Madeira Island vs Portugal Mainland: Major Differences

Madeira Island vs Portugal Mainland

Valeria and I lived for 2 years on Madeira Island, in Funchal, and 2 years on Portugal Mainland, in Lisbon. One day we started to think about where we would end up living. We decided to make a list of the pros and cons of each place. In this article, I compare the advantages and disadvantages of living on Madeira Island (Funchal) and Portugal Mainland (Lisbon) from personal experience.


Madeira Island is the clear winner in this race. Madeira weather is almost the same all year round i.e. you don’t change your closet at all. It’s convenient: you don’t need winter jackets, hats or scarves. Of course, it’s cooler at night in winter but if you only consider the daytime there’s no difference!

With the fact that it is warm all year round, there is no unbearable heat in Madeira. Believe me we lived in southern China, in Shenzhen, I know what I’m talking about. When you have to put your feet in a basin so as not to flood the neighbors afterward while you’re sitting at work. In Madeira, I don’t remember a day like that. However, when climbing another mountain, get ready to sweat a little!

Valeria sitting in cafe by the ocean in Madeira Island Portugal in January
Valeria enjoying the weather in Madeira in January

By the way, for adepts of colder and wetter climates Madeira also provides such an option. The fact is that in the north of the island, the weather is more rainy, and therefore there is more vegetation, which adds variety to the nature of the island. In general, Madeira is famous for the fact that it has many different microclimatic zones: there are coniferous and eucalyptus forests, dry zones, and overgrown areas with different flora.

In general, I would attribute this advantage not only in comparison with Portugal Mainland but generally as something ultimate in favor of Madeira.

Madeira Island 1:0 Portugal Mainland


From the point above we can conclude that Madeira wins here as well. There is no central heating in Portugal, so the temperature at home can be lower than outside. This difference in temperature is strongly felt in Lisbon where without a heater, you can’t survive the winter.

But if you live in the city center even a heater will not help since the quality of houses is very poor. Apartments often have cracks everywhere, and the streets are narrow, so the light of the sun cannot reach a house at all. I used to go to a cafe to work from there in the winter in Lisbon because my hands were so cold that it was impossible to type.

In Madeira, we never turned on the heater. Yes, closer to winter, it was more comfortable in pajamas than without, but your fingers and nose always stay warm!

Madeira Island 2:0 Portugal Mainland

Water Temperature

Madeira again! For us the ideal water temperature in Madeira Island was at the end of August-September, I think it was up to 25°C. In winter it’s around 18-20°C. People we meet from northern countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany enjoy the water even in winter!

Also, there are natural pools in Madeira. The water is even warmer, there are no waves, and it’s free.

Yes, the water is not that hot like in Thailand, but in comparison with Lisbon, it’s a big win. Even in summer in Lisbon, it’s difficult to enjoy the water as your legs cramp because of the cold.

Madeira Island 3:0 Portugal Mainland


As I wrote above, nature on Madeira Island is very diverse. The biggest plus perhaps is that it all fits on a fairly small piece of land. Within a couple of hours, you can completely change the view.

Lisbon is not far behind with its national parks and nature reserves. But the Madeiran mountains, for me personally, are a more breathtaking sight!

Madeira Island 4:0 Portugal Mainland


At this point, I consider access to interesting cities, sights, and architecture. Surely Lisbon wins here since living there allows you to reach the ancient cities within a couple of hours.

Funchal, the capital of Madeira, was founded in 1514. It’s rather a young town compared to the whole history of Portugal. So Madeira is more about nature, although there have been fascinating moments in history as well.

Madeira Island 4:1 Portugal Mainland

Belem Tower in Lisbon
Belem Tower is one of the most popular sights in Lisbon

Rental Prices

Rental prices are lower on Madeira Island than on Portugal Mainland, which is not surprising. It is difficult to compete with the prices in Lisbon, which skyrocketed into space. A great option in the center of Madeira’s capital, Funchal, can be found for under €1000 per month. It will be a one-bedroom apartment in a modern building, fully furnished, with an ocean view. While in the center of Lisbon, such an apartment will cost from €2000.

Madeira Island 5:1 Portugal Mainland

Pace of Life

Here I would give the award to Lisbon (although Valeria would disagree with me). Madeira is a tourist island after all, and the vacation mood is always shadowing you. There’s no the fast pacing rhythm of life like in Lisbon, no big companies, hipster businesses, skyscrapers, people in suits, big events, and all that big city vibe. They have WebSummit in Lisbon, c’mon!

I like to be working surrounded by this kind of rhythm because it energizes me. I can feel that rhythm in Lisbon. When you see how everybody moves and grows, you don’t want to sit still either.

In Madeira, you just want to go out in your flip-flops to the nearest café for a coffee and buy bananas on the way home.

Madeira Island 5:2 Portugal Mainland


Here also +1 to Lisbon. As it is much easier to find a job or project on Portugal Mainland than on Madeira Island. But If your activity is related to tourism, there is not much of a difference, because this industry is very well developed here and there. But in all other areas, Lisbon is the clear winner when it comes to finding a job.

Madeira Island 5:3 Portugal Mainland


Everyone knows that Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world. So in this comparison, Madeira Island beats Portugal Mainland only because Lisbon is the capital and a lot of migrants come there. So, the probability that someone is going to use dirty ways to find money is higher.

But in Madeira, I have never been approached by marginalized people offering me to buy “something”. And there is no sense even mentioning a robbery on the Island where everyone is a cousin to each other.

Madeira Island 6:3 Portugal Mainland


Fortunately, we didn’t seek medical care very often, but once Valeria had to fly to Lisbon to see a dentist. Not because there are no good ones in Madeira, it’s just that we have an excellent and familiar doctor in Lisbon.

You will be okay on Madeira Island in terms of medical care. There are excellent hospitals where you can have your appendix out without a problem, but for a more serious operation, you have to fly to the Portugal Mainland.

Madeira Island 6:4 Portugal Mainland


The advantages of the Portugal Mainland remind you of themselves and Lisbon wins here. There are buses, trams, metro, trains, various cab services, and public water transport. In general, you can get to any point in more than one way.

Madeira’s infrastructure is great but it still has room to grow. Public transportation is heavily tied to Funchal. You can go anywhere from the center and back, but from other parts of the island, it will be more difficult. Plus it’s expensive! For example, going from south to north would cost you €4 one way.

A replica of the Columbus Ship in Madeira
Not a water taxi but an impressive way to whale watching

Car rentals are also a major expense for tourists on Madeira Island compared to Portugal Mainland. You either have to look for private individuals through Facebook groups, or rely on bus tours (better not). And an Uber from the airport to the center of Funchal will cost around €20, whereas in Lisbon you can find it for €5-6.

Madeira Island 6:5 Portugal Mainland


Madeira’s loss in the previous comparison comes directly from this. Gasoline and gas are merely more expensive on the island than on the mainland. Because of this, public transportation is more expensive and probably therefore not as flexible. Here Portugal Mainland has the advantage over Madeira Island.

Madeira Island 6:6 Portugal Mainland


Thinking about this point, I was a little confused as to how to evaluate it. On the one hand, walking up the hills is good for your health, but on the other, it makes it much more difficult to get around.

When we arrived in Lisbon for the very first time, we thought what a hilly city it was, that our butts had never been so tough. But then we got to know Madeira.

In Madeira, your house can be in such a place that even your car will hurt. Driving your car through those hills is quite an experience. But locals say if you can drive through the hilly narrow streets of Madeira, you can drive anywhere. It’s a kind of benchmark driving.

Let it be a draw here!

Madeira Island 6:6 Portugal Mainland


Although it is almost impossible to enjoy swimming in the ocean on the Mainland, the beaches there are excellent. Just look at the beaches of Costa da Caparica. The long sandy beaches after the beaches of Madeira seem like something privileged.

In Madeira, the beaches are mostly pebbly or completely rocky. Sometimes you can find little islands of black lava sand, on which you can comfortably lie down. What’s more, there are even white sand beaches with specially imported sand from Africa. But they are small and fenced off with concrete breakwaters, so it’s like a pool at the hotel.

Surfers on the rocky shore in Machico Madeira
Surfers on the rocky shore in Machico Madeira

Also, you can go to the neighboring island of Porto Santo and enjoy the long white sand beaches there.

One more thing is that The Portuguese man o’ war comes to the shores of Madeira sometimes. A quite dangerous jellyfish with long tentacles, which are not visible under water. You don’t meet them on the Mainland though.

Madeira Island 6:7 Portugal Mainland


Needless to say, the choice of supermarkets in Lisbon is much wider, while on the island there are only Pingo Doce and Continente supermarkets (Lidl still planned to open in 2023). At the same time, there is not much difference in the assortment, except that Madeira bananas and fish are cheaper in Madeira.

Also, Lisbon has a Mini Preço, which serves as a neighborhood minimarket. It’s very convenient but unfortunately, there’s no such thing on Madeira Island.

Madeira Island 6:8 Portugal Mainland


Delivery in Portugal is generally the country’s weak point, but obviously, an island has even more limitations. In this regard, taking delivery in Lisbon is much easier than in Madeira.

Once I tried to order shipping to Madeira Island on Aliexpress, but all the sellers ended up canceling the order because they didn’t know how to ship to Madeira. There were even problems shipping a package from the Portugal Mainland that took 3 months to get to us. Even the most expensive delivery tariff couldn’t send everything on time either.

Madeira Island 6:9 Portugal Mainland


I think this should definitely be mentioned: there is no IKEA on Madeira Island. There are other big furniture stores, but… But what about meatballs in lingonberry jam??? Plus a point to Lisbon.

Madeira Island 6:10 Portugal Mainland

Flight Connections

Because Lisbon is the capital the number of flights and destinations is much higher than in Madeira. You have to admit that having the opportunity to fly directly almost anywhere and anytime is awesome.

From Madeira Island, you can also fly directly not only to Portugal Mainland. For example, there are direct flights to New York, London, Dublin, Oslo, and Zurich. But the problem is that the number of flights is very limited, e.g. you can fly to New York only on Mondays.

Madeira Island 6:11 Portugal Mainland

Airplane wing in the Madeira airport
It’s always sad to leave this beauty


If you have a company paying taxes on Madeira Island will be a little bit more pleasant than on the Portugal Mainland. The VAT rate is slightly lower but most importantly Madeira has the status of a Free Trade Zone. Therefore companies with this license and working exclusively with foreign companies have a reduced rate of corporate income tax — 5%.

Madeira Island 7:11 Portugal Mainland


According to the study conducted in 2020 by NET.mede Madeira has the fastest Internet connection in Portugal. Lisbon is in second place and Algarve is in the last place. At this point, a digital nomad in Madeira can be happier!

The difference is not big and the Internet in Lisbon is also good. Although it is a point to Madeira Island!

Madeira Island 8:11 Portugal Mainland

Poncha and Prego

Poncha is the main alcoholic drink of Madeira Island based on local rum and lemon juice. And Prego is a sandwich with a piece of meat on a local bun. By default, Madeira wins here.

Poncha and Prego are the things that are very important to have in your life! Nobody can’t take that away from Madeira!

Madeira Island 9:11 Portugal Mainland

Poncha and Prego are typical treats in the Madeira Island
Poncha and Prego are like water and oxygen in Madeira

What’s Better Madeira Island or Portugal Mainland?

Not all possible aspects could be compared. Some I might have forgotten about, and some are irrelevant to us such as kindergartens and schools.

Okay let’s look at the final score:

Madeira IslandPortugal Mainland
Water Temperature✔️
Rental Prices✔️
Pace of Life✔️
Flight Connections✔️
Poncha and Prego✔️
Final Score911

It seems Portugal Mainland won. But I think counting points and comparing Madeira Island to Portugal Mainland is meaningless. They are two completely different lifestyles therefore every aspect we considered here can be observed differently. Personally, I see life in two places at once as an ideal option (but hard to accomplish).

When a big city tires you out you can find recharging in Madeira as a great solution. And if you miss a fast-paced lifestyle it would be good to go back to Lisbon. But honestly, I think that the balance will be in favor of Madeira over time!

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