A trip to Madeira starts in the charming capital city of Funchal. This white city is located in the southern part of Madeira, the sunniest region of the island. While the north and east often experience cloudy weather, Funchal enjoys almost year-round sunshine. It’s a perfect city to indulge in delicious dining, enjoy wines on the terrace, and stroll through its lively streets. Of course, there are more things to do in Funchal, which boasts a few fantastic attractions.
Take a Cable Car to Monte
See Funchal from a different perspective! Hop on the cable car that takes you over the center of Funchal and eventually drops you off in the village of Monte. You can also reach Monte by bus or your own car, but taking the cable car is a more exciting experience. The cable car ride takes about 15 minutes due to the 560-meter (1,837 feet) altitude difference and the 3,200-meter (10,498 feet) distance. Sit back and enjoy the beautiful views of Funchal, the ocean, and the mountains from your cabin. Once you arrive in Monte, visit the most beautiful garden in Funchal, the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. The cable car operates from 09:00 to 17:45, and here’s the location of the cable car in Funchal.
Stroll Through the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
When you step off the cable car, you’ll find yourself at the entrance of the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, the most beautiful gardens in Madeira. It covers a whopping 70,000 square meters (753,474 square feet) and is filled with both native and exotic flowers and plants. Not only will you be amazed by the unique vegetation, but you’ll also encounter numerous bridges, gates, and decorations in Japanese and Chinese styles. Moreover, the gardens feature a significant collection of art and a museum showcasing 1,000 Zimbabwean sculptures. Take your time to explore this beautiful place as there is so much beauty to behold!
Take the next cable car to the botanical garden
If you’re still in the mood to visit another garden after Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, hop on the cable car to Madeira Botanical Garden. The ride takes around 10 minutes. Here, you’ll find a cactus garden with giant cacti and a large flower carpet, among other attractions. We found Madeira Botanical Garden slightly less impressive than Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, but there are a greater variety of flowers to see. If you’re only planning to visit one of these two gardens, we recommend skipping this one.
Return to Funchal with the toboggan ride
Funchal is a city built on a hill. If you want to get back to Funchal from Monte, you have quite a descent ahead of you. You can take the cable car, catch a bus, or use your own car, but the most fun way to go downhill is by toboggan. A toboggan is a wooden sled with a large wicker basket on top where you can sit and slide down. The toboggan has been gliding through the streets of Funchal for many years. In the past, when there were few or no cars, the toboggan was part of Madeira’s public transportation system. It originally originated to transport fresh vegetables and fruits quickly from the plantations to the market in the city center.
A ride in the toboggan costs between $28 and $39, depending on the number of people riding. It can accommodate 2 to 3 adults, but the less weight, the faster you’ll slide down the mountain. The toboggan is pushed and steered by two “carreiros.” These men are dressed entirely in white and wear cheerful straw hats. They often sing Portuguese songs at the top of their lungs as you slide down. The soles of their boots are made of car tires, allowing them to brake effectively on the asphalt. You can get a ticket for the toboggan around the corner from Monte Palace.
Enjoy a traditional poncha drink
When visiting Madeira, you must try the local drink called poncha. Poncha is a strong alcoholic beverage made with passion fruit, sugarcane brandy, honey, lemon, and ice. You can find it in almost any cafe in Madeira, but we recommend going to Rei Da Poncha to taste this tropical drink. It’s the go-to place for poncha in Funchal. They offer a wide variety of flavors on the menu, and if you can’t decide, you can also order a poncha tasting where you get a little bit of each flavor in a shot glass. Rei Da Poncha is a very popular cafe, and during the high season, there’s often a line after 5:00 PM to get a table. If you go between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM, there’s usually plenty of space. Keep in mind that they only accept cash as payment. Cheers!
Take a refreshing swim
If you’re in Funchal during good weather, be sure to visit one of the city’s swimming pools. Lido Pools (see photo below) is a very popular spot in Funchal and the perfect place to lounge on a sunbed and only get up for a refreshing swim. There are several pools, including a large pool and two children’s pools, all filled with seawater. Another great place to take a dip is Doca do Cavacas pools. These are natural pools by the sea, also filled with seawater.
Taste the wines of Madeira
Attention wine lovers! At Blandy’s, you can enjoy a delightful wine tasting experience and learn a lot about Madeira wines. Blandy’s is a family-owned business that has been producing wine for over 200 years. Madeira wine is made in a slightly different way than regular wines. While wines typically age best in the cellar, Madeira wine should be kept in a warm place. At Blandy’s, the wine barrels are stored in the attic.
Visit the local market
In the heart of Funchal, you’ll find the covered market called Mercados dos Lavradores. The market is filled with stalls offering a wide variety of exotic fruits. There’s also a large fish section and flower stands where the island’s most beautiful flowers are sold by women in traditional clothing. However, be cautious and just browse around the market without making any purchases. The prices at this market are ridiculously high (10 times the normal price!). If you want to buy fruit, do so at a nearby stall where it’s much cheaper. Mercados dos Lavradores is closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.
Extra tip: Visit the market in the morning when the stalls are still nicely stocked.
Explore the old town of Funchal
Zona Velha, the old town of Funchal, is a charming neighborhood with narrow streets and old houses. It used to be neglected and unpopular among tourists until a group of artists started a project to revitalize Zona Velha. In the street Calle de Santa Maria, you’ll find many of these artists. Every door in this street is painted with colorful artwork. The neighborhood features cute squares, beautiful houses, and terraces. Take a leisurely stroll or find a cozy terrace to relax on. Don’t forget to visit the Sé Cathedral, which was built in the 15th century and is one of the oldest structures in Madeira.
Treat Yourself at Uau Cacau Specialty Shop
If you’re a chocolate lover, this tip is for you! In Funchal, there’s a small chocolate shop called Uau Cacau. They sell bonbons with dozens of different fillings, from passion fruit to gin.
Best Restaurants in Funchal
There are plenty of options for excellent restaurants in Funchal. Here are our favorites:
Prima Caju: Delicious coffee, bowls, and wraps in Funchal.
Indian Palace Restaurant: Delightful Indian cuisine. It’s always busy, so reservations are a must.
Art Food Corner: Our favorite spot in Funchal for a healthy and tasty lunch.
Mundo Vegan: Super tasty dishes for both lunch and dinner, all vegan.
Casal Da Penha: If you love seafood or a good piece of meat, you’ll taste the best of Portuguese cuisine here.
Akua: Chef Júlio Pereira creates delicious dishes that are perfect for sharing. Unique combinations of fresh ingredients from Madeira.
Casa do Bolo do Caco: Bolo do Caco is a typical bread from Madeira. If you’re looking for a quick bite in the afternoon, you can get a Bolo do Caco with meat and herb butter here.
Our Favorite Places to Stay in Funchal
The best tip we can give is to book a hotel with a pool in Funchal, even if it’s just for a few nights. Since Madeira has few sandy beaches, having a hotel with a pool is especially enjoyable during your vacation. One of the best hotels in Funchal is the Three House Hotel. It has everything you need, including a TV with Netflix, a gym, an excellent restaurant, and fantastic views over Funchal. Plus, there’s a lovely rooftop bar with a pool. Located on the edge of the old town is the NEXT – Savoy Signature, one of the newest hotels in Funchal where you’ll definitely experience that vacation vibe. The rooms are stylish, featuring terrazzo tiles and comfortable beds. But what’s even better is the rooftop bar with a pool overlooking the sea. If you have a smaller budget but still want to stay in a hotel with a pool, the Guesthouse Vila Lusitania is the best choice in Funchal. It’s located a bit further up the hill, offering a fantastic view of the city and the sea. Please note that this guesthouse is about 2.5 km away from the city center.
|Three House Hotel
|NEXT – Savoy Signature
|Guesthouse Vila Lusitania