25+ BEST THINGS TO DO IN FUNCHAL, MADEIRA – The Ultimate Guide
The charming coastal town Funchal is the capital of Madeira island and a true gem to explore. Strolling through the atmospheric town during night feels like walking in a modern fairytale. There are many small, cobbled streets to explore with beautiful authentic buildings, a fort, pebble beaches, very lush parks and great restaurants. Many tourists base themselves in Funchal to explore Madeira island with its varied landscapes. That’s a great choice if you want to be centrally located on the island and have enough facilities around you and experience the lively vibe of the small city. Besides being a great town to stay, there are also many great things to do in Funchal. In this complete guide you’ll find all the best activities to do in and around Funchal!
Best time to go to Funchal
Funchal is year round a great destination to visit. The average annual temperature for Funchal is 21°C with hot summers and mild winters. It is dry 236 days a year with about the same amount of days sunshine. Besides that, Funchal has its charm in every season, with December as a real ‘Festa’ month with Christmas and New Years Eve. During the summer season terraces are packed and many locals and tourists enjoy being outside.
Where to stay in Funchal
There are many luxury hotels, pretty boutique houses and affordable Airbnb’s in and around Funchal. A lot of places have a nice ocean or mountain view which is what you should choose for when you want to experience the best Funchal views.
During our 6 month stay in Madeira we experienced a few different areas and accommodations in Funchal. So we have our favourite spots to stay in the city. In terms of accessibility, most of the neighbourhoods in Funchal are easy to reach with a car or public transport. The biggest difference is that the further uphill your accommodation is, the more incline you will have when visiting the city by foot. Also take into account if your accommodation has parking available. Otherwise you are dependent of availability on the street which is usually paid in the city centre.
Luxury hotels in Funchal: Savoy, The Vine, Reid’s Palace, Portobay, Les Suites.
Luxury boutique houses, villa’s and apartments in Funchal: Funchal cottages, An Island Apart, Our Madeira.
How to get around in Funchal
Build on the south coast of the island on the outskirts of mountain slopes, many streets ofFunchal have an incline. Only the ‘lower’ part of the city where most of the restaurants are located is the ‘flat’ part. Here you are close to the ocean, boulevard and a beautiful city park with all sorts of trees, flowers and other plants. If you have your accommodation in Funchal centre, you can easily get around by foot. But as soon as you want to explore the island, you will need a rental car or book tours. It is possible to get around in Funchal by bus. This transportation method is convenient and cheap. However the most easy way to explore Madeira Island is by renting a car.
25 BEST THINGS TO DO IN FUNCHAL & 8 fun things to do close to Funchal
Admire the Cathedral from Funchal
The Cathedral from Funchal, also known as the Sé Cathedral, dates from the 1400s and has been classified as a National Monument since 1910. Itfeatures one of Portugal’s most beautiful ceilings. The Gothic style church is a must-see during your stay in Funchal, all the history, glass and art work are worth a peek inside.
Wander along the beautiful streets and squares of Funchal
“Funchal feels like a modern fairytale” is what I said during an evening walk through the city centre. What I mean with that is the overall atmosphere of the town which is so relaxing and authentic with old but colourful buildings and cobbled streets. But still there is all the convenience you need in the 21th century.
Especially the old town of Funchal is worth a visit if you want to experience the real, authentic Funchal. Walk through Rua da Santa Maria and explore the beautiful street art. Wander along the beautiful buildings and monuments of Funchal such as the Cathedral from Funchal and Banco de Portugal building. Drink a coffee with wonderful ocean view on one of the terraces such as Bar Barreirinha Cafe, or take a break on some of the lovely squares with sunny terraces surrounded by colourful buildings.
Relax at the Santa Catarina park
The Santa Catarina park is a 36.000 sqm park in the centre of Funchal with stunning views on the ocean and coastline. The park is a perfect spot to relax or take a walk. It is the prettiest and largest park in the centre of Funchal and easy to access. The other gardens are located further up in the mountain, so this park is the perfect spot to relax and connect with nature in Funchal city. Santa Catarina park has many different species of flora from around the world and a beautiful enchanting lake. Bring a rug and something to drink and snack, and you’ll have a relaxing afternoon in the park.
Do a wine tasting at Blandy’s wine lodge
Madeira has a long history in winemaking. The story about how the Madeira wine has been founded is a quite funny and interesting story. In the end of the 15th century Madeira was a stop for ships sailing to America or South East Asia. They would take on supplies from what Madeira wine was one of them. But to prevent the wine from spoiling, the traditional sugarcane rum from Madeira was added. During the long sea voyages, the wines were exposed to heat and movement which transformed the flavour of the wine a lot. This was discovered by the wine producers of Madeira when an unsold shipment of wine returned after a trip.
Until today, Madeira is known for its unique winemaking process which involves oxidising the wine through heat and aging. There are a few different cellars and wine museums in Funchal to visit, but the most famous one with the longest history and prettiest museum is The Old Blandy Wine Lodge. Here you can experience Madeira Wine in the making. A guided tour will lead you through some history of the wine, its development and evolution, as well as the opportunity to taste the various Madeira wines.
For a beautiful view over Funchal you have a few options. Going up in the mountains or move to the left or right. Miradouro Pináculo is one of the great viewpoints to overlook Funchal from. Especially with sunset this is a great spot and easy to reach from the city centre. There are public buses going along this road or you can drive up with your rental car. From this viewpoint you’re facing west towards the Cabo Girão skywalk which also is another great viewpoint on Funchal!
Visit one of the Funchal museums such as the photography museum
There are quite a few museums in Funchal from which we have visited some. The photography museum grabbed our attention after seeing old pictures at Bordal of how Funchal looked like in the 1960’s. It were beautiful black and white pictures of the photographer Vicente Gomes da Silva. His former atelier and studio is now transformed into a museum. Here you can see the old cameras, negatives and photo equipment used by Vicente. It was once his official residence and photography studio, but nowadays it is considered as one of the most ancient photography studios in Portugal.
Watch the traditional Madeira Embroderies being made
Bordal is one of the main manufacturers and exporters of the famous Madeira embroidery and is next to Blandy’s wine one of the typical products of Madeira. Bordados da Madeira was founded in 1962 and is until today specialised in pieces for the table, bed linens and clothing with over 40.000 different designs! They use the finest linens and cottons and every single piece is handmade. It is absolutely worth it to see some of the handicraft being done and learn about the history of Madeira embroidery. It is true craftsmanship! Someone said once ‘Going to Madeira without visiting the typical embroidery is like going to Rome without visiting the pope’. Bordal is located along the Rua Dr. Fernão de Ornelas 77 and the tour through their factory is free of charge.
Admire the beautiful Corpo Santo Chapel
The Corpo Santo Chapel is located on a cute little square surrounded by colourful walls covered in paintings. This street has a very idyllic feel, so having a coffee on one of the terraces is highly recommend! The Corpo Santo chapel dates from the 15th century and is one of the few last buildings standing from that century. It has been modified many times since then but still has its gothic-mannerist style. The chapel was built in honour of São Pedro Gonçalves Telmo, patron saint of fishermen. The chapel itself and the square and street itself are very picturesque and worth to wander through.
Watch sunset along the waterfront at the boulevard park
On a warm evening it is highly recommend to watch the sunset along the boulevard. Or find a good rooftop terrace! But if you want to be outside in the city, close to the ocean and among the locals, then strolling along the boulevard and harbour is a great idea. The name of the boulevard park is ‘Praça do Povo’ and offers different areas for leisure, games and sports as well as park benches and lush plants and flowers. Take something to drink and a snack, sit down along the waterfront and enjoy the local Funchal life.
Visit the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers Market)
The Farmers Market is a fruit, vegetable, herb, flower and fish market located in the centre of Funchal. Here you can experience the bustling local atmosphere with colourful stalls and all sorts of sounds, smells and various nationalities. The beautiful building of Mercado dos Lavradores was designed by Edmundo Tavares and opened in November 1940. Inside there are different areas, also known as Plazas that are connected by passages and staircases.
Come here for the experience and to see (and taste) fruits you’ve probably never seen before. But don’t buy your fruits, veggies or herbs here because it is way overpriced. Tourists often feel ripped off when buying on the Farmers Market, so don’t fall into this tourist trap!
The Farmers Market is daily open except on Sunday and holidays. The best day to go to the Mercado dos Lavradores is on a Friday when the traditionally dressed flower ladies sell beautiful exotic flowers.
Take the Monte cable car up to the Madeira Botanical Gardens
Madeira is also known as the ‘flower island’ which is understandable if you look at the extremely diverse species of flowers, plants and trees on the island. There are many parks around Funchal, but the two gardens you have to see are Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and the Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Garden dates from 1881 and was created by the Reid family as their private park. The 35.000 sqm shows 2500 exotic plants from all continents in five different areas. There are for example plants from the Himalaya and tropical regions, South America and much more. Don’t forget to visit the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church as well!
You can either choose to drive up to Monte with the car, or take the local bus up there so you’ll only take the Botanical Garden cable car instead of the whole trip of the cable car from Funchal city. But a ‘once you are in Funchal, you have to…’ is certainly taking the cable car up to Monte. This costs you €31,40 for a round trip from Funchal to the Botanical Gardens. You can also drive up to Monte or take the bus so you will skip the costs of the Funchal Cable Car. There are different packages available which you can see on their website
Explore Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Monte Palace is located close to the Botanical Gardens, so you can eventually explore them on the same day. Both gardens have different things to offer, but after experiencing them I recommend you Monte Palace Tropical Garden the most. This oriental garden has several Japanese gardens with Asian sculptures. Scattered over an area of 70.000 square meters, you will need a few hours to explore the whole property! The extensive exotic plant collection comes from all over the world and can be seen throughout the garden which is two times the size of the Botanical Gardens! At the central lake you can enjoy a man made waterfall which is a perfect place to have a break. You can eventually go down with a toboggan ride if you’d like to do this traditional activity. The entrance fee for the Monte Palace Garden is quite expensive with €12,50 per person.
Drink a cocktail at one of the rooftop bars in Funchal
Funchal has a lot of options in rooftop bars with incredible views over the picturesque city and Atlantic Ocean. Some hotels have the luxury of a rooftop bar which you can visit as a guest. But if you don’t stay at these hotels or accommodations with rooftop access, you can still experience the incredible views. The rooftop bars and restaurants of several hotels are open for visitors from outside, you only have to make a reservation for dinner or go there for drinks. Below a list of the best rooftop bars in Funchal.
Galaxia Savoy Skybar
The Vine rooftop bar at Uva restaurant
Castanheiro Boutique Hotel
Three House rooftop bar
Allegro Hotel rooftop bar
Visit the CR7 museum
If you’re a football lover you can’t miss a visit to the Christiano Ronaldo museum. The CR7 hotel is located above the museum which is a very nice and luxury hotel to stay in Madeira. In the museum you can see all the prizes Ronaldo has won and his achievements. If you only want to see the big statue of Ronaldo you can visit it at any time because it is located right outside of the CR7 museum which is located along the waterfront of Funchal bay.
Explore the Street Art of Funchal
Scattered through Funchal are wonderful street art paintings to explore. Especially in the Santa Maria district along the charming restaurant street are many beautiful murals and painted doors to find. There is actually a tragic story behind this street art, because during the heavy flooding of 2010 this part of Funchal suffered a lot. Streets and buildings were flooded which caused a lot of damage. But luckily this part of Funchal, also known as the Old Town, remained her charm and is now reborn as a vibrant part of the city with colourful street art.
Also along the Rua Alferes Veiga Pestana you can find a wonderful mural of a whale if you go through the tunnel that connects Rua Do Visconde De Anadia. Well worth to check out if you love street art. There is actually a deeper meaning in this mural, see if you can find it for yourself!
Have a look up close how detailed the whale is painted. You can even see the realistic reflection of the road and tunnel in its eye!
Book a high tea at the Reid’s Palace
The beautiful Belmond Reid’s Palace dating from 1890 is one of the most famous hotels in the world with famous guests such as Sisi and Winton Churchill. There is a noble and majestic atmosphere inside the Palace and the views over Funchal are just stunning. Belmond Reis’s Palace is particularly known for the delicious afternoon tea. So if you want to enjoy a decadent and yummy experience with beautiful views on Funchal, then definitely book a high tea at the Reid’s Palace!
Relax at the Funchal beaches
On a warm sunny day it is perfect to visit some of the beaches in Madeira. But if you want to stay close to Funchal, then there are luckily some nice beaches in the area you can choose from. Praia Formosa is one of them and is the largest free public beach on the island. Praia Formosa actually consists of four beaches from which three are a mix of black sand and pebbles. The closest sandy beach of Funchal is Praia Areeiro which is located right in front of Hotel Orca. Other options are the several Lido complexes where you can enjoy the natural pools for a small fee. Barreirinha swimming complex and Doca do Cavacas are some of the sea side swimming pools in Funchal.
The Palácio de São Lourenço is Funchal’s first fortress and was built from 1529 to 1540. But it wasn’t finished in 1540 because in the following years until the 19th century there were many improvements made to the original construction. Nowadays the Palácio de São Lourenço even belongs to one of the best preserved fortresses of Portugal from the 16th and 17th century! You will find a permanent exhibition about the history and development of the fortress inside. This exhibition opened in July 1993 and is still organised by the Military Command.
Explore the Sao Tiago fort
The Sao Tiago fort is a beautiful authentic 18th century fort located in the old town of Funchal. It provides beautiful views over the city and ocean and tells the story of its previous purpose to defend Funchal from attacks by pirates and privateers. Nowadays the fortress is a beautiful attraction to visit in the old town of Funchal and serves as wedding location and restaurant. You can wander around the fortress for free or grab something to eat or drink at the restaurant with wonderful views over the ocean.
Visit the Palheiro gardens
The Palheiro Gardens are a little bit out of the city centre of Funchal located at about 500 meters above sea level. The original owner, the Conde de Carvalhal, planted many trees on the estate and laid the foundation to the Camellia collection. The gardens at “Quinta do Palheiro” are famous for the variety of plants that grow on the estate which is beautifully located in the hills east of Funchal. The Palheiro Gardens are daily open except holidays from 9 AM to 5 PM and the entrance fee is €11,-
Eat at some of the amazing restaurants in Funchal
Madeira, and in particular Funchal surprised us with the great variety of restaurants and the quality of food you can choose from. There are many restaurants that offer a wide variety on their menus with great taste and experience. Of course we have our favourite restaurants in Funchal which are Santa Maria (hostel) restaurant, they have some of the most amazing sushi but also meat dishes. Prima Caju for the delicious smoothie bowls, pancakes and healthy bowls. And in the other part of Funchal, Sao Marthino, our favourites are Loft Brunch & cocktails for the smoothie bowls, brunch in general and home made juices. Aconchego is another recommendation for sunset cocktails or tasty dinners with ocean and sunset views.
When you visit Madeira but you don’t drink a poncha, you actually haven’t been to Madeira is the saying. Poncha is a traditional alcoholic drink from Madeira and is made with typical sugar cane rum from the island, honey and either orange juice or lemon juice. There are other varieties possible which you can find at some bars such as with passion fruit, mint, strawberry and more. Locals sometimes start drinking a poncha in the morning, next to their coffee. Like an orange juice, but some rum added 😉 Joking of course, because there is a special technique to make the Poncha as it should. With the so called ‘Caralhinho’ the ingredients are mixed with each other. The result is a sweet and very unique drink from the island Madeira.
Admire the beautiful building of the Jesuit College of Funchal
The Jesuit College of Funchal is classified as a Regional Heritage Site and is by its historical importance one of the most symbolic buildings of Funchal city. It dates from August 1569 and has had different functions over the years. From the Jesuits who built the historical site to spread Christian faith, to the military who settled here for over a century and nowadays as Madeira University’s headquarters. When exploring Funchal, you can’t miss this magnificent building!
Wander along the statue of João Gonçalves Zarco
One of the discoverers of Madeira and first Captain of Funchal is João Gonçalves Zarco. To honour and preserve the memory of his work, a beautiful statue of Zarco was created an inaugurated in 1934. This square is in the heart of Funchal and a must visit location. The wonderful building of the Banco de Portugal accompanies the statue and gives a very authentic feel to the city centre. The street along the Banco de Portugal is also magical with beautiful old trees along both sides of the road.
Visit the Fortress of São João Baptista do Pico
The Fortress of São João Baptista do Pico was built between the 17th and 18th century. Its main purpose was to protect the city from pirates but nowadays the Fortress is a free tourist activity to visit in Funchal. The magnificent views over Funchal and the ocean are worth it to conquer the steep cobbled footways leading up to the entrance of the Fortress. There is a nice small museum, toilets and a coffee shop. Check the opening times beforehand, usually the Fortress is only open from 10AM to 1PM.
THINGS TO DO CLOSE TO FUNCHAL
If Funchal is your base in Madeira, you can easily plan many different day trips to explore the rest of the island. Most of the ‘must things to do in Madeira’ are only a 30 – 60 minute drive away from Funchal. But if you’re looking for a short day trip close to Funchal, then below a list of the 8 best things to do close to Funchal.
Explore neighbour Fishermen’s town Câmara de Lobos
Only a 15 minute drive away from Funchal’s centre is the fishermen’s town Câmara de Lobos located. This town was one of Madeira’s earliest settlements in the 15th century. Nowadays the small town is still a fishermen’s place despite the influx of tourists. During the day you can see the colourful boats bobbing in the waters that go out on the ocean at night to catch the typical and weird-looking black scabbard fish. Fun thing to know is that Poncha originated in Câmara de Lobos. It was the first place where Poncha was made by fishermen to keep themselves warm during cold nights. So for a complete Câmara de Lobos experience you have to drink a Poncha here!
Watch sunrise or sunset at Cristo Rei
The statue of Cristo Rei in Garajau on a 15 minute drive from Funchal is only a small version of the one you can see in Rio de Janeiro. But the viewpoint is amazing and offers panoramic views on the ocean, the Desertas Islands and Funchal city. You can see both sunrise and sunset from this viewpoint. And although it isn’t the most epic place, it is easy to get there so it makes a perfect setting for a short sunrise and sunset session.
Visit Fãja dos Padres
Faja dos Padres is a huge organic farm is located by the Atlantic Ocean and is only accessible by cable car or boat. Once you arrive at the bottom of the cliff with the cable car, you will walk in between the fruittrees, banana trees and different herbs and vegetables towards the ocean side where the restaurant is located. Here you can taste the organic ingredients from their garden, and enjoy the private beach of Faja dos Padres. It is a fun day trip and besides getting there by cable car you can also get to Faja dos Padres by boat.
When going on a boat tour you can experience Madeira and Funchal from a completely different perspective. Besides the chance to see dolphins which happens very frequently, there is also a chance of spotting whales. Some boat tours even give their clients the option to swim in the waters with wild dolphins. There are many different tour operators leaving Funchal harbour on a daily basis. Do some research to find out which company suits your needs the best.
Visit the highest cape in Europe Cabo Girao and skywalk
The highest cape of Europe is 580 meters above sea level on a 20 minute drive from Funchal. Here you can step on the glass walkway and look down on the ocean and along the coastline of Madeira. The incredible views from up here are well worth a visit, which is why the Cabo Girão skywalk is one of the most popular and free tourist activities in Madeira. There is also a gift shop, coffeeshop and restrooms on the site. Free parking is available on the road.
Watch sunrise on Pico do Arieiro
Watching the sunrise, and sunset, on Pico do Arieiro is one of those things you must do in Madeira, let alone in Funchal. In only 30 minutes from Funchal city you’ll be on the third highest peak of Madeira. And if you’re lucky you’ll be above the clouds! Watching the sunrise or doing the Pico do Ariero to Pico Ruivo hike is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island, and also one of the most beautiful and unforgettable activities.
There is enough space on the several viewpoints of Pico do Arieiro to still have a special and remote experience despite more people are witnessing the sunrise at Arieiro.
One of the most popular and easy hikes on Madeira is the Vereda da Ponta da Sao Lourenço hike (PR8). Ponta de São Lourenço is the most eastern point of the island and offers rugged volcanic landscapes and wonderful ocean views with towering cliffs along the trail. This 7 kilometre out and back hike is doable for every age, but not with windy weather. However, this hike is perfect on a sunny day, bring sunscreen and enjoy the incredible views along the way!
Watch sunrise at the rugged cliffs of São Lourenço
Besides watching sunrise at the famous viewpoint Pico do Arieiro, there are many more great sunrise viewpoints in Madeira. One of them is Ponta do Rosto, located at the cliffs of Ponta de Sao Lourenço. The impressive cliffs and rough ocean form the perfect combination for a great photo. You can eventually do the hike of Ponta da Sao Lourenço after watching sunrise which is a great morning activity. Moreover, there are a few other fantastic viewpoints near and on Ponta de São Lourenço which you must explore if you love photography!