3 Day Madeira Itinerary: What To Do in Madeira in 3 Days
3 Days in Madeira allows you to see plenty on this island. This 3 day Madeira itinerary will show you the best things to do and eat on Madeira Island in Portugal.
Known as the Pearl of the Atlantic, Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal comprising of 4 islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Most people have never heard of Madeira and I hardly saw any non-European tourists in Madeira when I was there.
This off the beaten path island is the perfect get away for 3 days if you just want a taste of it. Although 3 days in Madeira seems short, you can still see the best places in Madeira from the beach to the natural pools to top of the mountains and eat plenty of great food in Madeira.
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Where is Madeira Island?
I don’t blame you if you don’t know where Madeira is. I didn’t either! Madeira is an island that is actually closer to Africa than to Europe. It’s about an hour and 45 minute flight from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Madeira is also very close to the Canary Islands of Spain.
There are four islands in “Madeira”, which includes Madeira Island, Porto Santo, the Desertas, and the Savage Islands. The Desertas and Savage Islands are not really inhabited and are quite barren. So when people refer to Madeira they really are talking about Madeira Island, although you can also visit Porto Santo, which has a sandy beach.
How To Get To Madeira
The easiest way to get to Madeira is to fly. There is an airport not far from Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island.
There are plenty of direct flights to Madeira from continental Europe and the UK and budget airlines like Easyjet flies to Funchal.
There is also a direct flight from New York City to Funchal so if you are visiting from NYC you no longer have to transfer anywhere!
Best Time To Visit Madeira & Madeira Weather
Madeira island enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate and is labeled as having the “Eternal Spring” weather.
Due to its geographical location, Madeira never gets too hot or too cold, although between mid October to mid April there is a good amount of thunderstorm and rainfalls.
This perfect weather in Madeira allows visitors to visit all year round.
As you can see from the temperature chart above, July to September in Madeira is the warmest and driest time to visit.
But if you want to avoid peak touristy season, I suggest that you visit Madeira in May because the temperature is already pretty warm and dry and Madeira is not as crowded.
However, since Madeira is an island, it has its own micro-climate. Different parts of Madeira Island has different weather patterns.
Southern Madeira where Funchal is is generally a lot sunnier and warmer compare to the northern side of Madeira.
Similarly, since Madeira is mountainous in the middle, the top of the mountains is much much colder than down at sea level in Funchal. So depending on which part of the island you are visiting, you need to dress appropriately and bring layers with you.
How to Get Around Madeira
Madeira is a big island and there are various different ways of getting around.
Renting a Car in Madeira
The most convenient way of getting around Madeira is to rent a car and drive around yourself.
Having a car gives you a lot of flexibility and you can explore any part of the islands you want. We had a car in Madeira and was able to see everything we wanted to without waiting for the bus.
Taking Public Transit in Madeira
There are public transit in Madeira that locals and visitors take to get around both urban and interurban areas.
If you are planning to stay in Funchal or go to popular touristy areas but cannot drive, then bus is a great option. There are different bus companies that operate in Madeira and they have different prices and tickets.
Private Taxi or Tour in Madeira
If you are not restricted on budget and you cannot drive, it is best to either book private taxis or tours in Madeira.
3 Day Madeira Itinerary
3 Days in Madeira allows you to explore the best of Madeira and if you have more time you can definitely spend an extra day or 2 to see more.
This Madeira itinerary assumes you have 3 full days to explore the island and that you have a car (or a private driver/ taxi) to take you around Madeira because there are a lot of driving involved.
These 3 days in Madeira will be fairly packed since I want you to see all the best things on Madeira Island.
Overview of What to do in 3 days in Madeira
Day 1: Explore Funchal
Day 2: Visit Pico do Arieiro, explore North and East side of Madeira
Day 3: Explore North and West side of Madeira
Day 1 of 3 Days in Madeira
Highlights of Day 1: Funchal Cable Car, Gardens, Old Town
You will spend your first day in Madeira explore Funchal, the biggest city in Madeira.
Funchal is a fantastic city because it has a little bit of everything, from mountains to ocean to architecture and amazing restaurants.
There are also many fun family-friendly activities in Funchal so your entire family can enjoy Funchal.
In addition, Funchal is very easy to get around. There are buses and car ride services that you can take in Funchal so even if you do not drive, you can still have fun in Funchal.
Madeira Cable Car
The Teleferico opens 364 days a year from 9am to 5:45pm and costs 12.50 Euros one way & 18 Euro round trip for adults (6.50 Euro one way and 9 Euro round trip for children 7-14). Children under 7 can ride for free!
The entire cable car ride takes about 20 minutes each way with 3200 meters of cable and the view is amazing when you roam above the orange rooftops with the view of the deep blue sea.
I suggest that you purchase the round trip cable car ticket unless you plan to take a taxi back down.
There is a large paid parking structure (with multiple levels) right next to the Madeira Cable Car station so you can leave your car there all day. There are also many restaurants around the cable car station.
Once you get off the Madeira Cable Car, you can visit several points of interest:
- Madeira Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanico)
- Monte Palace Tropical Garden (Jardim Tropical Monte Palace)
- Carro de Cesto: fun adventure riding down the oldest transport in Madeira
- Igreja do Monte: Beautiful church
Madeira Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanico)
Madeira Botanical Garden is a large garden on top of the mountain. This botanical garden used to be owned by the family of William Reid, but it opened to the public in 1960.
The Madeira Botanical Garden has more than 2000 exotic plants including some of the plants that are exclusive to Madeira, Azores, and other Atlantic islands. There are also exotic and rare birds in the Madeira Botanical Garden that you won’t see anywhere else.
The Garden is open all year round from 9am to either 6pm or 7pm depending on the months (6pm from October 1 to April 29th). There is an entry fee to the Madeira Botanical Garden.
You can also buy a combo Cable Car ticket + Botanical Garden ticket (saves you a few Euros to buy it together).
Monte Palace Tropical Garden
There is no combo ticket with the cable car so you will need to buy a ticket to Monte Palace separately, but trust me, this place is worth visiting. I personally think the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is the best place to visit in Funchal.
The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is huge: it occupies 70K square meters and has a large exotic plant’s collection, an African sculpture exposition, a central pond with swans, villa, Japanese styled bridges and a large collection of tile panels placed along the walkways.
We actually spent about 2.5 hours in Monte Palace Tropical Garden but wish we could’ve spent more (had to rush down the mountain because cable car was closing).
Old Town of Funchal
Funchal has a very charming old town that is great to walk around in. A few interesting spots in old town Funchal that I would like to point out below.
Rue de Santa Maria
Rue de Santa Maria is directly behind the Funchal-Monte Teleferico, so it’s perfect to explore after you get off the cable car.
There are a lot of restaurants on Rue de Santa Maria and here is also where you will find the most colorful walls and doors.
Av. Arriaga & R. do Aljube
Av. Arriaga (which becomes R. do Aljube) is the heart of downtown Funchal and one of the most happening streets in Funchal.
There are generally a lot of people walking around, and there are many restaurants and shops along the streets (and in the side streets).
When I was there in end of April, the city of Funchal was preparing for a Flower Festival in May and the streets were lined up with yellow flowers on top.
Walking down this street will also eventually lead you to Funchal Cathedral, a Gothic style cathedral that was built in 1514.
The Farmer’s Market (Mercado dos Lavradores)
Funchal’s famous Farmer’s Market was inaugurated in 1940 and is now one of the best things you can do in Funchal.
At the market there are all sorts of products sold. The Funchal farmer’s market is closed on Sunday and public holidays and generally is open either 7 or 8am to 7 or 8pm depending on the day and is only open from 7am to 2pm on Saturdays.
Mercado dos Lavradores has a variety of fresh produces, flowers, fish among other things (like souvenirs). You will be impressed by all the colors, smell and sound in the market.
If you happen to be in Madeira for Christmas, then you have to visit Mercado dos Lavradores on December 23rd at night as people will be dancing and singing outside of the market at night so it’s super festive!
Funchal waterfront is a really nice area to walk around especially during sunset and it’s one of my favorite things to do there. There are some shops and restaurants/ food stalls and on the weekend you can occasionally come across free outdoor concerts and festivals.
There is also a small fort/ light house type of structure along the water front and you can walk up to it. A lot of local teens and young people hang out by the water around sunset time.
Day 2 of 3 Days in Madeira
Highlights of Day 2: Pico do Arieiro, Balcoes Viewpoint, Santana, Ponta do Rosto View Point
Day 2 of our 3 Day Madeira trip is another very packed day and I do suggest that you start as early as possible because we will be seeing the eastern half of the island in one day.
There will be a lot of driving involved but I really think you will like what you see in Madeira on this day.
Pico do Arieiro Sunrise
Start your morning super early from Funchal to Pico do Arieiro for the best sunrise in Madeira. Pico do Arieiro is the third highest peak in Madeira at 5,965 feet (1818m) and is the only peak in Madeira that you can actually drive to (instead of hike to).
As with all the other mountains in Madeira, Pico do Arieiro sits sort of in the middle of the island where it’s very mountainous. There is a large cafe and view point area for visitors to drive up to and enjoy the stunning view of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Given its ease of access, many photographers come to Pico do Arieiro for the amazing sunrise. You don’t necessarily need to come for sunrise, but if you do want to watch sunrise in Madeira, Pico do Arieiro is the place to be.
It takes about 50 minutes to drive from Funchal to Pico do Arieiro. If you follow the direction from Google Maps, most of the drive actually won’t be too bad and only the last 20 minutes will be hilly and a bit narrow (not too bad to be honest).
The only thing is part of the drive will be in the fog so visibility may be low. Don’t be discouraged if you are driving in the fog even when you are almost at the peak.
When I visited for sunrise, the fog literally cleared 2 minutes before the parking lot!
Since you only have 3 days in Madeira, this itinerary will assume you are only going to stop for a short amount of time at Pico do Arieiro.
The cafe and bathroom at Pico do Arieiro won’t be open during sunrise but will be later during the day.
Not too far of a drive from Pico do Arieiro is another amazing viewpoint that people often overlook, the Balcões Viewpoint.
The Balcões Viewpoint is a stunning viewpoint that allows you to see the Ribeira da Metade valley, the central mountain ranges, as well as Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo.
The Balcões Viewpoint is a “hiking trail” called PR11 Vereda dos Balcões that starts in Ribeiro Frio. Although it’s a hiking trail, the trail is so flat and wide and it only takes about 20 minute leisurely stroll to get to the viewpoint.
I’ve seen people pushing strollers on the walk so no matter what type of physical condition you are in, I would highly recommend you take this walk especially early in the morning when there is nobody there.
Santana is a cute coastal town on the north east side of Madeira. A quick drive from the Balcões Viewpoint will get you to Santana.
Most people come to Santana to check out the traditional houses as well as take a cable car down to the beach.
Reserva Natural da Rocha do Navio is a a natural reserve created to protect marine fauna and preserving nature of the coastal area of Santana.
There is a cable car that will take you down to the beach where you can walk around. Or you can simply walk down the steep path to the beach, although sometimes the wave can be big so you need to be careful.
Note that there is sometimes an old lady on the road to the Teleferico that will invite you to her house. Don’t go in as many people say she’s trying to extort money from the tourists. In addition, the cable car to Reserva Natural da Rocha do Navio is closed from 1pm to 2pm for lunch break.
Ponta do Rosto View Point
Continue driving east towards Caniçal and you will reach Ponta do Rosto viewpoint, one of the most beautiful view point on Madeira island.
You may have seen those crazy cliff views of Madeira from Instagram and most of the time that photo is taken from Ponta do Rosto Viewpoint on the most east side of the island.
If you don’t want to do any hiking but still want stunning views, Ponta do Rosto Viewpoint is the place to go. You can simply drive up to the view point, take the shot, and walk around the area. However be warned that this area is pretty windy so wear layers when you go.
When we went around 6:30pm there really was nobody in sight and we had the entire place to ourselves. Although not really a sunset spot, it was still quite pretty during the sunset hours.
After Ponta do Rosto viewpoint, drive back to Funchal and it should take you about an hour.
Day 3 of 3 Days in Madeira
Highlights of Day 3: Bridal Veil Falls, Seixal Natural Pools, Ribeira de Janela, Fanal Forest, Garganta Funda View Point, Camara de Lobos
On your last day in Madeira we will be exploring the western side of the island. Again, Day 3 in Madeira will require a lot of driving so get up early!
Bridal Veil Falls (Véu da Noiva waterfall )
Bridal Veil Falls is a splendid waterfall on the north side of Madeira. It’s a beautiful waterfall off the coastal cliffs and there are two major view points for this waterfall.
Most people will drive to Miradouro do Véu da Noiva and have a nice view of the waterfall. Most tour buses also stop by this view point because there are two parking lots and some shops there.
However if you want a better view of the Véu da Noiva waterfall (and ANOTHER water fall) without anybody around, head down to Ponta do Poiso, a very secluded spot.
We saw this view point on Google maps but there literally is no road to get there, so we were very confused.
While we were walking back to our car at the larger parking lot (there are 2 parking lots, we parked in the further one that has a large round about) and I accidentally saw a very hidden path that goes down hill.
It hit me that it may be the trail to go down to Ponta do Poiso, so we followed the narrow steps which became a hidden trail that led us more and more north along the coast.
While we were walking down we started seeing the waterfall on the right hand side with another fall (you cannot see the second fall from Miradouro do Véu da Noiva). We were literally the only people on this trail (not a long trail and can do it wearing flip flops and skirts).
Seixal Natural Pools
There are a number of natural pools on Madeira island and these natural pools are formed from volcanic rock. The most famous natural pool is actually at Porto Moniz but the one we will go to is the one in the sea side town of Seixal.
The Seixal natural pools are very hard to find as they do not show up on Google Maps. We literally drove back and forth on the old country road trying to find this pool but only ended up finding the black sand beach instead.
While we stopped at a nearby view point, my friend looked down and saw the pool we were looking for! So it turns out the pool is unmarked and the you will need to drive to the Seixal post office in order to go all the way down to the pool
Since the weather was not hot when we visited end of April, there was literally nobody at the natural pools except two tour jeeps. We literally had the pools to ourselves and the water actually wasn’t too cold.
Ribeira de Janela
As you continue driving west, you will come to the coastal town of Ribeira de Janela. The main attraction here is the rock off the coast of a black rock beach. It’s worth stopping by for a quick photo or two.
Fanal Forest is a beautiful yet quiet forest in the middle of Laurissilva Forest in Madeira. A quick drive from Ribeira de Janela will take you up the hill to the often foggy and mysterious Fanal Forest.
Most people will walk around the forest to the Fanal Pond. Although most people’s impression of Fanal forest is foggy it’s actually not the case. We actually went to Fanal forest twice trying to capture the fog but the first time it was completely clear!
Garganta Funda View Point
If there’s one thing Madeira has then it’s waterfalls. There are so many waterfalls and some are easy to see whereas others require a hike or two.
Ganganta Funda Waterfall is located on the west side of Madeira and to be honest it’s a bit out of the way. BUT I think this waterfall is super cool and unique and I’ve never seen anything like it.
You can follow direction from Google Maps but the viewpoint is actually a bit hidden. Once you are in the town of Ponta do Pargo, you will start seeing signs pointing to Miradouro Garganta Funda.
The road becomes more and more narrow and you can park in an empty space when you see the road becomes too narrow to drive on. The parking space can only fit 2-3 cars but the good thing is usually there is nobody here.
Once you park the car it’s about a 5-10 minute walk on a flat dirt path to the view point. You can see this cliff side waterfall inside a gorge and it almost makes me wonder if you can ever get to the bottom of the waterfall, because that’d be so cool!
Camara de Lobos
From Miradouro Garganta Funda it’s a long drive along the coast all the way to Camara de Lobos, a coastal town not too far from Funchal on the south side of Madeira.
If you have time, walk around Camara de Lobos. There is a fort that’s nice to walk around and also an area with all the boats, which actually kind of reminded me of Cinque Terre.
I suggest spending an hour to two hours in Camara de Lobos to explore.
Where to Eat in Madeira
Madeira has a lot of great foods and local specialties so you will have a great time eating in Madeira. I will list a few places that I liked when we were in Madeira.
Restaurants in Funchal
Funchal is the largest city in Madeira so it’s so surprise that there are a lot of great restaurants in Funchal.
Restaurante Armazem do Sal
Restaurante Armazem do Sal is one of the Michelin guide recommended restaurants in Funchal and serves local cuisine. Try the octopus, sea bream and black scabbard there.
Restaurante Casal de Penha
This is another Michelin guide recommended restaurants and we came here purely by accident. However the first night we couldn’t get a seat because we didn’t book ahead of time. So if you want to dine here be sure to make a reservation. We particularly loved its mixed grilled fish as well as the fish stew!
Casa Velha Restaurant
Not too far from Restaurante Casal de Penha is Casa Velha Restaurant. We came here because we didn’t have reservation at the other place. This turned out to be a good choice because the food is equally as good!
Cris’s Place is a modern Madeira restaurant that we tried for lunch special. The food was really good and the dessert was amazing.
A Confeitaria in the old town Funchal is a bakery. We went there to try the Portuguese egg tarts because I read that they have the best egg tarts in Madeira. The egg tarts really were delicious!
Restaurants in Sao Vicente
We actually spent a couple of nights in Sao Vicente in the northern coast of Madeira and tried a couple of local restaurants recommended by our Airbnb host. I have to say the food in Sao Vicente are cheaper but just as good as the food in Funchal, if not better.
Restaurante Caravela is one of the most popular restaurants in Sao Vicente facing the ocean. When we arrived later during the night the restaurant was still packed. Although the food doesn’t look as fancy as the places we went in Funchal, I have to say the food really was good. We tried the grilled parrot fish and it was so good that it melted in our mouth.
Taberna de Sao Vicente
Recommended by our Airbnb host, Taberna de Sao Vicente is a casual local place with great food. We tried the octopus and it was so tender and it was literally the best octopus we had in Madeira (we had octopus everyday).
Restaurants in Canical
Canical is on the east side of Madeira, very close to Ponta do Rosto viewpoint as well as the Sao Lourenco point hike (PR8). We stopped here because it was pretty late and it’s an hour drive to Funchal.
We went to Restaurante Bar Amarelo, a local restaurant with good reviews and we were not disappointed. They were known for their limpets so we got the limpets stew. The restaurant is much cheaper than the ones in Funchal and the menu seemed very local.
How Much Does Madeira Cost For 3 Days?
Madeira is not a very expensive place compare to most European cities you’d visit. I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable it is to travel to Madeira (but keep in mind that I live in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world).
I will break down the major expenses based on my own experience.
Flights Cost to Madeira
It is a bit hard to say how much flights to Madeira cost since it depends on where you are flying from, how advanced you are booking the tickets, etc.
However in general, from London it costs about 300-400 USD round trip to fly to Madeira and about USD 200 to fly from Lisbon. It costs about $600-900 USD roundtrip to fly to Madeira from the US.
Cost of Accommodation in Madeira
As with any cities, there are luxury (expensive) accommodation options and there are cheap accommodation options in Madeira.
We mostly stayed in Airbnbs since there were 3 of us and we were able to book 3 bedroom houses for no more than $120 a night.
That is extremely cheap for a 3 bedroom house (at least compare to places like New York, San Francisco, London and Paris).
Cost of Food in Madeira
While we were in Madeira, we went to different restaurants every night.
On average dinner costed between 15 euro to 20 euro per person. However for dinner we generally ordered garlic bread, 3 entrees, 3 drinks and 1 dessert to share.
If you are on a budget you can definitely shop at local super markets and make your own food to save money.
Rental Car Cost in Madeira
Rental car was our biggest expense in Madeira because we ended up upgrading to a better vehicle.
If you get a decent rental car with insurance, you should expect to pay about 60-100 USD per day for rental car from the airport, which is pretty expensive compare to other places.
For your 3 days in Madeira you will need to fill up once which costs about 50+ USD for a full tank.
Where to Stay in Madeira
Madeira is not a small island and as you can see there are things to do in Madeira on every corner of the island. This itinerary has assumed that you are staying in Funchal during your 3 days in Madeira but this doesn’t have to be the case.
I personally would recommend you stay in downtown (closer to the water) in Funchal rather than up in the hills. We had rented an Airbnb up in the Funchal hills and we got lost every night going home and ended up in dead ends every evening!
Another place I’d recommend that you stay is Sao Vicente on the north side of Madeira. A lot of places on this Madeira itinerary are on the north side so Sao Vicente is an excellent base to explore those waterfalls and natural pools.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Madeira for 3 Days
Madeira is an amazing island to visit regardless whether you are there for 3 days or 2 weeks. I personally spent a week in Madeira and I felt that it was not enough.
If you only have 3 days in Madeira then this itinerary shows you the highlights of this amazing island without hiking. If you are interested in hiking then you should consider staying longer.
If you do have more time in Madeira, check out the following guides I have on Madeira including the best things to do in Madeira, the best hikes in Madeira and details of several hikes.
Additional Reading To Plan Your Trip to Madeira
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