Driving in Madeira: Is it as sketchy as people make it out to be? All we can say is that we’re quite lucky to be driving around Madeira now compared to 10 years ago. Before the EU turned Madeira into a big swiss cheese with tunnels everywhere, driving in Madeira was a lot more dangerous and took forever.

Now with over 150 tunnels around the island connecting the most isolated towns and villages to the main roads, it makes driving in Madeira quite fun and enjoyable.

All the tunnels around the island have basically helped the tourism boom in Madeira because it’s now so easy to drive from one side of Madeira to the other. Back in the day, you had to take sketchy and dangerous roads around the coast that would take up to 12 hours (!) to get from one side to the other.

Now thanks to the tunnels the time has been cut drastically and you can get across the entire island in less than 2 hours. Also, it is now very safe to drive around Madeira as a tourist.

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Everything you need to know about driving in Madeira

Madeira is a super easy island to get around – with or without a car! There are buses that can take you almost everywhere and anywhere on the island. There are also lots of awesome tours to all the Levada hikes that pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation (especially if you’re staying in Funchal). So you really don’t need a car when visiting Madeira.

However, the freedom of having your own car and being able to go wherever you want without having to wait for a bus is the best. We recently spent a few months in Madeira and we liked to switch things up. We did some guided tours, did some hikes that we could access by bus, and we also rented a car a few times from downtown Funchal. It was really fun being able to stop at waterfalls or some of the beaches in Madeira.

Where to rent a car in Madeira

Pebble beach in Funchal with buildings in the background.
Funchal as seen from the small lighthouse at the end of the pier

The best and cheapest place to rent a car is going to be in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, and Funchal airport. You can look online here first for car rentals from Madeira Airport since that’s more convenient. If you’re looking for a car just for a day or two when you plan to do a trip it’s best to rent from a company in Funchal.

We went with Five Rent a Car in downtown Funchal and dealt with a guy named Bruno and it was probably the best rental car experience we’ve had. In general, though, Five Rent seems like the best rental car in Funchal and we’ve also had friends use them and they’ve said the same thing.

Their prices do change day to day depending on the supply and demand of the cars but we paid roughly $30 a day for the car. Full insurance was also included but that was during the quiet season (in February and March). You can probably expect to pay a little more than that!

A simple tip when it comes to renting a car (and this applies anywhere, not just when driving in Madeira) is to look at a general booking site and compare prices.

There are so many different companies and since the prices change based on supply and demand, it’s easier to compare and keep an overview when you look at a bigger booking site instead of on each individual car rental company’s site.

The one we usually use is DiscoverCars since we have found them to have the best customer service, but there are lots of other comparison sites out there.

Picture of a car rental from Madeira Airport in Portugal.

Why having a car is convenient in Madeira

Even though we just said you can take public transport and go on guided tours so you don’t actually need a car there are some exceptions. If you’re staying in Funchal during your trip to Madeira, all of the above applies to you. Funchal is a really good place to stay when visiting this beautiful island. 

However, if you’re anywhere else on the island like Porto da Cruz or Ponta do Sol then having a car is just that much more convenient. You’ll pay less money for accommodation staying in some of these smaller cities and coastal towns. With that extra money, you can rent a car and use it for driving around Madeira.

The fact that the roads and tunnels are built for getting around the island that much easier, it really is quite fun driving in Madeira. Add in the fact you can get almost anywhere on the island within an hour or so and you have endless possibilities for day trips and hikes in Madeira.

Random facts about driving in Madeira

  • Like most of Europe, you need to be 18 to legally drive in Madeira
  • By law, it is required to wear a seatbelt while you’re driving in a car
  • Driving in Madeira is a lot safer and easier than people make it out to be
  • In case of emergency, you can call “112” for police, ambulance, and firefighters
  • Like in mainland Portugal, you drive on the right-hand side in Madeira
  • There are over 150 tunnels around Madeira that make travelling to different areas a lot easier
  • Diesel in Portuguese is called gasóleo. It’s slightly confusing but remember gasóleo is diesel
  • In Portuguese the word for gas is gasolina. Yes, it’s slightly confusing because of the similarity of the words but gas is gasolina. 

Other related questions to driving in Madeira

Is it easy to drive in Madeira?

Driving in Madeira is very easy. There are a few main highways on Madeira that connect you around the island and also through the middle from south to north. Overall, the roads are really good.

The only challenging part about driving in Madeira is when you go to some of the hikes. The incline on some of the smaller roads can be pretty crazy and something you may not be used to. It’s a volcanic island so steep inclines are to be expected!

We found that the local drivers were mostly really good drivers, and on the roads with a lot of inclines, the speed is obviously slower which makes it easier to navigate steeper and more narrow roads. It’s not often there are steep drop-offs so it feels safe even for someone like Jo who isn’t a huge fan of driving.

If you take your time and pay attention as you drive then driving in Madeira is very easy.

Is it expensive to rent a car in Madeira?

The price of car rentals in Madeira depends on the supply and demand of people renting the cars on any given day. Based on tourism in Madeira, May through September are going to be the most expensive months of the year to rent a car in Madeira. 

During February and March, we rented a car multiple times from Five Rent a Car and it was roughly $30 a day including insurance. However, looking at the prices now, the cost seems to have gone up. Thankfully, the distances aren’t that far in Madeira so you won’t be paying too much for fuel for the car.

Again, you can also check DiscoverCars or another booking site to find the best deals. The sooner you book, the better the prices usually are.

Picture of a car rental from Madeira Airport in Portugal.

Do you need a car to get around Madeira?

You don’t need a car to get around Madeira because there is public transport all around the island, especially in Funchal and on the east side of Madeira. Having a car is definitely more convenient though and you won’t have to worry about waiting for buses and trying to time it perfectly so you don’t miss the bus that comes every few hours. 

So even though you don’t need a car in Madeira we do recommend renting one if you plan to explore and hike around Madeira.

How steep are the roads in Madeira?

A fun fact about Madeira is that it has some of the steepest roads in the world. There are sections in Madeira, up in the mountains, where you can find sections with a gradient of 45%

Of course, 45% isn’t all around the island but there are definitely sections that are pretty steep where it feels a little icky to drive at first. If you plan to do a lot of hiking around the island you will experience some very steep roads.

The steepest road we drove our rental car on was 32% incline up to Levada do Alecrim!

What is the best time to visit Madeira?

Madeira is honestly beautiful all year round but some locals say May is the best time to visit Madeira. In May you see the wildflowers come to life. May is also a great time of year for whale watching. Also, May isn’t the peak tourism season in Madeira so things will be less busy than other times of the year such as August and September.

Can you go to Porto Santo by car?

Photo of the Porto Santo ferry.
The Porto Santo Line as seen from the harbour in Funchal

You cannot go to Porto Santo by car. Porto Santo is a neighbouring island about a 2-hour ferry ride away from Madeira. The only ways to get to Porto Santo from Madeira are to either take the 2-hour ferry or a 30-minute flight.

What are the best day trips in Madeira?

There are so many day trips you can do around Madeira so picking the best is really hard. Visiting some of the beaches and natural pools in Madeira is a lot of fun. Also, some of the famous Levada walks like Levada 25 Fontes or Levada do Alecrim are great options. 

Visiting the historic city of Santana or even the magical Fanal Forest are some other awesome day trips you can do from Funchal. Madeira isn’t that big so anywhere on the island will be a day trip or half-day trip!

What side of the road do you drive on in Madeira?

In Madeira, like in most of Europe, you drive on the right-hand side of the road. You drive on the same side of the road as in mainland Portugal. Also, most of the rental cars are manual but you can find automatic cars but you will have to pay extra for those.

Is Madeira Mountainous?

Yes, Madeira is very mountainous and that’s why driving in Madeira is quite unique. The centre of Madeira has a very mountainous landscape which also leads to some crazy driving conditions.

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Recap of driving a car in Madeira

Driving in Madeira is a lot of fun and it’s also the best way to get around the island if you plan to get off the beaten path and away from all the tourists. Especially on the less touristy Levada walks and hikes it’s nice to have a car. 

The best piece of advice we can give is to plan in advance and maybe rent a car for 2-3 days at a time and try to plan the trips and hikes that you need a car for. That way, you can take advantage of having the car and see everything you want in those 2-3 days.

At the end of the day, there are great options to get around the island whether you’re driving in Madeira or getting around by public transport.

We hope you have an amazing time in Madeira and that you enjoy this beautiful island! If you have any questions related to driving in Madeira and the island in general, leave a comment below, and we’ll try our best to help you out 🙂

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