With just one day in Madeira, you won’t exactly be spoiled for time. But since some visit Madeira on a stopover, including cruise ship passengers who usually have just under 24 hours, we have some tips for how to make the most of your limited time.
If you only have time for a brief impression of Madeira, you surely don’t want to deal with any complicated logistics or potential delays, so it’s best to keep your itinerary nice and simple.
There are two ways we suggest you can create your 1-day itinerary in Madeira.
Either you can spend some time sightseeing in the capital (with the potential for one nearby trip), or you can book a tour that picks you up in Funchal and shows you some of the best of Madeira in a worry-free fashion (this is what we recommend).
Having explored all over Madeira, we’ll suggest the best day trip tours, as well as how to spend time in Funchal without the need to book anything.
Exploring the capital and gardens
If you’re spending under 24 hours in Madeira, you’ll already be well served staying in the lively capital of Funchal. The sights in Funchal can be easily reached by foot or taxi, meaning you don’t waste too much time travelling.
It’s mostly a modern city, but Funchal does have a small historical core. Enjoy the cobblestoned streets and views of the imposing hilltop fortress of St. John.
You can spend a few hours just wandering around, as well as paying a visit to the Mercado dos Lavradores, a market known for its many fruit sellers where you can try many varieties of exotic fruits. (Just beware that these are sold at tourist prices!)
But the best sights in Funchal are up in the mountains of the appropriately named area of Monte.
Getting there is easy: simply catch the cable car from the harbourfront and you’ll be in Monte in 5 minutes or so. There you can enjoy several impressive gardens, including the Asian-inspired Monte Palace Tropical Garden and the Botanical Gardens of Madeira.
Not only do you get great views of the city, but the palace gardens are a joy to explore. Home to flamingos, koi fishes, waterfalls, and a diversity of exotic tropical plants, the gardens may even make you feel like you’re not in Europe anymore.
There are also some small museums on-site, including one displaying impressive minerals and a collection of African art. It can take several hours to explore the gardens fully.
Near the palace gardens, you will also find the famed wicker basket cars. Known as the toboggan ride, men dressed in traditional clothing will pull you down the steep roads while seated in a wicker sledge of sorts. It’s a little pricey (€17.50 per person) and the experience is over in a few minutes, though it is memorable and fun.
These sights taken together are essentially the classic Funchal itinerary. It is particularly popular with cruise ship passengers docking in Madeira for the day, so at times when a cruise ship has recently arrived, these sights may be busier than usual.
For what it’s worth, the toboggan ride and the fruit market are highly touristy, though they’re the main attractions in Funchal and arguably easiest to tick off the list if you have one day in Madeira.
Time for one more excursion?
With an early start, you can cover Funchal and the gardens in the morning, and still have some time later in the day for a trip somewhere else. Depending on whether you want to be active or relax, you could opt to include a hike or a beach.
While having your own transportation or taking a tour is the best way to get around the island, there are a number of hikes that can be reached reasonably well by public transport. All the buses in Funchal leave from the seafront promenade area, but pay attention as there are several different bus companies.
Some hikes to consider:
- Levada do Furado. Take bus number 56 towards Santana, but get off at the Ribeira Frio. 45 minutes by bus one-way. A great levada hike through dense forest. We explain a bit more about levada hikes here.
- Vereda Ponte do Sao Lourenco. One of the most breathtaking hikes on the island featuring mostly empty and expansive rocky terrain. Take bus 113 from Funchal. The bus trip does take about 90 minutes since it stops everywhere and avoids the highway.
- Curral Das Freiras. It takes about 45 minutes by bus (number 81 departing in Funchal) to reach this hidden mountain town. It’s nice to visit even just for the views, but also to hike the Nun’s Valley.
While Madeira is not really known as a beach holiday island due to having only a few beaches, you still have some options. The best beaches do take at least an hour to reach from Funchal, so consider how much time you really have available on your Madeira layover.
- Praia Formosa. This is the most accessible beach from Funchal, being only a 10 minutes drive from the center, making it easy to get there even by taxi or ride-share. The beach itself is not sandy and covered in large stones. We recommend it mostly if you’d like to eat some fresh fish with an ocean view, though you can go for a swim here as well.
- Machico. If you have your own car, you can get to Machico from Funchal in about half an hour. Taking the bus can take twice as long. However, Machico has two small sandy beaches by the harbour and is generally a nice place to spend an afternoon.
- Ponta do Sol. A 22 min taxi ride from Funchal or about 45 minutes by bus. A small rocky beach protected by a harbour seawall. Nice swimming conditions and a scenic location, nestled between rocky cliffs and backed by a charming town.
Taking a day-trip around the island
The best way to see the island is to drive, but one day is maybe a little tight for renting your own car, as you could easily waste a whole hour on the pick-up and registration alone. Independent exploration is also much more fun when you can take your time and find the hidden gems around the island.
Public transportation in turn tends to be slow and won’t take you to a lot of the places you’ll want to visit as a tourist, so a whistlestop tour of Madeira is difficult to pull off with buses.
Luckily, there are many organized day tours that can pick you up from central Funchal (or a hotel in the area) and show you around.
The advantage is that you don’t need to worry about transportation and other logistics at all, while seeing some of the best highlights of Madeira. There is also a lot of added value in having a local guide who can speak passionately about the island.
A tour admittedly doesn’t leave much space to make your own discoveries, though it does offer a perfect introduction to Madeira. You’ll get a great impression for sure, perhaps inspiring you to return in the future for more.
We recommend these day tours in Madeira for sampling some of the best sights!
|Madeira: Best of the East Tour from Funchal||This 8-hour tour will show you the island’s epic central mountain peaks, as well as the town of Santana known for its traditional straw-roof houses. A good mix of landscapes and villages and a nice tour for first-time Madeira.|
|From Funchal: Best of Madeira’s West Tour||This 8-hour tour takes you to sights including the Cabo Girão Skywalk viewpoint and the natural pools in Porto Moniz.|
|Madeira: Full-Day Jeep Tour with Guide and Pickup||Tour the island in style in a bright yellow 4×4. The itinerary focuses a lot on the lush green north of Madeira, including the misty forests of Fanal. Includes off-road experience and wine tasting. Choose this if you want an itinerary that’s a bit different and adventurous!|
|Madeira: Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo Hike||This 8-hour day trip focuses on just one activity, though it is the most epic mountain hike on the island. This hike is difficult to do without a tour as there isn’t any public transport and the hike starts and ends in a different place, but with guide and pickup it will be easy… as long as your day has clear skies!|