Funchal is the capital city of Madeira and is the base for many visitors to the island.
Most of the population of Madeira live in sprawling Funchal, which stretches from the Atlantic shoreline into the steep hills behind the city.
But the city centre itself is compact (it is easily covered on foot) and also features a charming old town.
There are lots of things to do in Funchal – many of which are free or low cost – making the city a fantastic destination for an affordable Madeira family holiday.
*There are currently COVID restrictions at many of these attractions – please see the relevant websites for more details in advance of your visit*
Best things to do in Funchal
Funchal Cable Car (Teleferico do Funchal)
The Teleferico do Funchal is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
The cable car station is on the promenade in Funchal Old Town.
From here, the cable car rises steeply above Funchal’s tightly packed houses and winding streets to arrive in the village of Monte, 580 metres above sea level.
This short 15 -20 minute journey provides fantastic views of the city, marina and Atlantic ocean.
The cable car can be used to visit the Monte Tropical Garden and the Botanical Garden – or just for the thrill of the ride itself! Many visitors travel up on the cable car and return to Funchal by the iconic Funchal wicker toboggans.
You can choose between one way or return ticket or a combination ticket which includes the additional cable car to get to the Botanical Gardens.
Open daily from 10am – 6pm. One way tickets cost €16 for adults and €8 for children. Children 6 and under are free.
TIP – Visit the Teleferico de Funchal early to avoid long queues!
Funchal Wicker Toboggan (Carros de Cestos)
A ride on the traditional wicker toboggan or ‘baskets’ is a ‘must do’ Madeira attraction, particularly if you are visiting Madeira with kids.
The ride starts outside the Tropical Gardens in Monte and steeply descends city streets to arrive on the outskirts of Funchal. A waiting lorry loads up the basket and drivers and then returns to Monte to do it all over again.
The toboggans have been travelling this same route since 1850 and were initially used as a method of public transportation from Monte to Funchal.
Today, the well travelled roads are shiny and smooth – with the occasional bump and bend. The uniformed, straw boater wearing ‘drivers’ – Carreiro’s de Monte – skillfully control the baskets with their rubber-soled shoes.
The exhilarating ride is short – around 7 minutes – but was not the sedate journey I was expecting. These wicker baskets can reach speeds of up to 30 mph.
Toboggan rides cost €15 per person and the toboggans fit two people plus a small child. Our children rode as a three and one child was offered a free ticket.
Funchal toboggans run Monday – Saturday 9am – 6pm and till 1pm on Sunday
Tips for visiting the wicker toboggans
Expect to queue at the start of the ride at peak times. The drivers and baskets have to travel back up the hill after their descent. But the queue moves steadily. We visited in the Easter holiday and only waited 20 minutes for our turn.
You cannot buy a ticket in advance, you must queue and pay the driver on departure.
The 2 kilometre trip is short but it is thrilling and a little unnerving. Be prepared for high speeds, travelling sideways and being passed by other traffic.
At the end of the ride, you may receive a hard sell to buy a photo of your trip; somehow these are printed before you even finish the ride.
The toboggan ride finishes in Livramento, NOT in Funchal city centre. There will be taxis waiting for you to bring you back to Funchal. Agree on a price with the taxi driver before your ride and be wary of inflated prices.
You can catch a bus back to Funchal that departs every half hour from the main road near the toboggan terminus. Timetables vary on weekends and holidays so check in advance of your visit.
Alternatively, you can walk back to Funchal. It is a steep, relentless downhill walk (my legs hurt the next day!) and will take around 30 minutes. It was a slog but a nice walk and interesting to observe the quiet, residential back streets of Funchal.
Plus, we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream once we arrived back into Funchal.
Is the wicker toboggan ride worth it?
Our kids rode in a toboggan behind us and laughed and squealed all the way down to Funchal. They say their thrilling wicker toboggan ride was the best thing they did in Madeira.
Where else in the world where you can ride on impossibly steep city streets, past homes and shops, alongside moving cars, in what is essentially a straw basket on wooden sledge runners with no brakes?!
I would highly recommend this unique Madeira attraction; it is short and expensive but it is fun! We had read mixed reviews online but if you know what to expect you will not be disappointed. It is one of the best – and most unique – things to do in Funchal.
Funchal Cathedral (Se Catedral do Funchal)
The 16th-century Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption has a modest white facade and stand in the heart of Funchal city centre. It is recognizable from afar by its tall clock tower. The exterior of the cathedral was created from stone from the nearby Cabo Girao cliffs.
Inside the cathedral, drag your eyes away from the ornate, gilded altar to look up at the highly decorated cedar wood ceiling.
The church closes daily for a long lunch break between 12 pm – 4 pm and is free to enter.
Sao Lourenco Palace (Palacio de Sao Lourenco)
From the cathedral, a few minutes walk past inviting terrace cafes and excellent street musicians brings you to the 16th-century fortress, the Palace of St Lourenco.
The Palace was once the home of the Governor of Funchal and guided tours are available to view recreated rooms from the Palace’s history.
It is free to enter the Palace and it is closed on public holidays and weekends.
In the same courtyard as the Palace entrance is the small but interesting Military Museum.
There are multilingual displays about Funchal’s military past as well as guns, uniforms and small cannons.
The Military Museum is free and is refreshingly cool on a hot day!
Blandys Wine Lodge
The famous Blandy’s Wine Lodge is opposite the Palacio de Sao Lourenco.
Visits are by guided tour only which include tastings of a variety of Vinho Madeira. Tours are available in different languages.
With three kids in tow, we chose not to visit Blandy’s – it is on the list for next time!
College Church of St. John the Evangelist (Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista do Colegio do Funchal)
A short walk from Blandy’s and the main avenue is the San Pedro district and the Church of St. John the Evangelist.
The pretty square in front of the church is a fantastic example of the geometric black and white mosaic paving Funchal is famous for. Our son likened it to the icing on top of a birthday cake.
The 17th Century Baroque style church is decorated from floor to ceiling with museum-worthy frescoes. The altar is covered in gilded wooden sculpture and the craftsmanship and artwork on display inside the church is outstanding. It is well worth a visit.
The church is free to enter and to the left of the altar, you can pay €1 to climb 82 rickety, creaking wooden steps to the tower lookout point.
It is not very high as lookouts go in Madeira – most of the levada hikes are higher – but it does give an expansive view of Funchal city centre and the Marina.
Next to the church is Funchal’s grand City Hall. Tours are available daily at 11am and 3pm.
Santa Clara Convent (Convento de Santa Clara)
The unassuming Santa Clara convent is one of Funchal’s lesser visited attraction and is a hidden gem. It is one of my favourite things to do in Funchal.
Follow the signs to the convent through the San Pedro district which is a maze of undulating, narrow cobbled streets packed with churches and museums on every corner. It is a lovely area to wander in.
Upon arrival visitors must pull the old metal bell on the large wooden doors at the Convent entrance (not the church entrance) to gain access. The doors open onto a small, cobbled courtyard where you will be greeted by one of the nine nuns in residence.
A lay, multilingual guide takes visitors on a short tour – but fascinating – tour of the convent.
What can you see on a tour of Santa Clara convent?
Visitors tour the enclosed cloisters and market garden where the nuns grow their own fruit and vegetables. Step inside the centuries-old tiny prayer chapels dotted around the convent that are tiled with traditional blue and yellow Madeiran wall tiles.
Then visit the 500 year old meeting room where the nuns used to gather for meetings, a room in which each nun has her own uniquely carved seat.
One wall in this meeting room contains two enormous wooden doors which when pulled back, reveal wooden lattice grills overlooking the church. These are the grills behind which the nuns used to sit for mass, separated from the general public.
The tour ends in the Convents’ stunning 15th Century church which has to be one of the most beautiful churches on Madeira island.
This church is a work of art as its huge walls are adorned from floor to ceiling by unique Marvila patterned tiles.
The ornate silver work of the altar contrasts with the vibrant colour of the paintings on the 500 year old wooden roof.
Our tour was enjoyable and educational; it cover not only the work of the Poor Clare nuns but also the history of Funchal and Madeira. We felt as if we had stepped into a hidden world and I would highly recommend visiting here.
Entry costs €2 for adults and is free for children.
The Convent is open 10 am-12 pm and 3 pm – 5 pm and is closed on Sundays and holidays.
Funchal Farmers Market (Mercado Dos Lavradores)
The covered Farmers Market lies just off Funchal promenade.
There are colourful flower stalls on the ground floor and an array of stalls selling all sorts of unfamiliar fresh and dried fruit on the first floor.
Vendors entice you in with free tastings but you will get a hard sell afterwards.
If you wish to purchase something, shop around as prices vary plus, food prices are hugely inflated compared to local supermarkets.
It was worth visiting the market for its atmosphere and colour but the market feels more like a tourist venue rather than an authentic city market. If you want to see the adjacent fish market in operation you must visit very early.
Open Monday – Saturday, free entry.
Rua da Santa Maria
A two-minute walk from the Farmers Market is the cobbled Rua de Santa Maria.
It is part of Funchal’s Old Town (Zona Velha) and dates back to 1430.
Rua de Santa Maria is known for its painted doors, a recent imaginative (and successful) public art project to attract tourists to the area.
The narrow, pedestrianised street has become a tourist magnet and is lined with restaurants and cafes cheerfully vying for your custom.
However, with its tightly packed houses and balconies overflowing with succulents and vivid bougainvillaea it is still a pleasant place to wander.
I’ll be honest and say that the quality of the 200 artworks on display here varies greatly, but there are some beautiful pieces.
Madeira Story Centre
The Madeira Story Centre on the waterfront in the Old Town is a small, modern museum charting the history of Madeira. A visit will take around one hour during which you will learn about Madeira’s volcanic formation and social and political history.
There is a large shop selling traditional handicrafts from the island and a pretty garden with native flora. The restaurant on site serves local specialities and had a lovely terrace overlooking the promenade and neighbouring cable car.
The Madeira Story Centre is a good option for a rainy day in Funchal.
It is open every day from 9 am -7 pm. Adult entry is €5, children are €3.
Funchal City Centre
Funchal has an attractive city centre lined with grand, ornate buildings.
Sections of the main thoroughfare, the Avenue Arriaga, are pedestrianised and are lined with vivid purple jacaranda trees. These colourful trees and pastel coloured buildings contrast with the geometric black and white mosaic paving Funchal is famous for.
Whatever Funchal attractions you choose to visit, leave time to wander these lovely streets or grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
You can read our practical tips for a Madeira family holiday here.
Funchal Gardens and Parks
On an island dubbed the ‘floating garden of the Atlantic’ you know there will be some amazing gardens to visit in Madeira and Funchal.
Monte Tropical Gardens
Monte Tropical Gardens is an ideal choice for visitors to Funchal as you can combine your visit with a ride on the cable car and wicker toboggan. It is another ‘must’ thing to do in Funchal.
How to get to Monte Tropical Gardens
The cable car up to Monte arrives directly to the entrance to Monte Tropical Gardens. It couldn’t be easier.
When you have finished your tour of the gardens, it is a five-minute walk through Monte to the departure point for the toboggan ride.
You can self drive to Monte or take a direct public bus (No.21) from the centre of Funchal. The winding journey takes 10 minutes and is significantly cheaper than the cable car so if you are a family travelling on a budget, the bus is for you.
If in doubt as to where to get off, tell the driver you want to go to Monte Tropical Gardens. From the bus stop in Monte it is just a few minutes walk to the garden entrance.
What is there to see and do at Monte Tropical Garden?
We loved our visit to Monte Tropical Garden and it is well worth visiting on a trip to Madeira with kids. It is not a boring plant garden! We thought we would visit for two hours but ended up nearly five hours.
There is an eclectic mix of things to see in Monte Tropical Gardens which keeps weary children engaged.
The gardens are overflowing with diverse flora of all shapes, sizes and colours and is divided into different themed areas. The different aromas as you explore creates a full, sensory experience.
My favourite was the stunning orchid garden with adjacent pathways lined with cycads, ferns and ground grown amaryllis.
The kids liked the Japanese Garden and the large central lake with its pretty waterfalls mimicking the levadas that Madeira is famous for.
Plus, as these gardens are 600m above sea level there are fantastic views of Funchal.
In addition to the plants (and swans, chickens and peacocks that wander freely), there are hidden sculptures everywhere.
There is a large display of ornate tile art, some of the panels are hundreds of years old.
Plus, there are two small museums. One houses an exhibition of African soapstone carving whereas the other museum is packed with glittering gems and geodes.
Tips for visiting Monte Tropical Gardens
There are several steep paths in the gardens and most the paths are cobbled. I would recommend sturdy, non slipping footwear.
A carrier for young children will be easier than a pushchair.
Steep drops are fenced but the fences have large gaps in them so be careful with small children.
Entry is reasonable at €12.50 for adults and children are free.
The Gardens are open every day from 9.30 am – 6 pm and there are cafes and toilets on site.
Before you leave Monte village, visit the 18th Century Church of Our Lady of Monte (Igreja do Monte) which is accessed by a set of very steep stone steps.
The church is beautiful inside and is the burial site of the last Austrian Emperor, Charles I.
Madeira Botanica Garden (Jardim Botanico)
This beautiful garden with magnificent views over Funchal, the Botanical Garden was once a privately owned Quinta or estate belonging to the Reid family (of Funchal’s well known Reids Hotel).
Over 2500 exotic plants jostle for space in five colourful areas. Kids will enjoy the fruit tree and medicinal plant sections whereas lovers of geometry and symmetry will love the picture perfect flower beds. There is also a bird park and a small natural history museum on site.
Open every day 9 am – 6 pm. Adult entry costs €5, children over 6 years old are €1.80.
Santa Catarina Park
This small but pretty park is opposite the CR7 museum on the Marina. Due to its elevated position, it has good views of Funchal and the marina.
There is a small pond, tropical flower beds and an interesting array of trees including the unusual Kapok tree and a cute book swap.
Funchal Municipal Park
Opposite the upmarket restaurants and the Ritz Hotel near the Sao Lourenco Palace is the small, gorgeous Jardim Municipal do Funchal.
Cobbled paths wind around pretty fountains, bamboo trees and overflowing tropical flower beds.
Look out for the unusual Dragon Tree and Elephants Foot Tree – most plants in this park are helpfully labelled.
It is a lovely park for a city centre rest stop with kids or a picnic.
Funchal Marina is a pleasant place to walk – if only to gawp at the impossibly large cruise ships that dock here on a daily basis.
The promenade is wide and dotted with flower beds, fountains, cafes and general seating areas.
The end of Funchal Marina is home to CR7, a small museum dedicated to the achievements of locally born Cristiano Ronaldo.
The museum is basically a trophy room full of medals, cups and Ronaldo’s four Ballon D’Ors.
There is also an enormous screen where you can select and watch Ronaldo’s career highlights as well as two life size wax models that you can take a picture with. My son’s highlight!
Do not expect Ronaldo’s life history or any personal information, this is a trophy museum.
If you are a football fan, a Ronaldo fan and if it is raining, then the museum is worth a visit. It kept our son happy.
Outside the museum is a statue of Ronaldo (with a questionable likeness) in his famous celebratory ‘si’ pose. A shiny patch on the statue clearly shows which body part visitors have been touching for good luck!
CR7 is open Monday to Saturday with entry costing €5 for anyone over 7 (of course)!
As a city on a volcanic island, Funchal is not known for its beaches but there are a couple of locations where you can access the sea.
Praia de Sao Tiago
The nearest beach to the city is the tiny rocky Praia de Sao Tiago in front of mustard yellow Forte de Sao Tiago, shortly after the Teleferico station on the seafront.
When we visited this beach, the waves were too rough for our children to swim and we had to watch out for broken glass and rusted metal on the shoreline.
We walked from Funchal city centre to Praia Formosa. I would NOT recommend this!
The walk was a slog which took over three hours. The walk is not on a seafront promenade (as some city maps suggest) but through a built up, congested hotel district. Only a fraction of the walk is a pedestrianised walkway on the seafront.
Furthermore, access to Praia Formosa is not well signposted for pedestrians and we had to make several attempts to find access the beach.
Keep life simple travelling with kids – catch a public bus from Funchal or take a taxi.
Praia Formosa is clean but very rocky. The sea was rough when we visited (April) and there was a steep incline into the sea.
There is limited parking on the seafront and public toilets, changing rooms and three cafes.
We were a little disappointed in Praia Formosa. It has a pleasant, family-friendly atmosphere but it is not very scenic and lacks investment which would benefit the local people who flock here.
You can read our comprehensive guide to the best beaches in Madeira here.
Lidos are very popular with tourists and locals alike and there are several lidos in and near Funchal.
The largest lido is the Lido Beach Complex just outside Funchal. This offers large and small unheated seawater pools, ocean access, changing and catering facilities. On a hot day, a full day ticket is excellent value for money at €5 for adults and €1.80 Euro for children over 10 years. Young children are free. Sun loungers and umbrellas cost extra.
If you prefer something smaller and in a more natural setting visit Doca Do Cavacas near Praia Formosa beach.
Families with young children should consider visiting the quieter Punta Gorda complex.
In the city centre, there is the Barreirinha Complex, east of Fort Sao Tiago. There is easy access to the Blue Flag rated sea, solariums and a swimming pool for children.
Day trips from Funchal
Madeira is a small island and tunnel construction projects have improved ease of access and journey times to other areas of the island. Even day trips to the north coast are possible.
Visit the natural swimming pools at Porto Moniz, the lava caves at Sao Vicente or the cultural theme park at Santana. Relax on the sandy beach at Calheta or enjoy a whale and dolphin watching trip from Funchal marina.
Check out all the things we did in Madeira with kids here.
Hiking in Madeira
Many people visit Madeira for its hiking trails on the unique and extensive levada network.
There are trails to suit all ages and abilities but it is important to be prepared so check out our essential tips for Madeira hiking.
There are several walks which are easily accessible from Funchal, the most popular of which is the Vereda do Balcoes. The start of the walk, Ribeiro Frio is 23 kilometres from the capital and can be reached by public bus.
The Vereda do Balcoes is one of the most popular levada walks in Madeira due to its ease, accessibility and fantastic views over the Ribeira da Metade valley. On a clear day, you will be able to see Madeira’s highest peaks from this walk.
The path is easier than other levada walks and is mostly smooth, flat and wide and will take around 1 1/2 hours to complete. There are fantastic views over the Ribeira da Metade valley and on a clear day you can see Madeira’s highest peaks from the trail.
You can read all about our fantastic time hiking in Madeira here.
Funchal Practical Information
Arriving into Funchal
Visitors arrive into Funchal by plane or by cruise ship.
Flying into Funchal is nerve racking if you are a nervous flyer like me. The Cristiano Ronaldo airport has a very short runway, bordered by residential houses on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Part of the runway extends over the sea on stilts.
Funchal Airport has several car hire options (we used and would recommend Rodavente) or you can catch a public bus to Funchal.
It is a short twenty-minute ride to the city centre though some bus timetables cease early and others only run once an hour. Check in advance of your arrival.
We booked a transfer to Funchal city centre with Sun Transfers.com. A door to door transfer in a minivan for our family of five only cost €28. It was well worth the money!
Getting around Funchal
You do not need a car to explore Funchal attractions as they can easily be explored on foot. Parking in the city centre is difficult to find and you may have to pay.
If you plan to explore on foot, group attractions by area to save you crisscrossing the city. Tourist maps are available from Funchal hotels, the tourist booth on the marina or from the tourist office on Avenue Arriaga near the Cathedral.
In addition, there are helpful stone marker maps on Funchal’s pavements that show visitors which direction attractions are and how long it takes to walk to them.
There are regular bus links around the city and to the main hotel areas. For exploring further afield, there is a comprehensive bus network costing upwards of €1.95 Euro per person. Our children were frequently not charged a fare.
Timetables run early and late but are limited on weekends and public holidays.
Where to stay in Funchal
Many visitors to Funchal choose to stay in the hotel district on the edge of Funchal which is packed with hotels and apartments to fit all budgets. You will have all the amenities you need on your doorstep but we found this area lacked character.
If you prefer to stay in a villa in Madeira, you will need to stay in the more spacious suburbs of Funchal or in the hills around Monte. But don’t worry, you will not be far from the city centre. In our pick of the best villas in Madeira for families, villas near Funchal are as close as a ten minute walk to the city centre.
Your can read our top picks here.
If you can make do without a swimming pool or garden then I would recommend staying in an apartment in Funchal. You will be in the heart of bustling city life and within walking distance of all the sights.
Where we stayed in Funchal
We stayed in the immaculate Downtown Flats 2, a two bedroom apartment on a quiet side street just ten minutes walk from the Cathedral.
It is a spacious property with large living and dining area. The kitchen was well-stocked (and had a washing machine) and we had five beds which is a rare treat for us!
The owner was helpful before and during our stay and left us a lovely gift of wine and cake for our arrival. We did not miss having a balcony or outdoor space as we were out all day sightseeing.
Our Funchal apartment cost just £50 a night for five of us (2019 prices) and I would highly recommend this property.
Check out Downtown Flats 2 availability and latest prices here.
Eating in Funchal
Eating out in Funchal
Funchal is packed with restaurants and cafes, many with outdoor terraces. Meat and seafood feature heavily on menus.
Eating out is comparable to U.K prices.
Funchal also has fast food chains such as Subway and Pizza Hut.
I would recommend stopping at a local cafe at least once to sample delicious Madeira cakes. Cafes were surprisingly reasonable compared to the U.K. We were able to get five hot drinks and five cakes for between €5 – €7.
The Portuguese pastel de nata (custard pie) is a local favourite and a wrapped Madeiran honey cake is a popular take-home souvenir.
Our kids loved Funchal’s creamy orange eclairs; a deserved treat after a long day sightseeing.
Self catering in Funchal
Self catering in Funchal is easy as there are large supermarkets in the city centre including inside the Anadia shopping mall. Look out for Pingo Doce and Continente signs.
Plus there are lots of small, family-owned corner grocery shops. Prices are only slightly higher than the supermarkets and we found these smaller shops were well stocked and easier to navigate. Plus, shopping local spreads the tourist dollar!
These small shops often sell homemade bread and cakes – the orange topped Madeira cake is not to be missed!
We are not ‘big city’ travellers but we all enjoyed our stay in charming, friendly Funchal. It is an attractive, laid back city packed with great architecture adorned with colourful tropical plants.
There are interesting and fun things to do in Funchal for all ages and interests. Throw in affordable accommodation, good transport links, great food and sunshine and Funchal is a perfect base for a Madeira family holiday.
Have you been to Funchal? What were your trip highlights?