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Click to read An essential guide to Madeira

Guide to driving in Madeira

Everything you need to know about driving in Madeira, the roads on the island and tips and tricks for renting a car

Driving in Madeira is super challenging

Driving in Madeira is the easiest and most exciting way to explore the whole island. Madeira is an island located in the Atlantic Ocean, with lush green forest, tons of hiking trails, fantastic food and plenty of things to see. It's dubbed as the "Pearl of the Atlantic" and for good reason. On your road trip you'll see the most impressive gorges, stunning cliffs extended for miles, natural swimming pools and inviting beaches. Madeira has mountain roads with breathtaking landscape. Expect to see magnificent rock formations, waves crashing into the most dramatic cliffs and long stretches of beach.

Rent a car to explore all the tourist attractions around the island. Stay in Madeira in one single spot, then drive to interesting destinations as day trips. The perfect Madeira trip will be 5-7 days to enjoy a couple of days in the capital city, Funchal, then explore the most epic points of interest. This beautiful island is absolutely amazing, and you'll love it so much, you'll want to come back over and over again.

Before we dive in, purchase your travel insurance for this trip.

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Driving In Madeira

Driving in Madeira is the best way to get all around the island to ensure you get to see all the main highlights. For a seamless hiking experience, a car is also useful as you can drive straight to the starting point for your trail, then come right back and drive to the hotel. There is plenty of free parking all around the island, but in Funchal there are limited parking spots.

Driving in Madeira island is an exhilarating experience and ideally, you'll be an experienced driver. Madeira has steep roads and many tunnels. Drive slowly when you are off the main motorways, as the roads are narrow and winding. To avoid any life-threatening experience, slow down when the roads are too narrow, and you're next to a chasm, and allow cars to safely pass you from the opposite direction. You should always respect the speed limit at all times.

Your rental car should come with additional insurance, and you most certainly want travel insurance when deciding on a road trip around Madeira.

Now, as long as you are an experienced driver and feel confident behind the wheel, you should be able to have an adventure of a lifetime. Madeira driving is incredibly fun, as Madeira's roads lead to some of the most beautiful scenery you could possibly imagine.

Plan your Madeira itinerary in advance, so you know exactly which roads to take and where to go. Check Google Maps for your trip and to see the best recommended route. It's worth following Google Maps over the Sat Nav, and it gives you precise and real-time information.

As a car rental company, we recommend Europcar. Prices for a car rental in Madeira is affordable, but we do recommend that you book in advance.

Pico Ruivo Madeira Drive Fog

Tips for selecting your car rental

Go to Europcar and select Funchal. You will want to get your rental car straight from the Funchal Airport, so it's easier for you to drive straight to your accommodation.

To drive on mountain roads, you might want to rent a car that has an automatic transmission. This will save you a lot of time and effort when you go up and down, and you need to slow down and speed up. It's also safer to drive an automatic car as your attention will be solely on the road ahead and not on changing gears. Get a compact car or a medium-sized car with a good enough engine and horsepower. You do need a powerful car to be able to tackle some steeper hills. The idea is for you to have a great and safe experience driving in Madeira and not be hindered.

Renting a car with automatic transmission might come at an extra cost, but it's well worth your investment. When you drive on those curvy roads to the most breathtaking places, you'll be thankful you made the best choice.

Drive in Madeira Empty Road

What To Expect From Driving In Madeira

Madeira is a small island, which means it is the ideal destination for a complete and fun road trip. When driving your car rental, made sure to respect all the speed limits and take extra care on those steep hills.

Local buses are fairly wide, and you will have to sometimes give them way on narrow mountain roads. This is especially common on the north coast. Just be patient and practice common sense. It's always better to allow local passing cars to manoeuvrer around you.

You'll be driving on some incredible viaducts, stunning bridges, unimaginable winding roads, making your road trip around Madeira an astonishing experience. When you drive around the island, it's best to have some offline maps handy, as some places might not have signal.

Madeira is a continuous maze of roads taking you to unimaginable places such as the stunning Ponta do Pargo, Miradouro dos Balcões, Porto Moniz with its natural swimming pools, the sandy beaches of Machico and the levada hikes in the centre of the island.

Drive in Madeira Road Towards Pico Ruivo

Almost everywhere you go, you'll find a good enough parking lot to leave your rental car until you hike or take advantage of the photography spots.

The best way to explore is to start driving early morning to ensure there's less traffic on the roads. This will make your own trip a lot more enjoyable. Besides, fewer tourist in the points of interest that you want to check out.

Driving is easier on the south coast as it's the more developed side of Madeira. There are motorways all around Madeira, and driving on the main roads is normally easy and fun. There are gas stations scattered all around but make sure to always keep the tank full just in case. Most rental companies will rent you the car with a full tank and expect you to the return it the same way.

Driving in the city centre of Funchal can feel a little challenging, as the roads are very narrow and there's a lot more traffic in the city than anywhere else. Locals drive their own car, and you can tell how experienced and used to these road conditions they are. If in doubt, slow down and allow them to pass you.

Most hotels will offer you free parking, with a few exceptions in denser populated areas.

A great tip is to always check the weather conditions before heading into the mountains. Madeira is the island of eternal spring, but it doesn't mean you won't experience snow in some mountain areas. Fog is common, especially in elevated areas. If there's very low visibility on some narrow mountain areas, it's best to turn around and not venture further, as some roads don't have safety barriers in place. You want to feel safe and stay safe at all times.

Pico Ruivo Madeira Cory Fog

Book Your Hotel In Madeira

We have picked a few hotels for you in Funchal, Caniço and Machico, two of the best places to stay in Madeira and drive around the island from. All the accommodations come with a car park, so it makes your life easier.

Luxury: Hotel Quinta Jardins do Lago

Located in the hills surrounding Funchal, this 18th-century mansion is set in extensive botanical gardens with 600 different plant species. All rooms have balconies overlooking the gardens. There is free parking on site and prices start from £161 per night.
➡️ Book on Booking.com

Apartment: Reis Magos View

Offering sea views, Reis Magos View is an accommodation situated in Caniço. This beachfront property offers access to free WiFi and free private parking. The apartment features 2 bedrooms and prices start from £121 per night.
➡️ Book on Booking.com

Guest House: Modern & Recycled

Situated in Machico, 350 feet from Sao Roque Beach, Modern & Recycled Guest House features views of the city. Boasting family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. There is free parking on site and prices start from £90 per night.
➡️ Book on Booking.com

Few Tips For Car Rental In Madeira

Our Recommended Rental Company: Compare prices on Europcar

Rental car: Go for a compact or medium-sized car with good engine and horse powers. Ideally, you'll want a good car with automatic transmission. You can rent other cars as well, but to make your life easier, in Madeira, we do tend to recommend an automatic car.

Road condition: Motorways are excellent, be prepared for many tunnels, roundabouts and single lane roads. Off the motorway, the serpentine roads are very narrow and challenging. People tend to be considerate and Madeirans seem to be good drivers.

Warnings: There are rocks falling off on certain roads. Be vigilant. In Madeira, you need to drive on the right-hand side

Driving licences: Madeira is part of the European Union. A valid driving licence (Carta de Condução) is needed to drive in Madeira, and the minimum age to drive a car is 18. Check with your local government if your driving licence is accepted. Alternatively, you may have to apply for an international license before your arrival. For British tourists: an IDP can be obtained from a local post office, and it costs under £10.

Extras: When you rent a car, you should ask about comprehensive insurance to have complete peace of mind. If you visit with your small kids, remember that children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the front seats. The speed limit within populated areas is 40-50 km/h, whereas on motorways it is 90 km/h. You can still find narrow cobbled roads within the city centre of Funchal, so drive slowly and carefully.

Drive in Madeira Rocks Falling

Is it easy to drive in Madeira?

It's easy to drive in Madeira as most roads are in great condition. The motorways are great and easy to navigate. You do need to be an experienced driver to tackle some mountain roads and steeper hills, which is why we recommend renting an automatic car for your own safety and comfort.

Is driving in Madeira safe?

Driving in Madeira is safe. Locals are good drivers and everyone takes extra care on the narrower roads which require more attention. Always get comprehensive insurance and take extra care when driving on unfamiliar roads. Check the weather conditions before venturing out into remote areas, which may be more challenging.

Can you drive around Madeira?

Yes you can. It takes approximately 4 hours to drive without stops around Madeira. But note that there are shortcuts and several other main roads on the island to cut your driving time and help reach your point of interest faster.

How steep are the roads in Madeira?

Madeira's roads have sections which are among the steepest in the world. The roads are kept in good conditions but expect some sections with a gradient of 45%. To reiterate, it's best to get a good car with a powerful engine and an automatic transmission so you won't feel like you're struggling with steep roads.

Views Apartments Madeira Canico

Do you need a car to get around Madeira?

There is accessible public transport, but it's best to rent a car if you want to experience some of the most beautiful points of interest on the island. You'll save a lot of time and get to see a lot more of Madeira by driving your own car.

If you are planning just 1 or 2 day trips into the mountains to hike, you can rely on the public transportation instead. In Funchal, you can take a gorgeous cable car ride to Monte and start a hike from there.

How many days do you need in Madeira?

The ideal time for seeing the best of Madeira is between 5-7 days. We do recommend your own rental car to see and do everything on the island. Madeira is ideal for road trippers, hikers and food lovers.

What's it like to drive in Madeira?

Driving in Madeira is exhilarating, and it can feel a little scary sometimes. Even the most experienced driver might come across the occasional steep hill that looks like a challenge. On some roads deep in the heart of Madeira, you might drive right next to a large chasm. This may make some feel uneasy. Just keep it slow and steady and practice common sense at all times.

Drive in Madeira Roads From Above North Island

What is the best time of year to visit Madeira?

Madeira is a year round destination, and many escape to Madeira for some winter sun. Being the island of eternal spring, you'll always experience a range of seasons in one single day. While the beaches might be warm and welcoming, the mountains might be covered in fog and experience rain or even snow. Summer tends to be the busiest but even so, Madeira rarely feels overcrowded.

Do you need an SUV on Madeira?

You don't specifically need an SUV on Madeira, but it doesn't hurt to have an excellent car with a superb engine. It will make your life much easier, and you'll get to enjoy your driving experience a lot more.

What do you think?

Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Your Comment

S
Sannan
27 Jul 2022

Fantastic Blog! I agree with you here. It is a very valuable and helpful collection of informative content. Like I can understand now why rent-a-car services are getting a huge demand day by day.

T
TJ
06 Jun 2019

Hi Cory,
Thanks for writing such an awesome article. My partner and I are going to Madeira and will rent a car in July. Do you recommend a certain type of car/power for getting around?

C
Cory
22 Jul 2019

Hi TJ, have lots of fun in Madeira. I'd personally go for a medium-sized car with a good engine. The engine will help with the steep slopes :)

E
Eric Conijn
10 Feb 2019

Hi,

Where did you take the picture of the 'bridge' downwards to a forest? Before the text "Now here is what I took away" in this post? Beautyfull

C
Cory
22 Feb 2019

Hi Eric,

That was on our way up towards Pico Ruivo. As we were driving up on the mountain through the fog, en route to the trail :)

R
Robert
04 Dec 2017

Great article, very inspiring! I'm on Madeira right now for the 4th time, first time driving though and I'm having a great time with it, although nerve wracking at times. The inclines are unreal sometimes. Just a small observation though; there are no 60° slopes on drivable roadways on Madeira or anywhere. The steepest drivable road in the world is at about 37°, and the steepest on Madeira is about 20°. At 60° your car would literally tumble backwards.

C
Cory
05 Dec 2017

Hi Robert, glad you are loving Madeira. Of course, I am aware there no 90degrees hills, although they sure look that way sometimes. It was written just as a bit of a warning and not as a fact. However, I'd happily change the text to make sure I don't actually mislead. Also...37degrees that's wild! Do you know where in the world? I'm really curious.

J
Joaquim vieira
22 Apr 2019

Hey there. I am from Madeira. Don't confuse degrees with percentage. Thera are more than 40 degrees streets here. The 37% that Robert refered, i guess he was talking about Baldween street in New Zeland ( the steepest road in the world ). 37% percent means that if you travel 100 meters, you are going 37 meters up. Aind i guess that is like almost 45 degrees. Sometimes people confuse the "%" with degrees. Anyway, i am glad you enjoyed my beautiful Island :) big hugs for you guys

M
Mal Evans
03 Nov 2017

Hi Cory - enjoyed your article. Thank you
My wife would love to go to Madeira (Funchal) but I suffer from vertigo. I'm sure I'd be fine in Funchal but is the drive from the airport 'scary?'
Many thanks
Mal

C
Cory
03 Nov 2017

Hi Mal,
Glad to hear you enjoy the article, thank you. The drive from the airport to Funchal is not that scary. It's mainly on the motorway. There is one viaduct, which I'm not going to lie, it can look a bit scary, but if you focus on the task (of driving :D) you probably won't even notice it as much. If you are really scared of heights, then it's best to get a transfer service from the airport to your hotel. This way someone else will do the driving, and when in doubt, you can just close your eyes for a few seconds.
In my opinion, travelling around the island was the best part of the trip. However, even though I'm afraid of heights, it's not that bad for me. As always, know your limits, and simply stop when it's too much for you.

Madeira is beautiful, I'm sure you and your wife will love it there. Have lots of fun.

Kind Regards,

Cory