“An undiscovered gem,” is how one of our recent Stubborn Mule families described their first Madeira family holiday, one of Portugal’s largest island outposts located as near to Africa as to the mainland itself.

People of a certain age might have been coming here for years to enjoy the lovely, almost year-round Mediterranean climate (see when to go to Portugal), the scenic beaches, and delicious food and drink (more Madeira, dear?!)

However, given that much of the island boasts stunning mountainous scenery and rugged coastline – the very topography which is central to exciting activities – it’s not surprising that the island is now re-inventing itself as a place for adventurous families with children of every age. And just over a three-and-a-half-hour flight time from the UK, too!

Family walking in Madeira

The coastal paths reveal stunning views at every turn…

A paradise for nature and wildlife lovers (particularly of the marine variety), world-famous drink and food, tropical gardens in abundance, and about much fun as it’s possible to have in a wicker basket, read on to discover why Madeira is a magnet for families just like yours. (And also check out our Madeira customer reviews.)

Our favourite activities on Madeira family holidays

1. Go whale and dolphin watching

dolphin watching - pod of dolphins leaping out of the water

Exuberant wild Atlantic dolphins often race visitors’ boats and put on quite a show

Did you know that Madeira is one of the world’s top whale and dolphin-watching destinations? Year-round marine residents include the mighty sperm whale, bottlenose and Atlantic dolphins, whilst migrating visitors including humpback, Bryde’s and pilot whales can be spotted here between April and October. Taking a boat trip from the island’s southern shores is the best way to see these magnificent creatures on a Madeira family holiday, whilst we can also arrange snorkelling trips to swim with the dolphins, under carefully controlled conditions. Definitely a Madeira with kids highlight!

2. Hurtle downhill at 30 miles per hour in a Monte Sledge

Visitors going downhill in a sledge in Madeira

Only in Madeira! Great fun for all ages

Those of a nervous disposition should look away now, but no Madeira family holiday would be complete without a ride on a Monte sledge, effectively a wicker basket on skis which, pushed downhill by two straw-boater wearing drivers, will see you hurtle downhill at speed. The twisting run from Livramento takes around ten minutes to cover the 2-kilometre descent. Although at one time, the sledge was a fast and easy way to transport goods by the island’s residents, nowadays it’s strictly a tourist draw. Amazing fun for all the family, sledges can accommodate a family of four.

3. Hike up a volcano, a Madeira family holiday must-do

Hiking in Madeira mountains on family holiday

Volcanic, rugged, and green, family hiking in Madeira’s interior is superb, but take a warm top

Any Madeira family holiday will include visiting the island’s mountainous interior at some point, the apex of which are two volcanoes, Pico do Arriero (see the viewpoint here) which is linked by a ridge to the island’s tallest point, Pico do Ruivo (1,862m). Walking up and between them, above the cloud line, offers phenomenal views and an experience you won’t forget BUT it’s very weather dependent and only suitable for fit and active families with teenage children.

4. Explore the cobbled streets of Funchal

Funchal street with art and old style doors, on Madeira family holiday

Hang out in Funchal, enjoy the street art and find food everyone will enjoy

Whilst modern-day Funchal is growing by the second and can, at first glance, appear very built up, wander through its streets and you’ll find an array of attractions that can keep even the most reluctant child or teenager occupied for a day or more. One of the cleanest, safest, and most picturesque capital cities in Europe, the cobbled streets of the Old Town are a delight to walk around, and the harbour a magnet for cruise ships and people-watchers alike. Foodies will love the open-air restaurants serving world-class food and drink (wash down an Espetada Madeiranese – beef bbq skewers – with a cheeky wine or three) whilst teenagers will enjoy the street art of Rua da Santa Maria.

5. Go sea-kayaking, canyoning, swimming or snorkelling!

Girl snorkelling on a Madeira family holiday

Madeira’s coastline is the perfect for kids with everything from snorkelling and kayaking to canyonning

Madeira (or, to be accurate, Madeira island, the main island in the group of four islands in the Portuguese archipelago), has a coastline of 90 miles / 144 kilometres and as such provides a phenomenal playground for those seeking adventurous activities. There’s a whole host of activities you can choose from, but we can easily arrange sea-kayaking (double or single-seaters as preferred) through deserted bays and inlets, canyoning, and of course the gentler swimming or snorkelling trips. An adventurer’s paradise!

6. Walk or mountain bike along a ‘Levada’

Madeira’s Levadas make a fabulous walking or mountain bike trail

Levadas, or irrigation channels, are a significant and unique feature of the landscape. Come here on a Madeira family holiday and you’ll discover that there are over 200 of them, spanning 2,000 kilometres length and breadth of the island. Usually flat but some with a surprising slope, they make for fabulous walking trails suitable for even young children and get you out and about in the open countryside. Whilst most people walk, we offer mountain bikes to traverse one of the most iconic tracks, which makes it much more fun for kids and adults alike, we think!

7. Take a cable car to the Botanical Gardens

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All the family will love the fabulous views from the cable cars

The ‘garden city’ of Funchal has not just two phenomenal gardens (including the Monte Place Tropical Gardens) but two cable cars, too. The cable car from Funchal to Monte is a 15-minute ride from the Old Town through surrounding mountains to the town of Monte. The second connects the Botanical Garden Station and, as you’d expect, the Botanical Gardens of Madeira to the secondary station Bobosas – Monte, a 9-minute journey amongst hills, valleys, streams the Laurissilva (laurel) Forest, a UNESCO world natural heritage site. Spoilt for choice!

More on Madeira family holidays

Want to know more? We offer a 6-day Madeira short break sample itinerary, which, if you’ve more time, can be extended to suit. Madeira’s beaches are mostly rocky so if your family are beach bunnies, consider adding on some time on the island of Port Santo. Known as the Golden Island, Porto Santo has a stunning 9km long beach of fine sand lapped by turquoise waters. Activities include kayaking and snorkelling as well as bike hire and buggy tours of the island.

Alternatively, why not take a look at our Portugal holiday portfolio for the whole shebang?

Family taking a break on a Madeira hike

The activities in Madeira are a big hit with the kids but there’s always time for some quiet family bonding

We tailor-make all our holidays and will work with you to create your own unique family itinerary. Call us on 01728 752 751 or get in touch using our enquiry form for help arranging your trip.

Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel