Travel guide Madeira: complete and best information

In our travel guide Madeira we provide all the information for your trip to this wonderful island, including where to stay and the best things to do

Madeira is a paradise island located in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean! We truly loved the island and had an amazing time here! Its different names like ‘the pearl of the Atlantic’, ‘the floating garden’ or ‘the island of eternal spring’ already give away that the island is covered in lush and beautiful greenery. There is something for everyone on Madeira: volcanic landscapes, jungle vibes and stunning coastal cliffs. But there is more to find than just nature! Discover the history of Madeira in Funchal or Santana or relax at one of the many stunning beaches or natural pools. In this travel guide Madeira, we’ll give you all the information you need to plan your trip to Madeira in Portugal.

hiking pico arieiro pico ruivo mountain trail
signpost PR8 ponta de são lourenço hike

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The best time to visit Madeira

As mentioned before, Madeira is also called the island of eternal spring. So in general, every month is a good month to visit the island. There are some differences between seasons of course. If you really want to have lots of sun and warm temperatures, we suggest you visit Madeira from June until September. One disadvantage of these summer months is that waterfalls will be at their minimum. So if you are attracted to Madeira for its waterfalls, it is better to visit during the winter months. Also for moody clouds on your hikes the winter months are preferable.

How to get to Madeira

By air – The most common way to get to Madeira is by air. Dependent on your location, you’ll be able to catch a direct flight or a connecting flight with a stopover in Madrid, Lisbon or Porto. Once you arrive at the island, you’ll land at the Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira International Airport (indeed, the famous football star Cristiano Ronaldo was born on Madeira). If you rented a car for your trip in Madeira, most rental companies deliver your car at the parking right outside the airport. There is also an airport bus, that takes you for €5 from the airport to Funchal in about 30 minutes.  Another option is taking a taxi, plenty of them are located outside the airport building. Expect to pay around 40 to 50 euros to get from the airport to Funchal.  

Landing on Madeira is pretty exciting! The landing strip of Madeira Airport is said to be one of the most challenging runways in the world because it is limited in space. On one side it is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side by high mountains. In 2000 the runway was extended by constructing a platform on columns over the sea, increasing the length of the landing strip. If offers a majestic side when driving with the car from Funchal to the east of the island! When arriving at Madeira, make sure to look through the window. You’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and the island. It will set the tone for your adventure in Madeira!

By cruise – Madeira is a popular destination for cruise ships. If you are on a cruise vacation, there’s a possibility that your itinerary includes a stop at Funchal.

cruise ship arriving at the port of funchal in madeira

How long should you stay on Madeira

Although Madeira looks small on a map, there are plenty of things to do and see on Madeira. So the length of your stay depends on the things you want to do. We were on Madeira for 10 days and we felt we were able to do all the things we planned to do, including some day-hikes and the most important sights.

Renting a car on Madeira

We recommend having a car to be able to fully discover Madeira. There are many rental companies on Madeira. When choosing a car, there are several things to keep in mind:

Size of the car

There has already been written a lot about what type of car to rent in Madeira. First thing to keep in mind when choosing a car is that some roads in Madeira are steep, like … very steep.  And that means that parking lots can be very steep as well. So some say it’s best to rent a larger car, as these often have more power. We agree with that to a certain level. However, larger cars are also more difficult to park. Especially on steep parking lots and when turning in narrow streets, we were happy with our small car. We rented a Fiat 500 and we were able to get everywhere we wanted. Admitted, we sometimes had to drive in 1st gear to reach the top of a mountain, but it worked fine for us.

Manual or automatic

We drove a manual car. If you have less driving experience, we do suggest to opt for a car with an automatic transmission. There are however few of these cars on Madeira and you will pay extra for this.

Which rental company?

There are plenty of rental companies on Madeira, so the best thing to do is to use an online compairing website. We always use Discovercars.com as they are a world leader in car rental and provide the best prices.

icon rental car Check available cars and prices in Madeira HERE

Vanlife options 

If you know us, you know we love vanlife! Although we didn’t experience vanlife ourselves on Madeira, we do believe it’s the perfect way to explore the island. Mad Roadtrip is a rental company that rent campervans and have the authorization to park the vehicles anywhere on the island.

Insurance 

The decision is up to you whether you take a basic or full insurance. We rented a car at one of the cheapest rental companies of Madeira but after reading some reviews we decided to take the full insurance. Although the rental price was cheap, we read that the rental company was very strict when checking the car upon return. The full insurance made us feel comfortable when driving the (sometimes gravel) roads in Madeira. Whatever insurance you chose, make sure to make plenty of photos when picking up and returning the car. That often prevents a lot of discussion.

Is driving in Madeira safe

The most dangerous thing in Madeira is the scenery. It is often so breathtaking you might get distracted. But in general, driving in Madeira is safe: overall, the roads are in good condition and distances are short. Funchal can be busy, but outside the Funchal area you often have the road for yourself. Just keep in mind that roads can be steep so having some mountain driving experience can be a plus.

Gas stations

in Madeira the price of gas is the same across the whole island, so there is no difference between brands of gas stations. There are plenty of gas stations dotted over the entire island.

Where to stay?

There are plenty of tourist accommodations on Madeira. However, we recommend to stay in Funchal. The weather in Madeira can be rather unpredictable with rain on one side of the island and warm and sunny weather on the other side. In our experience, the weather in Funchal is the best on the entire island. We often returned in the afternoon to Funchal in full sunshine, whereas on other parts of the island it was foggy or raining. Next to that, most tourist accommodations on the island are situated in Funchal and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy.

Hotels

NEXT – by Savoy Signature

The wonderful NEXT hotel is situated in the center of Funchal and has modern bedrooms with private bathrooms with shower. All rooms have air-conditioning and some have sea views. There is an outdoor pool to enjoy and a sauna, allowing you to rest your muscles after an intense hike. You also have a restaurant and a bar at your disposal, that offer excellent food and drinks.

Check availability on BOOKING.COM

Funchal Madeira where to stay hotel next swimming pool
Funchal Madeira where to stay hotel next

Castanheiro Boutique Hotel

The Castanheiro Boutique Hotel is located in the center of Funchal, just 500 meters away from the port of Funchal. The hotel has an outdoor pool with wonderful views over Funchal. If you are looking for extreme relaxation, you can visit the wellness of the hotel. The rooms of the Castanheiro Boutique Hotel are modern and all have private bathrooms. There is a restaurant at the hotel to enjoy a delicious dinner.

Check availability on BOOKING.COM

Funchal Madeira where to stay hotel castanheiro room
Funchal Madeira where to stay hotel castanheiro swimming pool

Hotel Escola

The location on a hill only 3 kilometers outside Funchal makes Hotel Escola a very relaxing place to stay. There is the possibility to park your car next to the hotel. The hotel offers modern rooms with a balcony and splendid views over the ocean. There is also an outdoor pool to enjoy.

Check availability on BOOKING.COM

Funchal Madeira where to stay hotel escola

Apartments

Apartments Vista Oceano

The Apartments Vista Oceano are located in a renovated house 1,4 kilometers from the center of Funchal. The studios have splendid views over the city of Funchal and the ocean. All studios have a fully-equipped kitchenette with all the necessary utensils to cook, a living area, library, private bathroom and access to WiFi. You can make use of the garden, the BBQ utilities and the swimming pool. You can park your car for free in the street nearby.

Check availability on BOOKING.COM

Funchal Madeira where to stay apartment vista oceano pool
Funchal Madeira where to stay apartment vista oceano

Travellers Pearl by Storytellers

Travellers Pearl by Storytellers is a sustainable apartment, located in the city center. They offer free space to park your car. The apartments come with a private kitchen and bathroom, modern bedrooms and a seating area with sofa. Some of the rooms have a terrace and some have sea views.

Check availability on BOOKING.COM

Funchal Madeira where to stay apartment travellers pearl
Funchal Madeira where to stay apartment travellers pearl seating area

Tranquil Ocean view apartment

Tranquil Ocean view apartment is a sustainable apartment the city center of Funchal. Together with the apartment comes the access to a terrace and free private parking. This 1-bedroom apartment offers a fully equipped kitchen with a dishwasher and oven. There is also a washing machine at your disposal.

Check availability on BOOKING.COM

Funchal Madeira where to stay apartment tranquil ocean view balcony

What do do on Madeira

Go hiking!

Madeira is a hiking paradise! There are 2 different types of hikes on Madeira. The first one is a levada hike. A levada is a water channel with a small slope, originally designed to transport water from one side of the island to the other. There are more than 3.000 kilometers of levadas on Madeira. A levada hike is a hike that follows one or more levadas. The second type of hike are the veredas (which means ‘paths’) and go through the mountains or along the sea cliffs. On Madeira you can find more than 20 PR routes. These routes are recommended by the Madeira government and are well maintained and perfectly marked. Below we listed three hikes that should be included in your Madeira itinerary, because they perfectly reflect the versatility of Madeira.

PR1 – Vereda do Pico Ruivo

This hike takes you from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo (the highest mountain on Madeira) through the stunning mountain scenery of Madeira.This hike is no walk in the park, but the landscapes along the hike make the effort worth it. We strongly suggest you start before sunrise, so you can witness the sunrise high above the clouds at Pico do Arieiro. The hike will take about 7 hours when you decide to return to Pico do Arieiro (or 3 to 4 hours one way).  

icon read on Read more about the PR1 hike here.

sunrise at pico de arieiro to pico ruivo hike

PR8 – Vereda the Point of Sao Lourenço

This hike will take you to the tail in the East of Madeira. The landscape during this hike is completely different from the rest of Madeira. The hike takes about 2 till 3 hours and the 7 kilometers long hike takes you a volcanic moonlike landscape. The view at the end of the hike is truly spectacular! 

icon read on Read more about the PR8 hike here.

tail of madeira ponta de são lourenço hike madeira

PR9 – Levada do Caldeirão Verde

This hike will take you along a levada through a dense jungle. The hike takes about 4 till 5 hours in total and along the 13 kilometers hike you’ll encounter several stunning waterfalls. 

icon read on Read more about the PR9 hike here.

caldeirao verde hike lush greenery

Enjoy the scenery at the most stunning viewpoints

Madeira has spectacular viewpoints. Some of these are right next to a car parking, whereas other can only be reached after an intense hike. Below, we give you the three viewpoints we enjoyed the most, but keep in mind that there are plenty more to discover.

Miradouro Do Guindaste

We discovered this viewpoint by accident. It is located in the north of Madeira. This viewpoint makes you feel so small with the giant cliffs and the wild ocean in front of you. This viewpoint is especially beautiful during sunrise.

featured image travel guide madeira viewpoint

Pico do Arieiro

This mountain top lies at an altitude of 1.818 meters and is one of the highest points on Madeira. The landscapes surrounding this peak are breathtaking. It is an extremely popular spot for watching the sun rise.

madeira travel guide sunrise at pico de arieiro best viewpoint

Fajã da Quebrada Nova

To reach this stunning viewpoint, you either haver to take a steep hike or take the steepest cable car in the world. The cable car costs only €5 for both directions. This tiny place on the northwestern coast of Madeira is surrounded by steep cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other side.

acahadas da cruz viewpoint cable car madeira portugal

Get enchanted in Fanal Forest

Fanal Forest, also known as the Laurissilva Forest, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is situated high in the mountains of Madeira. It is one of the last and oldest remaining laurel forests in the world. The old trees take so many different shapes making every tree unique and interesting to watch. The cool thing about the Fanal forest is that it is often covered in fog. This creates an otherworldly atmosphere making the forest look like a fairy-tale forest. Take your time to discover this region of Madeira. The entire area makes it possible to make wonderful photographs.

fanal forest madeira travel guide fog sitting branch
fanal forest laurel trees fog madeira travel guide

Relax at a natural pool or a stunning beach

Madeira has several natural pools. These lava pools are coastal rock formations created by the cooling and solidification of lava from ancient volcanic activity on Madeira. Over time, these pools have been sculpted by the ocean, creating safe bathing spots. Even on cloudy or colder days, these natural pools are worth a visit, as they look visually look stunning. The natural pools at Porto Moniz are the largest and probably most famous one. We also enjoyed our visit to Seixal natural pools.

porto moniz rock pools madeira portugal

If you are looking for a day at the beach we recommend Seixal beach, located in the North of Madeira. This black sand beach framed by volcanic cliffs and crystal-clear water is the perfect place to relax.

Soak up history and culture in Funchal and Santana

Discover more about the history of Madeira by visiting the traditional houses in Santana. These small, triangular-shaped houses are made from a combination of thatched roofs, wooden beams and stone walls. The roofs are made of straw-like material sourced from local vegetation. The use of this material provides excellent insulation against both heat and cold. The triangular shape serves a functional purpose. The design helps to remove rainwater efficiently and provides stability against the strong winds that can be common in the region.  

santana madeira traditional house
painted door in funchal madeira

Funchal, the capital of Madeira offers some history and culture as well. We really enjoyed the Old Town (Zone Velha) and the project ‘The Art of Open Doors’ where the doors of the Santa Maria street are painted in stunning works of art.

Visit a banana plantation

Banana plantations are a common sight on the Southern part of Madeira. The weather and volcanic soil are ideal conditions for growing bananas. Bananas on Madeira are typically found in terraced fields carved into the hills. The banana bunches are usually covered with blue plastic bags to protect them from birds and insects. You have different trails called ‘rota da banana’ that take you through the banana plantations.

rota da banana sign visit banana plantation madeira
bananas tree madeira banana plantation

What to take with you when travelling to Madeira

  • Make sure you’ll discover all the hidden gems, the best food and drinks and best things to do on the island by taking a travel book of Madeira with you. We do love the Lonely Planet pocket guide Madeira as we consider this as one of the most complete travel books to discover everything on the island.
  • During the different hikes on Madeira, you encounter different dark tunnels. To prevent bumping your head or hurting your feet, we recommend taking headlights with you.
  • Don’t forget to take a good day pack with you to carry your hiking gear. During hikes we like to have a CamelBak with us to make sure we carry plenty of water. Also sturdy shoes are a must when hiking in Madeira.
  • Definitely bring clothes for every type of weather. Different layers are the best option when it comes to packing for Madeira. When the sun is out, you’ll definitely need sunglasses and sunscreen. However, when hiking in the mountains, the wind can be aggressive, so take a thin, light waterproof and windproof jacket with you.
  • If you want to visit the beach or the natural pools of Madeira, a bathing suit and a beach towel is a must-have. A dry bag to keep your stuff safe on the beach and at hikes (there are sometimes waterfalls along the path) is also handy when visiting Madeira.

Madeira is definitely one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been to and we really enjoyed our time on the island. We hope this travel guide Madeira makes you want to discover this stunning island for yourself.

Happy travels

Matthias & Mieke

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