If you are visiting Madeira, it is likely you’ll be staying in Funchal. Although I really enjoy a remote place in nature, I love having good restaurant options close by and being able to just walk back to my apartment or hotel after dinner. Funchal is the main city of the island and has a charming old center and lots of wonderful food options! Personally, I think Funchal is the best place to stay when visiting the island. My own visit to Madeira was mainly for the hikes, but when you inevitably need a little break from that, there’s plenty to do in the city!
Take the Cable car to Monte
See Funchal from a different perspective. The cable car will take you to Monte where you can visit several beautiful sights. You could also take a car, bus or taxi, but this is a more interesting way to go up and enjoy the view!
Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
I was expecting the plethora of exotic plants, but I couldn’t have suspected the sheer size of Monte Palace tropical gardens. It occupies 70.000 square meters and you’d have to walk around for quite a while to see it all. Besides the collection of tropical plants there is Japanese architecture, art on the walls and even flamingo’s to be found. The garden covers different levels and offers a beautiful view down on Funchal and the bay as it sits on the side of a mountain.
Take the cable car to the Botanical Garden
From Monte Palace Garden you can take another cable car to the botanical garden. We weren’t there in the right season to see all the flowers in bloom, but it’s a beautiful garden non the less. There’s a cactus garden and a huge tapestry of flowers. I would say this garden is less impressive then the other gardens, so if you’re short on time, I’d recommend only seeing Monte Palace gardens.
Take the Toboggan down
The old school way of heading down the mountain is by Toboggan. The Toboggan is a wooden sled that just slides down the road.In the 1850s, this was the Madeirans main way of downhill transportation. Two men navigate the sled down. These days it’s quite a big tourist activity and there was a queu of people waiting their turn.
1 person in a sled: €25.00
2 people in a sled: €30.00 (€15 per person)
3 people in a sled: €45.00 (€15 per person)
There is a maximum of 3 people per sled.
Madeira wine tasting
Madeira wine is a fortified wine that’s often served as an aperitif or dessert wine. One of the most well known Madeira wine brands is Blandys. They have a restaurant and wine cellar in the center of town where you can book wine tastings. You get a tour around the property and a taste of three different wines. They also have a special tasting room for the vintage wines.
Visit the Central Market
Right in the center of town, you’ll find the market hall Mercado dos Lavradores. You’ll find fresh exotic fruits, a large fish department and flower stalls with women in traditional outfits. Be aware though, the prices at this market are exponentially higher than other places in town. This market looks pretty, but is mainly for tourists, so look elsewhere for a good deal.
Mercados dos Labradors is closed Saturdays after 2 pm and Sundays.
Snorkeling with dolphins/whale watching
There are several species of dolphins and whales that frequent the waters of Madeira. I’d always wanted to see dolphins in real life, so we decided to tak chance. As you know, there are no guarantees with wildlife. There’s one specific species of dolphin which you are allowed to snorkel with, so you have to get lucky. We never ended up seeing the dolphin you’re allowed to swim with, so we stayed in the boat. We did however see a group of at least 50 pilot whales, which was very impressive. The dolphins and whales are very well protected and there are many rules in place as not to disturb the animals!
I enjoyed being on a small boat much more, then I would’ve enjoyed one of the larger whale watching boats. So if you’re looking into doing a trip like this, I’d highly recommend the snorkeling trip as it allows you to take a smaller boat. Even if you never make it into the water. We booked our trip with Dive point.
So officially this doesn’t take place in Funchal, but at different spots around the island, depending on the wind. Paragliding in a place like Madeira is magical, cause the views are insane all around the island! I booked with I can Fly in Madeira and Remi is an awesome flyer. Since me and my mom were both flying, he arranged for another guy named Nuno to fly with me. We both felt super safe and had the best time with these guys.
Best Restaurants in Funchal
Akua: The best and most original seafood restaurant around. If you’re there with a small group I highly recommend getting all the different starters to share. They’ve put a lot of thought into the menu and the dishes were very surprising! We went back 3 times, because of how good it was.
Taberna do Capitao: Another place that I’ve visited over 3 times already. They have a great menu with a sommelier selection of wines for those interested. The service is absolutely fantastic and they really want to make sure that you are happy with the food and wines. If they pick a wine you don’t like, they’ll be happy to give you another options. Every dish I’ve had here was delicious!
Mercearia dos Avôs: A more simple, but really lovely little restaurant. They serve fresh pasta, that you can see them preparing in the kitchen!
Where to stay in Funchal
The wine Lodges: Really spacious apartments located in the center of town! Location is absolutely perfect and there was the option to get a parking pass for the garage next door.
Three house hotel: We visited the rooftop bar of this frequently and think this is one of the best hotels in Funchal. It has a beautiful pool, a fitness center and great restaurant. It’s conveniently located in the center of town.