Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, is an island of eternal spring. The city is located in a great natural amphitheater, facing the blue Atlantic with the backdrop of dramatic mountains. Located in south of Madeira where flowers bloom all year round, the city is a must visit for travellers. It has lot to offer from historical buildings, museum, beautiful gardens to whale watching. Here is the Complete Funchal Travel guide for you consolidated from our experience.
We visited Funchal at the end of February. Madeira was exactly what we were looking for to escape Finnish winter – a safe, warm destination with friendly people.
History of Funchal
This coastal city with more than 500 years of history, offers a very charming and historical context. It was founded in 1510 when Portuguese settlers colonised the coast. The city is named after ‘Funcho’ (fennel) which grew in abundance on the bay. Now it is one of the safest and cleanest cities in Europe.
15 Must Visit Places in Funchal:
During our visit to Madeira we stayed 3 days in Funchal to explore the city. I think 3-4 days are enough to visit most of the interesting places of Funchal, but if you like to take daytrips from Funchal to different parts of the island you need at least 7 days. Here is a list of must visit places in Funchal.
1.Funchal Old Town:
Narrow alleyways, cobblestone streets and old faded houses of Funchal Old Town will take you back to 15th century. Take a stroll along the streets, visit boutique shops and give your taste buds a treat in local restaurants or café.
One of the oldest streets of Funchal, Rua de Santa Maria, is also located in this area. The street is so vibrant with its beautiful painted doors, amazing cafes and authentic local restaurants. It was one of my favorite places in old town. We visited several times just to admire the painted doors of the area. Surely it will amaze you.
Other places of interests in Old Town area are Corpo Santo Chapel- one of the few 15th-century buildings that has survived until today, fábrica de chapéus – the picturesque hat factory and Socorro Church. At the top of Socorro Church, there is also small belvedere where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
2. Avenida Arriaga and Funchal Cathedral (Sé Catedral):
Avenida Arriaga is a bustling hub of activities where you can enjoy the life and spirit of Funchal. Located in downtown, this avenue has become a historical and cultural landmark in the lives of its residents. It begins at Largo Dom Manuel and extends until the Rotunda do Infante. Walking through the avenue, with its typical Portuguese cobblestone sidewalks, you can admire the many types of towering trees, flowers and plants along the way and will come across several attractions like the Sacred Art Museum, City Hall, Cathedral Se, Blandy’s wine Lodge and Jardim Municipal do Funchal. Various street artists with live music performance on the street will welcome you warmly to this picturesque route. The avenue ends at the Cathedral of Funchal, one of the most visited cathedrals in Madeira.
The Funchal Cathedral (Sé) which was commissioned by King Manuel I in the 15th century, has been classified as a National Monument since 1910, and constitutes the main religious building of the Archipelago. This Gothic style cathedral is one of the few structures that survives virtually intact since the early period of Madeira. Its carved wooden ceiling and a mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles make it unique.
3. Avenida do mar and Praça do Povo:
This is a beautiful bayside avenue with parks, gardens, cafes and local restaurants. Funchal has its harbour within this bay area. It is a place where cruise-ships dock, boat trip departs.Dolphin and Whale Watching Catamaran Cruise trip starts from here.
A replica of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’ ship, is also docked here (near marina). At the heart of this waterfront area, Praca do povo square is located. It offers majestic views of the Atlantic and the stunning hills of Funchal. There are also some other sightseeing spots worth visiting on this avenue. Stroll along waterfront to feel the vibe of the city or sit in any cafe and enjoy the excellent view of the sea. You can taste ice cream from local ice cream bar.
4. Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers' Market):
The Farmers’ Market is another most visited places in Funchal. Local farmers sell various fruits, vegetables, fishes, spices and flowers here. It is a great idea to spend a morning at this colourful and happening farmers market. there are several cafes and a large shop with regional alcohol and several cheap souvenirs stands.
This market was started on 24 November 1940 and now it is operated from Monday to Friday from 07.00 to 20.00 h and Saturday from 07.00 to 14.00 h (Sundays and on bank holidays closed).
Address: Mercardo dos Lavradores Loja 2, 9060-157 Funchal, Portugal
5. Monte Palace Tropical Garden:
It is one of the top attractions in Funchal. Open to the public since 1991, this 70.000 square meters park offers a huge collection of exotic plants, flowers together with swans, ducks and Koi fish. A large section of the garden, inspired by Japanese and Chinese gardening style, is decorated with pagodas and Buddhist statues and decorations. Monte Palace Museum has three galleries, two of them on sculptures and one displays a collection of minerals.
The garden is open from 09.30h – 18.00h every day, except for December 25th. Entrance tickets are €15 for adults. Children under 15 years get free entrance.
Best option to reach the place is either by car or by cable car. If you are planning to visit by car check GPS properly as most of the time it shows a narrow and stiff road. If you are going by cable car, you can buy a combined ticket for the cable car and garden from Funchal cable car ticket booth. Another option is reaching the place by cable car and return by famous basket ride (toboggan ride) till the halfway and then walk back to city. But remember you have to walk (at least 20 mins) on unsteady and steep downhill.
Address: Caminho do Monte 174, Funchal, Madeira 9050-288
6. Church of Our Lady of Monte (Igreja da Nossa Senhora):
Built between 1741 and 1747 on the foundations of an old hermitage of fifteenth century the church contains elegant chandeliers, a statue of Our Lady of Monte , beautiful pieces of gold and silverwork crafted of 17th and 18th centuries and the tomb of Charles I of Habsburg, the last emperor of Austria, who went into exile in Madeira in 1921.
The church is located on Monte area and famous toboggan ride starts by it. The ride is a unique experience for lifetime. If you want to experience it, better to go to Monte by cable car, visit all attractive places then take the basket ride downwards.
Address: Caminho do Monte, 9050-288 Funchal, Portugal
7. Madeira Botanical Garden:
This is one of the most beautiful gardens in the region, with amazing views, overlooking the city. This park was inaugurated in 1960 on the ground of Quinta do Bom Sucesso – 3 km from the centre of Funchal. Apart from being a beautiful place of leisure, it also serves as a centre of Science and Culture. With about 35,000 square meter the Botanical Garden boasts more than 2000 exotic plants. There is the Natural History Museum and several temporary exhibitions inside. The park is connected to Monte Parish through cable car.
There are five main areas to visit-
- Indigenous and endemic plants- plants exclusively from Madeira and other Atlantic islands,
- Tree Garden- plants from ecologically opposed areas of the Earth,
- Succulents- plants with capacity of storing water,
- Tropicaland medicinal Plants- Several tropical and subtropical fruit trees, coffee trees, sugar cane and popular medicine plants and
- Loiro Park -park exotic and rare birds.
Opening Hours: From October 1 to April 29 – 9:00 to 18:00 (last entry at 17:30), From April 30 to September 30 – 9:00 to 19:00 h (last entry at 18:30)
Address: Caminho do Meio, Bom Sucesso, Funchal
8. Santa Catarina Park:
This one of the biggest parks in Funchal. If you want to experience stunning panoramic views of Funchal, should visit the park. Entry is free for all. With a total area of 36,000 m², Santa Catarina Park offers stunning views of Funchal Bay and has several walking paths. The park offers many species of flora from around the world and has an enchanting lake with a small island where ducks and swans are born and live. there are also two old machines on display that were once used to crush grapes and asphalt roads, as well as sculptures of well-known personalities and the Santa Catarina chapel.
Address: Av. Sá Carneiro 3, 9000-015 Funchal, Portugal
9. Palheiro Garden:
Palheiro garden is another beautiful garden in Funchal, famous for its remarkable collection of camellias, some of which may be more than 200 years old. This one of the most beautiful gardens in Madeira Island, is the part of the Palheiro Estate which includes a hotel, golf course, the Palheiro Village and Florialis orchid nurseries.
It is divided into six areas: Main Garden, Sunken Garden, Ribeiro do Inferno, Rose Garden, Lady’s Garden and the Tea-House area where you may admire a Brazilian auracaria and a magnificent New Zealand metrosideros. You can enjoy lakes with water lilies and beautiful flower beds with purple and orange flowers.
The Palheiro Gardens are open throughout the year and welcome visitors.
Address: Caminho da Quinta, Funchal, Portugal
10. Blandy's Wine Lodge:
There are several wine lodges in Funchal, but Blandy’s wine Lodge can be most worthy to visit. It will give you the opportunity to experience firsthand Madeira Wine in the making. The Blandy’s Wine Lodge is an integral part of the production of Blandy’s Madeira Wine. Located in the centre of Funchal, Blandy’s Wine Lodge allows visitors to Madeira an opportunity to explore 200 years of Madeira wine. Multi-lingual tour is available from Monday to Saturday all around the year. You can visit the various areas of the Lodge during the tour and taste famous wine in vintage room.
This wine lodge offers two different tours – The Premium Tour is for 45 minute and The Vintage Tour is for 1 hour.
Address: Av. Arriaga 28, 9000-064 Funchal, Portugal. You can book a tour through their official website.
11. Fort Saint-joseph/ St. José (Principauté Ilot Pontinha):
Fort Saint Joseph is a hidden gem beside Funchal port. If you walk to the far end of the port, you will find a small rock with a huge heart sign and few steps leading to saint Joseph fort.
This fort, located on the islet of Pontinha, is built in 1614 and has a long and regionally important history. Until 1776, this islet was recorded on official maps as the Islet of Diego – the name of Christopher Columbus’ son. From then onwards, it was physically linked to the island of Madeira. This happened during the reign of Portuguese King Joseph Emanuel of Portugal, from which the fort gets its name – the Fort of São José. It was used by the British during Napoleonic Wars as a barracks and a prison.
The Portuguese king sold the islet to the British family in 1903. In October 2000, the fort was purchased by a Madeiran whose intention was to restore it to its full splendour. In order to restore the fort, archaeological work is currently being carried out within the premises and visits are now allowed.
The place itself is magnificent with a beautiful view over the bay and the city.
12. Portugal's CR7 Museum:
The Museu CR7, located just 2.3 km from Marina do Funchal, is a museum that is dedicated to world famous football player Cristiano Ronaldo. This 400 square metres museum, opened to public on December 15th, 2013 is a must visit if you are in Funchal.
It portrays the life story of Ronaldo who was born and brought up in the island, and displays trophies won by the Portuguese International throughout his brilliant career.
Above the museum there is a hotel built in a partnership between Ronaldo and Pestana Group.
Opening hour: Monday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm, closed on Sunday and 25th December.
Address: Praça do Mar, Av. Sá Carneiro, 9004-518 Funchal, Portugal.
13. Madeira Story Centre:
This is one of the best museums in Funchal, located near the Teleférico do Funchal, opposite the Monte Cable Car Station. The history and culture of the Madeira archipelago is beautifully explained here. This spectacular museum will take you on an extremely fascinating voyage through times. The permanent exhibitions feature 8 different themes: Volcanic Origin, Discovery Legends, Discovering Madeira, Turmoil and Trade, Strategic Island, Flourishing Madeira, Post-navigation Era and Exploring Madeira. Some departments of the exhibition summarise whole centuries, while others describe in detail about one specific event only.
Madeira Story Centre is open daily (except 25th Dec.) from 09:00 to 19:00 hrs. The tour around the exhibition takes atleast 1 hour.
14. Jardim Municipal do Funchal:
Jardim Municipal do Funchal or Funchal municipal garden is in north of Avenida Arriaga.This 8300 square meters garden is now a leisure area with beautiful flowers, plants and trees from all over the world. There is a beautiful small pond with fountains and a sculptural motif in marble. You may find ducks and black or white swans here.
This green space also has a café and an amphitheatre with a covered stage where often entertainment events and concerts take place.
Address: Avenida Arriaga, Funchal
15. São Lourenço Palace:
São Lourenço Palace, located at a strategic defence point on the island (Avenida Zarco), is considered the most imposing example of civil and military architecture of Madeira. The palace is built during the Spanish dynasty that ruled Portugal between 1580 and 1640. It was declared as national monument in 1976, when the autonomous system of government was established, it became the official residence of the Minister of the Republic.
Initially used for defence purposes, the building also served as the residence of the appointed captains of Funchal and governor’s palace until a constitutional government was formed in 1834.
Where to stay in Funchal:
Funchal has three main areas- Old Town area, City centre and Lido area.
It will be unique experience if you stay in the Old Town. There are several hotels and boutique scattered throughout the hill of old town. You will find more local people here.If you don’t have a car then old town is the best option as it is close to Funchal main bus stand. You will be surrounded by wonderful artwork with cafes, bars and restaurants.
In the City center hotels are situated in hilly area. The city square is adored with outdoor cafes & esplanades, Shopping Centres, Museums and many more interesting places to visit are just a stone’s throw away from here.
Lido area is just outside the centre, but this is one of the most touristic parts of the city with beautiful hotels and resort. There are very good Local buses communication from Lido area to city center,and some hotels have complimentary shuttles.
Remember Funchal is very crowdy in tourist seasons. Most of the lanes in old town is very narrow and sometimes it is difficult to park car.
Where to eat in Funchal:
There are mainly three different areas which is popular among tourist for local foods. Avenida do Mar -a busy and vibrant avenue is home to many seafood restaurants and outdoor cafes with waterfront views. Avenida Arriaga – an avenue in the centre of the Funchal with numerous cafes and restaurants to satisfy your taste buds. Rua de Santa Maria – one of oldest and most colourful streets in Funchal old town, lined with restaurants, cafes and colorful open art gallery .