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Family Trip to Portugal & Island of Madeira in mid-April

Hello All,

Our family (husband, myself, son & daughter age 15) are hoping to visit Portugal and the island of Madeira this April provided things are manageable pandemic-wise at that time. The time frame we have identified in our calendar we can travel is April 13 - April 23rd thanks to a school spring break. It's a challenge for us with high school age kids to pull them from school and sports so this is our best opportunity. Should we be concerned about visiting the country as our trip would fall during Good Friday and Easter Sunday? I'm wondering how "open" things will be in a country such as Portugal.

My other question for all of you who have traveled to Portugal & Madeira is in what order would you visit the mainland and Madeira? Would you suggest doing mainland Portugal first (Lisbon & other cities/towns) and then fly from Lisbon to Madeira? Or vice versa? We are interested in visiting the island as my husband's grandfather came from there.

Thanks for any and all suggestions you may have to share!

Posted by
5398 posts

I have not been to Madeira (yet), but have been to Portugal several times, and last fall went to the Azores (like Madiera, the Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal -- Madeira and the Azores are quite similar in many ways). I was in the Azores for 3 weeks, and wished we had had at least one more week there.

Your travel window is April 13 - 23, count 'em up and that looks like 11 days. But you can't instantly transport yourself to Europe and back. You spend a full day getting there (usually a day plus an overnight), for many people your actual arrival day is pretty much a blur of jetlag and cranky exhaustion, then you spend one more day getting home. That gives you just 8 full usable days.

Portugal is lovely. So is Madeira. If you try to do them both, subtract at least one more full day for flights between mainland Europe and the island (maybe two days, if your flights back aren't efficient), now you're down to 7, maybe just 6 full usable days...

Do yourself a favor: pick either mainland Portugal, or pick Madeira. Not both. There's plenty in either to keep you busy and happy for at least 8 days. If you really want to squeeze in both, then try to carve out a few more days so you don't just blow through one (or both) and end up feeling like you only got a peek, but didn't get to really enjoy either.

No way to know now what the COVID situation will be in April (or next month, for that matter). That said, Portugal has generally done well over the past year at managing the pandemic, and has a high vaccination rate (though they did get their butts kicked first by Delta and then by Omicron). Stay flexible and be ready to roll with the punches.

Posted by
5467 posts

Due to Covid and your timescale, I would try to keep it as simple and stress free as possible, so visit either Portugal or Madeira.

As with all travel these days, you have to be prepared for the worst case scenario - your flights change, entry/exit requirements change, one of you tests positive and can’t return home and has to self isolate for a week or whatever the the current legal timeframe is in April.

Some places may have closures on Easter Sunday and being school holidays, places will be busier and more expensive.

Posted by
1151 posts

Things being closed for Easter is the least of your worries. Easter week is busier than usual with a high number of Spanish coming to Portugal.

I agree with the poster who said pick one and don’t try to do both the mainland and Madeira during such a short trip. I did visit Madeira last summer after l living in Portugal almost six years. Around Funchal it was similar to the mainland in a number of ways. We did a day trip to the east side of the island and it was very different and very beautiful. So - if you chose to go the Madeira only, you would get a bit of what the mainland is like with the option of the east and west sides of the island which are quite different.

That said - and I know I’m in the minority here - I wasn’t blown away by Madeira. Unless your spouse’s heritage is very important, I would chose the mainland over the island. You have many more options of where to visit and what to see.
Regarding Covid- I wish we had the ability to see that far out. I doubt the government will shut down the country again. But, no one knows. Keep up to date with restrictions and requirements!

Posted by
20796 posts

I count eight full, non-jetlagged days. I don't see why you couldn't combine Madeira and Lisbon/Sintra. I'd split 5 them 5 nights/4 nights, advantage to Madeira since it's much more likely you'll return to the mainland, what with the transportation challenge of getting to Madeira. I agree that it would not be prudent to try to cover much of Portugal in addition to Madeira. You'll likely need to travel through Lisbon (if not a UK airport) to get to and from Madeira, so including the Lisbon area will not add extra travel time. If the flight schedule permits, I'd start in Madeira so your last days are in the Lisbon area, from which your flight home will likely depart. I wouldn't want to be in Madeira even the day before my flight home; if there was a flight problem, you might end up buying four new one-way transatlantic tickets.

I found Madeira lovely on my two trips there. Madeira has wonderful walks along the levadas (small irrigation canals) with views of terraced hillsides. There used to be, and I assume still is, a company that does guided walks. You don't need a guide (there will surely be a guidebook for independent walkers available), but the company's walks include transportation to and from, which could be handy. There was (pre-COVID) rather extensive bus service on Madeira to such places as Curral das Freiras. Rental cars are also available, of course, though I have no idea what they cost.

Posted by
5375 posts

I agree that you don't have enough time for the runout to Madeira. Are you aware that there is virtually no sand-beach swimming on Madeira? It's a rocky island and luxury hotels have pools (some salt water) beside the dangerous and cold ocean. I mention this in case you were thinking of a Carribean-type interlude in your early spring trip.

We enjoyed three (?) nights in Madeira, but we really wanted to see what it was like. Despite the loveliness of the levada-walks, the island was, we saw, deep in the twilight of its position as a pre-war ocean luxury resort for wealthy Europeans (and sun-seeking Brits). I don't mean that unkindly, I'm just trying to find language that encapsulates the location. We're not sorry we went, but we had more like two weeks.

Just to pick some alternates, I think history that interests the family, like Roman ruins, Templar castles, wine or port production, mainland seaside resorts, town like Evora, universities far older than any in the US, Catholic pilgrimage sites, lovely renovated religious lodgings, and superb food, can be found on the mainland. Unless you have direct flights, Portugal is a bit out of the way in Western Europe. We don't favor renting cars, but after we finished Lisbon, one worked well for us.

Posted by
5398 posts

Hard facts: OP probably has 8 good days to utilize. Getting to and from their destination(s) is going to (or should, IMHO) influence the itinerary, because of the short time available and potential time lost to travel. Efficient flight options may be limited (maybe very limited).

(The above assumes they are coming from North America. If based in Europe, they get an extra usable day, maybe two. If coming from the UK, they have even more options, maybe more time. If coming from somewhere much further away, then less.)

There are some direct flights from North America to mainland Portugal (American Airlines, TAP, maybe one or two others), but Portugal is not as well-connected to North America as much of the continent. Though their network is somewhat limited, if the OP lives in a city served by TAP ("TAP Air Portugal"), that would help reduce flight times. But if they need to (or choose to) fly via a stop elsewhere in Europe, that will eat a little more time.

There are direct flights to Madeira from multiple European cities, lots from Portugal (also a surprising number from the UK), and some other places. Reducing the flying will help, but they still have limited time and (I'm assuming) a long way to go.

I suggest they pick either Madeira or mainland Portugal, but as suggested above by acraven, they could combine Madeira with a short stop in just Lisbon/nearby (because, there's a pretty good chance they will have to go through Lisbon anyway, going to/returning from Madeira). I still think the ratio of "time being there" to "time in transit" isn't favorable, but it's the OP's trip.

One little-known option that could help reduce the flights, is an airline called "SATA Azores Airlines". SATA has direct flights from a few North American cities (Boston, Montreal, Oakland, maybe one or two more) to Ponta Delgada (PDL) in the Azores (Ponta Delgada is SATA's "hub"). From there, they have direct flights to Madeira. That is (by far) the shortest route to Madeira from North America, but it depends on where you start from (also, these flights are not every day). But if everything aligns nicely (OP lives near a city SATA serves, the SATA flight to PDL goes on the "right" day, they can connect efficiently to Madeira from PDL, then they catch a direct flight from Madeira to Lisbon for the return...) it could work out nicely. This is a bit of a longshot (multiple things have to all line up) but if they do, it might work well. It's exactly the kind of transportation "adventure" I love (I enjoy creative and obscure solutions to flight challenges), but I'm sure it makes others roll their eyes and shake their heads.

I still think "pick one, not both" but it depends on the OP's starting location, and it's worth at least a quick look at SATA just in case all the stars are aligned.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you all for your advice.

We live about 20 minutes (more with traffic) from Boston's Logan Airport which is serviced by both airlines some of you mentioned. Since there is a very large Portuguese population in our part of the state flight options to the Azores and Mainland Portugal are fairly good. Of course operations may be disrupted from the norm due to the pandemic. And less frequent direct flight might be available.

I work in public health so am well acquainted with the ever changing rules both here and abroad. We'll have to keep monitoring the situation and if we decide to do it we will have to be flexible. We are a family that tends to cram a lot into our trips and I know to most doing both locations is a stretch. Your input does give us more to think about though especially with the travel time factoring "lost" time to flying etc. We are not looking for a "beach" vacation we have plenty of beach time during the summer months and understand while an island there are not really beaches where you go and relax at like you would say where we live.

Thanks for all you input! Hopefully this trip will happen. We've had to put off a couple years now of trips due to the pandemic so are really itching to get back overseas.

Posted by
5398 posts

Indeed, the absolute best place to start from (in the USA) if you are planning this trip, is Boston. Your options on TAP and SATA are so much better than what most of us have. And Boston being so far "east", the hop to the Azores is short.

If I was hoping to do both, I would look at SATA from BOS to PDL (Ponta Delagada, Azores -- this flight is surprisingly short, I think about 4 hours), connect there to FNC (Madeira, again, a relatively short flight, maybe 3 hours?). If the flights go on the right day for you, and if the connection time in PDL is efficient, you could get from Boston to Madeira very efficiently. A few days in Madeira, then fly direct from FNC to Lisbon (frequent flights) a few days there, then fly from Lisbon home to Boston (hopefully on a nonstop). You could also do it the opposite way if that works out better.

This is an awesome routing if you can pull it off.

Posted by
907 posts

Hello from Wisconsin,
Make a choice. I have been to both. If you spent all your time on Madeira it could be a bit too long. It wasn't for my wife and me, but we can be entertained by a turtle crossing the sidewalk. Madeira was a great time. Very interesting.

Portugal is too big to see everything in the time you have. Lisbon in March and April was magical. If you can read some WWII history books. The old trams and the morning fog made me feel like we were sneaking around in 1930s Portugal looking to gain exit visas. Don't short change your time in Lisbon. A couple days after you land, then several stops in Evora and Obidos, Or add an outlier of Viseu. if you feel you have to drive a long way to see something. Don't rent a car until you leave Lisbon.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you David for the flight suggestion. If the stars align that would be ideal as you suggested.

Thanks again to all for your comments and suggestions.!

Posted by
1742 posts

Curious if you made this trip?
I am also from the Boston area and just returned from a lovely trip to Madeira.

Have been to mainland Portugal and they are similar but hard to directly compare. Obviously much more to see and do in Portugal but there are some quite incredible things about Madeira that you may never experience anywhere else. For me it was the desire to be above the clouds on it's peaks. Which happened and I loved but sadly only aligned weather wise to be clear on one attempt during the trip.

We stayed 6 nights at Cliff Bay in Funchal and had the same/similar dates as you so if you went we would have been on the island some of the same days.
If not, I may be able to help with questions for a future time you want to go there.

We flew into London direct from Boston. Then took a cheap flight Ryan Air from London to Madeira 2 days later.
On the way home we flew the Sata recommended option above with a stopover for a few hours in the Azores (PDL)
Sata has some customer friendly policies but that PDL to BOS flight was brutal as they have zero in flight entertainment, no seatback TV's, etc... and the flight was 6 long hours (normally 5 I think) which my young daughter handed well but thought was torture.
The nice thing about the layover was the small airport PDL allowed us enough time to leave the airport ; we hired a taxi for a very reasonable hourly rate to give us a tour of a couple sites/viewpoints on the island. So much better than staying at the airport the entire time, especially since the lounge at PDL is closed / out of business currently.

There are many airlines and direct routes to Madeira at VERY low prices once you are in Europe so if returning to Madeira (decent chance we will) I would do it that way rather than with Sata unless they bring a BOS-FNC direct option with seatback entertainment in the future. They are adding a NYC to FNC route this summer.
From Europe though it is a little bit of a maze to find the direct cheap options as it is primarily with the smaller airports and budget airlines. Like Nuremberg instead of Munich, Bergamo instead of Milan, Stansted instead of Heathrow, etc... serviced by Ryan Air, Easy Jet, Condor, TAP and similar lower cost outfits.
There are also direct flights from Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin and other major cities.
And there are tons of cheap flight options from Lisbon to FNC ; so again if you can get yourself most anywhere in mainland Europe getting to Madeira is quite easy.
The island is very popular tourist destination for Europeans but you see very few Americas which we liked.
A car is necessary on Madeira IMO unless you just want to relax by the pool and if that is the case April is not a great time of year.
We rented from Hertz at the airport there and it was painless ; similar to Hertz most anywhere would be.

Posted by
6 posts

Hello,

Thank you for sharing details of your recent trip. Sadly we did not make it. My MIL was battling cancer and went on hospice and recently died so this upended any hopes we had for an April trip.

I appreciate all your details on the flights. Within the next year we are determined to make this trip. Very good to know about the Sata airline with no entertainment, seatbacks etc. That would not work for our family so will keep that in mind when exploring other airlines. Also, good to know that from other European cities it is fairly accessible to get to Madeira at smaller airports. There are a lot of great flight options from Boston as you know to get to Portugal itself.

I'm glad you had a wonderful trip! And thank you again for sharing details. I hope the place you stayed at was nice we had looked at it as a possibility.

Posted by
1742 posts

Cliff bay was wonderful!
Was a bit more than wanted to spend but offered a heated outdoor pool as well as the normal non-heated one
In April that proved nice to have

Great views as well, is nice to be up high with a view of the water but also direct ocean level access
Easy and free parking was also a factor as I knew we would be often using the rental car. Many other hotels charge for parking and I heard in and out was a little difficult at some.

We booked a top floor Funchal view and were given a room on the 9th (very highest) which was fortunate (top floor means 6-9 I believe)
That said for a return trip I think I would book a side ocean view and save some money.
The Funchal view is great and quiet but gets sun only in the morning. The other side either side or full ocean view get afternoon sun: will be noisier on the balcony but I wouldn’t mind that.

Yes to logistics most time of year TAP direct to Lisbon is likely the best option ; they were very high priced for our week but have used them before with good success.
From Lisbon there are many cheap flight options to reach Madeira so you don’t necessarily have to use TAP for that leg