Updated: Dec 14, 2020
When it comes to places to go and things to do around the holidays, there seems to be a near endless list. Christmas markets have been a popular destination no matter where on earth they are. Many of the most popular can be found anywhere from New York City to Berlin, Germany. Each one bringing a different atmosphere from its local culture. With picturesque views and Instagram worthy backdrops, Christmas markets have everything to make your holiday vacation a memorable one.
Some of the most notable Christmas markets you'll likely find in a web search are:
Prague, Czech Republic
One destination you don't normally find on any of the top lists for Christmas markets is Madeira, Portugal. Even though it's not as well known for its Christmas market, it's world renowned for its New Years celebration. Madeira is a Portuguese island located about 300 miles west of Morocco. With an average temperature of about 55°F, and highs upwards of 70° during the holidays, its mild weather may not make you feel festive, but the island makes up for that with its rich character and culture. The Madeira Islands have also so accurately been awarded the World's Leading Island Destination by the World Travel Awards for five years straight from 2015-2020.
The island's Christmas market is located in the center of the capital, Funchal. Overlooking the harbor and ocean on one side, and scaling mountains and cliffs to the other, Funchal makes for a scenic cityscape. The city is walkable, but if you need to make your way from one side to the other, taxis are safe and affordable. There is also the Teleferico, which is the cable car that will take you up to the areas higher on the mountain side. When the sun goes down, the lights come on. Most of Funchal gets lit up, so no matter what corner you walk around, there are Christmas lights and decorations to welcome you.
During the day, there are many options for adventuring around the island. Madeira offers a deep cultural connection to its past. From walking through the food markets of the capital to walking to the peaks of the highest mountain on the island, there is plenty to explore. In Santana, Madeira you'll be able to find the traditional Madeiran homes that are on display just as they were in the past. If you're looking for a little more modern history, you can visit Winston Churchill's viewpoint in Câmara de Lobos, where he perched himself to paint a picture of the harbor. For some urban adventure, you have to take a ride on the Monte Toboggan down the sloping streets of upper Funchal.
The view from the Tobbogan!
The cuisine in Madeira is exceptional no matter where you dine, with dishes that mainly focus around two main staples. Carne de espeto, which is meat on a spit, and Espada, which is the Black Scabbard fish. You'll find other options, but these two staples can be found on just about every menu around the island. Fresh maracuja, or passion fruit can be found in any street market, where you can get the fruit cut for you to eat on the go. Looking for a specialty adult beverage? Well, you need to try one or several flavors of Poncha, a potent and flavorful drink made with real fruit juice. And If you're lucky you may even receive a serenade from a traditional Madeiran band right off the street while dining.
If you're looking for a different type of traditional Madeiran serenade, a Fado bar is a must. This bar is run by a mother and her daughters, who take turns singing as they serve their patrons.
Looking to immerse yourself in nature? There's no lack of beautiful landscape to take in. You can stand atop the highest point of the island to look out into the canyons that disappear into the clouds below. Take a nature walk along many of the levadas throughout the island. You never know where you might end up or what kind of incredible waterfall you might stumble across while on your walk.
Just be careful not to get too close to the edge!
Everything from the culture to the cuisine is impeccable, but nothing compares to the fireworks display that commences as the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. From the rooftop of one of the many hotels in Funchal, you'll be surrounded by fireworks that will take your breath away. From 2006-2012 Madeira held the title of "Greatest Fireworks Show In The World" by the Guinness World of Records.
Madeira, Portugal is the ideal holiday destination to take the whole family. Pack your bags and enjoy this incredible island destination.