Funchal is the perfect base to explore the island of Madeira and before you venture out into the magical island it is worth exploring the city itself.
Funchal is the the capital city of Madeira, and is known as one of the safest cities in Europe. From cobblestone streets to endless gardens and markets, there is something for everyone to explore and enjoy in Funchal.
Top things to do in Funchal
Funchal is a city where nature thrives; from the trees lining the waterfront to the lush gardens scattered around town and the mountains rising in the distance.
You could hop on a boat to see dolphins, spend the day sampling Madeira wine or swim in the Atlantic, all without leaving the city. And in the evening; grab a cocktail and head to an incredible oceanside dinner.
Whether you’re arriving by cruise or plane, our guide covers the best things to do in Funchal to help you make the most of your visit.
Go dolphin watching in Funchal
Set off on a catamaran and spot the dolphins swimming in the nearby waters. Several companies offer daily tours departing from the Funchal marina, but we recommend the Magic Dolphin.
Walk Funchal's waterfront
Enjoy a walk along the city’s waterfront promenade. Start at the marina and follow the Avenida do Mar to Praça do Povo. Along the way, you can take in the views of the ocean and the mountains above you. There are also many kiosks where you can stop for a drink.
Visit Funchal's Mercado dos Lavradores
Open since 1940, this local market is still a central stage for the island’s fresh produce. Step inside, and you’ll see a wide range of tropical fruits. Sellers encourage you to try anything from bananas to passion fruit and other little-known delicacies like the fruta deliciosa (monstera delicious fruit).
There are also many flower stalls and a fish market around the back that sells local treats like the black scabbardfish.
Note: Some sellers often add sugar to the fruit samples. Before you buy anything here, it’s worth checking the street stalls around the market, which often have cheaper produce.
Stroll through Rua de Santa Maria in Funchal
Dating back to the 15th century, Rua de Santa Maria is one of the oldest streets in Funchal. Today it’s famous for its colorful doors revamped by artists as part of a local initiative called Arte de Portas Abertas. The street is full of local restaurants and bars, and it’s especially busy at nightfall.
Head up to Funchal's Monte neighborhood
There are many gardens scattered around Funchal, but if there’s one you can’t miss is the Monte Palace.
This exotic park features a series of sculptures, fountains, and tropical plants, plus a stunning Japanese-themed garden. You’ll find it amid the mountains in the Monte neighborhood.
To get here, you can take a bus, jump on a taxi, or better yet, hop on the Funchal cable car. The journey takes around 10 minutes with panoramic views of the city and the sea along the way. Grab a coffee at Land before heading inside the gardens. Then visit the Igreja da Nossa Senhora do Monte, a nearby Baroque church.
Funchal's Cable Car
Hop on a Funchal toboggan
From Monte, you can take a toboggan ride down the hill. Originally used to carry goods back and forth, the wicker toboggans are now a thrilling attraction for visitors. The drivers whisk you down the road, starting from the Monte church and ending at Estrada do Livramento. From here you can take a bus or a taxi to downtown Funchal.
Visit the Madeira Botanical Gardens
Halfway between downtown and Monte, you’ll find the Madeira Botanical Gardens. It has over 80,000 square meters filled with various plants, including a striking cacti collection. The views from the terrace are also pretty impressive.
Funchal Botanical Gardens
Support local artists in Funchal
If you fancy buying a souvenir, we recommend heading to Bordal or the Caravel Art Center. Open since 1962, Bordal sells typical Madeira embroideries. Meanwhile, the Caravel Art Center has a gift shop with paintings and crafts made by local artists.
Enjoy a swim
Funchal offers a mix of beaches and lidos. The most popular swimming spots include Praia Formosa, Lido, and Doca do Cavacas. If you prefer something closer to the city center, you can head to Praia do Almirante Reis or Barreirinha.
Join a Madeira wine tasting
Madeira wine is a traditional fortified drink produced on the island. While you can sample it in many bars across the city, you should visit one of the local producers.
Blandy’s offers daily tours in English, which cover the making of the barrels, the history of the brand, and a tasting. H&M Borges also provides a tasting room surrounded by 19th-century wood furnishings.
Tour Funchal's historic buildings
You’ll find many of the city’s historic buildings downtown. Make sure to visit the Funchal Cathedral and admire the gilded Gothic altar.
Nearby, the Igreja do Colégio features a stunning interior with blue and white tiles. You can also climb the church’s tower for a panoramic view. Close to the waterfront, you can walk around the Forte de São Tiago, a 17th-century fortress.
Relax at the Parque de Santa Catarina
This local park is a great spot to catch the sunset or grab a picnic. Many events take place here, including a summer jazz festival. There are several sculptures dotted around, including one of Christopher Columbus. You’ll also find two cafés and a children’s playground.
Order a poncha or nikita
Beyond Madeira wine, two other drinks are typical from the island. The most famous one is the poncha, made with aguardente-de-cana (sugar cane rum).
It comes in various flavors, but the most popular ones are the regional (with orange juice, lemon juice, and honey) and the pescador (with lemon juice and sugar).
Our top spots to eat and drink in Funchal:
- Petit Fours Patisserie: Sweet pastries fill the counter at this traditional bakery. Make sure to try the queijada, a cheese tart typical of Madeira.
- MadMarket: Hidden inside a shopping gallery, this restaurant serves delicious seafood dishes like octopus and braised tuna.
- Museu Café: Attached to the Sacred Art museum, this local café offers a decent lunch deal, including veggie-friendly options.
- Central Grill: One of the best places to sample a meat rodizio or the traditional espetadas (skewers) in Funchal.
- Terra: This contemporary restaurant serves a mix of dishes from around the world using the freshest ingredients.
- Fuga Cidade: Sample a mix of petiscos, such as picado (small bits of meat mixed with tomato sauce and fries) paired with craft beer. Food is only available during the week.
- Three House: Part of a hotel, this rooftop serves delicious cocktails and specialty coffee.
- Rua Imperatriz Dona Amélia: This street is lined with trendy bars and a food market called Arraial da Imperatriz.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to visiting Funchal! Check back soon for more on the beautiful island of Madeira.