Madeira is famous for its gardens and Monte Palace Tropical Garden is the best of the bunch.
Get the lowdown on why this should be at the top of your Madeira bucket list, what to expect from a visit and how to get there. I’ll also take a quick look at how the garden at Monte Palace Madeira compares with the Botanical Garden (Jardim Botãnico).
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A Short History of Monte Palace Madeira
Monte Palace was formerly Quinta do Prazer, the estate of Charles Murray, the British Consul General. Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues bought it in 1892.
Inspired by the magnificent Rhine palaces he had seen on his travels, he built a magnificent house that became the Monte Palace Hotel. This was the place to be for both domestic and foreign visitors until its closure following the death of Rodrigues in 1943.
In 1987, the property was bought by the entrepreneur José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo and the Monte Palace Tropical Garden opened its doors four years later.
How to Get to Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Monte Palace Tropical Garden is located in the village of Monte in the hills high above Funchal. There are a number of ways to get to the garden.
Funchal cable car to Monte Palace in Madeira
The best way of getting to Monte Palace Tropical Garden from Funchal is by cable car. The Madeira Cable Car (Teleférico do Funchal) leaves the base station next to Funchal’s seafront promenade for the wonderful 15-minute journey to Monte.
A one-way ticket will set you back €12.50; a return ticket is €18 (Dec 2022 prices). You can check current prices and opening hours here.
But before you buy a two-way ticket, you will need to decide whether you will take one of the world’s most unique forms of transport for the return journey. More about that later.
GOOD TO KNOW
Between April and November, there is usually at least one cruise ship parked up in Funchal’s port. As the cable car ride to the garden at Monte is an easy excursion from the cruise port, queues can be lengthy and the gardens busy from late morning onwards.
If possible, visit Monte Palace on a day when there are fewer or smaller ships in port. Failing that, try to catch one of the first cable cars of the day.
>>> Buy your cable car ticket in advance here.
Bus from Funchal to Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Local buses 20, 21, 22 and 48 serve Monte Palace Tropical Garden. In 2022, the fare was €1.35 using a prepaid GIRO card (€1.95 from the driver on board).
You can check routes and fares here.
By rental car
If you are brave enough to tackle Madeira’s challenging roads and have rented a car for your stay, this is the easiest way to get to Monte Palace Tropical Garden. Parking is available close to the entrance.
Book a tour of Monte Palace Tropical Garden
If you are not keen on the cable car or simply want someone to take care of the arrangements for you, book a private tour of Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden Tour | MORE INFO
This 3-hour guided tour includes a transfer from Funchal
Monte Palace Tropical Garden & Toboggan Ride by Tuk Tuk | MORE INFO
Inject a dose of fun into your visit with a tuk-tuk ride from Funchal to Monte
Walk to Monte Palace Tropical Garden from Funchal
Although it’s an option, walking from Funchal to Monte Palace is not a good option.
It may be less than three miles from Funchal, but Monte sits at over 1,000 meters above sea level. That’s one heck of an uphill climb.
Even as a keen walker, I wouldn’t begin to contemplate it.
Monte Palace Madeira: Essential Information
Monte Palace Tropical Garden Opening Times
With the exception of 25th December, Monte Palace Tropical Garden is open daily from 9.30 am until 6 pm. The museum is open from 10 am to 4.30 pm.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden Entrance Fee
The ticket price for adults is €12.50. Children under the age of 15 go free when accompanied by adults.
Cards and Euros are accepted.
When is the best time to visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden?
Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a year-round destination. I visited in November and the garden was lush and the flowers were in bloom.
That said, the best time to visit gardens in Madeira is during late spring / early summer (April to June) when most flowers are in bloom.
How long do you need in Monte Palace Tropical Garden?
I recommend spending at least two hours in Monte Palace Tropical Garden, preferably three hours. There’s a lot of ground to cover, including the museum, and you want to be able to enjoy it at a relaxed pace.
Eating & Drinking
There are two cafes in Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
The Greenhouse, at the highest point of the garden, and the Bluehouse Café, which offers tastings of Madeira wine.
What to Expect from a Visit to Monte Palace Tropical Garden, Madeira
Monte Palace Madeira is home to exotic plants from across the globe.
Depending on when you visit, you may spot Himalayan orchids or hydrangeas, cycads, proteas and clivia from South Africa. The garden is also home to plants typical of the Laurissilva, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. These include laurel, Lily of the Valley and Canary Island juniper.
But there is so much more to this garden than flora.
Monte Palace Museum
If you are arriving by cable car, this is the first building that you will come across as you enter the garden. Monte Palace Museum is home to two outstanding collections: the Zimbabwe Sculpture Collection and the Mineral Collection.
Zimbabwe Sculpture Collection
Paixão Africana (African Passion) is the Berardo Collection of Zimbabwe stone sculptures.
This has its roots in the early 1960s and has grown to become one of the most prolific art movements in Africa. Most of the stone sculptures in this extraordinary collection date from the early days in Tengenenge in the 1960s.
Some of the artists have found fame on the international stage, including Henry Munyaradzi and Bernard Matamera. Women artists are also represented, notably Erina Fanizani.
Segredos da Mãe Natureza (Mother Nature’s Secrets) displays around 1,000 gem and mineral specimens, mostly from Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, Zambia, Argentina, Peru and North America. There are fabulous examples of petrified wood.
The tiles of the Monte Palace Tropical Garden
There are tiles throughout the garden. Dating from the 16th to the 21st Centuries, this most traditional of Portuguese art forms depicts religious scenes and historical events.
Forty panels are dedicated to the History of Portugal, each panel portraying a key event during that rich history. The Adventure of the Portuguese in Japan is a monumental panel comprising 166 tiles that celebrates the long relationship between these two nations.
A large swathe of the garden is a homage to Chinese and Japanese cultures. The two large oriental gardens have many symbolic and natural elements associated with the East.
There are stone lanterns, bridges, Buddhas and pagodas. Vibrant koi carp dance in the ponds and a line of wooden Samurai solemnly stand guard.
At the heart of Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a show-stopping central lake with its man-made waterfall. Monte Palace itself is not open to visitors.
Stop at Monte Church Before You Head Back to Funchal
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of Monte) is a short walk from the garden.
Dedicated to Madeira’s patron saint, thousands make an annual pilgrimage here on the Feast of the Assumption (15th August) every year.
The church is also a magnet for those wishing to visit the tomb of Charles I of Austria, the last of the Austro-Hungarian emperors. He died in Madeira in 1922 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.
How to Get Back from Monte Palace Tropical Garden
When it’s time to leave Monte, you can simply reverse your outbound journey. But why not take a ride with Madeira’s downhill racers?
Monte’s wicker toboggans
Two carreiros, wearing traditional straw boaters, will happily push you down the slippery slope towards Funchal.
Originally, these wicker toboggans were used to carry freight down the steep 5km hill between Monte and Funchal. Today’s ride covers 2km of the original route.
From the endpoint, it’s an easy walk downhill back to Funchal.
This is not a cheap way to return to Funchal (and be prepared for long queues). In 2022, the Monte to Funchal toboggan ride cost €25 for one person and €30 / €40 for 2 / 3 people. You can check the current prices here.
Buy your ticket from the booth next to Monte Church and then join the line to wait for the next available ride. The wicker toboggan service does not operate on Sundays.
If you are also planning to visit the Valley of the Nuns – and I recommend that you should – it’s well worth taking a look at this day tour that takes in this plus the toboggan ride.
Monte Palace vs Botanical Garden Madeira
You may know that Monte Palace is not the only garden in Funchal. Downhill from Monte Palace Tropical Garden is the Madeira Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico).
So which is better: Monte Palace Tropical Garden or the Madeira Botanical Garden?
I have visited both of these gardens. Each is beautiful – outdoor works of art if you like – and offers spaces to relax and take in the views. But they differ in size and scope.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden covers an area of 70,000 square metres, approximating ten football pitches. The Botanical Garden Madeira is half this size.
These relative dimensions reflect the scope of the gardens.
Whilst the Botanical Garden has a superb collection of plants and trees, there is not much else, save a reconstructed palheiro (traditional house). By contrast, Monte Palace Tropical Garden has attractions other than flora, including African sculptures and tiles.
In an ideal world, you would visit both. A time-efficient way to do this is to join a half-day tour of both gardens.
But if you are faced with a tough choice, I would plump for Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
To get from Monte Palace Tropical Garden to the Botanical Garden take another cable car (Teleférico do Jardim Botânico). In 2022, a one-way ticket cost €9.25 (€14 return). Find out more here.
Where to Stay in Funchal
To be close to Funchal’s main attractions, I recommend staying in the town centre or Old Town.
Most of Funchal’s high-end hotels are clustered on the road heading west out of town. Although these are right on the ocean’s edge and will have fabulous sunset views, it is a brisk walk into town from here.
Although there are some gorgeous properties in the hills above Funchal, your calf muscles won’t thank you for staying here.
I visited Madeira as a solo traveller and stayed in this lovely apartment with sea views on the eastern edge of the Old Town. It is a ten-minute walk to the cable car station, spacious, comfortable, very affordable and benefits from a washing machine.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR RATES & MORE PHOTOS
Here are a few other places that I have found that may suit other tastes and budgets:
Sé Boutique Hotel
Located a stone’s throw from Funchal’s Cathedral, this chic hotel has a swimming pool and rates include a good breakfast.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR RATES & PHOTOS
Castanheiro Boutique Hotel
In an excellent location just off Funchal’s main square, this 4-star hotel has an outdoor pool and hot tub.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR RATES & PHOTOS
>>> None of these places take your fancy? Search for other great places to stay in Funchal here.