Beaches in Madeira are not the typical golden or white sandy beaches that most families look for when choosing a holiday destination.
But don’t let this put you off choosing Madeira for a family holiday.
Madeira beaches are beautiful and unique in their own way.
Beaches in Madeira offer volcanic sand beaches set against dramatic cliffs, warm clean waters and good visitor facilities. Plus, Madeira’s man made beaches have been designed with safety in mind so offer calm waters and clean beaches for children.
So whilst Madeira will always be a hiking and cultural destination rather than a beach holiday destination, I think Madeira beaches are an added bonus to everything else that this beautiful and affordable Atlantic island has to offer.
This is the largest beach near Funchal city centre.
It is a 2 kilometre long stretch of beach bordered by the city’s hotel district. It consists of four smaller beaches – Praia Nova, Praia Formosa, Praia dos Namorados and Praia do Arieiro – but is generally known as Praia Formosa.
The beach is clean with soft, black volcanic sand but it is covered with rocks so it is not the most comfortable beach for sunbathing!
Waves can be rough here due to the steep incline into the sea and when we visited in April the sea was too rough for our children to swim in.
However, Praia Formosoa has a promenade which is a great spot for a sunset stroll. Plus, it is possible to walk on a seafront walkway from Praia Formosa around the headland to reach Camara do Lobos.
Facilities – free public toilets, lifeguard on duty, free changing rooms and several cafes and bars on the promenade.
How to get to Praia Formosa
Drive or take a taxi from Funchal to Praia Formosa (a 10 minute journey) though there is a limited parking near the seafront.
Alternatively, catch the No.1 Horario bus from Funchal city centre.
I would NOT recommend walking as we did!
City maps suggest that it is an easy seafront walk to Praia Formosa from Funchal but it took us 3 hours to walk (a slog!) to Praia Formosa and most of the walk was alongside busy roads. Only part of the route was on a pedestrianised promenade overlooking the sea.
Once we arrived at the beach, it took us several attempts to actually gain access to the beach.
You can read all the things we did in Funchal with kids here.
Praia de Sao Tiago
Tiny Praia de Sao Tiago is in Funchal city centre. It is a pebbly beach in front of the mustard yellow Forte de Sao Tiago.
This is not a beach for sunbathing on and is a popular swimming spot for locals.
Facilities – Free showers available.
How to get to Praia de Sao Tiago
The beach is just after the unmissable Teleferico station on the seafront.
TIP – I would recommend the visiting the nearby Barreirinha Complex with kids (near Soccorso’s Church). It has a children’s pool, lifeguards and safer sea access.
This free to enter pebbly beach is accessed from the Lido Promenade, just west of the Lido Bathing Complex on the outskirts of Funchal.
It is a small bay popular with locals.
South west beaches in Madeira
This is the best beach to visit in Madeira with kids – our kids loved it!
Sandy Calheta Beach lies on in the sunny south west coast of Madeira and was the island’s first imported sand beach.
The golden sand beach is divided into two parts, separated by an inlet that is surrounded by sea walls.
As a result, the inlet is as calm as a pond so it is a great spot for swimming. Plus, there is a gentle incline into the water so it is ideal for even for young children.
Swim, play in the sand or walk along the promenade to Calheta’s small marina.
We rented a villa near Calheta beach which you can read about here.
Facilities – There is fee paying parking on the promenade, free toilets, showers and a couple of bars and restaurants.
Sunbed and umbrella rental is available plus water sports such as stand up paddle board rentals.
Dolphin and whale watching tours are offered at Calheta marina.
There is a small Pingo Doce supermarket in the complex opposite Calheta Beach hotel which is perfect for an impromptu picnic.
How to get to Calheta beach
From Funchal it is an easy 30 minute drive on the main coastal highway. A roundabout exit leads you directly to Calheta promenade.
You can catch a bus from Funchal but it will take over one hour due to the number of stops along the way. Check the Rodoeste website for timetables.
TIP – I would also recommend a visit to the free to enter Calheta sugar cane factory which is a short ten minute walk from the beach.
If you visit around harvest time (April/May) you will see the factory in full production. Outside of these months, you can still view the factory and enjoy its excellent terraced cafe.
You can read all about our visit here.
Ponta do Sol Beach
You will pass Ponta do Sol beach on route from Funchal to Calheta.
This beach reputedly receives the most hours of sunshine of any of the beaches in Madeira.
The small beach is volcanic sand but very rocky and has few facilities. The charming Pont do Sol village is worth an explore.
North coast beaches in Madeira
Seixal Beach is a small but picture perfect beach looking out onto Madeira’s dramatic north coastline. It is a soft black sand beach (no rocks) backed by imposing green covered cliffs.
As the beach faces north west, it is a popular spot on Madeira island to watch the sunrise.
In addition to this, there is a natural lava rock swimming pool, a couple of sea caves and the Véu da Noiva (Bridal Veil) waterfall.
This is one Madeira beach that you will not want to miss!
Facitilies – free toilets, showers, water sports and free parking.
How to get to Seixal Beach
Seixal Beach is 41 kilometres from Funchal on the cross island route. The drive will take around 40 minutes from the capital.
TIP – If you make the winding drive over to Seixal, it is worth allocating time to visit the nearby Seixal Natural pools and the Porto Moniz natural pools.
East coast beaches in Madeira
Popular Machico beach is a another rare Madeira sandy beach, made from sand imported from the Sahara.
The beach is located on the east coast near the Cristiano Ronaldo Airport and the sea at here is warm, clean and calm.
It is a popular beach with tourists and locals so the nearby pebbly beach Praia de Sao Roque may prove to be quieter in peak season.
There are several walks in the surrounding area and if you like plane spotting you will love this beach.
Facilities – There are changing rooms, showers, a volleyball and football area, water sports and parking. Sunbed and umbrella hire is available.
There is life guard on duty plus several cafes and restaurants nearby.
How to get to Machico Beach
The drive from Funchal to Machico beach takes around 30 minutes.
You can catch a public bus from Funchal to Machico but try to catch the SAMS express bus as it is much quicker (around 45 minutes). It is a ten minute walk from the bus station to the beach.
TIP – drive to the nearby Pico do Facho viewpoint for a fabulous view of Machico beach, the airport and the surrounding area.
Praia das Palmeiras
Praia das Palmeiras is a pebbly beach in Santa Cruz.
This is the nearest beach to Cristiano Ronaldo airport so is the beach to go to for plane spotting though like me, it may make you even more terrified of your upcoming flight!
The beach also has a lovely promenade with cafes and restaurants.
How to get to Praia das Palmerias
Drive or take an express SAM bus. The bus will take around 30 minutes. Check SAM routes and timetables here.
Praia da Prainha
This isolated, small volcanic sand beach is located in a sheltered bay on the east of Madeira island near Caniçal.
Visitors must park at the top of the beach and walk down to the beach; it is a short walk but steep in places.
This beach is good to combine with nearby Madeira hiking routes.
Facilities – free to enter beach, free parking, one cafe bar.
Porto do Santo Beach
Ok, so this ‘Madeira beach’ is not on Madeira island but on the neigbouring island of Porto Santo.
But it is worth mentioning as it is a gorgeous, 9 kilometre long golden sandy beach.
Boat trips operate to Porto Santo from Funchal but it will be a long 12 hour day trip with kids. The ferry crossing takes 2 hours each way.
Have you visited the beaches in Madeira? What is your favourite Madeira beach?