How to Spend Three Days in Madeira, Portugal: An Efficient, Fun-Filled Itinerary!

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The following three days in Madeira itinerary is brought to you by Sydney from Alone and Abroad, an American living abroad! Read on for some of her top tips for making the most of three days in Madeira.

Madeira is a small Portuguese island that is often called “the Hawaii of Europe” for its tropical climate, hikes, and volcanic pools. Between the relaxing beaches, vibrant culture, and breathtaking views, there’s never a dull moment on a vacation here.

There are so many things to do in Madeira in three days that it’s going to be difficult to fit them all into this itinerary, but I’m going to do my best! 

This article is full of everything I did during my last trip to this beautiful island, and a few things I wish I had time to do (I swear, I’ll finish all the hikes on this list eventually!). 

Buckle up, because we’re going on a jam-packed tour of Madeira in three days!

Save this Madeira in Three Days Itinerary for Later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

How to Get Around Madeira

The “best way” to see Madeira depends entirely on what you want out of the trip.

If you’re coming to Madeira with the hopes of hiking and seeing some of the small towns, then renting a car is the easiest way to go. 

But if you’re only in Madeira for a few days or plan on staying close to Funchal the whole time, then you’re likely better off using public transit and Uber.

Colorful boats in a harbour
Photo by Piotr Musioł on Unsplash

Where to Stay for your Three Days in Madeira

I highly recommend staying in the capital city of Funchal while you complete this Madeira itinerary. Some of the best hotels in Funchal are:

  • Quinta da Casa Branca: This luxury villa is about 10 minutes away from the center of Funchal. It’s owned by one of the oldest winery owners on the island and has two swimming pools, lush gardens, and a private balcony for each suite.
  • Pestana CR7: The Cristiano Ronaldo museum doubles as an ultra-modern hotel. They have a pastel pink rooftop pool, a rooftop bar, and even an open-air gym where you can take part in training sessions designed by Cristiano Ronaldo himself.  
  • Hotel Do Carmo: This hotel may actually be a paradise within the city center. There’s an outdoor cafe, a 60’s inspired bar, and a rooftop pool with fantastic views of Funchal.
Sharp rocks next to blue ocean waves

Food & Drinks to Try in Madeira

  • Bolo do Caco – If you combined cake, flatbread, and garlic bread, you’d get bolo do caco. Listen, you have to order this at every. single. restaurant. It doesn’t matter what the rest of your meal is or if it “goes” with garlic bread. Order bolo do caco every chance you get. 
  • Poncha – A traditional Madeiran cocktail. It’s made with sugar cane rum, honey, and lemon juice. There are dozens of different flavors, but the original is my favorite. Fair warning – poncha is deceptively strong. Drink two and you’re drunk. Drink three and you’ll have to fight the urge to jump on the table and do Mamma Mia karaoke. 
  • Nikita – Another Madeiran cocktail, this time named after the Elton John song, Nikita. Blend pineapple ice cream, white beer, and pineapple juice, and you’ve got a Nikita, making it the perfect  “lounge by the ocean” treat.

Day 1: The Northeast 

Our Madeira Three Day Itinerary starts with exploring the northeast side of the island, with black sand beaches, volcanic swimming pools, and the highest skywalk in Europe.

A woman waves at the camera from a staircase that goes down into the ocean
Found a staircase that leads down to the ocean in Camara de Lobos

Breakfast in Funchal

Today is our busiest day in Madeira, so we’re starting it off with a big breakfast at Brunch Club, a simple yet adorable cafe in the center of Funchal.

All their dishes are healthy, colorful, and positively to die for (those blueberry pancakes are a need, not a want).  

Morning: Explore the Small Towns of Madeira

The main goal of the day is to end up at Porto Moniz, in the northeastern corner of the island. But there are so many small towns worth exploring between there and Funchal.

A forest road goes underneath a small waterfall
Maybe the best part about a road trip in Madeira? The waterfalls that cross over the roads

Here are some of the highlights, and what to see there:

  • Camara de Lobos: The first town you’ll reach after leaving Funchal. The lighthouse, harbor, and the Miradouro do Salão Ideal are all “must-sees”. This was the first established village in Madeira and was apparently Winston Churchill’s favorite.
  • São Vicente: A small town on the north coast where you can explore the lava tunnels and underground caves. 
  • Seixal: If you only have time for one stop, make it be here. It’s best known for its black sand beach, the Seixal natural pools, and the Miradouro do Veu da Novia lookout.
A drone shot of a black sand beach from above
Seixal Black Sand Beach. Photo by Illia Panasenko on Unsplash

Lunch in Porto Moniz

The next destination is the town of Porto Moniz, known for its famous volcanic natural swimming pools. But before we get to that, let’s grab a bite to eat!

Porto Moniz is popular with tourists and locals alike so there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Piscinas Cafe: Inside the pool complex, you can find this restaurant. If you’re planning on going swimming, this is your most convenient option.
  • A Cochina Bar: A quieter lunchtime cafe. They may not have the same views that the waterfront restaurants offer, but their passionfruit cheesecake more than makes up for it.
  • Orca: A traditional Portuguese seafood restaurant right next to the pools. The open-air terrace gives you the best views of the water. If you go here, don’t leave without trying their bolo do caco!

Afternoon: Swimming in Volcanic Pools

Now to the volcanic pools! You have two options in Porto Moniz. 

The first option is Piscinas Naturais, the luxurious but busy choice. If you’ve seen the pools on Instagram or TikTok, it’s almost certainly been here. There is a €3 entry fee, and towels, beach chairs, umbrellas, and lockers all cost extra. 

People relaxing by an ocean-front swimming pool
The Popular Pools

The other option is to walk 5 minutes east, and you’ll find Piscinas Naturais Velhas – another natural volcanic swimming pool. It’s older and lacks many of the amenities the newer pools offer, but it’s free and significantly less crowded.

An ocean front pool with still blue water and large rocky cliffs
The “Under-the-Radar” Pools

Miradouro Cabo Girão

On the way back to Funchal from Porto Moniz, stop by Cabo Girão, the second-highest skywalk in the world, and the highest in Europe. 

For the height-adverse (like me), this might be a great time to hang back and let your crazy friends hang out on a glass walkway on the edge of a cliff.

Jokes aside, the views at Cabo Girão are incomparable. At 580 meters up, you can see most of Madeira’s southern coastline.

A view of the Madeira coastline and the ocean from above
The view from Cabo Girão. Photo by Edgar on Unsplash

Evening: Enjoy a Traditional Portuguese Dinner

After a long day of exploring the northeastern side of the island, it’s time for some traditional Portuguese food. This means fresh seafood, quality ingredients, and simple yet rich flavors. For traditional Portuguese food in the city center of Funchal, check out these options: 

  • Regional Flavours: The exception to the rule that restaurants with a-frame menus on popular streets are tourist traps. They specialize in traditional Madeiran dishes, prepared with some of the freshest seafood you can find.
  • Ilhéu Bistro: Here you’ll find no frills, high-quality seafood at reasonable prices.
  • Comtradições: If you or any of your travel buddies consider themselves to be “foodies,” go here. Comtradições is known for taking each dish and turning it into a work of art.

Day 2: Hike Madeira’s Iconic Cliffs

For day two of our three day Madeira itinerary, we’re reaching our step goal by tackling some of Madeira’s most breathtaking peaks.

Grab a Quick Breakfast

I went to Maia Coffee Shop nearly every single day I was in Madeira and not once did it disappoint. The freshly-baked croissants and hazelnut lattes are simply to die for.

Morning: Hike Madeira’s Famous Peak

Pico Aerio is the most famous hike in Madeira, for its stellar views. The price of those breathtaking views is that it’s also one of the most difficult hikes on the island. 

It turns the two highest peaks – Pico Aeiro and Pico Ruivo – into an all-day adventure. You literally climb into the heavens and will be above the clouds at certain points. 

NOTE: This may not be the best place to bring small children as there are lots of steep narrow walkways, and there aren’t always railings to hold on to.  

a dozen people hiking to the top of a mountain
Photo by Illia Panasenko on Unsplash

 If you’re like me and scared of heights, here are some tamer hiking options:

  • Levada das 25 Fontes: The name translates to “25 fountains”, and comes from all the waterfalls that you pass on this hike. 
  • Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço: This hike takes you along the eastern side of the island. It’s flatter and is a good option for beginner hikers and families with small children.
  • Vereda Do Larano: This coastal trail takes you between the towns of Machico and Porto da Cruz. It’s a fairly flat hike, and you have beautiful views of the ocean throughout the entire journey.
A view high above the ocean with rocky cliffs against turquoise water
I might be tired from the hike, but I’ll never be tired of the views!

Afternoon: Relax in Cliffside Pools

After all that hiking it’s time to reward ourselves with a little bit of relaxation at my favorite place in Madeira – Doca do Cavacas.

It’s a natural volcanic swimming pool near Funchal with direct access to the sea, so you can swim without worrying about waves or sharks.

A woman floating in a natural volcanic pool. Another person is sleeping in a lounge chair.

Indulge in a Seafood Dinner

Lucky for us, Doca do Cavacas also has a seafood restaurant attached so we don’t have to walk too far to get to our next stop.

The best part of this restaurant is undoubtedly the views. As they’re steps away from the ocean, all the fish is incredibly fresh.

Day 3: The South Side of the Island

For our last full day of this 3 Day Madeira itinerary, we’re going to be exploring tropical gardens, taking toboggan rides, and soaking up the sun.

Morning: Ride in a Cable Car

Take a cable car ride up to Monte, a small town at the top of the mountain. The trip takes a little under a half hour and gives gorgeous views of Funchal, the ocean, and all the greenery of Madeira.

A cable car going above a town

Explore Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

Right next to the cable car station is Monte Palace Tropical Gardens.

Inside you can find tropical plants, peacocks, swans, a lagoon, and even an art museum. The gardens are so vast that you could spend days meandering around and never run out of things to see.

A tropical garden with people walking around a lake
Photo by Piotr Musioł on Unsplash

Brunch in a Greenhouse

Have you ever wanted to eat inside an actual greenhouse? Well, now’s your chance. You can find Greenhouse Coffee Roaster inside the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, where they serve specialty coffee, fruit, and pastries.

Thankfully it never gets as hot as a real greenhouse, but if it does get too stuffy inside they also have an outdoor terrace.

Travel in Style with a Toboggan Ride

Why take a bus down the mountain when you could take a toboggan? Because we’re taking the scenic route back to Funchal – in a traditional wicker toboggan. They used to be how locals from Monte would travel quickly (30km per hour to be exact!) down to Funchal in the 19th century. 

These toboggans are driven by two drivers in all-white outfits with straw hats & black rubber boots that are your only brakes.

Two people looking through a large "Madeira" sign

Lunch: Mercado dos Lavradores

We’re skipping our usual sit-down restaurant for lunch today and going to this historic farmers’ market for a bite to eat. The market is several stories tall and has stalls for fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, flowers, and hand-crafted souvenirs. 

It’s a mandatory stop for anyone visiting Funchal for the first time, but the food here definitely has inflated tourist prices. For a more budget-friendly option, you can find most of the same island-grown fruit at the supermarket, Pingo Doce. 

Platters of tropical fruit for sale at a market
Photo by Reiseuhu on Unsplash

Afternoon: Snorkel and Kayak Tour

Now it’s time to take advantage of Madeira’s crystal clear waters with a kayak and snorkel tour. 

West of Funchal is the Garajau Nature Reserve, perfect for an afternoon of kayaking, cliff jumping, swimming, and snorkeling. The waters here are crystal clear, calm, and between 19 and 24C all year round.

A red crab
Found a friend at the beach

Evening: Wander Aimlessly Around Old Town

Old Town Madeira is full of palm-lined streets, historic charm, and hidden gems around every corner. On our last day in Madeira, take the time to stroll around the center without much of an agenda. 

If you are looking for specific stops along the way, here are some places to check out:

  • Sé Cathedral: A small but beautiful 15th-century cathedral that is also a great place to escape the afternoon heat. 
  • Rua de Santa Maria: A group of local artists transformed the doors on this street into works of art. 
  • Christiano Ronaldo Museum: Okay, so this is less “historic charm” and more of a modern museum, but if you’re a football fan, you can’t miss it. Ronaldo was born in Madeira and he actually owns the museum. Here, you can find all of his trophies, signed souvenirs, and a hologram of Ronaldo to take photos with.
  • Santa Catarina Park: This serene park with a lake, cafe, and playground is a fantastic place to unwind after yesterday’s hike. 
  • Blandy’s Wine Lodge: The Blandy family has been producing Madeiran wine since 1811, and now they offer wine tastings and tours of their storehouse.
A city street where two doors have been painted. The painting is a black and white silhouette of a woman in a black hat, against a red background.
Photo by Jong Hyun Baek on Unsplash

Dinner: Indulge in a Final Delicious Meal

Finally, we’re capping off our three days in Madeira with a tasty feast!

If you’d like to experience something a little different, I can highly recommend Nagoya, an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant.

They had all the classic dishes you’d expect at a sushi restaurant, and a few things I had never seen before, like fruit sushi.

Or, if you’d prefer to bid farewell to Madeira with some Portuguese fare, then why not revisit some of the recommendations from Night One?

A park bench with plants and "I love Funchal" painted on the back

I Hope You Enjoyed This Guide on How to Spend Three Days in Madeira!

Let us know in the comments if you have any more questions about this Madeira three day itinerary!

My Go-To Travel Favourites:

🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

💳 Wise: For FREE travel friendly credit cards

🍯 Airalo: My go-to eSIM

🏨 For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

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