How to spend a week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary without a car

Things to do in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

If you’re spending a week in Madeira, there are so many things you can do on the island that it can be a nightmare picking which ones to add to your plan and in what order. I’ve put together this one-week Madeira itinerary based on what I’ve done on past trips (there have been a lot of them and I secretly like to think of myself as some sort of Madeira expert) to help you decide.

Madeira is totally doable without a car, so if like me you don’t drive, you’re going to be pleased with how decent the bus system is for seeing plenty of the island. For the bits that are harder to achieve by bus, there are plenty of minibus private tours, but more on that later..

Anyway, here are my tips for how to use your days to explore Funchal and further afield, where to eat and drink and various stuff to do on each day if you’re spending a whole week in Madeira…

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 1: Arriving, wandering and doors

See and do

You’ll probably land late afternoon or evening unless you’re an early-flight-getting sadist.

Arrive at your hotel (I massively recommend the B&B I always stay in) to dump your suitcases, then head out to familiarise yourself with Madeira’s capital city, Funchal, and to get your bearings.

Wander through the old town and spot the amazing painted doors from the Painted Doors Project. Stroll down the front and watch the sea and the world go by. This is a good chance to get your head around the size of Funchal; it’s surprisingly big but still walkable. The seafront bit might feel quite a touristy area in busy season, but remember that Funchal is also a university town and there are plenty of areas where it’s all locals. The bit to avoid is up towards the hotel-filled area past Santa Catarina Park.

While you’re in the city centre, have a look at Blandy’s Wine Lodge – a tour is a must do when in Madeira and you get a free sample of the famous sweet wine too (which isn’t too bad, but would be better with some Blue WKD…. only those who went to uni in the UK will understand). It’s about €5 for a 45-minute tour and you get to walk through the lodge, including storage vats and a little museum bit. 

You can also browse the market, Mercado dos Lavradores, which has a great atmosphere. I’d recommend checking out their ridiculously varied types of passion fruit. There are millions – I don’t know about you but I always thought there was only one breed. It is touristy with some of the usual over-inflated prices and pushy vendors (not all like, but still), so be aware of that.

Eat and drink

You probably won’t have got to Madeira for lunch time, so your first nibble will be your evening meal.

I always recommend Combatentes to eat in Funchal on the first night. It’s tasty traditional Portuguese grub and centrally located – dead easy to find if you’re tired from your flight and don’t want to have to navigate too much. It’s also open on every day of the week so you don’t have to worry about it being randomly shut on Sunday/Monday like most of Europe tends to be.

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 2: Cable cars, houses and gardens

See and do

Get the cable car from the old town up to Monte. As you’re going up, it’s mandatory to wave to everyone passing by in other cable cars. You’re almost guaranteed a wave back from any woman over 60, but other demographics are harder work, so bonus points if you manage it.

Once you reach the top, you’re in Monte. And this is where you can do a double-garden whammy. The cable car will deposit you in the middle of Madeira’s two beautiful gardens. If you go round both gardens, this will take up all day, so you had better like plants or you’re going to struggle.

There’s the Monte Palace ones, which I usually start with. You’ll find Japanese-style gardens in them, with koi ponds and red bridges and loads of bright blue agapanthus flowers. This is also where you can see some of Madeira’s traditional little ‘Santana’ houses without actually making the epic journey to Santana itself (which is a bit of a pain to get to if you don’t drive).

The other gardens are the Botanical ones. They have patterns in their borders made from plants, spelling out their name and what year it is. In case you’d forgotten.

Eat and drink

When you’re up in Monte for all your cable-car and garden action, have lunch and a local craft beer at Local Shop, a little cafe just outside the cable car stop. You will not be disappointed. The views are brilliant and the salads and other lunchy options are top notch.

If you have room, you can cram in a pastel de nata at the cafe in the botanical gardens as well, which is my favourite place for a pastel de nata in the whole island. I don’t know why. I don’t even know if they’re homemade. But there’s something very satisfying about them. Obviously when in Madeira you should be eating at least one pastel de nata per day, so get it down you.

Later on, reward yourself for all that healthy walking around the gardens with a gigantic meal at Zarcos (don’t be alarmed by their 2001-style website). Zarco’s is slightly out of the centre of Funchal in a residential area, but only a brief bus or taxi journey. GO. Do not be tempted to just walk somewhere in Funchal’s centre because a bus/taxi feels like effort. Stop it. You’d be missing out. Zarco’s is excellent value and actual real-life local people eat there. The portion sizes may defeat you (if you’re an amateur) but it’s just fantastic all round.

Zarcos is also a good place to get yourself a poncha, Madeira’s official alcoholic drink. It’s lethal and goes down like lemonade. Be warned.

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 3: Guided tour of the west,

See and do

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I never recommend minibus/car tours usually. I like exploring on my own terms. But there are bits of Madeira that you can’t easily get to from Funchal on the bus, like the west. So I really recommend doing the Go West tour with Madeira Happy Tours to see that area. And no, I’m not being paid to say that, it was just a good tour we did on our last trip (side note: if they want to pay me, feel free to get in touch…).

The tour lasts all day and you get to go to a good few places, including the highest plateau in Madeira, where you can befriend the local cows in incredible scenery. They’re up for selfies. The tour costs €25 per head and lasts 09-17:00. It goes to: Câmara de Lobos, Cabo Girão, Ribeira Brava, Paul da Serra, Santa, Porto Moniz, Seixal, São Vicente, Encumeada and ends back in Funchal. The only annoying thing about this (and all tours, TBH) is that if you’re not staying in the hotel-filled area west of Funchal, you’ll end up being picked up first and having to go all round millions of hotels (okay like five really)in that bit picking up the other tourists before you get going. You will also be last to be dropped off. But even with that slight annoyance, it’s worth doing and I don’t recommend things like that lightly.

Eat and drink

Obviously the West Tour runs over lunchtime, so you’ll eat in Porto Moniz, one of the stops on the tour. They offer a discount if you eat in a recommended restaurant, but I declined so can’t say whether that’s any good or not. When we did the tour, we ate at one of the cafés on the front in Porto Moniz. You’re a bit of a captive audience so not much choice but I think they’re all alright. Stroll along the front and pick whichever has the best view.

Straight after your tour ends, head for a drink at at Mercearia Dona Mécia. This is my favourite bar in Madeira. It’s tucked away in a pretty little courtyard off a side road in the nicest area of Funchal. It has poncha and bottled craft beers, but we normally have a small generic cerveja (beer) and they always bring over some crisps or olives or something too. You’ll be arriving at the best time of day (early evening). This is when you can usually get a good table and sit outside for a bit of a people watch. Lots of well-dressed locals start finishing work and heading home through the courtyard. Perfect.

Round off the night with a top-notch thin and crispy pizza at the unassuming Pizzaria Pico da Atalaia 2. This is either empty or full to the rafters with locals. The food is cheap but really good.

You can then have a final cocktail or poncha at the bar opposite it – Revolucion. This is my go-to stop for a drink before we get the bus ‘home’ (our bus stop for getting to our usual B&B is just round the corner). Given the way the bus drivers drive in Madeira, you really are better off with a drink inside you before getting on.

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 4: Day trip to Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns)

See and do

My favourite trip from Funchal has got to be the journey up to Curral das Freiras: the Valley of the Nuns. Have you ever wanted to see your life flash before your eyes as you career along a precipice in a speeding bus? No? Well, here’s a chance to anyway.

Luckily, the views and village at the end of the trip are worth it. You’ll understand why the nuns made it their valley. You can read my entire post on the Valley of the Nuns here, so I won’t go into much detail here. Curral das Freiras can take up at least half a day, and I’d recommend going late morning and returning late afternoon so you can have lunch there. There’s plenty of things to do in Funchal when you get back after, if you have time before your evening meal and have suitably recovered from the bus journey.

Eat and drink

Curral das Freiras is famous for its chestnuts served with a sweet syrupy sauce but I have to warn you, that’s an acquired taste. I prefer chestnuts in an actual meal rather than on their own. The best place I’ve found to eat in the Valley of the Nuns is Sabores do Curral. Good for a lunch with a seriously incredible view from their rooftop terrace. It does things other than sweet chestnuts though, don’t worry. Oh and remember you need your daily pastel de nata fix. They serve them, and so does the other café on the same side of the road in CdF so you have a choice of two good’uns.

When you’re back in Funchal later, have a seafood extravaganza at O Tasco. We’ve eaten at O Tasco a few times now and it’s been consistently nice. It’s not really the kind of place I’d normally pick out but it’s so good. As well as all the seafood fun, they also do brilliant sweet potato with honey on. You may have to book because it gets very busy, especially at weekends.

O Tasco is handily located next to one of my favourite bars for a pre-eating drink, Barreirinha Bar Café, where you can sit outside overlooking the sea with a beer/cocktail/poncha before you walk up for your meal… And then return for another three after the meal. I recently had someone contact me on Twitter who’d been to Barreirinha Bar Café based on my recommendation (and the fact I’d mentioned they play good music like War on Drugs) and he loved it. I was so chuffed with that.

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 5: Camara dos Lobos, afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace, and shopping

See and do

You may not be up early if you followed my advice on Barreirinha Bar Café…

Spend a couple of hours at Camara dos Lobos, a fishing village that is the easiest place to get to outside of Funchal on the bus. It’s just 20 minutes on any Rodeste bus heading west from Funchal. You’ll have briefly visited the village during the West Tour if you did that, but it’s a nice one to go back to for a lazy morning – full of colourful boats and a picturesque harbour. Winston Churchill apparently did some painting there and there’s a church dedicated to St Anthony, where people used to go and pray that the fishermen would come home safe. It’s still a fishing village, so they might still do that, but it’s also full of bars and cafés so there are probably some prayers for good TripAdvisor reviews too these days.

Unless you’re a terribly early riser and got there are stupid o’clock, there’s enough to keep you entertained until it’s time to head to Reid’s Palace for afternoon tea (see eat and drink below).

After that, you’ll probably be unable to move for a few hours, taking you into early evening. It’s a perfect chance to wander round the shops in Funchal. Don’t waste time in shops you can get at home, of course (although there’s the usual Zara, H&M etc if you need emergency t-shirts or anything). My favourite shop is Dona Hortensia, a treasure trove of affordable, unusual jewellery and accessories that no one else will have. I even wore earrings from there for our wedding. There’s also an excellent craft beer shop called Vilhoa, which supplies bars around Funchal and is helping to make craft beer to become a ‘thing’ there. If you’re planning a picnic or have room in your suitcase for beer, enjoy.

Eat and drink

It’s no secret that I enjoy afternoon tea. In fact, I have consumed so many tiny cakes and finger sandwiches over the years that I’d like to think I’m a connoisseur. Madeira’s Reid’s Palace does the best afternoon tea ever, in my expert opinion.

Reid’s is a big (pink!) posh old hotel and the afternoon tea is served on a balcony overlooking the sea and the city. It’s not that cheap at 30€ish a head and the first time we went, we were ready to be disappointed by what we got for the price. But actually, I think it works out pretty good value. I’ve paid £20-odd for posh afternoon teas at home in the UK and been disappointed. At Reid’s, it’s all top quality. Tea is unlimited and you can have seconds of both the sandwiches and the scones. Someone needs to push them to their limits and try to eat 3 scones. Please contact me if you manage this. I’ll fashion you a homemade medal.

You probably won’t want a massive evening meal after your afternoon tea. Have a craft beer or two at FugaCidade to work up a bit of an appetite again. I’d then recommend finding a ‘snack bar’ and sharing something simple – this one is my favourite snack bar. If you’re wondering what a snack bar actually is, they’re a bit of a Madeiran institution. They’re little bars full of locals meeting up over a beer/poncha, eating cheap but tasty homemade food, with newspapers on the tables and the doors open so you can gawp at passers-by. Great vibes and never full of tourists. I love them!

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 6: Day trip to Porto da Cruz

See and do

Porto da Cruz is my favourite village in Madeira. So you must go there for a day trip at some point. Buses you can get there vary, so check the SAM bus website before you go. Although the main appeal of Porto da Cruz is relaxing with a lovely view of the sea, it’s quite entertaining as a place too. There’s a surf school, which is pretty good to watch as people learn to surf/spend a lot of time falling off. Equally entertaining is if it’s a windy day and the waves are really crashing and making it harder for them.

There’s a hill jutting out to sea that you can walk around, and in windy weather the waves can come up and crash right over the path. If you’re lucky, you might see someone getting an unexpected soaking. If you’re less lucky, it might be you.

There’s also the Sugar Cane Rum Museum to visit, which is pretty interesting. But the main thing is the village of Porto da Cruz itself, which is lovely and you can sit and watch the sea with a beer and some lunch.

Oh and there’s a very ‘unique’ art sculpture on the sea front of a gigantic vagina. No idea why. So er, don’t miss that. You can read my full post on Porto da Cruz here for more info on the village and getting there/back etc.

Eat and drink

For lunch while you’re in Porto da Cruz, I recommend Restaurante Praça do Engenho. We’ve eaten here twice on both of our recent visits. We do our usual salad each with a portion of chips to share (if you’ve been to Madeira, you’ll know that you end up taking any opportunity to avoid bread). It’s nice grub and you get a great view of the sea and the mountains. 

In the evening, you might not want a massive meal after a fairly big lunch in Porto da Cruz. I eat vegan food most of the time at home, and finally I’ve found somewhere good for vegan stuff in Funchal: Coraco Vegano. You can get different themed ‘plates’ for around €14. I’d recommend the one featuring crispy seitan, Japanese-style veggies and rice. After a week of gorging on unhealthy Madeiran treats (and SO much bread), your body will be grateful for having something green in it.

You can then cancel out all the goodness of vegetables by heading to Madeira Rum House to drink your own bodyweight in poncha and/or rum. It’s almost like a mini rum museum inside. I’m much more of a gin lover, but it would be rude not to at least sample some…

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day 7: Standard last day activities

See and do

Depending what time your flight home is, the last day of any holiday is usually a wrap up of things you’ve not got round to doing – or it tends to be for me anyway. Heading back to shops you’ve seen to pick up things you were um-ing and ah-ing over buying, going back to a favourite bar for one last drink, taking photographs of the sea, buying fridge magnets etc. Lovely stuff.

If you’re not cramming things in already, the last day is a good time to go for a walk around Funchal and spot the best street art. There’s a massive piece of art at Funchal port, next to the police station, that I like. Here’s the Google Maps link. Obviously, the aforementioned Painted Doors Project counts as street art too, but there are plenty of other individual pieces to spot around the city.

You should also visit my favourite photo spot in the whole island: the square with the pink church (pictured below). You can find it where the old town meets the main road along the seafront, where all the buses go from, if you’ve not already wandered through it at some point during your week.

Once you’re at Madeira airport, give yourself a bit of extra time to check out its Parfois shop, which is a Portuguese chain that I love for bags and accessories. If you’ve not been to Madeira for a while, you’ll find that the airport has improved a lot and now has a bit more choice in places to eat, so it’s not such a painful experience as it once was. I’m always sad to leave but at least I’m no longer sad sat on the floor in an absolute hell hole with nowhere to get a cup of tea.

Eat and drink

What you eat on your last day really depends on your flight time, but I’ll give you a few ideas.

There’s Hamburgueria do Mercado, which does surprisingly good burgers and excellent veggie/vegan ones with brilliant chips for about €10 a head. This would do as a big lunch or an evening meal.

If you want something more traditionally lunch-sized, I’d recommend Opan Bakery. Now, this isn’t some cute and cosy hidden gem bakery, it’s a small chain and very modern. But everything I’ve ever had from Opan has been spot on and insanely cheap. There’s a branch on the seafront, which is perfect to pick up some delicious savoury breaded fish things and a selection of pastries to eat as you wander down the harbour. I can 100% recommend their salami cake, which isn’t some kind of terrifying concoction made from salami the meat. It’s a layered chocolate thing, all deliciously cold and creamy inside. There’s also some kind of custard-based sandwich that I’m always tempted by but it’s huge so haven’t quite worked up to it yet. That’s a personal goal for my next trip.

Another excellent bakery/patisserie is A Confeitaria. There are quite a few branches, but the one like is on R. dos Aranhas, which is near my aforementioned favourite shop.

One week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary | PACK THE SUITCASES

One week in Madeira – useful information for your trip

How to get there (and away)

We fly from Manchester, which takes about 4 hours non-stop. Then, getting into Funchal city centre from the airport is easiest by taxi. They’re yellow so hard to miss. Thus far, we’ve never been ripped off by a taxi driver in Funchal – unlike in many cities round Europe. It should cost about 25 euro from the airport to Funchal. If you stay at the place we always stay at (see below), they’ll sort you out with a pre-booked one and he’ll be waiting to greet you off the flight. Flights can often be delayed due to winds because the airport is basically in the sea. And sometimes they have to land on neighbouring Porto Santo island. So brace yourself for a bit of a wait if it’s blowing a gale.

Where to stay

There are SO many places to stay in and around Funchal, but I really recommend Quinta Sao Goncalo. It’s a pink and beautiful mansion, located in a residential area to the east of the old town, and is an absolute bargain (about £75 a night). You can read more about it in my Funchal city guide, but even if it doesn’t take your fancy I’d recommend staying in Funchal itself rather than in the hotel zone (see point #34 on my list of things to do in Funchal).

How to get around

Most places in Funchal are walkable but to get further afield, the buses are great and really cheap. You can get a re-chargeable bus card from a GIRO machine. The easiest one to find is just by the cable car station. All the bus info is here. People do hire cars, but it isn’t a necessity at all. We don’t drive and it’s no problem.

When to go

We always go in January and February. It tends to be warm, even if you don’t get full-on sunshine every day. When the sun does come out, it’s proper sun so your Vitamin D levels will thank you. We’ve never been at any other time of year but I have heard spring is great. I don’t think the height of summer even would be a problem because a) they don’t seem to get unbearable heat and b) it’s not a child-centred city (probably the main reason why I love it, being allergic to children) so you won’t be surrounded by summer holiday families. New Year is also a good time to go because they go ALL OUT for it with fireworks.

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22 Comments

  1. I love this post! Madeira or the Azores don’t get nearly enough tourist love as mainland Portugal, although arguably the islands are more beautiful in terms of nature. Thanks for your reco’s!

    1. Thanks Dina! The Azores is on my list too, never been as I always end up choosing to return to Madeira haha. But yes, they’re both a bit overlooked and unfortunately Madeira has a bad reputation here in the UK as only being for old people.

  2. Hi Caroline – One of the ‘old people’ here :-). Great ‘expanded’ guide to Maderia – we went to the island for the first time last year and used one of your earlier blogs to sniff out the better eating/drinking places in Funchal (quickly becoming early evening regulars at Mercearia Dona Mecia!). BTW, under the ‘Where to Stay’ section you could also add Hotel Castanheiro as an option – it’s a boutiquey place in the centre of Funchal (away from the hotel zone) which has nice rooms, great rooftop pool and a cozy inner courtyard, where guests sit in the early morning sun for breakfast. Can’t wait to go back!
    PS. Is a visit to Vienna on the cards, soon?

    1. Hi there David! Nice to hear from you and glad you like the week-long guide! Thanks for the hotel recommendation. That looks like a really good one.

      We went to Vienna in 2012 (pre-blogging days!) but would like to go back one day. Perhaps combined with Bratislava…

  3. Hi Caroline,
    Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your Bloggs. I’ve been going to Madeira now for over forty years and you still manage to find new places and restaurants for us to try. What a wonderful shop Hortensia is, very reasonably priced and such beautiful clothes and jewellery. My next visit is in three weeks’ time and I look forward to trying your new recommendations. Many thanks.
    Carol

    1. Hi Carol, thanks for the lovely comment and glad it helped you out with your visits. D Hortensia is SO good, I am actually wearing a necklace from there as I type this. Hope you get some nice things on your next trip in 3 weeks. Enjoy! C

  4. Love it! Really enjoyed reading it 🙂 it is much different from my trips to Madeira but that is what I love about Madeira – everyone can find something for themselves:) me and my husband we also never travel all inclusive and we try to experience new places like locals do. We have few favorites on Madeira and if I can advise you a great place to eat fresh fish or meat and have some cocktail it’s a nice reggae bar in Paul do Mar Maktub 🙂

    1. Hi Sofia, lovely to hear from you. Hope Madeira to Mars is going well! I will for sure get in touch when we next plan on coming. Will probably be next year now as we like to go Jan/Feb. All the best 🙂

  5. Hi Caroline,

    Really excellent tips about Madeira island. We went there with our 14 year old son in the third week of February and had an amazing time. We visited most of the places that you mentioned in your blog and a few more. The West Island tour via Madeira Happy Tours was excellent, the guide was professional and provided lots of information about the island and it’s flora and fauna. Unfortunately the East Island tour with the same company was a complete letdown as the guide seemed completely uninterested !

    The people on the island are very friendly and the food is amazing.

    I really recommend anyone planning to visit Madeira to read this blog thoroughly as it goes into great detail about places to visit and means of transport, a lot of hard work and effort has been put into it.

    I’ll read up on the other European cities that you have mentioned on the blog and decide on our next trip 🙂

    Thanks a lot.

  6. My husband and I are currently in Madeira for our last pre-baby holiday and are busy enjoying many of your recommendations – thank you! We have the trip round the west of the island and afternoon tea at Reid’s to come. Thank you for the informative, enjoyable blog.
    Philippa

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