Last Updated on March 4, 2024

Madeira stands out as an exceptional cruise port due to its captivating natural beauty and year-round mild climate.

From the moment you arrive in Funchal (the capital) on your cruise ship, you can expect to be greeted by stunning landscapes, lush greenery, and breathtaking coastal views.

Madeira cruise visitors guide

The capital city, Funchal, adds to the allure with its historic charm, vibrant markets, and cultural attractions.

You can also explore attractions such as the botanical gardens (that showcase a rich variety of exotic plants and flowers), embark on a picturesque levada walk through the island’s interior, or engage in adventure activities such as hiking and wildlife watching.

The local cuisine, featuring fresh seafood and unique regional dishes, further enhances the visitor experience.

Overall, Madeira’s perfect blend of natural wonders, cultural richness, and welcoming ambiance makes it an unforgettable destination for cruise enthusiasts.

Getting Around Madeira from the Cruise Port

Madeira is another one of those ports where you can walk straight into the town without having to book a cruise excursion or transfer from your cruise line, making it a great cruise port if you want to avoid any extra costs.

1. Transfers

The cruise lines usually still offer a transfer service and it should be very cheap, i.e. just a few Euros.

As mentioned above though, if you do not mind walking, you can easily stroll into the city center of Funchal and it takes between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on exactly where your ship docks.

2. Walking (Once in the City Center)

Funchal, where the main cruise port is located, is a city where many of the main attractions are based in the city center which is also itself within walking distance of the cruise port.

You can easily explore the historic sites, local markets, and waterfront promenades on foot.

On the Funchal hop on hop off tourist bus
We went on the Hop on Hop Off bus, which is an easy way to see the island, and you can walk to the bus stop from the cruise port.

3. Hop On Hop Off Bus

Like most cruise ports, the red Hop On Hop Off Buses serve Funchal and it is easy to get to the nearest Hop On bus stop from the cruise terminal.

10 to 15 minutes (or a short 2-minute transfer) and you will see the bus stop very close to the cruise terminal.

You can buy tickets at the bus stop and there are usually one or two Hop On bus staff there to help you if you have any questions or need any help.

4. Taxis, Uber and Grab

If you have a very specific plan in mind and want to get to a certain attraction in Funchal as quickly as possible, the taxis are reasonably priced and most attractions are quite central.

You can usually find one or two taxis available when your cruise ship docks.

5. Public Transportation

Madeira has a reliable and affordable public bus system that connects Funchal to various parts of the island.

You could choose this option if you want to venture beyond the immediate port area, but do be mindful of the cruise departure time!

6. Cable Cars

Funchal offers unique transportation options, including cable cars that provide panoramic views of the city and harbor.

You will need to get from the cruise ship to Almirante Reis Gardens where the cable car then takes you up over 3500 meters on a 15-minute or so ride, to the top of Monte.

It is well worth doing and I would recommend allowing 2 – 3 hours for this if you decide to do it.

More on the Funchal Cable car here.

7. Tuk Tuks

You can also book one of the Tuk Tuks tours in Madeira if you want to see Funchal with a personal driver. I have not tried this yet but fellow cruise travelers I know who have had a great experience.

Whether on foot, by taxi, public transportation, or guided tours, getting around Madeira from the cruise port is convenient and you should find it very easy to get around.

Riding the Madeira Tourist Bus
Myself riding the Madeira Tourist Bus – Valeria says I need to smile more in photos :)

12 Best Attractions in Madeira, Portugal

There are many great attractions and here are 12 of the best attractions to explore on the island that we have visited and experienced:

1. Funchal Old Town (Zona Velha)

Estimated Duration: 2-3 hours.

  • Immerse yourself in the history of Madeira as you wander through narrow streets lined with colorful houses and visit the Mercado dos Lavradores for local produce and crafts.

2. Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Monte Palace Tropical Garden
The Tropical Gardens

Estimated Duration: 2-3 hours.

  • Marvel at the expansive gardens adorned with Asian-inspired motifs, and don’t miss the fascinating Monte Palace Museum displaying a unique collection of African sculptures.
  • The official website for Monte Palace Gardens

3. Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns)

Estimated Duration: 3-4 hours.

  • Experience the tranquility of this isolated village, nestled in the heart of the mountains, and enjoy local chestnut-based delicacies.

4. Madeira Botanical Garden

Estimated Duration: 2-3 hours.

  • Take a leisurely stroll through themed gardens, including the Indigenous Plants Garden and the Succulent Garden, and appreciate the diverse flora.
  • Learn more.

5. Cabo Girão

Estimated Duration: 1-2 hours.

  • Overcome any fear of heights at the Skywalk and savor the thrilling experience of standing on a glass-floored platform overlooking the dramatic cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • It is a 20-minute drive from Funchal to Cabo Girão so this can be a good tour potentially to book with your cruise line if they offer it as an excursion.
  • Personally, I think there are enough things to do in Funchal, and time, arguably, can be better spent thus leaving this attraction out.

6. São Vicente Caves and Volcanism Centre

Estimated Duration: 1-2 hours.

  • Explore the underground caves and learn about the geological processes that shaped Madeira, providing a fascinating insight into the island’s formation.
  • Learn more

7. Levada Walks

Estimated Duration: Varies (2-6 hours)

  • Choose from various levada walks, each offering a unique perspective of Madeira’s landscapes, from the lush Laurissilva Forest to the waterfalls of Rabaçal.
  • Best done as part of a cruise line organized tour to ensure you get back to the boat on time.

8. Madeira Story Centre

Estimated Duration: 1-2 hours

  • Engage in an interactive journey through Madeira’s history, from its early settlement to modern times, with an educational and entertaining experience.
  • Conveniently located in the Old Town of Funchal
  • Official website

9. Santa Catarina Park

Estimated Duration: 2-3 hours

  • Unwind in the peaceful surroundings, visit the exotic bird park within the park, and enjoy panoramic views of Funchal.
  • Close to the port so easy to get to.
  • More on the park

10. Madeira Theme Park

Estimated Duration: 2-3 hours

  • Immerse yourself in Madeira’s traditions through recreated villages, exhibits, and live demonstrations, providing a fun and educational experience.
  • Not in Funchal so an attraction best done if your cruise line offers this as an excursion.
  • A good option if traveling with kids.

11. Cristiano Ronaldo Museum

Estimated Duration: 1-2 hours

  • Explore the life and career of the world-famous footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, through memorabilia, interactive exhibits, and a glimpse into his extraordinary achievements.

12. Santana Traditional Houses

Estimated Duration: 1-2 hours

  • Explore the iconic triangular thatched houses in Santana, representing Madeira’s traditional architecture, and learn about the island’s rural heritage.
  • 40 minutes drive from Funchal so maybe not practical on a day visit, but if you are starting a cruise from Funchal and here for a few days, then worth visiting!

Exploring Madeira’s Shopping as a Cruise Visitor

As a cruise visitor exploring Madeira, you will find a delightful array of shopping opportunities, allowing you to take home unique souvenirs and local treasures. Here are some recommendations for a rewarding shopping experience:

1. Funchal Farmers’ Market (Mercado dos Lavradores)

Dive into the vibrant atmosphere of this bustling market where local farmers and artisans display fresh produce, flowers, and traditional crafts. It is an ideal place to pick up Madeiran wine, honey, embroidery, and exotic fruits.

2. Avenida Arriaga

This lively street in Funchal is great if you are interested in shops (including numerous independent and boutique-style shops), and cafés.

Explore the diverse retail offerings, from high-end fashion to locally crafted items, and enjoy a leisurely stroll in this central shopping district.

3. Rua de Santa Maria

Located in Funchal’s Old Town, this charming street is famous for its painted doors and is home to numerous art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques. It is an excellent spot to find unique, handmade items and local artwork.

4. Madeira Embroidery

Discover the artistry of Madeira Embroidery, celebrated for its vibrant and detailed stitching.

Explore unique boutiques featuring an extensive collection of hand-embroidered linens, apparel, and accessories, each narrating the rich artisanal heritage of the island.

In Funchal
Here I am in Funchal town center looking across to the boat

5. Madeira Wine Cellars

Explore the wine cellars in Funchal, where you can sample and purchase the island’s famous Madeira wine.

Many cellars offer guided tours, providing insights into the winemaking process and the history of this renowned beverage.

6. Artisan Shops in Santana

If your cruise includes a visit to Santana, explore the local artisan shops to discover handcrafted items, including wickerwork, traditional triangular thatched roof models, and other authentic Madeiran crafts.

7. Shopping Malls

For a more modern shopping experience, visit malls like La Vie Funchal Shopping Center or Madeira Shopping.

8. Lavradores Market

In addition to the farmers’ market, Lavradores Market in Funchal also houses stalls selling handmade crafts, souvenirs, and local products. It is a one-stop destination for various Madeiran goods.

Enjoying the Food in Madeira

Madeira is a paradise for food enthusiasts, offering a rich culinary experience that blends traditional Portuguese flavors with unique Madeiran twists. As a cruise visitor, here is how you can savor the diverse and delicious food scene on the island:

1. Traditional Dishes

Start by indulging in Madeira’s traditional dishes. “Espetada,” skewered and grilled meat, and “Bolo do Caco,” a flat, garlic-infused bread, are must-try local specialties.

Pair them with the Poncha, a traditional drink composed of aguardente (sugar cane spirit), honey, and citrus.

2. Fresh Seafood

Given its coastal location, Madeira is a seafood haven.

Taste the fresh catches of the day, such as black scabbardfish (“Espada”) or limpets (“Lapas”), prepared in various styles at seaside restaurants in Funchal or smaller fishing villages.

3. Madeira Wine

Explore the world of Madeira wine, a fortified beverage renowned for its rich and intricate flavors.

Experience the diversity by visiting local wineries or wine cellars in Funchal, where you can savor an array of Madeira wines, ranging from dry and medium-dry to sweet varieties.

4. Local Markets

Immerse yourself in the culinary scene at Funchal Farmers’ Market (Mercado dos Lavradores).

Taste exotic fruits like passion fruit and custard apple, sample local cheeses, and pick up specialties like “Bolo de Mel,” a traditional honey cake.

5. Dine in Old Town

Enjoy a meal in Funchal’s historic Old Town (Zona Velha), where charming restaurants offer a mix of Portuguese and Madeiran cuisine.

The cobblestone streets and colorful facades provide an authentic feel to the experience.

6. Poncha Bars

Visit a traditional Poncha bar to try different variations of this iconic Madeiran cocktail.

Made with passion fruit, honey, lemon, and aguardente, Poncha is a refreshing and locally beloved drink.

7. Local Pastries

Satisfy your sweet tooth with Madeiran pastries. Try “Queijadas,” a sweet cheese tart, and “Pastel de Nata,” a custard tart with cinnamon. Visit local bakeries for a delightful taste of these sweet treats.

Whether you are a fan of seafood, traditional dishes, or exploring local markets, Madeira’s diverse food scene promises a delightful journey for your taste buds.

Weather in Madeira – What to Expect

Madeira’s favorable climate makes it a year-round destination with something to offer for every season.

Here’s what you can generally expect when it comes to weather in Madeira.

Mild Winters: Winters (December to February) are mild, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F). Rainfall is more frequent during these months, particularly in the northern parts of the island.

Warm Springs: Spring (March to May) brings warmer temperatures, ranging from 16°C to 22°C (61°F to 72°F).

Hot Summers: Summers (June to August) are warm and dry, with temperatures ranging from 20°C to 26°C (68°F to 79°F). It is the peak tourist season, attracting visitors with sunny days and clear skies.

Mild Autumns: Autumn (September to November) sees mild temperatures, ranging from 19°C to 25°C (66°F to 77°F). The weather remains pleasant, making it another popular time for tourists.

Year-Round Sunshine: Madeira is known for its relatively stable weather. While rainfall is more common in the winter months, the island generally experiences a good amount of sunshine throughout the year.

Varied Microclimates: Madeira’s diverse landscapes contribute to microclimates across the island. The north tends to be greener and receives more rainfall, while the south is drier and sunnier.

Ocean Temperatures: The Atlantic Ocean surrounding Madeira remains relatively mild, with sea temperatures ranging from 18°C to 24°C (64°F to 75°F). This makes it suitable for swimming and water activities throughout the year.

Example 5 – 6 Hour Schedule for a Cruise Visit to Madeira

Studying Funchal map
Valeria on the Hop on Hop Off Bus studying the Funchal map

If you have a 5-6 hour window during your cruise visit to Madeira, here is a suggested schedule that allows you to experience some of the island’s highlights.

Port Arrival and Departure: 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM

  1. 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM: Disembark and Visit Funchal Old Town
    • Begin your day by disembarking from the cruise ship and heading to Funchal’s Old Town (Zona Velha).
    • Walk along the cobblestone streets and absorb the historic sites.
    • Visit the Funchal Farmers’ Market (Mercado dos Lavradores) and sample local produce.
  2. 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM: Cable Car to Monte Palace Tropical Garden
    • Take a scenic cable car ride from the Old Town to Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
    • Spend time exploring the lush gardens and enjoying panoramic views of Funchal and the ocean.
    • Visit the Monte Palace Museum to view its unique collection of African sculptures.
  3. 11:30 AM – 12:30 AM: Explore Monte and Enjoy Coffee
    • Wander through the picturesque village of Monte.
    • Visit the Monte Church and take in the beautiful surroundings.
    • Grab a coffee
  4. 12:30 AM – 2:00 PM: Lunch in Funchal
    • Return to Funchal for a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant.
    • Taste traditional Madeiran dishes, including “Espetada” or fresh seafood.
    • Explore a bit more of Funchal if time allows.
  5. 3:00 PM: Return to Cruise Ship

Please note that this schedule provides a mix of historical exploration, natural beauty, and local cuisine, giving you a taste of Madeira’s diverse offerings.

Getting to Madeira if You Are Starting Your Cruise Here

If your cruise begins in Madeira, you will likely arrive on the island by air or by sea.

You can find Madeira International Airport (FNC), just outside the capital, Funchal.

Where to Stay

 

Cruise Lines for Visiting Madeira

Numerous cruise lines offer itineraries that include stops in Madeira, providing travelers with the opportunity to explore the beauty and culture of the island. Some major cruise lines that commonly visit Madeira:

1. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines – This UK-based cruise line often features Madeira in its itineraries, taking advantage of its proximity to the British Isles.

2. Royal Caribbean International – Royal Caribbean often includes Madeira in its transatlantic and European itineraries.

3. Carnival Cruise Line – Carnival Cruise Line occasionally features Madeira in its European cruise itineraries.

4. MSC Cruises – MSC Cruises offers voyages that include Madeira, often as part of Mediterranean or Atlantic itineraries.

5. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) – NCL may include Madeira in its transatlantic or European cruise routes.

6. Princess Cruises – Princess Cruises features Madeira in various itineraries, particularly those exploring the Atlantic and Western Mediterranean.

7. Holland America Line – Holland America Line offers cruises that include Madeira, especially during European and transatlantic journeys.

8. Celebrity Cruises – Celebrity Cruises includes Madeira in some of its European and transatlantic itineraries.

9. Costa Cruises – Costa Cruises, known for its Mediterranean focus, may include Madeira in some of its Atlantic voyages.

10. AIDA Cruises – AIDA Cruises, a German-based cruise line, may feature Madeira in its itineraries, particularly those exploring the Canary Islands.

Cruise itineraries can change, and new routes may be added, so it is essential to verify the details based on your preferred cruise line and departure port.

Paul Symonds