With so many stunning landscapes, scenic drives, and picturesque villages, Madeira is an ideal destination to explore by car.
It is also simply the best way to explore the island independently, given that public transport options in Madeira are limited and typically won’t stop at the places tourists most want to see.
We’ve rented cars on Madeira many times now, so we can share some first-hand tips and experiences. If you’re renting a car in Madeira, here is everything you need to know!
Most rentals can be picked up from one of two locations:
- Madeira Airport. Ideal if you’re driving for your whole trip. Some of the big brands like Hertz have a desk at the terminal and cars outside ready to go, while other (less expensive) options may require taking a shuttle service to their depot. The shuttles are frequent and typically don’t take more than a few minutes, so we’ve never minded taking this extra step to save some money.
- Funchal. If you only need a car for just a few days of your stay, you can also pick one up in the capital. For reference, a taxi from the airport to Funchal costs about 30 to 40 euro. There are dozens of car rentals in Funchal, including many in the hotel district of Lido.
How to find a rental car
We always use Discover Cars to find the best car rental for our trip.
Discover Cars checks all the major brands but also the local car rental companies to find the best price and availability. It’s always helped us find some great deals!
We sometimes prefer to avoid using third-party sites, such as when booking flights, but we always use Discover Cars for car rentals. Our experiences with them have been great! The site lets you quickly find the best and cheapest options and you are issued what is essentially a voucher. We always book our cars in this way in Madeira or anywhere else we travel.
With you book with Discover Cars you can also add full coverage insurance for only about 8 Euro per day.
Best car type for Madeira
For a couple or small family on a tight budget, driving a mini can still be OK. However, you may end up with an underpowered Fiat Panda or similar, which isn’t optimal for Madeira’s mountainous terrain.
We recommend a 5-seater compact or economy car in Madeira. This will ensure more comfortable driving than with a mini. Larger vehicles such as sedans and SUVs are not ideal given Madeira’s often narrow roads and tight parking spaces.
Getting the best price
As is often the case, the more days you book, the cheaper it gets per day. For example, renting a car for 2 days is usually more expensive per day than renting one for 5 days.
You will also get lower prices by booking well in advance. Being an island, Madeira has a limited stock of rental cars available. The closer you get to your trip dates the higher prices will get.
You may find that your preferred car type is not available unless you pre-book. We once witnessed a tourist in Funchal frantically calling car rental companies trying to find the last remaining automatic car.
Manual vs. automatic
If you’re a confident manual driver, you’ll probably not be fazed by Madeira, even though the mountain roads may require a bit more gear shifting than usual. The vast majority of rental cars in Madeira are manual.
You may prefer to drive automatic, though keep in mind the stock of automatic cars is somewhat limited, so be sure to book ahead. If you’re from the USA, know that in Europe driving manual is more common.
Do you need an international driver’s license?
In most cases no. All driving licenses from EU countries, the EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), Switzerland, the UK, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries belonging to the OECD are recognized in Portugal.
The minimum age to rent a car in Madeira is typically 21 years. However, some rental companies may require drivers to be at least 23 or 25 years old, depending on the car category. Young driver fees may apply to drivers under a certain age, usually 25.
When renting a car in Madeira, insurance coverage is crucial. The rental price usually includes basic insurance, but it’s advisable to consider additional coverage options like Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW) for extra protection. Familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of the insurance policy before signing any contracts.
Before accepting the rental car, carefully inspect it for any existing damages. Take note of any scratches, dents, or other issues and inform the rental company to avoid being held responsible for pre-existing damage.
Tip: Discover Cars offers free cancellation, so you can easily book your rental early to lock in your price. You can still add insurance later.
Madeira is known for its dramatic mountain landscapes and its number of tunnels, bridges, and narrow and winding roads.
That said, unless you have never driven in mountainous places before, you’ll probably find that the roads in Madeira pose no unusual challenges.
The roads are not quite as crazy as suggested in some places online. Madeira has an impressive network of tunnels that cut through the mountains, giving you access to different sides of the island using very straight and easy roads.
However, it is true that on road trips through the mountains or along the old coastal roads, you may face steep grades or sharp bends. The roads in the north or center of the island are a bit wilder than in the south. On smaller side roads or country roads, you may face strong inclines.
For more, see our post on the driving conditions in Madeira.
The roads are generally well-maintained and in good condition. They’re definitely much better than in mainland Portugal such as Lisbon. Potholes do exist but are relatively rare on the main roads.
Why it’s worth getting a rental car
Renting a car provides you with the freedom to explore Madeira at your own pace. It also lets you more easily go beyond Funchal and enjoy the many charming rural areas.
The south has many sun-drenched coastal villages, such as Ribeira Brava, Ponta do Sol, and Calheta. The island’s north faces the prevailing trade winds, making it much greener and more humid. The fortress of Faial, the natural pools of Porto Moniz, and the beach of Porto do Seixal are some of the key sights on the northern side.
Take advantage of the car rental to visit Madeira’s stunning viewpoints, charming villages, and natural wonders!