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?
Based on first-hand experiences during a two-week stay in this attractive harbour city, this is where I can help. Whether you are visiting Madeira for a day, a week or a month, here is my pick of the best things to see in Funchal.
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Top 10 Things to Do in Funchal
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.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION
2. Stop at Praço do Municipio
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.
On its northern side is the 16th Century Igreja de São João Evangelistica do Colégio (Collegiate Church). 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)
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 (€1 in 2022) 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)
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, it 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
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.
A one-way ticket will set you back €12.50; a return ticket is €18 (Jan 2023 prices). 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.
>>> BUY YOUR CABLE CAR TICKET HERE
6. Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden
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 is so much more than a dazzling display of flora.
Monte Palace Museum is home to 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 €12.50
READ THIS NEXT: How to Visit Monte Palace Tropical Garden
7. Count the painted doors of Funchal Old Town
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)
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
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 take a tour of 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 extremely 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.
Fun Things to Do in Funchal
11. Take a ride on one of Monte’s famous wicker toboggans
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
There are few better ways to get to know a place and its culture than through its food.
I highly recommend this excellent walking tour. Leonor, our local guide, introduced us to typical Madeiran food and drink whilst weaving in stories of the island.
>>> FIND OUT MORE HERE
13. Go whale and dolphin spotting
The waters off Madeira are one of the best places in Europe to see whales and dolphins.
This is one of the best fun things to do in Funchal, regardless of the time of year you are visiting. 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.
>>> CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION OR FIND OUT ABOUT SUNSET TOURS HERE.
14. Sample the local cocktail
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, mixed with lemon juice and honey and it is transformed into very 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
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
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 do 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 far 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Museums and Gardens in Funchal, Madeira
24. Botanical Garden, Madeira (Jardim Botãnico)
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
- 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 other 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)
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.
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.
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 very glad I gave it an hour of my time.
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)
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)
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.
Its 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.
Churches to Visit in Funchal
31. Jesuit Collegiate Church (Igreja de São João Evangelistica do Colégio)
After the Sé, the Jesuit Collegiate Church is the next must-see church in Funchal. Dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the foundation stone was laid by the Jesuits 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 to be 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.
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)
Pardon the cliché but one of the things I love when I am 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.
33. St. Peter’s Church (Igreja de São Pedro)
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.
35. Chapel of Corpo Santo
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)
For completeness, I am including Santa Clara Convent. At the time of writing this Funchal guide, it is closed for renovations and is due to reopen later in 2023.
In better times, you can visit this 15th Century convent which is now a school run by Franciscan nuns.
Places to Visit Outside Funchal
Of course, there is much more to Madeira than Funchal. To get some ideas of other places to visit on the island, check out my 1-week Madeira itinerary, but here are my top recommendations.
WEST COAST TOUR | MORE INFO
Joining a group tour is the easiest way to visit the west of Madeira if, like me, you are not brave enough to drive on the island. I joined this excellent and affordable day excursion with Lido Tours that included the following places:
- Cabo Girão
- Ribeira Brava
- Encumeada viewpoint
- Lombo do Mouro viewpoint
- Paúl de Serra
- Forest of the Laurels
- Porto Moniz
- Véu da Noiva
READ THIS NEXT: A Week in Madeira Without a Car
EASTERN MADEIRA TOUR | MORE INFO
Again, I used Lido Tours for this tour exploring the east of the island.
- Terreiro da Luta
- Pico do Arieiro
- Ribeiro Frio
- Ponta do Rosto
CÃMARA DE LOBOS
Just five miles west of Funchal, Cãmara de Lobos is one of the easiest day trips from Funchal by bus. Winston Churchill liked to set up his easel in this picturesque fishing town.
READ THIS NEXT: How to Do a Day Trip to Câmara de Lobos from Funchal
NUN’S VALLEY (CURRAL DAS FREIRAS)
The spectacular Nuns’ Valley is another easy day trip by bus from Funchal. But if you are short on time, you can combine it with Cãmara de Lobos on this half-day excursion.
READ THIS NEXT: How to Visit the Sensational Valley of the Nuns from Funchal
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.
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.
>>> SEE MORE PHOTOS AND CHECK PRICES HERE
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.
>>> SEE PHOTOS AND CHECK PRICES HERE
Castanheiro Boutique Hotel
In an excellent location just off Funchal’s main square, this 4-star hotel has an outdoor pool and hot tub.
>>> SEE PHOTOS AND CHECK PRICES HERE
>>> 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 there are 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 bit of 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.
READ THIS NEXT: Solo Travel in Madeira: The Ultimate Guide