You’re planning a trip to Madeira and don’t know where to start? No problem, we got you covered! Within this blog post, we’ll explain everything you need to know as a first timer in Madeira. Whether you want to know how to get to Madeira or how to get around once you’re on Madeira, the best places to visit, what to expect when renting a car or if you can pay cash or card, you’ll find all your answers here.
Right now, Madeira is one of the most popular destinations you can possibly visit. Of course, this is not without reason: the small island, which belongs to Portugal, is geographically located right off the African coast. Thus, the weather is warm and sunny all year round. Even in the European winter it is still around 15 to 20 degrees Celsius on the island.
What can you expect when travelling to Madeira?
During our first time on Madeira, we honestly asked ourselves this exact question as well. Can this tiny island really be so different from all the other places we’ve already visited? Short cut to the answer: yes.
Although you can fly comparatively very quickly from mainland Europe to Madeira, you have the feeling of entering a whole new world. So what can you expect when traveling to Madeira, especially if it’s your first time? First of all, you will land in one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Even though the runway has now been significantly extended, it is still considered particularly challenging.
Now, from the airport it is just a short drive to the capital of Madeira: Funchal. Here you will find countless restaurants, small streets, beautiful paths and bars. From Funchal you can drive across the entire island in under two hours. Here you can expect beautiful sandy beaches, rough sea, steep cliffs, enchanted forests and some of the most beautiful hiking trails anywhere.
In summary, you can say that you will find pretty much everything on Madeira that makes a good vacation. Especially if you’re travelling in a group, you can be sure that there is something for everyone.
For whom is Madeira the right destination?
Since Madeira is such a diverse island, I’d say it’s something for everyone. However, you cannot expect Funchal to be the same as a city trip to Barcelona or Paris. If you’re searching for a city trip destination, then Madeira is not the right place for you. Though, if you’re an adventurous person who loves to hike, explore and enjoy nature, then you’ll fall head over heels in love with Madeira.
Here are some things you can do as a first timer in Madeira:
- Watch the sunrise above the clouds
- Hike amongst the highest peeks of the island
- Walk through lush levadas and see several waterfalls in just one hike
- Feel like you’re stepping into real life jurassic world
- Relax at the beach
- Enjoy scenic drives along the island
Moreover, if you need some more inspiration on what to do and see: check out our blog post about the best things to do in Madeira.
When is the best time to visit Madeira?
Actually, since Madeira is located right off the African coast, you can expect warm temperatures and overall good weather during any time of the year. We’ve visited during March and then again during December and had absolute good weather and great conditions both times. We’d also recommend visiting during the shoulder seasons, because Madeira is so popular that it can get quite crowded during high season.
How to get to Madeira?
The best way to get to Madeira is by air. Most flights take around 4 hours from mainland Europe and leave 1-2 times a week. So it’s quite easy to get to the small island in the Atlantic. Of course, you can also get to Madeira by sea, but this obviously requires a cruise.
How to get around in Madeira?
Once you land on Madeira, the best way to explore the island is to rent a car. Most car rentals in Madeira are not particularly expensive if you travel in the low season and book a little in advance. For a week you can expect to pay around €300 for a small car. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend an update to an SUV or something similar. The roads on Madeira are quite steep, but they can be easily navigated even with a smaller car. On our last visit we had a Toyota Yaris and went everywhere without any problems – including to Pico do Arieiro.
Another way to explore the island is by taxi. In Funchal you can take advantage of different offers, e.g. Tours with an open off-road vehicle. This is definitely all super cool if you generally like that sort of thing. However, we would recommend renting a car, as this will give you more independence and will also add up to the expensive taxi costs in the long run.
Things you need to know as a first timer in Madeira: Language, Currency, Budget
On your first visit to Madeira, you are probably wondering which languages are spoken there and whether you should pay by card or cash. Basically, Madeira is touristy, which means that English is spoken everywhere. We never had any problems with the language – and even if we did, you could still use a translation tool and get help.
The street signs are also easy to read and easy to follow even without knowledge of Portuguese. All important signs, such as dynamic displays in tunnels, are always labeled in Portuguese and English. Speaking of street signs: One thing you should definitely know as a first timer to Madeira is that the roads can be really quite winding and steep. We already know the whole thing from the Alps, where you often drive in serpentines. Because Madeira is a volcanic island, many roads are built around volcanoes and mountains. This leads to curves, lots of tunnels and steep roads. As already written above, this is basically easy to manage even with smaller cars. But if you dizzy easily, you should prepare for it in advance.
Payments & Budget
What is the best way to pay in Madeira? All in all, we never had any problems paying by card. Even in smaller markets or cafés you can easily pay with a card or Apple Pay. However, we would recommend always having some cash with you. This can come in handy for parking machines, for example.
While we’re talking about paying, the question of the budget for a vacation in Madeira still remains. As always, this of course depends on what you want to do and where you book your hotel or accommodation. For a room in a four-star hotel near Funchal in the low season you will pay around €150 per night for two people, i.e. €75 per person. The good thing is that you’ve already included breakfast here and you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
This means that the costs for drinks, snacks, lunch and dinner remain. Here we paid around €20 per person per day, depending on the situation. Most parking spaces outside Funchal are completely free and fuel is also cheaper in Madeira than in Germany. We paid around €100 extra for a week here. All in all, you should expect a budget of around €600 per person for a week in Madeira.
Is Madeira safe for solo travellers?
Because we were in Madeira together, we can’t judge this from our own experience. Nevertheless, we think that Madeira is safe for solo travellers as the locals are very open and friendly and you will usually be surrounded by tourists anyway.
What to pack for a week in Madeira?
Firstly, we already started a mini packing list on our hiking guide here. Let’s say you’re visiting Madeira for a week and you’d like to see Funchal, some of our favourite view points and you want to go hiking. Then this would be our list:
- Cosmetics: Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body cream
- Clothing: leisure suit, jeans, sweater, hiking pants, fleece, base layers, socks, underwear, sneakers, jacket, swimsuit
- Hiking equipment: hiking backpack, headlamp, hiking boots, reusable water bottle
- Technical equipment: charger, laptop, camera, drone, tripod
Generally, you cannot go wrong with your typical packing list. Include some pieces for warmer weather and then pack some layers and a warmer jacket just in case. Of course, the amount of, for example, hiking pants is suspect to your personal liking. For 5 hikes I did pack two shorter hiking pants and two long hiking pants.
Madeira as a first timer
In summary, these have been our top tips for a first timer to Madeira. We really hope this helps you with your planning and travels. If you have any other questions, let us know and write us an Instagram direct message. We’d love to hear from you!