Home Destinations 12 Awesome Things to do in Funchal, Madeira (PLUS Travel Tips & Top-Rated Tours)

12 Awesome Things to do in Funchal, Madeira (PLUS Travel Tips & Top-Rated Tours)

From panoramic views, and dolphin watching to traditional toboggan rides, here are the best things to do in Funchal

by Michele
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Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Monte Palace Tropical Garden
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From morning to sunset, Funchal is the center of life on Madeira. With cute street cafes and busy promenades, it’s no wonder why travellers make it their base when visiting the island. While there are plenty of things to do in Madeira, make sure you leave enough time to explore its capital. From exploring tropical gardens, and hurtling downhill in a traditional toboggan, to exploring local art and markets, here are 12 awesome things to do in Funchal.

If you want to take the effort out of planning your time in Madeira, I recommend joining this affordable two-day tour of the island. Start in Funchal and let the experts ensure you see all the island highlights from the capital.  

Not sure where to stay? Don’t miss my guide on the  7 best beach towns and best hotels in Madeira. 

Vamos lá! (That’s Portuguese for ‘Let’s go!)

1. Go whale and dolphin watchingThings to do in Funchal Madeira - Dolphin cruise - Pod of dolphins

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Dolphin cruise - DolphinsThe diversity of marine life around Madeira is extraordinary, and a cruise with local experts is the best way to discover it. What you see on a trip varies, but dolphins are usually found (although not always.) There’s also a good chance you’ll see whales, turtles, sharks, and more.

As an avid fan of marine life, I joined three different trips with three different companies. The best value for money is this VIP cruise. With 15 guests and 3 crew members, you’re well looked after by the attentive team. Friendly and informative, they talk you through what to look out for under the water and happily answered any questions I had.  

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Dolphin cruise - View of Madeira from catamaranThe catamaran is a comfortable way to sail, complete with essential onboard facilities. Madeiran canapes, drinks, including a glass of bubbly or a cocktail, ease the journey back to port. Along the way, you can use the provided snorkels for a dip in the clear waters.

The crew will take photos of you and all the creatures you encounter, so don’t worry about getting your phone wet. Within a few days, they had emailed me the pics to preserve the memories of what is an exceptional dolphin-watching cruise.

Check availability and book your cruise here

2. See living plant ‘fossils’ at Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Monte Palace Tropical GardenThe beautiful, fragrant tropical gardens in Funchal are a delight. The lush, abundant gardens are home to rare plants in a picturesque setting. As an added bonus getting to and from the gardens offers some of the most exciting things to do in Madeira: cable car rides and downhill tobogganing.

Covering over 17 acres and various landscaped spaces, the green spaces around Monte Palace (now a museum) includes two oriental gardens (Japanese and Chinese), a fish-filled lake, and a world-class collection of tiles dotted around the gardens. A map is essential, so grab one at the entrance.

A vast array of exotic plants take center stage. There are over thousands of species, including a rare collection of Cycads, a species dating back 200 million years and oft-described as living fossils. There are also indigenous plants, including laurel trees, and international species, like some improbably thriving Scottish heather.

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Monte Palace Tropical Garden - Japanese gardenThe park is also characterized by lots of water features and sculptures. A lake in the center of the gardens teems with koi carp, and several species of birds live there. The most notable is the black and white swans.

The tiles I mentioned are considered one of the most significant collections in Portugal. Distributed among walkways and plants, the collection includes 15-16th century Hispano-Moorish creations, alongside Portuguese tiles from different periods stretching back to the 16th century.

Exemplifying the sheer variety of things to see in the gardens, the museum houses around 1,000 contemporary Zimbabwean sculptures and a surprisingly diverting mineral and precious gems museum.

The gardens and palace perched high above Funchal have a long and noteworthy history. A British Consul General, Charles Murray, first acquired the estate in the 18th century. His grand ambitions transformed the terrain into what was later named Quinta do Prazer (translation: The Pleasure Estate.)

Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues saw the potential in 1897 and built a home modeled on palaces in the Rhineland. This was later transformed into the fashionable Monte Palace Hotel, beloved for its singular setting and inspiring views.

After passing away in 1943, the palace and gardens were forgotten until local businessman José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo purchased the site in 1987. It was his dream to build the lush tropical gardens, with an investment that transformed the space into what you see today.

The Monte Palace Tropical Garden rightly features in many guides as one of the best things to do in Madeira. You could easily spend an afternoon lost in a florescent reverie until you head back down to Funchal, where I recommend taking an adrenaline-pumping toboggan ride sure to snap you out of your reverie.

Oh, and there is no better way to reach Monte Palace than by cable car. It drops you right outside the entrance and is another of those essential things to do in Madeira.

Where: Monte Palace Madeira, Caminho do Monte 174, Funchal.
Recommended tour: If you enjoy gardens, I recommend joining this private tour which combines both the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens with the Botanical Gardens

How to get there:

  • Car – Plentiful parking if you choose to drive. It’s about a 15-minute drive from Funchal center.
  • Largo da Fonte T-20 – Horários do Funchal urban services 20, 56, 103, 138
  • Cable Car – Reach the base station in Almirante Reis gardens, in the old quarter of Funchal. (€12.50 adults, €6.50 for children aged 7-14.) Useful for visiting the Madeira Botanical Gardens too.

When to go: Set time aside to explore the vast gardens and small museum. Afternoons tend to be busier.
Opening hours: Garden – 9.30am–6pm, Museum – 10am–4.30pm
Price: €12.50 per adult. Under 15s: Free if accompanied by an adult.

3. Visit the tomb of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor at the Church of Our Lady of the Mount

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Monte Church SanctuaryBefore taking a thrilling toboggan ride down the hill, you should also visit the Monte Church Sanctuary. Aside from being the most important pilgrimage site in Madeira, it is also the unexpected resting place for the last emperor of the Hapsburg Empire.

The Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, or Church of Our Lady of the Mount, stands on the foundations of a 15th-century chapel. Destroyed in the 1748 earthquake, the new church was completed in 1818. The church, known for its graceful chandeliers and 17-18th century gold and silver craft, is home to a statue of Our Lady of Monte that arrived with the earliest Portuguese settlers. It has been the focus of Madeiran pilgrimages ever since. 

The church also holds the tomb of the unfortunate Charles I (Karl I), the former Austrian Emperor and King of Hungary. Having ascended to the throne in the middle of the First World War, he witnessed the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire his family had ruled for centuries. Having failed to sue for peace, despite several efforts, his fate was forever tied to the Axis defeat. In 1919, the newly empowered Austrian Parliament exiled Charles to Switzerland. Desperately trying to reclaim his Hungarian throne, the former emperor was banished again in 1921. This time to Madeira, an island considered suitably remote. A year later, he died of respiratory illness after catching a cold.

The tomb and statue of Charles I give the pretty church an extra historical dimension, making it one of the more unusual things to do in Funchal.

Where: Monte Church Sanctuary, Rampa da Sacristia 1, Funchal. A 15-minute drive from Funchal center.

 How to get there:

  • Car – Easy to drive to. There is ample parking close to the church.
  • Nearest bus stop – Largo da Fonte T-20 (Horários do Funchal urban services 20,56, 103, 138)
  • Cable Car – Reach the base station in Almirante Reis gardens, in the old quarter of Funchal. (€12.50 for adults, €6.50 for children aged 7-14.)

Opening hours: 

  • Tuesday to Saturday 9 am -7 pm
  • Sunday and Monday 9 am – 6 pm
  • Mass: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 6pm / Wednesday, 8.30am / Saturday, 6pm / Sunday, 8am and 11am

 Price: Free

4. Fly down the hills of Funchal on the famous Monte Toboggans

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Monte TobogganWell, I’ve built it up. And what goes up must come down. There is no better way to come down from the heights above Funchal than by toboggan. Or rather, street sled. This exhilarating mode of transport started in the early 19th century. The primitive means of hurtling down the hill hasn’t changed much over time, although it is at least easier to get back up the hill nowadays.

Disconcertingly made of wicker and wood, the sleds have 2-3 seats and two carreiros, your pilots for the wild ride. They look professional, decked out in white uniforms and straw hats. But if you scare easily, don’t ask how the brakes work.

Okay, you should probably know. The carreiros use their feet (and sturdy boots) to slow down. Not that they care to slow down too often as they reach top speeds of 24 mph (38 kph) and reach the bottom in just 10 minutes.  You land in the Funchal suburb of Livramento, 1.2 miles (2km) away, energized and with a huge grin.

Where: Associação dos Carreiros do Monte, Caminho do Monte, Entrada 151, Porta 4, Funchal.

Recommended tour: There is usually quite a long wait. So, if you have a full day of activities, consider joining this island tour that culminates in the legendary toboggan rides. 

How to get there:

  • Car – Easy to drive to. There is ample parking close to Monte Church Sanctuary nearby.
  • Nearest bus stop – Antes Largo da Fonte (Horários do Funchal urban services 21, 48, 56, 103, 138.)
  • Cable Car – Leaves from the base station in Almirante Reis gardens, in the old quarter of Funchal. (€12.50 for adults, €6.50 for children aged 7-14.)

 Opening hours: 

  • Mon-Sat 9am – 6pm (closed on Sundays)
  • Last departure from Monte at 5:45pm
    Closed 1 Jan, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, 4 & 15 Aug and 25 Dec

Price: 1 person – €25, 2 people – €30, 3 people – €45. Kids under 5 can travel free with adults. 

Ready to visit Funchal? Brush up on the local language by learning these essential Portuguese travel phrases.

5. Visit the hotel built by the most famous Madeiran, Christiano Ronaldo – Pestana CR7 Hotel

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Pestana CR7 Hotel Rooftop pool

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Bust of Cristiano Ronaldo at Funchal airport

Bust of Cristiano Ronaldo at Funchal airport

Sports fans may already know that Madeira was the birthplace of soccer star Christiano Ronaldo. The island’s prodigal son didn’t forget his roots. Working with the Pestana Hotel Group, the appositely named CR7 is a stylish lifestyle hotel, fitted with an infinity pool, outdoor gym, jacuzzi, and rooftop bar.

The hotel also houses a museum and statue honoring the player who led Portugal to European glory in 2016. The museum celebrates the life and achievements of the six-time FIFA world player of the years. Soccer fans will appreciate it. For everyone else, I recommend the polished rooftop bar in the contemporary hotel, a more than agreeable spot to wait for returning soccer fans.

Where: Pestana CR7 Funchal, Av. Sá Carneiro, Funchal.

Recommended tour: If you a big Ronaldo fan, you can’t miss this private tour. You’ll also visit Igreja de Santo António, Ronaldo’s first football club and its grounds, before visiting Pico dos Barcelos and Museum CR7.

How to get there:

  • Car – on-site parking
  • By foot – A short walk via the marina
  • Nearest bus stop – R J Dias Leite (Horários do Funchal urban services 8A,9.10.10A,11,12,14,15,15B,16,46,49,81,92.)

 Opening hours: 

  • Restaurant 7:30am – 10:30pm
  • Rooftop bar 8am – 8pm
  • Museum – Mon-Fri 10am – 5pm (closed on weekends.)

Price: The museum is 10.00€. Free if staying at the hotel.  

Check availabilty and book your stay at CR7 Hotel here

6. Miradouro Pico dos Barcelos

Miradouro Pico dos BarcelosEven if you try to fit as many things to do in Madeira as possible, you’re going to miss some viewpoints. There is barely a stunning panorama that hasn’t had a viewing platform added. But this urban viewpoint is a little different. 

The commanding views are richly layered. You can see Funchal and its bay. In the distance are the romantically named Desertas Islands. Hidden in the houses of Pico below is Christian Ronaldo’s childhood home. Good luck trying to pick it out!

The miradouro is so popular that it was recently renovated to feature a picturesque garden that further sets this viewpoint apart. There is a café, souvenir shop, and pay-to-use toilets nearby.

Where: Urbanização Pico dos Barcelos 1, Funchal.

How to get there:

  • Car – 10 minutes from Funchal city center. Roadside parking only. 
  • Nearest bus stop – Pico dos Barcelos S (Horários do Funchal urban services 9,12,13,48)
  • By foot: It takes about 1hr 10 mins to walk the uphill 2.7mi (4.3km) route from Funchal city center.

Opening hours: 

  • (Summer) Monday to Saturday: 8am to midnight (8pm Sundays)
  • Winter) Monday to Saturday: 8am to 10pm (8pm Sundays)

Price: Free.

7. Taste exotic fruits at the Farmers’ Market, Mercado dos Lavradores

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Mercado dos Lavradores - Farmers' Market - Fruit standBrimming with color and vitality, the farmer’s market in Funchal is the place to go for ripe fruits and vegetables, fragrant flowers, and fresh seafood. It offer high quality produce from around the island, and an unexpected variety of everyday items such as 3 types of bananes which are grown on Madeira. There are a few other food stalls, making it an alluring foodie experience.

Inaugurated in 1940, the New State architecture building and attractively tiled façade add to the ambiance. Gastronomes will have a great time. But anyone will enjoy wandering through the loudly (some say overenthusiastically) managed stalls that display fruits unlike any in the supermarket back home.

Where: Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal.

Recommended tour: If you love good and want to diver deeper into Madeira’s culinary heritage, I recommend this excellent tour for foodies. Hurry! This is so popular that it’s likely to sell out

How to get there:

  • Car – public parking nearby
  • Nearest bus stop – Centro Comercial Anadia (Horários do Funchal urban services 2, 7, 22, 26, 36, 47, 87, 109.)
  • By foot – 10 mins from Funchal city center.

 When to go: Go early to dodge crowds, which seem to arrive from 11 am. Fish is sold in the mornings only.

 Opening hours: 

  • Monday – Friday 7am-7pm
  • Saturday 7am-2pm
  • Sunday and Public holidays. Closed

 Price: Free entrance.

8. Wander around street art in Rua de Santa Maria – Projecto Arte Portas Abertas

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Rua de Santa Maria - Projecto Arte Portas Abertas - Street artThings to do in Funchal Madeira - Rua de Santa Maria - Projecto Arte Portas Abertas - Face and fisherman street artIn Zona Velha (History Centre), aka the historic district of Funchal, artists have been invited to revive public spaces with street art. Reclaiming doorways and other public ‘canvases’), Projecto Arte Portas Abertas is an open-air art gallery that anyone can enjoy. 

I found it fun and occasionally inspiring to wander around, and appreciated this already lively area has been imbued with added color and character from the hands of many artists. Head to Rua de Santa Maria to enjoy this burst of urban creativity.

Where: Rua de Santa Maria 118 124, 9060-235 Funchal.

How to get there:

  • Car – public parking just 10min walk from Rua de Santa Maria
  • Nearest bus stop – Rua Bela S Tiago S2A (Horários do Funchal urban services 40, 82)
  • By foot – 15min walk from Funchal City center

When to go: The slim street is lined with restaurants and fills up for lunch and dinner.

Price: Free.

9. Explore Funchal on the more sedate hop-on, hop-off buses

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - View of Funchal city from Santa Catarina Park

View of Funchal city from Santa Catarina Park

Exploring cities from hop-on, hop-off buses is always convenient for checking off urban highlights. The buses running around Funchal pack in plenty of destinations worth seeing, including stops near some of the best things to do in Funchal and the surrounding area. Highlights include the village of Câmara de Lobos, and the Skywalk of Cabo Girão. Conveniently, you can choose from a 48-hour or 5-day ticket.

Find out more and book your tickets here. 

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Cabo Girao

View from Cabo Girão

10. Explore Funchal by tuk-tuk

The best alternative to hop-on, hop-off busses is the seemingly ubiquitous tuk-tuks. With the air flowing through your hair and primed to squeeze down streets buses can’t reach, this is another thrilling way to explore Funchal. On this 5-star rated tour, not only will you see the sights of Funchal,  you’ll also stop at the fishing village of Camara de Lobos, head up to Cape Girão for sweeping views of the coastline, stroll around the botanical garden, and much more. While you explore, your guide regales you with information about the island and its landmarks. This tour is a must!

Check availability and book your tour here

11. Fireworks and poncha at the annual Atlantic Ocean Festival

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Atlantic Ocean Festival in June - FireworksThings to do in Funchal Madeira - Atlantic Ocean Festival - FireworksEvery June, Madeira runs a competition to choose who wins the honor of bringing in New Year with fireworks. How do they do this? With a series of firework displays from the potential candidates.

Happening every Saturday in June at the pier or Pontinha (small point) in Funchal, the luminous spectacular is best watched from the harbor. The show doesn’t start until 10.30 pm but get there early as the best spots disappear quickly. No need to pack snacks and drinks, local stands will keep you refreshed, especially with local favorites poncha and bolo do caco

Live theatrical shows performed to energetic music take place at the harbour with the Atlantic ocean as a stunning backdrop.

Where: Head to Praça do Povo, Av. Do Mar 4, Funchal. Just 0.2 miles (350m) from Funchal City Center.

How to get there:

  • Car – Ample parking around Funchal and easy to reach by foot.
  • By foot – Just a 5-10-minute walk from the city center.
  • Nearest bus stop – G N R (Rodoeste services 1, 2, 4, 9, 12, 15, 15B, 24, 46, 49.)

When to go: Before the sun sets and the show begins (or a little earlier for the best harborside perches.)

Opening hours: Fireworks start at 10:30 pm.

Price: Free.

12. Taste-test typical and traditional Madeiran food and drink 

I can’t go on vacation and ignore the local culinary specialties. With influences from Portugal and across the Atlantic, allied to thriving homegrown gastronomy, there are some delectable delights to be found in the restaurants of Madeira. As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend this popular food on foot tour. Hurry! This 5-star rated tour is likely to sell out.

If I had to pick just a few local favorites, below is a list of the ones I’d recommend you try. 

Poncha (pronounced pohn-chah)

No visitor to Madeira can miss how popular poncha is. A potent mix of sugar cane alcohol (aguardiente de cana) rendered quaffable by the addition of honey, sugar, and citrus (or other fruit) juices, poncha is deceptively head-spinning. Look out for myriad flavors, with popular versions made from passionfruit, kiwis, strawberries, and more. A kind of intoxicating smoothie that goes down far too easily.

You’ll find poncha served at bars all over the island. Head to your newly discovered favorite for a flight of poncha (mixed flavors), and get ready to have a good evening. And perhaps a less enjoyable morning.

Bolo do caco

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Bolo do Caco

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Bolo do caco burger with fries

Bolo do caco burger with fries

This ubiquitous bread (don’t be fooled by the name, ‘bolo’ means cake) is formed of sweet potatoes, in addition to typical bread ingredients of flour, yeast, water, and salt. It is shaped like a flatbread and baked to have a thin, crispy shell and soft crumb.

The totally Madeiran creation can be filled with octopus or steak, although often appears as a starter or side dish in restaurants. You can also find them served hot and drenched in aromatic garlic butter, usually at open-air events. The smell of garlic-drenched bolo do caco that never failed to get my mouth watering, even if I’d already eaten.  

Espetada (pronounced is-pe-ta-duh)

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - EspetadaEspetada is a technique for cooking on skewers popular throughout Portugal. Anything goes usually, but on Madeira, they have perfected their own Espetada of distinctively local origin. The Madeiran Espetada consists of skewered beef rubbed in garlic and salt. The meat is skewered on bay leaves before grilling, a technique that guarantees delicious aromas and a high chance of incredibly succulent beef.

Bolo do Mel

Unlike bolo do caco, bolo do Mel is actually a cake. A sticky, moist honey cake that is believed to be the earliest dessert made on Madeira. Nuns from the Convent of Santa Clara in Funchal are credited with creating the recipe.

Oddly enough, the cake is typically made with honey today. However, earlier recipes were made with molasses, a consequence of Madeira’s history as a sugar producer. Early versions used spices imported from India, while contemporary versions are often stuffed with walnuts and almonds. One thing certainly hasn’t changed, the cake remains a sugary and singularly Madeiran delight.

If you’re from the UK and wondering how Madeira cake did not make the list, I’ve not overlooked it. Madeira cake is an entirely British confection, without even a hint of Madeiran wine.

Milho frito

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Milho fritoA popular Madeiran side dish is Milho frito, made of cornmeal and including and slowly cooked then cooled. Similar to polenta but more firm, it is then cut into cubes and fried. Make sure you order a serving with your espetada.

Madeiran Wine

Things to do in Funchal Madeira - Poncha and Madeira wine price boardThe fortified wines of Madeira have an outsized reputation. Even if you haven’t tried it, the chances are you’ve heard of it. As a well-situated staging port for ships sailing the world during the Age of Exploration (15th-17th centuries), fortified wines that would not spoil had a ready market. The addition of neutral grape spirits to wine was the key to securing plentiful wine for the captains and their officers on their voyages.

Over the centuries, the indigenous industry has perfected its techniques. Now you can enjoy dry aperitif wines and sweet dessert varieties. Look out for the different gradings, which start from Reserve (aged 5 years) and stretch to Vintage or Frasqueira (aged 19 years in cask plus one year in bottle.)

Don’t be persuaded by bottles marked ‘Finest,’ the lowest grade (aged 3 years) and reserved for cooking. Clearly, whoever thought up the grading system was aiming high.

Broas de Mel

Things to do in Funchal - Broas do Mel de Cana da MadeiraThese sugar cane biscuits (Madeirans have a sweet tooth) are bready and typically flavored with honey and cinnamon. They’re a holiday season specialty, very tasty, and make decent gifts to bring home.

Coral Beer

It’s not all about poncha and wine in Madeira. This locally brewed beer is a relative newcomer, having been introduced in 1969. Offering light, dark, and alcohol-free brews, the beer is popular throughout the island. The drink has even gained an international audience and is now exported to the UK, Australia, and Angola.

Visiting Portugal? Brush up on the local language with my free Portuguese travel phrase guide.

Don’t miss these Portugal travel guides

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12 Awesome Things to do in Funchal, Madeira

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