Deciding where to stay in Madeira doesn’t have to be too agonizing. It’s a small island, so you can always get everywhere from anywhere (especially if you have your own vehicle). It’s also a safe island overall without any ‘bad areas’. This means your location is more of a matter of personal preference.
Given the relatively short distances, you could just focus on finding accommodation you love, wherever it may be on the island. However, your location could still be an important factor, especially when choosing between more urbanized and rural locations.
In this article…
North vs. south side
Madeira can be roughly divided between the north and south. The south side tends to be sunnier and, in the southeast, the most urbanized.
The north side faces the prevailing trade winds, so it’s usually this side that makes first contact with any incoming clouds. As a result, the north is somewhat greener and is sometimes rainier or mistier. It’s also less developed overall, with no motorways/highways in the north.
We shouldn’t caricaturize the two sides too much though. It’s not like the north is a constant monsoon while it never rains in the south. But, in general, the north is wetter, which is why the famous levadas were constructed to carry water to the drier south. In any case, you can always drive to where the best weather is (which is often highly localized in Madeira).
We like the north side because it’s greener and a bit more ‘wild’. However, the south has more accommodation options and is more accessible, so many visitors may feel more drawn to this side.
Use this map to browse hotels all around the island:
Urban vs. rural
Unsurprisingly, the most urbanized area is the capital, Funchal. The areas between Funchal and the airport in the east are also quite built-up, with a 2-lane motorway/highway running through this region. Along the coast here you’ll find a fair number of apartment complexes.
All the way in the east you can find Madeira’s only other city, Machico — though it feels more like a large town than a city, so it’s somewhere in between rural and urban.
If you want to stay in a convenient location with everything at your doorstep, or if you’re looking to stay in a larger hotel, then Funchal is the place to look. Elsewhere you can find accommodation with a more nature- or rural focus.
One location vs. multiple
If you’re staying in Madeira for at least a week, you could split your time between, say, two locations.
Since the driving distances are quite manageable, this would be just to add some variety to your surroundings, rather than being a practical necessity.
Ready to book? Check our hand-picked accommodations:
Where to stay with a car
If you’re renting a car in Madeira then you will not have to stress too much about where you’re staying. You won’t have to be in a perfectly strategic location since most places will be within an hour’s drive from anywhere.
If you have a car, we suggest that you should look outside of Funchal first. While you can stay inside the capital, parking may be limited, and you can use your chance to stay in more scenic or rural locations.
You can consider villages on the south coast, such as Riberia Brava, Ponta do Sol, Calheta, and Paul do Mar. In the east, the town (officially a city) of Machico can be a nice option for easy access to a beach and several great hikes nearby.
The north coast is wonderful as well, especially in scenic cliffside villages such as São Jorge, Seixal, and Porto Moniz. São Vicente can be a great option for a first-time visit, since it’s centrally located in the north and right by the exit of the island’s central tunnel, so it’s closer to Funchal than it may seem.
These are just some ideas though! With a car, you’ll have the freedom to stay wherever.
Where to stay without a car
Exploring Madeira without a car is a little awkward but not impossible. The public transport is not amazing to say the least, but you’ll still have a decent number of accessible places to fill up your itinerary.
We suggest favoring a stay in the capital, Funchal. It has all the transport connections and it’s also where many tours offer free pick-up from your hotel. As a bonus, you can also reach many sights on foot in Funchal (or by cable car to get up to Monte).
In Funchal you can stay in:
- The old town. Here you’ll find the most boutique hotels, local apartments, and hostels, and you’ll be located among cobbled streets and public squares
- Lido. This is where the cruise ship terminal and most of the large-scale resort hotels are located. It’s roughly an 8-minute taxi ride from the old town.
From Funchal, you can take buses to Curral das Freiras (a mountain town), São Lourenco (the eastern headland and home to one of the best hikes), and a few other cool areas. For more in-depth sightseeing, it’s best to book a tour (such as this tour of the western parts of the island), which can pick you up in Funchal. A tourist shuttle service can take you from Funchal to the highest peaks of the island if you want to hike there.
Staying in Funchal is especially recommended if you don’t have a car or if you’re planning a shorter stay.
Depending on what type of lodging you prefer, you can narrow your search to a specific area:
- Large resort hotels with swimming pools. Start by looking in Lido, the hotel district just west of Funchal’s old town.
- Modern oceanview apartments. There seem to be especially a lot of these in the southeast, such as in/near Caniço, Santa Cruz, and Machico.
- Eco-lodges and glamping. The southwest, particularly around Calheta, is a prime hunting ground for this type of accommodation. Don’t miss these recommendations.
- Cute cottages and holiday homes. You can find these really all over the place, though the southwest coast, and all the north coast, are good areas to search. We’ve listed our favorites here.
- Hostels. Almost all backpacker hostels are in the capital. There is one hostel outside of Funchal, in Porto da Cruz. You can view all hostels in Madeira.
Charming villages to stay
Funchal is the obvious place to stay in Madeira, but if you are looking for a cute local village, we have a few suggestions for you.
- São Vicente. Tucked in a valley on the north coast, it’s wonderfully green and has some gorgeous mountain views. It’s easy to get around the island from here.
- Jardim do Mar. A gorgeous little hidden gem on the southwest coast. It’s a cute traffic-free village with just a few hundred inhabitants.
- Porto Moniz. Known primarily for its natural volcanic pools, it can also serve as a nice base in the northwest corner.
- Ponta do Sol. Squeezed between two cliffs, this village with a small harbor and pebble beach rose to fame as the ‘digital nomad village’ during the pandemic, but you certainly don’t need to be a remote worker to stay here.
- Seixal. There’s not much accommodation to choose from, but we really like this narrow village with a strong local feel. Grab some limpets or grilled fish at Bar da Ribeira da Laje with a gorgeous view of the coast.
- São Jorge. Surrounded by craggy peaks and with numerous great viewpoints nearby; scenic steep cliffs by the sea.
- Caniçal. A cute village with a small harbor, close to the red rocks and gnarly cliffs of the São Lourenço headland and nature reserve.
One village we think is a bit less enticing is Santana, which is famous for having several straw-roofed traditional houses. The village is fine, but it’s not located on the coast, and it gets a lot of tour buses all day making it feel a bit tourist-trappy.