This relaxed road trip introduces you to the Portuguese island of Madeira, whose volcanic landscapes and natural beauty make it a popular getaway from the mainland. Discover the charming Old Town and botanical gardens of its capital Funchal. Hike between Madeira's two highest peaks of Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo, then decompress by taking a ferry to the island of Porto Santo—beaches renowned for their healing properties.


  • Feel the breeze at the top of Cape Girão, Europe's highest sea cliff
  • Wander through the mist of the ancient Fanal Forest
  • Soak in the healing properties of Porto Santo's beaches
  • Marvel at the variety of colors in the Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Funchal & Discover the City Funchal
Day 2 Explore Funchal at Your Leisure Funchal
Day 3 Journey through Western Madeira Funchal
Day 4 Experience Eastern Madeira Funchal
Day 5 Mountain Hike from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo Funchal
Days 6-7 Take Ferry to Porto Santo Island & Enjoy Beach Time Funchal
Day 8 Depart from Funchal  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Funchal & Discover the City

View over Funchal from Monte Palace Gardens
A view of Funchal from the Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Welcome to Madeira! First discovered by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century, this volcanic island is part of the Madeira archipelago and derives its name—meaning "wood" in Portuguese—from its abundance of trees and forests. Madeira stands out for its natural beauty and resources, like the fennel or funcho, which gives the capital city Funchal its name. 

Once you land at the Funchal Airport, pick up your rental car and head to your accommodations. Settle in and get to know Funchal, a city rich in history, cuisine, and nature. Many believe that the fresh air of Funchal and the island has healing properties. Enjoy a glass of Madeira's famous wine—one of its biggest exports—along with a bite of bolo de mel, a honey cake believed to be the island's oldest dessert.

Day 2: Explore Funchal at Your Leisure

Funchal's colorful Botanical Garden
Funchal's colorful Botanical Garden

Discover Funchal today on your own time, starting with a visit to its Old Town. Here you'll find the Mercado dos Lavradores or Farmer's Market, the most colorful in Portugal since Madeira is a semi-tropical island. Afterward, wander through the Botanical Garden, which opened in 1960. Rare birds, healing plants, and a museum for those that are curious about the history of the island's landscape fill the Botanical Garden.

Ride a cable car to the hilltop area of Monte and wander through the Monte Palace Tropical Garden to experience its sweeping views over Funchal, as well as a variety of native and exotic plants from around the world. If you're feeling adventurous, return to the city in a carro de cesto or traditional wicker sled, drawn by two carreiros (drivers dressed in white with straw hats). Locals have used these sleds to travel down to the center of Funchal since the mid-19th century, so feel the rush of history as you enjoy the ride.

Day 3: Journey through Western Madeira 

Misty trees in the Fanal Forest
Misty trees in the Fanal Forest

Explore the western part of Madeira by driving along its coast and checking out its must-see highlights. Consider stopping at Cape Girão, the highest sea cliff in Europe at a staggering 1,900 feet (580 m). Visit the picturesque coastal village of Ponta do Sol before continuing to the mysterious Fanal Forest, filled with ancient til and laurel trees. Drive to the Garganta Funda viewpoint and waterfall, then head north to Porto Moniz to take a dip in its natural pools formed by volcanic lava.

During today's exploration, make sure to visit at least one fajã. Fajã is flat land formed by flowing lava at the foot of a cliff, bordered by land on one side and water on the other. These beautiful and secluded places are quite common on Madeira, and each fajã is different with its own charm. For those interested in visiting one on the island's west side, start with the Fajã dos Padres, which you can access by cable car.

Day 4: Experience Eastern Madeira

A view from Curral das Freiras
A view from Curral das Freiras

Spend today exploring the eastern side of Madeira. Visit the traditional houses of Santana and then head to the Curral das Freiras viewpoint nestled in the mountains. Drive to the dramatic cliffs of Ponta de São Lourenço on the easternmost tip of the island to see some of the best coastal views Madeira has to offer. Visit the beautiful Fajã da Rocha do Navio, which you can access by cable car.

Venture to the village of Ribeiro Frio, known for its small brooks and trout farms. This area is also home to one of the easiest hiking trails in Madeira, which also happens to be one of the best. The trail ends at the Levada dos Balcões, a fantastic viewpoint/balcony that overlooks the valley of the Ribeira da Metade.

Day 5: Mountain Hike from Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruivo

The trail of the Pico Ruivo hike
The trail of the Pico Ruivo hike
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For the adventurous or those looking to spend a day in nature, consider hiking between Pico do Areeiro and Pico Ruivo. This mountain trail stretches for nearly 7 miles (12 km) and is one of the most impressive hikes on Madeira. Pico Ruivo is the highest peak on the island at 6,108 feet (1,862 m) and one of the tallest points in Portugal. This out-and-back hike is a challenging one due to the incline and length. So, if you'd rather keep exploring the island by car, take the day to drive to other unseen sites (or return to favorite ones).

Days 6-7: Enjoy Beach Time on Porto Santo Island

Porto Santo's golden beach
Porto Santo's golden beach
The following two days are yours to keep discovering Madeira. If you're interested in seeing more of the archipelago, hop on a ferry and head to the neighboring island of Porto Santo, located just 27 miles (43 km) northeast of the island. Porto Santo is known for its crystal clear waters and golden beaches, which have therapeutic properties thanks to their high amounts of iodine, calcium, and magnesium. It's a perfect place to relax and unwind, as the 5.5-mile (9 km) coastline has several smaller beaches to explore.

Day 8: Depart Funchal

Sunset over Cape Girão
If you've chosen to spend the past two days on Porto Santo, grab the ferry back to Funchal before heading to the airport to return your rental car and catch your next flight. Boa viagem!

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Map of Self-Drive Adventure in Madeira - 8 Days
Map of Self-Drive Adventure in Madeira - 8 Days