One week in Madeira: a 7-day road tripping itinerary

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With at least 7 days in Madeira, you’ll be able to enjoy a varied trip and explore all the different corners of the island. There are many ways to create a 7-day itinerary for Madeira, but here is our suggestion for a first-time visit.

This compact but captivating destination has so much to offer, from rugged landscapes to lush gardens, quaint villages, and breathtaking coastal views. In a week you won’t see it all, but you’ll be able to go on some great road trips and experience a variety of landscapes and activities.

The following is a self-driving itinerary that depends on having your own car. The suggested template is for independent travellers wanting to actively explore every day, but you may wish to adapt or extend it with some days of relaxation.

The driving in Madeira presents some challenges, but they are often overstated, and it’s not difficult to get around using the highways, modern tunnels, and regional roads. However, you can expect some very windy mountain roads and some of the local streets may be very steep. Get your most confident driver to take the wheel!

One base or move around?

With one week to spend in Madeira, you could consider staying in multiple locations. We’ve heard from travellers who chose to stay in 3 accommodations in a single week.

However, considering the driving distances on the island, being so itinerant is not really necessary from a purely practical point of view. The most you’ll ever need to drive to a location is about 70 minutes, even if you’re staying in one of the island’s extremes.

So, if you’ll stay in multiple locations, do so only because you’d like to add a change of scene, not because it’s needed to make your sightseeing that much easier.

Madeira Surf Lodge in São Vicente

We have done two-base trips in Madeira when we’re by ourselves, but when we visit with our baby, we like to just book one accommodation for a week so we don’t have to waste time packing or unpacking.

You have a few options:

  • Stay in Funchal for a week. A nice option if you like to be in the city with lots of restaurants, amenities, etc. close by — and you can get anywhere easily. Personally, we do think other areas are more charming, but staying in Funchal is undeniably convenient.
  • Stay in Funchal for 2 nights, then go to a village or town. You don’t really need a rental car yet when exploring the capital if you’re staying there, so you could wait a day or two before getting your car hire, then find your accommodation in a more remote spot.
  • Stay in the countryside for the whole week. We love to be closer to nature and the coast so this is what we like to do. You can check out our recommendations for charming holiday homes across the island.

Is one week in Madeira too long?

Definitely not! The island may be relatively small, but it’s packed with interesting things to see or do. If you like outdoor activities such as hiking, you will find yourself with a particularly full menu to choose from.

10 to 14 days would be an ideal time period for a trip where you can explore at a slower pace and, for instance, do not just one but two levada hikes. But with 7 days you can get a good taste of the island and experience a little bit of everything.

DAY 1: Arrival in Funchal

The main way to get to Madeira is by air, so you’ll surely start your trip at Funchal Airport.

This is a notoriously difficult airport for planes to land in, especially when there are strong winds. Don’t book anything important for your first day, just in case there are delays, which happen from time to time.

It’s also nice to keep your first day nice and easy, so you can rest a bit and get settled.

You can take a leisurely stroll through the old town or along the picturesque promenade in Funchal, enjoying the ocean breeze and some lovely views.

Or visit the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ Market) to experience the interesting flavours of Madeira’s local produce. (This market is a bit tourist-trappy though, so watch the prices.)

DAY 2: Exploring Funchal & Monte

Highlights: lush botanical gardens and cable car rides

Begin your day by hopping on the Monte Cable Car for a wonderful ride to the hilltop and enjoy panoramic views of Funchal.

There, make sure to pay a visit to Monte Palace Tropical Garden, a lush paradise of exotic plants and water features. We cover this in greater detail in our 1 day in Madeira itinerary.

For the afternoon, you can focus on some sightseeing in- and around Funchal. It’s about 20 minutes driving to Câmara de Lobos, which is home to the Cabo Girão Skywalk viewing deck from where you get some spectacular views of the ocean and cliffs.

You can also take the Teleférico das Fajãs do Cabo Girão, a cable car that goes from the clifftops straight down into a fajã, a Portuguese term for flat land at the foot of coastal cliffs created by ancient lava flows. This fajã is particularly scenic, featuring terraced hills and a small rocky beach.

DAY 3: Western Madeira road trip

Highlights: hiking, viewpoints & going for a swim in natural pools

We love the remote feel of the northern and western parts of the island. They make for ideal road trip territory, so get ready to begin exploring Madeira in earnest!

Drive to Ponta do Sol, a coastal town known for its beautiful beach and charming village center. It’s known for being one of the sunniest places in Madeira, literally meaning Cape of the Sun. Grab a coffee before continuing to São Vicente, a town on the lush and green northern side.

The north gets more rainfall and so it tends to be greener and, at times, mistier. There is a lot of raw beauty in the north, making it rewarding to explore.

Sao Vicente

In São Vicente, visit the small volcanic caves for an otherworldly experience. They are unfortunately closed in 2023 for renovations, but perhaps they will be open again by the time you read this.

Either drive to the Levada das 25 Fontes trail for a walk through lush forests to an iconic waterfall. This hike takes about 3 hours and does get quite busy sometimes, so in high season you may wish to consider a different levada hike. If you’d like a shorter walk (e.g. under 1 hour) consider visiting the forests of Fanal.

End in Porto Moniz, a town that’s home to natural pools where you can safely swim in the seawater among rocky cliffs.

DAY 4: Marvel at Madeira’s peaks

Highlights: epic mountain scenery

On day 4, let’s venture into the heart of the island!

The island interior is defined by its dramatic volcanic peaks, rising to an elevation of up to 1862 meters. We suggest two different places to experience these landscapes.

Curral das Freiras

Option 1 is to drive to Curral das Freiras, a village north of Funchal. It is highly geographically isolated, making you feel like you’re in a sanctuary hidden completely from the rest of the island. The name means Nun’s Valley; in the 16th century, nuns would take refuge here in a convent during pirate attacks.

A tunnel now connects the village to the rest of the island. Don’t miss taking the side road before the tunnel to the Miradouro Eira do Serrado, an epic viewing point. From the village, you can hike the Nun’s Valley trail.

Option 2 is to hike the highest peak of Madeira, known as Pico Ruivo. If you’ve seen epic drone shots of mountains in Madeira, you can bet they were shot either here or at the nearby Pico do Areeiro. You can hike to Ruivo either via a strenuous trail from Pico do Areeiro where there’s a parking lot, or from Achada do Teixeira for an easier hike.

Tip: Unpredictable weather conditions can spoil your visit to the mountains, so it’s worth checking the webcams in Madeira before you go. The webcam to check for the Nun’s Valley is “Eira do Serrado”. On some days Pico Ruivo has zero visibility while the Nun’s Valley still has clear skies, so you can choose the best option on the day.

DAY 5: Northern Madeira road trip

Highlights: levada hiking & traditional houses

This day will take us to the northeastern part of Madeira. It’s here that the coast and mountains are arguably the most dramatic! It’s a really fun part to drive around, having lots of sinuous mountain roads.

Whereas in the northwest and south you’ll have lots of long and straight tunnels, there are somewhat fewer of these in the northeast and so the roads have a more organic feel.

It’s fun just to drive around these parts and look for viewing points. Type in ‘miradouro‘ on the map and you’ll find many along the coast. You can get a really nice view from the Fortress of Faial, though in Portuguese it’s referred to as a “fortim”, meaning “little fort”. It’s really just a platform with four cannons, but it makes for a nice pitstop along the way.

Stop by Santana for lunch. This town is known for its iconic and quaint thatched-roof houses. It’s a tad tourist-trappy and it gets its share of tourist coaches dropping off large groups here, but if you’re in the area anyway, it’s still worth checking out.

Based on how much the traditional Madeira houses feature in tourism promotions, you’d think they’d be all over the island. While they were more common in days of yore, in fact, nowadays Santana is more or less the only place where you can see them. Most were turned into souvenir shops or attractions.

For the afternoon, consider another hike through Madeira’s lush Laurissilva forests. The mysterious-sounding Caldeirão Verde (meaning “green cauldron”) hike follows a levada, the type of small water channel you see all over the island.

At the end of the hike, you’ll arrive at the hike’s namesake, where you’ll see a 110m (360ft) tall waterfall cascading down green mossy cliffs — at least, when you’re here in or after the wet season.

DAY 6: Eastern Madeira road trip

Highlights: lunar-like landscapes and sandy beaches

We’re keeping some of the best for last. Drive to Ponta de São Lourenço, the easternmost point of Madeira, for a unique lunar-like landscape and scenic walking trails.

This area is a completely different experience from the lush green interior. Typified by open space and gnarly seaside cliffs, it’s mainly the domain of shrubs, thistles, and lizards basking in the sun.

It’s worth hiking at least up to Casa do Sardinha (Sardine House), a cafe surrounded by palm trees. This will take about an hour one way. You can also hike further from this point up to a gorgeous viewpoint called Miradouro Ponta do Furado which overlooks two uninhabited islets.

It’s best to do this hike in the morning when the temperatures are lower and when there are fewer people on the trail. You can read more tips for the São Lourenço hike here.

For the afternoon, head to nearby Machico, Madeira’s second-largest city. Alongside its marina, it boasts one of the few sandy beaches on the island. It’s been artificially created, though knowing that won’t matter if you’re simply looking to relax on the golden sands.

As the sun sets, sit down for some seafood or a tasty fish meal with a view of the ocean at MaréAlta. We highly recommend the fish with bananas and passion fruit, which is a local speciality.

DAY 7: Outdoor adventures in Madeira

For your final day, it’s time to take a look at your bucket list and strike off an item or two!

For the adrenaline junkies, try paragliding, canyoning, or surfing at one of the island’s many adventure spots. Thanks to its rocky coastline and many waterfalls, Madeira is a true paradise for coasteering and canyoning in particular, and there are guided trips for any experience level.

Another fantastic thing to do is to take a dolphin or whale-watching trip, especially between May and September when they are most commonly sighted.

Check out the top three adventure tours we recommend from GetYourGuide.

Adventure tours in Madeira

  • Dolphin & whale watch luxury catamaran cruise. This boat trip departing from Funchal includes snacks, snorkelling, and observing cetaceans in their natural habitats.
  • Level 1 Canyoning for Beginners. This is a fun and not-scary introduction to canyoning where you clamber through streams and rappel down several small waterfalls. Suitable for adults as well as children. Give it a try and then move up to level 2, 3, or (gasp) 4 for a more adrenaline-pumping experience!
  • Group surf lessons in Funchal. This 4-hour session will have you standing on a board in no time. The location depends on the waves and weather conditions but can be Praia do Seixal or Praia de Machico.

Spend your last evening in Madeira enjoying a traditional Poncha cocktail and savouring the island’s warm hospitality.

On your final morning, get ready to say goodbye to Madeira, taking with you memories of an unforgettable island adventure!

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