Madeira Events & Festivals

Get involved in the Pearl of the Atlantic’s annual calendar

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

Celebrations in Madeira, 2013Affectionately known as the 'Islands of Eternal Spring' or 'Pearl of the Atlantic', depending on who you talk to, the Madeira archipelago is surely the jewel in Portugal’s glimmering crown. Located closer to the shores of Morocco than the country to which it belongs, the islands are a bonafide Atlantic paradise. Enjoying subtropical climates, mesmerising landscapes and an escape from the tourist furore of the mainland, it’s clear to see why the many events that take place on this modest haven every year are held in such high regard. 

The main beauty of the events that occur in Madeira is, first and foremost, that each and every one of them pay homage to the area’s roots – yet still manage to maintain a sense of diversity and individuality. From music to nature, heritage to modern wonders, over the course of 12 months it’s fair to say the locals know how to put on a show. 


Madeira's top five yearly events


Fun and fireworks at Madeira events: Atlantic Festival Fun and fireworks at Madeira events: Atlantic Festival

Each June, the skies of Funchal, Madeira’s capital city, light up each Saturday night as part of the high-spirited Atlantic Festival. The main event is the international fireworks contest, where participants from competing countries battle it out to see who can produce the most spectacular display. Aside from the pyrotechnics. the event also incorporates the equally wondrous Madeira Music Festival, the Feast of the Gardens and the Regional Exhibition of Artistic Impression. With the first explosive crack of the fireworks, the summer well and truly begins. 

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A Madeiran celebration: Columbus Festival A Madeiran celebration: Columbus Festival

One lesser-told element of the Christopher Columbus story is that of his time spent living on the island of Porto Santo. Not so for the Madeirans themselves, though, who regard the legendary explorer as their most favourite adopted son. The eponymous festival celebrates his time here in style, with three days of activity. Kids will love the 15th-century fair, which affords them the chance to hone their juggling skills, not to mention the tantalisingly tasty pig roast. The highlight of the whole occasion, however, is undoubtedly the lovingly recreated arrival of Columbus and his crew, which kicks off proceedings in the harbour.

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Dress up for the Madeira Mardi Gras: Carnival Dress up for the Madeira Mardi Gras: Carnival

Madeira’s very own answer to Mardi Gras, the simple and apt title of Carnival in some ways tells you all you need to know. This week-long fiesta perfectly captures the spirit of Rio de Janeiro, getting under way at the end of February with a gloriously colourful parade through the streets of Funchal. This samba-orientated celebration is a relatively sophisticated and intricately planned affair, but the trapalhao parade, which closes the festival on Shrove Tuesday, is a no-holds-barred melange of outrageous costumes, thunderous music and riotous frivolity.

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Wildlife and adventure at events in Madeira: Nature Festival Wildlife and adventure at events in Madeira: Nature Festival

As one of Europe’s most visually breathtaking vistas, it seems appropriate that Madeira would hold a festival celebrating its natural beauty. Adventure lovers in particular will thrive at the Nature Festival, which offers a range of activities from mountain biking and canyoning to taking a dive into the mighty Atlantic. Of course, you could always opt to simply take a hike around the luscious green mountains that define the islands, or get up close and personal with whales and dolphins during a boat cruise around the radiant coastlines.

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Bottoms up at festivals in Madeira: Wine Festival Bottoms up at festivals in Madeira: Wine Festival

One of the more understated celebrations of Madeira’s heritage is the annual Wine Festival that runs in August or September each year. The area has a rich wine-growing history, accounting for a significant proportion of the local economy, so the grape harvesting period seems as good a time as any to honour this. The festival begins with the picking of the grapes, accompanied with a parade that incorporates local folk music and traditional dancing. The week continues in a similar vein, with visitors and locals heartily encouraged to involve themselves in the music, light shows and, naturally, a glass or two of the beverage itself.

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Main image © Valter
Image 1 © Porto bay events
Image 2 © LukeGordon1
Image 3 © jamie neely
Image 5 © Porto bay events

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