Madeira is not a large island, but the driving times can be longer than you might expect due to the mountainous terrain and winding roads. Here’s what you should know if you’re planning to drive around Madeira.
Driving distances in Madeira
Although you can visit some places using public transportation, we find that renting a car and driving around the island is the best way to experience its beauty as well as to get to some of the best hikes.
Starting in Funchal, the island’s capital city, you can reach most points of interest within about 90 minutes at most. For example, travelling from Funchal to the northern coast will take around an hour.
In the south, there is a 4-lane motorway (2 lanes in each direction) connecting the cities of Funchal and Machico as well as the airport. Further west, two-lane main roads cut through the mountains with many tunnels. The northern coastal roads are a little windier and slower, but they are also among the most fun to drive on a road trip.
Here are some approximate driving times from Funchal to various locations around the island:
- Funchal to Ponta do Sol: 35 minutes
- Funchal to São Vicente: 50 minutes
- Funchal to Santana: 1 hour
- Funchal to Porto Moniz: 1 hour 10 minutes
- Funchal to Pico do Arieiro: 50 minutes
- Funchal to Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport: 25 minutes
These driving times are just point-to-point without stopping, but at a more leisurely pace, you can better enjoy the breathtaking scenery and viewpoints along the way.
Keep in mind that these times can change depending on traffic, weather, and your chosen route. Madeira has various microclimates which can sometimes lead to unpredictable weather conditions.
Tap or hover the pins below for the approx. driving time from Funchal.
How big is Madeira?
Just to get an intuitive sense of scale, we can compare Madeira to some other places.
If you’re from the US, you can think of Madeira as similar in size to one of the smaller Hawaiian islands, such as Moloka‘i, or about half the size of Oahu.
If you’re from the UK, consider Madeira just a tad bigger than the Isle of Man.
When using the Holy See as a unit of measurement, we can say that Madeira is about 1530 times the size of the Vatican. Or roughly 400 times the size of Monaco.
Okay, this probably isn’t helping… let’s move on!
How long is Madeira’s coastline?
Madeira has a coastline of about 90 miles or 144 km. To drive a circular route all around Madeira more or less following the coast will take about 2 hours, but that’s only if you’ll be driving non-stop.
We definitely recommend stopping along the way to truly appreciate the scenery and natural beauty, from lush Laurasilva forests and rugged mountains to dramatic cliffs and picturesque beaches.
If you just want to drive all around the coastline, you could do it in one day, but you may find it better to focus on one part of the island at a time.
Given the relatively small size of Madeira, you might assume that a multi-day road trip would be too long. However, taking your time to explore the island can be very rewarding. Check out our 7-day Madeira itinerary for some ideas!
Is it possible to drive around Madeira in one day?
Yes, it’s possible to drive around Madeira in one day. It’s a relatively small island, approximately 35 miles at the longest point and a maximum width of 14 miles.
However, one day will definitely not be sufficient to truly experience the island! There are numerous hikes, cable cars, villages, mountain viewpoints, and more that can take many days to check out.
How far is the airport from Funchal?
The Christiano Ronaldo International Airport is quite close to Funchal. It takes about 25 minutes to drive to the capital from the airport via a motorway/highway.
Many car rental companies are based in and around the airport, so you can pick up a rental car at the airport easily. Otherwise, a taxi to Funchal from the airport will cost around €30.
What are the roads like in Madeira?
The road conditions vary, with some narrow roads along cliffs and steep hills that require some concentration and skill. However, in general, the main roads in Madeira are very straight and easy to drive, particularly those on the more developed southern coast.
The roads in Madeira have a reputation for being challenging, but this is also quite easy to overstate and depends a lot on the driver’s experience level. You can read more about what to expect from the roads in Madeira.
What are the car rental options in Madeira?
There are too many car rental companies in Madeira to check them all individually, so for the best prices, we recommend checking all the available rental options using DiscoverCars.
If you book more than two weeks in advance, you have the best chance of getting a good deal. Keep in mind that Madeira being an island, the number of rental cars is not unlimited, so it’s wise to book ahead.
Considering the winding and steep roads of Madeira, we find it best to pick a car that is not too big but still has plenty of oomph for the mountains. A typical 4-seater compact will be perfect, though we have also driven around in a Fiat Panda without major issues (it’s just less comfortable!).
If you’re American and want an automatic you may want to book early, as there are only a few available. Even if you’re used to manual, you may prefer an automatic as it’s a bit easier when driving in the mountains.
Of course, make sure you know about the driving rules in Portugal before you set off.