Funchal

Written By Goncalo Costa

Around 1000km from Lisbon and 700km from the Moroccan coast stands a green mountain that has risen from the sea. The Portuguese, the colonizers of this mountain, called it ‘Madeira’, meaning ‘wood’, because of the abundance of trees on the island.

Now, more than 600 years after it was inhabited by Portugal, it boasts a population of about 250,000 people, divided into 10 cities, among which stands the grandest of them, the capital Funchal.

Funchal, meaning ‘the place of fennel’ in Portuguese, has a population of around 111,000, making it the sixth-largest Portuguese city and the main center of Madeira. With an amazing view to the Atlantic Ocean and built between cliffs and the mountain, the city is a great place to stay on the island, since it has the most things to do and see, and it’s well connected to the rest of this incredible island. It also enjoys more hours of sunlight and a more temperate climate, since it is on the South coast of the island, allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable time outside!

Funchal is one of the best destinations in Portugal, being so different from the mainland and Azores! You will see a great seaside city that continues to grow through the mountain as if it was a huge amphitheater facing the sea. It perfectly incorporates the breathtaking nature that surrounds it, in the city itself. With its great climate, utopian location, 600 years of history, amazing foods and drinks, incredible cultural parties, and its exotic smells and colors, the city is will definitely win a spot in your heart if you take a chance to visit it.

Guide to Madeira

Getting to Funchal

There are direct flights from Lisbon (1:50h) and Porto (2:10h), while the flights from Faro have a stopover, usually in Lisbon. You can also get a flight from the Azores or from outside of Portugal, like Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, London Gatwick, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, and Paris.

You can get relatively cheap tickets, at around 50/75€ with a return ticket, maybe even less if you can get a good discount! To get a good price, do several simulations and buy the ticket 3 months ahead, at least.

From the airport to the Center of Funchal, you would take around 20 minutes by car or taxi (this last one will cost you no less than 20€). 

If you prefer to go by bus, the Aerobus is the cheapest option and you can get it on Floor 0, at the Arrivals area. It stops near various hotels and it’s on every day, between 4:45h and 18h. It takes around 30 minutes and you can buy the ticket straight from the driver for a cost of 5€ (8€ with a return ticket).

Finally, you can get a transfer service, which has more attractive prices than the taxi, for example, and can drop you off exactly at your destination. You can book a shuttle to meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel starting at $17.61.

Getting around Funchal

Bus

The city buses, run by Horários do Funchal, are fairly frequent and you can reach any part of the city pretty quickly. As for outside of the city, they are less frequent and run by other smaller bus companies.

There is no central bus station in Funchal, so you will have to get your bus in different stations. The Avenida do Mar is a good place to find city bus (Horários do Funchal). While for other places you might have to look for the different schedules,  but in Rua Dom Carlos I and the Hotel Zone (Lido) are good stops.

Fares for the city buses are 1.95€ for a ride. You can also get a 1-day pass for 4.50 €, a 3-day pass for 11.50€, a 5-day pass for 16.50€ or a 7-day pass for 21.50€.

Rent a Car

You can also drive around the island using a rental car or taxi, if you prefer to have more privacy, flexibility and to drive around the small villages and hidden natures spots.

You should take in mind that the city is surrounded by mountains, so if you have more than 2 people in the car, you might want to get a car with more power. Besides this, you shouldn’t worry about the roads, as they are in great condition. Just be careful out there!

Rent a Car in Funchal

What to do in Funchal?

In Funchal, you will be able to see the rich history that marks Madeira from its founding, in 1424, until today.

Book Tours & Experiences in Funchal

The City Center

The city can roughly be divided into 2 parts: East and West Funchal. In the East, it’s the Old Zone of the city, the part that used to be a fisherman’s neighborhood and then became a lifeless zone. Nowadays it was turned into the trendiest part of the city, filled with bars, galleries, shops, and restaurants! There are even walking tours to learn about the history. This is the place you want to be when the night comes!

West Funchal is the new part of the city, with the best shopping places, cafés, and museums. This is where you will find the typical squares and old roads that the city is known for. It’s the busiest part of the island, where the hustle and bustle starts in the morning and only ends when the sun sets.

Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer’s Market)

This market, in the East part of the city, is a huge and full of life market where you can find the best homegrown vegetables, fresh fish, and wonderful smelling flowers.

Praça do Município

The wide main square, called the Municipality Square, with the typical ‘calçada portuguesa’, is filled with beautiful and historical buildings. The City Hall is one of them, a built in the 18th century, as is the Museum of Sacred Art.

Museu CR7

The city has lots of museums that you can check, like the Sacred Art Museum, the Photography Museum, or the Madeira Story Center, where you can see the interactive history of Madeira. But the CR7 Museum is a world-known museum that every sports aficionado should visit. The museum is made in honor of Cristiano Ronaldo, the famous Portuguese (more specifically, Madeiran) soccer star. There you will find photos from Cristiano’s childhood up until now, as well as the trophies and medals he won and even soccer balls from matches he played!

Book Private Cristiano Ronaldo Tour with CR7 Museum

Monte Cable Car

To visit the upper part of Funchal, situated in the mountain and where the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is located, the best way is probably through the cable car. The ride usually takes about 15-20 minutes one way, and you can enjoy the wonderful views of the city, the mountains, and the ocean.

The car is open from 9h to 17:45h, with the probability of a change of schedule in the high season.

Book Cable Car

Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden)

This garden, formerly a private garden but now administered by the Regional Government of Madeira, opened in 1960.

It is divided into various parts, such as an area dedicated to indigenous and endemic plants from all of Macaronesia, this is, Madeira, Azores, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. Definitely, a wonderful place to visit and feel like walking into the old uninhabited Madeira.

Besides this, you can see the French and Japanese gardens, for example, and get transported to a whole different country!

It is open from 9h to 18h and can be easily accessed through the Monte cable car.

Book Botanical Garden Private Tuk-Tuk Tour

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Having more than 100,000 plant species, this garden is definitely worth a visit. It has several levels, with one of them dedicated solely to Madeira’s plants and 2 of the gardens being Oriental-inspired. It also has ponds and a mineral museum.

It is open daily from 9:30h to 18h and is located close to the Botanical Garden and the Cable Car.

But besides these two, there are many other gardens and parks that you can visit, as the island is in no shortage of these.

Carro de Cesto

You HAVE to try these cars! They are wickerwork sleds on wooden runners on which you will be seated on. They will descend through the hills of the mountains with two men, called ‘carreiros’ or sled drivers, on each side of the car controlling it.

You will definitely fill the adrenaline while experiencing a traditional Madeiran cultural activity.

Book Traditional Sledge Ride

Madeira Wine Caves

Like the Port Wine, this wine is also much loved by the British, which used to let the taste of the wine improve throughout the long sea journeys from Madeira to their colonies.

Today, you can visit the wine lodges of some of the wine companies and learn about the history, the process of making, and the incredible taste of Madeira Wine.

Historic Churches

History enthusiasts will love the 16th-century Sé (Cathedral), built at the peak of the Portuguese Discoveries era. Its beautiful ceilings, made out of wood from Madeira (or in Portuguese, “Madeira da Madeira”), are considered the most beautiful in all of the Churches in Portugal!

The Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is another beautiful sight to see. Built in 1471, this amazing church is placed in the mountains and, besides its wonderful chandeliers, it features a statue and the tomb of Charles I of Habsburg, the last Emperor of Austria who was exiled in Madeira.

There are many other Churches from which to pick, like the Convent of Santa Clara, also an amazing tour. These are just some suggestions and the ones I thought would be more relevant.

Book Funchal Food Tour

Eating and Drinking in Funchal

Funchal has a great number of local traditional restaurants, as well as more modern and international ones (even having two Michelin-starred restaurants, one with 2 stars and another with 1).

Seafood, as one would expect, is a specialty in the city gastronomy, with ‘espada’ (scabbard fish) served with bananas being a must.

Bananas are one of the brands of the island of Madeira, as are many other exotic fruits, such as blueberries, cactus figs, cherries, custard apples, grapes, passion fruit, pears and watermelons. These fruits are available pretty much everywhere on the island when their season comes.

‘Bolo do Caco’ is also mandatory, being a traditional type of bread made from sweet potatoes.

The city has also lots of bars that make the city live throughout the night on the weekends! There you can get a sample of the famous ‘poncha’, a very sweet traditional alcoholic drink from Madeira made out of sugar cane, orange or lemon juice, and honey. It is said to cure a common cold, so be sure to try it!

Another famous drink that I have mentioned in the last category, is the ‘Madeira wine’, known worldwide as the wine that the American Founding Fathers used to toast after they declared independence, due to it being the wine of choice of Thomas Jefferson. It’s a fortified wine, meaning it is stronger than conventional wines, and it is usually used either as an aperitif or a digestif, depending on the style.

When to Visit Funchal

The subtropical climate of the Island makes it a year-round destination, without extreme temperatures and stable humidity levels.

Summer is a hot and dry season, with about 25/26°C (about 77-79°F) while winter is much more pleasant, with temperatures of 17/18°C (around 62-64°F). As for rain, it is usually from October to May, but it can happen sporadically in other months. The seawater is usually the same throughout the year too, with 23°C (73.4°F) in summer and light drops in the winter to 18°C (64.4°F).

So it’s up to you to choose the best time to visit Funchal! You may decide to go in the summer for the vacations, during the Carnival season for the amazing festivities that the city has, the spring for the ‘Festa da Flor’ (or Festival of the Flower’), where the city decorates itself with beautiful flowers and the people make a parade of flower-decorated cars, the time of the Wine Fest in September, or even for Christmas or New Years, for which the city is really well-known for. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the city has the biggest New Year’s fireworks show in the world! That is really a sight to see!

Where to Stay in Funchal: 7 Best Hotels in Funchal

I would suggest you stay closer to the center of the city, so you can stay within a good walking distance of most things. You can choose to stay in a hotel in the most touristic areas, which would be a very good and safe option, or to stay in a local neighborhood, closer to the ‘real’ Funchal. It all depends on the type of trip you have planned! However, to make it easier, here are the 7 best hotels in Funchal. 

1. Three House Hotel

Three House Hotel is a trendy 4-star hotel in Funchal that does not disappoint. The gorgeous interior features family rooms, a bar, a front desk, and a restaurant. The hotel also has an outdoor swimming pool with views of the ocean. All units come with a private bathroom and kitchen. You can even play table tennis at the Three House Hostel! This place is only 10 kilometers from the airport and is super close to Marina do Funchal. A room here costs around €120.

 

2. Savoy Palace – The Leading Hotels of the World – Savoy Signature

Savoy Palace offers one of the best seaside views of Funchal. This 5-star hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, a gym, as well as a shared lounge, restaurant, bar, and terrace. What more could you need for a luxury vacation? Each room is equipped with a flat-screen TV, a relaxing seating area, and a large private bathroom. Some units also feature a kitchen with all the necessary appliances. A double room with a buffet breakfast included starts at €200 here. The presidential suite, the most expensive in the whole hotel, costs around €5,000.

 

3. Pestana Churchill Bay

Located in Câmara de Lobos, Pestana Churchill Bay offers panoramic views of the bay which guests can enjoy from the outdoor swimming pool. This 4-star hotel by Pestana also has a well-renowned restaurant that features traditional Portuguese food, as well as vegan options. Every room is decorated by an interior designer and is equipped with a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, and a balcony. You can book a room here for €150.

 

4. Hotel Cajú

Hotel Cajú is a 4-star hotel, located in Funchal that is well-reviewed by guests in the region. This hotel is only a few minutes away from Madeira Casino and the Funchal Cathedral. The perfect place to enjoy some room service in bed, this hotel also features an in-house restaurant, a gym, and a bar. Every unit is equipped with a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, and air conditioning for those hot summer days. You can book a room here for €130.

 

5. ARTS IN Hotel Conde Carvalhal

A 4-star hotel, ARTS IN Hotel Conde Carvalhal, is situated in a modern mansion, a few minutes from Funchal’s Old Town. This hotel features peaceful botanical gardens and terraces that offer a view of the sea. The modern rooms have beautiful wooden floors and flat-screen TVs. Some of their studios even offer a balcony and a small kitchen for guests to enjoy. The hotel has one of the best breakfasts on the island featuring local and organic products like fruits, pastries, and eggs. You can book a high-quality massage at the spa, as well as book a scooter or bicycle rental to explore the island. You can get a room here for €100.

 

6. Pestana Casino Park Hotel & Casino

Pestana Casino Park Hotel & Casino is a 5-star hotel that has a view overlooking the Bay of Funchal. A 5-minute walk from the center, this Pestana Hotel features a spa, a casino, and even a disco for dancing. This large hotel has 6 restaurants, the most well-known being the Panoramic Restaurant which provides views of the Bay and pool, as well as the Sunset Restaurant which features a cocktail bar. Each room has a private balcony, a setting area, and a satellite LCD TV. You can get a room here for €110.

 

7. Vila Camacho Guest House

An affordable guest house in Funchal, Vila Camacho is located close to the Funchal Marina. This quaint Guest House has a communal garden, terrace, and an outdoor swimming pool for guests to enjoy. Each room features a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, and a balcony or terrace. Guests are also served a large continental breakfast that is included in the room rate. You can book a room at Vila Camacho for €50.

 

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Explore the Funchal surroundings!

Ilhas Desertas

If you are a nature enthusiast, the Desertas Islands (literally ‘Deserted Islands’) are a great trip. Just 16 km southeast of Madeira, the Nature Reserve was made to protect the unique life of the islands’ birds, seals, and poisonous spiders. You can get a boat trip to the islands directly from Funchal.

Ilhas Selvagens

Still technically a part of Funchal, the ‘Savage Islands’ are the southernmost point of Portugal and are a very important bird nesting point, making them a closely protected natural reserve. The only manmade structures in the islands are a little house for the caretakers, the only people who live here year-round, and a lighthouse. The reserve is of great interest to scientists who routinely do research on the islands.

If you enjoy seeing pure nature and learning more about it, the Selvagens are a great trip!

Porto Santo

The other inhabited island in the Madeira archipelago definitely deserves a visit from you! Just 14km by 5km (8.7 mi by 3.1 mi), the island is fairly quick to see.

The island is known for its golden beaches, something that the island of Madeira lacks, and for its lack of big vegetation, which Madeira has in abundance. It has many hotels and resorts in its territory, as well as golf courses.

There is also a story that tells that Cristopher Columbus lived on the island, having married the daughter of the first Capitan of the island. You can learn more about this in Casa Colombo, a museum in Porto Santo dedicated to the stay of the navigator.

To get there, you can get a plane or ferry from Funchal.

Other Places of Interest in Madeira

You might want to visit the northern part of Madeira, home of villages like Porto Moniz, a place with natural swimming pools made by cooled-down lava filled with seawater, and Santana, that houses the traditional Madeiran cottages, the palheiros. [Book a day trip to Porto do Moniz]. Or maybe do some trekking on the ‘Levada das 25 Fontes’ that will take you to an amazing waterfall.

The incredible Laurissilva forest that once covered the whole island is also a great tour to make. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its rich plant and animal diversity.

You can also go golf at the 2 courses that the island has, go to the Casino, go bird-, whale- or dolphin-watching, diving, sailing or fishing, all great activities that this island provides to you.

Final Remarks

The incredible city of Funchal is a great jumping spot to visit the whole of the Madeira Islands! With fast connections to any part of the Island and even to the more secluded Selvagens, Desertas, and Porto Santo islands, you can get the whole Madeiran experience while always going back to the same hotel.

This diamond in the Atlantic is really a good visit at any time of the year, with activities always happening and weather that will almost make you think you are in Hawaii.

I would more than recommend this wonderful city… You will be delighted by its food, amazed by its festivals, and in awe by its scenery…

⬇️Please share your favorite activities and things to do in Funchal in the comments below⬇️

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