The best festivals in Madeira

Madeira is home to a wide range of exciting festivals and celebrations. We take a look at some of the best.

By Saga team

Published 5 May 2024

From celebrating New Year with the world’s biggest fireworks display to honouring the humble chestnut and cherry, Madeira seems to have a festival or fiesta going on pretty much every month of the year. So, when you’re not striding out on the Levada trails, visiting a botanical garden or sliding down a mountain on a wickerwork toboggan, here’s a taste of some of the other fun to be had.

Madeira’s New Year fireworks are thought to be the biggest and the best in the world. The best place to watch a display is in Funchal, where the festivities are focused, but smaller, equally impressive displays take place throughout the island. If you do happen to be in Funchal, the naturally formed amphitheatre is transformed by thousands of lights and the bars, streets and restaurants are packed with revelers. The New Year firework display in Funchal is truly spectacular and visitors flock from all over the world to enjoy it every year.

Just like the Rio Carnival, the Carnival of Madeira is held every year. Celebrations start forty days before Easter, but the biggest party of all happens in the streets of Funchal over the weekend and days leading up to Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday as it’s also known. Visit Madeira at this time of year and you’ll find yourself in one of the biggest street parties in Europe. Expect full-on carnival fun – samba music, dance troupes, marching bands and flamboyant costumes. Although the main event is in Funchal, celebrations are held all over the island, from the north to the south.

After all the fun of the Carnival, Madeira throws itself into yet another mammoth celebration two weeks later, with its annual Flower Festival. You’ll soon see why the island is known as the Floral Isle, as the capital Funchal erupts with elaborate displays in every street, shop window and window box. The colours are dazzling, with every kind of flower and foliage arranged in all shapes and sizes. There are parades, folklore festivals, flower shows and live music concerts – you’ll even see flower carpets on some streets!

The Aleste music festival is also badged as one of the best beach parties on Madeira. Held over four days in May, it features upcoming and established Portuguese and International artists from across the jazz, techno and post-rock world. One of the youngest events on Madeira’s festival scene, Aleste is rapidly becoming one of the island’s most fashionable live music events.

Cultural entertainment, classical music, extravagant firework displays – Madeira’s Atlantic Festival is like three festivals in one. Held in June each year, the event celebrates the start of summer with a programme of music, multi-media shows and spectacular pyro-musical displays. Classical concerts and performances by Madeira’s philharmonic orchestras are held in venues throughout Funchal, and every Saturday night teams from different countries choreograph spectacular music and firework displays.

They may be small, but cherries have their own annual festival on Madeira. Held in Camara de Lobos, just a few miles from Funchal, the Festa de Cerja (Cherry Festival) marks the start of the cherry harvest season in June. It’s a popular local event with street parties, cherry-themed parades, live music and stalls selling everything from wicker baskets to home-made cherry liqueurs. If you can’t make the festival, come to this part of Madeira in April or May for dazzling cherry blossom displays.

Madeira’s annual Jazz Festival has gathered quite a following since its first outing in 2000. That’s hardly surprising when you learn that the stage is set in Parque de Santa Catarina in Funchal, framed by wonderful views of the sea and mountains behind. Renowned jazz artists from around the world, along with local bands and musicians, arrive every July to enjoy and take part in what has become the biggest and best jazz festival in Portugal.

Every September, thousands of people descend on the parish of Estreito de Câmara to celebrate one of Madeira’s most famous exports, Madeira Wine. Estreito is the epicentre of Madeira’s viticulture industry, and many of the grapes grown here are used to make the island’s famous fortified tipple. Madeira’s Wine Harvest festival celebrates and recreates the hard work of the harvest with grape picking, wine making and wine tasting – and everyone’s invited to join in.

Even after spring and summer have passed, Madeira is still in festival mood as it gears up for a Chestnut Festival in early November each year. The event is held in the parish of Curral das Freiras, popularly known as Nun’s Valley, in the mountainous heart of Madeira. Chestnut trees grow in abundance here, and the locals have learned to make good use of the ample annual harvest to make everything from chestnut soup and cake to velvety sweet liqueurs. Apart from joining the parades and parties, you can try all the local specialties.

Would you love to see one of Madeira’s festivals for yourself? Saga offers a range of Hosted Holidays, escorted tours and Special Interest holidays on this much-loved Portuguese isle. Browse the full Madeira collection online, or order a free brochure today.

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