Here is your best guide to all the amazing things to do in Funchal. I personally tried and tested them all and intentionally left some popular ones out. Like Mercado dos Lavradores for example. I will explain later on why.
There is no doubt that when visiting Madeira, Funchal is the top destination. Being Madeira’s capital city, there are loads of great things to do in Funchal.
Funchal is a city of many faces, yet it is totally walkable and easy to get around. There are tons of great things to do in Funchal city, but Funchal is also a great starting point for many day trips and hikes. If you are not planning on renting a car – Funchal is the best place to be.
Comes rain or shine, you will not be bored as there are plenty of things to do in Funchal on a sunny day and when it (only sometimes) rains.
So without too much of a jibber-jabber – here are my top 20 things to do in Funchal.
20 Amazing Things to do in Funchal, Madeira
1. Visit Funchal Old Town
You can’t say you have visited Funchal if you haven’t walked down the cobbled streets of Funchal Old Town and snapped photos of its painted doors. This is one of those things to do in Funchal which should be on everyone’s list.
The Funchal Old Town is a place of great historical importance in Madeira as this is where one of the first settlements sprung up. Characterised by narrow cobblestone streets and featuring Corpo Santo Chapel, one of the few 15th-century buildings that have survived until today, Funchal Old Town was actually wasting away for many decades.
This has changed when The project called “The Art of Open Doors” (“Arte de Portas Abertas”) was initiated in 2010 by photographer José Maria Zyberchem and completely revived the once forgotten area.
Not only Funchal Old Town Painted Doors became one of the best attractions of the city, but new restaurants and began to open, and this once sleepy area became alive and vibrant.
During my first week in Funchal, I stayed in a charming hostel located on the Rua Santa Maria, where nearly every door is covered in those original pieces of art. You will find several traditional restaurants and quirky bars in this area, so it is a great place to stay if you don’t mind a noisy street right at your doorstep.
2. Step into the fairytale and visit Monte Palace and its Tropical Garden
Monte Palace and its Tropical Garden is said to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. It is one of the best things to do in Funchal.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden in Funchal is more than just a garden – it’s the whole experience! It is like walking into the fairytale!
Monte Palace Tropical Garden in Funchal occupies 70,000 square meters and it is spread across various levels with multiple hidden alleys and paths. You can spend hours wandering around and discover its different faces. You don’t want to miss any of them!
Exotic Orchids from the Himalayas, thousand-year-old Olive Trees, Cycads, Acacias from Australia and many more amazing plants and trees are elegantly grown and meticulously taken care of. You can find swans and Koi Fish in the lakes, and you might also come across and Peacocks, Fighting Roosters from Indonesia, or other colourful birds.
The lanes and paths are connected by picturesque bridges, decorated with niches, gates, arches, pagodas, Buddhas, lanterns and sculptures. This is a true feast to your senses.
Once there be sure to also visit Visit Our Lady Of Monte Church (Igreja De Nossa Senhora Do Monte) located 5 minutes walk from the Garden as well as the Monte Museum – a three-storey exhibition centre located next to the Northern entrance.
And while we are on the topic of Monte…
3. Take a Funchal Cable Car and slide back down in the Toboggan Basket
Intrigued? You should be.
The Funchal Cable car is a great way to get to Monte, where you can visit the Monte Palace and its Tropical Garden.
Cable Car is located in Funchal’s Old Town area, right at the waterfront. Taking Cable Car to Monte is the best way to get to the Garden and admire the views of the city and the whole bay from up and above. The steep journey is around 3,200 metres long, climbing up a height of 560 metres and talking approximately 15 minutes. Taking the Cable car up to Monte is an experience in itself. Round trip costs around €11. For up to date information on current prices and timetable, visit the Madeira Cable Car website.
Once you are ready to return, it’s time for your Toboggan Ride experience. You will slide down the steep, narrow streets in wicker sledges (Monte Baskets Cars) which are pushed by two runners, who use their boots rubber soles as brakes. This is an experience in itself, and if it is available on the day of your visit, you should not hesitate!
4. Lose Yourself in Madeira Botanical Garden
Funchal has no shortage of incredible gardens and parks. Madeira Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful. Not only the garden is home to a fascinating collection of a wide variety of plants, but it also has an area dedicated to research and conservation.
In addition to all these attractions, the Botanical Garden also has a Museum of Natural History, which is definitely worth visiting.
One of Madeira Botanical Garden’s primary purposes was the conservation of indigenous Madeiran plants, some of which are very rare and extinct in the wild. You will also find plants species that are already extinct in their countries of origin. Madeira Botanical Garden is, therefore, a pedagogical centre and a pole for scientific evidence and a centre for conservation.
Whether you have a botanical soul or not, it’s worth the visit nevertheless. This 35k m² estate is surrounded by fantastic views of mountains in the north and the ocean in the south and is a true oasis of peace.
5. Visit One or All of Many of Funchal’s Museums
If you are a museum junkie, you are in for a teat. Museums in Funchal are very interesting and often unusual so visiting a museum is one of the best things to do in Funchal. Especially when it rains (which happens sometimes)
My favourite are:
Universe of Memories (Universo de Memórias João Carlos Abreu) holds a collection of personal souvenirs collected by João Carlos Abreu, a former Regional Secretary for Tourism and Culture. It feels very personal. All items displayed in the museum were collected during his trips around the world. Collection of masks, all types of horse figures and statues, the most extensive collection of ties and cravats in the world, Buddhas, watches, samovars, books, paintings, sculptures, and millions of other objects. I was in awe at how many fascinating souvenirs this fascinating man gathered
Frederico de Freitas House Museum is a house that used to belong to Frederico de Freitas, lawyer, notary and collector from Madeira. This museum’s collection includes remarkable collections of sculpture, painting, engraving, furniture, ceramics, crystals, and tin objects dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It is a fascinating tour as you walk from room to room and feel like being transported in time.
Museum of Photography. I really liked the Photography Museum, which is based in the building of a former photography atelier – The Atelier Vicente’s. In addition to maintaining the memory of the original Atelier, the Madeira Museum of Photography is now the only national museum dedicated solely to photography, exhibiting Madeira’s photographic heritage and many of its unknown authors and works.
Other highly recommended museums include:
Contemporary Art Museum located within the walls of Fort Sao Tiago, The Museum of Electricity, Palácio de São Lourenço Military Museum and many more. See this website for a complete list of all Funchal’s museums.
6. Visit Funchal’s Historical Sights
Funchal is Madeira’s capital city and, as such, is an excellent representation of Madeira’s history. You can spend days wandering around the town and exploring its historical sights, monuments and palaces and learn about the country’s past. I loved strolling down Funchal’s streets and admire its colonial architecture.
Cathedral Se Funchal is probably one of the most important ones. In the 15th century, Manuel 1st sent his architect to work on the design of the cathedral and created this Gothic-style church which has been classified as a National Monument since 1910. Funchal’s Cathedral (Sé) also features one of Portugal’s most beautiful ceilings, made with wood from the island and the stalls of the chancel built in the Flemish style.
Make your way to Old Town (Zona Velha) and visit Fortaleza de Santiago. This ochre and dark-pink fortress that sits at the top of Old Town’s seafront was built in the first half of the 17th century when Funchal was vulnerable to pirate attacks. The Fortaleza de Santiago was totally restored and opened to the public in July 2014.
Funchal’s Jesuit Church (Igreja do Colégio) located on Praça do Município b squere is famous for its baroque interior covered with azulejo tiles, painted arches and trompe l’oeil ceiling. The tower of the church can be climbed for great city views.
7. Spend a Day at Formosa Beach (Praia Formosa)
Praia Formosa is a stunning, slightly mysterious (in my eyes) beach that is both pebbly and sandy at places. It is a black sand beach which adds to its unique beauty. With a length of 2 km, it connects Funchal to the Camara dos Lobos region by its promenade and is surrounded by breathtaking views of nearby hills.
Praia Formosa has a strong historical meaning for Madeira, specifically for Funchal. In 1508, it was the ‘gateway’ of the French pirates who invaded the Madeiran capital with violent plunder. You can read more about Madeira’s struggle with numerous pirate attacks here.
Formosa Beach lies west of the city of Funchal, 10 minutes by car, and around half an hour on foot, from the heart of the town. You can also take a bus from Funchal city centre. I recommend getting off at the Forum Shopping Centre and taking a walk by the promenade and then down to the beach. You will also find a few bars and restaurants down there. Hence you can make it a whole day trip.
8. Have Some Tea In A Charming Teahouse
There is nothing better than a cup of nice tea enjoyed in a cute tea house. And Funchal offers a great selection of charming teahouses so enjoying an aromatic tea is another great thing to do in Funchal.
Loja do Chá is an excellent and very cute tea house located right in the town’s centre. They serve a variety of tea infusions but also some good wine and snacks. Another fantastic tea house is Chocolate e Menta located in The Old Town of Funchal.
And of course, I need to mention an Afternoon Tea at Reid’s Palace. Although it is not my type of experience, it is highly rated, and Reid’s Palace is beautifully located overlooking the ocean.
9. Walk down from Eira Do Serrado Viewpoint to Nun’s Valley (Curral Das Freiras) (and have chestnut soup and chestnut liquor)
Nun’s Valley (Curral Das Freiras) is located around 30 minutes by bus from Funchal and offers some of the most breathtaking views on the island. It is one of the best things to do in Funchal and one of the best things to do in Madeira.
Curral das Freitas is a village sitting at the bottom of a vast cauldron nestled within almost vertical mountains.
When the French pirates attacked Madeira in 1566, the nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from their homes and found refuge here. The village is very isolated; therefore, locals mainly live off what they grow. The local chestnuts are delicious and are used in everyday cooking. I was also told that chestnuts were used in cooking before the rice was introduced to the island.
You have a couple of options here.
You can take a bus 81 from Funchal to Eira Do Serrado and admire the Valley from the top. Take a walk to Eira Do Serrado viewpoint and stop for a coffee or a meal. You will be granted the most spectacular views over the Nun’s Valley.
You can also walk down from Eira Do Serrado by the pretty steep path to the village itself. It takes around 45 minutes, but it is pretty steep and wet at times. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes with good grip for that walk.
The village itself is a bit sleepy, but I really liked it. There is a little museum where you can find an example of how nuns used to live and few restaurants where you can try the chestnut soup, cheesecake, roasted chestnuts or chestnut liquor – delicious!!
Once done, you will be able to take a return bus from the bottom of the Valley – no need for hiking back up.
10. Take at Least one Hiking Trip
Hiking is the best thing to do in Madeira, full stop. You can, and should, walk the Levada trail. More than one, actually.
There few hikes and levadas that can be reached by bus from Funchal so it could be a great day out in nature.
Levadas are irrigational channels created to carry rainwater and water from natural springs from the north and west of the Madeira island, where the climate is more humid and participation more frequent to the south where the weather is drier. Every Levada has a narrow trail attached to it, which these days is used to walk and discover Madeira. Levada walks offer a unique Madeira hiking experience.
There are loads of other hiking trails in Madeira, with the most famous one being Pico Ruivo (highest peak in Madeira) trek.
The majority of the trails can be reached by public transport. But if you are planning to hire a car – your possibilities are endless. You can hike across the whole of Madeira without a car, however. I wrote a whole article about hiking in Madeira without the need for renting a car, and you can check it out here.
Check this list of all trails in Madeira, and be sure to only walk those which are open at the time. Landslides and damage caused by the weather are common occurrences on Madeira’s treks, thus chose a dry day and checking the accessibility before you head out.
11. Relax at One of Funchal Natural Swimming Pools
Madeira enjoys great weather all year long; hence on a sunny day, make sure to check out one of Funchal’s natural swimming pools or Lidos.
A symbol of Funchal, the Lido Bathing Complex features a large solarium complex of two saltwater swimming pools and direct access to the sea.
Doca do Cavacas beach complex located near Formosa Beach are natural pools smaller in size but offering extraordinary views.
Both complexes offer a safeguard, sun loungers and umbrellas, as well as restaurants nearby.
12. Take a Dolphin and Whale Watching Boat Trip
It is absolutely magical to observe dolphins and whales in their natural environment. Boat tours are also a fabulous way to get to know Madeira from a different perspective.
Dolphins are frequently seen in Madeira waters, as well as an occasional whale or sea turtle. You will also have an opportunity to swim in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
You would think that Madeira’s leading beauty lies in its landscape, mountains and spectacular cliffs but exploring the waters of this stunning island is equally thrilling.
13. Stand on a ‘highest’ cliff viewpoint in Europe – Cabo Girao
The Cabo Girão is referred to as the highest sea cliff in Europe (but at least three European cliffs are higher). Nevertheless, the experience is breathtaking. For many reasons!
It is 580 meters in height, this viewpoint has always been one of the main attractions in Madeira.
You will find yourself walking on a glass skywalk suspended over the vertical cliff. The views are out of this world – if you will be able to look up (or down), that means.
This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the vast Atlantic ocean surrounding Câmara de Lobos and Funchal. It’s a captivating experience spiced up but a fair amount of adrenaline.
14. Sample Local Specialities
One of the best things to do while travelling is sampling the local dishes. Food in Madeira is delicious and fresh and Funchal boasts numerous restaurants and snack bars where you will be able to try them all. And then some more!
Funchal offers a dining experience for every budget and taste. There are few local specialities you have to try
Let’s start with the sweets – I know – a bit another way around 🙂
I loved Queijada – the cottage cheese sweet pastry! They are small cakes made with cream cheese, eggs and sugar and are a great breakfast alternative.
Everywhere you go, you will be offered Pudim De Maracuja (Passion fruit pudding) for your dessert. You cannot say no!
Passion fruit is one of Madeira’s best-known fruits; you will have a chance to taste it with nearly everything – including the Filete de Espada (Scabbard Filet)
And.. Talking about the Espada?
Filete de Espada (Scabbard Filet), a scary-looking fish is the most typical fish of Madeira and also one of the tastiest I have ever tried. It is often prepared the ‘Madeiran Way’ with passion fruit and banana sauce.
I also really liked Lapas (Limpets), and it was actually the first time I have ever tried them. Lapas are cooked in a frying pan of their own and then splashed with fresh lemon and butter. Served with traditional bread from Madeira, Bolo do Caco – divine!
Bolo do Caco is a typical wheat bread of Madeira. This bread, made from wheat flour, is flattened and has rounded edges. Its name derives from the way it used to be cooked: on a basalt stone, called ‘caco’, on hot coals. It can be served hot or cold. In the restaurants, often served with garlic butter. I’m salivating just writing about it.
In many traditional restaurants, you will be given the option to have The ‘Picado‘ or ‘Picadinho‘. This is a traditional Madeiran dish prepared with beef cut into small cubes, fried and seasoned with garlic and pepper and served with fries.
I gorged on Octopus during my whole stay in Madeira. While being a fan anyway, I loved the way it was seasoned and served in Madeira. Often served with potatoes and onions – it never disappointed!
I could go on forever. Those are a few of my favourite dishes, and those that, in my opinion, you need to try!
15. Have Poncha, or two… hmmmm
I was not fussed about trying Poncha and didn’t actually taste it until my second week in Madeira. Not a fan of sweet drinks – I assumed it would be cocktail like, kind of a rum punch.
I could not be more wrong!
“If you have a cold, a fever, a broken heart… Poncha is the medicine,”
Poncha is a traditional drink from Madeira made of local rum, lemons, sugar and honey. It is a pretty potent and simultaneously delicious drink and it is said to be a remedy for literally anything 🙂 You cannot visit Madeira and not have a taste of this rum drink. It tastes spectacular after a long day of hiking!
The traditional Poncha is made of lemon, but these days you can also have passion fruit, orange or mandarin variations. All wonderful!
Eating and drinking were indeed some of my favourite things to do in Madeira.
16. Try Madeira Wine
Madeira wine is a fortified wine available in a variety of dry, medium and sweet styles. Its unique taste comes from repeatedly heating and cooling the wine.
This is because Madeira wine was born at sea.
During the 16th and 17th century, wine often spoiled and needed to be fortified by adding a dash of brandy for the wine to last during the long trip at sea. Back then, Madeira was a vital provisioning point for journeys to the Americas and merchants would load up on Madeira wine on their way. During those long journeys, barrels of Madeira wine would be heated and cooled naturally, as the ships passed through the tropics. Shippers noticed how the wine’s flavour developed and called this sea-ageing “Vinho da Roda.”
There are many ways you can taste Madeira wine if you wish to buy it. There is a number of wine companies and stores in Funchal where you can taste the wine, learn about the production process and the history of Madeira wine. It’s a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. You can also take a food and wine tour and do all the food and wine tasting you can manage!
17. Have a drink and watch the sunset in Barreirinha Bar Café
I have been told about this bar by some locals, but you will see it mentioned in many Funchal guides. For a reason.
I became a frequent visitor. The vibe of this bar is relaxed, the service excellent, and the views to die for.
Located on top of Funchal Old Town, Barreirinha Bar is overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It does get busy, so come well before the sunset to guarantee yourself a spot.
They serve tasty food and snacks and, of course, Poncha. I have seen tourists as well as many locals enjoying the evening there. You definitely should make your way there on your visit to Funchal. You will not regret it.
A note – unfortunately I was so busy having a good time that I never snapped any photos 🙁
18. Go on A day Trip out of Funchal Town
There are few lovely towns you can visit on a day trip while in Funchal. If you decided to rent a car – any day trip is possible given the size of the island.
There quite a few lovely villages and towns accessible by bus.
Câmara de Lobos – A quaint and picturesque fishing village located around 25 minutes bus drive from Funchal. Walk down the colourful streets of the old village towards the marina filled with colourful traditional boats. Of course, you can stop for a meal and Poncha, I did!
Ribeira Brava is a small town on the southwestern coast of the island with steep valleys on either side. It takes around one hour by Rodoeste bus to get to Ribeira Brava. It is a charming, small town with a lovely sea promenade and a human-made black sandy beach. Visiting Ribeira Brava is a great way to get away from the Funchal hustle and bustle, spend the day at the beach and enjoy local cuisine in one of many restaurants located by the sea promenade.
You can visit the local church “Igreja de São Bento“, dating back to the 16th century, climb the spiral staircase at the east end of the town for a spectacular view, or walk through the adjacent rock tunnel to the fishing harbour.
Ponta do Sol is another seaside town worth visiting, although a bit trickier to get to buy the bus. There are few busses a day going to Ponta do Sol but the most popular way of getting there is either a taxi or rented car.
Ponta do Sol is said to be the sunniest and warmest corner of Madeira. In itself, it is actually a great town to stay in for few days, and it makes an excellent day trip as well with its fantastic beach, bars and restaurants and relaxed vibe.
A must-do trip and definitely one of the compulsory things to do in Funchal is a day trip to Santana.
Santana is a village situated on the North coast of Madeira, most known for Casas Típicas de Santana – its characteristic Santana houses. You will be able to spot Casas Tipicas across the village, but most of them are located in the town centre by the City Hall. Those are not inhabited anymore but rather create an open air-museum for visitors to explore with some of the dwellings housing souvenir and embroidery shops.
Once in Santana, you have to take a walk to Rocha do Novio, a nature reserve boasting incredible views of cliffs and waterfall as well as a bit less known cable car, which will take you down to the beach.
19. Take a Jeep Tour to see The West of Madeira
In theory, you could take a bus to visit towns like Porto Moniz or Sao Vincente. You can also rent a car and explore the West part of Madeira, where you will find Fanal Enchanted Forrest, Ribeira da Janela and its spectacular viewpoint of Eira da Achada or Paul da Serra plateau.
But you can also join the organized tour, which I found to be a lot of fun. You will be taken on a little crazy ride in a 4×4 jeep and shown the corners of the island that cannot be accessed otherwise.
During the West tour, most likely, you will visit Porto Moniz and its natural volcanic pools, Seixal beach, Sao Vincente village, Fanal Enchanted Forest and much more.
You can shop around on your arrival, or you can also book your tour here.
20. Recharge in one of Funchal’s peaceful Parks
Funchal town centre has no shortage of parks and green spaces. You don’t need to venture outside of the city to spend the day surrounded by nature.
Santa Catarina Park is very popular amongst both locals and tourists. It is a great space where you can take a walk, exercise or just lie on the grass and take in the day.
Another popular park is Donna Amélia Garden. This municipal garden, located at the heart of the city, boasts 8300 square meters of beautiful flowers, plants and trees.
Which is the best area to stay in Funchal
There are boundless options in Funchal as to accommodation and neighbourhoods you could choose for your stay.
I would divide Funchal into three main areas – Funchal Old Town, Funchal Centre and Lido.
Funchal Old Town is one of my favourite places in Madeira in general. It’s a charming neighbourhood, offering heaps of entertainment and great restaurants. Funchal Old Town is the best place to stay if you like to stay close to the action, bars and restaurants but also enjoy charming old town character. Be aware that the district gets noisy in the evenings, so if you are looking for a peaceful neighbourhood – this one is not for you.
There are quite a few accommodation options in the Funchal city centre. From hotels to boutique homestays and hostels, you will find what suits your budget and needs. Funchal town centre is the best area to stay in if you plan to take trips, use public transport and be close to all the attractions and historical sights.
Lido (Sao Martino) is an area in Funchal known for its 5-star hotels, Lido bathing complex and touristy feel. You will find numerous bars and restaurants in Lido catered to all tastes, a shopping centre and a great waterfront promenade. If you are looking for a getaway, plan to stay by the pool and take evening walks by the sea – Lido might be for you. You will find cheaper accommodation options in the Lido area as well. Please mind, however, that it takes around 30 minutes to walk to the town centre and 40 minutes to Old Town. But there are frequent busses with one solely dedicated to connecting Lido with Funchal town.
I could probably go forever, but I have intentionally left few so-called ‘top rated’ attraction out. Like the Madeira Story museum, which did not excite me at all. For the ticket price, there are tons of other great museums in the town. I found Madeira Story to be extremely touristy. But it’s, of course, my opinion and your call!
The same goes for Farmers’ Market (Mercado dos Lavradores). A typical fruit and vegetable market you will find in many Mediterranian towns. The truth is that this particular one is a standard tourist trap. You will not get a good deal on your veggies here. You will find vendors trying to sell you passion fruit and other delicatessies for not very fair prices.
I gave it a go; of course, one has to 🙂 I have not returned after, so I would not feel that I’m honest if I wholeheartedly recommended this attraction. But like I said, it’s your call at the end of the day.
I loved staying in Funchal. I would come back at any time. Madeira is one of my favourite places in the world, and I’m sure once you are there, it will become yours as well!
I hope this guide will help you make the most of your stay!
Enjoy exploring 🙂
Madeira Know before You Go – Important Information and Travel Tips
- Currency – Euro
- Language – Portuguese but English is widely spoken (don’t take it for granted though, it’s always good to learn few basic terms)
- Power plugs and sockets – Type F (European). The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
- Driving – on the right-hand side. Watch this video before renting a car
- Climate and Weather – Madeira is called the island of eternal spring. It enjoys a subtropical climate with mild weather all year round. It is never too cold nor too hot. The temperature hardly ever falls below 15 degrees in the winter or exceeds 25 degrees in the summer. Sea temperature varies between 17 and 21 degrees throughout the whole year. Expect more humidity and rainfall at the North of the island. For lounging by the pool, visit between April and October.
- What to pack -Hiking trousers and shorts, rain jacket, walking shoes, one warm sweater or hoodie, one pair of sandals, some light summer clothing, warm dawn jacket if you go up the mountains, camera (you won’t forgive yourself if you don’t!), adventurous spirit.
- Most popular supermarkets – Continente Modelo and Pingo Doce. Pingo Doce in Madeira has a great restaurant section as well. Much better than in mainland Portugal. You have to try the Octopus!
- Remember Trave Insurance. I recommend SafetyWing especially for those nomads and long term travellers among us. No need to specify the destination not the duration of travel. And you can cancel at any time.
- For accommodation search, I recommend Bookings.com and Hostel World. Although a dorm room is not always the option especially these days, however, I still prefer to stay in a hostel as I get to meet and befriend other travellers. Most of the time I book a small private room in a hostel. This is my preferred form of accommodation. But on both websites, you will be able to find anything from a dorm room bed to a self-catering apartment for the best prices.
- You cannot say you have visited Madeira if You didn’t try Poncha, Espada or Lapas. Check this article for the dishes you need to try in Madeira.