If you’re looking for a European adventure that is a little different from the mainland, then look no further than Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal. Dubbed the ‘Hawaii of Europe’, this small island in the Atlantic is truly a nature lover’s dream and the ideal destination for a summer break.
Whether you want to relax on a beach, hike some epic trails, be at one with marine life, or pay homage to world-famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, there is something in Madeira to suit everyone.
How Long Do You Need To Visit Madeira?
Madeira is a pretty small island, and so luckily you don’t need very long to see all of the incredible things that this destination has to offer. If you’re looking to experience the must-dos then a short four-day break would be fine. However, a week is the perfect amount of time to really make the most of the island.
Tips For Hiring A Car In Madeira
Although the island is small, public transport is limited, and so the easiest way to get around is by hiring a car. There are plenty of car hire options available at the airport or in the main city of Funchal. These are very affordable, however, it is worth noting that during peak seasons car hire can become fully booked pretty quickly. Driving in Madeira is easy, for the most part.
Bear in mind of course that they drive on the right, and always follow the speed limit and road laws while driving here. One useful tip is to pay the extra fee for an automatic since the island is very mountainous and some of the roads are very steep! Having an automatic on these roads will make driving a lot easier.
As mentioned, there is plenty to keep you busy on this island. From epic hiking trails to beautiful viewpoints, mountains, wildlife, flora and fauna. Below is the ultimate seven-day road trip itinerary for visiting Madeira.
Ultimate Seven Day Road Trip Itinerary For Madeira
This itinerary begins in Funchal and does an entire clockwise loop of the island so that you finish back in Funchal at the end of the trip. The best thing about Madeira is that nothing is too far of a drive, so if you are short on time, you can mix and match the below itinerary to suit your time frame!
It also means that if you prefer, you can keep Funchal as your base for your accommodation.
Day 1 – Funchal
Funchal is the main (and largest) town in Madeira, and home to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. For that reason, you can expect to find a lot of statues, plaques and museums honouring him. You can also see his current home (from the outside of course) if you are into football. Wander a little further along the seafront from his house to the CR7 museum to learn more about the man himself.
If football isn’t your thing, then Funchal has an adorable old town that is worth exploring. It’s also the best spot on the island to take part in a Whale and Dolphin watching tour. The best time of year for this excursion is from April till October since this is when there are the most species in the area.
In Funchal, you will also find the cable cart, which takes you from the seafront up the hill to the suburb of Monte. It is definitely worth spending an afternoon taking a one-way trip up. When in Monte, you can visit Monte Palace botanical gardens, and take part in traditional sledging to get halfway back down the hill. From the sledging finish point, it is an easy walk back down to Funchal.
Day 1 Highlights
- Old town
- CR7 Museum
- Funchal Cable cart
- Monte palace botanical gardens
- Monte sledging
- Dolphin/whale watching
Total driving: 30 minutes (from Madeira airport – Funchal)
Day 2 – Ponta Do Sol
Leaving Funchal and heading west, the first stop of the day is Cabo Girão Skywalk. This observation deck juts out of some of the highest cliffs in Europe, giving you a fantastic view of Madeira’s coastline. Although the glass walkway is not for the faint-hearted, you will be treated to some stunning views, and it is also completely free to visit.
After the thrill of the skywalk, head to Calhau da Lapa. This hard to reach patch of coastline is well worth the visit since it is said to have the clearest waters in all of Madeira. For this reason, it makes an excellent spot for swimming and relaxing.
Once you’re done swimming in the crystal clear waters, head back to the car and drive to Miradouro do Espigão for epic views across the valley’s green hills! There isn’t anything else to do here apart from admiring the view and getting some great photo opportunities, so it is a short stop on the day’s itinerary.
The next stop is an 8.5km hike to Nova and Moinho Waterfall. The Levada do Moinho starts on Lombada da Ponta do Sol, near the Church of the Lombada. The hike itself is a moderate, circular route that should take you about 3-4 hours.
One thing to note about this hike is that it can get very steep, so for those with vertigo, or medical conditions such as asthma, you may find this hike more challenging than others.
Day 2 Highlights
- Cabo Girão Skywalk
- Calhau da Lapa
- Miradouro do Espigão
- Nova and Moinho Waterfall
- Cais da Ponta do Sol
Total driving: 1 hour 30 minutes (2 hours and 5 minutes if Funchal is your base)
Day 3 – 25 Fontes Hike And Beaches
The first stop on day 3 of the itinerary is probably one of the most iconic waterfalls on the island of Madeira. Cascata dos Anjos is a waterfall that actually cascades from the cliff onto one of the old coastal roads, which is still accessible. This is a really unique spot and makes for excellent photo opportunities!
Next up is Praia da Madalena do Mar, a relaxing beachfront with calm waters, ideal for chilling and swimming. If sitting around on the beach isn’t your thing and you’re itching to get active, then head straight to the start of the 25 Fontes trail. This is one of the most popular hikes in Madeira, where you will experience lush greenery, and plenty of lagoons and waterfalls (as its name suggests).
The hike is an 11km round trip, generally pretty moderate but with some steep parts. The entire hike will likely take you around 4 hours. As it is one of Madeira’s most popular trails, it can get very busy, so bear that in mind if visiting in peak season.
If you are looking for a hiking trail that is slightly more challenging, and less busy than the popular 25 Fontes, then Levada da Rocha Vermelha is another great option. Arguably a much more peaceful, yet more adventurous hike, it will take you right through one of the longest tunnels in Madeira before you get to fully explore Rabacal Valley.
The total distance of this hike is 15km, in and back out, and will likely take you 6 hours comfortably. For this reason, it is better to prioritise either 25 Fontes, or Levada da Rocha Vermelha, since you won’t have time to do both in one day!
The final stop of day three is Praia da Calheta, one of Madeira’s only sandy beaches! It is the perfect place to relax and cool down in the sea after your hike. A short 15-minute drive from the beach is Miradouro da Raposeira, a stunning viewpoint on the edge of the cliffs which makes for an incredible sunset spot!
Day 3 Highlights
- Cascata dos Anjos, Ponta do Sol
- Praia da Madalena do Mar
- 25 Fontes Hike
- Levada da Rocha Vermelha
- Praia da Calheta
- Miradouro da Raposeira
Total driving: 1 hour 25 minutes (2 hour 30 minutes Funchal is your base)
Day 4 – Lombo Queimado And Santa Maria Madalena
Day four looks a lot busier than the previous three days. The first stop is Levada Prazeres – Raposeira, a gentle hike that is great no matter which time of year you visit. It is a very easy 6.7km hike which should take 2-4 hours and will give you a great opportunity to see lots of local flora and fauna. After the hike, head to Miradouro do Massapez for a short stop to admire more epic panoramic views of Madeira’s coastline.
Next, head to the area of Lombo Queimado, where you can head to the viewpoint of Garganta Funda and hike to the lighthouse. In this area, you can also visit Pico Vermelho, an adorable red and white windmill that stands on the edge of Madeira overlooking the ocean.
Miradouro do Teleférico das Achadas da Cruz is the next stop on the itinerary for today. This extremely steep cable cart offers you incredible views out to the crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean, whilst transporting you down to Fajã da Quebrada Nova, a tiny isolated town that is one of the most unique places on the island.
The final stop on today’s itinerary is Miradouro Ponta da Ladeira, another incredible viewpoint, particularly to watch the sun go down.
Day 4 Highlights
- Levada Prazeres – Raposeira
- Miradouro do Massapez
- Garganta Funda Viewpoint
- Pico Vermelho
- Miradouro do Teleférico das Achadas da Cruz
- Miradouro Ponta da Ladeira
Total driving: 1 hour 15 minutes (3 hours 5 minutes if Funchal is your base)
Day 5 – Porto Moniz & Seixal
Porto Moniz is a tiny coastal town in the northwest corner of Madeira. With a total population of around 3000 people, there isn’t a huge amount to do here, but the natural swimming pools on the coastline is what attracts most of its visitors. The pools are formed by volcanic lava and filled with crystal clear seawater, which makes it a very unique spot for swimming.
The unique rock formations along the coastline at Mirador Ilhéus da Ribeira da Janela are a travel and landscape photographer’s dream. The tall rocks jut out of the Atlantic Ocean, with its waves crashing against them creating a pale white foam that contrasts the deep blue hues of the water. It is well worth a stop, whether that’s for a long wander along the beach or a quick snap of some photos.
The third stop of the day is Fanal Pond / Fanal Forest. This area is described as one of Madeira’s most magical areas, since the mist that envelopes the area makes the forest feel like something out of a fairytale. Due to the pretty stable weather, Fanal forest is one place that is great to visit year-round. You can spend as little time or as much time as you’d like here, as there are also a couple of hiking options in the area.
The final stop of the day is Seixal, a small town along the northern coast of Madeira. Here you will experience black sand beaches, incredible Jurassic-esque landscapes and the Poça das Lesmas (natural pools). Next up is Ribeira do Inferno, arguably one of the most beautiful spots on the island. It is typically a lot quieter than some of the main attractions and offers lush green canyon views, which separate Seixal from São Vicente.
Day 5 Highlights
- Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools
- Mirador Ilheus da Ribeira da Janela
- Fanal Pond
- Poça das Lesmas
- Seixal beach
- Ribeira do Inferno
Total driving: 1 hour (2 hours 40 minutes if Funchal is your base)
Day 6 – Surfing, Hiking & Traditional Houses Of Santana
Once back on the road, a stop at Miradouro do Bom Jesus is well worth it for incredible views across the northern coastline. For wine lovers, you can find a handful of wineries and vineyards in Madeira, one of which is Terra Bona Nature & Vineyards.
Here you can either take part in a tasting experience in their vineyard, or you can opt for a sail & wine sunset tour! If you would prefer to do a bit more swimming, head to the Ruins of St. George, the stone ruins of an old sugar mill right on the beach.
Levada do Caldeirão Verde is another popular hike on the island. With a name that translates to ‘Green Cauldron’, you can expect to see plenty of lush greenery, waterways and lagoons on this stunning 11.5km hike. It’s a fairly moderate hike that will take you on a 3-5 hour round trip, and will serve up some beautiful views across the valley.
After the hike, head to the town of Santana to visit some of the traditional Madeiran houses!
If you’re into surfing, then the beaches surrounding Porto da Cruz are an excellent spot to do so. If you’re a novice, then there are plenty of surf schools in the area where you can give it a try!
Day 6 Highlights
- Miradouro do Bom Jesus
- Terra Bona Nature & Vineyards
- Ruins of St. George
- Levada do Caldeirão Verde
- Santana + Traditional houses
- Surfing in Porto da Cruz
Total driving: 1 hour 42 minutes (3 hours if Funchal is your base)
Day 7 – Sunrise, Snorkelling And Sunset
The final day of this itinerary begins with a sunrise hike along Sao Lourenco. The terrain here is very different to the other hikes encountered so far on this itinerary. Instead of lush green forests and cascading waterfalls, you will find a more desert-like landscape. Suncream will be very welcome on this hike since there is little shade and it can get very hot in the peak summer months.
Praia de Machico is another of Madeira’s very few white sand beaches, of which the sand is actually imported from North Africa! This is the ideal spot for beach bums, as it makes for great sunbathing or swimming and those seeking something a little more adventurous can also jet ski here.
Anyone who wants to get a little more up close and personal with marine life can head to Garajau Partial Nature Reserve, where you can snorkel or dive to your heart’s content! This marine area is protected, and so you can expect to see an abundance of different varieties of fish and even groups of Atlantic Manta Rays!
The final stop on this packed seven-day itinerary for Madeira is at the top of the island’s third-highest peak. Head to Pico do Areeiro for a sunset you won’t forget, with a backdrop that spans Madeira’s central mountains, engulfed in cotton candy clouds. If you have time on the drive up to the peak, you can also take a quick stop at Balcões Levada – another great viewpoint.
Day 7 Highlights
- Sao Lourenco
- Praia de Machico
- Garajau Partial Nature Reserve
- Pico do Areeiro
Total driving: 1 hour 26 minutes (2 hours 35 minutes if Funchal is your base)
We hope this article has inspired you to visit Madeira, Portugal. If you have any questions or advice to share with our readers, please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Laura Elizabeth
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Travel Done Clever says
Thanks for a great post about gorgeous Madeira. This pretty island has been on our bucket list for a long time and we cannot wait to explore it this summer! Safe travels, Martina & Andrej.