Exploring Madeira is the stuff of Instagram influencers. This dreamy island has plenty of natural landscapes and picturesque views to see. Many people will choose to rent a car to get around the island, and this is certainly an easy option. But for us, I prefer being driven by a local that knows the roadways and can take us to all the best spots. (However without a car we did need to book an airport transfer – luckily I found one to pre-book and they even had a car seat.)
We choose to book this custom Madeira sightseeing tour to see the sites. We had a private driver that took us all over the east side of the island, and the car included a car seat (just be sure to tell them in advance). For the most part we allowed the driver to dictate our itinerary – they know the island best, after all. But we opted to add in a stop at a levada walk that we had read about (more on that below). In this case I was very glad we opted for a driver, as even he wasn’t completely familiar with this stop and where to park!
The tour picked us up directly from our hotel. We were staying at Savoy Palace, a large luxury hotel perfect for families with little ones. The hotel had a feel of a Caribbean resort, with a giant pool (plus a kids pool) and multiple restaurants on-site, but also walking distance to town. While there was more than enough to keep us entertained at the hotel, a trip around the island was essential to see the unique beauty of Madeira.
Pico do Arieiro – At 1818m, this is the third highest peak on Madeira and offers Instagram-worthy views. This was our first stop and really exemplified what Madeira is known for. We were so high, the car wound through the clouds climbing the mountain to our destination.
Ribeiro Frio was a quick stop in a small town which is along one of the levada walks. We stopped in at John’s Poncha for a glass of poncha, one of the traditional drinks on the island.
“Um caminho para todos” levada walk – Translated as “a path for all” in English, this is the levada walk we added to our itinerary. Levada walks are certainly a must-do in Madeira, but many of them are more of hikes and not ideal for families with small children or any sort of motor disabilities. However this 2 Km trail takes about 45 minutes and offers people with motor disabilities, in a wheelchair, or in our case, walking with a stroller, on a trail that runs along Levada do Caldeirão Verde. There are fences on both sides and the trail is flat making it ideal to walk with small children. It runs along the Levada do Caldeirão Verde terrace, between the Queimadas Forest Park and Pico das Pedras, in the municipality of Santana, through a transitional forest area between Madeira’s natural forest, the Laurissilva.
Avid hikers will likely choose one of the more picturesque walks, but this path was perfect for a quick walk with a stroller to experience the nature and beauty of Madeira. It’s not an out-of-the box stop on the itinerary, so you will want to be sure to talk to the driver and tour company ahead of time!
Santana – This tiny town is an adorable villages with the colorful, triangular houses that are traditional for the region. At the recommendation of our guide, we ate lunch at Restaurante O Colmo, a simple yet delicious little spot that also allows for a photo op with the traditional houses.
North Mills Distillery – Madeira is known for its rum, and a stop at this historic distillery is both educational and a great spot for souvenirs.
Praia de Machico – On our return journey we stopped at this adorable beach town which really showed off how the locals spend their leisure time. This is one of the only sandy beaches on the island, and a picturesque spot to relax in the sun for a bit.
Book a Custom Tour
Schedule a tour in advance which can be customized to your specifications (e.g. like adding an easy levada walk). There’s also an option to add a car seat!
On our last day, we finally made it out to see the city of Funchal. Although the largest city on the island, it still felt like a quaint historic district that blended European and island culture. From our hotel we walked along the waterfront promenade to Zona Velha, or the Old Town.
There are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep anyone entertained. Along the water, there’s even a museum dedicated to Cristiano Ronaldo, paying homage to one of the most famous locals. Once in Zona Velha we stopped in at one of the cafes for some local delicacies.
There’s also cable car in town that will take you to the Botanical Garden or Monte Palace Madeira – where more adventurous travelers can take a traditional wicker toboggan down the hill. (Since I was pregnant and traveling with a toddler, we had to save this activity for next time!)