Things to do in Funchal, Madeira

Funchal is a charming village with gardens, low houses, promenades and historic center, located in a beautiful natural environment surrounded by hills and the sea.

Lorena Morales

Lorena Morales

12 min read

Things to do in Funchal, Madeira

Funchal, Madeira | ©Jimmy Pierce

Funchal is the capital of Madeira and one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal. Its narrow streets, low houses, markets, wineries, gardens and promenades make it an ideal destination for a quiet stay by the sea. It is also surrounded by a wonderful natural environment with hills of volcanic origin, cliffs and forests.

Its hiking tra ils of varying difficulty are highly recommended, as well as water sports such as snorkeling, diving, surfing or canoeing. If you dive into the sea, you can see different species of whales, dolphins and seabirds. In addition, the city is a strategic place for you to undertake the best tours of Madeira from Funchal that will allow you to know the whole archipelago, known as one of the best island destinations in the world.

1. Tour Funchal's seaport and enjoy whale and dolphin watching

Madeira Sea Port| ©alealetojanni
Madeira Sea Port| ©alealetojanni

On your trip to Funchal you can not miss the whale and dolphin watching, which are made from the seaport of this city. Fin whales, Sei whales, Minke whales and dolphins are in their natural habitat, so the chances of sightings are almost 100%.

They can be seen throughout the year, but their numbers increase between May and September. The best way to see dolphins in Madeira is to hire a tour, as they will take you to the places where the most dolphins are seen.

Whale and dolphin watching is undoubtedly one of the best boat trips you can do in Madeira. It is really a pleasant experience, since these animals, especially dolphins, love boats and when they see one they come so close that it is possible to take pictures and even pet them.

Take a boat trip in Madeira

2. Get to know the Zona Velha of Funchal and enjoy its gastronomy

Zona Velha of Funchal| ©Frank Rump
Zona Velha of Funchal| ©Frank Rump

The historic center of Funchal or Zona Velha, is one of the most picturesque areas for a walk in Funchal, and to know its history, emblematic buildings, craft stores and restaurants with typical food of the area.

Its main street is rua Santa Maria, a narrow cobblestone street surrounded by old houses, full of life both day and night.

In and around rua Santa Maria you can see gaudily decorated doors, painted by various artists, which emerged as a Street Art initiative called Portas Abertas Project and proposed to give new life to the buildings that looked somewhat abandoned.

Today there are more than 200 painted doors that have become an excuse to take a beautiful walk in Funchal.

This street leads to the Fortaleza de Sao Tiago, one of the attractions that you cannot miss during your visit, of great historical importance, and where today there is a Museum of Contemporary Art.

Funchal's Zona Velha is the perfect place for you to get to know the gastronomy of the city and Madeira, which highlights the swordfish with fried plantain, barbecued beef espetada and garlic butter bread.

Chapel of the Holy Body

It is one of the oldest chapels in Funchal and is located at the end of Rua Santa Maria. It dates back to the 15th century and is dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen, St. Pedro Gonçalves Telmo, the "Corpo Santo".

It stands out for the wonderful paintings on the ceiling, its carved wooden altars and sculptures in late Gothic style, often called Manueline style.

Of the original construction only the portico remains, while the altar dates from the end of the 16th century. In this church operated one of the oldest brotherhoods, which provided help to people who had lost relatives at sea. It is also said that fishermen used to go to the chapel to pray to God before starting their daily work.

  • Hours: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 2.30 pm.
  • Location: Largo do Corpo Santo, 9060-291 Funchal, Portugal.

Book a guided tour in Funchal

3. Visit one of the major attractions of the Madeira archipelago, the Sao Tiago fortress

Sao Tiago Fortress| ©TeWeBs
Sao Tiago Fortress| ©TeWeBs

The fortress Sao Tiago is an old fortress, of a striking yellow color, which has one of the most beautiful views of the Santa Maria neighborhood, which is located at the end of the promenade by the sea.

There you can enjoy its panoramic views of the archipelago of Madeira, take spectacular pictures, and also delight in the unique gastronomy offered in its surroundings.

The fortress of Sao Tiago is a military building that was built in the seventeenth century to protect the city from pirates, since, due to the location of the archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic, it was an obligatory and provocative call to the ships passing by.

In 1992 it became government property and was transformed into a contemporary art museum. Today you can visit it with your family, as even the little ones love it, making it one of the best things to see and do in Madeira with children.

Besides seeing the fort, you can go down to Barreirinha beach, which is just below the fortress, one of the most renowned of the bay. There you can enjoy a tasty drink and exquisite gastronomy, while enjoying a breathtaking view.

4. Meet one of the most popular wineries in Madeira: Blandy

Blandy Winery| ©Luke H. Gordon
Blandy Winery| ©Luke H. Gordon

Bodegas Blandy is one of the oldest wineries on the island, with origins dating back to 1811. It is also one of the most active in the archipelago of Madeira, with recreational parties, where you can taste wines and delicacies of all kinds.

Whether you are a wine lover or not, you will love to visit its vineyards. There you will learn about the history of the Blandy family and the origin of the winery, they will explain how the wines are made and also the history of wine in Madeira. In addition, you will be able to taste exquisite wines, and taste delicious regional sweets.

When you visit this winery, it is advisable to be prepared to buy several bottles of wine, as they are a delight that you will not want to miss to enjoy the rest of your trip. But you can also take advantage of the visit to hang out at their bar, which has a very striking decoration. Its chairs are made of wine barrels.

If you visit Funchal in late August and early September, don't miss one of its most important cultural festivals: the vendimias. They are a fantastic wine festival.

The locals together with visitors tread the grapes that were harvested during the year, selecting the best ones, which will then be used to make wines or liqueurs.

Learn more about Madeira

  • Location: Av. Arriaga 28 - Funchal.
  • Hours: From 10 am to 6.30 pm.

5. Fly in a cable car, Madeira's means of transportation

Funchal Cable Car| ©Martin Elliss
Funchal Cable Car| ©Martin Elliss

If you visit Funchal, you can't miss the means of transportation normally used by its citizens to move to the highest areas of the city and its surroundings: the cable car.

It is a cabin with which you can move around the city through the air, while enjoying a breathtaking panoramic view.

Tours last between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on the cable car you use. In total, there are about 7 cable cars on the island that connect the city with different towns. In some cases, it is the only way to access certain places.

Flying over the city, you can observe the sea, the gardens, its spectacular mansions and the different island villages.

One of the most popular destinations on the island is the Monte Palace, a garden where you can find various exotic plants from different parts of the world, as well as collections of sculptures and minerals. In addition, from there you can take another cable car to go to the botanical gardens.

You can also use the Achada da Cruz cable car to go to a very beautiful viewpoint. This has a very steep descent that will be a bit scary. From there you will arrive at Faja Da Quebrada Nova, a small village with only 100 inhabitants, where you can take a very quiet walk along the seashore.

More information about Madeira

  • Price: Round trip about 12 EUR for adults and 6 EUR for children. Children under 6 years travel for free.
  • Schedules: Generally, they operate between 9 am and 5 pm.

6. Tour Monte Palace Madeira, with its parks, museums and lush tropical gardens

Monte Palace Madeira| ©Mike Finn
Monte Palace Madeira| ©Mike Finn

The Monte Palace Madeira is a tropical garden and museum located on the top of a hill.

There you can marvel at its exotic and varied flora from many parts of the world, such as Africa, Belgium, Portugal, Scotland and many more. It has 3 entrances, to the east, north and the cable car entrance.

In the gardens, in addition to exotic species, you will be able to observe the native flora of Madeira's forests, such as ferns or laurels, as well as lagoons with a great variety of colorful fish, such as koi. These come from Japan, China or Asia and symbolize love and friendship.

In the surroundings of the tropical garden you will also see an important collection of tile panels from the 15th and 16th centuries, considered one of the most important in the country. In these tiles different moments of Portuguese history were carved.

As for the Museum, it has several art and mineral exhibits distributed in its 3 floors. The mineral exhibition includes more than 700 varieties and 300 precious and semiprecious stones.

There is also an interesting exhibition of more than 1,000 sculptures from Zimbabwe from the 1960s. Undoubtedly, Monte Palace Madeira is one of the best tours you can do in Funchal, Madeira.

Learn more about Madeira

  • Price: Around 12 EUR. Children under 15 are free when accompanied by an adult.
  • Hours: Tropical Garden: from 9 am to 6 pm. Museum: 10 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

7. Take a stroll through the Mercado dos Lavradores Market

Lavradores Market| ©EspirituViajente
Lavradores Market| ©EspirituViajente

Mercado dos Lavradores is a famous market located in the center of Funchal, where you will find stores selling fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, a lot of handicrafts and other products.

The interesting thing is that you can taste the best fruit before you buy it, as water fountains have been installed in every corner to wash them before tasting them.

Visiting this market is one of the best things to do in Funchal. You will be fascinated by the tiled panels at the entrance, which are also found inside the market and in the fish market.

They were created by the Portuguese painter and sculptor, Joao Rodrigues Vieira, well known for his ceramic tile panels. The sculptures, for the most part, refer to historical moments of the vendors.

The market, inaugurated in the year 1940, is really very eye-catching and cheerful, as it is a tradition of the locals to decorate it beautifully. They decorate it with numerous flowers, especially the strelitzia, known as the Bird of Paradise.

Each vendor welcomes you with a typical Madeiran dress, also decorated with flowers in a very funny way.

At the back of the market you will find the fish market, known as the fish market, where men negotiate loudly for the best price. You can't miss the swordfish, difficult to find in other parts of the world because it lives in cold and very deep waters.

8. Enjoy the most thrilling water sports

Snorkeling| ©SALTY Madeira
Snorkeling| ©SALTY Madeira

Funchal and its surroundings is an ideal place where you can practice various water sports, or experience them for the first time. You can't miss these activities in Madeira: snorkeling, canyoning, scuba diving as the sea near the coast is very calm.

It is really wonderful to swim around Cabo Girao, a marine paradise, while you come across different aquatic fish such as mackerels, manta rays, tuna, barracudas, moorays, turtles and many other species.

In the water you can do many other activities, such as canoeing or kayaking, along the coast of Funchal and from there you can enter very attractive deserted places.

If you are up for more, don't miss diving in Funchal, especially in the Garajau National Park and the Cabo Girao Marine Park.

In the latter, you will be able to see the remains of the wreck of the corvette Afonso Cerqueira F488, of the Portuguese Navy, which fulfilled surveillance and rescue missions. You will also see marine species, such as monk seals, toadfish, triggerfish, sharks, seahorses, etc.

Book your diving activity in Madeira

9. Embark on the best trekking routes

Hiking in Madeira| ©Andreas Weibel
Hiking in Madeira| ©Andreas Weibel

In Funchal you can hike to the highest peaks of the island: the Pico Arieiro, which is 1810 meters high, the Pico Das Torres of 1853 m, and the Pico Ruivo, about 1862 m.

The island has safe paths, as stairs were built in the difficult sections, and tunnels were also built to cross the most complicated trails. At each stop you will be amazed by the most beautiful panoramic views, so you should prepare your camera to take back beautiful memories.

The trail to Pico do Arieiro is 2.8 km long and, once you reach the refuge, you can take 3 other trails:

  • To Pico do Areeiro, the second highest on the island (1816 m). This trail is 5-6 km long.
  • To the Vereda da Encumeada, which goes to the west of the island, along the central mountain range. It is 8.6 km.
  • To the Vereda da Ilha, which goes down to the parish of Ilha. It is 8.2 km long.

Pico Ruivo is the highest peak in Madeira and the third highest in Portugal.

At the top, besides enjoying fabulous views, you can observe its vegetation, such as areas with lots of bushes, ferns, moss, lichens and its rich fauna, with birds such as the chaffinch, linnet, red-legged partridge, wren, blackbird, etc..

10. Go on off-road activities, such as safaris and jeep tours along the coastline

By Jeep in Madeira| ©True Spirit
By Jeep in Madeira| ©True Spirit

From Funchal you can make the best safaris and jeep tours in Madeira. The safari is a sport designed to visit places of the archipelago that are impossible to do on foot, as this could disturb the wild animals of the place.

Besides, this way, you will be able to reach areas that are difficult to access. It is best to take an excursion with a guide who knows these places and can tell you all about them.

The tours include visits to the cliffs of Cabo Girao, which is located in the south of Madeira Island. It has a very famous viewpoint, where the panoramic views are extraordinary, and can be reached by hiking trails. There is a glass viewpoint on the ground that can give you some vertigo.

Other safaris take you to the natural pools of Porto Moniz, which are the main attraction of this city. These pools originated from a volcano and have crystal clear salt water.

It is a perfect place to relax with your whole family, as there are pools for children, games, bars and places to rest. It is one of the best things to see in Madeira in 7 days.

I also recommend you to visit the Véu da Noiva Waterfall with its amazing viewpoint, where you will have the best panoramic views of the island.

Do not forget your camera to photograph this famous waterfall that has the figure of a bride. From the heights you can marvel at a beautiful view of the Atlantic and the entire north coast of the archipelago.

Take a safari from Funchal

11. Visit the Madeira Botanical Garden

Madeira Botanical Garden| ©Tom Chapman
Madeira Botanical Garden| ©Tom Chapman

On the outskirts of Funchal, 3 km from the center, there is a beautiful botanical garden with more than 2000 tropical species native to the region and also exotic.

It is a charming place overlooking the sea ideal to enjoy during the day, especially if you are a plant lover. You can get there by taking the cable car of the same name.

The garden, inaugurated in 1960, today has more than 25,000 square meters with a lake, water fountains, gazebos, amphitheater and walkways. It is organized in 5 different zones: tropical plants, arboretum, aromatic, succulents, agro-industrial and medicinal plants. There are also native altitude plants, palm trees and fruit trees.

In addition to the different species of plants, you will be able to watch birds, since there are more than 200 birds native to the region flying over the garden. On the other hand, many of the plants found in the Botanical Garden are in danger of extinction.

Inside the Botanical Garden is the Museum of Natural History of Madeira, which has an important collection of corals, fossils, herbarium, pressed plants and a seed bank.

More information about Funchal

  • Price: About 6 EUR. Children under 12 years pay 2 EUR and children under 6 years free. On 30/4 and 1/7 admission is free.
  • Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.
    Museum: from 10 am to 4.30 pm.
  • Location: Caminho do Meio, Bom Sucesso