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Discovering Madeira as a Family

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Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Given the flood of questions about our relocation to Portugal, I’ve taken the plunge and launched a second blog titled ‘The American Family in Portugal’. Join us as we share our journey and insights into expat life in this beautiful country!

Even though we’ve lived in Portugal for two years now, we just got around to visiting the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira last summer. Boy, were we shocked! We absolutely fell in love with Madeira. Within a few days, we were looking up properties for sale and wondering if our kids would move there!

For real, though… we’ve visited nearly 50 countries as a family of seven, and Madeira tops our list of places we can’t wait to return to. It’s like a Portuguese Hawaii. We’ve also visited Portugal’s other set of islands, the Azores, and loved them too.

Truth be told, the water is not as warm as Hawaii in either of the Portuguese island locations, and there are not as many sandy beaches. Still, being only a 45-minute plane trip from Lisbon, we hope to visit many times more in the future.

Madeira is a beautiful island destination with much to offer for families with kids.

Cruising the Madeira waters with kids

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Where Is Madeira?

  • Madeira Islands are off the coast of Africa and consist of three islands: Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas.
  • Madeira is the most visited island; and the capital is Funchal, on the southern coast.

Why Visit Madeira With Kids?

Besides its beautiful waters, lush valleys, and amazing coastlines, Madeira makes a great family destination for many reasons:

  • Madeira is very safe. Like mainland Portugal, which is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, Madeira is one of the safest locations to visit.
  • Mild weather draws tourists all year. The island is made of mountains, with steep cliffsides everywhere, and the occasional cloud cover lends a romantic feel to the island.
  • The islands are relatively small, and you won’t spend your vacation driving long hours to see the sights.
  • If you are on a budget, there are many free or cheap outdoor activities to do with kids, such as hiking or visiting the natural pools.
  • Madeira hosts many cultural events, festivals, holiday celebrations and more. It’s easy to find things to do in Madeira.
It’s fun to start the day at Enotel Lido’s outdoor pool

Getting Around Madeira With Kids

  • We recommend getting a rental car in Madeira. Our big family was able to rent a 9-passenger van, and we loved driving around the island.
  • If you don’t want to rent a car, I’d recommend an all-inclusive resort in downtown Funchal. Enotel Lido is perfect. Taxis from the airport are easy to find.
  • Madeira also has a reliable and cheap public bus system. You can pay the driver to board, but have euro coins and smaller bills handy.

Best Things To Do in Madeira With Kids

Encounter the animals in Madeira for a day

Visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden

  • This botanical garden has so much to offer! It is home to over 100,000 species of plants. You can see exotic plants, waterfalls, flamingos, and sculptures, making it an enchanting place for kids to explore and learn about nature.
  • We loved having fresh piña coladas in pineapples, taking in the views, and exploring the gardens. Our kids loved the oriental garden and the walking paths behind the waterfall at the pond near the bottom.
  • The garden is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are around 13€ for adults, and kids are free.
Capturing more views of Madeira Island aboard a cable car

Take a Cable Car Ride in Madeira With Kids

  • Madeira boasts seven cable cars! We took two of the main ones: The Funchal Cable Car and the Monte Cable Car. Both end in roughly the same spot (just about a 10-minute walk apart). If you want to combine it with the sled ride, choose the Monte Cable Car.
  • The Monte Cable Car offers breathtaking views of the island, and kids will enjoy the excitement of riding in a cable car.
  • Tickets range from 9-13€ for adults (depending on one-way or two-way) and 6.50€ for children. Hours are roughly 9 am to 5 pm, seven days a week.
Toboggan ride is a must!

Sledding Down Madeira Streets in Wicker Toboggans

  • For over 100 years, the people of Madeira have been getting down from the Monte with the use of wicker sleds. Two drivers guide these sleds down with ropes and their feet. It’s a must-do activity in Madeira!
  • It’s not cheap at about 50€ a sled, but if you can afford it, the experience is well worth it.
  • Prepare for long lines, and go early if you can.
  • The ride is 2 km and lasts about 10 minutes.
  • Note that the ride ends about halfway down the mountain. You’ll either need to pay for a taxi back to the top (to take the cable car down if you bought a return ticket), take a taxi to the bottom, or walk down (what we did). The walk is about 30 minutes and not easy, but it is doable. Watch for cars and scooters.
Hitting more of Madeira’s Botanical Gardens

Take in the Madeira Botanical Garden

  • Kids will love exploring this botanical garden as well. Though not as big as the Monte Palace, our boys still loved walking around the trees and playing tag on the grass, and we enjoyed the café for a quick lunch.
  • You can find over 2000 exotic plants and some rare exotic birds in this garden.

Explore the Natural Ocean Pools

  • Madeira has several natural pools carved out of the volcanic rocks along its coastline. The Lido Complex and Porto Moniz Natural Pools are particularly popular for families.
  • Weather greatly influences your visit to the ocean pools. If it is rainy or windy, skip them.
  • Waves are literally coming into the pools at all times, so be careful around the edges. Large waves can be dangerous.
  • Porto Moniz Natural Pools also has a café where you can grab lunch. The little town where the pools are located is also cute and has other places to eat as well.

Visit the Madeira Theme Park

  • This park offers a mix of education and entertainment, teaching kids about the history, culture, and environment of Madeira through interactive exhibits and attractions.

Hike Through Incredible Trails and Valleys

  • Many tourists come to Madeira to hike, as it offers gorgeous, well-kept trails, waterfalls, and wildlife. We enjoyed hiking down 25 Fontes, a massively popular hike with cows to keep us company! This hike starts downhill and offers a bus (for a fee) to get down to the trailhead.
  • Start your 25 Fontes hike early, as it’s popular. The parking lot is large, but it still can run out of space. There are many off-shoot trails, such as the Risco waterfall, but everything is beautiful. Note that the trailhead in the valley offers a public restroom (for a small fee) and has ice cream!
  • Other hikes to consider include Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenco, Levada do Caldeirao Verde, or Vareda do Areeiro. I like using AllTrails to get specific information about each hike, download the map, and read reviews.

Dolphin and Whale Watching in Madeira

  • Madeira hosts many species, including sperm whales, orcas, and several types of dolphins.

Santana Traditional Houses

  • The colorful triangular houses in Santana are a unique sight to see. Kids might find these houses interesting, and you can also explore the nearby theme park, Parque Temático da Madeira, which has replicas of traditional Madeiran homes.

Try Traditional Madeiran Foods

  • If you enjoy wine, you may want to try the Madeira wines, Bolo de Mel, “Espetada” and more.
  • Poncha, a local alcoholic drink with fresh fruit, can also be found throughout the island.
Spending some free time at the park

Santa Catarina Park

This park in Funchal offers a playground, ducks to feed in the pond, and beautiful pathways for a leisurely stroll.

Madeira Toy Museum

  • This small museum has over 20,000 toys to display, from the more traditional to the modern.
  • Kids will love the gift shop, so be prepared to know if you’ll be willing to buy.

Ponta de São Lourenço

This is a stunning nature preserve with walking trails that offer magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s most suitable for older kids who enjoy hiking.

Kids’ Club at Enotel Lido

Madeira Story Centre

  • This interactive museum is a great way to learn about the history and culture of Madeira in a fun and engaging way.
  • You’ll want to have enough time to take everything in and engage with the exhibits, so plan 1-2 hours for your visit.
  • You can find some traditional handiwork in the gift shop to take home as a nice souvenir.

Visit the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum

  • Having lived in Portugal now for a couple of years, we are all familiar with its most famous citizen globally, Cristiano Ronaldo. He is a very popular soccer player and the pride and joy of Portugal. He is also from Madeira! You can visit a museum about him in Funchal, named the CR7 Museu.
  • Even non-football fans can enjoy the museum, but it is geared towards fans of football for sure.
  • You can really get into living the Ronaldo dream by staying at the CR7 hotel!

Be Columbus for a Day on the Santa Maria

  • Have you ever been curious about Columbus and what his journey might have been like? Now you can explore that curiosity, thanks to a Dutchman in the late 1990’s who built a real-life replica of the Santa Maria. It now offers pleasure cruises to Cape Girão, the highest seacliff in Europe.
  • We participated in a 20-minute swimming session that our kids loved. The water was amazing on the day we went, and we could have easily swam for a couple of hours. It was also fun to see the perspective of Cape Girão from the ocean and then see it later from the top!
  • You’ll be served a small sack and drink once the boat is returning, but bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and possibly a book. Outside of the scenery and possible dolphin spotting, kids can also run around the boat pretending to be pirates. Our kids did this for the entire journey.
Pineapple juice on a hot day in Madeira, anyone?

Enjoy the Beaches in Madeira With Kids

  • Madeira might not be known for its sandy beaches, but there are some spots where kids can enjoy the ocean. Calheta Beach is one of the more family-friendly options. It is an artificial beach with beautiful water.
  • Praia Formosa is in Funchal and is accessible for those who are without cars on their trip.

Cabo Girão With Kids

  • Walk on glass over the tallest seacliff in Europe! This is not for the faint of heart. You’ll be 580m above the sea and can enjoy incredible views.
  • Paragliders and BASE jumpers take off from here. Take your kids to watch them from the platform.
  • Note that there is a public bathroom here for a fee, some gift shops, and a cafe. Otherwise, this is a quick stop.

Caves and Volcanic Pools

  • Explore the Grutas e Centro do Vulcanismo caves and the volcanic pools in São Vicente. These unique geological formations can be both educational and exciting for kids.
  • Walk 700 m underground through old basalt lava tubes. This takes about an hour.
Grace taking in more views and soaking in the breezy air of Madeira

Pico do Arieiro Sunrise or Sunset Views

  • High above sea level, you can take in amazing sunrises or sunsets that will take your breath away.
  • Arrive early as it’s very popular, and spots are taken well before sunrise and sunset.
  • Check the weather to make sure there are no clouds blocking your view. There is a webcam to verify the quality of the daily view as well.

Funchal’s Farmers Market

  • The Mercado dos Lavradores is a colorful and lively market where kids can see and taste a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and local products.
  • Mercado dos Lavradores is located right in the old town of Funchal, making it a perfect place to visit in your city.
  • The first floor sells fresh foods, flowers, fish, and other fresh produce, while the second floor sells dried fruits and souvenirs.

Other Things To Do in Madeira With Kids

  • Madeira is gifted with great beaches. Get into surfing with a Madeira Island Group Surf Lesson. Pick your surfboard and learn how to ride in the waves like a pro. We’ve tried this in Lisbon with kids and enjoyed it!
  • Travelers love this 3D Fun Art Museum for its fun scenarios and optical illusions. Go try it with kids!
Our vacation in Madeira got even more exciting with Enotel Lido’s fun activities and accommodation

Where To Stay In Madeira With Kids

We spent five glorious days at the Enotel Lido, a fabulous all-inclusive resort for families. We’d highly recommend a stay here, but there are other great options as well.

  • Barcelo Funchal Oldtown is a five-star, family-friendly hotel close to Town Square and Funchal Farmers Market. It has an outdoor pool kids can enjoy. Attractions nearby are the Lido Bathing Complex and Madeira Botanical Garden.
  • Saccharum Hedonist Design Resort is a family-friendly hotel by the sea. It has an outdoor pool and children’s pool where the kids can enjoy catching the sunset. Spend free time with little ones in their on-site arcade/game room.
  • Enotel Lido is excellent for (big) families like us! We were hosted here last summer and loved our stay.
  • Do you want to get close to Madeira Beach? Aqua Natura Madeira Hotel is a neighbor to Laje Beach and the Fanal Protected Area. Offering scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing, this hotel is the perfect place to soak up the sun.

Tips for Visiting Madeira as a Family

  • Like mainland Portugal, Madeira gets lots of sun. Remember to wear hats, sunscreen and layers of clothing so you can be prepared for all weather. Rain keeps the island green and can be part of your vacation, too.
  • Cruise ships do port in Funchal. On cruise days, it’s best to avoid Funchal from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the ships are at port. There is an influx of tourists from the ships during that time, so choose days when ships are at the port to explore other parts of the islands.
  • Driving around the island entails some very windy roads. If you have kids that get carsick like we do, pack some sick bags just in case and put them in a place where they can see out the windshield. We also like to put on audiobooks to distract the smaller passengers.

Madeira is just one of Portugal’s gems and has lots to offer. Leave comments about your experience!

Xoxo,

Leslie

Catch great fare deals from Booking.com, Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, or Expedia

Find a family-friendly hotel in Madeira from Booking.com, Expedia, or Vrbo, (we also love Tripadvisor and Hotels.com)

Discover more of Madeira while having fun through exciting activities from GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, or Viator

Need to rent a car to navigate the city? Visit Rentalcars.com.

Get insured while traveling with World Nomads.

Want to have a family photo shoot while traveling in Madeira? Book a professional photographer from flytographer.

Capture your best travel memories in Ljubljana as we do with a GoPro, Sony camera, or our favorite drones: DJI FPV, Air, and Mini

Check out your travel necessities from a comprehensive list of all the 7Wayfinders Travel Must-Haves. Click Here!

Additional Reading

Enotel Lido: An All-Inclusive Family Resort in Madeira, Portugal

Visiting Poça da Dona Beija Hot Springs With Kids: All You Need To Know

The Perfect 5-Day Itinerary With Kids In São Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal

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