What's it really like?
While Madeira was once thought of as a holiday resort for sunshine-chasing seniors, the island is quickly gaining a reputation for being one of Europe’s best island destinations, with jaw-dropping nature, charming villages, and fantastic food and drink.
This is in large part thanks to its location. Like many of Southern Europe’s island destinations, Madeira sits closer to Africa than it does to Europe, benefiting from year-round sunny weather, a unique volcanic landscape, and crystal-clear waters rich in biodiversity. For these reasons, hikers, swimmers, scuba divers, surfers, and other adventure-seeking travellers are bound to fall in love with Madeira.
Its natural beauty may be its chief attraction, but it is by no means its only one. The island’s capital of Funchal rivals Lisbon for cool bars and cafés, charming shops and markets, and beautiful architecture, while its placement on a cliffside means you are never far from a show-stopping view. Quaint fishing villages line the coast, as do beautiful beaches ranging from developed resorts to quiet deserted paradises.
Portugal is a country that knows its food, and Madeira is no different. There is, of course, delicious fresh seafood, but also fantastic grilled meat and many of Portugal’s best delicacies, like pastel de nata and prego steak sandwiches.
Madeira is not particularly gay – there are no gay bars on the island and no gay hotels. However, it is a welcoming place, with gay-friendly nightlife and an open-minded attitude. Couples will especially love visiting, but it is also an amazing option for solo gay travellers and groups of friends.
There are hotel options for every budget and type of traveller on Madeira, but the main question comes down to whether you want to stay in Funchal, the capital, or whether you want something more remote and nature-based.
Funchal is ideal if you want to balance nature walks and beach days with bars, restaurants, and nightlife, as there isn’t much of it outside the city. If you want more of a resort vibe, there are some amazing hotels in Machico and Calheta. Caniçal is a popular base for hikers thanks to its coastal paths, and Jardim do Mar is all about surfing and watersports.
Caniço, a resort town a short drive from Funchal, is a popular place to stay and a good compromise between city and nature.
Madeira isn’t a particularly gay destination, but it is a friendly and open-minded place where gay visitors are likely to feel welcome.
Portugal is a progressive country, with sturdy legal protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – it was, after all, named the world’s most gay friendly destination by Spartacus in 2019. As usual, more conservative attitudes are common in rural areas, but Madeira’s popularity as a tourist destination makes it a bit of an exception in this regard.
Unlike the rest of the island, with its unique nature and dramatic mountain vistas, Madeira’s capital Funchal feels very Portuguese. Indeed, with its black-and-white street tiles, bakeries selling pasteis de nata, quaint specialist stores, and trendy cafés and art galleries, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Lisbon – that is, until you find yourself on a viewpoint overlooking the clear-blue African sea. It’s well worth spending a few days getting to know the city, and many choose to base themselves there.
Outside Funchal, nature takes over. Active travelers will love hiking mountain trails, while others will delight in relaxing on golden sand beaches. Highlights include the beaches on the island of Porto Santo, volcanic tidal pools on Porto Moniz, and cute fishing villages like Câmara de Lobos.
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