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Madeira or Algarve: which Portuguese city should you visit in 2023?

Reema Bharti

Reema Bharti

· 13 min read

Choose Madeira if you prefer a tranquil retreat amidst lush greenery and mountainous terrain, complete with scenic hikes and a temperate climate. On the other hand, Algarve should be your destination of choice. if you're after golden beaches, a lively nightlife, and a variety of water sports in a warmer, Mediterranean climate. Both offer unique experiences steeped in Portuguese charm, so your decision should align with the type of vacation you desire.

algarve or madeira

Which place is easier to reach: Madeira or Algarve?

Whereas reaching Algarve is not tough, Madeira offers a better ease of travel due to its smaller size and efficient public transportation, allowing for seamless navigation across the island. The Algarve, while well-connected by buses and trains, spans a larger area which can add travel time when moving between different beaches and towns.

How to Reach Madeira?

You have to take a flight to Funchal to reach Madeira since the island is quite away from mainland Portugal. Madeira's geographical location is such that you need to take direct flights from Lisbon to Madeira's airport in Funchal. It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Once you're on the island, travel is quite simple.

  1. Rent a Car: Madeira is small. It's only about 57 km (35 miles) long and 22 km (14 miles) wide. You can drive across it in a short time. But remember, Madeira has lots of hills. Some roads are steep!

  2. Public Transport: There are buses, like the SAM and Rodoeste that go from the airport to Funchal's city center.

  3. Taxis: Madeira has a good taxi connectivity. You can go anywhere, and it is not too pricey.

How to Reach Algarve?

You can reach Algarve region by road, rail or air since Algarve is on the southern coast of Portugal and is a part of the Portuguese mainland.

  1. Getting There: There are direct flights to Faro Airport. From Faro, you can easily get to other parts of the Algarve.

  2. Public Transport: Buses and trains are available. Trains, like the ones run by Comboios de Portugal, connect towns like Lagos, Albufeira, and Faro. Buses are good too. Eva Bus is one company I used.

  3. Taxis and Rentals: Just like in Madeira, you'll find taxis and car rental spots. I found the roads in the Algarve flatter and wider than in Madeira.

How's the vibe at Madeira vis-à-vis Algarve?

Whereas Madeira has a calm, relaxed and a laid-back feel, Algarve is more beach fun, lively nights, and a mix of old-world charm with modern vibe.

The vibe of Madeira

As soon as I stepped foot on Madeira, I sensed its magic. The island has this relaxed, calm aura. The vibe of Madeira is mentioned below.

  1. Nature's Paradise: Madeira is green and mountainous. Full of orchids and bird of paradise. It has those amazing levada walks. These are narrow irrigation channels with paths next to them.

  2. Old World Charm: Funchal, Madeira's capital, has a quaint feeling with cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and markets, like the Mercado dos Lavradores, that give it an old-world charm.

  3. Festive Spirit: Madeira has lots of festivals such as the Flower Festival. The streets filled with colors and smiling faces.

The vibe of Algarve

Algarve has a very vibrant and lively vibe. Here's what I experienced.

  1. Beach Vibes: Algarve is famous for its beaches. Places like Lagos and Albufeira have golden sands and stunning cliffs. Everywhere I went, I saw people sunbathing, playing volleyball, or just chilling.

  2. Bustling Nightlife: The Algarve's nights are alive. I found numerous bars, clubs, and live music spots. The Strip in Albufeira was one such spot. Lights, music, and dance everywhere!

  3. Mix of Old and New: Yes, Algarve has modern resorts. But it also has history. Towns like Tavira and Silves have ancient castles and churches. It's a blend of the past and the present.

What's the weather like at Madeira and Algarve?

Madeira has a mild weather whereas Algarve is more on the Sunny side.

What's the weather like in Madeira?

The weather in Madeira is generally mild with a few rainy moments as it an island. And like many islands, its weather can be a little unpredictable. Here’s what I found.

  1. Normal Temperature: Temperatures usually stay between 16°C (60°F) in the winter and 24°C (75°F) in the summer. Very comfortable.

  2. Rainy Moments: Madeira has microclimates since it is a volcanic island. This means it can be sunny in one place and raining a few kilometers away. I remember taking my umbrella out in Funchal, but I didn't need it in nearby Camara de Lobos.

  3. Mountains and Mists: The island has high mountains, like Pico Ruivo. Up there, it can get misty and cool. So, if you're hiking, take a sweater!

What's the weather like in Algarve?

The weather in Algarve is generally sunny with warm summers and mild winters. Here’s my experience.

  1. Sunny Days: Algarve is in the south coast and is therefore a sun-kissed place. I mean, they get around 300 sunny days a year! That's a lot of beach time.

  2. Warm Summers: Summers are warm, but not too hot. Temperatures are around 28°C (82°F). Perfect for a dip in the sea or Atlantic Ocean ~ your choice.

  3. Mild Winters: Unlike Madeira, winters in the Algarve are drier. Temperatures hover around 16°C (60°F). So, even in December, I was out exploring without a heavy coat.

What's the best time to visit Madeira and Algarve?

The best time to visit Madeira is between March and May whereas the best time to visit Algarve is early September.

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Best time to visit Madeira

The best time to visit Madeira is Spring, i.e., between March to May. This lovely island has a mild climate. It's pretty much great all year round. But here's the scoop:

  1. Spring (March to May): Spring is beautiful. Flowers bloom everywhere. I recall the Madeira Flower Festival in April. Streets get decorated with colorful flowers, and there are parades.

  2. Summer (June to August): It's warm but not too hot. I found it perfect for hiking and exploring. But, there's a catch! It can get a bit crowded. Lots of tourists come during these months.

  3. Autumn (September to November): The weather's still nice, but there are fewer tourists.

  4. Winter (December to February): It's cooler, but not cold. I remember wearing just a light jacket. There's the New Year's fireworks in Funchal.

Best time to visit Algarve

The best time to visit Algarve is the Autumn, i.e., between September to November.

  1. Spring (March to May): Just like Madeira, spring is lovely. The Algarve gets all green and flowery. It's warm, but not beach-hot yet.

  2. Summer (June to August): This is beach time! Sun, sand, and sea. I loved it, but a heads-up: it's peak tourist season. Places like Lagos and Albufeira can get packed.

  3. Autumn (September to November): The weather's still good for the beach, especially in early September. By October, it cools down a bit. Less crowded too.

  4. Winter (December to February): It's quiet and chilly, but not freezing. A good time if you like calm vibes. I visited Faro in January and had a lot of the sights, like the historic Old Town, almost to myself.

What are the top things to do in Madeira vs. Algarve?

The top things to do in Madeira are Levada walks & Toboggan Ride whereas the top things to do in Algarve are Boating, Surfing & Beach time.

Top things to do in Madeira

Here are the top things to do in Madeira.

  1. Levada Walks: These are unique to Madeira. I walked alongside narrow water channels called levadas. They had breathtaking views of the Mountains, forests, and waterfalls.

  2. Visit Funchal: Funchal's the main city where I explored the colorful Mercado dos Lavradores. It's a market with fruits, flowers, and fish. Then, I roamed around the Old Town, with its painted doors and artsy vibes.

  3. Botanical Garden: This garden in Funchal is beautiful with orchids, ferns, and cacti.

  4. Toboggan Ride: I slid down steep streets in a wicker sled. Two men steered it. It's a traditional Madeiran thing, and I laughed so much!

Top things to do in Algarve

Here are the top things to do in Algarve.

  1. Beach Time: I sunbathed at Praia da Marinha in eastern Algarve. It's got golden sands and blue waters. There are caves and cliffs to explore. Or you can go whale watching!

  2. Visit Faro: You must walk around the Old Town, with its ancient walls, arches and see the Cathedral. Faro's got history. It offers a view of the entire city if you climb its towers!

  3. Boat Trips: I took a boat to see the Benagil Caves. The sunlight peeked through the cave's top, making everything glow. It was magical!

  4. Surfing: I tried surfing at Praia do Amado. It was a blast! The waves were just perfect.

What are the outdoor adventures offered at each of the cities?

The best outdoor adventures in Madeira are Canyoning, Mountain Biking and Paragliding whereas Algarve offers Surfing, cave tours, jeep safaris and rock climbing.

Outdoor Adventures at Madeira

The outdoor adventures at Madeira are listed below.

  1. Canyoning: I rappelled down waterfalls and jumped into clear pools. I wore a helmet and a life jacket, and there were guides helping us. It was epic!

  2. Mountain Biking: I biked in the mountains around Funchal. The trails were wild and thrilling. There were uphill challenges and speedy downhills which offer some amazing views.

  3. Paragliding: I took off from a cliff and soared over the island. The sea, the mountains, the houses below – it all looked so tiny. It was peaceful up there.

Outdoor Adventures at Algarve

The outdoor adventures at Algarve are listed below.

  1. Surfing: I took a lesson and tried to ride the waves at Praia do Amado in western Algarve. Fell a few times but had some great rides!

  2. Cave Tours: I kayaked into sea caves. Benagil Cave was the star. It had an open roof with sunlight streaming in. Picture-perfect!

  3. Jeep Safaris: I hopped onto a jeep and explored the Algarve countryside. Bumpy roads, tiny villages, and local snacks. An off-the-beaten-path adventure!

  4. Rock Climbing: The cliffs by the sea are just perfect for climbing. I put on a harness and climbed up. The view from the top? Totally worth the effort!

Which one has better beaches? Madeira or Algarve?

Algarve has better beaches than Madeira. Algarve offers traditional sandy beaches while Madeira offers natural pools and secluded beaches.

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Best Beaches in Madeira

  1. Praia Formosa: Really calming sounds of pebble under waters. I had to wear my flip-flops here though.

  2. Porto Moniz: This wasn't a traditional sand beach, but natural volcanic pools. I swam in the clear water while waves crashed around. So unique!

  3. Prainha de Caniçal: If you're looking for quiet, calm gems that are tucked away, then this is your place to be.

Best Beaches in Algarve

The best beaches in Algarve are listed below.

  1. Praia da Marinha: Praia da Marinha is celebrated for its stunning cliffs and crystal-clear waters, making it a frequent holder of the 'most beautiful beach in the world' title.

  2. Praia da Dona Ana: Situated near Lagos, Praia da Dona Ana is famed for its picturesque rock formations and golden sands, offering a quintessential Algarve beachscape. One of the most pristine beaches.

  3. Praia do Camilo: Praia do Camilo is a small, secluded beach reached by a wooden staircase, known for its sheltered cove and tranquil swimming conditions.

  4. Praia da Rocha: Renowned for its vast stretch of golden sand flanked by stunning limestone cliffs, this beach offering bustling nightlife and wonderful water sports activities.

    Algarve is the place to be, if you wanna go Scuba diving!

Where can you find the best Food? Madeira or Algarve?

Whereas Madeira has its unique dishes and flavors, especially with its rich wine, Algarve offers seaside treats and spicy delights, that made me crave for more. I'd lean towards Algarve, especially if you're a seafood lover like me.

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Street Food in Madeira

The best street foods in Madeira are listed below.

  1. Espetada: It's a meaty affair! Big chunks of beef, seasoned with garlic and salt, grilled on bay leaf skewers. I had mine at a local "tascas" (small eateries), and oh boy, it was mouth-watering!

  2. Bolo do Caco: It's a type of bread, but not just any bread. Made with sweet potatoes and often served with garlic butter. I had it for breakfast, lunch, and, well, anytime!

  3. Madeira Wine: Okay, not food, but it's a must-try. There are sweet and dry versions. I did a tasting at a local winery, learned a lot and sipped even more.

  4. Lapas: These are grilled limpets. Think of them as tiny sea treats. A bit chewy, but super tasty with a squeeze of lemon.

Street Food in Algarve

The best street food in Algarve are listed below.

  1. Cataplana: It's a seafood feast! Clams, prawns, and fish cooked in a special copper pan. I tasted it in a seaside restaurant. The flavors of the sea, captured in a dish.

  2. Piri-Piri Chicken: Spicy and grilled to perfection. It's a simple dish but packed with flavor. And, there's a kick of chili!

  3. Pastries: Algarve has some sweet treats. I loved the "Dom Rodrigos", made with eggs, almonds, and sugar. So sweet, so good!

  4. Sardines: These are grilled and served fresh. I had mine on a toast, with a sprinkle of sea salt. Simple but unforgettable.

How's the nightlife of each of the cities?

Whereas nightlife in Madeira is calm with maybe a bit of dancing, Algarve offers party energy, beach vibes, and crazy dancing.

Nightlife in Madeira

Nightlife things in Madiera are listed below.

  1. Chill Bars: Madeira's nightlife is on the relaxed side. I went to a few bars, like the "Venda Velha", where I enjoyed Madeira wine. It's a cozy place with friendly folks.

  2. Fado Houses: Ah, the soulful Fado music! I visited some Fado houses. It's not party music, but the emotion? Wow! I almost shed a tear or two.

  3. Night Markets: In some towns, I stumbled upon night markets. They had food stalls, crafts, and live bands. It's not a wild party, but it's fun.

  4. Few Clubs: There are a couple of clubs, like "Copacabana". It's not big like Ibiza, but hey, you can still dance the night away.

Nightlife in Algarve

Nightlife things in Algarve are listed below.

  1. Beach Clubs: The Algarve knows how to party by the beach. I loved "NoSoloÁgua". DJ music, pool parties, and the ocean nearby. What's not to love?

  2. Bars Galore: There are so many bars! From quiet ones to those with live bands. "Columbus" was one of my faves. Great cocktails!

  3. Late-night Clubs: If you want to dance till the sun comes up, places like "Kiss Club" have you covered. The energy? 100% electric!

  4. Street Parties: In summer, there are street parties. Music, food stalls, and lots of dancing. I joined in, and it was a blast!

Which city is safer for travelers? Madeira or Algarve?

Madeira is a bit quieter and has lower crime rates than Algarve. Algarve is busier but still safe if you're careful & take the usual care.

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Travel safety in Madeira

  1. Crime Rates: From my time there, I found out that Madeira has one of the lowest crime rates in Portugal. It's super safe! Even at night, I felt okay walking around.

  2. Locals: The people in Madeira? So friendly! I asked for directions a few times, and everyone was kind and helpful. Plus, many of them speak English, so it's easy to communicate.

  3. Health: The health services in Madeira are pretty good. The local clinic fixed me up in no time.

Travel safety in Algarve

  1. Crime Rates: Algarve is a popular tourist spot, so there's a bit more hustle and bustle. I heard about some pickpockets in crowded areas, but hey, that's in most tourist places. Just keep an eye on your stuff, and you'll be fine.

  2. Locals: Algarve folks are used to tourists. They're chill and used to answering questions. Just like Madeira, many speak English.

  3. Health: Algarve has some big hospitals and many clinics so you should be fine if you need any help there.

What's the transportation scene like, in each of the cities?

The transportation scene in Algarve resembles any big city with trains, buses, taxies whereas the same in Madeira is more about buses, cable cars and ride-sharing.

Transportation scene in Madeira

The transportation scene in Madeira consists of buses and cable cars. They are listed below.

  1. Buses: They've got a pretty decent bus system. I remember there were yellow buses and green ones. The yellow buses are good for getting around Funchal, the main city. The green ones? They took me to cool spots around the island.

  2. Cable Cars: Now, this is cool. There are a couple of cable cars, like the one in Funchal. It took me up a hill with epic views. A must-try!

  3. Taxis & Ride-sharing: I took a taxi a few times. Friendly drivers, and not too pricey. Ride-sharing apps? Yep, they have them too!

  4. Cars: Some folks like to rent cars. I did for a couple of days. Roads are twisty, so be careful. But oh, those views!

Transportation modes in Algarve

Algarve's more spread out than Madeira. But it's very easy to get around.

  1. Trains: Algarve has a train line that goes from one end to the other. Super useful for visiting places like Lagos, Faro, and Tavira.

  2. Buses: Buses are everywhere! I took them to beaches, towns, you name it. They run often and are pretty punctual.

  3. Taxis & Ride-sharing: Just like Madeira, they have taxis and those handy ride-sharing apps.

  4. Biking: Oh! I rented a bike one day. There are bike paths in many towns, and it's a fun way to explore.

Which one is cheaper to live: Madeira or Algarve?

Algarve is cheaper than Madeira overall, especially when it came to food and housing.

Cost of living in Madeira

The cost of living in Madeira is a 100 pounds a day. The breakup of the same is listed below.

  1. Accommodation: I got a cozy little room in Funchal for about 50 euros a night. Not bad, right? For longer stays, apartments can go for around 700 euros a month.

  2. Food: Ah, the tastes! A good meal at a restaurant cost me around 15 euros. Cafes? A cup of coffee for around 2 euros. And those pastries? About 1 euro each. Yum!

  3. Transport: Those buses I talked about? Pretty affordable. A ticket in Funchal was around 2 euros.

  4. Activities: Museums, gardens, cable cars - they were all reasonably priced. Most entry fees were below 10 euros.

Cost of living in Algarve

The cost of living in Algarve is a 90 pounds a day. The breakup of the same is listed below.

  1. Accommodation: I snagged a beachfront hotel room for about 60 euros. Monthly rentals? Around 600 euros in the main towns, but cheaper in smaller villages.

  2. Food: Slightly cheaper than Madeira! A hearty meal cost me around 12 euros. Those tasty egg tarts? Just under 1 euro.

  3. Transport: Trains and buses were around the same price as Madeira. About 2-3 euros for short rides.

  4. Activities: Beaches were free! But if you’re into water sports, those had varying prices. I rented a kayak for 10 euros for half a day.

What are some of the best hotels in both the cities?

The best hotels in Madeira are Belmond Reid's and Pestana CR7 whereas the best hotels in Algarve are Conrad and Vila Vita Parc.

Best hotels in Madeira

The best hotels in Madeira are listed below.

  1. Belmond Reid's Palace: This place? Pure luxury. It’s perched on a cliff with ocean views. Think of swimming pools, fancy rooms, and gardens. Oh, and afternoon teas? Delicious ones. Their scones and sandwiches? Top-notch!

  2. Pestana CR7 Funchal: Heard of Cristiano Ronaldo? Yep, this hotel has his touch. Modern rooms, a rooftop pool, and amazing cocktails. I had two at their bar. Maybe three...

  3. Quinta da Casa Branca: A boutique hotel tucked amidst gardens. Quiet and peaceful. Their breakfasts had fresh fruits, pastries, and cereals. Yummy start to the day!

Best hotels in Algarve

Algarve felt like beach heaven. And after sandy strolls, I wanted comfy beds. Here’s where I rested my head:

  1. Conrad Algarve: Luxury? Check. Spa? Double check. This place in Quinta do Lago was all about pampering. They had five pools. Yes, five! And their restaurant? Delicious seafood dishes, every single time.

  2. Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa: Ocean views, lush gardens, and seven...wait for it...seven restaurants! I tried three of them. The food? Absolutely divine.

  3. Tivoli Carvoeiro Algarve Resort: Clifftop views over the ocean, spacious rooms, and a huge pool. Their evening events had music and dancing. Fun times!

What are certain common things offered by both the cities?

Some of the common things offered by both Madeira and Algarve are listed below.

  1. Sunsets that Steal Your Breath: Both Madeira and Algarve have a little secret. Their sunsets. In Madeira, I stood on a hill, and the sky turned pink and orange. The same colors painted the sky in Algarve when I sat on the beach. Two places, but one magical show. I counted three shooting stars in Algarve and two in Madeira during these times!

  2. Delicious Seafood: Talk about food, and both cities will serve you the ocean on a plate. Fish, prawns, crabs, you name it. One time, in both places, I had this dish with clams and rice. So good! Trust me, seafood lovers, you'll feel at home in both spots.

  3. Friendly Locals: People in both Madeira and Algarve have big hearts. I got lost, like, four times in total. Each time, someone stopped, smiled, and pointed me the right way. Some even shared stories. In Madeira, an old lady told me about her garden. In Algarve, a fisherman spoke of the biggest fish he caught.

  4. Markets Bursting with Colors: Markets! Both cities have them. Stalls filled with fruits, vegetables, and hand-made crafts. I bought five souvenirs from these markets. Examples? A woven basket in Madeira and ceramic tiles in Algarve.

  5. Music in the Air: Music is life in both places. Streets come alive with songs and dances. I joined two dance circles, one in each city. The beats, the rhythms, they're different but equally heartwarming.

Who should visit what?

You must visit Madeira if you love green spaces, hiking, and gardens whereas if beaches, surfing, and parties sound fun then you should visit Algarve.

You must visit Madeira if you're a Nature Lover

If you're like me and have a thing for nature, Madeira is your spot. I remember the three hiking trails I ventured on. Each was unique. Tall mountains, deep valleys, and lots of green. You will love the butterfly garden. I saw, like, 10 different kinds of butterflies there. Bright ones, big ones, tiny ones. A true treat for little eyes.

If you're a garden person then Madeira's botanical garden is a must-visit. I counted over 50 types of flowers. My favorite? The orchids. So, if you want fresh air and green sights, Madeira should be your pick.

You must visit Algarve if you love Beaches

Now, for all my beach lovers, Algarve is the place. White sands, clear waters, and sunny days. I spent five days just lying on different beaches. Each beach had its own charm. The waves in Algarve are perfect. I tried surfing for the first time there. Fell off the board seven times but had a blast.

Nightlife? Algarve's got you covered. I danced away on two nights in beach clubs. The music, the lights, and the people make nights in Algarve special. Families, there's something for you too. I visited four water parks with super fun slides. Your kids will have a ball!

Frequently Asked Questions regarding Madeira or Algarve?

1. Is Madeira or Algarve better for a winter vacation?

Madeira offers milder winter temperatures and is great for enjoying nature year-round, while the Algarve has cooler but still pleasant winter weather ideal for sightseeing and enjoying its cultural events.

2. Can you swim in the sea in both Madeira and Algarve?

Yes, you can swim in both locations, but Algarve's beaches are more traditional for swimming, especially in the summer, while Madeira's rugged coastlines offer natural pools.

3. Which is more budget-friendly, Madeira or Algarve?

Generally, Algarve can be more budget-friendly, especially for accommodation and dining, due to a wider range of options catering to all budgets.

4. Are there direct flights to Madeira and Algarve from major European cities?

Yes, there are direct flights to both Madeira and Algarve from major European cities, particularly during the high tourist season.

5. Which destination is better for hiking, Madeira or Algarve?

Madeira is renowned for its dramatic mountain landscapes and levada walks, making it a superior choice for avid hikers.

6. Do Madeira and Algarve have good public transportation systems?

Madeira has a reliable bus system, whereas the Algarve offers both bus and train services to connect different towns and beaches.

7. Which place is better for a family vacation?

Both are family-friendly, but Algarve's sandy beaches and water parks might appeal more to families with young children.

8. Are English speakers common in Madeira and Algarve?

Yes, English is widely spoken in both Madeira and Algarve, especially in tourist areas and by service industry workers.

9. Which has a richer nightlife, Madeira or Algarve?

The Algarve has a richer nightlife with a variety of bars, clubs, and live entertainment, particularly in towns like Albufeira.

10. If I'm interested in water sports, which destination should I choose?

The Algarve is the better choice for water sports, offering everything from surfing to jet skiing due to its expansive coastline.

Reema Bharti

Reema Bharti

I am a globe-trotter with a passion for exploration. From the sun-kissed coasts of Portugal to the snow-capped peaks of Switzerland, my travels are as diverse as they are inspiring. My journeys through Spain, Finland, Austria, and Germany have fueled my soul and shaped my writing.