Madeira is one of those destinations that attracts so many repeat visitors, something you’ll identify with if you have a timeshare there. It’s just so easy to go back every year as the island ticks so many boxes.
This summer, there’s lots going on, so we’ve rounded up some of the best festival and food highlights. The Lemon Festival has just been and gone (a celebration of the citrus fruit which grows abundantly here) but there’s lots coming up, so here are some dates to save from May through to July.
Festa da Cebola (Onion Festival) – Caniço – 15-17 May
A major celebration in honour of…the onion… Festa da Cebola pays tribute to the local farmers of Caniço. There are onion displays galore, combined with Madeira’s lush, famous flowers and parades of cars and tractors elaborately decked out in – yes – onions. One of the really authentic local festivals on the island, it’s just one of many celebrating fruit and veg, as the islanders give thanks for the abundant crops that keep them fed year-round. You can buy a big box – or string – of onions direct from the farmers – perfect for simple onion and tomato salads for the rest of the summer!
Festas da Sé – Funchal – 23-31 May
Based around Funchal Cathedral, the Festas da Sé is one big Madeiran arraial (street party). Local restaurants in streets like Rua de João Tavira, Rua do Bispo, Rua da Queimada de Cima and Rua da Queimada de Baixo create special menus to honour this festival week and there’s spontaneous live music from on offer, too.
Atlantic Festival – Fireworks Contest – 6, 13, 20 and 27
If you’ve ever watched a video of this festival you’ll know what a fabulous spectacle it is! The Atlantic Festival combines the famous Madeira Music Festival, an annual International Fireworks Competition and performances by philharmonic bands in Funchal, with classical music recitals scheduled around Funchal’s most elegant, historic buildings. Catch the performances at the Palácio de São Lourenço, Teatro Municipal Baltazar Dias, Casa das Mudas or one of several churches in Funchal. Meanwhile the fireworks are simply spectacular, and the displays come with a soundtrack of live music – it’s like re-living all the excitement of New Year’s Eve on a warm evening in summer!
Festa dos Santos Populares (Festival of the Popular Saints) – 12-29
The Saints play such an important part in local life here and the Festa dos Santos Populares is one of the best-loved festivals in Madeira. Dedicated to three saints, the locals take part in parades and there’s lots of music, bonfires and stalls selling traditional foods. It’s a wonderful time to get married as Santo António is the saint of love and is celebrated during this two week festival. Two other important saints are São João, the patron saint of Porto Santo and São Pedro the protector of the fishermen, who are very much the life and soul of the island and sometimes risk perilous Atlantic conditions to bring back their catch. Head to Câmara de Lobos and Ribeira Brava to watch the celebrations for yourself.
Festa da Cereja (Cherry Festival) – Câmara de Lobos, Jardim da Serra
Lots of inspiration for those summer cherry puddings here, because it’s cherries galore at Festa da Cereja, an annual festival held in Câmara de Lobos. You’ll get to taste the large Norberto variety, the fruit of Madeira’s unique climate and soil. And yes, of course there are cherry liqueurs. Make a beeline for a glass of ginjinha, an exotic liqueur made from Morello cherries (you’ll probably want to take a bottle home!)
Volta à Madeira – Classic Rally (end of June, dates to be announced)
Classic car fans will definitely not want to miss this! More beautifully restored vintage and classic cars than you can imagine will be on display at this famous Classic Rally which takes place here each summer. But the really fun part is for the drivers – after the public have had a chance to admire the cars, the participants then tackle some 400km of winding roads across the island’s varied, breathtaking landscapes.
Madeira Day – 1 July
Bake a cake to celebrate because it’s Madeira Day on 1 July! This national holiday celebrates the anniversary of the archipelago’s independence from mainland Portugal, back in 1976 with the Portuguese Constitution. A fun day out and a welcome day off in the middle of summer for the locals.
Funchal Jazz Festival – Parque Santa Catarina – 2, 3 & 4 July
Get into the swing of things at the Funchal Jazz Festival in early July, what started as a great idea has become one of Madeira’s best-loved events with an influx of international visitors and artists. The venue is Santa Catarina Park, so you can enjoy the amazing views of Funchal’s backdrop of mountains. And aside from the performances there are a lot of add-on events like jam sessions and workshops where you can get more up close and personal with the jazz artists with master classes.
48 hours Dancing Folklore Festival – Santana
Strictly Come Dancing, Madeira-style…? Not quite, but ‘48 Horas a Bailar’’ takes place in the town of Santana and it’s non-stop folk dancing and live music. Soak up the atmosphere with a few glasses of something local and there are plenty of stalls selling local culinary treats, too.
Festa da Lapa (Limpet festival) – Paul do Mar
Never had grilled limpets with lemon and garlic butter? That’s about to change! For three days in July, Festa da Lapa celebrates the limpet harvests around Paul do Mar’s rocky, craggy shores. As well as the food, there’s live entertainment with DJs and traditional dancing.
Banana Exhibit – Madalena do Mar
Lemons, cherries and now bananas, the Festa da Banana pays tribute to Madeira’s very important export, the banana. The festival takes place in the town of Madalena do Mar where you’ll find the largest banana plantations on the island .
Parque Santa Catarina 24th-25th – Madeira Island Summer Opening Festival
Finally, at the end of July, the Madeira Island Summer Opening takes place. Held over two days, there’s music in the park, so take a big bottle of water, slap on plenty of sunscreen and enjoy the friendly atmosphere – summer has officially arrived in this part of the world!
If you are in Madeira over these dates and want to purchase tickets to some of the festivals, try the FNAC in Madeira’s Shopping Centre, Balcao MMM Ticket (Madeira Forum), Lojas Viagens Abreu or Lojas CTT (Madeira e Porto Santo).