I stayed in Madeira for over a week and during this time, I spent most of my time hiking, driving around the island and exploring some off the beaten path locations. I only dedicated a day to exploring Funchal, the capital of Madeira, and although it felt brief, it was more than enough to get a feel of what this great city has to offer. If you have more time, there are lots of things to do in Funchal, so you can definitely keep busy for a long weekend.
Funchal is a laid-back city with a great community of friendly locals, who look forward to teaching travellers about the Madeiran way of life. Funchal also has amazing food, a beautiful (and famous!) botanic garden and tons of winding streets, which take you up and down the hills. Each street and house in Funchal looks so different and adorable, that even an aimless walk around the capital of Madeira is a journey in itself.
So how do you allocate a day exploring Funchal whilst making sure you really see everything which will enrich your inner traveller? Well first, start by wearing comfortable shoes. It's going to be an exciting and hot day. Here's what to do in Funchal.
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Kick start the day by visiting the fresh fruit and flower market in Funchal. This is a great place to sample local produce and take lots of colourful pictures first thing in the morning. Don't feel pressured to buy anything and be aware when you buy passion fruit from some vendors. Although some are honest market sellers, others have been known to add sugar and fruit juices to the samples they offer you, to make you believe their product is better than in reality.
Have a wander around the fish section and admire the scary scabbard fish, as well as the giant freshly caught seafood.
Monte Cable Car
Wait in line for the Funchal Cable Car which will take you up the mountain, and offer you some crazy beautiful views of the city. The Cable Car is open from 9 am until 5:45 pm and it costs 10 euros per person, one way. If you wish to get a return, the price goes up to 15 euros. I recommend you buying just a one-way ticket because I have something else planned for your return journey. I promise it will be more fun.
Monte Palace Tropical
The Monte Palace Tropical botanic garden is incredibly beautiful. It has a ton of oriental influence, including cute torii gates, a Japanese bridge, a beautiful mini Kyoto garden and even some Chinese architecture. It's like stepping into an Asian world, whilst being on an island in the Atlantic. The whole experience was magical. Towards the end of the garden, you can sit down and enjoy breathtaking views over Funchal, stretching all the way to the ocean and beyond. Included in the ticket is a small glass of local wine for you to sample. If you are hungry, I recommend getting a bite from the cafe, alongside a latte so you have the energy to carry on with the day. There is still plenty left to do.
Ride the sledges back to Funchal
It's time to leave Monte behind and head back into the heart of Funchal. For this, you need to be brave and take the sledges back down. The sledges will get your adrenaline going as you are racing down the hill in a wooden box. It's like being in Venice, but on a mountain. Definitely a weird, but super fun adventure which you cannot miss in Funchal.
Praca do Município
Once back in Funchal, make your way to Praca do Município, a small square which will allow you to explore some winding streets of Funchal. Allocate a couple of hours to explore this district, and start by taking the R. Câmara Pestana. Don't forget to stop from time to time to admire the boutiques and buy some Madeiran sweet and pastry specialities. No journey around Funchal is complete without the Portuguese superstars Pastel de Nata (custards tarts).
In the afternoon, stroll and photograph the beautiful old town. Enjoy Rua de Santa Maria, which was my favourite street, as it was very narrow, and leading to various networks of even smaller streets. A local told me that the government invested money into getting talented art students to transform the facade of the old town into something more modern. You will notice that each door around the area has a different theme.
Restaurante do Forte
By the end of the day, you would have wandered a lot, and I can only hope you would have enjoyed Funchal just as much as I. There is no best place to end the evening than in a fancy restaurant overlooking the ocean: Restaurante do Forte. Make sure to order the cheese platter which really left an impression. It was served alongside giant grapes and delicious relishes.
Old School Car
There is no better way to end your evening than hiring an old school car to take you back to your hotel. I loved feeling like a bit of a star, having my own driver. These cars are beautiful and classy, but if you ask me, I'd rather rent a Tesla for a night and be taken around in an environmentally friendly, drop dead gorgeous looking car.
Overall, I absolutely loved Funchal and if anything, I regret not spending more time around. However, being an adventure lover, there is no surprise that I wanted to conquer Pico Ruivo, enjoy driving around Madeira and have the chance to photograph Madeira's wildest cliffs, Ponta do Pargo.
What do you think of Funchal? Would you go there for the markets, the restaurants or the gardens? Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.