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The capital of the sub-tropical Portuguese island of Madeira, Funchal, is a town replete with local colour, great views and temptingly luxurious beachside resorts. Style and substance come together here, offering a quieter, more relaxed holiday experience than many other sun, sea and sand islands. Madeira’s glorious interior and dramatic coastlines are perfect for exploring with a hired car, and Funchal’s lush parks, flower-decked gardens and pretty beaches add to its natural beauty.
Who to Book With
Car hire at the airport or downtown is available through Avis, Hertz, Europcar and Sixt as well as through several local car rental companies including Rodavante and Guerin. Pick-up points are found in Funchal town as well as on the airport complex. As the island is hugely popular with tourists year-round, advance booking online is highly recommended.
Best Time to Go
Due to its year-round warm weather influenced by the nearby Gulf Stream, any time is a good time for a visit to Funchal. The most popular period is high summer, and those preferring fewer crowds may like to consider a late spring holiday, when the mountains and foothills are covered in wildflowers and the sea is warm enough for a swim.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents must be presented at the car hire pick-up point:
- A valid UK or EU photo driving license or an International Driving Permit
- An alternative photo ID such as your passport
- The credit card used for the online booking
- A printed rental confirmation and receipt if possible
Narrow, steep, mountainous roads, hairpin bends and reckless drivers may sound like motoring hell but, in reality, driving around the countryside outside Funchal is hardly a challenge for experienced drivers. Taking care is all that’s needed to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Even driving in the capital is a pleasure, with none of the traffic snarl-ups which come as standard in many other holiday island destinations. Portugal drives on the right, and parking in urban areas isn’t normally a problem as most locals use buses to get around. Seat belts for all are compulsory, warning triangles should be carried and the drink-driving limit is very low, with high fines always enforced.
Although there are no trains on the island, ground transportation by taxi or bus is comparatively inexpensive compared with other Mediterranean hotspots. Getting in is straightforward via the capital’s airport with its flights from European air hubs including London. If there’s no hurry, bus journeys are a good way to interact with local people.
There are no trains on Madeira.
The Horarios do Funchal bus company serves Funchal and its surroundings with a network including remoter villages, although these may only have two buses per day. The service is frequent in town, and bus tickets cost between €1 and €3, dependent on distance, making bus travel the most economical, albeit the slowest by far.
Taxi services in Funchal are reliable and comparatively economical, with many bilingual drivers doubling as local guides and offering longer trips around the island. Taxis can be hired on the street, at cab stands, booked in advance or hired by phone. Funchal town fares are fixed by the government, while rural journeys are based on distance. Daniel Madeira Taxis’s website quotes prices for around town and airport trips.
Madeira’s unique, dramatic topography means that scenic drives come as standard wherever you’re heading out of Funchal. From the coast road running around the entire island to the steep, twisting mountain roads, the views across the island and the Atlantic Ocean are superb, and stopping off at tiny, traditional villages for lunch is a rewarding gastronomic experience.
Madeira’s Coast Road - The ER101, is famous for magnificent vistas as its route curves along dramatic clifftops backed by soaring, forested peaks and through tunnels under the mountainsides. Green valleys and farming villages are dotted around the unspoiled natural beauty of the countryside.
Central Road - Another great drive is the Central Road which runs from Achada da Cruz in the western region of the island across the mountain massif and the high plateau of Paul da Serra and on to Encumeada. The scenery is breathtaking, with deep, misty valleys and jagged peaks, and truly remote with very few habitations.
Funchal Ecological Park - For spectacular views down towards Funchal, the road direct from town to Madeira’s Funchal Ecological Park won’t disappoint. Once you’re there, its highlights are its numerous sparkling springs and waterfalls and its diverse flora, fauna and bird life.