Renting a car on Madeira Island is the perfect way to experience all the beauty and charm this Portuguese paradise has to offer. With winding roads that offer breathtaking views of the coastline and amazing mountain landscapes, renting a car gives you the freedom to explore the island at your own pace. Renting a car on Madeira Island is a convenient and affordable way to discover all the hidden gems this island has to offer.
First and foremost, most travelers want to know about the best place to hire a car in Madeira. When I rent a car in Madeira, I recommend and I always use Discover Cars, and you can see why below.
BEST RENTAL CAR COMPANY ON MADEIRA
When you book your Madeira Rental Car online, I personally recommend and always use Discover Cars. They search for both local and international companies, so you get the best deal! MUST Read: Guide to Renting a Car on Madeira
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RENTING A CAR ON MADEIRA
The best part about Discover Cars? You can add full coverage insurance for only about 8 Euros per day.
By the end of this blog post, you’re going to feel comfortable with the entire Madeira car rental process and have some helpful tips about driving a rental car in Madeira that will boost your confidence with driving in Madeira.
WHERE TO BOOK A RENTAL CAR ON MADEIRA
When considering where to book your rental from within Madeira, there are a few options.
- Pre-book online before your arrival and pick up the car at the airport
- Pre-book online before your arrival but pick up the car in Funchal
- Organize with a vendor in Funchal or at your hotel (the most expensive option)
The smartest option is to pre-book your car rental and pick it up from the airport. The taxi from the airport to Funchal as of 2022 is about 40 Euros. That is much more than a single day of a car rental when booking online with Discover Cars.
I’ve picked up rental cars from the airport and near Funchal and my experience has always been better at the airport where the staff is very efficient and it is a quick process.
Regardless of the location you choose, I recommend and personally use Discover Cars when hiring a car in Madeira.
I have found Discover Cars has the cheapest Madeira Car rentals, as well as the cheapest Madeira driving insurance. The key is to book at least 2-3 weeks in advance for their super low rates. If you book the day before it will be much more expensive.
TOP 3 PLACES TO STAY IN MADEIRA
- Ultimate Luxury: Les Suites at Cliff Bay best location and view
- Best Value: Hotel Alto Lido – Funchal rooftop swimming pool under 100 Euros
- Budget Hostel in Funchal: Santa Maria Hostel is easily the top hostel in Funchal
BOOK YOUR MADEIRA CAR RENTAL IN ADVANCE
I’ve found that if you book your Madeira car rental more than two weeks in advance, the deals you can find are of amazing value. Once it is less than a week until you arrive in Madeira, the prices go up dramatically. Sites like Discover Cars offer free cancellation up until a couple of days before so you should book the rental as soon as you have your flights and you can always change your mind later and cancel the booking. This way you lock in the cheap prices in advance.
TIPS FOR RENTING A CAR IN MADEIRA
- Make sure to take photos of all scratches and dents on the car. It only takes a few minutes of your time and you never know what proof you will need at the end of the rental. Do the same for the car’s interior looking for any stains or rips.
- Take the same photos and videos when you drop the car off at the end of the rental.
- You will need your reference number and booking ready when you pick up the car.
- Book in advance by at least 2 weeks with Discover Cars to save up to 50%.
SHOULD YOU PURCHASE FULL-COVERAGE INSURANCE
When renting a car on Madeira Island, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is whether or not to purchase full-coverage insurance. It’s important to consider the potential risks involved in driving on unfamiliar roads in a foreign country. With the steep and narrow roads on Madeira, I wouldn’t risk it on this island to not add on the full-coverage insurance. It is usually just 6-10 Euros extra per day with Discover Cars and can provide peace of mind and protect you from unexpected costs in the event of an accident, theft, or damage to the vehicle.
HOW TO GET A CHEAP RENTAL CAR ON MADEIRA
If you’re looking to save money on car rental in Madeira, there are several things you can do:
- Book early: The earlier you book, the better the deals you’ll find. Booking in advance on Discover Cars can save you up to 50% on rental costs.
- Return the car where you picked it up: Dropping off the car at a different location can incur additional fees, so it’s best to return the car to the same location where you picked it up.
- Book a smaller car: Smaller cars are generally cheaper to rent and also more fuel-efficient, which can save you money on gas.
- Pay attention to pick-up and drop-off times: Car rental companies typically charge per 24-hour period, so returning the car later than the designated time can result in additional charges. Make sure you know the exact pick-up and drop-off times to avoid any extra costs.
- Choose a rental with limited cancellation or without cancellation: Some rental options on Discover Cars offer free cancellation, but these can be more expensive. If you’re sure about your travel plans, choosing a rental with limited or no cancellation can save you money.
- Check prices for a week-long rental: Sometimes, rental companies offer discounts for week-long rentals, even if you only need the car for six days. It’s worth checking to see if this is the case.
- Book with limited mileage: If you don’t plan on driving too much, choosing a rental with limited mileage can save you money. Just make sure you don’t go over the mileage limit, as this can result in additional fees.
DO I NEED A CREDIT CARD TO RENT A CAR ON MADEIRA
You need to have a credit card when picking up the car so the company can put a hold on the deposit amount, which is usually about 2000 Euros. Some companies such as Budget have accepted my debit card but usually, a credit card is required.
DO I NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER’S LICENSE TO RENT A CAR IN MADEIRA
You do not need an International Driver’s License. You do need to show your official driver’s license from your home country when you pick up the rental car. Some countries like Japan or Italy require an international driver’s license to rent a car but this is not the case in Madeira and your regular driver’s license will do just fine.
MY 3 FAVORITE TOURS IN MADEIRA
- Dolphin & Whale Watching: Take a cruise from Funchal to spot Dolphins, Whales and see amazing views of Madeira’s coastline.
- Hike Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo: Hike the most epic trail on the island with a qualified guide!
- Level 1 Canyoning Adventure: Rappel down waterfalls in this high-adrenaline experience.
WHICH COMPANIES ARE RELIABLE FOR RENTING A CAR IN MADEIRA
I’ve rented a car in Madeira more than ten times. My experience is simply that, my experience isn’t necessarily representative of how good each company is. However, I can say that I was very impressed by Budget, Avis, and Madeira Rent. They were professional, had good systems and cars were relatively new and in good condition. However, I found that booking with them directly was very expensive and I have always booked with them through Discover Cars. Sometimes this gave me up to 50% off compared to booking with them directly.
I had a negative experience with Brava Car who gave me a very, very old car. Their office is also out of the airport so they come and pick you up and drive you to the office. No one was there to pick me up and this wasn’t pre-arranged. They then charged me 35 Euros to leave the car at the airport at 7 am in the morning because they couldn’t meet me there at that time to take the car back to their site.
A GUIDE TO DRIVING A CAR ON MADEIRA
In this section of the article, I will share my experience and give advice on navigating the roads while driving a car in Madeira. It isn’t your average driving destination and can be quite tricky at times.
IS IT SAFE TO DRIVE ON MADEIRA’S ROADS
Madeira is a relatively safe place to drive overall. There is not much traffic except on the edges of Funchal during peak hours. The highways and tunnels are quite modern and I find the drivers are rarely aggressive on Madeira. On the highways, you may find that the left lane is quite fast, and with no fixed speed cameras on the island, many drivers push it to the limit. However, the right lane is your friend while getting used to the roads in Madeira.
The steep roads across the island are probably the most challenging aspect when it comes to driving on Madeira. Often you will find yourself on a road with a very steep grade, as you can hear your car working overtime to chug itself to the top. Generally, this is straightforward until you need to stop, park, or re-arrange yourself with another car on a one-way passage. The key is to drive slowly and be prepared for quick stops on narrow roads. Don’t cut corners and never be in a rush on this island, you are on vacation.
The quality of the roads is quite good and the island invests a lot of money into the tunnels and infrastructure of the roads. Don’t get distracted by the beautiful views as you cruise around the mountain roads and coastal highways of Madeira.
MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC CAR RENTAL ON MADEIRA
As I’ve mentioned, driving in Madeira is a bit of an interesting experience due to the VERY steep and narrow roads. The common occurrence of one-way roads adds to the excitement. If you are a confident manual driver, the roads in Madeira will still test you at times. If you are not confident in a manual car, it is definitely better to overwhelm yourself by trying to learn to drive a manual car on the steep, unpredictable roads of Madeira.
While having a manual can make it a little easier to get up and down the steep hills, I’ve personally found that the automatic rentals are more than capable on the steepest hills in Madeira. You can check the automatic rental car options by filtering the search on Discover Cars. There are a few models of automatic cars that have the option to switch to a ‘basic’ manual approach. These cars are often called ‘semi-automatic’ and are the best option for Madeira in my opinion.
Most of the rental cars in Madeira are Manual. If you book in advance, you will find the automatic options are only slightly more expensive. However, if you leave it to the last minute to book your Madeira rental car, the automatic options will be significantly more expensive. Most of the very cheap deals are always on Manual cars when it comes to rentals on Madeira.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CAR SIZE IN MADEIRA
If you are visiting Madeira for the first time, it is important to keep in mind that a small car is the best option on this island. There are a number of reasons that a compact vehicle will make life easier on your vacation. Search on Discover Cars by filtering for hatchbacks or smaller vehicles.
- Funchal was never designed for large vehicles. Many of the cobblestone streets are one-way and very, very narrow. There are a few roads that would be an absolute nightmare for a large family sedan or an SUV. Having a compact car or a hatchback makes navigating these narrow streets much easier.
- Often streets are one-way and require a quick stop and some maneuvering by both parties to allow both to pass.
- Parking in Madeira is often limited in busy places and a small car is much easier to parallel park in tight parking spots in Funchal or the very small undercover parking lots of the grocery stores.
- Unlike the U.S.A where there is an SUV culture, there is no need to fit in with the crowd by having an SUV for safety. Most locals have smaller cars due to the reasons listed above so you won’t be dwarfed on the highways in your VW Golf.
TYPICAL JOURNEY LENGTH ON MADEIRA
Due to the mountainous terrain of Madeira, tunnels have been built throughout the island to connect all of the regions with modern highways. Many decades ago a journey across the island could take up to six hours. These long journeys are no longer necessary now that the countless tunnels create a web of connection throughout the island. These days most journeys around the island will take up to an hour and rarely too much longer unless you travel from the east coast to the west coast.
The central massif (mountain range) runs through the middle of Madeira. Despite the numerous tunnels, journeys from one coast to the other often require a route around the mountain range, taking more time to reach a destination.
If you are based in Funchal or Calheta, most attractions, the airport, and popular hikes like Sao Lourenco, Pico to Pico, and Caldeirao Verde Levada are within 45 minutes.
PARKING YOUR RENTAL CAR IN MADEIRA
Parking in Madeira is usually a bit tricky when it comes to Funchal but in most other areas, parking isn’t such a battle. In Funchal, there are several undercover parking sites that charge about 10 Euros per day and are meant for short-term visitors to malls, shopping centers, and the city-center district.
I stayed in Funchal for a few months at a time in the past and you can usually visit the parking lots, find the attendant and ask if they have any parking spaces available on a monthly basis. I was lucky enough to find this once and paid 70 Euros for a permanent, private parking spot near La Vie Shopping Mall.
Most parking at tourist sites across Madeira is free as of 2022. However, there are a few paid parking areas such as Caldeirao Verde Levada although Pico do Arieiro, Pico Ruivo, Sao Lourenco, and many other hot spots remain free.
Don’t be surprised to see some creative sidewalk parking by locals. Madeirans have grown up creating solutions in limited space. While I don’t advise mounting the sidewalk with your fresh new rental, it does happen. During a Maritimo football match, the creative parking around the stadium is a spectacle in itself.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT OR RENTAL CAR ON MADEIRA
For those keen on exploring the more secluded areas of Madeira Island, like hikes and other tourist sites, public transportation may not always be the optimal choice, despite its affordability. The bus system can be deficient in terms of both frequency and routes, causing it to be challenging to access certain destinations. Furthermore, some of the more popular tourist sites may not be easily reachable via public transportation, meaning there will be multiple transfers and long waiting times.
In such cases, renting a vehicle with Discover Cars is a practical and expedient alternative to these restrictions. With a rented vehicle, travelers have the freedom and flexibility to discover the island at their leisure, without having to be concerned with the constraints of public transport schedules and routes. They can effortlessly reach remote locations and uncover hidden gems that are not typically frequented by tourists. Even though the cost of renting a car may be greater than that of public transportation, the added convenience and flexibility make it a worthwhile investment, particularly for those who wish to make the most of their time on the island.
HOW CLOSE IS THE MADEIRA AIRPORT TO FUNCHAL
The Madeira International Airport is sited approximately 20 kilometers to the east of Funchal, the chief town of Madeira Island. This concise expanse between the airport and the city center proffers a high level of suitability to travelers. By private car or taxi, the journey from the airport to the city center will merely take about 20 to 25 minutes. Furthermore, there are public buses that run on a regular basis between the airport and Funchal, proffering a convenient and economical means of transportation to and from the airport.
HISTORY OF MADEIRA ROADS (CAMINHO REAL 23)
The Caminho Real 23, also referred to as the Old Royal Road of Madeira Island, boasts a rich and captivating history as a crucial transportation artery. Originally frequented by equines and carriages, the route has undergone considerable evolution throughout the years, especially with the advent of the automobile.
In the early 20th century, cars became increasingly ubiquitous on Madeira Island, and the Caminho Real 23 expeditiously developed into a popular route for motorists. Nevertheless, the roadway was not constructed with automobiles in mind, and its limited width and tortuous layout rendered it a daunting pathway to navigate. Despite these challenges, motorists persisted in using the road, and it assumed an important role in the island’s transportation infrastructure. During the 1920s and 30s, the route was even employed as a testing ground for some of the initial automobiles on the island, underscoring its significance in the growth of the local automotive sector.
In the present day, while the Caminho Real 23 is no longer the primary channel for transit and transportation on Madeira Island, it retains its vital status as a cultural and architectural vestige of the island. Tourists and locals alike flock to the road to savor the breathtaking panoramas and historical edifices that line the route. While it may not be the most expeditious or efficient method of traversing the island, the Caminho Real 23 stands as an indispensable part of Madeira’s past and a tribute to the island’s abiding legacy as a nucleus of transportation and transit.
IS IT USEFUL TO HAVE A 4WD/SUV ON MADEIRA
It is not useful to have a car with off-road capabilities on Madeira. There are very few options to go off-roading and the rental car company won’t cover off-roading. There are a few 4WD tours on Madeira that may be interesting to you if you are keen on getting off the paved roads. If you really do want a 4WD or a Jeep, you can filter this when you search on Discover Cars.
WONDERING ABOUT WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA?
Throughout my six months on Madeira Island, I stayed in multiple accommodations. My favorite regions to stay in were Funchal and Canico de Baixo. I’ve created several guides to help you find the right region for you and a great hotel or apartment.
- The ultimate guide: WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA: WHICH REGION IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
- If you want luxury: BEST 5-STAR LUXURY HOTELS ON MADEIRA ISLAND
- To feel at home: TOP 10 BOUTIQUE HOTELS ON MADEIRA ISLAND
- If you want to base in Funchal: WHERE TO STAY IN FUNCHAL: 15 TOP-RATED HOTELS
HAVE YOU READ MY OTHER MADEIRA BLOGS?
I spent six months exploring Madeira and the nearby island of Porto Santo. These are some of my most popular guides about the region that you may be interested in.
- My favorite hikes: 65 AWESOME HIKES ON MADEIRA
- My favorite levada walks: 25 BEAUTIFUL LEVADA WALKS ON MADEIRA
- The best waterfalls on the island: 25 EPIC WATERFALLS ON MADEIRA
- Guide to the best Accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON MADEIRA
- Hardest hike: THE MADEIRA ISLAND ULTRA TRAIL IN 4 DAYS (115KM)
- Longest hike: CAMINHO REAL 23: MADEIRA’S ROYAL PATH (180KM)