We loved our two week Madeira family holiday. We discovered that Madeira is a beautiful island with stunning landscapes, packed with diverse attractions for all ages.
Until recently, Madeira had a reputation as a destination for older travellers but things are changing. Madeira is justifiably gaining popularity as a destination for adventurous and culture seeking travellers.
If you hanker after long, white sand beaches, this volcanic island is not for you (though there are some lovely beaches in Madeira)! But if you like good food, cultural attractions and festivals, incredible scenery, world class hiking and friendly people, then I would highly recommend Madeira for a families. There are lots of fantastic things to do in Madeira with kids.
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Practical tips and information for your Madeira family holiday
Where is Madeira?
Madeira island is not ‘just off the coast’ of Portugal!
It lies in the Atlantic Ocean, over 1000 kilometres south west from mainland Portugal. In fact, Madeira – and its neighbouring island Porto Santo – is closer to mainland Africa (800 kilometres away) than it is to Portugal.
However, Madeira is less than four hours flying time from the U.K and falls in the same time zone. Very handy!
What is the climate in Maderia?
Madeira has a pleasant temperate climate all year.
Madeira’s mountainous terrain and position in the Atlantic, ensures that the island does not get the oppressive temperatures of its African neighbours.
It also receives more rainfall resulting in dense forests and lush vegetation.
Summer in Madeira is hot and dry, Spring and Autumn are cooler and wetter but temperatures remain warm and the weather remains pleasant throughout winter.
The north coast of Madeira has a cooler climate than the sunny south coast. The warmest temperatures can be found in the south west of the island.
Whenever you choose to visit, the weather in Madeira is notoriously changeable, even within relatively short distances. It can be sunny and hot at the coast but cool and raining in the mountains.
When we visited in April, the weather was changeable. We had several days of high temperatures and glorious sunshine, and a few days of cloud and rain.
What is the currency in Madeira?
Madeira, like Portugal and most of Europe, uses the Euro.
When is the best time to go on a Madeira family holiday?
Madeira is busy with holidaymakers in the summer months. Funchal will be busy with cruise ship day trippers. However, once outside Funchal and popular Calheta, it is not difficult to find quieter locations.
Accommodation in Madeira in Spring and Autumn will be cheaper and attractions less busy. But be prepared for some rain and muddy hikes.
Madeira is a popular destination for sun seekers over the winter months so a family trip to Madeira in winter may not be as cheap as you expect it to be.
We visited Madeira during the Easter holidays. Funchal was busy but Calheta, the levada hiking trails and attractions were quiet. We found some fantastic bargains on accommodation.
Read our top picks on villas in Madeira – including where we stayed – here.
How to travel to Madeira?
We travelled to Madeira on a direct flight from England with budget airline Easyjet. Cheap Madeira flights can also be found via Portugal on TAP airlines.
Madeira’s principal airport – the Cristiano Ronaldo airport – is a twenty-minute drive from the capital Funchal.
Be warned, flying into Madeira is not for the faint hearted. I do not like flying (understatement) and I was terrified.
The runway juts out over the ocean so you feel very low to the sea when landing and very exposed when taking off.
Madeira island is also a popular stop on Atlantic cruise routes and you will usually see at least one cruise ship in Funchal port.
TIP – Sign up for Easyjet’s seasonal seat releases to get the best deal available.
Getting around Madeira on a family holiday
Car hire in Madeira
Car rental in Madeira is the easiest and quickest way to get around the island, particularly for families.
There are car rental companies at Madeira airport and in Funchal city centre.
We rented a car from Rodavente who have offices in Funchal city centre and at the airport.
This lesser-known company was the cheapest option on the island when we visited and was comparable in price to car rental in the U.K and Europe.
We were very impressed with Rodavente. Our rental car was in great condition and it was immaculately clean inside. Plus, the company demonstrated excellent customer service when we needed to change our plans. We hired the car in Funchal and dropped it back to the airport at no extra charge.
TIP – If you are staying in Funchal, do not rent a car for your entire family holiday. you do not need a car in Funchal. The city is compact and most attractions can be visited on foot. Plus, the busy and narrow city streets will make for some stressful driving and parking is also an issue. Hire a car from Funchal city centre when you are ready to explore the island.
Tours in Madeira
If you prefer to be driven around in comfort, there are numerous tour companies in Funchal offering day trips around the island.
A tour will allow you to sit back and enjoy the incredible views and will avoid the stress of driving Madeira mountainous roads. But your sightseeing will be on a time schedule and you will not be able to stop whenever you want to.
If you do wish to take a tour, choose a small group tour particularly if you have car sick prone kids. You may need to stop often.
Travelling by public bus in Madeira
Madeira has an extensive, cheap and reliable public bus system. Funchal is the main transport hub on the island.
Check bus timetables carefully before setting out on a day trip as timetables are limited at weekends and on public holidays. You may be able to get somewhere easily but then find you have to wait several hours before getting back.
Fares are payable to the driver when you get on the bus. Exact change is appreciated!
We used the bus to get around Funchal and its suburbs and found it easy and cheap. Other bus travellers were helpful in telling us where to get off.
Driving in Madeira
The major coastal road in Madeira from the airport to the south west (the Via Rapida) is easy to drive. The route contains multiple tunnels that has greatly improved access to different locations around the island. Watch out for short exits.
The road is in excellent condition with good signage.
It is possible to drive all the way around Madeira on the coastal ER101 but driving conditions vary from the north to south coast.
But if you plan to leave any of the main thoroughfares at any time, be warned. Driving in Madeira is not for the faint hearted or for anyone who has recently passed their driving test!
As soon as you leave the major coastal route, roads to rural towns and villages quickly become narrow, steep and winding.
And once you hit the mountains, these steep winding roads will be accompanied by multiple hairpin bends bordered by sheer drops!
To self drive in Madeira, you must have a head for heights, be confident driving in low gear or using engine braking.
Tips for driving in Madeira
Drive on the right.
Know what to expect before you set out. Research your route and check current road conditions here.
Drive slowly and watch out for poorly parked cars after a bend; we found this to be a common occurrence!
Look out for oncoming Goliath sized tourist coaches.
Be prepared for pedestrians in the road; there are few pavements outside Funchal.
Check the weather conditions for your route. The weather on the sunny coast may not be the same in the mountains. Driving through fog and rain on inland roads in Madeira will test even the most confident driver.
Drive in daylight if you can. Rural roads are poorly lit and I found the roads terrifying enough by day!
Pack sick bags. You will need them if you are a passenger.
Check the road regulations and car seat regulations for Madeira.
Accommodation for a Madeira family holiday
Madeira accommodation is of a good standard and affordable for families, particularly if you travel out of peak season.
If you do not wish to do much sightseeing, one base will be enough for your Madeira family holiday. Most visitors choose to stay in Funchal or Calheta near one of the best beaches in Madeira.
You can read our family friendly things to do in Funchal here.
However, if you are want to explore the island, I would recommend a two centre holiday. You will avoid daily winding, undulating, vomit inducing car trips and some very long drives.
We stayed in Funchal for five days, exploring the city, suburbs and nearby Monte on foot and by public bus.
Then we hired a car and moved to a rural, inland village near Calheta. This made it easier – and quicker – to explore the north west of the island and the inland region.
You can read about what we did in Madeira with kids here.
Where to stay in Funchal
Most tourists choose to stay in the densely populated, built up hotel area on the edge of Funchal near Praia Formosa.
This area lacks character but offers a wide choice of accommodation with lots of restaurants and bars. It is a long walk into Funchal or a short bus or taxi ride.
But if you can do without a swimming pool, I would recommend staying in Funchal’s attractive old town. You will feel part of the city, not a visitor to it.
Most of Funchal’s attractions are within walking distance of the old town.
We walked everywhere, shopped in local shops and ate too much cake in local cafes surrounded by local people. We loved it.
You can read about our two bed apartment for just £50 a night here in our round up of the best places to stay in Madeira.
Airbnb, VRBO and other self catering holiday lets are very popular in Madeira. With many winter dwellers heading home for the summer, you can pick up some great bargains.
When we moved to rural Calheta, we stayed at a gorgeous, 4 bedroom property with a basement games room, an outdoor pool and stunning sea view for just £63 per night!
TIP – Many Airbnb’s offer a discount for longer stays particularly in the off or shoulder season. It was cheaper for us to book our Airbnb for seven nights rather than the six nights we needed.
Food costs in Madeira
Self catering in Madeira
Madeira is an island economy so it is not as cheap as other locations in Portugal. We found supermarket prices were similar to those in the U.K.
There are several large supermarkets in Funchal and Calheta. Plus, there are smaller, family-owned grocery stores everywhere. We found these small shops to be very reasonable and they often sold home-baked goods.
We were able to buy fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. Though the produce market in Funchal is worth a visit, I would not recommend shopping there. It is much more expensive than neighbouring supermarkets.
Be a responsible traveller and bring your own reusable shopping bag.
Eating out in Madeira
A substantial main meal in a restaurant will cost around €10 – €15 per person. Child menus are widely available.
There are several fast food and sandwich chains for grabbing food to go.
We found cafes very affordable for families. In Funchal old town we could buy five cakes and five drinks for €5 – €7 total.
Plus, stopping for a drink in a cafe always solves the problem of having to find a toilet for the kids!
Attraction costs in Madeira
We found a Madeira family holiday to be very affordable. We were busy every day (except pool days!) but we spent only €109 on four attractions in two weeks. Not bad for a family of five!
There are lots of free or cheap things to do in Madeira that will allow you to save your money for one or two more expensive activities.
Funchal’s museums (except CR7), churches and parks are free to enter. The stomach churning viewpoint at Cabo Girao is free to enter.
Sometimes you may be asked for a donation but it is very low. For example, our fantastic tour at Santa Clara Convent was only €2.
If you do not have access to a swimming pool, Madeira’s outdoor lidos are excellent value for money. A full day ticket costs from €5 per adult.
Fee paying attractions offer fantastic discounts for children. All our children were free at Monte Tropical Gardens.
However, organised trips in Madeira are very expensive for families.
Sightseeing boat trips, dolphin watching trips and fishing excursions are expensive with few discounts for children.
We had hoped to take a dolphin watching trip but a two hour trip would have cost us over €250.
If, like us, your budget is limited, choose activities that can only be done in Madeira such as the wicker toboggan ride. Our kids still talk about their short but thrilling ride.
You can read what we did in Madeira with our children here.
Hiking in Madeira
If you are an active family, hiking in Madeira is completely free and this is the easiest was to have a cheap Madeira holiday. You could spend every day of your Madeira family holiday hiking and not spend a penny!
You cannot visit Madeira without walking at least one levada trail. The levadas are unique to Madeira and there are trails for all ages and abilities.
Some trails are flat and smooth, others are steep and nerve racking. You can even drive to some of the highest trails. You can read about the trails we choose here.
We found Madeira hiking trails were very different to any other hiking we have done with our kids. So check out our essential tips for hiking in Madeira here.
We loved our Madeira family holiday.
We initially travelled to Madeira to go hiking but the diverse island surprised us with all it has to offer.
Even if you are not a walking boot kind of family, there will be something in Madeira for you.
Essential reading for your Madeira family holiday
Lonely Planet Madeira guide book – compact and lightweight booked packed with useful information plus a map
Sunflower Guides to Madeira – THE best and most accurate book we found on hiking in Madeira
Portuguese phrase book – always come in handy!