If you are planning to visit Madeira with kids, then do it! You won’t regret it.
The Portuguese island is a perfect destination for an affordable family holiday.
Madeira has dramatic inland and coastal scenery, lush tropical landscapes with diverse flora and fauna, excellent museums, pretty churches and charming small villages.
Plus, for active families, Madeira is a world-class hiking destination due to its incredible levada hikes.
Practical information for visiting Maderia with kids
Where is Madeira?
Madeira is not just off the coast of Portugal!
It is in the Atlantic Ocean, over 1000 kilometres south west from mainland Portugal.
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 are less busy.
The north coast has a cooler climate to the sunny south coast with the warmest temperatures recorded in the south west of the island.
Whenever you choose to visit, the weather in Madeira is notoriously changeable. It can be sunny and hot at the coast but cool and raining in the mountains.
How to travel to Madeira?
We travelled to Madeira direct from the U.K with Easyjet but you can also fly from Portugal on TAP airlines. Flights are cheaper in the off season.
Madeira’s Cristiano Ronaldo airport is a twenty-minute drive from Funchal, the principal city on Madeira.
Madeira island is also a popular stop on an Atlantic Cruise.
TIP – Sign up for Easyjet’s seasonal seat releases to get the best deal available.
Getting around Madeira with kids
Madeira has an extensive, cheap and reliable public bus system. Check bus timetables carefully before setting out on a day trip as timetables are limited at weekends and on public holidays.
Car hire in Madeira is the most popular way to get around. There are rental companies at Madeira airport and in Funchal city centre.
We rented a car from Rodavente, a lesser-known company which at the time of our visit was the cheapest option on the island.
We were very impressed with Rodavente. The car was in great condition, clean and the company demonstrated excellent customer service when we needed to change our plans. (I have no links with this company – I recommend them based on our personal experience).
If you prefer to be driven around in comfort, there are also numerous tour companies in Funchal offering day trips around the island.
TIP – You do not need a car for sightseeing in Funchal. If you are planning to spend a few days in Funchal, or to use it as a base for your trip, wait until you want to explore the island before hiring your car.
Driving in Madeira
Madeira is a compact island and roads are in excellent condition with good signage.
An extensive network of recently built tunnels has greatly improved access to other 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 route, 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 sheer drops!
To self drive in Madeira, you must have a head for heights, 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, oncoming Goliath sized tourist coaches and pedestrians in the road (there are very few pavements outside Funchal).
Check the weather conditions for your route – driving through fog and rain on inland roads in Madeira will test even the most confident driver.
TIP – bring a bag in case the kids get car sick. Or you!
Accommodation in Madeira
Accommodation in Madeira is of a good standard and affordable, particularly if you travel out of peak season.
Unless you plan on doing very little island sightseeing one base is sufficient for your Madeira family holiday.
However, if you are visiting Maderia with kids and want to explore the island, I would recommend a two centre holiday, especially if you would like to do some hiking in Madeira. (You can read our tips for Madeira hiking here).
This way, you will avoid doing lots of winding, undulating, vomit inducing car trips! (We stayed in Funchal for five days and then moved to Calheta for six nights).
In Funchal, most tourists choose to stay in the dense hotel area on the edge of the city where there is a wide choice of accommodation, restaurants and bars. However, we found this area to be high on facilities but low on character. Plus, it is a taxi or bus ride into Funchal city centre.
If you choose to stay in the centre of Funchal, consider staying in the attractive old town. Most of Funchal’s 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 walk from the heart of the city, Cathedral Se. The apartment had five beds, a large living room and a well-stocked kitchen for just £50 per night.
You can read our tips for staying in an Airbnb here.
TIP – Many Airbnb’s offer a discount for longer stays particularly in the off or shoulder season. It was cheaper for us to book our Airbnb for seven nights rather than the six nights we needed!
Food costs in Madeira
Due to being an island economy, supermarket prices in Maderia are similar to those in the U.K. Smaller, family-owned grocery stores are very reasonable and often sell home-baked goods.
A main meal in a restaurant will cost around €10 – €15. We found cafes very affordable – we could buy five cakes and five drinks for €5 – €7.
When visiting Madeira with kids, stopping for a drink in a cafe always solves the problem of having to find a toilet for the kids!
Attraction costs in Madeira
There are several free or cheap things to do in Madeira so you can be flexible with your budget, saving your money for selected fee paying activities.
Museums, churches and parks are free or low cost and all the Maderia walks and levadas are free. However, boat trips, whale watching, fishing and dolphin trips are expensive.
In our two week Madeira family holiday we spent €109 on four attractions. Not bad for a family of five!
Things to do in Maderia with kids
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 public parks, centuries-old churches and the Se Cathedral to low-cost attractions such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 Museum and the Madeira Story Centre. We particularly enjoyed our visit to the Santa Clara Convent, one of Funchal’s hidden gems.
Fee paying things to do in Funchal include the Funchal cable car (Teleferico do Funchal) and the iconic Monte wicker toboggans.
TIP – Don’t avoid visiting fee paying attractions in Maderia. Most attractions offer great discounts for families.
For example, we were offered one child to travel free on the Monte wicker toboggans and all our children received free entry at Monte Tropical Gardens.
We spent a five days in Funchal visiting all that this charming city has to offer. You can read more about what we did in Funchal here.
There is a large, volcanic sand beach at Praia Formosa (near the tourist hotel district) and a small, rocky beach at Praia do Sao Tiago.
When we visited Madeira in April, we found the sea too rough for our children to swim in.
Most tourists prefer to visit the open air lidos which dot the coastline around the city centre.
These lidos are good value for money on a sunny day.
The Lido Beach Complex is the largest lido in Madeira providing different sized, unheated seawater pools, ocean access and changing and catering facilities.
Entrance tickets cost €5 for adults and €1.80 for children over ten. Tickets are valid for a full day.
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; 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.
You can take the bus or cable car to Monte Tropical Gardens and travel back to the outskirts of Funchal on the famous wicker toboggans. Riding the wicker toboggans was our kids favourite activity in Madeira!
You can read about our day in Monte here.
You can also visit the Madeira Botanical Gardens (famous for its geometric flower beds) or the lovely Palheiro Gardens which offers fantastic views over Funchal.
Aquapark (Aquaparque Madeira)
Maderia’s waterpark – Aquaparque – is a short bus ride from the centre of Funchal and is the only waterpark on the island.
The complex has various pools suitable for different ages, three waterslides plus a fast and a slow river.
On a sunny day, the Aquaparque is unbeatable value for money. It is only open from June to September.
A full day ticket is €10 for adults and €7 for children.
Cabo Girao, the highest sea cliff in Europe, will challenge your head for heights!
Located a short distance from Funchal, a steep, winding road climbs to a tiny car park for the free to enter viewpoint. As Cabo Girao is one of the most popular things to do in Madeira, turnstiles operate in peak season to control the crowds accessing the platforms.
From the main viewing platform, a smaller, glass-floored platform juts out over the towering cliff edge.
The thick glass floor is dotted with non-slip spots which unfortunately make the view underneath the floor slightly blurry – especially if it has been raining and there are muddy footprints all over the glass floor!
However, the views from the platforms are breath taking. It is hard to quantify just how high up you are!
Calheta Beach and marina
The best beach to visit in Madeira with kids, particularly toddlers, is Calheta Beach.
It is an artificial sandy beach at either end of a man-made harbour. The clever design has ensured a gentle sloping entrance to the clear sea.
Plus, the stretch of water between the two beaches is calm and boat free. It is perfect for swimming or attempting stand up paddle boarding.
For families, there a a handful of cafes and restaurants nearby plus a Pingo Doce supermarket for an impromptu picnic.
There is a changing room, public toilets and fee paying car parking available on the promenade.
Stroll along the promenade away from the beach to see Calheta’s small marina.
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. this lesser known Madeira attraction is well worth visiting.
Although the factory is open all year round, you need to visit in April or May to see the factory machines in full sugar cane juice production.
The factory is free to enter and wander around within the roped off areas; the factory workers will 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 just 60 cents and small tasters of a dizzying array of alcohol.
The adjacent shop sells alcohol, sugar cane juice and a delicious range of honey products. It also displays the largest Bolo de Mel (Madeiran honey cake) that was made on the island.
Our children enjoyed our visit here but especially their sugar cane juice and slice of honey cake in the cafe!
Sao Vicente’s Caves
The Sao Vicente caves and Volcanism Centre are on the north coast of Madeira and make a great stopping off point when exploring 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. On a hot summers day, the cooling temperature of the caves can bring welcome relief!
Porto Moniz is an attractive village in the north-west of Madeira. There several things to do in this scenic area.
One of the most popular attractions is the natural Porto Moniz swimming pools.
These pretty seawater pools were created naturally from volcanic action. The pools are open year-round and have an average water temperature of 20 degrees Celsius.
The distance travelled to Porto Moniz is rewarded by a very low entrance fee; just €1.50 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. The Laurussilva trees are native to the island of Madeira.
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.
Check the weather forecast before your visit. This Maderia attraction was highly recommended to us but sadly, it was too windy to go on the day we planned to visit.
Santana Theme Park
Santana Theme Park is more a cultural park than a theme park – it does not have roller coasters! The park was built to showcase the traditional crafts and culture of the people of Madeira.
There is a small playground, a train ride and a boating lake plus an excellent simulator ride.
There are a number of palhacas – Santana’s traditional thatched-roofed ‘triangle houses’ that children will enjoy exploring.
Due to the gentle attractions on offer, Santana theme park (Parque Tematico da Madeira) best suits families with younger children.
Levada hiking in Madeira with kids
A levada hike is one of the best things to do in Maderia. Walks alongside the islands extensive irrigation channels (levadas) are available to suit all ages and abilities with each hike providing incredible views of the island.
For families travelling on a budget, hiking in Madeira is a budget friendly activity.
Choose from numerous hikes in the mountains, along the coast or through dense forests. Hikes vary in length, terrain and difficulty so it is essential to research the best route for your family.
We found the timings suggested for the levada hikes to be fairly accurate but even hikes labelled as ‘easy’ had sheer drops and steep inclines.
We walked several levadas in Madeira.
None of the hikes were pushchair friendly – the paths are very narrow! Babies and toddlers need to be carried in a carrier and young children should be kept very close at all times. There are usually no facilities on route so bring plenty of snacks and water.
Our levada walks are lovely and were the highlight of our stay. Tranquil, scenic and full of aromas from the springtime wildflowers.
We had an active, fun and affordable trip to Madeira with kids.
There are so many diverse attractions that it is easy to fill every day of your visit to Madeira.
Alternatively, enjoy the sunshine surrounded by lush tropical flora and spend your time in Madeira relaxing and savouring this beautiful Atlantic island.
Have you been to Madeira? What are your top tips for a Madeira family holiday?
Essential reading for visiting Madeira with kids
Maderia Car Tours and Walks by Sunflower Guides – the most accurate guide we found to drive times, routes and hiking the levadas
Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Madeira – lightweight book with useful information