Madeira Travel Guide: Island Of Eternal Spring (3/5/7/10-Day Itineraries)

Madeira is a remote Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known as the island of the eternal spring, a place where tropical flowers grow all year long and where the weather is perfect for most of the year.

Madeira is a remote Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known as the island of the eternal spring, a place where tropical flowers grow all year long and where the weather is perfect for most of the year.

In March 2023, after I had stayed for a month in the Algarve in Portugal, I visited Lisbon for 3 days and then decided that I wanted to get a taste of Madeira.

From Lisbon, there are multiple flights per day to Madeira, so it was the obvious next travel destination. 

When I booked that Ryanair flight from Lisbon to Madeira, I had no expectations.

I knew that Cristiano Ronaldo was born there and that the Madeira airport runway is famous for its unique position and the special training needed by pilots, but that was it. 

What I found blew my mind, and that’s why I decided to share my Madeira tour with you.

So, I want to share with you everything I learnt about Madeira during my short stay on this magical island. Let’s talk about visiting Madeira, my best Madeira travel tips, Madeira accommodation, and car rentals. 

Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

How big is Madeira?

Madeira is a relatively small archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal. The main island of Madeira has an area of approximately 740.7 square kilometres (286 square miles).

Madeira isn’t a large island—about 57 km long and 22 km wide—so driving distances aren’t extreme, but some of the roads are winding and can be challenging, which could add to your travel time.

It’s not a very large place, but it’s known for its natural beauty, including mountains, gardens, and scenic coastline.

Honestly, I believe Madeira to be ideal for an island. It’s small enough to allow you to drive around it in 2 days (even one day if you don’t stop). But it’s also big enough to keep you mesmerized and even convince you to move there. 

Is Madeira worth visiting?

YES. I rarely express my fondness for a travel destination, But Madeira is definitely worth visiting. Even more than once. As I said, many move to Madeira or at least visit it for a couple of months per year. 

Given its great weather all year long, many Europeans seek refuge in Madeira during the cold winter months in continental Europe. 

Madeira is also a popular digital nomad destination in Portugal. While staying in mainland Portugal as a digital nomad felt a bit overhyped, Madeira has a completely different vibe. 

Where to stay in Madeira?

Madeira has countless small towns all around it. The most popular place is Funchal, the largest city in Madeira. But depending on what you want to visit, and the purpose of your visit, you can choose to stay in many different places in Madeira. 

If you’re doing a road trip, you might even change accommodation every couple of days, so you don’t have to drive back and forth every day. 

Since most people stay for the first few days in Funchal, here are some top-rated hotels in Funchal:

€€€ – Les Suites at The Cliff Bay – PortoBay

€€ – PIER HOUSE Accommodation (I stayed here and it’s super nice)

€ – FX Pena

Since Madeira is a popular tourist destination all year round, I’d recommend researching hotels and booking them before you arrive, especially if you want to stay in a specific location or you’re travelling on a budget to Madeira.

Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

Best places to visit in Madeira

  • Funchal. The capital city is known for its charming old town and vibrant market.
  • Cabo Girão. One of the world’s highest sea cliffs, offering breathtaking views.
  • Monte Palace Tropical Garden. A stunning garden with exotic plants and beautiful scenery.
  • Pico Ruivo. The highest peak in Madeira, perfect for hikers looking for a challenge.
  • Santana. Famous for its A-frame houses and rustic charm.
  • Ponta de São Lourenço. A unique peninsula with striking rock formations and panoramic views.
  • Porto Moniz. Known for its natural lava pools and ocean views.
  • Levadas. These are the irrigation channels that crisscross the island, offering scenic walks.
  • Camara de Lobos. A picturesque fishing village close to Funchal.
  • Madeira Botanical Garden. A plant lover’s paradise with a myriad of flora.
  • Pico do Areeiro. The third-highest peak offers great hiking trails and views.
  • Ribeira Brava. A coastal town with a beautiful church and pebbled beaches.
Go watch the plane landing. The Madeira airport is one of the most spectacular you'll ever see and seeing them land is a true spectacle. You'll need to safely park your car and go to the lookout point on the left of the runway.
  • Go watch the plane landing. The Madeira airport is one of the most spectacular you’ll ever see and seeing them land is a true spectacle. You’ll need to safely park your car and go to the lookout point on the left of the runway.
  • Praia Formosa. It is the largest public beach on the island, great for sunbathing.
  • Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro. Another beautiful garden known for its vibrant flowers and intricate design.
  • Curral das Freiras. A secluded valley that provides stunning vistas of the surrounding area.
  • Calheta Beach. A man-made beach that is perfect for families. This is one of the best beaches in Madeira.
  • Mercado dos Lavradores. Funchal’s main market, ideal for sampling local fruits and fish.
  • Jardim Orquídea. An orchid garden with a vast array of exotic species.
  • São Vicente Caves. Lava tubes that offer a look into Madeira’s volcanic history.
  • Machico. The second-largest city on the island with a charming mix of modern and traditional.
  • Cristo Rei Viewpoint. Offers sweeping views of Garajau and the surrounding sea.
  • Praia Prainha de Caniçal. A secluded black sand beach.
  • Santa Maria de Colombo. A replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship, which you can sail on.
  • Ponta Delgada. A lesser-known village with a lovely seafront promenade.
  • CR7 Museum. This is Cristiano Ronaldo’s personal museum for housing all of his trophies. It’s truly one of the most impressive trophy collections you’ll likely ever see. Must-do Madeira activity for football fans. 
Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

Madeira road trip tips

Rent a car

The absolute best way to explore Madeira is by going on a road trip. And I’m not the only one saying this. You will see the majority of tourists arriving in Madeira going straight to their car rental office right there in the airport. 

The easiest and best place to rent a car in Madeira is definitely the airport.

That doesn’t mean you can’t rent from other places, but at the airport, you’ll find all the popular international rental companies, which might have the best prices. I always try to use RentalCars when renting cars. 

Know the road rules

Familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and speed limits. I found it rather moderate to drive in Madeira, but it was mostly about the road construction, not an issue with the road rules. 

Speed limits in Madeira:

  • 50 km/h (31 mph) in cities and towns
  • 90 km/h (56 mph) on rural roads
  • 120 km/h (75 mph) on highways

Remember and apply these speed rules, unless otherwise indicated by road signs.

But, as always, don’t break any rules, there are speed cameras, and always pay for parking. These are general, common-sense rules that apply everywhere. 

I generally use my phone as a GPS, so make sure to bring your own phone support for the car since most rentals don’t provide that, and using your phone while driving is illegal. 

Even if you know where you are going, having a GPS will help you navigate easier and notice all road signs. 

Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

Be mindful of narrow and steep roads

Some roads are quite narrow and steep, especially in the mountains, so drive cautiously.

If you don’t have a lot of experience driving on mountain roads, then it might be a bit stressful. 

At first, the drives will seem easy and short when you look at your GPS.

But then, at some point, the road might start to go upwards. Unlike most mountain roads winding around the mountain, the roads in Madeira are particularly steep.

They tend to go right up, straight towards the top of the mountain. It seems impossible, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 

I tried driving towards Pico do Areeiro from Funchal, and the GPS got me on some small and narrow streets lined up with houses, which is literally up the hill. My small Fiat Panda sounded like it was about to die, so I had to abandon it. This happened twice. 

For uphill drives, take a good look at the map and only take the larger roads, if possible. You’ll thank me later. 

Bring snacks and water

There may be long stretches without places to eat or drink. 

In and around towns, you’ll find markets where you can stock up. So, if you plan to go out on a road trip in Madeira, do bring everything you need.

It’s not that Madeira is huge, but having to detour to turn back to reach a store will be the last thing you want to do when you realize you have so many more stops planned in your Madeira itinerary for the day. 

Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

Madeira itinerary

It’s absolutely crucial that you plan out your Madeira itinerary before you get there. You can do it on the go two, but chances are you will pass by some 

3 days in Madeira itinerary

Day 1: Funchal Exploration

  • Morning (9:00 AM – 12:00 PM): Start your day at Mercado dos Lavradores. Spend a couple of hours exploring the market and sampling local produce.
  • Travel Time: 15 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (12:15 PM – 2:30 PM): Head over to Madeira Botanical Garden for a peaceful stroll.
  • Travel Time: 15 minutes to next location.
  • Late Afternoon (2:45 PM – 5:00 PM): Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden and enjoy the serenity.
  • Evening: Return to Funchal and explore the Old Town for dinner.

Day 2: Nature and Scenic Views

  • Morning (8:00 AM – 11:00 AM): Drive to Cabo Girão and spend some time enjoying the view from one of the world’s highest sea cliffs.
  • Travel Time: 1 hour to next location.
  • Late Morning (12:00 PM – 1:30 PM): Head to Camara de Lobos for a quick visit and perhaps lunch at a local eatery.
  • Travel Time: 40 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (2:10 PM – 5:00 PM): Spend the afternoon hiking at Pico do Areeiro.
  • Evening: Return to your accommodation. Consider a local restaurant for dinner.

Day 3: Northern Adventures and Beach Time

  • Morning (9:00 AM – 10:30 AM): Start your day at Santana, known for its traditional A-frame houses.
  • Travel Time: 50 minutes to next location.
  • Late Morning (11:20 AM – 1:00 PM): Proceed to Ponta de São Lourenço and take a moderate hike to enjoy the unique rock formations.
  • Travel Time: 40 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (1:40 PM – 4:00 PM): Head to Porto Moniz to relax by the natural lava pools.
  • Evening: Drive back to your accommodation. You can choose to have a farewell dinner in Funchal.
Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

5 days in Madeira itinerary 

Day 1-3: The same

Day 4: West Coast Wonders

  • Morning (9:00 AM – 11:00 AM): Drive to Calheta Beach for some beachside relaxation and perhaps a quick swim.
  • Travel Time: 45 minutes to next location.
  • Late Morning (11:45 AM – 1:00 PM): Head to Ribeira Brava, visit the beautiful church, and have lunch at a local café.
  • Travel Time: 30 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (1:30 PM – 4:00 PM): Proceed to Curral das Freiras, the “Nuns Valley,” for stunning panoramic views and perhaps a cup of local chestnut soup.
  • Evening: Return to your accommodation. Optionally, you could explore Funchal’s nightlife.

Day 5: East Coast Adventures

  • Morning (8:30 AM – 10:30 AM): Start your day early with a drive to Machico, the second-largest city, for a mix of modern and traditional elements.
  • Travel Time: 1 hour to next location.
  • Late Morning (11:30 AM – 1:00 PM): Head to Praia Prainha de Caniçal, a secluded black sand beach, for some quiet time by the sea.
  • Travel Time: 35 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (1:35 PM – 4:00 PM): End your day at Ponta Delgada. Enjoy a leisurely walk on the seafront promenade and take in the lovely views.
  • Evening: Drive back to your accommodation and perhaps enjoy a farewell dinner in Funchal.
Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

7 days in Madeira itinerary

Day 1-5: The same

Day 6: Garden Delights and Historical Sites

  • Morning (9:00 AM – 10:30 AM): Start your day at Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro, another beautiful garden renowned for its vibrant flowers and intricate design.
  • Travel Time: 20 minutes to next location.
  • Late Morning (10:50 AM – 12:30 PM): Proceed to Jardim Orquídea, the orchid garden, to admire a vast array of exotic species.
  • Travel Time: 25 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (12:55 PM – 3:00 PM): Head over to Santa Maria de Colombo, where you can sail on a replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship.
  • Evening: Return to your accommodation. Consider enjoying dinner in one of Funchal’s charming restaurants.

Day 7: Peaks and Valleys

  • Morning (8:00 AM – 11:00 AM): Make your way to Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on the island. It’s a hike that may take some time but offers rewarding views.
  • Travel Time: 1 hour to next location.
  • Late Morning (12:00 PM – 1:30 PM): Head down to São Vicente Caves to explore Madeira’s volcanic history in the form of lava tubes.
  • Travel Time: 40 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (2:10 PM – 4:30 PM): Finish your week in Madeira at Cristo Rei Viewpoint, which offers sweeping views of Garajau and the surrounding sea.
  • Evening: Head back to your accommodation. As it’s your last night, perhaps opt for a special farewell dinner at a high-end local restaurant in Funchal.
Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

10 days in Madeira itinerary 

Day 8: Coastal Retreat

  • Morning (9:00 AM – 11:00 AM): Visit Praia Formosa, the largest public beach in Madeira, for a morning of sun and surf.
  • Travel Time: 25 minutes to next location.
  • Late Morning (11:25 AM – 1:00 PM): Head to Garajau Marine Reserve for snorkelling or simply relaxing by the coast.
  • Travel Time: 30 minutes to next location.
  • Afternoon (1:30 PM – 4:00 PM): Continue to Reis Magos Beach for more beach time or a leisurely walk along the coastline.
  • Evening: Return to your accommodation and perhaps enjoy a casual dinner at a beachside cafe.

Day 9: Arts and Culture

  • Morning (10:00 AM – 12:00 PM): Visit Funchal’s Sacred Art Museum to indulge in some cultural enrichment.
  • Travel Time: 15 minutes to next location.
  • Late Morning (12:15 PM – 2:00 PM): Explore the Funchal Cathedral, an architectural gem dating back to the 15th century.
  • Afternoon: Spend the rest of your day wandering through Funchal’s art galleries or shopping for Madeiran crafts.
  • Evening: Opt for dinner at a traditional Madeiran restaurant to try local cuisine like ‘Espetada’.

Day 10: Leisure and Farewell

  • Morning (9:00 AM – 11:00 AM): Start your final day at Palheiro Golf Course for a relaxing round of golf with stunning views, if you’re a golf enthusiast.
  • Travel Time: 20 minutes to next location.
  • Late Morning (11:20 AM – 1:00 PM): Head to Funchal Marina for a laid-back brunch and some people-watching.
  • Afternoon (Free Time): Use the rest of the day for last-minute shopping, revisiting your favourite spots, or simply relaxing.
  • Evening: Have a farewell dinner at a fine dining establishment in Funchal to celebrate the end of your 10-day Madeiran adventure.

This Madeira itinerary is a bit crowded, and it’s mostly centered around Funchal, because this is where the fun happens. So if you’re looking for some activities during evening, then staying in Funchal is the best option for you. 

Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

However, if you don’t mind as much to stay in more remote places and trying to see as much as possible without having to drive back and forth, then I have an alternative to this 5, 7 and 10-day Madeira itinerary, with specified stops along the island. This alternative itinerary will allow you to circumvent the island without having to get back to Funchal every day. 

Madeira Travel Guide: Explore The Island Of Eternal Spring

Alternative 10-Day Madeira Itinerary: The Circular Road Trip

Day 1-3

Follow the initial itinerary covering Funchal, Pico do Areeiro, and Santana, as these are good starting points, and these locations are relatively close to each other.

Day 4: Moving Westward

  • Morning: Calheta Beach
  • Afternoon: Ribeira Brava
  • Evening: Stay overnight in Ribeira Brava

Day 5: West to Northwest

  • Morning: Curral das Freiras (Nuns Valley)
  • Afternoon: Drive to Porto Moniz, explore the natural pools
  • Evening: Stay overnight in Porto Moniz

Day 6: Northwest Explorations

  • Morning: Visit the lighthouse at Ponta do Pargo
  • Afternoon: São Vicente Caves
  • Evening: Stay overnight in São Vicente

Day 7: North to Northeast

  • Morning: Levada dos Balcoes in Ribeiro Frio
  • Afternoon: Drive to Machico, explore the area
  • Evening: Stay overnight in Machico

Day 8: Northeast to East

  • Morning: Praia Prainha de Caniçal
  • Afternoon: Ponta Delgada
  • Evening: Stay overnight in Ponta Delgada or nearby

Day 9: Eastern Charm

  • Morning: Head to Santa Cruz and visit the farmers market
  • Afternoon: Visit Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro garden
  • Evening: Head back to Funchal and stay overnight

Day 10: Farewell Funchal

  • Morning: Explore Funchal Marina or revisit any favorites
  • Afternoon: Last-minute shopping or leisure time
  • Evening: Farewell dinner in Funchal
Go watch the plane landing. The Madeira airport is one of the most spectacular you'll ever see and seeing them land is a true spectacle. You'll need to safely park your car and go to the lookout point on the left of the runway.
Iulia Vasile

Iulia is a travel expert, blogger, engineer, freelance copywriter, and a curiosity-driven personality. She sees travel as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and personal growth, and that's the main topic of her blog, Juliasomething.com.

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