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You might know the well-known ports of call on European cruises in beautiful Italy and along the Mediterranean, but you may not be familiar with Madeira, the tiny archipelago of four islands off the coast of Africa and Portugal. Stop in the capital city, Funchal, to experience its restaurants and nightlife, or take a more outdoorsy approach to Madeira by hiking its dramatic cliffs and waterfalls.
You could take it easy while in port on a Madeira cruise, exploring Zona Velha in Funchal or enjoying a relaxing wine tour while sampling the region’s signature grapes. You could spend an afternoon at the Farmer’s Market pretending to be a local, or catch a panorama of the island from the rugged cliffs on Cabo Girão or Pico do Arieiro. Much of Madeira is connected by cable car, so you won’t have trouble finding great views.
The famous lava pools of Porto Moniz, situated on the northwest part of the island, are a favorite tourist attraction. The saltwater swimming area is said to have restorative properties for all who take a dip in it.
After being on a cruise, Madeira feels remote and special. Funchal is home to the Madeira Botanical Garden, a 20-acre tropical paradise filled with beautiful flowers. Stop in the Museum of Natural History for a bit, and don’t forget to photograph the stunning view of Funchal from the gardens.
Many of the best restaurants and bars you can visit on a Madeira cruise are located in the Zona Velha in Funchal, making it an ideal stop for lunch or dinner. This up-and-coming arts district is conveniently located near a cable car stop for easy access. Enjoy a meal along this bustling street, then pop into a bar for a drink or scope out the nightlife.
The Madeira wine experience is a can’t-miss activity when visiting the islands. Sip and sample the region’s famously dry wine, or tour the vineyards of Blandy’s Wine Lodge or HM Borges. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon getting to know the signature tastes and history of the region.
Pico Ruivo is the highest point on Madeira and offers a strenuous hike to get your blood pumping after so many days on the cruise ship. There are sweeping views of the coast from the summit, and multiple trailheads you can access to get started.
The Mercado dos Lavradores is a staple of daily life in Funchal. Open since 1940, the market sells fragrant flowers, fresh fish, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. There are several restaurants and cafes available to feed your sweet tooth or indulge when you get hungry.
There’s plenty of local cuisine to try here that you probably haven’t encountered elsewhere, so come on a Madeira cruise with an adventurous appetite. Honey cakes, called bolo de miel, are a must-try dessert. It goes without saying that you should also sample the Portuguese wine typical of the region. Madeira is a meat-lover’s paradise, where smoked and grilled meats, like espetadas, or roasted beef rubbed in salt and garlic, are staples on local menus. The island offers plenty of Italian and Mediterranean restaurants as well as cafes, if you don’t want to stick to one type of food.
Though the island of Madeira is autonomous, it’s considered part of Portugal. Wine has been the central export from Madeira for hundreds of years, and over time, the tourism industry became important to the region. The area is most well known for its production of the namesake Madeira wine, which is commemorated annually with a festival. There are also dance festivals each year celebrating Funchal and Madeira’s customs. Today, Madeira is a luxurious island destination with plenty of surprises, including its incredible nature and unique cuisine. Most locals speak Portuguese, and English is also commonly heard here.
When you arrive in port on a cruise to Madeira, you’ll be fairly close to the center of town. Shuttle buses are available to take you further into the island from the port, or you can take a taxi if you don’t feel like bussing it.
When you cruise Madeira, you’ll find that transportation on the island is limited, so you’re better off booking excursions with transportation included, walking to activities close to the port, or riding the bus. Taxis frequent the cruise port, and some visitors choose to explore the island with a rental car.
The Mercado dos Lavradores and the Livraria Esperança are two popular shops that sell locally made embroidery, handmade goods, and secondhand books, so you can find a good read to devour on your next beach day or on the deck of the cruise ship. You’ll find souvenir stands and knick knacks for sale near the cruise port in Funchal. Don’t forget to seek out a bottle of Portuguese wine while you’re here.
You’ll use the euro while in port on a Madeira cruise. You can find ATMs throughout the island. In general, tipping in Portugal isn’t the norm. Don’t worry about leaving a tip at a restaurant or for your taxi driver when traveling to Madeira.