Cool Things To Do in Funchal for a First Time Visitor
As the capital city, Funchal is bustling with activity and offers a plethora of amazing experiences for anyone looking to explore the city.If you’re looking for a picturesque town to visit, Funchal should definitely be on your list. With charming low white buildings capped with red roofs climbing the surrounding hills, it’s hard not to be taken in by its beauty. .
Sure, you might get stuck in a minor traffic jam or catch a whiff of exhaust fumes every now and then, but it’s a small price to pay to explore and experience the stunning natural scenery and historical architecture that this town has to offer.
Whether you’re interested in museums, gardens, or simply taking in the stunning views, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Funchal in this post.
I’ll spare you the “rent a car and explore the island” suggestions and focus solely on what Funchal has to offer.
Monte Palace and its Tropical Garden is indeed one of the best things to do in Funchal. Spread across 70,000 square meters, the garden boasts multiple levels and hidden paths that lead to various faces of its beauty. Strolling through its alleys, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a fairytale. Here, you can admire exotic orchids from the Himalayas, thousand-year-old olive trees, cycads, and acacias from Australia, among many other stunning plants and trees. In addition to the lush greenery, you’ll also find swans, Koi fish, peacocks, fighting roosters from Indonesia, and other colourful birds. Without a doubt, visiting Monte Palace Tropical Garden is an unforgettable experience.
Stroll through the scenic lanes .What truly sets this experience apart are the picturesque bridges that connect these areas, each one decorated with intricate niches, gates, arches, pagodas, Buddhas, lanterns and sculptures.
You can also take take a 5-minute walk to visit the Our Lady Of Monte Church (Igreja De Nossa Senhora Do Monte) as well as the Monte Museum, a three-storey exhibition center located near the Northern entrance. Your exacting attention to detail will appreciate these added cultural experiences.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Funchal, one standout experience is a visit to the charming Old Town. Stepping onto the cobbled streets feels like stepping back in time, with the narrow alleyways and painted doorways offering a glimpse into the area’s rich history. This is where one of the first settlements in Madeira was established, and it’s incredible to see the Corpo Santo Chapel, which dates back to the 15th century. While the Old Town was once in serious disrepair, it has since been lovingly restored and is now a must-see destination when exploring this beautiful island.
For those wanting to immerse themselves in Madeira’s rich culture, a visit to Funchal’s historical sights is a must. As Madeira’s capital city, Funchal is a portal to the past, and there is no shortage of monuments, palaces, and architectural gems to explore. Take a stroll through the city streets and be transported to a time of colonial rule as you marvel at the impressive buildings and learn about the country’s history
Cathedral Se Funchal
One of the city’s most impressive structures is the Se, a 15th-century cathedral built in a Manueline Gothic style. It was actually Portugal’s first cathedral built outside of the country itself. Another must-see landmark is the casino, a newer addition to the city constructed in 1979 by renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer.
the Museum of Sacred Art
One of the most compelling stops for art enthusiasts is the Museum of Sacred Art, featuring stunning Flemish masterworks from the 16th century that were brought over as part of the sugar trade.
Santa Clara Convent
If you’re up for a bit of a hike, the Santa Clara Convent is another must-see spot. It’s nestled atop a steep hill and boasts an ornate Gothic tomb belonging to the island’s founding father, Zarco.
Quinta das Cruzes
If you’re into art and history, check out Quinta das Cruzes – it used to be Zarco’s own villa! The place is packed with decorative art and it’s set up in a botanical garden where you could just get lost among the palm trees, orchids, cactus, and ferns. Super peaceful vibes!
any of Funchal’s gardens are worth a visit. Santa Catarina Park has a great view of the harbor, the Botanical Gardens are up high on terraces, and my personal fave is the 30-acre garden at Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro.
Located in the heart of the city’s Old Town area, this cable car offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience as you ascend up over 500 metres towards Monte. During your journey, you’ll be treated to stunning panoramic views of the entire city and bay, making it an absolute must-see attraction. Once you reach the top, be sure to visit the Monte Palace and its beautiful Tropical Garden, which is sure to leave you feeling amazed and inspired. With a round trip ticket costing only €11, taking the Cable Car is an affordable way to enjoy the best that Funchal has to offer.
And once you’ve explored everything up top, you can have the exhilarating experience of sliding down the steep and narrow streets in wicker sledges, also known as Monte Basket Cars.
On your return trip, be sure to try the Toboggan Ride, where you’ll slide down the steep, narrow streets in a wicker sled pushed by two runners using their boots as brakes.
This ride has been a visitor favorite for years As you hurtle down the hillside for about a mile, guided by two muscular men in white uniforms and flat straw hats, you’ll feel the rush of thrill mixed with the joy of laughter. Don’t be surprised if you feel some sparks fly from the boots of your guides as they pull the heavy ropes guiding you through the curves and braked straightaways.
Funchal Wine Shop and Lodge.
You will find Funchal Wine Shop and Lodge right in the town center, close to the main tourism office, this wine shop offers an immersive journey into the world of Madeira wine. As you step through the cobbled courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the rustic charm of the bar, complete with tables crafted from cask tops and stunning murals of vineyard scenes.
Imagine sipping on a glass of perfectly aged fortified wine in the heart of a 16th-century former monastery. The best part? You can taste the four main varieties, ranging from the driest sercial to the sweetest malmsey. The secret behind Madeira’s unique flavor ? Heating the wine to 110 degrees for up to six months and letting it cool slowly…
What surprised me was that the drier ones tasted like sherries while the sweetest one, malmsey, tasted like port.
sampling its four main varieties: sercial, verdelho, boal, and malmsey.
Madeira Wine Company
And if you’re interested in delving deeper, you can tour the biggest wine company on the island – the Madeira Wine Company, established in the 19th century.
A sailor discovered this technique in 1700 after trying a vintage shipped from Madeira to Hong Kong. Nowadays, most Madeiras are artificially heated, but before 1794, they naturally warmed as ballast on round trips across the ocean.
Shopping in Funchal.
Funchal’s main market on the Praca dos Lavradores.
The market is full of vibrant colors and lively energy from the moment it opens in the early morning. You’ll be greeted by elderly women in traditional red flower seller costumes, selling piles of fresh daisies and bird of paradise. The courtyard is bursting with a variety of fruits and vegetables, including mangoes, figs, bananas, onions, avocados, melons, and bright red peppers. The abundance of fresh produce spills onto stairways and a second-floor balcony, providing a picturesque view of the bustling market below.
Rhe riot of colors and smells is almost overwhelming. Giant baskets of fruits and vegetables teetered perilously, threatening to spill their contents everywhere. And the fish…oh, the fish! They lay draped across long stone tables like eels, and we couldn’t help but think of the espada we’d enjoyed at a nearby restaurant.
Step through the doorway at the back of the courtyard, you are at the fish market.
The air is thick with the sea’s salty tang, and the floor is slick beneath your feet. You’ve arrived at the fish market, where giant tunas are deftly sliced into slabs by bustling fishmongers, and the bizarre espada fish – also known as the black scabbard fish – are tossed onto rough tables with abandon.
Have you ever heard of Madeiran embroidery? It’s a specialty of the beautiful island of Madeira that dates back to the mid-19th century. Elizabeth Phelps, daughter of an English wine importer, introduced this craft to the island when she taught local women to embroider for charity. Their skill quickly became renowned, especially in London, where people couldn’t get enough of their fine work. Today, an incredible 70,000 Madeiran women create intricate designs on fine linen using delicate threads and beautiful colors. They often sit outside on their doorsteps in the warmth of the sun, making lovely designs that are sold in Funchal’s gift shops.
From exploring the historic Old Town to wandering the stunning botanical gardens, the city is chock-full of exciting things to do.