Should you rent a car in Madeira? My answer is definitively a yes.
Below is my complete guide about driving in Madeira to help you decide, including:
- Is driving in Madeira safe?
- Road conditions
- What car to rent and best company
- Car rental tips
- Driving rules
Everything to get ready, including a short video to give you perspective
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Driving in Madeira - Summary
If you don't want to read the entire article, here are the major points to be aware of about driving in Madeira:
- Driving is on the right-hand side
- Seatbelts are required at all time
- EU licenses can be used, otherwise you need your International Permit
- There are fast roads with lots of tunnels that are easy
- Outside of those, driving is not as scary as people tend to write (remember everyone without difficulty doesn't write about the experience). True, roads are narrower, serpentine and can be steep. However, there is not much traffic. So you can take your time. Plus, there are always either trees or little wall on the cliff slide on the road.
- Rent a car that has enough power (not the smallest one) to make it easier on the steep road - you can compare cars, companies and prices on Discovercars.com - one of the best customer-rated comparison sites!
- When parking on blue zones, you have to pay (often with coins only)
In brief, just take your time, drive at your own rhythm and give way to trucks and buses.
Driving in Madeira - Video
Below is a short video to give you a taste of what driving in Madeira looks like:
- on the fast roads,
- in tunnels,
- on mountain roads,
- in towns
Note that the lense make roads look narrower on the video.
The main question - Do you need a car in Madeira?
Do you need a car in Madeira?
- No, if you mostly want to stay at the beach or pool and just see a few things in Madeira,
- Yes, if you stay outside of Funchal / Lido,
- Yes, if you are curious about the island and want to see more about what it has to offer,
- Yes, if you want to avoid the crowds by visiting early morning or late afternoon.
Overall, I think renting a car is the best way to explore the island and see all the best things to do, plus off the beaten path locations.
It will allow you to see the best landscapes the island offers.
Getting around Madeira without a car
It is possible to get around Madeira without a car, to see the major sights:
- Bus - There is a network of public transportation - Especially if you are staying in Funchal
- Organized tours - There are several companies running tours around the island: boat tours, minibus tour, jeep tours, hiking tours... See my favorites - They cover all the main attractions in terms of cliffs, mountain, natural pools, levada walks - check out the many options
- Taxis - You can take a taxi to specific locations, but some of the taxi drivers also offer established routes with a specific amount of times at specific spots - they are not guide but they will drive you to different places (for example with Madeira Island Taxis or Madeira Taxi Tours) - Just note that some taxi drivers drive very fast.
About the Madeira roads and safety
Is driving in Madeira safe? Is it easy?
A lot of people are reluctant about driving in Madeira, thinking it might not be safe.
There is no need to worry, it is not that difficult.
I don't know why it has such a bad reputation. Remember that only people who had a scare tend to write about it online, all the people who had no problems don't.
Here is my analysis of the situation:
On the positive side:
- Roads are overall in correct conditions,
- Fast roads are in excellent conditions,
- Rules are classic and road sign easy to read,
- Distances are short, so you are never driving for a long time. You can keep your attention sharp,
- Locals are used to tourists and are not too impatient
- On all those mountain roads there is always something on the cliff side: either trees or a small wall or protection. So, you don't feel as if you could just slip off the road.
- There is not that much traffic outside the Funchal area, so you can take your time driving to feel safer.
On the negative side:
- Some roads are mountain roads with big turns - remember to slow down a lot before those (tip, if you are using a GPS, you can see in advance how sharp the turn is going to be)
- Some roads and streets are really steep - this was the most difficult part, in my opinion. Therefore I strongly recommend not to hire the smallest car possible but to take at least one above to get more power.
- You can cross path with trucks and buses on those mountain roads. My recommendation: just stop as close to the wall or the edge as you can and let the bus / truck drive past you. They are very used to it and know the size of space they need.
In my personal experience:
I have not felt unsafe during my stay.
I felt a little bit of stress only once on a steep road to get out of Funchal. It was really steep. But I could have stopped on the side at any time, if I needed a break - so that was reassuring..
The driving times in Madeira
To help you decide if you are going to rent a car or not, below is a map of the driving times you can expect around the island.
Where can drive in Madeira? Planning your Madeira road trip
You can go almost everywhere. Plus, thanks to all the tunnels digged under the mountains, driving times are never long.
All my favorite locations are included in my travel Guide eBook that helps you easily plan your Madeira trip:
Plan your perfect trip around Madeira!
Can you drive around Madeira in a day?
Yes, with the tunnels and fast roads you can easily drive around the island in a day. Most destinations are under 1h drive from Funchal.
But if you want to see most of the island's wonders, I recommend a stay of at least 10 days.
The steepest roads in Madeira
Some of the steepest sections you will have to drive are very short and lead to a viewpoint or an attraction. Just take it slowly and it should not be a problem as there won't be much traffic.
The most difficult are the steep roads in Madeira are in Funchal because you will have traffic and cross path with other roads.
Sorry I did not take a picture while driving them.
Also, if this is something you are afraid of, make sure to check where your accommodations are. Some accommodations offer great views, but that may mean you have to drive a steep road to get there.
Madeira Car Rental Tips - vehicle + where
Before I tell you all about driving in Madeira, let's start with few advice about choosing your rental vehicle and renting it.
What vehicle to rent?
- I am going to repeat myself, but my main recommendation is to not hire the smallest car possible. Take at least a Peugeot 208 or equivalent to have enough power for the steep road.
- Compare car rental prices on Discovercars.com - it is one of the best customer-rated comparison sites, and, in my experience, they have great prices
- Once on the site, choose the car and the rental company you prefer (all companies are rated by previous customers)
- Consider their full coverage option - I always take it for peace of mind!
- If you need an automatic, make sure you are booking early (especially for Summer). There are more manual cars to rent on the island (stick shift)
Best car rental company in Madeira
One of the best rated car rental companies on the island is MadeiraRent.
I did book with them but via the platform Discovercars.com because I was getting better prices with them than direct.
Where to rent your car in Madeira
There are several options to pick up your rental car:
- The ferry port
- The main towns, especially Funchal
Pro - you don't have to rent a vehicle for the whole time you are on the island, you can pick it up for one or two days only
Cons - this means driving in Funchal
- The airport
Pro - it is quite well organized, it is easy to find your company, you will start driving on wide good road, giving you time to get acquainted with the car - it is easy to fill up the tank before giving it back
Cons - there is often a few euros more for the Airport
- What I recommend
I think getting your car at the airport when landing in Madeira is the best option. It is easy.
If you have booked several accommodations, I recommend finishing in Funchal. Drop your car rental back at the airport before your stay in Funchal. And take a taxi to go there.
Other car rental tips
There is no particular thing to do when renting a car in Madeira, no specific scam.
I recommend always doing those things wherever you are renting:
- Take pictures of the car as you take it
- Don't forget to check the state under the bumper of the car (look for scratch and take pictures)
- Don't forget to check the state of the roof (look for rock fall dent and take pictures)
- Take pictures of the car as you leave it
- I recommend taking a complete coverage insurance as rock falls are frequent in Madeira - the one proposed by Discovercars.com is the option I chose.
Where to stay in Madeira?
- For a choice of restaurants and if you don't rent a car - See best rated accommodations in Funchal
- For luxury resorts, check out the Lido area in Funchal
- For a sandy beach - See best rated accommodations in Machico
- For a quiet village in beautiful scenery - See best rated accommodations in Porto da Cruz
- For a practical location to explore the island - See best rated accommodations in Ribeira Brava
- To enjoy the natural pools - See best rated accommodations in Porto Moniz
More tips on my article about where to stay in Madeira
Driving on Madeira island, Portugal
The Madeira roads
- Between the main towns, there are mostly fast roads with many tunnels. Those are in good condition.
- To go to other places, you have to take mountain roads that are narrower and sinuous
- Only a few roads are really narrow - often to reach a specific destination. I have taken 3 roads with only one lane and passing places to cross path with other vehicles - the longest one was 2.5km to reach the Parque Floresta das Queimadas
- I have not driven on unpaved roads
Driving in towns and villages
- This is where I have found the steepest and narrowest roads
- Some can still be cobbled
- Cars tend to park on the side of the road, making them even narrower...
The tunnels of Madeira
One particularity of Madeira island is the high quantity of tunnels.
There are great and avoid long travel times between destination. They also allow you to avoid the old serpentine roads up and down the mountains.
Overall, the tunnels are modern, well lit and comfortable for driving. Some of them can be quite long.
Pay attention because speed limits can change inside tunnels.
The Madeira Driving Rules
- If you are not European, you need your International Driving Permit
- Driving is on the right side of the road
- Urban speed limit is 50km/h but often less - check the signage
- Speed limits on other road vary from 60 to 90km/h
- Kids under 12 cannot seat in the front of the car
- Minimum age to drive is 18, but often minimum age to rent is 21 (it depends on the rental company's rules)
- Alcohol limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood - but I always recommend not drinking at all if you are driving
- You must wear your seatbelt
- Emergency number is 112
The Madeira Road signs
The road signs are classic, nothing specific to know.
Tips for driving in Madeira
- Use a GPS - this way you can focus on the driving and not on the directions
- Drive slowly, even under the speed limit - there is no shame. On the contrary, it is better to admire the land. Take your time, you are on vacation.
- Don't be intimidated by the locals or buses - stick to your speed and pull to the side as soon as you can
- When you are stuck with no visibility at a crossing, look up. The Madeirans love mirrors. They are everywhere and help you see incoming traffic.
- Enjoy the drive, the scenery is wonderful!
Apart from you driving too fast, the main dangers on the Madeira roads are:
- Animals - on the plateau (central West of Madeira) you can find cows and sheep living their life on the road. And if traveling early morning, you will also see rabbit zigzagging on the road.
- Scenery - the scenery can be so beautiful that you get distracted. Remember to focus on driving. And if you are several drivers, take turn to be able to admire the views.
Parking in Madeira - rules
I thought driving in Madeira was not difficult.
The hard part was parking.
Not that spaces are small. I was surprised because individual parking spaces were long and wide. I did not have to maneuver much.
But because of the mountainous nature of the island, many attractions have a tiny carpark and then you have to park along the roads.
Few things to know about parking in Madeira:
- Parking on the North shore is mostly free, but many places on the South shore have fees
- Whenever you park in a blue zone, you have to display a parking receipt
- Most machines only take coins
- Travel early to avoid the busiest hours of the day
- If parking near sandy beaches, the carparks get full by the end of the morning
- For underground carpark with attendant, make sure to check the change they give you.
Nothing much to stay about refueling in Madeira.
I had 2 types of stations: one with an attendant and one without.
All the main towns have stations.
Want to see more of the best Madeira offers?
- Where to stay in Madeira - best areas - read article
- 42 Madeira travel tips to plan an unforgettable trip - read article
- The best landscapes in Madeira in 40 pictures - read article
- The 7 cables cars in Madeira and their amazing views - read article
Planning a trip to Madeira?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
Plan your perfect trip around Madeira!
Want to see more of MADEIRA?
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