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Monte Palace Tropical Garden Photo: Shutterstock
Monte Palace Tropical Garden Photo: Shutterstock

Madeira must-dos

Madeira and its capital Funchal offer experiences crossing culture, design and the outdoors. Here are some of our favorite things to do.

Photo: Oliver Martin

Trotting and spotting

Horses are a rarity in Madeira (every bale of hay has to be imported, so it doesn’t come cheap) but there are a few stables accommodating those who want to explore the islands on horseback. The eminent Quinta do Riacho specializes in trail riding, and since it’s based in the village of Santo da Serra, you’ll be riding through the Madeira Natural Park, of which the UNESCO-listed Laurisilva forest is a habitat. There are several rides to choose from, some taking you up mountains, others along levadas – or both.

Quinta do Riacho

9100-251 Santo António da Serra

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Nini’s world

You might not expect to find a contemporary haven of cool in a 17th century fortress in which Madeira colonizer Gonçalves Zarco once lived, but climb the stairs (or take the lift) of Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora da Conceição and you’ll soon be immersed in local designer Nini Andrade Silva’s minimalist but homely world. Opened in 2015, the space houses a showcase of the designer’s work and personal artifacts, and there’s also a small shop and a café with seating inside and out, offering marvelous 360° views across water and land.

Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva

Estrada da Pontinha

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Tropical wonderland with added extras

A visit to the world-famous botanical gardens is bound to be on most people’s lists, but Monte Palace Tropical Garden is also a must-see. The most scenic way to get there from Funchal is by Madeira Cable Car.

Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

Caminho do Monte

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Playtime

Located within the hip cultural center Armazém do Mercado in Funchal, Museu do Brinquedo is a stylishly presented toy museum, housing a private collection of some 20,000 pieces from different eras. The idea is for all generations to come together, exchanging childhood memories and toy stories.

Museu do Brinquedo

Rua Latino Coelho 39

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On top of the world

The 580m-high Cabo Girão is the second highest sea cliff in the world. Standing at the top, you have panoramic views, and thrill-seekers can enhance the experience by stepping along the highest glass floor skywalk in ¬Europe.

Estrada do Cabo Girão

9300-351 Câmara de Lobos

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Photo: Shutterstock

Dolphins and fireworks

Explore the Atlantic and its inhabitants – whales, dolphins and turtles – by setting off on a catamaran adventure. VMT Madeira arranges different types of trips, with or without animals as part of the schedule. You might want to take a tour of the Madeira coastline, sail into the sunset, or, come New Year’s, watch Madeira’s world-famous firework spectacle from out at sea.

VMT Madeira

Loja 09, Marina do Funchal

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Photo: Madeira.best

Onwards and downwards

Follow in the tracks of Ernest Hemingway and take an exhilarating wicker toboggan ride from the mountain village of Monte. The first sledge set off on its downhill journey in the 19th century, and today the toboggans provide a fun 2km ride along steep, winding roads. Two men wearing thick rubber soled boots – used for braking – will push, guide, and steer the toboggans, ensuring your journey goes smoothly. Bear in mind that the finishing point is the Funchal suburb of Livramento, so allow for a 45-minute walk or a taxi-ride to reach the city center.

Caminho do Monte 4 9050-084 Monte

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Board at the bottom of the stairs of Nossa Senhora do Monte Church

Text: Emma Holmqvist Deacon

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