The Perfect 5 Days in Madeira, Portugal Itinerary

A woman holding a glass of poncha in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

My recent trip to the Portuguese Island of Madeira was… magical. Madeira exceeded my expectations at every turn. There are endless sights and experiences here. But how do you choose the top highlights? After traveling all around the island for weeks, I’ve put the very best attractions in this Madeira 5-day itinerary for you! Including hidden gems, the best launching pads, logistics, and tours to book.

You can use this guide ‘as is’ to plan 5 days in Madeira or I’ve also added optional alternatives at the end. Let’s get planning!

I. Tips for Your Madeira Itinerary 

Creating a Madeira 5 day itinerary is much less stressful when you know what to expect from your destination. To help, I made a whole guide on things to know before traveling to Madeira with tips on preparing. Here are a few important ones to remember: 

  • Flights Landing: A direct flight from NYC to Madeira is about 5-ish hours. But the unique crosswinds on the island make Madeira one of the most challenging airports to land and often require multiple attempts. Canceled flights or detours to the nearby island of Porto Santo are not uncommon.
  • Getting Around: I don’t recommend renting a car in Madeira due to the dangerously steep roads unless you absolutely have to. Hiring a private driver or booking a guided tour is worth staying safe. 
  • Hiking: Access to multiple terrains makes hiking one of the best things to do in Madeira. You can add hiking the mountains, coastline beach, and a lush green levada in one Madeira travel itinerary!
  • Seasonal: Madeira’s dry season (April to September) is the best time for hiking and outdoor activities. However, if you’re visiting for the waterfalls, winter is the rainy season with the lowest temperatures. 
  • Beach Life: The fine sand beaches of Porto Santo and the black volcanic beaches of Seixal are the only non-man-made beaches in Madeira. Otherwise, the rest are filled with pebbly sand and are not worth spending time at.

II. Overview: 5 Days in Madeira Itinerary

In this blog post, you’ll have an overview of what to do each day, which tours to book, what hotels I stayed in, and some tips. Here is a summary of how you can make your Madeira trip worthwhile!

  • Day One: Experience Madeira’s amazing levada hikes and walks through clouds and waterfalls.
  • Day Two: Hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo to Achada do Teixeria trail (the best and easiest one-way trail to see it all).
  • Day Three: Visit Madeira’s Northwestern gems, including Seixal’s black sand beach, Porto Moniz natural swimming pool, Cabo Girao viewpoint, Fanal Forest, and Ribeira Brava.
  • Day Four: See Madeira’s small towns and farms. Visit, Faja dos Padres organic farm and beach, ride the cable car and explore the fishing town of Camara de Lobos.
  • Day Five: Spend all day at Funchal. Take a trip downtown, experience its speciality food and wines, then head to Doca do Cavacas natural pools for a refreshing afternoon.

If you have more time, you can extend your visit up to a week and add these activities to your itinerary!

  • Day Six: Take a ferry for a day trip to the island of Porto Santo and swim in its beautiful beaches.
  • Day Seven: Hike the trail along Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco for captivating ocean views.

III. 5 Days in Madeira Itinerary

Levada jungle hikes are a MUST add to your Madeira Portugal itinerary. Levadas are iconic water channels created on the island as irrigation systems to sustain life throughout the villages, primarily built by enslaved Africans. Today, levadas are manually maintained by local guardians because they are accessible only by foot. This also now serves as lush hiking trails and jungle walking pathways.

NOTE: Some levada walks, such as this amazing 25 Fontes tour that you can book, takes all day to navigate. But if you only want to do a shorter levada experience, consider this half-day levada walking tour. A shorter walk, might be perfect if you want to fit more into your Madeira 5 day itinerary. 

TOURS for Levada Hikes and Walks

  • 25 Fontes Levada Walk (PR 6) (8 hours): The most popular levada walk in Madeira with a wall of 25 streams that fall over fauna-covered rock. You can book this full-day tour that is paired with Cabo Girao. 
  • Levada do Moinho Hike (PR 7) (3.5 hours): Walks past the Achados, Levada Grande, and Cancelas water mill ruins—direct contact with Laurissilva.  
  • Levada Caldeirao Verde in Queimadas Forest Park (PR 9) (6.5 hours): A long, flat walk passing through the Levada do Caldeirao Verde terrace and four rock tunnels.
  • Rabacal Levadas (8 hours): You can book this popular levada tour for this. You’ll walk past a beautiful waterfall descending from the Paul de Serra plateau. 

Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo

This is one of the most famous hikes on the island and is often included in vacation packages to Madeira, Portugal.

The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo navigates narrow paths, steep staircases, and dark tunnels to reach the highest peak in Madeira– the Pico Ruivo summit. It takes about 3-4 hours to complete, and while it does have handrails and supports, it’s considered quite challenging.

Driving is the best way to get to the trailhead (only 30 minutes from Fuchal) by either transfer or taxi. Honestly, I found the summit of Pico Ruivo to be overhyped and cloudy; the best views of this area were along the Pico do Arieiro route, especially in the beginning.

Pico do Arieiro –> Pico Ruivo –> Achada do Teixeria Hiking Trail

As an alternative to the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hike, you can make this destination an all-day excursion by opting for the Achada do Teixeria Hiking Trail. This hike would take about 7.5 hours but is a less steep descent and an easy-to-manage path for beginners.

The downfall of this hike is there is no direct access from Funchal, and it takes about an hour to get back to the city.

However, if you want an even easier hike or a shorter route to hit Pico Ruivo, you could also take the Achada do Teixeira trail to the Pico Ruivo summit, skipping Pico do Arieiro and completing the hike in about 2 hours. 

DAY 3: Northwestern Madeira + Fanal Forest

Western Madeira Full Day Tour (from Funchal) 

Western Madeira is the sunniest part of the island and worth dedicating an entire day of your Madeira travel itinerary to explore.

The best way to hit all the popular attractions on Madeira’s west coast is by booking this full-day tour, combining Seixal Beach, Porto Moniz natural pools, Ribeira Brava, Cabo Girao, and Veu da Noiva waterfall (8 hours total). You don’t have to stress about driving around to the next spot– your guide will pick you right up from Funchal!

Not crazy about full days of touring? Cut back by visiting Seixal Beach and Porto Moniz, two of the best sites in the west (in my opinion) and the least touristy. 

  • Seixal’s ‘Black Sand’ Beach (2 hours): One of the only natural sand beaches on Madeira, tinted black by volcanic ash. It’s stunning and extremely soft to walk on, surrounded by turquoise water and close to natural volcanic swimming pools. You can join a tour like this one, that includes Porto Moniz, Camara de Lobos, Sao Vicente, and more. Alternatively, book this 4×4 tour, which includes Porto Moniz, the Fanal Forest, and Paul da Serra. 
  • Porto Moniz (2-3 hours): There is a small town and natural swimming pools here, so you could spend a few hours or chalk this up as a day trip paired with Seixal Beach (just over 15 minutes apart). Stay clear of the private pools; they have long lines during peak season. You can find public natural pools just a 5-minute walk away that are even more beautiful. 

Fanal Forest (2-3 hours)

The Laurel Forest of Fanal is a majestic protected forest home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an ancient picture of what the island of Madeira used to look like, covered in laurel forests.

Some of the best Madeira hidden gems of Madeira–like the 25 Fontes, Sao Vicente, and Paul da Serra–are tucked away within the Fanal Forest. You can take your time and go at your own pace by joining a private tour, or if you want to stick to a strict schedule to explore Madeira in 5 days, try this guided Fanal Forest tour

Faja dos Padres Organic Farm + Beach (2-3 hours)

There are cottages here or villas you can rent if you want to spend the night and catch a sunset over the island, or you can just set aside a few hours to browse the organic farm and beach. Faja Dos Padres grows a variety of organic produce, from mangos to avocados to bananas, all of which are available to try at the onsite restaurant.

The beach has easy access to the sea, but it’s rocky. It’s better to book this our of the Faja area (2 hours), which also includes a cable car ride and guided history of the area. 

Or, to visit another farm, consider this tour to learn about vegetable and fruit farms and a famous cheese factory!

Cable Car (1-2 hours)

Hover over Funchal in a cable car for a stunning view of Madeira’s architecture and green spaces. You’ll ride the cars over the city, then the jungle, and up the slopes to the parish of Monte and back. The ride is only 15-25 minutes one way, but you definitely want to explore the parish, so set aside some additional time.

Monte is home to the Botanical Gardens and the Monte Palace Museum. You can join this private tour, which includes the cable car ride and admission to attractions. 

Camara de Lobos Fishing Town (2-3 hours) 

Camara de Lobos is a super cute fishing town just 15 minutes from Funchal, where you can explore the culture of Madeira along cobble-stone streets packed with activities.

You can easily spend 2+ hours here, stopping for a bite to eat or exploring the shops while watching the fishing boats prepare for their journey to sea.

You can try this paddle boating tour and book this kayaking tour to explore by water, or you can take a tuk-tuk driving tour to learn about the village’s role in the growth of the island. 

Explore Funchal Downtown (3 hours) 

Funchal is the capital and epicenter of Madeira, with an old-world charm and traditional streets that are very walkable, perfect to explore at your own pace!

It’s believed to be the first settlement in Madeira (so much history here!) and has a thriving art community that’s turned the streets into one extensive art exhibit. Downtown Funchal also has a lively nightlife, with tons of venues and bars that come alive in the dark, most serving the traditional sugar cane brandy drink of Madeira: poncha!

Most of the 5-star hotels in Madeira are located in Funchal, so you can always hit local spots before or after your other attractions on the island. 

Go on a Food Tour 

Funchal has some of the best restaurants in Madeira, showing off the archipelago’s unique gastronomy as a Portuguese island on the African Tectonic Plate.

Food tours like the ones below take you on a stroll through the city to taste traditional Madeira cuisine, drinks, and sweets while learning about the city’s history from your guide.

Plus, if you travel solo like I did, you get to meet some fantastic new people and circle back to any spots you missed on the tour later. 

  • Food & Culture Walking Tour (4 hours): I recommend this tour, which hits up to 7 spots per trip (every tour is unique), and there are many cultural elements to enjoy. 
  • Local’s Home for Wine & Food Experience (3 hours): In an intimate group, booking this tour allows you to experience amazing food and taste 6 varieties of the island’s traditional wines. 

Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools (Funchal) 

If you’re by Cabo Girão but want to avoid the tourist traffic, these natural pools have direct access to the sea from Lido and Formosa Beach. You can navigate the pools through a network of stairs and bridges, with platforms to sun and relax between swims. Doca do Cavacas is super accessible from Funchal and often combined with tours of the area with an added cable car ride. 

IV. Bonus: 7 Days in Madeira Itinerary 

Want to add a long weekend to your Madeira 5 day itinerary? I included two more days to help you pack in even more places to visit in Madeira!

Porto Santo is an entirely separate island northeast of Madeira that makes for a beautiful day trip, only a ferry ride away. It’s nicknamed “The Golden Island” for its 9km of silky sand beaches, which locals say have healing powers!

Joining a full-day tour like this cruise will pack your itinerary with a minibus tour, diving, fishing, boat rides, kite surfing, and so much more. You can also explore independently, riding the Porto Santo Line over from the main island. 

If you’re an avid hiker, they say you should do at least one of each type: mountain, jungle, and beach. The trail along Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco offers some of the most beautiful ocean views on the island.

TOURS: This is a full-day activity, so depending on how many days in Madeira you plan to spend, you may have to bump some attractions, but it’s worth it. You can book this tour for an enjoyable, guided experience. Or, by joining this guided tour, you’ll get a first-hand history of this protected nature reserve, with options to swim.

V. Best Restaurants in Madeira 

  • TERRA ★: Vegan-friendly and multi-cultural dishes using fresh, seasonal ingredients from the island and offering outdoor seating. Reservations required!
  • Olivia ★: Over 47 different Mediterranean-style meals on the menu, outdoor dining, and a lively environment (can be loud). Affordable for Old Town Funchal. 
  • Kampo: A favorite in Funchal among locals,  with elegant, modern dishes prepared by Chef Julio Pereira.
  • Cafe Museum: Iconic restaurant in Madeira with simple traditional dishes in a shared space with the Museum of Sacred Art in Funchal–very eclectic and unique. 
  • Razao Restaurant at Socalo: About 30 minutes outside Funchal, Razao has no set menu! They only serve what is fresh that day at the market, garden, and fishery.

VI. Best Accommodation in Madeira

  • Apartamento Ferrieros (Funchal): One of many beautiful apartments to rent in Funchal near the beach and city center, and close to the Funchal Farmers market, Botanical Garden, and other Madeira activities. 
  • Barcelo Funchal Oldtown (Funchal): Luxury hotel near the Marina with an amazing pool that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, close to Town Square and the city’s farmers market. 

VII. FAQ Madeira Travel

  1. How many days in Madeira? Because the island is so small, you could possible condense all of this into 3 full jam-packed days if you woke up at the crack of dawn to do it all. However, I recommend spreading the time out to at least 5 days because there are so many gems between your bucket list items to stumble upon. And to really see it all? At least one week in Madeira!
  2. Should I rent a car in Madeira? Absolutely not. It’s awful. Terrifying. And dangerous. The steep hills have people’s cars rolling and skidding back. So if you’re not a seasoned driver and don’t have a car with strong engine, you could crash back into someone. Also, some of these roads are extremely narrow.
  3. What are the Madeira entry requirements? Same as the rest of Europe. Even though this island is part of Africa, it’s politically European Union as it pertains to (and is) Portugal.
  4. Do you recommend a Madeira tour package? I recommend this multi-day Madeira tour, which will take you to 16 stops, including Cabo Girao, and Pico do Arieiro.
  5. Is Madeira worth visiting? Absolutely. I’ve been to hundreds of destinations around the world, and Madeira is one of my favorite places to visit for outdoors, culture, food and good vibes!

VIII. My Other Portugal Blog Posts

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