Renting a car in Madeira gives you all the freedom to go wherever you want to go at any time and stop wherever you want to stop. With the ever changing weather circumstances on Madeira Island, being flexible in your planning is a must. Also, if it suddenly starts raining you are always dry in a rental car! Plus, if you are a sunrise and sunset lover just like us and you want to explore the hidden gems, then you can’t go without a rental car in Madeira.
In this article I will provide all the information you need to make the decision on what kind of car to hire in Madeira and all the different car rental companies you can choose from. Renting a car in Madeira and driving a car on the island doesn’t need to be complicated or scary, it’s super fun and convenient. We had a great experience when we rented a car in Madeira. To have a peace of mind we made sure we included the Full Coverage Insurance when we booked our car through Discovercars.
→ Check the Madeira car rental deals here and book before prices go up (it’s free cancellation)
How to rent a car in Madeira
If it’s your first time exploring Madeira then wonderful and exciting times are awaiting you! The ‘Europe of Hawaii’ is an incredible island to explore with so many things to do.
When you rent a car you’ll have the most freedom while exploring Madeira island. There is not much public transport going around the island, but you can also choose to book tours to see the best of Madeira. However, in that case you don’t have all the freedom to yourself.
There are a few activities on Madeira you have to do for which you don’t need a car, such as this dolphin and whale watching tour.
Besides providing you with this in depth guide about car hire in Madeira, we also wrote more than 50 guides about Madeira. So after you’ve read this article, then make sure to check out our other guides about Madeira.
How much does car rental in Madeira cost?
The price for car rental in Madeira totally depends on the time of year that you’re renting. But also how early in advance you book your car and of course the type of car. The earlier you secure the booking of your rental car, the better your deal is. So if you know the dates that you’ll travel to Madeira, it’s best to book your rental car as soon as possible.
You have to realise that the car rental stock is limited on Madeira Island. The car rental companies are dependent on the cars they have available on the island. They can not just get a few other rental cars from another city a few hundred kilometres away if they are out of stock. Especially in the high season of Madeira, which runs from May until August and around the Christmas weeks, you can expect that the demand of car rentals in Madeira is very high. So don’t wait with booking a rental car for your holiday in Madeira, book it now and secure your car!
The total amount of your rental period also influences the price per day for a car rental. Generally the longer you rent a car, the lower the average price per day is. The pick up or drop off locations of your rental car might also slightly influence the price, but logically it’s the easiest to directly get your rental car at Madeira airport after landing.
During the 7 months that we have lived on Madeira Island, we have booked with several car rental companies. EuropeCar and Sixt were the ones we’ve got the best experience with.
Car requirements for car hire Madeira
Besides deciding if you want to drive a car with a manual or automatic gearbox, there are more factors to consider regarding car hire in Madeira. In case you are travelling with more than two people including your luggage, then the load of the car will be high. In this case not only the size of the car matters but also the engine power and especially the engine torque. When driving around in Madeira with more than 2 people and luggage, than avoid a gasoline 3-cylinder engine or an engine wit less than 1600cc such as a Fiat 500.
If you are a very experienced driver you will manage to drive everywhere with any car. But, renting a car with a bigger and stronger engine will make it much easier to drive the steep mountain roads. We rented a Renault Clio with a 1.5L Diesel engine. If available, a rental car with a Diesel engine is recommended. This type of engine delivers more torque in comparison with a same size Petrol engine. An additional advantage is the price of Diesel fuel is lower than Petrol fuel.
Necessary documents to rent a car in Madeira
For car hire in Madeira you will need the following documents:
- Valid driver’s license from your home country
- International drivers permit if you’re coming from outside of the European Union. Except Brazilians, they don’t need an International Drivers License
- Valid passport
- Credit Card in your name with enough money available for the deposit
Be aware that the legal driving age in Madeira is 18 years old. However, in order to to rent a car, most rental car companies in Madeira require you to be at least 19 years old for a small car and 21 years old for a bigger car. Some rental car companies even require that your driving license is older than at least one year, or even older than 4 years! Check this before booking. Because otherwise you might have to pay an additional charge with a drivers license less than 4 years old.
General tips for car hire Madeira
- Check the car on scratches or dents. If you found some, point out the damage to the rental car company so they can note it in the contract. Take pictures yourself for proof of the damage that is already there
- Ask where you can find the mandatory materials such as a warning triangle, reflective vest, and a spare wheel
- Know where the gas stations are so you won’t be out of fuel in the mountains
- Fill your car with the right fuel. Don’t get confused with the Portuguese word for diesel which is gasoleo and Petrol 95 and 98 which is gasolina
Rental car insurance Madeira
It is a rule in Madeira that all rental cars must have Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Theft Protection (TP). Each policy will be either:
- included or
- purchasable from the rental company, or
- provided by your credit card company.
Make sure to check this before booking your rental car.
On top of that you will have to have a deposit amount available on your Credit Card. It depends per car rental company and type of car how high this amount is. Some charge €300 deposit, others €1200. Check this beforehand so you won’t be surprised with pick up.
What to be aware of before you rent a car in Madeira
In Madeira you have to drive at the right side of the road. As a driver you will be sitting in the car on the left hand side. This can be confusing when you are used to drive at the other side of the road such as in the United Kingdom. Bear in mind you have to shift gears with your right hand.
I recommend to hire a car in Madeira with an automatic gearbox. This will make driving a car in Madeira much easier. Most of the time cars with an automatic gearbox are more expensive compared to a manual one, so keep this in mind. However, it’s worth the extra money because you don’t have to think about shifting gears while driving the winding roads of Madeira.
Another advantage of a car with an automatic gearbox is when driving on the challenging steep roads. In those situations you don’t need to think about when to shift to a lower gear. And in the event you have to come to a stop on a steep road, its more convenient and easier to resume driving.
How are the roads in Madeira?
The roads in Madeira are generally very well maintained. Along the coast you can follow the wide 2 lane highway, but in the small towns the roads get usually much narrower and steeper. The speed limit on Madeira island is 50km/h (30 miles/h) in residential areas, 80km/h (50 miles/h) on secondary roads and 120km/h (75 miles/h) on the highway.
What we were so surprised about was that the insertion lanes for the highway in Madeira are very short. This means that you will have to time inserting on the highway very well. Sometimes you even have to stand still for a bit before there is space for you to enter the highway. And then you have to be quick to get to 80 kilometre / 50 miles an hour!
Another interesting thing you will encounter while driving in Madeira are the roundabouts. They are pretty impressive because the big ones even have two lanes. The rules for the two lane roundabouts are as following. When you are at the outer lane, you need to take the first exit. If you need to take the second or third exit you have to take the inner lane first.
Is it safe to drive in Madeira?
Generally it is safe to drive in Madeira. But you can encounter some challenges such as crazy steep and narrow roads with big drops in the mountains. Sometimes even falling rocks during rain and stormy weather or very bad visibility. It is a general advice in Madeira to not go up in the mountains (either with a car or hiking) with very rough weather.
If you plan to hire a car at Funchal airport to drive directly to your accommodation, then check with your host the exact location. Some accommodations, and especially Airbnb’s can be located at the end of a very narrow or steep road or in the city centre of Funchal. You don’t want to get yourself in trouble by forcing yourself to take a scary road to arrive at your accommodation. Of course I don’t want to scare you with this information but just be aware and prepared for these kind of roads. In general the roads in Madeira are very smooth and well maintained with lots of space. And don’t forget to enjoy the incredible sceneries and viewpoints you pass along the way!
Visibility and falling rocks
Driving on a narrow road with big drops is not only risky if you lose control of the car. It can also be dangerous when the visibility is bad. This happens more often than you think as Madeira is known for having low hanging clouds. These low clouds are beautiful if you are above them. But to get above the clouds you first have to drive through them what can result in visibility of just a few meters. My experience is to drive slow and don’t forget to turn on your fog lights (back and if available front as well). Driving in thick fog requires a lot of focus.
Another thing to be aware of are falling rocks. They can occur on the coastal roads and mountain roads where you pass steep rocky walls. Especially during and after rainy and windy days this can occur. Always inform with the car rental company if this kind of damage is covered by the insurance as well. Never park your car below a rocky mountain wall as there might be a chance of falling rocks.
Wildlife on the road in Madeira
Although there is not much wildlife in Madeira, you should always be prepared that something can appear in front of you. For example free roaming cows, rabbits or other cars that are standing still on the road. (Which are mostly tourists who are not taking into account how dangerous it is to just pull over on the side of the road for a picture). It might help to use navigation to see which way the road is going, and try to orientate with keeping an eye on the dashed lines at the middle of the road.
Snow in Madeira
During the winter months in Madeira it is possible that you will see snowfall in the mountains. As soon as the highest peaks of Madeira, Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, get the first snow of the year, the only road to Pico do Arieiro will be closed for cars. It is just too dangerous to drive up the mountains as most of the rental cars in Madeira are not provided with snow tires or snow chains.
Where to stay in Madeira
There are several towns in Madeira that are great to stay while exploring the island. Funchal is the capital town of the island with the most restaurants around. It has a charming old town and all sorts of facilities you might look for such as a boulevard, shopping centre, cafe’s and nightlife. It is a great place to base yourself with plenty of culture and beautiful old buildings and charming streets to explore. There are also a few beaches in Funchal to enjoy the ocean. However these beaches are from pebble stones.
We have stayed in The Vine hotel and Okulus villa which are both beautiful locations. The Vine has the comforts of a hotel including breakfast and is located right in the city centre. Okulus villa is located in the Old Town with the most amazing ocean and city view.
If you want to be based near a sandy beach in Madeira, then Calheta is a great place. Funchal is more to the east of the island located. Calheta is more to the west of the island located. So eventually you can also stay a few days in both towns depending the total length of your stay in Madeira. Calheta has an atmospheric marine with restaurants offering great spots to watch the sunset and enjoy a meal.
We have stayed a few weeks at Calheta Boutique Houses during our 7 months living in Madeira. Highly recommend these private villa’s as you have all the amenities you have at home as well. The modern design and amazing ocean views makes it a perfect vacation home.
Small villages in nature
If you want to experience really small towns to stay in Madeira, then check out the accommodations in Seixal, Porto da Cruz, Sao Vicente or Ribeiro Frio. Take into account that there will be less restaurants around but you will be completely immersed in the local life and nature.
Best Madeira island tours
If you want to explore the best of Madeira with a guide then here some great tours I recommend. During these tours you will pass by some of the best viewpoints which I share in this complete guide. All of these tours include transport with hotel pick up and drop off, certified guides and sometimes the entrance fees if applicable. You can reserve now and pay later, with cancellation up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.
- Customized 6 hour Madeira tour. On this six-hour tour you can choose the different areas you want to visit on Madeira island. Pick the landmarks and iconic places to make your own itinerary with the help of your local guide/driver.
- West Madeira private tour. Starting in the fishing town of Câmara de Lobos you will drive via Cabo Girao, the highest cape in Europe, to the beautiful view of Serra d’Agua valley. From there you will head to São Vicente to explore the Laurisilva forest. Continuing north, you will visit Porto Moniz, known for its natural lava pools where you can swim. As last stop you will visit the famous rocks at Ribeira da Janela.
- East Madeira tour. Visit Pico do Arieiro viewpoint, make pictures at the Santana houses and the beautiful viewpoints at Porto da Cruz to finish the day at the impressive volcanic landscape of Ponta de São Lourenço.
- Canyoning adventure with transfer from Funchal. Get the thrill of canyoneering and explore Madeira’s untouched nature. follow a river as you walk, rappel, slide and jump through hidden waterfalls with streams that cross endemic forests. A super fun and adventurous day!
- Ponta de São Lourenço hike with pick up in Funchal. Explore the most eastern tail of Madeira island with its unique volcanic rock formations to understand how the island was created.
- Funchal 48-hour hop-on hop off bus tour. Explore the lush landscape of Madeira and the sights of Funchal at your own pace with a 2 or 5 day ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus.
- Tuk-Tuk tour to Monte Tropical Garden with Toboggan ride from Funchal. Explore Funchal Old Town with a Tuk Tuk before making your way to the mountains to the stunning Monte Tropical Garden. There you will explore over 70,000 square meters of exotic plants. At the end of the tour you will enjoy the thrilling ride down the hill with a Toboggan ride.
- Funchal Old Town walking tour. Learn about the history of Funchal and Madeira on a guided walk through the city’s medieval center. Visit the farmer’s market, the Campo Almirante Reis. The Fortress of St. James, and a number of other sites as your guide provides commentary.
- Dolphin & Whale watching Luxury Catamaran Cruise from Funchal. Enjoy the views of Funchal from a luxury catamaran. Look out for whales and dolphins in their natural habitat as your relax on board and explore the underwater world with a snorkel.
- Scuba diving Madeira. Explore the underwater world of Madeira island. A theory lesson and practice in swimming pool is included. This before you will dive about 12 meters for 45 meters in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Sunset tour from Funchal by Catamaran. Watch the sunset off the coast of Madeira on a 3-hour evening catamaran cruise from Funchal and spot dolphins (guaranteed, or you get a 2nd trip for free).