Madeira attracts more tourists every year due to its mild climate, breathtaking landscapes and lush vegetation. The island's capital Funchal is the perfect base for exploring the flower island. In this madeira travel guide I share my best tips and things to do in Funchal and the island itself. All based on my own travel experience of 3 weeks.
Funchal is the ideal starting point for your Madeira vacation, mainly because of its great tourist infrastructure. My personal recommendations will help you make the most of your time there. Use this navigation to jump to the tips & things to do in Funchal you are interested in most:
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1. Sights & Things to do in Funchal
Due to its history the island's capital offers a wide selection of historical sights besides all the natural beauty you can find throughout the island. Both nature lovers and those interested in history will get their money's worth here. My following tips in Funchal are located very close to each other and can be easily reached on foot or by cable car.
a) Old Town & Harbour
We start our exploration in the center of Funchal with the old town. The historic city center stretches from Parque Santa Catarina to the fortress of São Tiago.
The best way to explore the center and the harbor is on foot. You can walk either from west to east or from east to west and combine several of the following tips and things to do in Funchal.
b) Parque Santa Catarina
This beautiful park is located in the west of the old town and particularly worth a visit for its great views. Access to the park is completely free of charge, at the western end you will find beautiful gardens and a pond with fountains.
c) Take the cable car to Monte
The true beauty of Funchal lies in its diversity and amphitheater-like setting. Accordingly, the cable car ride up the local mountain is one of my favorite things to do in Funchal.
You will find the station right next to the promenade, at the “Almirante Reis” park. You should combine your trip with a visit to the local gardens (see d) and the famous Toboggan ride (see e). When buying tickets, you can choose between single tickets and packages that combine attractions with the ride (wich is often cheaper!).
Opening Hours: daily 09:00 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Prices: One-Way 6,50€/12,50€; Roundtrip 9,00€/18,00€; children up to 6 years free of charge
d) Tropical & Botanical Garden
The two following Funchal tips can also be found above the roofs of the city. The parks of the tropical and botanical garden are equally worth a visit and offer a refreshing change to sightseeing in the old town.
If I had to choose between the two I'd go for the tropical garden. Unlike the botanical garden it does not require another expensive cable car ride (7€/14€). Furthermore the tropical garden offers a little more variety. Besides the plants you will find various beautiful buildings, water features, art objects and minerals.
The botanical garden focuses on subtropical plants and a palm garden. Since the garden is a bit outside you can also enjoy a different perspective of the city given the additional cable car ride.
Opening hours: daily. 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (both)
Prices: 15,00€, free for children under 15 (tropical garden) // 7,50€ or 3€, free for children under 6 (botanical garden)
e) Slide down the Monte in traditional Wicker Baskets
Funchal's Monte Toboggan Wicker Sledges are a type of traditional mode of transportation that dates back to the 1890's. At the time this was the only way to get from the Monte hill to the valley (unless you went by foot). The large baskets are mounted on wooden sleds and steered by two men called carreiros. To this day, the Toboggan sleds are used on the steep streets of Funchal as a popular tourist attraction.
In order to get to the starting point of the ride you need to do a short walk from the mountain station of the Monte cable car. The ride is almost 2km long and leads down steep streets. It's certainly a lot of fun despite the high price of 15€ pp (for 3 people). One of the most thrilling things to do in Funchal for sure!
If you want to book it in advance I recommend a combined tour:
f) Try Poncha in some of the best Poncha bars in town
Poncha is THE traditional drink on Madeira. Pocha consists of a third of Aguardente de cana-de-açúcar (Madeirian brandy made from fresh sugar cane juice), honey and local lemons. Therefore a poncha tasting definitely belongs in my personal list of things to do in Funchal.
There are numerous opportunities to try different versions of this delicious drink in town. But be warned: Poncha contains between 40% and 50% of Alcohol (!). The two best bars in town to enjoy Poncha are “Bar Number 2” and “Rei da Poncha” – more on this in Section 4.
By the way: In addition to Poncha, Madeira is also known for its extremely sweet wine, similar to the types of wine you will find in Porto . You can also try the Madeira wine in the local bars.
g) Street art in Santa Maria
You can admire a special art project in the Rua de Santa Maria, a narrow alley in the eastern part of the old town. Here various artists have teamed up to counteract the decay of the district and began to color up the house entrances with paintings and street art. Sice then the streets have turned into a real tourist magnet. Worth seeing!
h) Barreirinha: the best sunset in town
You should definitely combine your stroll through the Rua de Santa Maria with a detour to the “Barreirinha”. This is a small café that turns into one of the trendiest bars in the city in the evening and offers one of the most beautiful sunset panoramas.
i) The promenade
Unfortunately most of the big ressorts are located outside of the old town to the west of Funchal. However, the various hotel complexes are connected by a beautiful promenade that leads to the center of Funchal. Along the coastal path you can not only find restaurants and cafés but also several beautiful swimming spots. One of those is the “Lido” another one the natural seawater pools of the “Doca do Cavacas”.
2. Tours in Madeira (starting in Funchal)
If you have chosen Funchal as your base in Madeira, day tours are a great option to explore not only the city but the island with locals. In my following tour tips in Funchal I list the best tours in Madeira, all of which start in Funchal. This way you can explore the highlights of the island without the need of a rental car and you'll learn more about the local culture and history.
a) Jeep tours
As stated Madeira is a true mecca for outdoor lovers. You can use a jeep tour to explore the diverse landscape of the island in a more adventurous way. The following tours combine several sights, so you can make the most of your day!
- Enchanted Terraces and Porto do Moniz 4WD Tour (North-West)
- Jeep-Safari Day Trip (Mountains, Ocean, Waterfall, SkyWalk from Cabo Girao)
- Jeep Tour incl. Distillery visit (Mountains, Forest, Distillery and the East Coast)
- Santana Jeep Safari and Levada Tour (Panorama-Viewpoints & Hike)
- Full-Day Madeira Peaks Tour by Open 4×4 (South-East, Sugar-Cane Plant and Riveiro Frio at 1818m)
- Half-Day Pico Arieiro Jeep Tour
b) Hike the Levadas
Madeira is a popular hiking destination and offers some of the most spectacular sceneries in Europe. With its mild climate, a variety of well marked trails along the levadas and an impressive mountain panorama it is a true paradise for hikers.
Levadas are the maintenance routes along the irrigation system that supplies the island with water from the mountains to the valleys. The network of canals is huge which results in a good network of trails for extensive hiking tours.
Even if you stay in Funchal you can tackle many of the best hikes as day tours. The following tours include both transport and local guides (except for the self-guided tour, of course):
- Levada Walk in the Rabaçal Valley
- Madeira Peaks Mountain Walk
- Transfer to Pico do Arieiro & Pico Ruivo Trail
- Ponta de São Lourenço/Caniçal Full-Day Hike
- Madeira Lakes Levada Guided Hike
c) Boat Tours & Dolphin Watching
Due to its location far from the mainland Madeira is also ideal for dolphin and whale watching tours by boat. During my time in Funchal I did a sunset dolphin watching tour and saw the first group of dolphins shortly after embarking!
You can book the following boat tours in advance via GetYourGuide:
- Dolphin and Whale Watching Catamaran Cruise (big catamaran, smooth sailing)
- Dolphin & Whale Watch Luxury Catamaran Cruise (small, exclusive catamaran)
- All Inclusive Whale and Dolphin Watching Luxury Tour
- Swimming with Dolphins in Madeira Island
- Dolphin and Whale Watching Sunset Sailing Tour
d) Camara de Lobos in combination with Cabo Girão & Porto Moniz
Camara de Lobos is a charming fishing village with picturesque streets and colorful houses on the southwest coast of the island. Due to its location, a visit to the town can be perfectly combined with some of Madeira's other well-known sights, such as the spectacular cliffs to the west.
- Best of Madeira's West Tour
- Madeira Skywalk, Valleys, & Wine Tasting
- West Madeira and Laurel Forest Day Trip
- Câmara de Lobos/Sky Walk (Cabo Girão) : Tuk Tuk Tour
e) Faja dos Padres
Faja dos Padres is a natural bay surrounded by high cliffs that can only be reached by boat or cable car. The cable car ride itself is one of the most spectacular cable car trips I've ever done. It's definitely one of my personal top things to do in Funchal even though it's a bit outside the city limits.
The valley station is located directly inside an impressive farm where all sorts of vegetables, fruits and even wine is grown. Together with the local restaurant and the natural beach Faja dos Padres is another truly idyllic place that stands in contrast to the bustling center of Funchal.
Apart from the option of a day trip by rental car (about 20 minutes from Funchal), you can also consider staying 2-3 nights here. This way you have the entire facility to yourself after the last gondola has departed.
f) unique experiences
There are many more activities you can do in Madeira. From active adventures such as canyoning or surfing to culinary tours, you will find a variety of options to make your holiday truly memorable.
Following I have pre-selected a few fun tours for you:
- Level-1 Canyoning Adventure
- Garajau Nature Reserve Kayak and Snorkel Tour
- Food and Wine Walking Tour
- Madeira Island Group Surf Lesson
- Guided Mountain Bike Tour
3. Restaurants in Funchal
Due to its remote location Madeira has developed its own cuisine, detached from mainland Portuguese cuisine. Particularly noteworthy are Bolo do Caco, Poncha, Espetada (beef skewers) and Filete de Espada (Scabbard Filet).
In this section you will find a small selection of my culinary tips in Funchal.
If you are a fan of fine dining and modern fusion cuisine but don't want to spend too much money, you should definitely mark Kampo. Our dinner at the chic eatery was by far one of our best dining experiences on the island.
The creations offered in Kampo are modern interpretations of classics from the local cuisine with regional, fresh ingredients. Due to the popularity of the restaurant among locals I strongly recommend booking a table in advance!
One of my favorite Funchal Tips for vegetarians and vegans is Terra. Located in the historic center of the city you will find a wide range of international and regional cuisine with numerous delicious options not only for vegans and vegetarians!
As the name suggests the Beerhouse is more of a traditional brewery. In addition to the numerous beer choices I recommend the “Prego no Bolo do Caco”. Among locals it is considered the best steak sandwich on the entire island. I can only confirm as I returned several times to eat exactly that 😉
d) Tasca Mallassada
We stumpled upon this traditional tasca on our way from our accommodation to the old town, so it's a bit out of the way. But at the same time the location makes it so charming as this is a very simple and inexpensive restaurant with basic dishes and incredibly charming owners. For little money you can get large portions here from breakfast and lunchtime snacks to late-night bites.
e) Penha d’Aguia
Penha d'Aguia is a typical regional Portuguese bakery with a wide range of sweet and savory treats from pastries to solid sandwiches. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for breakfast or lunch, it’s actually worth a visit at any time of the day. But if you stop by you should try the queijada. So good!
4. The best Bars in Funchal
Funchal is known for its bustling nightlife. The city offers a wide range of bars and pubs – from cozy taverns and wine bars to elegant cocktail lounges and live music clubs. Below I summarize my nightlife tips in Funchal.
a) Bar No. 2
As mentioned above, Bar No.2 is one of the best places to try Poncha. In the evening, however, the bar sometimes turns into a kind of mini-club, depending on the crowd and the DJ.
During my time there, I stopped by with some friends for 1-2 Poncha on a Friday night… before we knew it we made friends with half the bar, 2 Poncha quickly became 5 and the cozy bar became a dance floor. A night to remember!
b) Three House Cocktail Bar
If you are in the mood for really good cocktails with a view you should definitely head to this rooftop bar. Located right in the center of Funchal this hotel bar not only offers a beautiful view over the rooftops of the city – there is also a pool here.
I recommend arriving just before sunset and to look for a cozy spot with a good view.
Another good place to treat yourself to 1-3 sundowners is the Barreirinha, a rather small bar that has a great outdoor seating area. In Fact this “outdoor area” is more like the promenade above the local outdoor pool, but the view from here is unique!
In the evening the transition from a snack bar to a classic bar/pub with local flair takes place, often with a DJ and/or live music in the summer months.
d) Rei da Poncha
Situated in the old town this local favorite is particularly recommended as a stop in the late afternoon. At that time you will mainly find locals stopping by for an after-work drink. Very authentic!
5. Where to stay in Funchal
In addition to all the things to do in Funchal this article also includes my personal recommendations for accommodation. I have several accommodation tips in Funchal in different categories on offer because friends of mine have stayed in other hotels. So you can make the right choice depending on your budget and preferences.
Villa Catanho (entire house) – my choice
Located just above the old town Villa Catanho is one of the best options for a relaxed Madeira holiday with a base in Funchal. The holiday home is surrounded by a banana plantation and has a large garden area with a barbecue. There were 5 of us and I can recommend the house especially for groups and families.
The price-performance ratio of Villa Catanho is truly unbeatable, which is why the holiday apartment is almost always fully booked. I have therefore summarized other great and affordable alternatives in the following list. All options listed here are in walking distance to the old town:
|Budget||Rating||Reasons to stay|
The Five House (Hostel)
|€||9.3||Great location in the old town, breakfast included, budget friendly, good atmosphere|
|Casa da Pendoa||€€||8.3||central location in the old town, modern & comfortable, good value for money, incl. kitchenette|
|Wine Inn Villa (Apartment, my choice)||€€€||7.7||great location, spacious apartment with kitchen, ideal for couples|
|Quinta Verde Sintra||€€€||9.1||Great facilities with a pool in the countryside, just outside of Sintra (5km), nicely furnished rooms, ideal for switching off|
|Sintra Boutique Hotel||€€€€||9.1||Design hotel with chic rooms and upscale ambience, great location in the old town, great breakfast|
Any Funchal Tips or Things to do in Funchal, Madeira you'd like to add?
I wrote this Madeira travel guide based on my own travel experience. If you have been to Madeira as well and you have something to add to this list of things to do in Funchal please feel free to contact me via DM. In case you liked my Funchal Tips and found them helpful, I would appreciate if you could share it with your friends or link to it from your homepage!
Disclosure: This Madeira Guide is filled with helpful Funchal Tips but also contains Affiliate Links for services and products I’m using on my travels. Therefore I can highly recommend them. By using these links you won’t pay any additional fees. All recommendations, tips, opinions, and ironic remarks are, as always, my own.