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Why Madeira is a great Family holiday Destination and things to do there!

Madeira is a Portuguese hidden gem which is often overlooked by travellers. Madeira is a beautiful island located of the northwest coast of Africa. 

No matter where you are on the island you will always enjoy stunning views. Madeira is swept with mountains, valleys, rolling lush green hills and banana trees galore.

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We have enjoyed two amazing family holidays to Madeira and will be returning again in the future.

Madeira is a perfect place for a family holiday even from the offset the plane journey had families and Madeiran people returning home not the loads of drunken stag and hen dos loitering the aisles like you get when travelling to places like the Canary Islands. 

We flew with Easy Jet the no thrills airline which I would recommend, as travelling with children can be expensive, so choosing a cheaper airline will save you money. We have flown with Easy Jet a lot and have never had any issues and always had pleasant flights with them. 

We didn’t pay for any hold luggage and took a hand luggage bag each so we kept the cost down, we bought a bottle of sun cream from the airport. Not only did this save money but it saved time on dropping the bags in and then waiting at the baggage reclaim to pick up your cases.

As we do on all our holidays we hired a car from Europcar at the airport, as we love to explore and travel. We wanted to see as much of the island as we could in our short stay. We have used other car rental companies in the past but have always received the best service from Europcar.

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Lucky for us Dino has family in Madeira so we were staying at his amazing Aunties house however there are lots of hotels and guest houses located around the Island and in Funchal, the capital of Madeira.

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As soon as we arrived we sat down on the veranda and gazed upon the view of the hills all around and the distant sea.

My children set about lizard hunting the little scaly creatures were hiding everywhere and darting across the walls. My girls were fascinated and were running around after them trying to catch one. When they had no luck they decided to feed the lizards and got the plastic top of a Pringles lid and started putting dead ants in it. 

When they put it on the side, in my haste I told the girls that the lizards wouldn’t come and eat the ants from their makeshift feeder but to my surprise a little lizard popped his head out of the plants and crept over and started lapping up the ants.

After a lot of perseverance they finally managed to catch a few lizards.

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Things to Do in Madeira

Cable car and Basket Ride

Madeira is famous for the basket ride and since we had told the girls about this and shown them the pictures before we left they could not wait to go on it. With the kids barely containing their excitement we headed off to find the ride. 

The basket rides starts off at Monte which is at the start of the mountains so you have 3 options to get there, 

1. Get a pricey cab, 

2. Drive up there but then you are faced with the problem of walking back up the very long steep hill which is near impossible to climb as an adult, let alone if you have children and 

3. Park in the car park in the center of Funchal and take the cable car to the top of the hill and then get the basket ride back down. The basket ride doesn’t go all the way back to the centre but then you can choose a 15 – 20 minute downhill walk or a taxi or the new tuk-tuks. Of course we opted for the 3rd option.

We got our tickets for the cable car and waited in line watching as the carts came round at a crawling pace as people hurled themselves into the slow moving cart. When are turn came we were lucky that we could all fit into the cart together as there was 7 of us. We all managed to get in and be seated in time for it to begin its accent to the top of the hill. 

I am not going to lie I was very scared on the cable car, especially when it goes over the support poles and it bumps along but I have to admit it was well worth it for the spectacular views of the island and seeing the excitement on the girls faces, they absolutely loved it.

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When you get off the cable car there is a beautiful church that you can go inside for free and admire the beauty of it, you can even climb the stairs to the very top and look out over the landscape with far reaching views over the land all the way to the glistening sea.

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Located at the top is Monte Botanical gardens which there is a charge to get into and sadly we couldn’t afford to do everything so had to give this a miss but maybe next time we will get to visit it.

On the way to the basket ride we passed a local guy selling strawberries in a plastic cup with cream and a finger biscuit from the back of his car. I think it was €2 a cup, we were a bit unsure as they were all just loaded in the back of his old rusty car, despite the doubts we gave them a try. The strawberries turned out to be the best we had ever tasted they were so sweet and juicy we scoffed the lot and went back for more.

We made our way to the basket ride as the girls could not wait any longer. The ride is very popular and with a lot of cruise ships stopping at the island and the coaches ferrying all the people up from the port to go on the ride there was a lot of people. The queue went down quite quickly but everyone enjoyed watching others in front of them going off down the hill in the basket and there was a nice atmosphere.

When we were there we saw a wedding party come out the church and go down on the baskets to the reception at the bottom of the hill.

All the men that work on the ride wear white outfits with, blue jackets and straw hats and the baskets are reinforced wicker baskets with a bench inside mounted on wooden slats and pull strings at either side for steering. When it was our turn we had two baskets to fit us all in Dino and I was in one with Alexa on my lap, Lia on his and his little cousin squeezed in the middle of us and in the other was my mum, Sophia and Bella.

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Once we were all in the men gave a good push then ran as fast as they could to push us off down the hill, once we had gathered up speed they jumped on the back then just used one leg to push, to keep us ploughing down the hill. The ride was a lot faster than I thought it was going to be. I will never forget the smile that was on Alexa’s face it was from ear to ear she was beaming with joy. We were all laughing and enjoying ourselves the whole way down it was an amazing experience.

The Pirate Ship

The girls had spotted the pirate ship (a replica Christopher columbus ship) in Funchal marina and they really wanted to go on it , Sophia and I wanted to see dolphins anyway so we decided to take a trip on it. All the staff were dressed up in pirate outfits and got into character, they had a parrot which you could have on your shoulder, Lia was the only one brave enough to hold it. There is also meant to be a dog that rides on board but unfortunately he was at the vets the day we went.

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Once everyone was on board we set sail and the boat took us out away from the coast in search of dolphins. One of the guys was high up on the mast in the lookout tower with his binoculars searching for dolphins. We were all watching out over the vast calm blue ocean with the mountains of Madeira in the background surrounded in a wisp of cloud. 

All of a sudden there was a shout from the guy up the mast and we were off the boat going as fast as it could until we reached the mammals they had spotted. Now to me they looked like dolphins but to the trained professionals running the boat they were actually a type of whale and I forget now what type they were but nevertheless it was amazing to watch them breaking in and out of the water around the boat.

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After we had finished watching the whales the boat took us on a tour of the stunning coastline, then stopped for a spot of swimming, none of us were brave enough to get in as the water was cold. After that we were all given some Madeira honey cake and a glass of Maderia wine (juice for the children of course) and then headed back. 

On the journey back Lia handed the pirate her rubbish and he kissed her hand and to this day she still remembers and talks about it as soon as anyone even mentions Madeira.

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Star Gazing

When you look at activities to do in Madeira stargazing does not really come up and there is not much information on it. However, it is one of the most amazing things to do and every time we have been to watch the stars there has not been a single other sole around. It is mesmerising with the amount of stars in the sky, it is my favourite activity to do in Madeira.

We headed to the top of Pico Do Arieiro which is 1810 meters above sea level and we stop at the last viewpoint before reaching the very top where there is a few street lights and a very big government telescope. 

From there the sky is lined with stars, it was like someone had split a pot of glitter all over a sheet of black paper, you can even see the Milky Way. 

When we go we all wrap ourselves up in blankets and wear warm clothes as it is very cold up there, then we either lie across the bonnet of the car or sit on it but remember if it is a rental car you have be careful not to scratch it. I have even lied down on the road in front of our parked car to gaze up at the sky.  We were all lucky the last time we went because as soon as we stepped out of the car the biggest brightest shooting star shot across the sky like a firework. It was an amazing experience for the kids to have and one they won’t forget.

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Beaches

Madeira has mainly rocky beaches across the island however there are two man made sandy beaches which are located in Calheta and Machico. Both beaches are great for children to swim in as they are enclosed with stone walls so the water is a lot calmer and excellent for a bit of snorkelling. We found that both the beach were not that busy when we were there not like the beaches you find in some other European holiday destinations or even the UK on a rare hot day when everyone flocks to the beach.

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Machico

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Calheta

If however you do want to experience the long white sandy beaches with crystal blue waters, then just a 2 hour boat trip away is the island of Porto Santo and the beaches there are breathtaking. We didn’t manage to take the kids there but Dino and I have done this trip about 9 years ago before having children. The trip from Madeira to Porto Santo is a bit rough and from personal experience and from everyone else’s who has done the trip, it can make you feel a bit queasy but strangely enough the trip back from Porto Santo to Madeira is fine. Apart from its beautiful Caribbean looking beaches, Porto Santo offers a big go kart track and also a lovely town with coffee shops and restaurants.

Natural Rock Pools

As well as the sandy beaches Porto Moniz offers amazing natural rock pools that you can swim in as well as a man-made swimming pool. When we visited the sea was a bit rough but there were still a few hardy souls swimming in these beautiful rock pools. There is also lovely restaurants that you can sit and watch the sea from.

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Faial

If you are looking for a quieter beaches with beautiful views across the Island then Faial is a lovely spot. It only has one restaurant and a small park but a nice little rock pool cove for swimming or snorkeling but be careful as the steps leading down to it are very slippery. You can also follow the road and admire waterfalls trickling water down from the mountains into the streams. There is also a big go kart circuit there that you can do arrive and drive.

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The Glass viewing platform

In Carbo Girao you can walk out on the glass viewing platform which is a mere 580 meters above sea level and wonder down at the sea crashing into the cliffs below. As most adults would, we edged our way onto the platform and slowly went further and further on to it to take a look. 

Not the kids though they walked straight on to it, walking around and looking down at everything below them. They then all sat down watching the lizards running on the cliff below and following them around the glass, they were not even the slightest bit bothered that we were all standing on a glass platform hanging off a cliff edge some 580 meters up. If you can bring yourself to stand on it the view is amazing and well worth conquering your fear. There is also a lovely coffee shop and souvenir shops.

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Traditional House

If you are out and about the traditional houses are worth a visit. They are smart little triangle houses with thatched roofs that used to be the traditional Maderian house many years ago. They are now turned into shops for tourists to visit. There is a gift shop, a flower shop and one that sells food and shots of Poncha (the traditional Madeira drink). The kids liked the houses as in a way they do look like big dolls houses and they are great for having your photo taken next to.

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Sun Set

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Ponta del sol (point of the sun) is the best town in Madeira to watch the sunset. There is a great restaurant on the beach and another one built into the side of the cliff both overlooking the horizon. There is also stunning views and a walkway going out into the sea so you can look back at the rocky shore. We sat for a good few hours at the restaurant watching the sun set drinking beers will the kids played with the rocks.

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Visit Madeira

When choosing a family holiday destination Madeira should not be overlooked as for a small island there is so many activities to do there. Madeira has more mountain peaks to explore than the one I mentioned above, lots of guided walks, there is a place called the 25 fountains (25 Fontes Falls) which is a group of waterfalls located near Porto Moniz, hopefully we will get to do the walks when the children our a little bit older. Madeira enjoys great weather most of the year however no matter how warmer day it is if you are going up into the mountains take warm close as the temperature up there can drop dramatically.

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There is also a water park, casino and amazing restaurants all serving delicious local produce cooked to perfection wherever you go on the island. One of the

favourite meals there is ‘Espetada’ which is chunks of steak that have been skewered sometimes by a flavoured stick then hung in front of you for you to pull off.

In Funchal there is the famous local fish market, although the smell is very strong it is worth having a look on market days as you see lots of fish and get a sense of the size of the fish. We have even seen the remains of a shark head in there, this is not for everyone but if you can stomach it, it is worth a visit.

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Throughout the summer in Madeira there is always a festival of some sort going on and also there is a weekly fireworks display down on the harbour as companies compete to win the contract for the world renowned New Years Eve fireworks. 

The Madeiran people are all so welcoming and very big on family we often got stopped in the streets and complimented on how beautiful the girls are. We cannot wait to get back to this beautiful Island.

We are lucky and only needed to book flights to Madeira as we had family to stay with so we always book our flights with Easy Jet directly but if you are looking for a hotel as well we have used onthebeach.com a few times for holidays and have always found some good deals on there especially if purchasing flights and hotel together. You can also search hotels separately using Booking.com that I have used a lot in the past as well.

Why not take a look at my other posts –

Why you should visit Porlock Weir

Our road trip to France

Sea Vs Air Travel with Kids

The Un-spoilt natural wonder of Kilve

Some of my post contain affiliated links to products where I may receive a small fee if these products are bought.


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