If you’re at the stage of planning your Madeira itinerary, then you are in for a treat. This island paradise is a place like no other and is just stunning all around.
Honestly, I practically burst out of my seat when Jet2 got in contact asking if I (and a plus one) would be up for taking a trip to Madeira in exchange for writing about my holiday.
And it wasn’t just the excitement of going to Madeira – which had been on my bucket list for years – but I’d been holidaying and flying with Jet2 since way back in 2013. I couldn’t say no.
So with Jet2 kindly providing my flights, hotels and transfers, I had to set about creating my action-packed itinerary for Madeira, Portugal. I spent hours reading websites, planning out routes on Google Maps and reading reviews. I was determined to make the most of my time here.
But now, I’m sharing all that information with you. In this guide, you’ll find helpful information on the best things to do in Madeira, as well as how to plan for other parts of your itinerary like transport and hotels.
Time to get planning…
This article is sponsored by Jet2.com/Jet2holidays. In exchange for writing this post, Jet2.com paid for my flights from the UK and hotel and transfers in Madeira. While the post is sponsored, all opinions are my own honest thoughts and Jet2 have not contributed to the editorial development of this post.
Why You Should Visit Madeira
Perhaps it’s too much to say that Madeira has something for everyone. But it has a lot for a lot of people.
Good weather. Stunning landscapes. Fun outdoor activities. And a relaxed atmosphere.
People visit Madeira for the day from cruise ships, for weekend breaks and for one- or two-week holidays. In fact, some people spend months here, especially in the winter months thanks to the mild climate.
Above all, I’d say come to Madeira if you want to be wowed. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the views over the rugged mountain landscape are real.
Unlike the neighbouring Canary Islands, Madeira is pretty far from a party island. Sure, there are a couple of nightclubs and bars, but that isn’t the crowd that the island draws in.
Instead, you’re much more likely to find your flight to Madeira has an average age of around 60. Part of this is due to the historical popularity of Madeira as a holiday destination, with timeshare properties aplenty. But also because it’s easy to be in Madeira, a lot of locals speak English and there’s a real European cultural feel.
That said, Madeira is still the perfect holiday destination for young people looking for adventure or time in the great outdoors. Hikes, waterfalls, paragliding, swimming, cable cars. The island might be tranquil but you’ll have a great time when you’re there.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Madeira?
This might be controversial but I think that with 2 full days, you can see the top spots of Madeira. Sure, it’d be 2 full days of exploring but if that’s all you have, you can make it work.
Three or four days would be a good minimum. That way you’d be able to see the best sights and attractions but still be able to relax without being out from morning to night every day.
In a week, you’d see a lot of the island, especially if you hired a car for the whole time. And anything more than that, you can easily add in lazy days around the pool, soaking in the sunshine. Or full-day hikes, your pick.
What to do in Madeira
The first part of planning your Madeira itinerary is to check out all the different things you can do in Madeira. This beautiful island is an outdoor lover’s paradise, so there’s no shortage of activities in nature.
But, that’s not the only thing. As well as walks, you can find viewpoints, cable cars, tropical gardens, rock pools, beaches and so much more.
Check out below some of my top recommendations for the best things to do in Madeira…
Take in the Views at Pico do Arieiro
Standing at 1818 metres tall, Pico do Arieiro has some of the best viewpoints on the island. And while this spot is particularly popular for sunrise, it’s beautiful at any time of day.
The views here are absolutely breathtaking! The unique rock formations, sheer drops, different peaks and vast landscape. As well as some wispy clouds below sat in the valleys of the island. It’s so well worth visiting.
What’s more – despite its height – it’s easily accessible. As you can drive (or get driven) almost the entire way to the top and park next to the visitor centre just a few metres away from the peak.
At the top you can visit viewpoints such as Miradouro do Juncal (most popular for sunrise) or Miradouro do Pico do Arieiro (next to the large, white radar). A slight walk away is Miradouro do Ninho da Manta, which is best for sunrise if you’re visiting in spring or summer.
If you don’t want to head out on a hike in the mountains, you can enjoy the views with a drink or snack from the cafe in the visitor centre. Plus, pick up your souvenirs here from the gift stores.
Parking at the visitor centre is free but is limited to one hour. Alternative parking is located a few hundred metres down the road requiring a 10- to 15-minute uphill walk.
Hike to Pico Ruivo
The highest peak on the island, Pico Ruivo is another breathtaking vantage point. However, unlike Pico do Arieiro, Pico Ruivo is only accessible on foot, taking about 45 minutes to get there from the nearest car park.
Expect a challenging climb and come prepared with the right clothing, plenty of water and snacks. There are lots of stairs as well as narrow paths, but the views at the end are worth it.
The shortest trail from the Achada do Teixeira Car Park to Pico Ruivo is most popular at sunrise and sunset. So don’t expect to be alone if you go at those times.
Another popular hiking option is to walk from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo, along the mountain trails. And if you don’t fancy having to walk back, you can find tours that will drop you off at one and pick you up at the other.
Enjoy a Coastal Walk at Ponta de São Lourenço
Ok, I think Ponta de São Lourenço might be my favourite place in Madeira! The landscape here is absolutely divine, it’s incredible.
The way the rocks just drop into the sea. And the beautiful colours of the water. This is my top recommendation for your Madeira itinerary.
And, it’s easy to get here by car, taxi or bus. Perfect for those travelling by public transport.
From the car park and bus stop at the start of the trail, the views are epic from the get-go. The trail follows the land as heads to the northeastern point, passing various viewpoints along the way.
My two favourite viewpoints were Miradouro Lá Salete de Almeida (near the start) and Miradouro de São Lourenço (which looks along the northern coastline.
In total, it’s 3.5 km from the trailhead to the final viewpoint where the island ends. But what I also love about here is that you don’t have to walk the whole way to get the views. So, if you don’t fancy a 7 km return hike, you don’t have to miss out.
Ride the Funchal cable car
From the Funchal seafront take the cable car up to the neighbourhood of Monte. Here, you can visit the tropical gardens, enjoy views of Funchal or experience the unique Madeira tobogganing.
Or you can take the cable car to the Madeira Botanical Gardens, located halfway between the two.
To Monte, return tickets cost 18 Euros for adults (12.50 Euro one way) or 9 Euros for children (6.50 Euro one way). The cable car opens at 9 am every day, with the last admission at 5.45 pm.
Wander Around the Monte Palace Gardens
Located on the hillside overlooking Funchal are the vast Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. Among the gardens, you’ll find lakes and ponds, peacocks, flowers, trees and a wide array of decorations.
You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering the garden’s paths surrounded by exotic plants. In fact, it’s a great activity for when it’s cloudy in Madeira and mountaintop views aren’t possible.
Children aged 14 and under go free when accompanied by an adult. And for everyone else, tickets cost 12.50 EUR.
The gardens are open every day except Christmas Day from 9.30 am to 6 pm.
Slide through the Streets on the Madeira Toboggan Run
This is a tourist attraction like no other on the island. Take a ride in a human-powered toboggan run through the streets of Funchal, as you make your way downhill.
Each cart is pushed (or pulled at times) by 2 experienced drivers, as you sit back and enjoy the ride. Don’t expect too much speed – or too long a journey – and you’ll enjoy it for what it is.
Importantly, the toboggan runs are only available Monday to Saturday. A cart costs 25 EUR for one person, 30 EUR for two people and 45 EUR for three people – tipping is also somewhat expected on top of this.
Also good to know is that the toboggan doesn’t take you all the way back to Funchal centre. Instead, you’ll need to walk or take a taxi or bus back to the cable car (or to the city centre).
Experience The Unique Fanal Cloud Forest
Known to be a cloud or fog forest, this only occurs some of the time. For the best chance of seeing it in a mysterious foggy way, visit early in the morning or evening. It’s still interesting to visit whatever the weather, but the clouds do make it more special.
Located near the northwestern tip of the island, you’ll need a car or a tour/private driver to reach here. Parking is free.
Several walking routes are available of different lengths and difficulties. But, if you just want to experience the magic of the fog, it’s easy to stay near the parking area and still see the trees.
The area is special as the ecosystem here is unique to this part of the world. Only seen here as well as in the Canary Islands and in the Azores.
Cows roam around and are used to the steady flow of tourists, but you should still take care around them nevertheless.
Visit The Town of Santana
Santana – on Madeira’s northern coast – is a hub of great tourist activities.
You can see the typical Madeiran houses, wander around parks or find splendid viewpoints overlooking the ocean. Plus there are restaurants and cafes perfect for refueling on a busy day of sightseeing.
The town is located on the road to Pico Ruivo. So if you’re planning on visiting the mountain peak, passing through Santana on your way is convenient and easy.
Stand Under Cascata dos Anjos
On Madeira’s southern coast is the stunning Cascata Dos Anjos. This beautiful waterfall tumbles over the rock edge and directly onto the road beneath.
Because of this, it’s become a rather famous spot for tourists to drive along or get a photo. The road is meant to be closed to protect pedestrians and prevent accidents, but people do still drive there. But, the road isn’t in great condition, so consider this if you have a hire car.
Bring a towel if you want to stand underneath it. Because you’ll get pretty wet even if you’re just nearby!
Roadside parking is available to the west of the waterfall. But make sure to check the location if using Google Maps, as it sometimes takes you to the inside of the tunnel located behind the waterfall.
Take a Trip to Porto Moniz
On the northwestern tip of the island is Porto Moniz. It’s a small town with a few hotels but most visited for its lava-formed rock pools.
One option is to visit the Porto Moniz Natural Swimming Pools (pictured below). Entrance costs 3 EUR – although no reentry is allowed, so once you leave that’s it (unless you buy another ticket).
These pools have plenty of space for lounging, parasols, children’s pools, a bar, changing areas and lifeguards on duty. The water – from the sea – is usually around 20 Celsius.
Another option in Porto Moniz is the free-to-visit Piscinas Naturais Velhas, next to the Cachalote restaurant. This is just a few hundred metres along from the Porto Moniz pools.
These pools are smaller but look much more natural, with coves and different rock pools to swim in. You’ll also find changing areas, a bar and space to lounge or sunbathe.
Look Down from the Cabo Girão Skywalk
Visit one of the tallest cliffs in the world and look directly down through the glass-floored skywalk! It’s just under 600 metres between you and the ground below…
The Cabo Girão Skywalk is just a short distance from Funchal. And entrance for tourists costs 2 Euros from the machine (cards accepted).
The skywalk and viewpoint aren’t large but for 2 Euros you can’t have too many complaints. The views are pretty spectacular so long as you’re not scared of heights.
Parking is free and there’s also a souvenir shop, toilets and a small cafe (cash only).
Hike in the Valley of the nuns
This hike isn’t as popular as Pico do Arieiro or Pico Ruivo but it is certainly worth your time. With incredible viewpoints and a not-too-difficult walk, it’s the perfect half-day activity.
And this is actually a walk that is best suited to travelling by bus. Hop on the number 81 bus to Eira do Serrado where you’ll be greeted with the most marvellous mountaintop view you could have hoped for.
It’s perhaps one of the best on the island. There’s even a hotel there – so you can always stay the night if you don’t want the views to end!
From there, it’s then a 2-hour, 2000-step downhill walk into the village of Curral das Freiras. From which, you can get the bus back to Funchal.
Ride the Cable Car to Achadas da Cruz
Ok, so this activity we almost did, but not quite. Because as you can see in the picture below, the cable car is very steep. And one of us got scared.
The cable car runs from the cliff top down to the small building stood by itself in the centre of the picture on the coast. It’s almost vertical in parts!
But nevertheless, I was treated to some absolutely stunning views from the west coast over the vast Atlantic Ocean. From here, it’s just water for 3500 miles until you reach the east coast of the USA!
Tickets cost 5 EUR for the return journey, plus there’s also a small restaurant and a souvenir shop at the top along with a free-to-use toilet block.
Pick a Levada Walk or Two
Levada walks are unique to Madeira. They are trails that follow the systems that bring water down from the mountains for the island’s inhabitants to use.
And, there are Levada walks all across the island. You don’t even need to head out into the countryside, some start in the towns and cities heading uphill.
The Caldeirão Verde walk (PR9) is one of the most popular taking you to a gorgeous waterfall on a 13-km round trail. And although the trail is long, it’s mostly flat.
Another popular route is the 25 Fountains walk (PR6), thanks to its manageable distance and beautiful views including of the Risco Waterfall. Although its popularity does mean you should start early.
Sample Madeira’s Own wine
No trip to anywhere is complete without trying some of the local cuisine. And Madeira is famous for its wine.
Madeiran wine is fortified, so don’t be surprised when it comes in a very small glass. But you’ll find it’s served in most bars and restaurants around the island.
Did I love it? Probably not. But you’ve gotta try everything once, right?
Madeira Itinerary Guides
Now you’ve worked out what you want to see, you can work out how long you’ll need. If you want to go on lots of walks, you’ll probably need more time than if you just want to visit a few towns around the island, for example.
It’s also important to note that if you’re travelling around by public transport, you’ll need to allow longer than if you have a car or are planning on hiring a private driver or taking tours. This is because you’ll have to spend more time waiting for buses. And you might not be able direct from place to place but change buses in Funchal.
Plus don’t forget to spend some time relaxing on your holiday! On the beach or at the pool, make the most of the Portuguese sunshine.
And combining relaxing holiday vibes with outdoor and adventure activities is really easy here. I loved that I could still enjoy the Sun – sat by the pool with a book and a bottle of suncream at the ready – that you’d expect on a summer holiday with hikes and adventures. Package holidays to Madeira with Jet2holidays can be whatever you want them to be, after all.
Below are some example itineraries with my top picks of what to do in Madeira, based on having a hire car…
Madeira 2-day Itinerary
- Morning: Ponta de São Lourenço coastal walk
- Early afternoon: Visit Santana for the houses and lunch
- Late afternoon: Pico Ruivo short walk
- Evening: Dinner in Funchal
- Morning: Pico do Arieiro viewpoints
- Late morning: Cabo Girão Skywalk
- Early afternoon: Cascata Dos Anjos and lunch along the coast
- Mid-afternoon: Porto Moniz
- Late afternoon: Fanal forest
Madeira 3-day Itinerary
For this Madeira 3-day itinerary, follow Day 1 and Day 2 as above and then on Day 3…
- Morning: Funchal cable car and Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
- Late morning: Toboggan ride
- Early afternoon: Explore the streets of Funchal, stopping for lunch at a restaurant of your fancy
- Mid-afternoon onwards: Relax a little, if your hotel doesn’t have a pool head to Praia Formosa or one of the seafront lidos
4-day Madeira Itinerary
With a longer stay, you can really make use of the time to enjoy some longer walks without missing out on other attractions. Or you can build in more relaxation time, you’re on holiday after all!
Starting with Day 1
- Explore the eastern side of the island. Such as Ponta de São Lourenço, Santana, the Cabo Girão Skywalk and Caniço
Then Day 2
- Use this day to explore the western side of the island. Heading clockwise from Funchal you’ll pass the Cascata Dos Anjos Waterfall, the west coast viewpoints, the Achadas da Cruz cable car, Porto Moniz and Fanal
Next, Day 3
- Today’s the day for a big walk. Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo is a popular option. And you can get a transportation company to drop you off at one and pick you up at the other. Otherwise, there are plenty of Levado walks to choose from.
And finally, Day 4
- Spend the morning exploring Funchal with the Tropical Gardens and cable car before making sure you spend some time relaxing, especially if the weather is good. Plus your legs will probably be sore from the big walk you did yesterday!
5 Days in Madeira
If you have 5 days in Madeira, you have time to see all the best attractions and a few lesser-known gems. If you’re after big hikes, you definitely have time to fit 2 or 3 in with a day in between with less walking.
Personally, if I had 5 days, I’d combine parts of the 3-day and 4-day itineraries but spread them out. That way you’ll see as much, but will have more time to relax each day.
Take a swim in the pool, relax at the beach and read a book. Enjoy your holiday time rather than just being go, go, go non-stop.
Madeira 7-day Itinerary
Likewise, with a one-week stay in Madeira, I’d be taking my time a lot more at each place. Enjoy longer walks at Ponta de São Lourenço, Pico do Arieiro and Fanal. Hike in the Valley of the Nuns.
With the extra time, you can also visit more of the small towns and villages dotted around the edge of the island. Seixal, Machico and Caniço, for example, all have different things to offer.
On days when you want to drive around the island, spending no more than an hour in each place, you can comfortably fit in 3 or 4 attractions. Because although the island is small, driving the full way around still takes about 3 hours. Longer if you head off the main road to sights and attractions.
Getting around in Madeira
Now you’ve decided what you want to see and how long you want to stay, it’s time to work out how you’ll get around.
Madeira has a good network of buses that’ll get you to a lot of places. But they won’t get you everywhere.
If you’re planning on travelling by bus, Funchal will probably be your best base. Here you’ll have the most convenient connections and the biggest choice of routes to pick from.
And travelling around by bus is best when you have quite a few days in your Madeira Portugal itinerary and aren’t rushing around. If you only have a couple of days on Madeira, it’s best to hire a car to see the most of the island.
Buses on the island are run by 4 different companies, with no central bus station in Funchal. Instead, you’ll need to work out where you want to go and then head to the bus terminal of the company that goes there.
SAM buses run between Funchal and the airport, through the towns along the way.
Horários do Funchal operate buses around the eastern side of the island including Santana.
Rodoeste serves the north and west coast towns such as Porto Moniz, as well as the Cabo Girão Skywalk.
Finally, EACL have buses running between Funchal and Caniço.
Having a car is by far the easiest and most convenient way to see the island. And since Madeira is an island in the middle of the ocean, hiring a car is a necessity as you can’t bring your own.
In fact, Madeira – and the airport and Funchal in particular – are full of car hire companies. But I’d recommend booking online and in advance to get the best price.
I wouldn’t have been able to visit half the places I went to on this trip without having a car. It’s especially convenient if you don’t have much time and want to visit lots of places in one day.
Also, let’s talk about driving on the other side of the road.
For my European or American readers (well pretty much anywhere outside the UK, Australia and New Zealand), driving on the left side of the car and right side of the road is normal. You won’t even have to give driving in Madeira a second thought.
But for us right side of the car drivers, driving abroad can be intimidating. You have to look the other way for the rear-view mirror and change gear with the other hand, not to mention go anti-clockwise around roundabouts.
And I’d never driven abroad before. I’m not even the biggest fan of driving in the UK. But Madeira was the best place I could have hoped for to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for the first time.
Firstly, the roads are in immaculate condition. They’re well-tarmacked, without potholes and easy to drive on.
Secondly, other drivers are patient. There’s no angry horn beeping when you stall or change lanes last minute. Residents are used to tourists coming and not knowing the roads.
Thirdly, the views as you go are beautiful. It’s like driving in a racing game.
The only real difficulty of driving in Madeira is that the roads can be steep. And as you get into the mountains or along the western coast, become very winding with constant bends.
Where to stay in Madeira
The final piece of your Madeira itinerary planning is finding somewhere to stay. It might be a hard choice, but you’ll have lots of options.
Madeira has no shortage of accommodation. From luxury hotels to local guesthouses and everything in between.
And this isn’t just in the capital city of Funchal. You’ll find friendly hotels, villas and apartments in almost every town on the island. Meaning you can really tailor your trip to Madeira to what you want it to be and what your budget is.
I stayed at the Savoy Palace Hotel on my Jet2holidays trip and it was such a great pick. Sometimes it can be hard to know when you’re choosing based on photos and reviews, but this place was beautiful!
Several pools, a huge amount of sun loungers, a tasty buffet breakfast that was fresh and wholesome and spacious rooms with lovely extra touches. Like a mini-Toblerone left on my pillow each night with the turndown service. What’s more, it was conveniently located just a short walk from the centre of Funchal and had free parking for our hire car.
If you’re looking for a slice of luxury in Madeira, this is the place. It’s perfect for weekend breaks or longer stays with daily activities like wine tasting.
How to get to Madeira
Aside from a ferry from the Canary Islands, the only way to get to Madeira is by flying. And planes operate from across Europe to this island paradise.
My flight to Madeira with Jet2 took 4 hours from Manchester. And as I was on an Indulgent Escapes holiday (for luxury hotels), my partner and I were both treated to a free drink on the flight and a £10 voucher each to use against duty-free items on board.
Leaving Manchester Airport at 6.30 am meant that I was in Funchal before midday. So although this meant an early start, it gave me almost a full day to explore the island. I love it when airlines have good flight times!
Currently, Jet2 have flights from up and down the UK including Bristol, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Best Time to Visit Madeira
Between late spring and the end of summer is the best time to visit Madeira. But, part of what makes Madeira so popular and well-loved is its year-round enjoyable weather. Even in December, the temperatures are still in the high teens Celsius.
The summer months do see the highest visitor numbers, with cruise ships regularly docking in Funchal as well as many other tourists arriving by plane. July and August see the peak of tourism, thanks to the best weather and school holidays across Europe.
Because of this, May and June (outside of the half-term and bank holiday periods) can be the perfect time to visit. And you’ll probably get a much better deal on flights, hotels and package holidays during this time.
If you want to do longer hikes, avoid July and August as temperatures reach the high 20s even early in the day. Although during these months, you’ll still be able to enjoy leisurely walks but pack a hat, sun cream and plenty of water.
The best months for walking are in late spring (late April and May), as well as early June, and early autumn (September and October). However, Madeira’s year-round mild climate means outdoor activities like walking can be enjoyed at all times.
Do you have any questions or want any more information? If so, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Information is correct as of July 2023 but is subject to change in future.
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