Need advice for getting around Madeira? Read on for our top tips – whether you’re going to drive in Madeira or get around without a car.
My family are fortunate enough to own a timeshare out on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira.
This means that I’ve had many trips out to the island, and in that time, it’s safe to say that I’ve used almost all forms of transport that are available there.
But just how do you get around Madeira – an island so famously made of volcanic rock?
Well, Madeirans are renowned for their inventive and clever ways of using the space they have.
Whether this is building deep and long tunnels into the many mountains, or shooting toboggans down steep hills, they’ve thought of everything (especially in terms of transport options).
1. Hire Car
If you’re hoping to see a lot of the island in the time you have, then hiring a car is a great option.
However, please don’t think this is an absolute necessity as you’ll see from the rest of this article.
First things first, I would only recommend driving yourself around the island if you are:
- 100% confident as a driver
- Used to challenging roads and conditions
The roads in Madeira can be really quite hazardous in places – think narrow roads with sheer cliff drops on one side plus steep hills.
There are also lots of road tunnels that cleave through the mountains across a long distance (the longest runs for over 3km), so you’ll also need to be used to driving in the dark!
But if you’re a confident driver or even a fan of this type of adrenaline, then you should be okay (although make sure you stay safe and don’t get too complacent)!
When hiring a car, ensure you ask for one that will have enough power behind it to climb the steep hills already mentioned.
Also, Madeira is part of the EU, so ensure your driving license is accepted there, or you may have to apply for an international driving license ahead of your trip.
However, if you’re not such a confident driver or would prefer to have a more relaxing adventure out in Madeira, then there are still lots of transport options open to you.
2. Cable Car
The cable car lines run from Funchal to Monte, and back again, making this a fantastic way to scale mountains. The cars offer you views across the island as you travel and are a quick way to get around and see the sights.
So if you’re vacationing down in Funchal and fancy a visit to Monte, then it’s more than possible for you to do it as a return trip. Admittedly, this one is more for tourists than the locals!
Monte offers you fabulous views across part of the island and the opportunity to visit a traditional church.
This is also the spot where you can catch a toboggan back down the hill if you would prefer not to use the cable car both ways.
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Toboggans are such a thrill-seeking way of getting down the steep hill from Monte – but only try this if you love speed, sharp corners and suicidal men jumping off and on the toboggan behind you!
This is usually a tourist’s mode of transport when leaving Monte, but did you know these were also a more widely used form of transport in the 19th century?
And what I absolutely love is that CNN included the Monte toboggans in their round up of 7 of the world’s coolest commutes!
4. Walking & Hiking
All around Madeira, there are various hiking and walking trails that you can embark on. Some are more challenging than others (especially up in the mountains).
If exploring the Funchal area, you can easily see the main sights of Funchal and surrounding areas on foot.
Remember the cable car can take you up to Monte – so no excuses for not seeing that during your visit!
5. Coach Trips
I’d recommend enquiring at your hotel about whether they offer any coach tours for the day. These are quite common, so you should find that they do offer them!
All of these hotels offered tours around the island when we visited and are stunning places to stay at.
You can also book your own tours using websites such as Get Your Guide. Two tours that were particularly interesting to us during our most recent visit to Madeira were as follows.
Coach Tour – East Side of the Island
This was a full day tour covering the Eastern side of the island, which allowed us to see:
- Ribeiro Frio – A fabulous viewpoint overlooking the dramatic landscapes of Madeira.
- Pico do Arieiro – Another viewpoint with even more incredible views!
- Pico Ruivo – This is the place to come to if you want to walk above the clouds!
- Santana – Home to the famous traditional Madeiran houses that we all love to rave about!
- Caniçal – This is the most Eastern part of the island, offering fantastic views across the ocean and a fabulous place to stretch your legs for a decent walk.
- Machico – A man-made yet beautiful beach surrounded by the dramatic cliffs of Madeira. These cliffs help shield the beach from strong winds, so it’s a great little spot for sunbathing on.
Coach Tour – West Side of the Island
This was a full day tour covering the Western side of the island, which allowed us to see:
- Câmara de Lobos – This quaint little fishing town is perfect for a relaxing stroll, and if you’re a boat lover. This is quite an active harbour in Madeira, so there’s plenty of boat and people watching to be done.
- Cabo Girão – This is another viewpoint well worth a look at. From here, you can see right down to the coast line and see just how steep the drop is!
- Ribeira Brava – This is one of the coastline villages you can explore. From here, the views of the sea look fantastic and there are also plenty of viewpoints to walk to and explore.
- Porto Moniz – Along the Northern side of the island, this is a town where you can really see the volcanic base layer of Madeira. You can even swim in volcanic rock pools!
- Ribeira da Janela – This place is ideal for dramatic views and picture perfect sights.
- São Vicente – This is a fabulous little town to explore – the churches here are particularly lovely!
Given how much we got to see each day, we thought tours like these were fantastic value for money!
There are plenty of bus routes dotted around the island.
If you’re staying in the capital city of Funchal, then you’ll find catching a bus particularly easy.
Some bus routes even allow for a free audio tour (available via an Audio Trip app download), so you can learn about the history of the place you’re visiting whilst catching a normal bus.
From Funchal, it’s possible to buy tickets in advance as well as on-board from the driver.
But in areas a little more off the grid, buying a ticket on-board is your only option. So ensure you carry some spare change just in case.
During my own travel planning, I found this great guide about Madeira buses, which should tell you all you need to know. You can even save it as a PDF – I’d recommend saving it on your phone so you always have a copy with you!
You may be able to find a taxi driver willing to chauffeur you around for a day for a surprisingly good rate.
€80 saw us get a day tour around the island by taxi for just the four of us. In that time, it was super easy to see The Valley of the Nuns, Sao Vicente and Pico Ruivo all in one day.
And the best bit? The driver dropped us off at each point and hung around until we were ready to move on to the next attraction. How’s that for first-class service?
8. Cliff Lifts
Faja dos Padres is a cove on the island’s coast, home to a farm and hotel that’s inaccessible by land (except at the lowest tide).
Instead, you can catch a giant cliff lift! This is not one for those of you (like me) who are not fans of heights as it’s essentially a glass elevator navigating a 350-metre sheer drop!
But if you’ve chosen this hotel (or are just a major adrenaline junkie), then by all means go right ahead!
The harbour at Funchal is the main harbour operating in Madeira, and is perfect for doing a little bit of island hopping whilst you’re in Madeira.
I’d strongly recommend visiting the neighbouring island, Porto Santo.
This smaller island has beautiful golden sandy beaches and you can easily catch a ferry from Funchal and back again for a delightful day trip.
You might want to take some motion sickness pills with you if you think you may suffer from sea sickness. This trip across to Porto Santo can be fairly rocky (even in the height of summer).
On board our trip over, most, if not everyone was feeling some form of seasickness!
10. Catamaran Tours
Another option from Funchal Harbour is to hop on a catamaran boat tour to do some whale and dolphin watching.
These trips are frequent, fairly inexpensive and are great fun! Some of the dolphins even like to scratch their bellies along the side of the catamaran as you glide along. This means you can catch some amazing views of the dolphins!
If it’s an especially nice day during your trip, your catamaran driver may even let you jump into the ocean for a bit of a splash around (not near the dolphins though).
A few of us opted to try it out as the water was a deliciously warm temperature!
I hope you’ve found this guide to getting around Madeira useful – enjoy your trip! Do you want to know anything else about transport in Madeira? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll reply asap!
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