Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira?

An article in The Telegraph pondered the question ‘which is better, Tenerife or Madeira?’ The article didn’t reach any kind of conclusion, instead it listed the attributes of both. But it included a poll so readers could make the decision for the newspaper. The outcome (at the time of reading) was 53% in favour of Madeira. The reader comments attached to the article, outlining why Madeira was considered better, were particularly interesting and illuminating.

Quite a few agreed Tenerife was better for weather. But when it came to history, culture, gastronomy, and scenery, Madeira won hands down. However, many views were influenced by inaccurate and misinformed perceptions. To take a more considered view on which offers the more rounded and satisfactory travel experience, it’s essential to compare various factors using facts combined with first-hand knowledge.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - Weather


The weather site holiday-weather.com lists the average high on Madeira as 22.5C in Aug, while on Tenerife it’s 24C. The average lowest temperature on Madeira is 16C in January. On Tenerife it’s 16.5. Madeira’s sunniest month is September, with 8 hrs of sunshine a day. On Tenerife, it’s August, when there’s 10 hrs daily. When it comes to rainfall, December is Tenerife’s wettest month, with an average 56mm of rain falling. In Madeira, it’s January when 108mm is the average. While stats don’t tell the whole story, the world map shows you all you need to know; Tenerife is 500km further south.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - history


Historically, Madeira is more of a lightweight. It was an uninhabited island which, after its discovery in 1419, grew relatively rich on the trade of sugar cane and wine. Tenerife was already inhabited by a primitive race by the time conquistadors settled it. The island lay at the crossroads with the New World, leading to a strong South American connection. Battles at Tenerife are said to have led to the establishment of the Royal Navy as a leading sea force, and the independence of Portugal. Franco orchestrated the start of the Spanish Civil War from Tenerife. There are historical towns and cities whose architecture reflects the influence of numerous nations. So much so, La Laguna on Tenerife is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the blueprint for some South American cities.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - culture


Riches in history lead to riches in culture. Madeira reminds me more of the north of Portugal, whereas Tenerife has more in common with South America than it does with mainland Spain. But there is an interesting overlap. At traditional fiestas on Tenerife, people dress in a similar way to revellers at Madeiran festas. You can see similarities in themes as well, the reason being that there were many Portuguese settlers on Tenerife. But where Madeiran culture reflects mainly Portuguese traditions and customs, Tenerife’s incorporates a broader mix, one that even includes the influence of its pre-conquest settlers, and that makes it more unique.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - gastronomy


Generally speaking, gastronomy on Madeira is on the basic side outside of its resorts and main city – consisting of simple meat and fish dishes. I’d go as far as saying we were disappointed most of all in its cuisine. Compare traditional menus on both islands and, thanks to the wider influences, you’ll find a far greater range on Tenerife. Where choice is limited outside of Funchal and the resort towns on Madeira, some of the best culinary centres are located away from the resort areas on Tenerife. In towns where you encounter few tourists, you’ll find contemporary Canarian food close to Michelin standard. Talking of Michelin, Madeira has two Michelin-starred restaurants. Tenerife boasts five.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - beaches


Madeira isn’t renowned for its beaches. Tenerife’s have mass tourist market appeal. Tenerife’s beaches – a mix of black sand, pale golden crescents, and golden imports – don’t hold a candle to those of the eastern Canary Islands, but they are more of a draw than Madeira’s.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - tourism


Tourism on Madeira feels low key compared to Tenerife. There are no sprawling, purpose-built resorts populated by boozy Brits. In general, it’s a laid-back affair which appeals to travellers seeking a serene location. Tenerife’s mass tourism face can be gauche and boisterous, attracting reams of bad press. As I write, videos of English and Welsh football fans brawling in Playa de las Américas are trending. But that’s only one area. Most of Tenerife remains ignored by sun, sand, and booze cruise-seeking tourists.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - natural beauty

Natural Beauty

Madeira’s ancient laurisilva forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the area around Santana is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is a stunning island with dramatic scenery softened by extravagant floral displays, great swathes of agapanthus and hydrangeas. Madeira’s natural beauty is a breath stealer. Tenerife also has an incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site in Teide National Park, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the verdant Anaga region. Its scenery ranges from volcanic to pine and ancient laurisilva forests. Both are going to delight lovers of natural beauty.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - towns & cities

Towns and cities

The meatier the history, the more likely you are to find picturesque towns and villages. I particularly like the colonial centre of Funchal on Madeira, and places like Câmara de Lobos. But, apart from a few pockets, there’s a lack of a historical architecture. There is a far greater selection of historical centres on Tenerife. I’ve mentioned La Laguna previously, La Orotava’s old town oozes nobility, and Garachico is one of the prettiest towns in the Canarian Archipelago. But there are many others which rarely get a mention in travel articles.

Which is better, Tenerife or Madeira - hiking


These are two excellent destinations for hiking. Both offer great variety; although, Tenerife shades it for me. Having created walking holidays across Europe, I still rate it as one of the best places for diverse hiking experiences. Another factor which places Tenerife ahead is that some of Madeira’s best hikes have become victims of their own success. We aborted two due to the sheer volume of other walkers. We still enjoyed superb walking, not meeting many other hikers, but at second choice locations. There are a couple of hikes on Tenerife which also attract an off-putting number of walkers; although, these are now regulated. Ironically, they are not the best walks on the island as those tend to be so far from the main resorts they deter the masses.


Whether Tenerife or Madeira is better is mostly subjective. I lived on Tenerife for 14 years, so I’m naturally going to lean toward the Spanish island. But the history of each island is well documented, and that also feeds architecture, culture, and gastronomy. These are my opinions, but they are based on facts rather than perceptions, unlike the views of some people who commented on The Telegraph article, many of whom revealed their experience of Tenerife was limited to its purpose-built resorts, one of the reasons so many get it wrong.

Ultimately, comparing Tenerife with Madeira isn’t fair. One has a population of nearly a million, the other is quarter of a million, and those facts influence many of the categories above. A more relevant comparison would be to compare Madeira with the likes of La Palma. But even then, why bother? Each of the islands, whether Madeiran or Canarian have qualities which make them all worth visiting … unless anyone is planning simply to flop on the sand for a fortnight.

About Jack 799 Articles
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a Slow Travel consultant and a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Facebook for more travel photos and snippets.

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