2 Incredible driving routes for Madeira (with maps)


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With its towering mountain peaks, lush forests, epic viewpoints, and numerous small sights, Madeira is absolutely made for a road trip. Here, we’ve put together two routes that include some of the most fun-to-drive roads.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to follow a particular route to enjoy the island. If you’re in Madeira for a while, you can take point-to-point trips to key sights and make serendipitous discoveries along the way. However, these circular driving routes will help you see a lot in one day.

Both routes involve around 3 hours of driving (without stopping), but you need a full day to enjoy all the stops. The routes start in Funchal, but you can modify them if you’re based somewhere else.

By the way, we’ve included some fun details in these routes that aren’t mentioned on other blogs!

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Route 1: Western Madeira

This day trip will take you along the sunny south coast, via the expansive plateau of Paúl da Serra, to the north coast at Porto Moniz. You’ll drive back via the north coast and viewpoints at Boca da Encumeada.

We’re taking the scenic way! Check the embedded Google Maps to see the exact suggested route, which often deliberately avoids expressways or tunnels.

Câmara de Lobos

Head west from Funchal using the VR1 expressway, but get off pretty quickly at exit 7 for Santa Rita Ariero. Take a left and follow this road, passing by various banana plantations, until reaching the small harbour of Câmara de Lobos.

We’re still on the outskirts of Funchal here, but the small parish will make you feel like you’ve already left the city. Known for its fishing traditions, you’ll see some of the characteristic colourful fishing boats known as Xavelhas along the harbour. It’s a wonderful place to stretch your legs and grab a coffee or breakfast.

You can stop by the Winston Churchill viewing point, the exact spot where the British statesman painted the scenic harbour during a visit in 1950 (you can see a photo of it here).

Cape Girão

From here our driving route takes us to Cabo Girão, a viewpoint atop a 550m (1800ft) tall sea cliff.

If you’re not afraid of heights, you’ll surely enjoy the Cabo Girão Skywalk, which features a glass platform that lets you look directly down at the cliff face. It has the unique distinction of being “the highest cliff skywalk in Europe”. It costs €2 to enter.

It can get quite crowded since many tour vans and coach buses stop here, but the views are still worth jostling for a spot. Alternatively, you can stop at nearby Miradouro Lombo do Facho, which is free and offers a wonderful view of the valley as well, just without the platform hanging over the cliffs.

Fajã dos Padres

Next, head to Fajã dos Padres. Fajã is the name for a small flat area of land at the foot of tall cliffs, a geological feature that Madeira (as well as islands of the Azores) are known for.

The cable car that takes you to Fajã dos Padres is a bit of a hidden gem, especially compared to the much busier Cabo Girão. The 300-meter ride straight down is the only way to access the deserted stone beach and it’s quite a thrill!

It costs €12 for a return ticket (free for children up to 11 years).

Stroll through the arched path past the small banana and mango plantations. A small cafe/restaurant lets you enjoy a drink while admiring the peaceful ocean views. The food here doesn’t get the best reviews, but the setting is gorgeous and worth appreciating with a drink.

Ponta do Sol

Before getting to Ponta do Sol, you can stop by the Banana Museum of Madeira, one of the best small museums in the island. It includes insights into banana cultivation with 3D displays and the possibility of exploring a plantation.

The picturesque village of Ponta do Sol (Cape of the Sun) is so named because it has some of the most sun exposure on the island, though the surrounding mountains do sometimes cast a shade onto part of the beach. Bananas grow incredibly well here, so you’ll see many orchards on the terraced hills.

If you can’t find a place to park, try the unused tunnel near the seafront, which has been turned into a sort of parking garage. This was actually the first attempt at tunneling to the next village that was abandoned due to construction issues.

Ponta do Sol has a pleasant mini beach boulevard with a beach bar and a pebble beach protected by a pier, making it a calm swimming spot. A little stone bridge leads to a rocky pier from where you can take some photos.

This is again a great spot to grab coffee or food, but if you’ve already done so by now, you can also choose to tackle Ponta do Sol on your return (near the end of this driving route) to enjoy the ocean view with a sunset glow.

Worth a detour is the Anjos Waterfall, which splashes straight onto the old ER101 road, thus having become an Instagram hotspot. You can enjoy the natural car wash and/or stage some photos here before heading on.

It’s fun to check out, but we should admit that it looks a little more impressive in influencer’s feeds than in reality. Following some accidents there is now a double row of stone barriers, which has changed the aesthetic a bit. Locals advise not to go here during or after bad weather as there can be falling rocks.

Paúl da Serra

Following ER209, this section involves about an hour of continuous driving along some really fun-to-drive rural roads.

If you are already accustomed to Madeira’s crazy spaghetti soup of mountain roads, then what awaits you at Paúl da Serra may surprise you. The straight-as-a-line roads at the plateau of Paúl da Serra are unique in Madeira, with no other part boasting such flat land.

The windswept nature area features mostly grasslands with patches of shrubs and purple heathers. Some areas allow cows to roam freely, so be sure to watch for any stray cattle.

With an average elevation of 1500 metres, Paúl da Serra offers some sublime views of the island. You can type miradouro into your maps app (or look for the signs) to catch a few along the way.

You have two options for driving to Porto Moniz:

  • Option A: Take the ER110, a nice drive over the mountain rim, with the possibility of stopping for a hike, such as the PR6.1 to Levada do Risco or the PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes.
  • Option B: Take the ER209, a lovely drive that lets you stop at Fanal, a forest known for its mistiness and gnarly Laurel trees, giving it a fairytale-like atmosphere. Seeing this does not involve a hike but is an open space you can just walk around.

Option B is what we’ve shown in the Google Maps route.

Porto Moniz

Porto Moniz is a small coastal village known mainly for its natural pools formed by volcanic rocks. Here you can swim in the seawater while being pleasantly shielded from the crushing waves.

The village has a few small other attractions, such as the Madeira Aquarium. There are also many good fish restaurants where you can stop for lunch.

From Porto Moniz, you can drive the spectacular coastal route via Seixal to São Vicente. This is one of the most tunnelled routes in Madeira; the 19 km stretch of road originally took 16 years to construct.

You’ll be driving past dramatic cliff faces and getting stunning ocean views whenever emerging from a tunnel. Occasionally you’ll see the remnants of the old ER101 road, which snaked its way along the cliff edges but is now abandoned and strewn with fallen rocks.

Boca de Encumeada

For the final section, we’ll drive accross this 1000m+ central peak. Be sure to follow road ER228 and not the newer VE4, which enters a tunnel that skips past all the good stuff. By taking the old road, you’ll pass at least half a dozen epic miradouros (viewing points).

At the end, you’ll get back on the main road VE4. From here it takes about 25 minutes to reach Funchal.

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Route 2: Eastern Madeira

This driving route will take you through some of the most mountainous and dramatic landscapes in Madeira. It’s best to have a full day to enjoy this route at a relaxed pace.

This route focuses on small mountain roads featuring many incredible viewpoints. Along the way, you can also stop at a trout farm, vineyard, and rum distillery.


Leave Funchal northbound via ER103. You’ll pass by Monte, which we’ll assume you have seen already if you’ve stayed in Funchal, since the botanical gardens are some of the top things to do here. But if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s highly worth visiting Monte Palace Madeira. If you do, you can save time by skipping the Palheiro Gardens which we’ll mention at the end of the route.

Continue onward to Miradouro do Terreiro da Luta, a viewing deck with a wonderful angle on the forests and Funchal below. There is a chapel and a small bar with a talking parrot.

Pico do Ariero

After about 3 km, take a left turn, to take a side trip to one of the highest points of the island, Pico do Ariero. You’ll pass by an ecological park and the astronomical observatory. Among the mostly rocky volcanic expanse, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most sweeping views of the island.

There is a parking lot and cafeteria very close to the peak, so you do not have to do any hiking to see the Pico do Ariero. You’ll see a lot of walkers here though, as it is the starting point for the hike to Pico Ruivo, the island’s highest point which you’ll be able to see in the distance.

Ribeiro Frio

Head back the same way and take a left on the ER103 in the direction of Ribeiro Frio.

This tiny village is located in a lush green area that’s bursting with ferns and mossy paths. It’s a popular starting point for several levada walks.

You can take a look around at the Ribeiro Frio trout farm, which has several hatcheries and aquaculture basins. You also have the opportunity to eat some phenomenally fresh trout in the adjacent restaurant.

Santana & the north coast

Our drive continues past many miradouros (viewing points) and across an old stone bridge to reach the northern VE1 road. Here you can take a left and drive to the village of Santana.

Santana is known for having several well-preserved examples of traditional A-frame thatched-roof houses that were once common on the island. Based on how often pictures of these are used to promote Madeira, you’d think the whole island is full of them, but only a few survive.

Honestly, we think they are of mild interest. Santana is definitely on the tourist coach bus trail with large groups often stopping here, making it feel just a bit like a tourist trap. We still rate it as ‘worth a look’ if you’re passing through.

However, if you crave a little more authenticity, then skip Santana and continue to São Jorge.

It’s a charming rural village with some stunning views of the wild northern coast. Besides the village it’s worth checking out the rocky beach at Calhau de São Jorge, which is at the end of a gorge south of the village. The waves are very wild here, but it’s a scenic spot and you can take a dip in the small river that reaches the sea here or in the swimming pool besides the restaurant.

There is also an old ruin with a stone arch through which you can see the shore behind it. Standing under the arch will allow you to take a cool portrait.

In next over village called Arco de São Jorge you can find a small wine museum. And finally, Cabo Aéreo Café is housed in what was once a cable car station, and here you can have a meal or drink with some unreal views of the seaside cliffs.

Back to Funchal

We now suggest turning back and driving eastward via Porto da Cruz, where you can stop by a historical rum distillery. This is still a working factory and you may well see sugarcane being loaded into the machines as you pass by the building. It’s possible to do an official tour the distillery but you’re also allowed to just walk in for a look.

Then, take the ER108 and then the ER102 via Camacha.

It is highly worth stopping at the Miradouro da Portela. This is one of the best viewpoints on the island, offering a spectacular angle onto the village of Porto da Cruz and the incredible rocky mountain known as Penha d’Águia (Eagle’s Nest).

Other than this there are not many sights along the way, but the drive is nice and you’ll pass by several non-touristic villages.

Nearing Funchal, you can stop by the Palheiro Gardens. These beautiful gardens are less well-known than those at Monte and are a bit of a hidden gem. Although perhaps not worth visiting if you have to get a taxi from Funchal, they are a worthy stop if you’re by car and can easily pop by.

The gardens are English-style featuring hedges and topiary, but also have many succulents and tropical plants. The gardens are not as immaculately maintained as in Monte, but this also gives them a certain charm. After a stroll, you can complete the driving route by driving down to Funchal.

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