The Ultimate Guide to Spending 3 Epic Weeks in Madeira, Portugal
In this guide, I’ll be helping you plan the ultimate trip to Madeira. In specific, we’ll be spending 3 weeks in Madeira, Portugal. From the sea to the mountains and everything in between, this guide is EPIC. If you’ve been dreaming of traveling to Madeira, or you just need some travel inspiration, this post will be sure to do both! Madeira is an incredibly diverse island, with a lot to do, so let’s get exploring.
Madeira is a Portuguese island that’s actually closer to the coast of Morocco than to Portugal. It’s a quick easy flight from any major Portuguese city, or you can usually fly directly from London in about 4 hours.
Madeira is one of the most diverse islands that I’ve been to! In terms of landscapes, flora, and fauna, this island has a lot to offer you. It’s also the perfect place for hikers and explorers, while still bringing you some beaches and plenty of perfect days for sunbathing.
Let’s jump right into the Ultimate Guide to spending 3 weeks in Madeira. When I traveled to Madeira in May, I actually went for an entire month, but in my opinion, 3 weeks will be the perfect amount of time to see the entire island, without sacrificing time to just relax, read, and lay out in the sun.
Spending 3 Weeks in Madeira Table of Contents
Quick Facts about Madeira
- Getting to Madeira
- Safety in Madeira
- Driving in Madeira
- Eating Vegan / Plant-Based in Madeira
- Week One: Câmara de Lobos
- What to do in One Week in Funchal
- Week Two: Paúl do Mar or Jardim do Mar
- What to do in one week in Jardim do Mar, Madeira
- Week Three: São Vicente
- What to do in one week in São Vicente, Madeira
The Ultimate Guide to Spending 3 Weeks in Madeira
Quick Facts about Madeira
- Madeira’s capital is Funchal
- The airport code is FNC
- Madeira is a Portuguese Island, which means it is part of the Schengen
- Madeira has a sister island called Porto Santo, which can be reached by boat or flight
- The language spoken in Madeira is Portuguese, though English is very widely spoken
- Fish is widely eaten and it’s not the easiest place to eat a purely plant-based diet
- Driving is a MUST! You’ll want a car to explore the island
- The local currency is the Euro
- You can drink tap water. It’s excellent actually
- Tipping isn’t expected though it’s nice to leave 10% for exceptional service
Getting to Madeira
You’ll likely be flying into the airport in Funchal when you come into Madeira (unless you’re coming from the Porto Santo islands, in which case you could fly or take a boat). But I think it’s safe to say you’ll be flying in.
It’s an easy island to get to. Madeira is only an hour and a half flight from Lisbon, or it’s about 4 hours direct from London. So if you’re coming from America, look at flights that layover in Lisbon or London and then fly directly to Madeira from there.
The airport is one of those amazing, tiny island airports, so don’t expect Airport lounges or a lot of gates. If you’re traveling during COVID times to Madeira, they even have testing available at the airport free of charge, so if you haven’t gotten your test before arriving, you can get tested on arrival at the airport.
Safety in Madeira
If you’re a solo female traveler looking to visit Madeira, I’m happy to report that you should feel safe here. For my travels, it felt like one of the safest places I’ve been in Europe. You’ll definitely feel comfortable going out to eat and even have a drink on your own, anywhere on the island. People were extremely friendly and respectful.
The only safety note about Madeira is the roads! While I do think you’ll need a car to truly enjoy the island, please be careful on the roads. The people of Madeira drive pretty crazy. They fly down the roads, zipping past and around you. On top of that, no one merges on the onramps to the motorway. Expect to have to wait to enter the motorway and GAS it when you do get a chance because you’ll have to match people going 80 km/h.
Driving in Madeira
On the note of driving in Madeira, we rented a car for the month that we were there and I am so glad that we did! I seriously recommend renting a car in Madeira. You’ll want a car to have the freedom to explore all corners of this little island.
This is one of the hilliest (is that a word??) places that I have EVER been to. If you’re not used to driving a manual, try to rent an automatic because taking these heels on a stick shift was a bit terrifying at times, and I wasn’t even the one driving.
You’ll also find that there are a lot of tunnels. Basically, in Madeira, they figured to save themselves the time of going over all the mountains and instead they’d tunnel through them. You can avoid the tunnels and drive the coastal road for a time, but you will also spend a lot of your time in the car in tunnels. (We even hiked through several tunnels that were human-sized!)
Eating Vegan / Plant-Based in Madeira
If you’re only staying in Funchal, chances are you’ll find plenty of food options. There are a lot of restaurants on Happy Cow in Funchal that I didn’t get a chance to try because we didn’t actually stay around Funchal longer than a day or two. However, when you’re in other parts of the island, vegan options will be scarce. It’s common to not even have milk alternatives, let alone proper meals. We ate a LOT of vegetable pasta.
That being said, if you stay in an Airbnb you can just cook your food, which is what we did most of the time anyway. Just be aware that saying “is it vegan” might not mean it comes out without butter or cheese. I hope you’d be patient and kind with people because when you do explain to them what ‘vegan’ means, they tend to be very accommodating.
Now let’s get planning for your trip! Onto the perfect 3-week itinerary to Madeira. I’ll also include links to the Airbnbs that we stayed in. 2 of them were easily the BEST Airbnbs that I’ve ever stayed in, in my entire life. I know that’s a big claim… but these places were gorgeous.
3 Week Madeira Itinerary
Week One: Câmara de Lobos
If you enjoy staying in bigger cities, then you might choose to stay in Funchal over Câmara de Lobos. But as I prefer to stay outside the capital (but close enough to enjoy its restaurants and activities), Câmara de Lobos was the perfect place for us.
Only a short, 45-minute drive from the airport. You can land, pick up your car and drive straight there. I suggest getting yourself situated before heading back out for groceries and food. But of course, you do you! You’re on vacation after all!
While you’re staying in or near Funchal, you’ll have a chance to explore what Funchal has to offer, as well as some of the hikes that are easiest to get to from Funchal. Personally, I’d also recommend getting an Airbnb with a pool so you can spend plenty of your time relaxing!
What to do in one week in Funchal
1. Pico do Arieiro
The BEST thing to do while you’re staying in Funchal is to hike to Pico do Arieiro. You can actually drive directly to the top of the mountain and then hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo. Those are the two highest peaks on Madeira.
Pico do Arieiro is one of the most famous spots in Madeira as well, because of the elevation, you can arrive most mornings and be above the clouds. If you’re like me though, you’ll arrive and spend the entire hike in a cloud.
It’s still one of the best hikes we went on while we were in Madeira. I recommend that you arrive before sunrise, and watch the sunrise at the peak. That is how you’re going to get photos like the ones I shared above. That is unless you have my luck, then you’ll miss the sunrise because you’ll simply be the cloud.
If you go at the start of your trip and have bad weather, you could always try going again later on in your trip! Unfortunately for us, we saved this until the end of our trip and we missed having a chance to go back. If you’re headed to Madeira for the photo ops, definitely make Pico do Arieiro your first stop so you can come back!
Hiking Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
- Length: 13.1 km
- Moving time: 4:30
- Total time: 4:55
- Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Overall the hike was amazing! So many incredible views, around every corner. If you don’t like heights, there will be some ladders you climb that might freak you out a bit, and the ridge walks itself. I personally can’t speak to the view at Pico Ruivo because I literally didn’t see it.
My biggest tip: Take layers. We went in June and it was freezing for the most part, especially at the summit.
2. Monte Palace Madeira
The Monte Palace Madeira is pretty much in Funchal, so if you’re staying around there you won’t be able to miss it. The gardens are incredible to walk through and they really highlight the biodiversity on the island, which was one of my favorite things about Madeira.
3. Parque de Santa Catarina
Another park that shows off the unique flora and fauna of Madeira! This might seem like a lot of gardens to visit, but trust me when I say visiting the Parque de Santa Catarina is especially worth it. The way the park overlooks the ocean is beautiful! You’ll love spending a romantic afternoon strolling the garden, whether you’re on your own or with your SO.
4. Blandy’s Wine Lodge
Fall in love with Madeira wine (not what you think it is!) at Blandy’s wine lodge. You’ll probably also get the chance to sample Madeira rum, made from the sugar cane that grows all over the island! With a tour of Blandy’s wine lodge, you’ll get a chance to learn about how Madeira wine is made, and you’ll get plenty of samples along the way.
5. The Botanical Garden Cable Car
Whether or not you want to visit the botanical gardens is irrelevant! Take the cable car simply for the views. You’ll get to see the entire city of Funchal, spread over the incredibly unique landscape of Madeira, overlooking the deep blue sea. It’s really quite a view to take in.
And while you’re there why not throw in a day at the Botanical gardens… What can I say? I’m a sucker for a garden.
6. Wander down Santa Maria Street
Your camera will be snapping like crazy on a wander down Santa Maria street. It’s one of those streets that every city has, that’s brought all of the quirkiness to life with street food, street art and live music always playing from somewhere.
7. Spend a day at the Spa
Even if you’re not staying in a fancy resort, they all have spas and for the most part, they all have spa days! I booked a couples retreat with high tea, massages and a day at the pool. We took our books and we relaxed better than we’ve ever relaxed on vacation before. It was a lovely way to spend a day. I recommend picking a package that allows you to use the pool, especially if you haven’t stayed in a place with a pool, that way you can swim and lay out after your massages are down.
8. Drink a Poncha!
Alright so this doesn’t have to be a Funchal activity, but why not immerse yourself in the local culture as soon as you get there! Poncha is a drink that’s local to Madeira. It’s made with aguardiente de cana, honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice. Though most Poncha bars will have any fruit juice you’d like. From passionfruit to papaya, you’ll be able to find a Poncha for you.
9. Football (soccer) fans unite at the CR7 museum
Christiano Rinaldo is from Madeira, so you’ll be seeing plenty of him around (at least his memorabilia). Especially if you visit the CR7 museum. If you are a lover of football, or you just want to learn more about this football legend, you better check out this museum when you’re in Funchal.
10. Wander the Mercado dos Lavradores
And finally, when you’re in Funchal you should wander through the Mercado dos Lavradores. I love the market. I love a market, even more, when it’s local. This market hits all those boxes. You’ll have a great time wandering through the hustle-bustle of this market, learning all about the local fruits, foods, and people!
Now that you’ve had your fill exploring Funchal, let’s move on to other parts of the island. You’ve had your fill of the big city, so why don’t you stay in Paúl do Mar or Jardim do Mar, two adorable little, quiet towns right on the water. During my stay, I stayed in Paúl do Mar. But after spending a few days in Jardim do Mar, I’d have to recommend you stay there!
Hot tip: There are actually a few restaurants in Jardim do Mar with great vegan options, something that becomes pretty unheard of as you explore other parts of Madeira. If you have a car though, either one will be easy to visit from the other! So whichever little town you choose, this next week is all about relaxation.
Week Two: Paúl do Mar or Jardim do Mar
Week one was all about getting to know the island and trying the foods and local drinks. Visiting the gardens and local hangs. This week is alllllll about pure relaxation. Trust me when I say this was probably my favorite week on the island.
Also, trust me when I say to rent a place with a pool. And an outdoor kitchen. And kayak/snorkeling gear. Oh, yeah, that’s right, you should probably just rent the same place as me because LOOK AT IT.
What to do in one week in Jardim do Mar, Madeira
Here are the only things you’re going to worry about doing this week in Madeira:
1. Go Kayaking
We started our kayaking day in the waters of Paúl do Mar, right next to the statue of Paul himself (I assume that’s him anyway…) and we kayaked over to Jardim do Mar, looking for dolphins and whales the entire time. While we didn’t see a single dolphin or whale we still had a great time.
2. Try Snorkeling (though the water is freezing so if you try and fail, that’s ok. You’ll be in the same boat as me.)
As I said, the water was much too cold. And if I’m being truly honest with you, there wasn’t a lot to see… but we still had a great time out in the water. I love swimming and snorkeling helps me endure really cold water a bit better. So while I didn’t see much, I still enjoyed my outing snorkeling in Madeira.
3. Go for a night out at the local bars
There are a lot of cute, small local bars in both of these little coastal towns and we enjoyed going for a night out. The locals are so friendly, you’re bound to make friends, probably watch some football and drink way too much Poncha.
4. Read at least one book by the pool
Alright… I won’t lie. I read 3 books this week. Though I have been told I’m a good little reader. So no matter how many books you read, I demand that you sit and read at least some. If you’d like some recommendations, I’d suggest reading:
- The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
- The Woman in the Window
- Milk Fed (HILARIOUS)
- The Perfect Wife
5. Hike the coastal hike between Paúl do Mar and Jardim do Mar
Madeira is amazing for hiking, so while you’re staying and enjoying your week of rest, make sure that you at least do the coastal hike between Paúl do Mar and Jardim do Mar. It’s a workout for sure, but the views are amazing and you can always enjoy a cold beer on either end at some of those cute local bars I was telling you about!
The main thing to note about week 2 is that it’s all about relaxing. Enjoying the sun and enjoying the sea. Because week 3 is about to be all about hiking!
Week Three: São Vicente
For your last week in Madeira, you are heading to São Vicente to stay in the mountains and enjoy all of the hiking that Madeira has to offer. São Vicente is on the Northwest Coast of Madeira, and trust me when I say that it will feel like you are on a completely different island altogether! The landscape is completely different from the other side of the island, I absolutely loved it. You’ll also love where I stayed in Sao Vicente, if you get a chance to book it, TAKE IT.
What to do in one week in São Vicente, Madeira
1. Visiting the Ancient, Mystical Fanal Forest
Not going to lie. This was another unlucky weather day for me. I’ll show you what I had imagined the forest to look like when it’s magical and covered in fog, v.s. How I found it, very sunny and completely cloudless. A lot of the magical landscapes in Madeira are mostly due to weather, so if you’re not lucky with the weather, your photos will not look like the ones you see on Instagram.
It’s still incredible though and you don’t want to miss the Fanal forest. The Fanal forest is home to the oldest laurel trees in the world. They are twisted and beautiful and whether you have fog or not, this is a pretty incredible sight to see. Make sure you give yourself some time to wander through the forest and enjoy the magical trees, beyond just a few trees that people show on IG. Now enjoy some photos I took, v.s. What I thought I’d see thanks to my Instagram expectations.
My expectations 👇🏻
My reality 👇🏻
2. Fajã Do Amo Hike in São Vicente
This hike is not for the faint of heart. While we did stumble upon 2 gorgeous waterfalls, one that we had all to ourselves, it was not easy going to get there. We lost the trail due to it being so overgrown, and we had to hack our way through a lot of the trail.
That being said, I did really love the overall experience and the waterfalls when we found them.
3. Levada do Alecrim Waterfall Hike
This was the first Levada walk that we went on in Madeira, and it did NOT disappoint. We went on this hike right after we left the Fanal forest. It was gorgeous. We went to two waterfalls and walked for ages along the most incredible Levada. What I loved about it was once you’ve done the ups and downs, you get to walk right along the Levada which means there won’t be too much elevation change.
Lucky this is also a loop hike, which means you won’t have to go back on yourself. It’s a very moderate hike, with only a few ups and downs. I would tell you exactly how long, but I didn’t track this hike (by mistake) so I wouldn’t be able to share.
4. Levada Do Moinho to Levada Nova Waterfall
This is an easy-breezy hike! Not to mention it is beautiful! It’s a bit of a drive from Sao Vicente, which means you’ll be in the car (still less than an hour) but you’ll be in the car a bit before you get there. At one point during this hike, you get to walk underneath a waterfall! It was incredible. And at another point, you get to go in this huge people’s tunnel! You know how Madeira loves their tunnels! Well, they love them for people too.
This is an incredibly easy hike with almost no elevation as the whole hike is walking along the Levada. I do love a Levada walk! Just looking at these photos makes me want to go back to Madeira ASAP.
- Length: 11.8 km
- Moving time: 2:26
- Total time: 2:32
- Difficulty: Super Easy
You can also make this hike into a loop (I love a loop hike)
There are loads of amazing hikes, if you’re looking for more I recommend checking out – (journey era Madeira)
Wooooh! That’s a wrap on spending 3 weeks in Madeira.
What an inspiration. I’m telling you, just writing this post is making me want to go back to Madeira. You will love your trip to Madeira, trust me.
Now obviously a lot of work goes into creating, researching, and editing these guides for you. If you’d like to say thanks, here’s a link where you can buy me a coffee! It goes a long way towards showing you love and appreciating the content I’ve created for you.
Thank YOU for all of your support. If you have any questions about Madeira then feel free to comment on this post. I can’t wait to help you plan your trip to this incredible island.