DRIVING IN MADEIRA Guide | how to beat these tricky roads like a boss (2023)

DRIVING IN MADEIRA Guide | how to beat these tricky roads like a boss (1)

Today, we’re talking about driving in Madeira, the charming Portuguese Island you’ll surely fall in love with. Trust me. It’s the perfect place to explore stunning nature, hike some beautiful paths and enjoy a dip in the sea. However, Madeira can get challenging when it comes to driving. Did you know the Island has some of the world’s steepest streets? Well, me neither… it’s time to learn from our experience and mistakes, so you’ll be less stressed than us!

Let me tell you how to conquer Madeira’s tricky lanes, what car to look for, and which rules to follow.

Is a car essential for exploring the Island?

Perhaps you’re already scared by reading about others’ experiences while driving on Madeira and contemplate whether to even get a rental car or simply take the bus. Well, let me tell you – even though it might get tricky sometimes, you wouldn’t want to miss a car if you’re down to explore the Island. Sure, many sights are accessible by bus. Yet those timetables can differ, and you might not be able to reach all the spots you’d want to see. So driving around in your rental car is definitely the most common way to explore Madeira.

Overall, the parking situation is relatively good around the Island. You’ll usually find open parking spots along the road, especially at the viewpoints. You simply park your car along the road (free of charge) – but please make sure you’re not blocking the already tiny lanes and always double-check if you’ve set your parking brakes on those mountain roads.

However, the situation in Funchal is totally different. Finding a parking lot in Madeira’s capital city can be tricky and very expensive. Make sure to look for the sign that states “estacionamento proibido, “- which means parking is prohibited. Don’t even think about parking your car in any of these areas; they’re swift when it comes to towing cars.

I’d recommend using the public parking garages. The prices are usually reasonable, and they offer many parking lots. Quick side note: Those parking garages are the definition of tiny, steep, and narrow. But more about that later when we’re talking about which car to choose.

Road conditions & driving tips

Generally speaking, the road conditions in Madeira are good, and it’s easy to get around on the more prominent streets. The highway (called “VR – Via Rápida”) is a great way to explore the Island and is in excellent condition. It’s safe to say: the bigger and more common the street, the better the conditions you’ll have. Driving the VR or, e.g., the ER101 is smooth and easy, especially since they connect the main points of interest and are part of the most critical infrastructure on Madeira.

BUT – as soon as you leave the more prominent streets for an adventure, especially the roads in the Islands middle towards smaller towns or up the peaks, it gets tricky. Let me tell you, I nearly cried when we once took a wrong turn on our way towards Pico do Areeiro (ok, well, I have to admit I’m getting scared quickly on the road). You’ll find yourself on narrow, steep lanes too small for two cars passing each other.

Check route alternatives ahead of your trip

We had to learn that the hard way. If you want to avoid driving the narrowest winding roads, check your route options beforehand. Don’t automatically choose the fastest route – those might include some very challenging roads. Instead, take those extra 5-10 minutes and stay on the VR and ER as long as possible.

Don’t rush and drive carefully

Since Madeira can be tricky to drive in some areas, people are usually quite chill. It’s common to look out for each other and go slow and cautious (a whole new world for me as a german, where people aggressively overtake you with 250km on the highway, not giving a single f*).

On rainy days, roads can get slippery, and the foggy areas have low visibility. Don’t stress and take it easy, just like the locals. Sometimes, people will honk before overtaking each other or entering very narrow curves. The possibility of overtaking other cars, especially trucks, is small when you’re not on the highway. Therefore, it’s normal to be stuck behind a slow vehicle sometimes. Don’t risk anything by overtaking in dangerous spots.

Driving the Via Rápida

The highway, aka Via Rápida, is a great way to get from A to B. One thing that differs from many other countries is getting onto the highway. You might also be used to driving onto the highway quickly and using the acceleration lane to speed up. However, that is not the case when driving in Madeira. The entry lanes to the highway are incredibly short and not meant to take on speed. You’d stop and wait for others to pass until you find a spot to squeeze in. Therefore, be cautious when you’re in the outer right lane: Sometimes, there will be people coming in at a slow speed. During busy hours, people usually drive left to give others the possibility to move onto the highway.

Madeira and its roundabouts

Driving in Madeira means using roundabouts all the time. Most of them have dual lanes, and you’ll usually go on the inner lane until you are ready to exit. It was unusual for us since we’re used to single-lane roundabouts. However, people are very considerate and let you pass once you want to squeeze through.

Never leave without enough gas

Fueling up your car on Madeira shouldn’t be a last-minute thing. Gas stations are rare outside of Funchal, and most of them close early in the evening. You’ll barely find ones that are open at night, so plan ahead before going on a trip. You should also keep in mind that driving uphill for multiple miles will use up more gas than you think. So if you plan a trip to, e.g., Pico do Areeiro, make sure to fuel up your car. We burnt up double the amount of gas you’d usually need for that distance due to the uphill winding roads.

DRIVING IN MADEIRA Guide | how to beat these tricky roads like a boss (2)

What kind of car should you rent?

After discussing road conditions and parking spaces, it’s time to discuss the car you’d want to rent for your trip. My personal advice would be a small to mid-size automatic vehicle with enough power. Even though a 4×4 sounds excellent when driving hill roads and uneven lanes in nature, they are simply too big for everything. Also, you’ll have trouble parking them in the garages. The streets are easier to handle with a smaller car, especially once you reach the single-lane paths.

An automatic car with a strong engine will ease the uphill challenges of driving in Madeira.

We drove a Seat Ibiza, which was the perfect size to fit all our luggage and, at the same time, fit into the parking garages. Keep in mind, we did struggle at some point with this car, even though it’s not big! We booked a manual car because we thought saving on this wouldn’t be a problem. Even though it’s not a problem to drive a manual car, we’d go for an automatic one next time because it simply makes life easier.

As for every time you rent a car, make sure you book proper insurance that covers any unwanted costs.

DRIVING IN MADEIRA Guide | how to beat these tricky roads like a boss (3)


  • Are there toll roads in Madeira? | No, Madeira’s roads can be used without extra charges or toll payments.
  • How difficult is driving in Madeira? | It can get tricky if you’re not an experienced driver and if you’re not used to uphill, narrow lanes. However, it gets easier day by day the more you get used to it.
  • How steep are the roads in Madeira? | Madeira has some of the steepest roads worldwide, especially Rua da Barreira. Its average 25,17% gradient is beaten by sections with up to 45% gradient. Crazy, right? Information viahttps://www.dangerousroads.org/europe/portugal/9633-rua-da-barreira.html
  • Are there speed cameras in Madeira? | Officially, there are a few speed cameras on Madeira. However, we haven’t seen a single one during our stay, and speed checks are more commonly performed by the police. You can find recent locations on websites like Madeira weekly to avoid a ticket. However, you should always stick to the given speed limits since it makes driving on Madeira a lot safer for everyone.https://madeira-weekly.com/2021/11/03/psp-speed-camera-locations/
  • Can you drive around Madeira in one day? | Yes, it’s possible to drive around the Island in one day. Taking the route along the coast would take you approx. 3-4 hours to circumnavigate Madeira without any stops.
  • Is driving in Madeira safe? | In my personal opinion, Madeira is safe to drive. You have to be cautious of the weather (e.g., fog) and the road conditions and be prudent, especially when it comes to overtaking. The locals are very relaxed and also cautious when driving.
DRIVING IN MADEIRA Guide | how to beat these tricky roads like a boss (4)

Holidays in Madeira – a practical guide for an amazing first visit

The famous PR1 hike – epic views on vereda do areeiro you can’t miss

Now that you’ve made it through these tips and facts, I hope you’ll have a better experience driving in Madeira. It definitely isn’t as bad as you’d think if you come prepared. We’ve been a little insecure the first days since we simply didn’t know about any difficulties driving on Madeira could offer. But, after three days, we were pretty used to it. Driving the Island is a great way to explore its beauty! As long as you’re prepared and know what to expect, it won’t be a problem!

I hope these tips helped you plan your (road) trip through Madeira. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments – maybe you even got something valuable to add? Put it in the comments for others to read!

As always, stay happy and healthy!

See you soon,

DRIVING IN MADEIRA Guide | how to beat these tricky roads like a boss (5)


Is driving in Madeira difficult? ›

That being said, to enjoy some of those breathtaking views, you will need to tackle some of the world's steepest streets. Driving in Madeira can be challenging, especially for inexperienced drivers. However, it is the perfect way to explore the beautiful Island.

What are the driving rules in Madeira? ›

Madeirans drive on the right-hand side of the road, and all cars have the steering column on the left. Seat belts are required at all times. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seats.

How long does it take to drive from one end of Madeira to the other? ›

Madeira is a tiny island, approximately 35 miles at the longest point and maximum width of 14 miles, and the entire island can be driven in less than 4 hours without stopping. You can make a day out of it by stopping at different viewpoints and doing short hikes.

Does Google Maps work in Madeira? ›

Plan your Madeira itinerary in advance, so you know exactly which roads to take and where to go. Check Google Maps for your trip and to see the best recommended route. It's worth following Google Maps over the Sat Nav, and it gives you precise and real-time information.

Can you drive in Madeira with a US license? ›

Madeira drives on the right and you can use the photo licence of any country to drive here, providing it's written in Roman alphabet.

Is Madeira very hilly? ›

Madeira is very hilly and the least powerful cars may not be able to climb up the highest peak of the island when they are full.

How easy is it to get around Madeira without a car? ›

Even if you are visiting Madeira solo traveller without a car, the local bus services and abundance of day tours make the island easy to explore.

Do you need to carry your passport in Madeira? ›

In summary, here is the list of important documents to carry when travelling to Madeira: Valid identity card or passport. Plane ticket. Driving licence if renting a car.

Do I need an international drivers license for Madeira Portugal? ›

You must always have your IDP along with your national license at all times. To get an International Driving Permit in Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores, visit the Automóvel Club de Portugal or IMT – Instituto dos Transportes Terrestres.

Where is the best place to base yourself in Madeira? ›

Funchal. You can't go wrong with a stay in Madeira's vibrant capital. Nestled on the south coast, this city makes for the perfect base as it offers something for everyone.

How much is the toboggan ride in Madeira? ›

The entity that manages these transports, the Monte Carreiros Association, has updated its price list, and the new price list that began to be practised in early July 2023 now charges 27.50 euros for the individual ticket (+2.50 euros) and 17.50 euros per person in cases where there are additional occupants in each " ...

What type of car do you need in Madeira? ›

If you are visiting Madeira for the first time, it is important to keep in mind that a small car is the best option on this island. There are a number of reasons that a compact vehicle will make life easier on your vacation.

Is parking free in Madeira? ›

Parking in the city is ample, but be aware that parking spaces marked in blue are pay parking, and if you fail to pay, then you could end up with a hefty ticket. Madeira drivers are generally quite courteous.

What is the speed limit in Madeira? ›

In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mph) unless otherwise indicated by road signs. On rural roads, the speed limit is generally 90 km/h (56 mph) unless otherwise indicated by road signs. On highways and expressways, the speed limit is usually 120 km/h (75 mph) unless otherwise indicated by road signs.

How steep are roads in Madeira? ›

The uphills can be too steep, even 25% and a lot of super curvy roads. It takes a few hours to get used to driving on the mountain roads in Madeira. In some parts of the island, the roads are also extremely narrow.

Is it worth renting a car in Madeira? ›

Renting a car on Madeira Island is a convenient and affordable way to discover all the hidden gems this island has to offer. First and foremost, most travelers want to know about the best place to hire a car in Madeira. When I rent a car in Madeira, I recommend and I always use Discover Cars, and you can see why below.

Is it easy to get around Madeira without a car? ›

Visiting Madeira

However, there are other means of transport available such as buses, taxis, tuk-tuks, bicycles and scooters. It is also worth mentioning the importance of the cable cars, which connect to some of the archipelago's most iconic points of interest.

Do I need a car in Madeira? ›

But the good news is that, with a little forward planning, you can explore Madeira without a car. Whilst you will never have the flexibility that a hire car provides, you can explore most of Madeira in a week using this beautiful island's bus services and by taking day tours.

How easy is it to get around Madeira? ›

Finding Your Way Around Madeira Island. Getting around on Madeira Island is a breeze with its well-connected network of roads, buses, and taxis. Whether you prefer to take in the scenic views along the coastline or explore the charming towns and villages inland, Madeira Island promises an unforgettable journey.

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