover the secluded charms of this coastal village, renowned for its natural swimming pools carved into volcanic rock. From tranquil lagoons to the rugged coastline, Seixal should be on your route for those Instagrammable shots!

Secret tip: Adjacent to the tunnel you will find Cascata da Ribeira da Pedra Branca, along a quiet coastal road, where you can get shots like this:

12. Natural Pools of Porto Moniz

Immerse yourself in the crystal-clear waters of 2 natural volcanic pools, where the azure sea forms a stunning contrast with its rugged coastal landscapes.

Here you can go for a refreshing dip amidst the Atlantic waves, with stunning views all around.

13. Ribeira da Janela

Follow the winding paths on the north coast to discover the emerald valleys, pristine streams, and towering cliffs of Ribeira da Janela.

At the top you will get spectacular views over the coastline and find the Instagrammable swing.

Swing of Ribeira da Janela - north Madeira

While, when you drive down to the coast of Miradouro Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela you get spectacular volcanic beach views like this:

Miradouro Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela beach - Madeira

14. Ponta de São Lourenço

Experience the rugged beauty of the easternmost point of Madeira, a 9 km long peninsula where sheer cliffs plunge into the deep blue sea.

Here you can hike the PR8, a 6 km round trail which can be accessed for a small fee, through which you can capture the wild beauty of this rugged natural site on foot.

Drive to the north side of the peninsula for even more views over the rugged coastline from Caniçal viewpoint and Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto, easily reached by car.

Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto - east Madeira
Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto in the east

15. Miradouro do Guindaste

This secluded viewpoint in the north will reward you with panoramic vistas of Madeira's rugged coastline and distant horizons from the glass viewing plateau.

Whether shrouded in mist or bathed in sunlight, the ever-changing scenery here offers endless inspiration for photographers wanting to capture the island's essence.

North side of Madeira

Although this was my second visit, Madeira seems to amaze me every time, and I can't wait to revisit to explore even more! Next time I would also love to go to Porto Santo, since the ferries did not run during the low season.

You can easily visit this small island on a day trip. Reached by boat in 2,5 hours, to discover the pristine beaches, azure waters, and rugged cliffs of this small sister island.

Madeira's rugged terrain, lush forests, and dramatic coastline make it a haven for nature enthusiasts and photographers. From towering peaks to hidden waterfalls and breathtaking viewpoints, each corner of the island offers a new perspective with an abundance of photo opportunities.

Additionally, Madeira's rich cultural heritage, charming villages, and warm hospitality complement the island's authenticity.

City of of Seixal - Madeira
Seixal city in the north

So grab your camera, pack your sense of adventure, and go on a journey to discover the photogenic paradise that is Madeira, the Hawaii of Europe.

You can read even more about my experiences on Madeira on this blog from 7 years ago Madeira - ultimate city stay, with many more tips, incl. my boutique hotel stay in Funchal.


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