Never heard of Funchal? It is the capital of Madeira Island and has an amazing number of things to do and see. I was there for a week and we didn’t get bored.
A few facts about Funchal
- Funchal derives from the Portuguese expression “much fennel”, as the first Europeans to land found a bay covered in wild fennel.
- João Gonçalves Zarco, who landed here with his crew in 1418 and founded the city of Funchal in 1424, is considered the discoverer of Madeira. His statue is located near the Avenida Arriaga promenade.
- Nevertheless, the city’s most famous personality is the world footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who was born and raised in Funchal.
- With 130,000 inhabitants, Funchal is by far the largest city on Madeira Island.
- The locals pronounce Funchal roughly “Foongshow”.
Is Funchal Portugal worth visiting?
Whether you’re interested in museums, churches, fortresses, quaint alleys, shopping or tropical gardens, you’ll find plenty to see in Funchal. If you only have one day, pick out what you don’t want to miss from this list. Apart from that it’s a great base for day trips around the island.
Funchal Old Town
The “Zona Velha” – the old town of Funchal – is divided into several areas. Around the Sé Cathedral and the promenade Avenida Arriaga you will find wide streets, parks, chic cafés and restaurants as well as boutiques. Especially the Jardim Municipal with its pond and pavilion and tropical trees is a gem right next to the street. After that, you’ll also immediately encounter Funchal’s most famous sights.
Cathedral Sé of Funchal
You automatically head for the Sé Cathedral when you walk along Avenida Arriaga towards the old town. It is the oldest church in Madeira and for this reason alone one of the most important things to see in Funchal. It dates back to the 16th century and looks rather plain at first glance. A closer look at the wooden ceiling reveals fine carvings in Moorish style. Anyone who has ever been to Andalusia or Morocco will recognise it immediately. When there are no masses, the church can be visited. Admission is free.
Sugar Museum in Funchal
If you continue walking from the cathedral towards the old town, after a few steps you will come across another Funchal thing to do, the Sugar Museum. It deals with sugar cane, which brought prosperity and importance to the Portuguese island in the past. Pictures and equipment show how molasses was extracted from sugar cane and visitors can even touch some of the exhibits. Products that the sugar cane industry has produced on Madeira are the sugar cane brandy Poncha and the cake Bolo de Miel.
Info on the sugar museum in Funchal: Admission is free and the friendly lady at the reception provides an accompanying booklet in many languages.
Looking for accommodation in Fuchal?
Mercado dos Lavradores: Funchal market hall
Walking around the old town, you will sooner or later come across the market hall. “Mercado dos Lavradores” means “workers’ market”. The building is decorated with azulejos, the typical Portuguese tiles. Inside, you will be enchanted by the colourful fruits and flowers that are sold here. For this reason alone, it is worth visiting this attraction in Funchal.
Enterprising fruit sellers will let you sample fruit you’ve probably never seen before, such as a cob of Monstera Deliciosa. Sounds like “delicious monster” and tastes like creamy pineapple. Definitely try it! The price, however, is monstrous: 35 euros per kilo.
Insider tip: On the floor above, a kilo costs only half as much. Most tourists probably only visit the ground floor.
On the first floor you’ll find dried herbs from the island and seeds as well as seedlings of the subtropical plants that produce Madeira’s delicious fruits. Great souvenirs! Right next door is the fish market, also held indoors in the mornings.
Info on the Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal: The market takes place every day except Sunday. You can still visit the Funchal market hall every day. Admission is free.
Rua de Santa Maria
From the market hall, you can walk along Rua de Santa Maria to the old Sao Tiago Fort. Before tourism found its way into Funchal’s old town, the Zona Velha was a run-down and dangerous district. Today, nothing reminds us of this. Rua Santa Maria is famous for its painted doors. Each door has a different motif and has been painted by artists and non-artists. Kind of reminds me of Djerbahood in Djerba! The place to pose, take photos and selfies!
The alleyway feels like it’s all restaurants and gift shops, and every few metres you’ll be approached by a tout trying to lure you into the establishment. If you want to try traditional food, but Rua de Santa Maria is too much for you, take a look at Rua da Carreira.
Turn into one of the side streets and you’ll find new and interesting things to see in Funchal: dilapidated buildings that hint at their former glory and chic, renovated mansions, with exotic plants and more paintings in between.
Fortress São Tiago in Funchal
The yellow shining fortress Sao Tiago is hard to miss even from a distance. Although it is one of the most famous things to visit in Funchal, there is no entrance fee and you are free to walk around and discover great photo spots. The view of the sea and the bay, the blue sky and the yellow fortress make for great contrasts. There is a restaurant in the fortress with a great view of the sea. I haven’t tested it myself, but it has good reviews. It’s definitely the place for a special dinner!
From the fortress it is only a few metres to a small, admittedly not very beautiful beach with a breakwater, Praia de Sao Tiago. In winter, the tough swim here. A pleasantly far place to take a breather from sightseeing in Funchal and watch the waves.
Funchal things to do outside the old town
Promenade on the Avenida do Mar
Funchal’s long, spruced-up promenade connects the western hotel zone with the city centre. Besides all kinds of food stalls with skewers, churros, chips, ice-cream and much more, there are flying traders, artists, musicians and the statue of Cristiano Ronaldo to admire. You’ll notice that one part of the statue gets touched very often 😉 Next to it, the Santa Catarina Park invites you to take a breather in the greenery.
You will also pass the marina. Even the biggest yachts in the marina are puny compared to the huge cruise ships that are here. From a distance, you think, “Why is there a high-rise building?” There are a few fairground rides too. But the bus ride down the hill from the Botanical Gardens is definitely more exciting and only costs €1.95 😉 .
The promenade by the sea is perfect for absorbing the impressions of Funchal’s things to see, sitting down for a moment or strolling and enjoying an ice cream.
Frederico de Freitas Museum
If you like old mansions, you should not miss this attraction in Funchal. The Museo Frederico de Freitas houses a typical Madeiran house of a wealthy art collector. Also known as Casa da Calcada, here you can marvel at fine original furniture and furnishings, chic living rooms and funny ceramic mugs from all over the world.
In addition, you can learn about the tragic fate of the Austrian imperial family, who lived in exile on Madeira. Those who are not otherwise interested in royals will nevertheless have a share in the end of the imperial dynasty. The photos of Charles the 1st’s family show a handsome family with many well-behaved, well-dressed children. He died in Madeira not long after arriving on the island.
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take photos inside. Have a look on the net. The winter garden is really enchanting.
Info Museo Frederico de Freitas in Madeira: open 10 am to 5:30 pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays. Entrance fee 3 euros, well worth it!
Museum Quinta das Cruzes
Another mansion and one of the top Funchal things to see is the Quinta das Cruzes Museum a little above the Frederico de Freitas Museum. It is beautifully set in a sprawling garden that houses a café with an exceptional location. Inside, much like the Museo Frederico de Freitas, there are chic rooms with sumptuous furniture, gold jewellery, crockery and whatever else rich people had back then.
Info Museo Quinta das Cruzes in Funchal: You can visit the park without paying an entrance fee. For the Quinta das Cruzes Museum you have to pay 8 euros per adult. 10 am to 5:30 pm, closed on Mondays, Sundays and public holidays.
Tip: If you have to choose between the Museo Quinta das Cruzes and the Museo Frederico de Freitas, visit the latter from the inside and the park of the Museo Quinta das Cruzes instead.
Fortaleza do Sao Joao Baptista do Pico
The fortress is located above the centre of Funchal and therefore offers stunning views over the whole city. If you don’t want to take the cable car, you get a great panorama for free here. Either walk a few metres up from the Quinta das Cruzes Museum or drive to the car park right next to the Fortaleza do Sao Joao Baptista do Pico. The inside of the fort is closed for renovation, but you can walk along the outside walls and take photos. There is a café with a children’s playground next to the fortress.
Jardim Botanico: Botanical Garden in Funchal
One of the most famous Funchal landmarks and a must-see if you can’t decide what to see in Funchal is the Madeira botanical garden “Jardim Botanico”. It combines the typical vegetation of Madeira Island with plants from all over the world. Thanks to the climate, you can see palms, orchids and cacti here that can only be seen in greenhouses in most parts of Europe.
The Funchal Botanical Garden is laid out over terraces on the hillside. The exhibits are labelled, of course. In the case of the fennel, I read the word “funcho” and got the connection to “Funchal”! Highlights are the many palm species from all over the world, the orchids and the cacti. A typical Madeiran cottage “Santana” hides among the exuberant vegetation and is a sweet photo motif. Take plenty of time, sit on a bench and let the colours work their magic on you.
Info on the Botanical Garden in Funchal: From the Jardim Botanico you can take the Teleferico cable car to Monte. You can reach the Botanical Garden by car or by city bus. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and costs 7.50 euros for adults (price 2023).
Teleferico: Funchal – Monte cable car and Botanical Garden – Monte
The “Teleferico” cable car glides over the roofs of Funchal to Monte, 600 m above the city. It goes without saying that you’ll get the best view of Funchal’s almost endlessly overgrown bay during the ride.
The Teleferico connects Funchal and Monte on the one hand and Funchal’s Botanical Garden with Monte on the other. You could take the bus to the Jardin Botanico, from there take the cable car to Monte and then go back down to the centre of Funchal. Or in reverse order.
I do not recommend visiting both tropical gardens in one day! Plant overload. It’s like visiting 10 churches a day in Rome. You’ve “had your fill” and are no longer impressed.
Info on the Teleferico Funchal-Monte: The 3200 m cable car ride to the Monte takes 16 minutes and costs 12.50 euros one-way or 18 euros return for adults. Tickets are available at the station or online at https://madeiracablecar.com/. Check the departure times on the website beforehand.
Info on the Teleferico Jardim Botanico-Monte: The 1800 m cable car ride to the Monte takes 18 minutes and costs €14.50 one way or €17.75 return for adults. Tickets are available at the station or online at https://telefericojardimbotanico.com/. Check the departure times on the website beforehand.
Monte above Funchal
Strictly speaking, Monte is a separate municipality. However, it is so close to Funchal that Monte is counted as one of Funchal’s attractions. Monte is famous for its pilgrimage church Nossa Senhora do Monte from the 18th century: it houses the tomb of the last Austrian Emperor Charles I. He lived there with his family for a short time. He lived in exile on Madeira with his family before he died. The winter’s damp and cool climate had led to fatal pneumonia in his poorly heated accommodation in Monte. Those interested can learn more about his tragic fate in the Frederico de Freitas Museum in Funchal.
Tropical Garden Monte Palace
The highlight of Monte is the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. The extensive grounds are so structured and harmoniously laid out, and at the same time an enchanted, sprawling jungle, that you want to stretch a hammock between two palm trees and stay forever. The entrance fee is definitely worth it!
In addition to an extensive park with ponds, pagodas and statues, you can expect an enormous collection of gemstones from all over the world, some of which are huge. The gems are extremely fascinating! Another exhibition hall shows wood carvings by African artists.
You can really spend the whole day here. A café with a view in the Monte Palace Garden invites you to take a break. The highlight: with your entrance ticket you get a glass of Madeira wine for free.
Info: You can reach the Monte Palace Tropical Garden by car (parking available), bus or cable car. It is open daily from 9.30 am to 6 pm (except 25.12.). Admission is 12.50 euros for adults.
Toboggan ride down the hill to Funchal
Next to the Monte Palace garden is where the famous wicker sled will take you on an exciting ride downhill to Funchal. Traditionally dressed man have been doing this for ages and it’s a safe but fun experience riding down the hill in the “Carro de Cesto”. One of the most famous tourist attraction in the island of Madeira.
Other places of interest in Funchal
Public buildings in Funchal
- Blandy’s Wine Lodge in the Avenida Arriaga
- São Lourenço Palace opposite the seafront promenade
- Municipal Theatre Baltazar Dias
- Funchal City Hall
- Funchal City Gate
- Casino da Madeira
- Belmondo Reid’s Palace Hotel on Avenida Arriaga. Great cosy terrace
Museums in Funchal
- Museum of Sacred Art with many artefacts from the Cathedral
- Madeira Story Centre
- Electricity Museum
- CR7 Museum Cristiano Ronaldo, a child of the city
- Natural History Museum in Funchal
Squares in Funchal
- Praça do Município
- Praça do Povo
- Praça do Colombo
- Largo do Fonte
- Praça do Pelourinho
Churches and monasteries in Funchal
- Chapel of Santo António da Mouraria in Funchal
- Church of São Pedro
- Chapel of Corpo Santo
- Church of Socorro
- Monastery of Santa Clara
- Church of São João Evangelista
- Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Monte
- Presbyterian Church (Scottish Church)
Accommodation in Funchal
If you like a big breakfast buffet and a great view over Funchal to boot, check out the TUI BLUE Madeira Gardens. After a long sightseeing tour of Funchal or a hike through Madeira’s fascinating mountains, you’ll really appreciate the large spa area. The hotel is for adults only and is located in the western hotel zone of Funchal.
What should I buy in Funchal?
Culinary souvenirs from Funchal
A well-known souvenir that is sold everywhere is the Bolo de Mel. It is a cake made of sugar cane syrup and spices and tastes Christmassy.
In addition, there are all kinds of products with passion fruit, which grows on Madeira: passion fruit jam, passion fruit schnapps (“poncha”) or liqueur, passion fruit lemonade (“brisa”)… passion fruit is so popular on Madeira that even Fanta Maracuja from Spain has made it to the island. Or simply take one of the exotic fruits like “passion fruit banana”, which you can’t buy at home. The best place is the Mercado dos Lavradores.
You can try Madeira Wine at Blandy’s Wine Lodge. Really good ones are quite expensive. At the Fábrica Santo António you can taste and buy typical Madeira delicacies, such as honey cake or bolo.
If you are looking for larger groceries or simply a large selection of products, there are several large supermarkets in Funchal. In the centre there is the “Pingo Doce”, where you can also park, there are free toilets and a supermarket restaurant. They serve local food very cheaply. It feels like a canteen and is very authentic because of the many locals.
What should I definitely try in Funchal?
Funchal and Madeira are famous for their fish specialities. You will find the typical Portuguese cod “Bacalhau” on all the menus of the traditional restaurants. The black scabbard fish “Espada” and the limpets “Lapas” are local.
Madeiran cuisine is generally rather simple and rustic. There is a lot of meat with potatoes. Typical of Madeira is grilled meat, served on a long vertical skewer, which you help yourself to. Of course, in the island’s capital there is everything from Cuban to Italian restaurants that the international tourist’s heart desires and also offers enough for vegans and vegetarians.
Restaurants with traditional dishes are concentrated on the Rua de Santa Maria. For those who find it too crowded and touristy, I recommend Rua da Carreira.
A popular street food is the bolo do caco, a flatbread made with sweet potato flour and topped with all kinds of things. Restaurants serving Madeiran cuisine serve it with garlic and butter.
Taste your way through the exotic fruit selection. Some of the fruits in the Mercado dos Lavradores even globetrotters like me have never seen before. I developed a passion fruit addiction in a week in Funchal and now I don’t know how I’m going to live with it 😀
As for drinks, you can’t miss the famous Madeira wine and a glass of poncha. Poncha consists of rum or sugar cane brandy, honey and orange or lemon juice. There are also variations, for example with – you guessed it – passion fruit 😉
Getting around in Funchal
The best way to visit Funchal’s attractions in the pedestrian zone and adjacent areas is on foot. However, as soon as you get outside the city centre, there are no more pavements, the streets are parked up and the cars speed around the bend with no alternative. Even though on Google Maps it looks like you can walk from the city centre to the Botanical Garden – don’t do it. It’s pure stress.
You can drive around Funchal in a rental car, but it’s not recommended. There are hardly any parking spaces, the streets are narrow, many are one-way and there are also extremely steep roads that are not for the faint-hearted. Going to Monte or to the Jardim Botanico by car is ok. If you have to drive into the city centre, park in the car park of one of the malls. On Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday parking is free, e.g. at “La Vie”.
The buses are the best way to get around outside the centre of Funchal without stress. The bus network is close-knit, and the departure times and routes shown on Google Maps are correct.
Each single ticket is only valid for one bus journey. You have to buy a new ticket every time you change buses. There are day tickets that are worthwhile for 3 or more journeys. A single journey costs 1.95 euros with the bus driver. Discounted prepaid tickets and day or week tickets cannot be bought from the bus driver. There is a ticket booth on the harbour promenade that sells these special tickets.
There is a regular express bus to the Madeira airport for 5 euros.
How safe is it in Funchal?
I have always felt very safe in Funchal, even as a woman at night and alone. I also never had the feeling that pickpockets are out and about and that you have to be extra careful. Just use common sense, like everywhere else.
Are shops open on Sundays in Funchal?
Most shops are open on Sundays in Funchal, except for smaller boutiques. The big supermarkets are open until late. You can park for free in the malls’ car parks on Sundays.
How much does it cost to go sledding in Funchal?
The wicker basket sled ride down Monte towards Funchal costs 20 euros for one person, 30 euros for two.
How long is the toboggan ride in Funchal?
It’s 2 km long and takes 10 minutes.
Can I drink the tap water in Funchal?
Yes, you can drink the tap water in Funchal, it is safe for your health. However, it is so strongly chlorinated that it does not taste good.
© Photos: M. Ilic.