Last Updated on 10/01/2023 by secretmoona
Everything you need to know about driving in Madeira, the roads on the Island and tips and tricks for renting a car.
Is driving in Madeira essential? This is the question most people have when planning a trip to the charming Portuguese Island. Madeira, the mountainous Island, is a paradise for nature lovers. Nicknamed the “Island of Flowers” and the “Pearl of the Atlantic”, Madeira offers an incredible diversity of landscapes: delicious food, natural swimming pools, beautiful waterfalls, countless hiking paths and stunning viewpoints. That being said, to enjoy some of those breathtaking views, you will need to tackle some of the world’s steepest streets.
Driving in Madeira can be challenging, especially for inexperienced drivers. However, it is the perfect way to explore the beautiful Island.
Driving in Madeira – Is a car essential for exploring the Island?
Renting a car is optional for exploring the Island. If you are staying just a few days in Madeira and planning to stay only in Funchal and the surrounding areas, renting a car will be pointless. You can get around on foot, by bus or by taxi.
Having said that, getting a rental car and experiencing driving in Madeira is one of the most memorable things you could do. If you stay more than five days, renting a car is the best way to get around, especially if you want to avoid crowds. You will be dependent on the tour guides’ schedules without a vehicle.
Of course, driving on the Island can be tricky, but the flexibility a car offers cannot be forgotten. Plus, doing a road trip in Madeira is the perfect way to see most of the main highlights.
Is driving in Madeira dangerous?
Many people hesitate about driving in Madeira because they need to figure out the road conditions. I am sure you have heard some scary stories about driving in Madeira. We found the road network in good condition, especially the excellent expressways.
These highways, called VR for Via Rápida, made connecting to the most remote regions of the island possible. They are the best ways to explore the island in no time. Having said that, when you venture off the beaten track, you will find some very narrow streets with steep uphills and downhills. So, if you are not an experienced driver, you better avoid the old coastal roads and stick to the main roads.
- Roads are generally in a reasonably good condition
- Highways are in excellent condition
- Traffic rules are classic, and signs are easy to read
- Distances are short so that you can reach one side of the island in no time
- Roads aren’t busy outside of Funchal
- Mountain roads are steep
- Visibility is sometimes minimal, especially on mountain roads
- Falling rocks
- Some streets do not have traffic barriers
- Most roads are narrow
Driving in Madeira, safety tips
Driving in Madeira is relatively safe. As a mountainous island, Madeira has lots of steep roads and tunnels. For your safety, drive slowly as the roads are winding and narrow. It’s without saying that you must always respect the speed limit and follow the traffic rules. The speed limit within cities and villages is 40-50 km/h, and 90 km/h on motorways.
Be sure to plan your Madeira itinerary before hitting the roads. Choose your preferred navigation tools, whether Google Maps or GPS. I would be careful with Google Maps since it is not always perfect; it sent us down one of the scariest little streets. More importantly, don’t rush and take the time to enjoy the island’s magnificent views.
- A seatbelt must be worn at all times.
- Drive on the right-hand side of the road and overtake on the left. If you are from a country where the driving is done on the other side. of the road, you might need to take a day or two to familiarise yourself.
- Kids under 12 must not sit in the front seats of cars.
- Check that your driving licence is accepted.
- Drivers must be 18 or over, however, rental companies may have other age requirements.
- There are no toll roads on the island.
- A basic safety rule is that you shouldn’t drive while under the influence of alcohol.
- Cars coming from the right always have the right of way.
- Locals tend to walk on the road, as few sidewalks are on Madeira. Adapt your speed, especially at night and in dark tunnels.
- Beware of obstacles such as falling rocks and animals.
When heading north to the mountains, ensure to check the weather forecast. The weather is ever-changing in Madeira. The more you go up the mountain, the more likely you will see fog and rain appearing. Be extra careful when driving in heavy rain and thick fog. In case of low visibility, it is recommended not to go further since some roads have no safety barriers.
Renting a car in Madeira, how much does it cost?
The cost of your rental car will depend on the rental company used, the period of travel, the model of the car, the duration of the rental and additional costs such as insurance. It is best to compare. Book your car well in advance to get the best deal possible. We almost didn’t get a car because we left it at the last minute.
Our rental cost with all the extras was €210 for four days. It would have been cheaper had we booked more in advance. Our insurance included:
- Unlimited mileage
- Third-party insurance
- Damage insurance
- Theft insurance
- Towing cost if your car breaks down
When renting a car, there are things that you shouldn’t compromise on quality and insurance. Do not be tempted to choose the cheapest option; consider your safety first. On that note, getting extra insurance will save you from worrying about your car in case of an accident.
Lessons learned: sort out your car rental as soon as possible to save money and time. Discover Cars one of the top comparison sites I use.
Documents you need for driving in Madeira
The requirements for driving in Madeira are the following: a valid and current driving licence is necessary. Drivers who are not citizens of the European Union must present an international driving licence with the original from their country of origin. Another form of ID, such as a passport, is required.
Drivers must be 18; however, rental companies usually have other age requirements (typically 25). If you are between 21 and 24 years old, you may have to pay an extra fee to hire a car. Be sure to check with the rental company before making your booking.
Evidence of valid car insurance for your trip is also required – third-party liability insurance is included in the car rental price.
What type of car should you rent?
For your rental car, choosing a vehicle that isn’t too wide is best. Some roads, especially in Funchal and small towns, are narrow. Large SUVs and 4×4 are not ideal either because they are too big for some mountain roads and will be hard to park.
Madeira Island has some good relief with steep slopes, so that you will need a car with good grip and horsepower. Whether you choose manual or automatic will depend on your preference. Stick to what you know best.
We selected a Renault 208, which was ideal for us. The car was automatic, which made everything easier on the winding roads. It was a little more expensive than the manual options, but it was worth it.
Where to collect your rental car
If you are renting a car for the entirety of your trip, the best and most logical option will be to collect it at Funchal airport right after your flight. Most rental companies are located there, so you could also drop off your car before your flight. Additionally, you can drive right away to your destination, saving time.
Collecting your car in Funchal is the best option if you decide to rent for just part of your trip. There are many rental companies in the city, so you will indeed find something.
What is parking in Madeira like?
During our time in Madeira, we had no issue finding parking spaces. You will have areas along the major attractions like the viewpoints; however, rooms might be limited. As you will find free and chargeable parking anywhere, be sure to check.
Parking is mostly free in the small towns and villages of the north coast and less touristy areas. However, finding parking in some areas might be more challenging, especially during summertime. Again, ensure that when parking, you are not blocking the road, as some are very narrow. Also, ensure that you set your parking brakes.
Driving in Funchal is much easier; finding a parking space is another thing. If parked in a blue zone, display your parking ticket as they are pay parking. You risk paying a hefty fee otherwise.
It’s worth noting that most hotels will offer free parking but do check in advance.
Enjoy the View
Of course, you don’t need to drive to Madeira Island to visit many beautiful churches and miradouro (viewpoints in Portuguese). A few are in and around Funchal and, therefore, easy to access. However, a car is needed to see why the island is called Flower Island.
There will be little opportunity to stop and enjoy the view in Funchal. The driving experience in the capital could be better; the streets are small and sometimes one-way.
Outside the capital, you will have plenty of time and occasion to stop and enjoy the view. You see the most stunning sights and take the more minor roads compared to the main highways and major roads, although tunnels help you to get from A to Z quickly.
Can’t drive. Can I get around in Madeira without a car?
The answer is yes. It is perfectly possible to get around the island without a car. You can easily access all the tourist attractions using one of the following methods below:
Funchal has an excellent public transport network, and the island generally has bus routes in bigger cities. If you stay in the capital, you can take the bus to many attractions. The limitations, however, are that buses are not frequent, so be mindful. Buses are also sporadic in some areas of the island.
Several tour companies organise tours around the island: boat trips for dolphins and whale watching, hiking tours or complete day discoveries such as the West Tour.
Dolphin and Whale watching catamaran cruise: This is one of the most popular tours on the island. Departing from Funchal, people take on a 45 minutes journey to explore the coastline and if lucky, can watch dolphins, or whales or both. On warmer or summer days, in addition to exploring the coastline, people take a dip in the water, swim or snorkel.
Rabacal and the 25 Fountains (also known as PR6 Levada das 25 Fontes / Levada do Risco): This is a perfect walking tour. The levada trail takes hikers through the forest and past 25 waterfalls and natural springs. The price of the guided tours includes the pick up from your hotel to the place of attraction and back, as well as fees for the guide.
We opted for this option rather than going by ourselves because we wanted to learn the history of the levadas through a local guide. Plus during the drive to Rabacal, we could both admire the scenic views. Although the hike was busy, and we couldn’t spend too much time fully appreciating the sight or stop at some of the many viewpoints, it was still one of our best experiences. We booked the tour via GetYourGuide.
Hiring a taxi to explore specific locations can be a good option. Some taxis offer set routes with stops at particular attractions. Alternatively, you can design your itinerary and have private guided tours. The good thing about taxis is that they are local to the island and, therefore, very knowledgeable. For example, getting a taxi might be cheaper than booking a tour bus if you are a group of four people. You can negotiate a day trip for €80, for example. An alternative to taxis are Bolt taxis. Just like Uber, they offer cheaper fares and you could also book them for the day at a negotiated cost.
What is the best time to go to Madeira?
The beautiful island of Madeira is the perfect destination to visit all year round. Madeira is ideal no matter the season, thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate. After all, it was nicknamed the island of “eternal spring” for a reason! Despite its lush greenery, the island is neither too hot nor too rainy. Spring is a great time to visit, especially during the annual Flower Festival, while summer is great for whale watching. Temperature can reach 33°C, but it never feels too hot. Besides, although it is the busiest season, the island is never overcrowded. Autumn is ideal for autumn leaves viewing and hiking, with temperatures reaching 22°C. Winter in Madeira is excellent for those who want to experience the winter sun. With temperatures as high as 20°C, you can experience some sunshine. It’s worth noting that no matter the season, you can experience rain and fog in the mountains.
In conclusion, travelling around Madeira is best with a car. Except for the few hours wasted trying to find a rental car, the experience was excellent. Madeira is a safe country, and the road conditions are good.
Do you plan to rent a car? What was your experience driving in Madeira? Let us know in the comments!
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4 thoughts on “Driving in Madeira – Our Tips for the Best Driving Experience”
Such a great and useful guide to drive in Madeira. I would love to visit this island as I have heard so much about it from a friend.
Madeira is on my list to explore & I always love to hire a car & explore on my terms so this is really useful to read. Thanks a lot for all your insights. Saving for when I make it there!
I love my walking tour in Madeira. But I am glad that I didn’t have to drive a car. Those mountain roads are scary!
Those gorgeous coastal roads makes me understand why it’s called ‘the Pearl of the Atlantic’. Very informative, thanks!