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Latest update: 13 August 2023

Funchal is the colorful capital of Madeira in Portugal. It is a lovely city to wander around, and Funchal is also perfect for discovering the rest of Madeira. But first, let’s see what you can do in Funchal. More than 20 travel tips!

Funchal in Madeira: mountains and ocean

The capital of Madeira, Funchal, is a twenty-minute drive from the airport. Funchal is embraced by the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. If it is cloudy in the mountains, the sun will probably shine in Funchal. The capital of Madeira has an average of more than 200 dry days per year. The weather in Funchal is always spring-like, and the temperature fluctuates between 16 and 26 degrees, with a few peaks here and there. A perfect temperature for the flowers, which are in full bloom in April and May.

This is Funchal in Madeira, Portugal

You can roughly divide Funchal into the old town and the new area. The new part is Lido, where you’ll mainly find large hotels and resorts. I drive through it by car, but I don’t find the area attractive at first glance. The old town of Funchal is much nicer because there it is full of bars, restaurants, and shops, and you will find the main attractions of Funchal. You can easily discover the old town of Funchal on foot. If you go into the suburbs or want to explore other parts of Madeira, you go straight uphill. So if you plan to see more of Madeira, I recommend a rental car (from Sunny Cars or EasyTerra, for example) or take the cable car!

What to do in Funchal?

Funchal is not a city with a world-famous landmark like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. The city is much smaller and has smaller sights, such as a church or a fort. In addition to seeing various sights, there are also fun things to do in Funchal, such as a city walking tour, a Madeira wine tasting, or a boat trip. If you want to see it all and do it all in Funchal, you can easily spend two or three days there. Probably more. I have a list of over 20 tips for Funchal in Madeira for you!

Tip 1 – City walking tour through Funchal

Start your visit to Funchal with a city walking tour. This way you get to see the most important sights and the guide gives you great local tips and a lot of information about the city.

There are different providers, so check which price and time appeal to you the most. You can try GetYourGuide, Freetour, or GuruWalk. The latter two offer ‘free’ city walking tours through Funchal. But the idea is that you give the guide a tip.

Also a good option: a city walking tour with snacks and drinks. With this tour, you will discover Funchal and try 11 local delicacies and 6 wines!

Tip 2 – Cathedral of Funchal

You can visit the cathedral of Funchal for free. The Sé Cathedral is made of volcanic rock from the cliffs of Cabo Girāo (a beautiful viewpoint at Câmara de Lobos). I think it is a unique architectural style with white and stone patterns. You don’t often see cathedrals like this. Inside, it is lavish with gold decorations, so if the door is open, take a peek.

Google Maps location

Tip 3 – Jesuit Church of Funchal

Funchal’s Jesuit Church, or Igreja de São João, is on the same square as the Town Hall. On this square (Praça do Municipal), many buildings are somewhat in the same style: white, with dark wooden frames. Inside, it’s completely different: bling-bling, gold, and very detailed woodcarving.

Google Maps location

Tip 4 – Town hall with azulejos tiles

The Funchal Town Hall was once built as the residence of an important noble family. It has served as a town hall since 1883, but it certainly still feels like a palace. You can walk in to see the entrance with blue and white tiles and the courtyard with a fountain that used to be on the fish market. If you want, you can join a tour of the town hall. It only costs a few euros. Make sure you are at the entrance at 11 am on weekdays. You could also make a reservation.

Google Maps location

Tip 5 – Forte de São Tiago

If you walk through Funchal, then also walk past the ocher yellow fort. Forte de Sao Tiago was built in the 16th and 17th centuries to protect the coast and city against pirates. The fort is not doing well in terms of maintenance, but the ocher yellow stands out nicely against the blue sky. It now houses a museum and a restaurant. On the seaside, people like to use the platform in front of the fort to sunbathe and take a dip in the ocean.

Google Maps location

Tip 6 – Capela do Corpo Santo

The original Corpo Santo chapel stood on the edge of the old town. Late in the 15th century, the people who lived by the sea built this chapel in honor of Pedro Gonçalves Telmo, the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Over the centuries, the chapel has been extensively renovated. Only the Gothic door is still original. If you’re lucky, it’s open, and you can look inside. Otherwise, grab a drink on one of the terraces next to the chapel – after all, it’s vacation!

Google Maps location

Corpo Santo Chapel Funchal Madeira

Tip 7 – Art doors in the Rua de Santa Maria

The Rua de Santa Maria runs through the heart of the old town of Funchal, the Zona Velha. It is now one of Funchal’s top sights, but this part was run down and abandoned before the’ door project’. A shame, and so the art project Projecto artE de pORtas abErtas (roughly translated: the art of open doors) started. Artists were allowed to paint the doors in Rua de Santa Maria street.

On the project website, you can see who painted each door and what the door looked like before. The street is now appealing again. It is also full of bars and restaurants. A bit touristy, of course, but oh well. To see as many doors as possible, go earlier in the day before the bars and restaurants open.

Google Maps location

Tip 8 – The cable car from Funchal to Monte

Above Funchal lies the village of Monte. With the cable car, you can visit this village. It is worth the ride because you’ll get to the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and have the chance to slide through the streets with a wicker sled (toboggan).

The cable car between Funchal and Monte takes about fifteen minutes to cover the 3 kilometers. Monte is about 560 meters higher than Funchal, so you save yourself a big climb. And in the meantime, you have a beautiful view of the city and the ocean. The cable car is open from 9 am to 5:45 pm. You can buy a (pricey) ticket directly at the box office or online.

Google Maps location

Cable car Funchal Monte

Tip 9 – Visit the tropical garden of Monte: Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

You can roll straight into the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens from the cable car. And if you have the time to go here, I’m so jealous! Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the gardens, but it looks so beautiful in the photos. The palace is now a museum with about 1000 Zimbabwean statues, but the main attraction is the garden. The tropical gardens of Monte are the most beautiful gardens in Madeira, full of extraordinary flowers and plants. And you will find all kinds of Japanese and Chinese elements, such as red wooden bridges. Really very special. You can for sure spend a few hours here!

Google Maps location

Tip 10 – Funchal Botanical Garden

You can easily take the cable car from Monte Palace Tropical Gardens to Madeira Botanical Gardens, but it is less well regarded. If you have the time, you can definitely visit both to discover which garden you like better. Otherwise, I would skip the botanical garden of Funchal. If you want to buy a ticket for the cable car from Monte Palace Tropical Gardens to Madeira Botanical Gardens in advance, you can do that here.

Google Maps location

Botanical Garden Funchal
Photo: Francisco Correia

Tip 11 – Slid through the streets with the toboggan

In Monte, near the tropical gardens, you can sled down with an old-fashioned wooden sled with a wicker basket. So instead of the cable car or the car, you take the toboggan. It takes you to Livramento, and from there, you walk back to Funchal in half an hour, or you take the bus.

The toboggan is a unique, authentic means of transport in Madeira. At the beginning of the 19th century, this was the public transport from Monte to Funchal. Now, of course, it is a tourist activity.

Two men (carreiros) dressed entirely in white drive the toboggan. Straw hat, boots with tire soles, and off they go. And that goes quite fast: about 38 kilometers per hour. A real adrenaline rush. Even if you don’t plan to take a ride, it’s still nice to go to the starting point to see how it works.

Google Maps location

Toboggan Madeira

Tip 12 – Farmers market in Funchal: Mercado dos Lavradores

You’ll need to get there early to see Funchal’s farmer’s market in all its glory and to avoid the tour groups. It is a partly covered market where women in traditional clothing sell flowers and where you can buy exotic fruit or fresh fish. The fish market is already closed at the end of the day, so you must be there early to see this part.

Almost everyone advises against buying something at the Mercado dos Lavradores because it is so outrageously expensive. You’re better off shopping elsewhere and just coming here for the experience and the photos.

Google Maps location

Tip 13 – Avenida do Mar, the boulevard of Funchal

Stretch your legs along the boulevard of Funchal. Avenida do Mar runs along the sea, and the walk is quite varied. There are small parks, kiosks, cafes, and the Christiano Ronaldo museum – he was born in Madeira. At night it really comes to life on the boulevard. Many people meet for a chat and a drink, go for a run, or watch the sunset.

The boulevard is about 1.5 km long and runs from the fortress to the port of Funchal. In the harbor, you’ll see the Santa Maria de Colombo: the replica pirate ship of Christopher Columbus, with which you can also make a sailing trip. Columbus stayed in Madeira between 1480 and 1482. The Columbus one is one of many ships you can board. Several boat trips depart from this port in Funchal. Review your options.

Google Maps location

Tip 14 – The Ronaldo statue and CR7 Museum

Cristiano Ronaldo is quite an icon. No wonder Madeira is proud he was born in Funchal. Even the Funchal airport is named after the famous soccer player. The old city pier is also called Praça CR7! And to be fair: I first had to google what CR7 meant. It stands for Cristiano Ronaldo and his jersey number. Did you know?

There is a large statue of the football star on the old Funchal pier and people like to rub uhm… certain parts of the figure.

The statue is directly in front of the CR7 Museum, where you can learn everything about the career of Cristiano Ronaldo. The rest of the building has cafes, restaurants, and a super luxury hotel. You wouldn’t tell it from the outside, but inside the CR7 hotel is quite impressive.

If you are a big fan of Ronaldo, an extensive tour takes you to all the important places in his life, including the CR7 Museum.

Google Maps location

Tip 15 – Dolphin and whale watching from Funchal

You can do whale and dolphin tours all year round, but you have the best chance of seeing them in the summer months. There are many providers of these tours in Funchal. At some, you go with a catamaran, and others sail with a sailing ship. Just see what you like most. Please note that the tour may also be rescheduled if the weather is not okay. So it might be smart not to plan it on the last day of your holiday in Madeira so that you can give it a second try.

Tip 16 – Beaches in Funchal

To the beach in Funchal? No. Unfortunately. Funchal has no beaches. Madeira only has black rock and pebble beaches. Many people visit the sandy beach of the other island of Porto Santo for a day or settle for the stone plateau in front of the fortress.

But there is an excellent alternative: Lido Bathing Complex (here) and, even more beautiful, the Doca do Cavacas Natural Pools (here). Both cost about € 6 (in 2023) per person, allowing you to chill at the pool all day.

Tip 17 – Buy tasty souvenirs in Funchal, Madeira

Already enough magnets on the fridge and not so much in need of a Ronaldo shirt? I understand. Fortunately, you have more options in Funchal. Starting, of course, with a bottle of Madeira wine. You can buy it at Blandy’s (here). Or opt for delicious chocolate at UAU CACAU (here). The display contains the prettiest bonbons with tasty fillings – from pistachio to passion fruit. Good look deciding which ones you want!

You can also buy a tasty souvenir at the bakery Fábrica Santo Antonio (here). Get a Bolo de mel de cana da Madeira: a round cake of sugar cane syrup. The saleswoman tempts me into buying a small bag of guilherminas: oatmeal cookies with almonds. Also tasty! And the little bakery shop is a cute sight too.

Tip 18 – Events and festivals in Funchal

There is plenty to do in Funchal all year round. There’s always a reason to throw a party. So check the Visit Madeira site carefully to see if you can plan your visit to include a fun event or festival. What about:

  • Carnival in February/March
  • Flower Festival in spring
  • Atlantic Festival in June
  • Wine festival in August/September

But there is also, for example, an organ festival and a nature festival. I’m there during the Atlantic Festival, which heralds the start of summer. Every Saturday, there is a big fireworks show in the port of Funchal. It’s a twenty-minute show with fireworks and music. Really well done.

Atlantic Festival Fireworks Show Funchal Madeira

Tip 19 – Taste a poncha, sip a Nikita

Poncha is THE drink of Madeira. It is pretty strong, so that is why you often drink it with fruit juice. Poncha is made from sugar cane rum, honey, sugar, and orange or lemon juice. That is the most traditional variant, but at every poncha bar, there are many variations on the menu. The most famous poncha bar in Funchal is Rei da Poncha (Google Maps location), but getting a spot is challenging. So you can also try it at one of the other poncherias. For example, at the Rua de Santa Maria (the street with the painted doors).

I secretly like the slightly lesser-known tropical cocktail Nikita better than the poncha. The Nikita (the creator of the drink named it after the Elton John song) may sound like a somewhat crazy combination: vanilla ice cream, beer and/or wine, sugar, pineapple, and pineapple juice. But it works so well! Nice and creamy and refreshing.

Tip 20 – Taste Madeira wine at Blandy’s

You drink Madeira wine as an aperitif or after a meal. It is a dark wine that tastes quite sweet. It reminds me of port more than a regular wine. Order a glass at one of Funchal’s cafes, but learning more about Madeira wine is even more fun. You can do that at Blandy’s in Funchal.

Blandy’s is the most famous producer of Madeira wine. The Blandy family has made Madeira’s typical wine for seven generations. In Funchal, you can do wine tastings and tours at Blandy’s, buy wines and visit the family museum.

And if you want: Blandy’s also has accommodations. The Wine Lodges are warmly decorated apartments above Blandy’s Wine Lodge with views over Funchal’s gardens.

Google Maps location

Tip 21 – Good restaurants in Funchal

There are really dozens of excellent restaurants in Funchal. You can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner there for a whole week and still haven’t tried everything. I had a delicious meal at Kampo by Chef Julio Pereira. Upon entering, the maturing cabinets for meat immediately catch the eye. For me, a clear hint that I should definitely go for a meat dish here. The sirloin is cooked perfectly. But to be honest, the plates of my table companions all look mouth-wateringly delicious too.

Google Maps location

At the top of the Nini Design Center is a luxurious restaurant with a breathtaking view of Funchal. Come and dine while it’s still light so you can watch the sun go down and see the thousands of lights appear in Funchal. The food is delicious, and the look is very chic, so to my surprise, the price is not too hefty (three-course menu for € 60).

Nini Andrade Silva is an artist, and the Design Center has an exhibition space, a shop, a café, and a restaurant. It is located in a beautiful old fort on the harbor that has been completely modernized.

Google Maps location

Car rental in Funchal (+ parking)

You don’t really need a rental car in Funchal itself, but Funchal is probably only one of the towns you want to see in Madeira. So you’ll have to rent a car in Madeira. You will have to navigate many narrow roads and steep hills, so rent a car that can handle those. I always prefer to rent from EasyTerra or Sunny Cars – compare the prices!

Almost everywhere in Madeira, you can park for free along the road. But not in Funchal, unfortunately. You have to pay for your parking space. So arrange either a hotel with a parking space or try it at Parque 2000, Estacionamento Praça CR7, or Parking São Tiago, for example.

Hotel tip in Funchal: Se Boutique Hotel

Do you want to stay right in the old town of Funchal? Then choose Se Boutique Hotel. A lovely boutique hotel right in the center of Funchal. Especially the common areas are so stylishly decorated: lovely details everywhere and very colorful. The rooms are more sober but have wonderfully comfortable beds.

The Sé Boutique Hotel also has a beautiful roof terrace where you can relax after a day of sightseeing in Funchal. You must pay something extra to use the hotel pool, but then you get it all to yourself. And, not unimportant: at breakfast, you get mini-pastel de natas. Bonus points!

Check the prices and availability.

More Madeira inspiration?

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I was invited to Madeira by Visit Madeira and Interface Tourism Netherlands.

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