The Atlantic island of Madeira is a perfect destination for an affordable family holiday.
Madeira has stunning and dramatic scenery, lush tropical landscapes with diverse flora and fauna, excellent museums, pretty churches and charming small villages.
In addition, Madeira has emerged as a world-class hiking destination due to its incredible levada hikes.
Many people visit Funchal for one day as part of a cruise ship itinerary but Madeira has so much more to offer and deserves longer than a one day visit!
When is the best time to go to Madeira?
Madeira has a year-round temperate climate.
Summer is hot and dry. Spring and Autumn are cooler and wetter but accommodation will be cheaper and attractions less busy.
Whenever you choose to visit, the weather on Madeira is notoriously changeable and variable.
Check the weather forecast for the specific area you will be visiting. The north coast has a different climate to the south coast and it can be sunny and hot at the coast but cool and raining in the mountains.
How to get to Madeira?
We travelled to Madeira by budget airline Easyjet. Sign up for Easyjets’ seasonal seat releases to get the best deal available. Flights are much cheaper off-season.
Madeiras’ Cristiano Ronaldo airport is located a twenty-minute drive from Funchal, the principal city on Madeira.
You can also fly to Madeira from Portugal on TAP airlines or the island is a popular stop on an Atlantic cruise.
Getting around Madeira
Madeira has an extensive, cheap and reliable public bus system. Check bus timetables carefully before setting out on a day trip. Timetables are limited at weekends and on public holidays.
Alternatively, rent a car and self-drive. There are car rental locations at Madeira airport and in Funchal city centre.
We rented a car from Rodavente, a lesser-known company which was the cheapest option on the island.
We were very impressed with Rodavente. The car was in great condition, clean and we had excellent customer service when we needed to change our plans.
Driving in Madeira
Madeira is a compact island; roads are in excellent condition and signage is good.
An extensive network of tunnels has greatly improved access to various locations around the island.
However, due to the terrain of this volcanic island, driving in Madeira is not for the faint-hearted.
As soon as you leave the major coastal road, the roads become narrow, steep and winding. Driving in the inland mountainous region these steep winding roads will be accompanied by multiple hairpin bends bordered by steep drops!
To drive in Madeira, you must be confident driving in low gear or using engine braking.
Know what to expect before you set out – research your route and road conditions carefully. Drive slowly and watch out for poorly parked cars around bends, pedestrians in the road and oncoming Goliath sized tourist coaches.
Check the weather conditions for your route – driving in fog and rain on roads in Madeira will test even the most confident driver.
If driving is not for you, there are several tour companies offering day trips around the island.
Accommodation in Madeira
Accommodation in Madeira is of a good standard and affordable, particularly if you travel out of peak season.
Many tourists choose to stay in the dense hotel area on the edge of Funchal where there is a wide choice of accommodation, restaurants and bars. It is a taxi or bus ride into Funchal city centre. We walked this route once and it was uninteresting, hot and long!
If you choose to stay in Funchal, consider staying in the attractive old town. Most of Funchals’ attractions are within walking distance of the old town and you will feel part of the city, not a visitor to it. You may not have a pool or a balcony but you will have character and charm
We stayed in a spacious, spotlessly clean two-bed apartment a short ten-minute walk from Cathedral Se. It had five beds, a large living room and a well-stocked kitchen for just £50 per night.
Many visitors choose to stay outside of Funchal and day trip to the city. There are countless charming villages all over the island to choose from!
We stayed at a gorgeous Airbnb in rural Estreito de Calheta. We chose Calheta as it reputedly gets the most sunshine in Madeira! Our four-bed house had incredible views, a basement games room, and an outdoor pool for just £63 per night!
Food costs in Madeira
Due to being an island economy, supermarket prices and groceries are similar to those in the U.K. Family-owned grocery stores are very reasonable and often sell home-baked goods.
A main meal in a restaurant will cost around £10/15 Euro. We found cafes very affordable – we could buy five cakes and five drinks for £5/7 euro. Stopping in a cafe always solves the problem of having to find a toilet for the kids!
Attraction costs in Madeira
As with any destination, if you visit every attraction and do every activity your expenditure will be limitless.
There are many free or cheap things to do in Madeira so you can be flexible with your budget.
Museums, churches and parks are free or low cost and all the levada walks are free. However, boat trips, whale watching, fishing and dolphin trips are expensive.
In our two week Madeira family holiday we spent 109 Euro on four attractions. Not bad for a family of five!
Things to do on a Madeira family holiday
Funchal is a sprawling city with an attractive, compact city centre known for its pretty parks, colourful Jacaranda trees and black and white mosaic pavements.
Most of the major sites are within walking distance of each other.
There are many free attractions ranging from parks, centuries-old churches and the Se cathedral to low-cost attractions such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 Museum and the Madeira Story Centre.
More expensive attractions include the Funchal cable car (Teleferico do Funchal) and the iconic Monte wicker toboggans.
However, even the more expensive attractions offer great discounts for families – we got one child free on the wicker toboggans and all our children were free at Monte Tropical Gardens.
There is a large, volcanic sand beach at Praia Formosa and a small, rocky beach at Praia do Sao Tiago. When we visited, we found the sea too rough for our children to swim in.
Most tourists prefer to visit one of the good value for money lidos which dot the coastline around the city centre.
The Lido Beach Complex is the largest providing large and small unheated seawater pools, ocean access and changing and catering facilities. Entrance tickets last a full day and are excellent value for money at 5 Euros for adults and 1.80 Euro for children over 10.
Funchal is a great base for a Madeira family holiday with excellent transport links around the island. You can read more about what we did in Funchal here.
Even the hardest to entertain kids will love exploring the colourful, aromatic walkways and hidden paths of Madeiras’ tropical gardens and parks.
Our favourite was Monte Tropical Gardens where we stayed for nearly five hours. The kids loved the fountains, Japanese garden and the geode exhibition. I liked the centuries-old wall tiles and quirky sculptures.
The Madeira Botanical Gardens is famous for its geometric flower beds and you can also visit the lovely Palheiro Gardens with fantastic views over Funchal.
Aquapark (Aquaparque Madeira)
Maderia Aquapark is a short bus ride from the centre of Funchal.
The complex has various pools suitable for different ages, three waterslides plus a fast and a slow river.
On a sunny day, the aquapark is unbeatable value for money. A full day ticket is 10 Euro for adults and 7 Euro for children. Check opening times before visiting as the aquapark is only open from June to September.
A short distance from Funchal is Cabo Girao, the highest sea cliff in Europe.
A steep, winding road climbs to a small car park for the free to enter viewpoint. In peak season, turnstiles control the crowd numbers.
From the main viewing platform, a smaller, glass-floored platform juts out over the cliff edge.
The thick glass floor is dotted with non-slip spots but the spots make the view beneath slightly blurry, especially if it has been raining and there are muddy footprints all over the glass floor!
The views from the platforms are breathtaking; it is hard to quantify just how high you are.
Bring your nerves of steel and head for heights!
Calheta Beach and marina
Calheta Beach is an artificial, sandy beach at either end of a man-made harbour. There is a calm, protected stretch of water between the beaches that is perfect for swimming.
Each beach slopes gently into the clean sea making it an ideal spot for families.
Paddleboarding is available, there are free toilets and changing rooms as well as a couple of cafes. For a beach picnic, there is an excellent Pingo Doce supermarket across the beachside road.
Fee-paying parking is available on the road.
Small, attractive Claehta marina adjoins the sandy beach.
Calheta sugar cane factory
If you visit Madeira in April or May, pop into the Calheta sugar cane factory, the last sugar cane processing factory in Madeira.
You can visit the factory all year round but you need to visit in April or May to see the factory in full production.
The factory is free to enter and wander around; the factory workers will just keep on working around you!
A small display of engineering and sugar cane production artefacts leads to the noisy, tiered factory floor.
Sugar cane is fed into large machines which squeezes out the juice. The remaining pulp is pounded to use as animal feed.
The juice is directed through pipes to the manufacturing area where it is made it is made into sugar cane juice or fermented into alcohol. The bubbling, steaming fermenting vats did not smell nice!
A small cafe on the outdoor terrace sells sugar cane juice for 60 cents and small tasters of a dizzying array of alcohol. The adjacent shop sells alcohol, sugar cane juice and a range of honey products.
Sao Vicente’s Caves
The Sao Vicente caves and Volcanism Centre are on the north coast of Madeira.
The caves are actually lava tubes, formed 890,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption. A short tour leads you through the lava tubes highlighting interesting formations and explaining the geology of the area.
Porto Moniz is an attractive village in the north-west of Madeira. There several things to do in this pretty area.
One of the most popular attractions is the pretty, natural Porto Moniz swimming pools.
These seawater pools were created naturally from volcanic action. The pools are open year-round and have an average water temperature of 20 degrees celsius. It is a very affordable family trip at 1.50 Euro for anyone over three years old.
Visit the nearby black sand Porto de Abrigo do Seixal beach or enjoy a hike in the UNESCO World Heritage Laurussilva Forest.
On a calm day, take a nail-biting trip on the tiny Archadas da Cruz cable car which brings you down a seemingly vertical slope to the remote agricultural area of Fajã da Quebrada Nova. This trip was highly recommended to us but sadly, it was too windy for us on the day we were due to visit.
Santana Theme Park
More a cultural park than a theme park, Santana theme park (Parque Tematico da Madeira) best suits families with younger children.
There is a small playground, a train ride and a boating lake plus an excellent simulator ride. There are a number of palhacas, Santanas traditional thatched-roofed ‘triangle houses’ that can be explored.
Levada hiking in Madeira
A levada hike is a must do in Madeira. There are hikes to suit all ages and abilities with each hike giving incredible views of the island.
Choose from hikes in the mountains, along the coast or through dense forests.
Research your chosen route carefully. Even ‘easy’ hikes will have some steep drops and inclines.
You can read more about our levada hikes in Madeira with kids here.
There are affordable and diverse attractions to fill every day of your Madeira family holiday!
Alternatively, relax and enjoy the sunshine whilst surrounded by lush tropical flora. What more can you ask for?!
Have you been to Madeira? What are your top tips for a Madeira family holiday?