The 5 must-do things in Funchal (plus 15 nice-to-do’s)


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The city of Funchal (pronounced foon – shawl) is the logical starting point for any trip to Madeira. While the old center is quite compact, taking 25 minutes or so to cross by foot, there’s enough to do in Funchal to fill at least two days.

Since not everyone has unlimited time, we’ve tried to prioritize the sights by listing the essentials first. While subjective, we think several activities will give you the biggest payoff, especially if you are in Funchal on a shorter trip. The other sights will let you get a more complete picture.

We will focus here only on activities within Funchal. For sights around the island, be sure to check out our other Madeira travel guides.

Must-do in Funchal

The following things to do in Funchal represent several unique aspects of Madeira or serve as an introduction to the capital. While nothing is obligatory, we think they’re some of the first activities to consider.

1. Explore the Old Town of Funchal 

The statue of Zarco, the explorer who first settled Madeira

Of course, you should begin by exploring the historic centre of Funchal! The Zona Velha (Old Town) of Funchal is a lively area packed with shops and restaurants. Pay attention to the cobblestoned streets as the black-and-white stones have many patterns and historical symbols.

Don’t miss the lush municipal garden filled with tropical plants and gigantic exotic trees. The cafe here is a great spot for grabbing a drink. For a full impression of the old town, be sure to walk along the seafront promenade up to the Yellow Fort. It’s around here that you’ll find many narrow streets with beautiful street art on the doors of the houses.

One of the best ways to discover Funchal’s Old Town is by taking a walking tour. This will give you insight you would otherwise completely miss. Along with the historic architecture, you will learn the history of Funchal and the typical aspects of Madeira from an expert guide.

2. Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden 

The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is easily the most impressive garden in Madeira. This definite must-visit is located in Monte, a neighborhood up a mountain on the edge of Funchal. You can get there by cable car (which we will highlight later) or by taxi.

You’ll find the multi-leveled gardens inside the Quinta Monte Palace, a beautiful mansion whose glorious gardens are home to a vast collection of exotic plant species from all over the world.

The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is open every day from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. It takes about two hours to explore at a relaxed pace. The normal adult entree fee is €15.

3. Taste Madeira wine 

Madeira is famous for its production of sweet fortified wines (similar to Port). If you have no interest in wine then this may not be a must-see for you, but if you’d like to learn about the local wine-making process then there is an excellent tour you can take.

One of the most renowned cellars in Funchal is The Old Blandy Wine Lodge, owned by a company which has been making wine for over 200 years. We suggest checking out this guided tour that combines a wine-tasting experience at Blandy’s Wine Lodge with a walking tour of Funchal town.

You can learn all about the fascinating history of wine on the island, from the pressing process to the economic impact of its export. The very well-designed and elaborate venue also offers wine tastings and a shop where you can buy Madeiran wine to take home.

4. Dolphin & whale watching on a catamaran 

While technically not in Funchal, this experience starts at the marina, so we are listing it here. Funchal Bay is the best place on Madeira Island to set sail for a wonderful afternoon of dolphin and whale watching.

The best part is you can do this any time of the year! Several species of dolphins and whales make the Madeiran archipelago their home, so sightings are nearly guaranteed. However, the best time is spring to autumn, as several other migrating species can also be seen during this time.

The dolphins are always a big hit with adults and kids alike. But a big part of this experience is simply to be aboard a luxury catamaran and cruising around Cabo GirĂŁo. Relax and (in season) take a dip and snorkel the area’s crystalline waters. You can book this specific catamaran tour here.   

5. Try one of the local specialities

Scabbarfish served with fried Madeiran banana

Even if you have limited time in Funchal, we think it’s a must to try at least one of the local dishes. It has the largest number of restaurants in the island, so here is your best chance to try the Madeiran cuisine.

We highly recommend the espada, scabbardfish often served with passion fruit sauce or fried banana, all locally produced. Another great dish is the espetada (not to be confused with espada!), which is barbequed meat on a skewer that is presented in an unusual way, with the skewer hanging from a hook on a little stand.

As a starter, order some bolo de caco with garlic butter. This yummy Madeiran flatbread is made with sweet potato.

Other things to do in Funchal

With the absolute essentials out of the way, let us share another 15 worthwhile things to do in Funchal. You can take your pick from these based on your interests.

6. Visit Funchal Cathedral 

When in the Old Town, you will pass by the 16th century Funchal Cathedral (SĂ© Catedral de Funchal).

Despite the grandiose name, it might not look so impressive from the outside. However, don’t let its exterior fool you, as it’s definitely worth checking out. Step inside to admire the unusual style with wooden floors, wooden cedar ceiling, and ivory decorations inspired by Moorish architecture.

The walls are decorated with religious oil paintings and at the end of the central nave, the Gothic altarpiece is embellished by gilt woodwork and typical Portuguese ‘azulejos’ tiles. 

The Funchal Cathedral is free to visit and is open Monday to Friday, from 7:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 07:00 p.m.; and Sunday, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 04:00 p.m. to 07:00 p.m.

7. Enjoy the views from the cable car 

While not technically necessary to visit Monte Palace Gardens (which you can also reach by bus or taxi if you want), taking the cable car is a fun thing to do.

The ride on the TelefĂ©rico do Funchal lasts around 15 minutes, and you’ll be treated to some magnificent views of the city and the surrounding landscape. The cable car covers over 3.2 km (2 miles) and makes an impressive ascent of 580 m (1,902 ft). 

The road from Funchal Old Town to Monte was once travelled by steam train. Nowadays, the same journey is made by the Teleférico do Funchal, which is perfect for seeing the city from a unique perspective.

You can enjoy the TelefĂ©rico do Funchal daily, from 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. A round trip adult ticket costs €18. 

8. Stroll around the Madeira Botanical Garden 

If Monte Palace wasn’t enough for you yet, then there is a second set of gardens you can visit nearby.

The Madeira Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico) is the most extensive botanical garden in Madeira. Covering an area of eight hectares, this green space has a wide variety of trees and flowers, counting more than 2000 exotic plants from all continents.

Whereas Monte Palace Garden is more notable for its fountains, koi ponds, and Asian-style pagoda, these gardens are a bit more focused on the botany side of things. While also quite scenic and impressively laid out, it is more about the different species of plants and cacti on display here.

The magnificent garden was once privately owned, as it was part of the estate of William Reid, who founded the famous Reid’s Hotel. The Madeira Botanic Gardens were first opened to the public in 1960. 

The Jardim Botânico is located high on the hill above Funchal, offering amazing views of the city and the ocean. It is open daily from 09:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. You can combine it with a visit to Monte Palace by following the walking signs and then taking the second cable car halfway down to the botanical gardens.

9. Visit the Farmer’s Market 

The Mercado dos Lavradores can be a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s still fun and interesting to visit.

We’ve read travel guides from the 1990s that described this as a riveting and chaotic place where farmers from all over the island came to sell their produce for just a handful of escudos (the old pre-Euro currency).

That’s not what it is nowadays. The market is mostly a collection of fruit shops for tourists that sell fruits at highly inflated prices. A common sales technique is for the sellers to load up your basket with lots of overpriced fruit and make you buy it before realizing what you’ve done. (You’ve been warned!)

If you want to try something interesting, head upstairs and get a few marajucá banana which should cost no more than a few Euros. These passion fruits are unusual for looking like small bananas.

If you want to buy larger amounts of fruit for your own consumption (and not just as a curiosity) you can get local fruits at various grocery stores or supermarkets around the island. Due to the high prices, the touristy Farmer’s Market is more for trying one or two exotic fruits you maybe haven’t seen before.

In another section of the market, local women in traditional dresses sell flowers and plant seeds, including the Strelitzia flower that is Madeira’s official icon.

If you’re visiting in the morning, you can also take a look at the fish market at the back. Apart from more familiar things like tuna or sea bream, you will likely see stacks of ink-black scabbardfish that are fished from the deep ocean. (Fun fact: they actually get their colour from the huge pressure difference when they’re pulled to the surface!).

Here are the opening hours: Monday to Thursday, from 07:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; Friday, from 07:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and Saturday, from 07:00 a.m. to 2 p.m.

10. See the painted doors of Funchal

When strolling around the Old Town, be sure to pass by Rua de Santa Maria, which has been transformed into a kind of open-air art gallery. Everywhere you look, you will see wonderful murals adorn the walls and doors of the buildings.

The art project originally sprang from a local council initiative, helping to revitalize what was once a poor fisherman’s neighborhood. It involves over 200 doors painted by professional artists as well as local amateurs and children. Some of most clever works incorporate the letterboxes, doorbells, or door handles into the artwork.

You’ll find the painted doors all over the streets in the area near the cable car station.

11. Listen to a Fado concert

The area with the painted doors is also home to several fado bars. It is a typical Portuguese style of melancholic music that can be specifically traced in the 1820s but is said to have even earlier origins. It can be enjoyed in various places in Portugal, among them Madeira.

Many of the songs revolve around saudade, a word that has no English translation, but which relates to nostalgia, longing, or the bitter-sweetness of life. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can easily feel the intense emotion of the songs. If you’ve never seen a fado performance, it’s a must-do in Portugal and Funchal is a great place to do it.

In the alley named Travessa das Torres you will find two bars with nightly fado performances. On the corner here, the Italian restaurant Arsénios also regularly hosts live fado.

12. Take a fun wicker toboggan sled ride 

Something unique you can only do in Madeira is taking a ride on traditional toboggans made entirely of wicker baskets. Trust the skilled riders and get ready to slide down 2 kilometres from the streets of Monte. It’s a fun albeit brief and relatively pricey experience (€27,50 per adult).

Historically, the toboggans were the locals’ way of getting around the steep roads of Funchal. The wicker slide is pushed down the streets by two runners, called Carreiros, who wear traditional costumes. Each basket can seat two adult people (plus one child).

To take your toboggan ride, just head behind the corner of the Church of Our Lady of Monte, where you will find the Carreiros ready to slide. You can see the starting point on the map here. You can get the tickets there on the spot. However, since this is the most popular attraction in Funchal, you will need to wait in line if travelling during the tourist season or if there is a visiting cruise ship.

13. Try the local spirit at Rei da Poncha

If you’re in Madeira you should definitely try the local spirit at least once. Be warned: the poncha is infamous for being very strong, very drinkable, and very more-ish.

It’s made with sugar cane brandy, sugar and either lemon or orange juice. It’s said to have inspired Brazil’s caipirinha and makes for a refreshing summer drink.

Our advice is not to buy bottled poncha as this is not very good and doesn’t taste like the real stuff. Instead, take a seat at Rei da Poncha, a cute tavern in Funchal that specializes in the drink.

14. Get marvellous views at the hilltop fortress

The Fortaleza de SĂŁo JoĂŁo Baptista do Pico sits atop a hill outside the old centre from where it once watched over the bay and warded off pirates and other intruders.

It’s a bit of a steep walk up there, so you may be out of breath when you reach it, but you will get some of the best views of Funchal from inside the fortress walls.

It should be said that apart from the structure itself with its yellow and ocher red inner walls, there isn’t much to see. A small exhibit shows paintings showing what the fortress and surroundings once looked like, but that’s about it. We suggest to visit the fortress with the views in mind only.

It’s free to enter. For a bite or drink, you can go to CafĂ© Fortaleza hidden behind it, which is a bit of a local meeting spot.

15. Stroll along Avenida do Mar 

The avenue that runs along the Marina is abuzz with taxis and buses coming and going to different corners of Madeira, but along the calm waterfront it’s one of the nicest places to walk around in Funchal.

The promenade is lined with tall palm trees and is the perfect spot for a leisurely walk while admiring the boats and cruise liners arriving and departing from the Marina. There are also lovely cafès to stop for a coffee and various little food trucks and stalls where you can try local beers or some poncha.

16. See the Yellow Fort

The 16th century SĂŁo Tiago Fort marks the easternmost boundary of the old center of Funchal. When you’re walking along the waterfront boulevard, you’ll easily see it in the distance.

The fort was originally constructed to protect the coast from piracy. If you’ve travelled in any former Portuguese colonies, you’ll probably recognize the building style, with its small round turrets and brightly painted walls.

Nowadays it’s home to a restaurant, offering a picturesque location for a good meal. However, a couple of the walls and roof areas are publically accessible without an entry fee, so don’t be afraid to step inside the archway of the restaurant — just turn left to enter the historical building.

The restaurant is all about white tablecloth fine dining. If you want to have a casual drink or snack, head to the nearby Socorro Viewpoint where there’s a bar with outdoor seating under some trees with fairy lights.

17. See the Church of Our Lady of Monte 

Just a few steps away from the Monte cable car station is the Church of Our Lady of Monte. Built in the 18th century, this little church features the typical grey-and-white look of Madeira’s historical buildings. Inside is also the tomb of Charles I, the last Emperor of Austria, who died in exile on the island and whose remains are said to be preserved here. 

It is up a steep staircase, so get ready for a short but intense climb. The effort will be well rewarded: the views from the church’s entrance are lovely. Admire the town of Funchal and the beautiful coastline, and then enter the church to visit its interior.

Free to visit, the church is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Monday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

18. The CR7 Museum… if you’re into football

If you’re a football freak (a.k.a. soccer) you will know precisely what CR7 stands for. The world-famous player Cristiano Ronaldo is, in fact, from Funchal.

We have close to zero affinity with the sport so the museum dedicated to him is a bit lost on us. That said, it focuses on Ronaldo’s career achievements and features many memorabilia, trophies, and medals. It also displays digital exhibits that offer insights into the famous soccer star’s life and career. 

The museum is located at the Marina, close to the cruise liner docks. Outside is a life-size bronze statue of Ronaldo, which is a popular selfie spot.

The CR7 Museum is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Unusual things to do

If you like quirky or unusual sights, then there aren’t that many in Funchal, but we can think of at least two sights that are a bit different.

19. Universe of Memories

This small museum of sorts displays the wide-ranging private collection of JoĂŁo Carlos Abreu, a celebrated local poet, writer, and journalist. This very worldly Madeiran travelled the four corners of the world, bringing antiques and souvenirs from India, Thailand, China, Brazil, and other countries.

Each room in this residential building is focused on a different collection, ranging from antique wooden horses from around the world, to an elaborate repository of colourful ties in the attic.

When we visited, the tour at Universo de Memórias was available only in Portuguese. You may find it interesting regardless. Entry costs €3 and there is also a nice tea garden where you can enjoy a drink.

20. Esperança Bookshop

This bookshop in Funchal’s Old Town, established in 1886, is remarkable for claiming to be “one of the largest bookshops in the world”. Somewhat unusually, Esperança Bookshop also displays truly all the books face-forward, making it easier to browse and admire all the cover designs.

They only sell Portuguese books but even if you don’t know the language, you may still find the shop itself interesting to browse.

Not worth doing (sorry!)

While we’re tempted to pad our list further just to make it look more ‘complete’, we honestly advise skipping certain things in Funchal.

Story Centre and other Funchal museums

The Story Centre gets mentioned in so many lists of the best things to do in Funchal, but we wonder why! This woefully neglected museum boasts a range of, umm… broken multimedia displays. What’s left are several walls with generic text about Madeira. You’re much better off grabbing a beer on a sunny terrace and opening Wikipedia.

Other small museums such as the Museum of the City of Sugar and Natural History Museum are actually legit, though they are only in Portuguese or probably appeal mostly to a local audience, so for most tourists we don’t think they’re worth a look.

For great museums, we highly recommend looking outside of Funchal. Consider the excellent banana museum in Ponta do Sol, or the highly insightful whaling museum in Caniçal. See our museum recommendations here.

The tourism information office

If we could give one more Raspberry Award then let us give it to the official tourism office in Funchal. If you thought this would be a way to get some expert tips, think again.

Step inside and you may feel like you’re trapped inside a bizarre Monty Python sketch where the person at the desk is completely unaware of their basic job requirement. The staff is consistently rude and dismissive, usually referring to one of the three leaflets available or, amazingly, telling you to “look it up online”.

Anyway, we thought we’d save you the trouble!

So there you have it, 20 of the top things to do in Funchal, which we’ve curated based on multiple stays.

Of course, the capital is merely the starting point to exploring Madeira! In this overview we’ve restricted ourselves only to sights in the city itself, but there is so much more to see in the villages surrounding Funchal and the island at large.

For some ideas on where to go next, don’t miss our 3-day itinerary and 1-week itinerary!

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