35+ Fabulous Things to Do in Funchal, Madeira

With its beautiful botanical gardens, charming old town, ornate churches and fascinating museums, sunny Funchal in Madeira has something for everyone. But what are the things to do in Funchal that you cannot miss? 

As I spent two weeks in this attractive harbour city, this is where I can help. Whether you visit Madeira for a day, a week or a month, here is my pick of the best things to see in Funchal.

seafront promenade with buildings rising up a hill which is one of the best things to see in Funchal Madeira

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My Top 10 Things to Do in Funchal, Madeira

Let’s cut to the chase. Here is my pick of what to do in Funchal if you are tight on time.

1. Join a guided walking tour

I’m a huge fan of joining a guided walking tour soon after arriving in a city. Not only does this give you the lay of the land and expert local tips, but it is also one of the best ways to meet other travellers, especially as a solo traveller.

I joined an excellent and affordable walking tour run by students of the Jesuit college. It provided valuable insights into the culture and history of the city and the island through Funchal’s landmarks.


2. Stop at Praço do Municipio

large square paved with mosaic black and white tiles with a fountain in front of a two storey building

Paved with a mosaic of black and white stones – limestone from the mainland and Madeiran basalt – Praço do Municipio is Funchal’s elegant main square. It is home to a trio of important buildings.

The 16th-century Igreja de São João Evangelistica do Colégio (Collegiate Church) is on its northern side. The Museu de Arte Sacra (Museum of Religious Art) occupies the former bishop’s palace opposite the Collegiate Church.

Finally, the Cámara Municipal (Town Hall) takes up the eastern edge of Praço do Municipio.

3. Take in the view from the tower of the Jesuit Collegiate Church (Igreja de São João Evangelistica do Colégio)

aerial view of the main square in funchal madeira with mosiac paving and ocean in background

Climb the 84 steps to the tower of the Collegiate Church for beautiful views over Praço do Municipio and beyond. During the tower climb, there is lots of information about the art and history of the church.

There is a small fee to visit the tower and you can buy your ticket from the Sacristy or at the church’s entrance. It is open on weekdays between 10 am and 4 pm.

4. Pay your respects at Funchal Cathedral (Sé)

gilded and wooden ornate altar in the cathedral of funchal

The Sé or cathedral is Funchal’s principal landmark. Built between 1493 and 1517, it is one of the few survivors of the early days of colonisation.

Don’t be put off by its plain exterior. Inside is a lavish confection of Gothic and Moorish architecture with gilded altars and azulejos (the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is spectacular).

Make sure you visit between 9 am and 9.30 am when the lights are switched on to reveal the masterpiece of a recently restored inlaid cedar ceiling. Entry is free.

5. Take a ride on the Funchal Cable Car to Monte

cable cars travelling between monte and funchal with the rootfops and bay below

If there is one must-do on your first visit to Funchal it is to glide over the city on a cable car ride to the hilltop town of Monte.

The Madeira Cable Car (Teleférico do Funchal) takes 15 minutes to cover the journey between the base station on Funchal’s seafront promenade and Monte. As you rise above the steep hillside there is a bird’s eye view of Funchal’s bay, its red rooftops and kitchen-gardens.

You can check current prices and opening hours here. Sure; getting to Monte by bus is way cheaper but it is nowhere near as much fun.


6. Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden

a stone laughing buddha holding a small child in his palm

The Upper Station of the Madeira Cable Car is next to the sublime Monte Palace Tropical Garden.

Covering an area of 70,000 square metres, Monte Palace Tropical Garden is home to exotic plants from across the globe. But it is more than a dazzling display of flora.

Monte Palace Museum has two outstanding collections: the Zimbabwe Sculpture Collection and the Mineral Collection. Throughout the garden, there are tiles depicting religious scenes and historical events.

At the heart of the garden is a spectacular central lake with a man-made waterfall. Its two large Oriental gardens, complete with stone lanterns, bridges, Buddhas and koi carp, are also wonderful.

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. The ticket price for adults is €15 in 2024.

7. Count the painted doors of Funchal Old Town

painting of a woman mixing a drink in a bar
painting of a woman by a window with a black cat

With its breezy seafront promenade and more restaurants that you can shake a stick at, Funchal Old Town (Zona Velha) is tourist central. However, this former fishermen’s quarter was not always the visitor magnet it is today.

Its fortunes were transformed by the Painted Doors Project. In 2010, photographer José Maria Zyberchem invited artists to paint the doors along Rua de Santa Maria and the neighbouring streets.

Today, around 200 doors in Funchal Old Town are painted.

8. Check out the local produce at Mercado dos Lavradores (Workers’ Market)

woman selling flowers in traditional dress of madeira

Mercado dos Lavradores marks the western edge of Funchal Old Town.

Stalls in this fragrant and colourful Workers’ Market groan with fruit and vegetables. Women in traditional dress sell flowers at the main entrance to the market.

Mercado dos Lavradores is open from Monday to Saturday but visit on a Friday or Saturday when the lower floor is crammed with stalls selling produce from across the island.

A cautionary note; thanks to the high rental costs to sellers, this is not the cheapest place to buy fresh produce in Funchal. But as a sensory experience, it is unbeatable.

9. Go wine tasting at Blandy’s Wine Lodge

person holding a glass of madeira wine

Well. It would be rude not to.

One of the things for which Madeira is famous is its fortified wine. There are several types of the island’s eponymous wine so pick a favourite at a Funchal institution, Blandy’s Wine Lodge.

You can tour the wine lodge which ends with a Madeira wine tasting, or simply go for the tasting itself.

10. Try the local fish speciality

Spend enough time in Funchal and it will be difficult to avoid espada (black scabbardfish), the toothsome, fierce-looking, eel-like beastie caught in the waters off Madeira. It’s on the menus in restaurants across town.

Thankfully, it tastes far better than it looks fresh off the boat. Most places serve it fried with banana but I preferred it without.

black scabbard fiosh with sharp teeth and bulging eyes
Before …
dish of fish covered in a passion fruit sauce
… and after

Fun Things to Do in Funchal

11. Take a ride on one of Monte’s famous wicker toboggans

two men pushing a wicker toboggan with two passengers at speed down a hill in madeira

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Monte’s famous wicker toboggans were used to carry freight down the steep 3-mile (5 km) hill to Funchal. A British merchant living in Monte hit upon the idea that these toboggans could be easily adapted to transport people, and one of the world’s most unusual forms of transportation was born. 

Today’s wicker toboggans cover 2 km of the original route and are controlled by two carreiros, wearing traditional straw boaters. From the endpoint, it’s an easy walk back to Funchal.

The toboggans set off from the Church of Our Lady of Monte and you can check ticket prices here. They don’t operate on Sundays.

If you are also planning to visit the Nuns’ Valley – and I recommend that you should – it’s well worth taking a look at this day tour that takes in this plus toboggan ride.

12. Join a food and wine walking tour

group of people visiting Funchal sitting around a wooden table on a guided food tour

There are few better ways to get to know a place and its culture than through its food.

I joined this excellent walking tour. Leonor, our local guide, introduced us to typical Madeiran food and drink whilst weaving in stories of the island.


13. Go whale and dolphin spotting

The waters off Madeira are one of the best places in Europe to see whales and dolphins. Although the best months for whale spotting are April to October, they are also seen in winter and dolphins come out to play year-round

Join one of the hugely popular catamaran cruises to spot these beautiful mammals. For something extra special, take a look at the sunset cruises.


14. Sample the local cocktail

mand and woman behind a bar pouring poncha drink into a glass from a jug

Poncha is a delicious drink that belies its ferocious base.

Aguardente is a mighty distillation produced from the island’s abundant sugar cane. Unless you opt for the aged brandy-like version, don’t even think about downing this firewater neat.

However, when mixed with lemon juice and honey it is transformed into quaffable poncha.

The best place to drink this is at one of Funchal’s poncha bars. Rei da Poncha is hugely popular but Bar No. 2 (in Funchal Old Town near the cable car station) is less busy.

15. Have your cake and eat it at Fábrica Santo António

person holding a sample of madeira honey cake

Don’t leave Funchal before trying the famous Madeira honey cake.

Bolo de Mel de Cana is a dense and delicious confection of sugar cane honey, cinnamon, anise, cloves, walnuts, almonds and orange zest.

The best place in Funchal to try and buy traditional cakes and biscuits is Fábrica Santo António, which has been around for nearly 130 years. Their produce tastes as good as it looks and makes excellent presents for those back home (or for yourself).

16. Pair artisan chocolates with wine at UAUCACAU

display of brightly coloured chocolates in a case

Sweeten your visit to Funchal by taking a seat on the outside terrace at UAUCACAU, Madeira’s premier artisan chocolate maker.

Using the best Belgian cocoa and incorporating local flavours, these heavenly morsels are mini works of art. And they are even better when paired with Madeira wine.

There are two branches of UAUCACAU in central Funchal: one on Rua da Queimada de Baixo and a smaller shop inside Mercado dos Lavradores. They are also sold in Duty-Free at Funchal Airport, perfect for that last-minute present.

17. Relax over tea and cake at Loja do Chá (Tea House Madeira)

Just behind the cathedral is Praça Amarela (Yellow Square), one of the loveliest corners of Funchal. It is also home to one of my favourite cafes.

As a Brit, I like a decent cup of tea which Loja do Chá serves on its sun-filled terrace. The cakes aren’t too shabby either.

18. Shop for gifts at Lillie Ceramics

If you are looking for tasteful gifts, you can’t go wrong with Lillie Ceramics.

Everything is hand-made at this friendly pottery shop. The designs are exquisite and there is something for everyone, from tableware to jewellery.

19. Gawp at the Cristiano Ronaldo statue

bronze sculpture of cristiano ronaldo in front of funchal marina

Well. What can I say that hasn’t been said already about this striking bronze sculpture of Funchal’s favourite son?

Created by the artist Ricardo Veloza, it has gained infamy for its hard-to-miss trouser equipment. You can find it next to Museum CR7 near the cruise port.

20. Have a sundowner at Barreirinha Bar Café

This bar on the eastern edge of Old Town Funchal is a laid-back spot for a drink at any time of day. But with its interrupted ocean views, it’s the perfect spot for a sundowner.

There is live music or a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights.

Free Things to See in Funchal

21. Fortress São Tiago

weatherbeaten yellow tower of fortress overlooking the ocean

The weather-beaten mustard-yellow building next to Barreirinha Bar Café is Fortress San Tiago (Fortaleza de São Tiago).

Built in the 17th Century to protect Funchal from pirate attacks, this picturesque fort is home to a well-regarded restaurant. It’s worth climbing to its upper levels for views of the marina to the west and towering cliffs to the east.  

Also, check out the vintage cars parked in the courtyard.

vintage car in courtyard of fortress with yellow walls

22. Funchal Town Hall

Constructed in 1758 for the Count of Carvalhal, Funchal’s Town Hall (Cámara Municipal) is one of the landmark buildings flanking the city’s main square.

Step inside to take a look at the interior courtyard. Its walls are covered with Battistini tiles and a fountain decorated with a marble statue of Leda and the Swan.

fountain in the shape of a face of mythical being

To learn more about this historic building, join one of the free weekday tours at 11 am.

23. Funchal’s waterfront and marina

Funchal is a city made for strolling, hugely helped by its seafront promenade.

walking alongside this attractive ocean promenade lined with palm trees is one of the best things to do in Funchal Madeira

The pleasant Avenida do Mar promenade stretches from Funchal Marina to the cable car station at the edge of Funchal Old Town.  From here, you can continue east to Fortress São Tiago.

To the west is Praça do Povo, a landscaped garden with ocean views and the starting point for boat excursions.

Funchal’s Museums and Gardens

24. Botanical Garden, Madeira (Jardim Botãnico)

2 people walking on path in a formal garden laid out with geometric patterns of purple and green foliage

Located in the grounds of a quinta (villa) that once belonged to the Reid family (of Reid Palace Hotel in Funchal), Jardim Botãnico is home to around 3,000 exotic species from all continents. I loved the geometric patterns created by purple and green acanthus in the formal garden.

There are four main areas to visit across its terraces. Wear your comfiest shoes

  • Indigenous and endemic plants – from Madeira and other Atlantic islands
  • Arboretum – trees from across the globe
  • Succulents
  • Tropical/Cultivated/Aromatic/Medicinal – I spotted sugar cane, avocado trees, coffee bean pods and as well as other tropical and subtropical trees

There are also resident lizards, butterflies and terrapins and a small self-service café on site.

Jardim Botãnico is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. Check opening times and ticket prices here.

25. Municipal Gardens (Jardim Municipal)

Spread across 8300 square metres, Funchal’s lovely Municipal Garden showcases flowers, plants and trees indigenous to Madeira as well as exotic species from across the globe. Ducks and swans frolic in its small pond and there is also a café and amphitheatre.

26. Santa Catarina Park (Parque Santa Catarina)

bronze sculpture of cristopher columbus

From this peaceful hilltop retreat, there are expansive views over the marina and cruise port. As well as the lawn and flowerbeds there is a lake with resident ducks and swans and a collection of bronze statues.

The Chapel of Santa Catarina is also in the park. This was built in 1425 by the wife of João Gonçalves Zarco, the Portuguese explorer who discovered Madeira, in honour of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

27. Quinta das Cruzes

Step back in time by visiting Quinta das Cruzes.

small paved garden with fountain in front of large whitewashed villa
engraved iron bell in bell tower

Built in the 15th Century and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1748, this is Funchal’s finest quinta that is open to the public. Its most famous resident was João Gonçalves Zarco.

This elegant villa has been transformed into a museum of Portuguese and European decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th Centuries. Many of its pieces illustrate the importance of the English influence in Madeira in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

It is well worth the modest entrance fee. The collection includes finely engraved silverware, lavish jewellery, ceramics, military uniforms and paintings of picnics in the Madeiran sun.

wooden sculpture of a saint with arm outstretched
Sculpture of San Respicio at Quinta das Cruzes, Funchal

My favourites were an exquisite ivory carving of the life of Mary and a writing cabinet with an oratory, popular back in the day.

There are information sheets in English in each room and the assistants will try their best to help. QR codes are also available.

The house is set in a tranquil garden which is home to a small chapel, an even smaller archaeological park and a café. This is free to visit.

28. Museum of Religious Art (Museu de Arte Sacra)

I was tempted to skip this museum but changed my mind after a recommendation from a local guide. It’s not for everyone but I was glad I gave it an hour of my time.

wooden sculpture of Jesus and disciple resting on his shoulder
The Last Supper, Manuel Pereira and collaborators (1654, Portugal)
wooden sculptire of mary next to christ on a cross
Calvary: Crucified Christ, Mother of Sorrows (1508 – 1510, Mechelen, Flanders)
wooden sculptire of the virgin mary
Figure of Mary from the Deposition of Christ (1501 – 150, Cathedral of Funchal)

Housed in a handsome 17th-century palace, Museu de Arte Sacra is famous for its excellent collection of Flemish paintings and sculptures. There is also a tiled belvedere tower offering fine views over Funchal.

Check opening hours and ticket prices here.

29. Museum of Photographs, Madeira (Museu de Fotografia da Madeira)

funchal photogrpahy museum 3

Visiting this fascinating museum is one of the best things to do in Funchal if you are a shutterbug.

Founded by Vicente Gomes da Silva in 1865, this former photographic studio is filled with photographs reflecting 150 years of island life. It’s a remarkable insight into Madeira’s recent history.

Check opening hours and ticket prices here.

30. Museum of the City of Sugar (Museum A Cidade do Açúcar)

mosaic patterned square in front of a large yellow building in funchal in madeira

Sugar cane has played a central role in the fortunes of Madeira, funding the island’s palaces and churches. This free museum is dedicated to the sugar industry between the 15th and 19th Centuries.

It is a small collection but offers a fascinating insight into sugar cane cultivation and its importance, and how Madeira and Porto Santo were carved up between three families.

The Museum of the City of Sugar is on Pç De Colombo (Yellow Square) and is open Monday – Friday. Ask for a free audio guide at reception to make the most of your visit.

Funchal’s Churches

31. Jesuit Collegiate Church (Igreja de São João Evangelistica do Colégio)

large whitewashed church with behind a mosaic patterened square

After the Sé, the Jesuit Collegiate Church is the next must-see church in Funchal. Dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the Jesuits laid its foundation stone in 1624 and the building was completed in the first half of the 18th Century.

It’s a feast for the eyes.

The main chapel is considered one of the jewels of Madeiran wood carving. Portuguese glazed tiles produced by workshops in Lisbon cover its walls and a magnificent trompe l’oeil ceiling adds to the feeling of space.

elaborate altarpeice with crucifix and gilded and wooden statues

Igreja de São João Evangelistica do Colégio is open daily and is free to visit.

32. Chapel of S. Antonio (Capela de Santo António da Mouraria)

attractive square with seashell patterned mosaic pavement and small white chapel in front of pink building

Pardon the cliché but one of the things I love when travelling is stumbling across a hidden gem. You won’t find Capela de Santo António da Mouraria listed in many Funchal guides which is an oversight.

Inside this small and simple chapel, formerly that of the Customs House, is a magnificent painted and gilded wooden altar from the late 17th Century.

painted and gilded wooden statue of a saint with arm outstretched

33. St. Peter’s Church (Igreja de São Pedro)

carved chior stalls in a church lined with blue and white tiles

Visit this jewel of a church for its walls which are lined entirely with blue and white azulejos. It also has a beautifully painted wooden ceiling and a gilded altar.

34. Santa Maria Maior

This small but mighty church dates from the 16th Century and was built to honour Saint Tiago Minor (James the Younger). The Santa Maria Maior that we see today reflects its Baroque reconstruction of the 18th century.

Inside, there are columns of red, green and beige marble and the altar is decorated with tiles depicting New Testament scenes.

blue and white tiles depicting a new testament scene
blue and white tiles depicting a new testament scene

35. Chapel of Corpo Santo

small whitewashed chapel with wooden door and bell tower

Close to Santa Maria Maior in Funchal’s Old Town is the Chapel of Corpo Santo.

This 15th-century chapel is dedicated to Saint Pedro Gonçalves Telmo, or “Corpo Santo”, the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Sadly, the church wasn’t open to visitors when I was in Funchal.

36. Santa Clara Convent (Convento de Santa Clara)

I couldn’t visit Santa Clara Convent when I was in Funchal guide as it was for renovations. This 15th-century convent, now a school run by Franciscan nuns, has since reopened.

Where to Stay in Funchal

To be close to Funchal’s main attractions, stay in Funchal Town Centre or the Old Town. Although there are some gorgeous properties in the hills above Funchal, your calf muscles will pay the price for choosing one of these.

Most of Funchal’s high-end hotels are 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 quite a walk (or bus journey) into town from here.

Apartamentos Sousa

I stayed in this lovely apartment with sea views on the eastern edge of the Old Town, a ten-minute walk to the cable car station. Spacious, comfortable, very affordable and benefits from a washing machine.

lounge and kitchen of apartment with view of bay outside window
view over red rooftops to the marina of funchal during one week in madeira


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.


Castanheiro Boutique Hotel

In an excellent location just off Funchal’s main square, this 4-star hotel has an outdoor pool and hot tub.


>>> None of these places take your fancy? Search for other great places to stay in Funchal here.

Is Funchal Safe for Solo Travellers?

Portugal is a fabulous solo travel destination and Funchal is no exception. In my three decades of solo travel, it is one of the easiest places I have travelled to alone.

Funchal is safe, relatively inexpensive, has a wonderful climate and offers activities to suit all types of solo travellers. Inexpensive day tours provide excellent opportunities to meet other people who are travelling alone.

Even the often-dreaded “table for one” isn’t a big deal. I have not been to another city where there were so many people dining out alone.
But as with anywhere, a little common sense goes a long way. Follow basic travel safety tips by locking up your valuables at your accommodation and don’t flash your jewels.

Have a great time in fabulous Funchal!

If you have found this article helpful, check out my other destination guides to help you plan your Madeira vacation:

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

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