Secret places and hidden gems of Madeira island in Portugal

8 Hidden Gems of Madeira That Most Tourists Never See

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When doing my research about the best places to see in Madeira, it seemed like the whole island is overrun by tourists. Travel guides and blogs would warn ‘to go early’ or ‘avoid cruise ship days’, etc. Yes, Madeira is a popular destination and indeed some of the main tourist attractions can get quite busy, but for the biggest part Madeira is still very quiet and undiscovered. Or at least not by the big groups of cruise ship passengers… So in this post I want to share some of our favourite unexpected finds and hidden gems of Madeira.

These are all places that lie a bit off the beaten path and are still under the radar of most Madeira visitors. While not completely unknown, they all have managed to keep their authenticity and offer a glimpse on the less known side of Madeira that you won’t find in most travel guides and trip itineraries. So if you are looking to escape the crowds and get to know the more authentic side of Madeira, you’ll find plenty of inspiration in this article. Read on!

To make your trip planning easier I created a map indicating all the hidden gems of Madeira from this list – see at the end of the post.

Secret places and true hidden gems of Madeira island in Portugal

 

1. Achadas da Cruz cable car

Achadas da Cruz cable car brings you to Fajã da Quebrada Nova by the beach (see also featured image). This place should actually be very high on the best places to visit in Madeira list, but it’s a true hidden gem not mentioned in most travel guides and overlooked by most tourists, and I guess it’s better if it stays that way. Up to a few years ago only accessible by boat, it feels like the most remote place in the world.  To us it was one of the best unexpected discoveries and one of the most special places of Madeira.

We expected to spend just a few minutes here, but almost two hours flew by exploring this beautiful coastline undiscovered by tourists. We had this hidden gem all to ourselves.  Just the pebbled beach, the sea, and spectacular nature that makes you feel small and humble. It’s our kind of paradise!

Here you can read more about this beautiful place that can be reached by Achadas da Cruz cable car.

A tiny coastal area that can be reached by Achadas da Cruz cable car in Madeira

One of our absolute favourite places in Madeira

 

2. Tiny pebbled beach near Illheus da Janela

Tucked away behind a big rock this tiny nameless beach on the Northern coast of Madeira is truly hidden from the sight of the passers by. If you aren’t looking for it, the chances are small that you’ll just stumble on this place by coincidence. Leave your car at the parking lot opposite a small power plant and walk towards the staircase leading to the hole in the middle of the mountain (don’t worry, it’s just a few steps). Once you reach the top, a fantastic view opens up to you with impressive rock formations in the sea. Ok, you can also reach the beach just by walking next to the river, but it doesn’t have the same wow effect.

Chances are you will be completely on your own here. It was one of our favourite beaches of Madeira where the kids could play with the rocks and we just sat there watching the waves crash against the rocks. It’s a great place to take a picnic and spend an hour or even more.

Entrance to a hidden beach in Northern Madeira

Isn’t this the best entrance to a hidden beach?!

Beach at Illheus da Janela in Madeira

Illheus da Janela

 

3. Miradouro Garganta Funda

When you see the narrow roads leading towards the coast to Miradouro Garganta Funda you will understand why this place isn’t on the radar of most Madeira travellers. Obey the signs that forbid to drive further (you’ll be glad you did when you see the road further down), leave your car, and walk the last couple of hundred meters to the viewpoint.

At first sight there isn’t much to see here, just a few abandoned old buildings and one or two cows. Keep walking all the way to the small viewing platform in the direction of the coast and completely unexpected you’ll see a beautiful waterfall in the distance. Don’t miss, even if just for the experience of getting there. You’ll get to know a little piece of Madeira where time truly stood still.

TIP: If you are in the area anyway, make sure to also visit the nearby Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse.

Miradouro Garganta Funda in Madeira

Miradouro Garganta Funda

Waterfall at Miradouro Garganta Funda in Madeira

Waterfall at Miradouro Garganta Funda

 

4. Miradouros do Paredão

Located on a very scenic road in between the popular tourist spots Curral das Freiras (Nun’s Valley) and Pico do Areeiro, the two viewpoints of Paredao are not only quieter, but probably even more spectacular than the extremely popular nearby Eira do Serrado viewpoint. While at Eira do Serrado you will be surrounded by loud groups of tourists traveling in big busses, you’ll only find one or two cars at the small parking lot of Miradouros do Paredão.

Just a short walk leads you to a viewpoint overlooking the Nun’s Valley, and if you take a path to the left, you’ll soon arrive at the viewpoint looking towards the Southern coast of Madeira. I can’t really tell you what you’ll see there as that side of the mountain was covered by clouds when we visited. But what a feeling – walking above the clouds!

The first section of this scenic nameless road without a number is so steep that it probably keeps all the big busses away from here forcing them to drive around and take a detour to Pico do Areeiro. However, this is one of the most beautiful roads in Madeira, so don’t miss it.

Miradouros do Paredao in Madeira

Miradouros do Paredao

 

5. Scenic inland roads of Madeira

You haven’t experienced Madeira to the fullest unless you drove at least a couple of the inland routes. The mountain roads in Madeira are like nowhere else and you truly have to see it to believe it. Here are some of our favourite roads (I also indicated them on the map), but I think you can try just any of them and you’ll see what it’s all about (it’s not always about the scenery as much as it is about the experience).

  • The above mentioned scenic road between the Eira do Serrado and Pico do Areeiro
  • Caminho de Cales e Chada between Calheta and Rabacal
  • Estrada da Eira do Serrado between Funchal and the Nun’s Valley
  • The shortest road between Santana and Ribeiro Frio
  • The coastal drive between Santana and Sao Vicente
  • Any road above Funchal (Monte area)

TIP: don’t rent the biggest car in Madeira.

Scenic drive on the North coast of Madeira

Scenic drive on the North coast of Madeira

 

6. Sugar cane factory in Calheta

Sociedade dos Engenhos Da Calheta is an old sugar cane factory in the village of Calheta that truly takes you back in time. We were lucky to visit in April, the season when sugar cane is harvested, and we could see this plant in operation. The steam from the chimney, the smell of honey, and the roaring noise of the machines – it’s an unforgettable experience to say the least.

The factory is only open for a few weeks in April and May since the sugar cane juice has to be squeezed very quickly after harvesting or else the plants dry out and become useless. You can see the whole process from unloading the truck by crane to the crushing of sugar cane, and finally boiling the juice in huge steaming pots.

There is no entrance fee and visitors can roam freely around this little factory. For just 0,6 EUR you can taste some of the sugar cane rum, sugar cane honey, and other produce.

The factory is open the whole year round, but of course the best time to visit is during the sugar cane harvest season when you can see it in full action.

Calheta sugar cane factory in Madeira

Calheta sugar cane factory

 

7. Funchal street art

Most visitors to Funchal seem to follow just one route – to the Monte cable car and the famous Mercado dos Lavradores farmers market. But the part of Funchal we enjoyed the most had nothing to do with the most popular tourist areas.

Some of the little streets of the Old Town have been turned into true outdoor art galleries. Every old window, every door has become an artists’ canvas. If you love street art, you’ll find some truly amazing pieces of art in Funchal Old Town, in the area around Rua de Santa Maria.

Of course, you don’t want to miss the main attractions of Funchal either. For that, please read our ultimate guide to the best things to do and places to see in Funchal.

TIP: for more creative street art, visit also the nearby fishermen’s village Câmara de Lobos.

There is some really creative street art in Funchal Madeira

You can find some really creative street art in Funchal

 

8. Local restaurants and shops

Madeira has some really good food, so do yourself a favour, walk past by the tourist places selling deep-freeze pizza and tasteless food and look for a local restaurant. Below are just a few suggested restaurants that we loved the most.

  • In Funchal we stumbled upon Restaurante Armazém do Sal. It’s a really nice restaurant and the menu prices are really high for Madeira, but if you come at lunch time, you have a fantastic selection of dishes at just 9 EUR. We tried salmon, calamari, and chef’s special salad of the day and had one of the best meals in Madeira. We found this restaurant just by opening Google maps and looking for a nearby place with the best reviews.
  • Restaurante Convento Das Vinhas in Calheta not only offers fantastic views, but also has great service and really good home-made food. Ask for suggestions and don’t miss their freshly squeezed fruit juice and yummy deserts.
  • One of our readers recommended we try limpets at a little local place Restaurante Caravela in Sao Vicente, on the Northern Coast of Madeira. So one day when we were in the area, we decided to give it a try. The food was so good that we came back to Sao Vicente a few days later just to have dinner there again. Just beware that portions are huge here, you better come with an empty stomach.
  • If you are in Sao Vicente, you really have to try local bread at the Corvopan Bakery at the end of the main street. It’s the best bread we had in a long time! It’s also a good place for breakfast, lunch, or anything in between. And yes, we went back there more than once as well, even though we stayed on the other side of the island…
Eating limpets at a local restaurant in Madeira

You must try limpets at Restaurante Caravela in Sao Vicente

 

**If you are traveling to Madeira, don’t miss our complete guide to the best hikes of Madeira as well!**

Madeira’s hidden gems on the map

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Hidden gems of Madeira that are probably not on your list

Comments

  1. Dear Jurga,

    I am not sure what you want with your suggestions of ‘hidden gems’ I feel soon these gems are not so hidden anymore when blogs like this reveal the hidden beauties of a place. I think they should remain hidden for the ones who explore places by themselves. Soon there are no places to explore any more in places like Madeira where hordes of tourist get the same idea to do the same thing at the same time.
    Too many beautiful places I do not visit in Madeira because of the crowds they attract. One of them the beach at Rocha do Navio for example which I visited 5 years ago and found it quite deserted then, I will visit the Teleferico today with anticipation in fear of crossing another site of my list. Unfortunately this will be my last visit to Madeira just because of what is happening to it. Let people discover the beauties for themselves, if they don’t nothing is lost. It is the ‘FOMO’ generation that kills adventure and you are part of that with you blog. Such a pity that the world is made too accessible for the unimaginative tourist, by those who get their kicks out of collecting ‘likes’.

    1. Author

      Hi Froitt, I understand your concern, but our blog is really not about chasing ‘likes’ on social media. Quite on the contrary. With articles like this one, we want to inspire people to travel deeper, get a bit off the beaten path and see what the place is truly about.
      And yes, tourism has exploded everywhere and Madeira is not an exception. The simple fact is that more and more people travel – Asians in particular. Also cheap flights made travel more accessible and I’m afraid this trend is not going to change any time soon…
      What has to change is that people just come to a place for a day, in huge groups, visit all the same places, tick the boxes, and say ‘I’ve been to X number of countries’.
      We want to inspire people to really get to know the place. And don’t worry – those huge groups of tourists never read blogs, so the hidden gems are for those who put a bit more effort and do a bit more research before their trips, and indeed choose to discover the beautiful places for themselves. Just in the past, they found this information in the travel guides and now they can find it online.
      Happy travels! And please remember – anywhere you go – that there are many hidden gems to be discovered and it’s always possible to avoid the crowds if you choose to. Also – whether we like it or not – a big part of the 7bln people on the planet have the same dreams and now also the same possibilities to chase those dreams that in the past were not accessible to them.

  2. “Caminho de Cales e Chada between Calheta and Rabacal”

    I can’t really understand this recommendation. This road is perhaps one the worst to drive for someone who isn’t familiar with the roads in Madeira. I can only recommend to someone who is after a really great challenge to drive. And in that case i can recommend the road to Rocha de Baixo at São Jorge. Or the road from Santa Cruz to Madre de Água. But if you are after some nice views it’s beyond me why you don’t’ recommend the road between Serra de Água and Paúl da Serra.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your insights, Ricardo. I’m sure it will be useful to our readers looking to explore Madeira deeper. The reason I included that road is just because it’s so special and so typically Madeira. To us, driving the crazy roads in Madeira was part of the experience of what the island is really about.

  3. I’m so excited to go now next week for my Birthday! thanks for your blog! so many helpful tips! 🙂

    1. Author

      Enjoy your trip, Paulina, and happy birthday!

  4. Hi Jurga, Illheus da Janela sounds very interesting, love secret places like that. We are taking our 3rd visit this Friday for a week. May have plans to hire a car for a day or two, this would be worth a visit for me.

    thanks very much

    1. Author

      Hi Mark, yes, you should definitely rent a car and explore more of Madeira – there is so much to see!
      Enjoy your trip!

  5. This article brings back so many memories from my 2018 trip to Madeira, one of my favourites ever! Got to do some amazing diving and I absolutely loved the landscapes and the locals – ah! Madeira is truly a gem in this world, and you’ve done it justice with your writing.

  6. Looking forward to our trip in a few weeks time. I love the helpful hints to find the non-touristy attractions that the island offers. Thanks for sharing

    1. Author

      Glad you found this useful, Susan. Enjoy your trip to Madeira!

  7. Amazing posts about Madeira! Thank you so much, We’re going in two weeks and will follow your guide 🙂

    1. Author

      Glad you found this useful, Justyna. If you haven’t seen it yet, check our guide to the best hikes of Madeira – some of those are really a must!
      Enjoy your time in Madeira.

  8. That sugar cane factory sounds interesting. And, I did not know you could eat limpets!!? How bizarre! Were they like Mussells?

    1. Author

      I found them better than mussels, Alex. I’m not such a big fan of seafood, but sometimes it’s really good; and this was definitely the case with these limpets in Madeira.

    2. Thank you for sharing. Can any of these places be accessed via public transportation? We are trying to avoid renting a car-bad experiences driving on narrow, mountainous, winding roads in other countries.

      1. Author

        Hi Margaret, I really don’t think that public transport is the best way to discover Madeira. And it’s indeed all narrow, steep, and often very winding mountain roads…
        You can always join guided tours, or consider hiring a local driver for a day or two..
        Enjoy your trip!

  9. Great Post and thank you for sharing your hidden gems of Madeira with us!

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