Madeira with kids: reasons to go and things to do

Our family holiday in Madeira back in November now feels long ago. It’s still fresh in our minds, though, because Talitha keeps asking, “When can we go back to Madeira?” and “What’s the weather like in Madeira now?” I think she’s quite ready for winter to be over too! It hasn’t been an overly cold one here in the south west of England but, my, it’s been a seriously wet and windy one. No wonder she’s craving sunshine, warmth and a place where she got to go swimming every day.

Laurence’s parents have a timeshare in Madeira so they invited us to come along with them for their November break. Loving that we could take advantage of home educating by travelling during term time, we were, of course, thrilled to go. I didn’t research much about Madeira beforehand. The whole thing wound up being a beautiful surprise.

Madeira with kids - things to do Marketplace-2

I was amazed that I recognised much of the flora. I kept showing Talitha flowers like hibiscus and bouganvillea and telling her that they grow in Trinidad and Tobago too. Of course, that also meant that we had a fresh supply of the fruits I grew up with like papaya, passion fruit and mangoes. There were also the distinctively flavoured easy peeler citrus fruits that we actually call “portugals” in Trinidad – that should have been a bit of a hint as to a historical connection, I guess?

I hadn’t expected to recognise a lot of the architecture either. Clearly, Trinidad has more Portuguese influence than I’d realised.

Some days it was downright hot and we had to be ready with hats and sunscreen. Others it was just cool enough for a cardigan to be a welcome addition.

Madeira with kids - reasons to go and things to do

Either way, it was such a pleasant temperature in November. Even though I’m from the Caribbean, I really don’t like being too hot unless I’m going to spend most of my time on a beach or by a pool.

We flew from Bristol Airport and the flight was only about three hours. We then took a 30-minute taxi ride to Funchal, where we were staying. How crazy that we could get somewhere dramatically different, in such a short space of time. For us, this would be a real pro of visiting Madeira again.

We were only there for a week and I was limited in what I felt able to do, being in the throes of the first trimester, but we still managed to pack a lot in (in between a lot of swimming for the kids).

Madeira with kids - things to do Marketplace-3

Madeira with kids - things to do Marketplace

Visit the marketplace
One of our first ports of call was the Worker’s Marketplace (Mercado dos Lavradores). On reflection, it would have been better to walk around, take a few pictures and go find somewhere a bit smaller and less touristy to buy from (we accidentally spent a bomb there!) but it was a fun experience tasting all the different types of passion fruit. I had no idea there were so many.

It’s definitely an experience to take hold of when you’re there. There were even people dressed in traditional Madeiran costumes while we were there as it was the market’s anniversary.

Madeira with kids - things to do Old Town

Have lunch outdoors in Old Town

To be fair, have lunch outdoors almost anywhere. Just enjoy the beautiful weather if it’s not too hot when you go. However, we loved having lunch in Old Town because of its eye-catching street art and narrow cobbled streets.

I wish I’d taken note of the name of the restaurant we dined at because it was literally the best meal of our trip – and we ate a lot of outstanding food that week. They didn’t have a baby seat but were very accommodating, offering cushions before we asked and had a baby change too. Generally, we found people extremely welcoming and friendly towards our children throughout our stay.

Madeira with kids - reasons to go and things to do Cable car

Going up the cable car
You can take a cable car up into the mountains, which is bound to thrill the kids and most adults. I admit I struggled with it because I get quite stressed with heights but even I enjoyed doing it, if mainly because the landscape made me feel like I was overlooking Trinidad. The view is well worth it.

Madeira with kids - reasons to go and things to do Toboggan-2

Madeira with kids - reasons to go and things to do Toboggan

Take a toboggan down
Once again, this is something I wasn’t naturally up for but, in the interest of keeping up with the group and pushing myself to try new things I went along with it. As we were already up in the mountains having taken the cable car, we took these old school toboggans down. Laurence had Ophelia in a front carry in the toddler carrier and Talitha sat between her grandparents.

It was, admittedly, a gentle pace though it still managed to set me on edge (I’m a wimp!). I won’t say I personally got that much out of it but everyone else found it so delightful, I’m really glad we went for it.

Madeira with kids - reasons to go and things to do - Levada walk-2

A short Levada walk
Madeiran levadas are narrow water carriageways that run along the mountains, dating back as far as the 16th century and ingeniously making mountainside plantations, gardens and hydro-electric power possible. Taking the paths along them offers stunning views and the chance to experience many different aspects of the Madeiran outdoors from rain forests to waterfalls.

We decided to take a rather short walk for Talitha’s sake as well as mine. Looking back, I should have just stayed back at the hotel. I was battling heavy nausea that day and just wasn’t up to much of a walk at all. Talitha enjoyed maybe an hour of walking and then wanted to go do something else.

I reckon that if I hadn’t been there, she would have sat for a bit under some shade and been happy to continue, hence my regret. We’d booked a taxi who met us at the halfway point and spotting the driver kind of spelled the end for us. I’d love to go back and try again.

A friend asked which walk we did, keen to find a child-friendly one. I’m sorry to disappoint but we don’t remember! We just asked the driver to take us to one that was a gentle and a couple of hours long, and he did so I reckon you could do the same.

I’d love to return at some point. I think we all would. Laurence had a brilliant mountain bike through the rain forest and I’d like to attempt another Levada walk when I’m more up to it. Maybe we’d try another holiday there when Ophelia is walking more too (which won’t be long, to be fair!) so there’s just one baby to carry. Or maybe we’ll wait a few years so all the kids can take advantage of the many sporting opportunities Madeira offers.

Talitha will likely get her wish at some point.

[she/her] • writer • unschooler • team Soul Farm • Revillaging podcast • breastfeeding counsellor • Trinidadian in Cornwall

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  • It’s nuts isn’t it how close we are to stuff? When people I know come over from the US it really brings it home to me. They will say things like ‘while we’re here we’re going to pop over to Paris and Berlin’ as though that’s the easiest thing ever. We forget how lucky we are to be in such a prime spot.

  • Loving Talitha’s face in that toboggan pic! It looks like so much fun. I’m really missing the sunshine and desperate for a change of scene now. Madeira looks gorgeous – you have some wonderful pictures of your time there. Eating outdoors is the BEST thing isn’t it?

  • I’ve been excited to read this report ever since you went and it didn’t disappoint! Such nostalgia! We also spent WAY too much on passion fruit in the central market last time we went – its not just you! November is a great time to go too, cheapest flights all year sometimes. You’ve definitely inspired me to try a levada walk with Rafi, think i underestimate a 4 year old’s stamina. Thanks for the tip on just asking a taxi driver! Simple!

    Hope you get to go back when you’re not in in the nauseous doldrums! It really is a wonderful island Xxx

  • I had a school friends whose dad was from Madeira and she loved visiting relatives there. It always sounded so beautiful and I’d completely forgotten about it until reading this post. Gorgeous family photos, looks like you had such a special time exploring with the kids. I’ll have to keep this in mind now for future family holidays xx

  • Oh I’ve always wanted to visit Madeira (just for the flowers let alone all the other great things to see and do). Thanks for this post, it’s always encouraging to see how child-friendly different destinations can be.