We fell head over heels in love with Madeira! If you are not familiar with Madeira, it is a Portuguese island sitting in the Atlantic Ocean between Portugal and Morocco.
Famous for its year-round warm climate, Madeira is one of the most mesmerizing destinations we’ve ever visited. Still relatively untouched, with wild eucalyptus forests, picturesque villages, and breathtaking views. We got rewarded with dramatic vistas stretching as far as the horizon anywhere we went around the island.
We spent one week in Madeira in December 2020 and wanted to share our experience. So let’s take a look at this very detailed 7 day Madeira Itinerary, where we share with you some of the best places to see, hikes to enjoy, how to travel around the island, where to stay, and a few more handy tips.
How much time do you need for a good Madeira itinerary?
Madeira is a small island with tons of activities and opportunities for exploration. It’s best to take your time and spend at least a week scouting the island. Seven days are enough to get to know this enticing destination. But, if possible, stay and enjoy the island’s pleasures for longer.
Madeira Itinerary: Incredible 3 to 7-Day Trips & Tips for First Timers
We left Germany and boarded a flight to the Portuguese island of Madeira. We hoped to get away from the darkness and cold for at least a week.
Once in Madeira, we picked up our rental car before driving to our rented apartment in Funchal.
We enjoyed a quiet calm evening. It was actually raining, and after a short visit to the grocery store, we had dinner in the apartment. The next day we were ready and looking forward to seeing what the island has to offer.
Day 1: Exploring Funchal Old Town, Monte Palace
Most tourists coming to Madeira stay in Funchal, the island’s capital and its largest city. Although separated from the mainland, it’s the sixth-largest city in Portugal. It is quite old as its first settlement dates back to the 15th century.
Packed with historical landmarks, it’s one of the country’s most famous touristic cities. Funchal combines the old town atmosphere and the island’s inspirational vibe.
Funchal Farmers Market
We arrived in Funchal before noon and parked our car in the center, just next to the market – Mercado dos Lavradores. Let me tell you that if you haven’t visited Mercado Dos Lavradores, you haven’t visited Funchal.
The Market was established in 1940 and is located on Rua Brigadeiro Oudinot and Rua Hospital Velho. Designed by Edmundo Tavares, it’s also an important local architectural site.
Open from Monday through Saturday, the market has fruit, vegetables, herbs, fish, and flowers. It’s the city’s “melting pot,” combining various cultures and uniting residents with tourists.
On the 23d of December, locals celebrate Christmas with drinks and traditional dishes. The market is busiest on weekday mornings, which is also when you have the most local goods options.
Funchal Old Town
We continued our way up towards the historic buildings of Zona Velha, the first settlement’s place. History enthusiasts, architecture buffs like us will enjoy the area’s atmosphere.
We enjoyed Corpo Santo Chapel, the original 15th-century building, and visited the Socorro Church. Then, we took a walk on Rua de Santa Maria, the oldest street in Funchal. Many local businesses, like boutiques and small factories, are also in the Old Town.
At night, the Old Town comes alive and fills up with street artists creating a unique atmosphere. Bars and restaurants invite the city’s visitors for a delicious glass of the Puncha. It’s a local Madeira drink made from rum, lemon, and honey.
Funchal Cable Car Experience
See the city from the bird’s view in one of the comfortable cable cars in Funchal. Two cable cars connect various parts of the city. Enjoy incredible views of the town and its surroundings and the Port of Funchal.
The Madeira Cable Car is a part of the Old Town and will take you from Funchal to Monte in 15 minutes. The admission is 16 euros per person, with a 50% discount for children (7-14), and a free entry for younger guests.
The Botanical Garden Cable Car connects the Botanical Garden Station with Monte. It’s somewhat cheaper than the Madeira Cable Car. You’ll pay 13 euros per roundtrip adult ticket and 7 euros for a child’s ticket (6-11). The trip takes about 9 minutes and is a cool way to enjoy the botanical garden and the city’s highlights from above.
Don’t miss an opportunity to come back down by a toboggan ride in a traditional wicker basket sled. Used by locals before, these sleds are one of the must-do things in Madeira. It can go at a speed of up to 30 km per hour and is a fun way to travel to Funchal. However, it will cost you from 25 to 40 euros, depending on how many people are riding.
Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
The Monte Palace is a 70,000-square-meter area featuring a beautiful garden, a small lake, and a museum. The botanical garden holds a collection of more than 100,000 species. They include orchids, azaleas, ferns, cycads, and more.
All plants are from different parts of the world. You can see swans and ducks at the small lake. Peacocks and chickens are wandering casually around the gardens. Visitors can also indulge in two oriental gardens’ beauty and see valuable and rare Koi fish.
Since 1991, the Monte Palace Madeira Museum has been displaying the region’s culture and nature. There are more than 1000 sculptures in one of the finest private mineral collections. About 700 kinds are on display, coming from Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, and North America.
There are also many tile panels representing one of the country’s largest collections. This collection comes second after the National Tile Museum.
The garden is open every day from 9:30 am till 6:00 pm, while the museum welcomes visitors from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. You can take a free guided tour, but you’ll need to book it in advance. The admission is 12,50 euros for everyone 15 years and older.
Santa Catarina Park
This amazing park is not far from Cristiano Ronaldo Museum. So you should definitely have walk and enjoy the peaceful vibes this park offers, while you are around.
The park has also great instagrammable places that you should not miss. We enjoyed a little break from the busy city of Funchal while we were there and I think you should do the same 🙂
Where to Stay in Funchal?
Day 2 : São Lourenço, Ribeiro Frio
Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
Our first stop on the second day was Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço.
Situated in the East, Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço features fabulous landscapes, unique flora, and fauna. This coastal 7km track took us to the furthest eastern point of the island. The area is famous for its rock formations, created by volcanic erosions over many years. Located about half an hour from Funchal, we got to the trailhead by car.
We spent a couple of hours clambering over rocks and walking along the peninsula. This area was surprisingly busy, but we managed to get off the beaten path and enjoy some isolated views.
Balcões de Ribeiro Frio
Starting at Ribeiro Frio, a natural park north of the island, it’s a short walk to the famous Vereda Dos Balcões. After that, it’s an easy 3 km roundtrip hike, which follows the Levada of Serra do Faial. Finally, you’ll indulge in the majestic forest with laurel trees, Madeira mahogany, blueberry, and orchids.
The renowned Vereda Dos Balcões is a genuine treat with incredible views over the Ribeira da Metade valley. In addition, you’ll see the Laurisilva forest, classified as a World Heritage by UNESCO. The island’s highest peaks, Pico do Areeiro, Pico do Gato, and Pico das Torres, are also visible.
If the weather allows, you can see The Hydroelectric Plant of Fajã da Nogueira.
Day 3: Hike Pico do Ariero to Pico Ruivo (Madeira itinerary highlight!)
By far the highlight of our Madeira itinerary and, to be honest, one of the highlights of my entire life was Pico do Arieiro. The word ‘speechless’ is thrown around a lot but never have I been more speechless in my life. Madeira is just full of scenic hikes. Of course, you won’t be able to do all of them on your trip, but at least choose the best hikes on the island.
PR1 Pico do Arieiro Hike
This route is an unforgettable experience and provides stunning views of the island. Pico do Arieiro is the island’s third-highest peak. Most of the time, we were walking above the clouds at the height of 1500 meters.
You can choose to take either one of the two trails – eastern (easier but longer) or western (longer, but steeper). Both will connect you with Pico das Torres and Pico Ruivo. It takes a 45-minute drive from Funchal, and there’s an enormous parking lot. At Pico do Arieiro, you’ll find an observation deck, a small cafe, and a gift shop.
On your hike, you’ll also see Ninho da Manta viewpoint (great for birdwatching!) and a vast area called Pedra Rija, a few short tunnels, and many other neat spots. The ending point of the hike is at the Achadas Teixeira.
If you’re not afraid of the challenge, hike back to Pico do Arieiro or hire a taxi, which will pick you up and bring you back. Unfortunately, it can cost up to 100 euros, and you have to book it in advance.
Insider Tip: Many adventurous people camp in this breathtaking place. If you want to try this unique experience, be sure you are well prepared and have all your camping essentials ready.
Day 4 : Santana, Parque das Queimadas, Ponta de São Jorge
After the challenging hike from Pico do Ariero to Pico Ruivo, we took the fourth day of the Madeira itinerary much easier. After that, we just drove around to explore a couple of different towns in Madeira.
Santana is a beautiful village stretching along the northern coast of Madeira. Known for its traditional triangle-shaped homes, this town is a must-visit stop. The homes are natural stone with a straw rooftop and used to be local farmers’ residences in the 16th century.
There are five historic houses. Each is a shop selling souvenirs, traditional foods, plants, and other local goods. There’s a parking lot not far from the homes, which is quite comfortable for those traveling by car. If you visit the village in July, there’s a massive festival of traditional music and dancing.
Parque Florestal das Queimadas
Located in Santana, The Queimadas Forest Park is Madeira’s natural gem. Start at the parking lot and head deep into the park to reach the mesmerizing Levada do Caldeirão Verde. It’s a spectacular walk and an ideal opportunity to escape from urban life.
Enjoy the amazing flora and fauna, with waterfalls and exciting birds seen on-site. This natural area opens up from a different angle in any weather, whether rainy, cloudy, or sunny. Enjoy the views of the coast and a relaxing natural aura.
Farol da Ponta de São Jorge
Built in 1959 on the island’s north-eastern coast, Farol da Ponta de São Jorge is an active lighthouse. Located on the top of Sao Jorge cliffs, it grants fascinating views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a lovely place to take pictures before you continue exploring the island.
Should you spend a night in Santana?
Because of the lack of available stays, we had to spend all our night near Funchal. But we highly recommend that you spend a night in Santana, as the city is worth it in the early morning and the ocean views with the morning fog are stunning!
Day 5: Levada das 25 Fontes, Fanal forest
PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes
Located in Rabaçal in Paul da Serra, Levada das 25 Fontes is an iconic trail in Madeira. You can access it via the regional road ER110, and from there, you can walk or take a bus to reach the start of the trail.
There are two trails with two different parking lots. Both are part of one of the island’s most visited levadas. The walk is about 11 km roundtrip and will lead you to some of the island’s most outstanding sites.
You will see Lagoa das 25 Fontes, 25 water springs streaming down into the lagoon. If you feel courageous, you can take a swim in the cool refreshing water. You can also see Lagoa do Vento or Lagoon of the Wind and the impressive Risco Waterfall.
Located on the north-western end of Madeira, the Final Forest is a great Instagrammable spot. In addition, it is a scenic location for photography. It’s about 50 km from Funchal and 10 km east of Ribeira Da Janela. So it won’t be hard to find if you enter Faial Parking in your navigation.
With its curled trees and mysterious fog, this ancient forest looks like a fairy tale scene. There are three main ways to enjoy the forest. The easiest way is to park your car in the parking lot and climb the stairs to the local viewpoint.
Then there are two trails available – Vereda do Final and Levada dos Cedros. The first one is an 11-km hike (one way!) through a well-preserved Laurissilva forest. The second one will keep you walking for about 6 km until you reach a magical tiered waterfall.
Day 6: Bridal Veil Falls, Seixal Natural Pools, Ribeira De Janela, São Vicente
On our sixth day Madeira Itinerary, we went on a road trip along the island’s West Coast and up to the North coast. Here’s where we stopped off at:
Bridal Veil Falls
The Véu da Noiva Viewpoint, located close to Seixal, is a very picturesque viewpoint. This romantic setting got its name thanks to the Véu da Noiva waterfall, which looks like a bride’s veil. It’s one of the best vistas on the island’s northern coast.
For the visitors’ convenience, there’s a parking lot right at the viewpoint. It’s about a 40 km drive from Funchal and is close to many popular attractions of the Seixal area.
If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, take a short hike up to Ponta do Poiso for a better view of the Bridal Veil Waterfall. Also, look out for a hidden path on which you can discover another waterfall.
Seixal Natural Pools
For epic views and photos, head out to explore Seixal Natural Pools. It’s one of the island’s top attractions, and it’s free of charge! Located near Laje Beach, it’s a secluded area, usually not overwhelmed by tourists.
It has all the amenities an explorer might need – bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, and even a snack stand. In addition, you can park on the main road and walk down the nearby path.
The site’s trademark is a collection of tidal pools. They are rock formations created by volcanic activity in the past. There you’ll find photogenic rock caves and arches. The pools’ water is crystal-clear, so they are a popular swimming destination. It’s safe on a calm day, but watch out for the tide on a stormy day.
Ribeira De Janela
Ribeira da Janela is a small village in the Porto Moniz area, named after the island’s longest river. It’s an important agricultural area for the country, producing potatoes and grapes. However, the village is best known for its wonderful Levada. It’s easy to reach from the regional road ER101. Look out for the sign stating Ribeira da Janela or Lamaceiros.
Levada’s highlights are exceptional coastal views, cliffs, and a couple of small waterfalls. The local greenery includes eucalyptus, laurel trees, ferns, banana plants, and passion fruit.
If you want to add one more stop to your itinerary for today, drive to São Vicente.
Sao Vicente is a small village located between Santana and Porto Moniz. It’s a lovely stop with stunning beaches, restaurants, and bars. However, it isn’t easy to reach by public transport, so it is most appropriate for those traveling by car.
The village is best known for the Sao Vicente Caves and Volcanism Center, open to the public since 1996. It is a series of volcanic caves formed 890 thousand years ago by a volcanic eruption. Take a walk through the labyrinthine lava tubes, see crystal-clear water pools and incredible stalactites.
The Volcano Centre is open every day from Tuesday to Saturday. It offers various educational and entertaining exhibits about Madeira’s history. There is also a gift shop and a cafeteria available. The admission is 8 euros.
Where to Stay in Seixal?
Seixal offers great hotel deals. Check them out! We wanted to spend a night there but -as we already mentioned- we didn’t find any available good deals.
Day 7: Dolphin and whale watching
As this is the last day of your Madeira itinerary, you can either just relax or go for a fun activity, depending on when your flight departs. Actually, Madeira is an ideal place for whale and dolphin watching.
If that’s on your travel bucket list, travel to the island between April and October. While you can try and plan it yourself, the best solution is to take a tour by a local tour company. Don’t worry about not spotting wildlife, as there are always a few whales and over 20 dolphin species.
Most companies offer a tour on a catamaran or a speedboat, both of which take about three hours. A catamaran tour is a luxurious experience. The boat has a bathroom, indoor and outdoor seating, snacks, and drinks.
The speedboat tour is the fastest way to cover long distances and see more species over time. It’s also more suitable for those who are prone to seasickness. The catamaran tour costs around 10 euros per person, while the speedboat is about 5 euros per person.
What else to do in Madeira?
If you have extra days to spend on this amazing island (always worth it!), here is further suggestions that we also wanted to explore:
Explore the Valley of the Nuns
This mystical valley is about a 45-min bus ride from Funchal (check bus 81 that regularly goes there). The bus stops at a fantastic viewpoint, where you can watch the whole scenery from. The mountains from both sides that surround the tiny village down the valley form a great panorama.
Best of all: there will usually be clouds around making the landscape even more magic. Being at about 1000m above sea level, the clouds usually move fast and change the climate very quickly.
Day Trip to Christo Rei
Christo Rei is another great viewpoint in the island. It near the city of Gatajau and easily reachable by public transportation if you don’t have a car. The views up there are best during sunset and blue hour. You will fill the true charm of the island with the wind and the ocean view in front of you. It is an experience to remember.
You could also walk down to the beach after sunset and enjoy a refreshing (or warm) drink after a long day. That’s a reward to remember 😉
How to get to Madeira?
No railroads or highways are connecting Madeira Island with the rest of Portugal. It’s almost 900km away from the mainland, so you’ll have to fly or take a boat to reach this dreamlike destination.
The best, fastest, and most convenient way is flying. There are direct flights from Europe with an excellent connection to the U.S. and other countries. If traveling by air, you’ll arrive at Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport in Santa Cruz. It’s 15-20 minutes away from Funchal.
The most practical way is to visit Lisbon first and take a direct 90-minute flight by TAP Air Portugal. Lufthansa, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines offer great comfort at reasonable prices (check their deals by clicking on the respective links!). If on a budget, fly economy class with one of the low-cost airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair.
Many cruise lines and ferries are arriving at the Port of Funchal. This option takes longer but allows you to indulge in the beautiful vistas of the Atlantic Ocean.
How to get around Madeira?
The most efficient and handy way to travel around Madeira is by car. We booked a rental car before the trip and picked up the vehicle at the airport. This was a great move as it helped us save time and money. When you click the link, you’ll find plenty of options, like Sixt or Europcar, which usually have great special offers.
We made sure to book a compact car, in perfect condition with full insurance for under 200 euros. We wanted to enjoy our week instead of worrying about the cost of returning the car and having a hassle-free Island experience.
Renting a car is the most cost-efficient way to explore the area. It gave us lots of freedom as we could make a stop at any point on the map. Keep in mind that Madeira roads are most suitable for experienced drivers.
There are quite a few tunnels, steep driveways, and a few sharp turns above the cliffs. It might be intimidating for a new driver. Here are all our tips and advice about driving in Madeira.
To save some money, you can alternatively travel by local buses operating around the whole island. It’s the cheapest way to get to places, but it’s also the most limiting for a 7-day Madeira Itinerary. Some of Madeira’s attractions might not be on the public transport route.
Some buses are operating only around Funchal, the largest city on the island. Then there are red buses operating in the island’s West and green buses operating in the East. You can buy a single ticket or a weekly pass, and both are available on the bus.
What’s the best time to plan Madeira itinerary?
Did you know that Madeira is known as the Island of Eternal Spring? It’s because its climate is very mild, and there’s no bad timing to travel to Madeira. The temperatures are in their mid-20s and comfortable year-round.
It’s a popular tourist destination so expect some crowds. If you want to avoid them, try visiting between October and February. There are no heavy rainfall seasons on the island. The sunniest and driest weather is between March and September.
The island is home to fantastic hiking trails, so to do that, travel here in April or May. That’s also when charming and aromatic flowers and trees are in full blossom.
Madeira itinerary: Final Thoughts
Madeira, the Atlantic Pearl, is a dream holiday destination. It’s ideal for romantic getaways, family trips, and fun vacations with friends. It is full of movie-like landscapes, historical and cultural attractions.
I hope this 7-day road trip itinerary for Madeira will inspire you to visit this beautiful island!
While in Portugal, take the opportunity to extend your trip and discover the hidden gems of this beautiful country following our 10-day Portugal itinerary!
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