Madeira is a tiny island, approximately 35 miles at the longest point and a maximum width of 14 miles, and the entire island can be driven in less than 4 hours without stopping. One of the most epic things to do here is take a round trip around Madeira Island and see its stunning beauty. You can make a day out of it by stopping at different viewpoints and doing short hikes. It is one of the best ways to see the island and you will need a car to do this.
Starting from Funchal, you can drive in either direction around the island. This itinerary is in a clockwise direction, heading west from Funchal. It can be done in one day or multiple days. you will see waterfalls, mountain peaks, cliffs, and rock formations and experience different weather patterns.
On this drive, you will see impressive waterfalls, mountain peaks, cliffs, and rock formations and experience different weather patterns.
WARNING: Driving in Madeira can be nerve-wracking. Majority of the roads are paved, but not all of them are wide enough for two-way traffic, and inclines and switchbacks can be very steep. Oh, and a lot of tunnels! Which I learned to appreciate since I cannot see the road drop-offs when in the tunnel 😊
Places to See on the Epic Road Trip Around Madeira Island
Miradouro do Cabo Girão
Miradouro do Cabo Girão is the highest skywalk in Europe, on the cliffs of Cabo Girão at 580 meters (1900 ft.). This famous attraction is right outside of Funchal. From here you have great views of the Madeira coastline, Funchal, and the town of Câmara de Lobos. Walking out on the Skywalk can be a little eerie but it is perfectly safe.
Pont de Sol
The first stop outside of Pond de Sol is a natural open arch. Past the city center on road ER101. You will drive through an old tunnel and come across an old stone bridge off the main road, now a walking bridge that leads to an open arch. It is a great location to watch the sunset from.
Cascata dos Anjos
Cascata dos Anjos is the famous spot where waterfalls cascade onto the road ER101 which people drive on to pass through town. Many people find this attraction remarkable to us it seemed more of a hazard with people not paying any attention to the passing cars just to get a photo.
Paul do Mar
Paul do Mar is a quiet and secluded fishing village that attracts surfers from all over the world. The drive into the village down a steep road full of switchbacks can be nerve-wracking. The restaurants here serve some of the freshest seafood – an octopus salad at Restaurante Sol e Mar is to die for.
Walking through the village or by the water are great things to do here, unless you are here for surfing.
Mirador do Fio
Mirador do Fio is located on the western tip of the island. It offers a viewpoint of the cliffs on the southwestern part of the island. There is a nice tea house next to the viewpoint if you would like to pop in for some tea and dessert.
Porto Moniz is known for its natural pools – lava pools – that are popular with tourists and locals alike. It can get very crowded. Don’t be fooled by the name, the lava pools are not heated. The ocean water flows into the pool created by the lava.
A couple of miles down the road is a viewpoint of a unique rock formation in the water.
Miradouro do Véu da Noiva
This is a viewpoint of the famous waterfall cascading into the ocean. Driving from this viewpoint to São Vicente you will continue to see waterfalls coming down every few hundred feet. It is an amazing drive, just when you think you’ve seen the coolest waterfall next one takes your breath away.
One of the main attractions in the small town São Vicente is to visit caves on a guided tour. However, due to COVID-19, they are indefinitely closed. Instead, you can stop at Porto de Abrigo, an old traditional winehouse turned into a bar for some ponchas (traditional Madeiran cocktail) or Madeira wine.
Between São Vicente and Santana, there are many amazing viewpoints: Miradouro das Quebradas, de São Cristovão, da Santinha, da Beira da Quinta, and many more you can pick from. In Santana, the site of the traditional tiny houses is what brings a lot of tourists in. These tiny little houses are turned into gift shops and tourist attractions now but used to be the way of life on the island and date back to the discovery of Madeira.
Porto da Cruz
Porto da Cruz is a popular town with surfers and hikers. East of the town is Penha d’Águia (Eagle’s Rock) one of the country’s geological symbols and a great hiking trail. The town is home to a sugar cane factory and the North Mill Distillery
A Pipa is a great place to stop for some food. You can skip stopping at Porto da Cruz if you are planning to do the Verado do Larano hike as that is where the hike either starts or stops.
Ponta de São Lourenço
Ponta de São Lourenço may be the most recognizable part of Madiera, as the ‘dragon tail’ is often a symbol of the island. It is a beautiful place to stop at and even do a short hike to the Pico do Furando. It is a 5-mile out-and-back hike, and the views are stunning the entire hike.
TIP: If you climb all the way to Pico do Furando you will be able to see Pico do Arieiro.
The views of the “dragon tail” are still good from the parking lot if hiking is not an option for you.
This concludes the road trip and you can head back to Funchal. If you want to split this into a two-day adventure, go to São Vicente from Funchal and cross the island back to Funchal using road VE4. The next day, head in the opposite direction back to São Vicente. You will not regret spending more time on the north side of the island. It is the quieter side of the island and more local than touristy.
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