1 Day in Madeira itinerary (tips for a stopover)


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With just one day in Madeira, you won’t exactly be spoiled for time. But if you’re in Madeira on a stopover, or perhaps you’re a cruise ship passenger with under 24 hours on the island, we have some tips for how to make the most of your time.

It’s a good idea to avoid complicated logistics or potential delays given there is only limited time. We therefore suggest keeping your 1-day itinerary in Madeira fairly straightforward.

We suggest you can either spend some time sightseeing in the capital or to book an island tour that will show you some of the best of Madeira.

Psst, just want to know the best island day tour? We highly recommend this 4×4 jeep tour — we’ve done it and it’s incredible! It takes you to several top sights like Fanal and Porto Moniz but also goes offroad to show you the hidden Madeira. The tour lasts from 9AM until 6PM and includes pick-up/drop-off anywhere in Funchal.


Exploring the capital and gardens

If you’re spending 24 hours in Madeira or less, then you could go for some sightseeing around the island, which will require a tour or rental car. For a more city/cultural focus, you could do some sightseeing in the capital instead. There isn’t time for both, so you’ll have to choose!

Many on a stopover in Madeira will focus on Funchal. The sights in the capital can be easily reached by foot or taxi, meaning you don’t waste too much precious time in transit.

Funchal has a small historical core with cobblestoned streets and a pleasant seaside boulevard. You can spend some time just having a wander, trying the food (such as the local specialty of scabbardfish), or learning about the famed Madeira wine at Blandy’s Wine Lodge, which does some highly-rated tours with tastings.

You can also pay 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 rather quickly, 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.

Time for one more excursion?

With an early start, you could explore Funchal’s streets and cover the gardens in the morning, and still have some time later in the day for a trip somewhere else. That’s only by rushing, but we still want to explain some options should you have some time left. Depending on whether you want to be active or relax, you could opt to include a hike or a beach.

Half-day hiking options

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.

Two hikes to consider:

  • Curral Das Freiras. It takes about 45 minutes by bus (number 81 departing in Funchal) to reach this hidden mountain town. Get off at the viewpoint of Eira do Serrado, which is before the tunnel to the town, and from there walk down to the town of Curral Das Freiras. It’a short and relatively easy.
  • Vereda Ponte do São Lourenço. One of the most breathtaking hikes on the island featuring expansive rocky terrain. Take bus 113 from Funchal. The bus trip does take about 90 minutes since it stops everywhere and avoids the expressway, so it could take up too much time if you’re in Madeira only on a quick layover.
Curral das Freiras
Easily reached beaches

While Madeira is not really known as a beach holiday island due to having only a few beaches, you still have some options. The following three beaches are close to Funchal and convenient to get to.

  • Praia Formosa. This is the most accessible beach from Funchal, being only a 10-minute 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.
  • Ponta do Sol. A 20-minute taxi ride from Funchal or about 45 minutes by bus. A small rocky beach protected by a harbour seawall. Calm waters and a scenic location, nestled between rocky cliffs and backed by quite a charming town.
  • 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 a small sandy beach by the harbour and is a nice place to spend some time.
Ponta do Sol


Taking a day-trip around the island

The best way to see the island is to drive, but one day may be a bit tight for renting your own car. You’ll probably waste a fair bit of time on the pick-up and registration and getting used to the twisty Madeiran roads. It’s better to explore by car if you have at least several days and can take it easy, but perhaps it’s still an option you could consider.

Public transportation is often very slow and won’t take you to many of the places you’ll want to visit as a tourist, so a whistlestop tour of Madeira using only buses is not a practical option.

Luckily, many organized day tours can pick you up from central Funchal (or a hotel in the area) and show you around. A tour is the best way to see a variety of places in a time-efficient way.

Explore Madeira by jeep

The main advantage is that you don’t need to worry about transportation and other logistics at all while seeing some of the highlights of Madeira. Having a local guide who can speak passionately about the island also adds a lot of value. It will offer a perfect introduction to Madeira that may even inspire you to come back for a longer trip.

We recommend these day tours in Madeira:

Best of the East Tour from Funchal

This complete 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. This is the usual recommended tour for first-time Madeira, offering a good mix of landscapes and villages.

Full-Day Jeep Tour with Guide

Recommended! This is a fun and unique adventure. You’ll drive around the island in a 4×4, often off-road through places you really have to know about. The itinerary focuses a lot on the lush green north of Madeira, the wild coast, and will show you some of the famed narrow mountain roads.

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