Located on the southern end of Madeira, in a naturally-formed ‘amphitheatre’ which looks out to the glistening blue of the Atlantic, cosmopolitan Funchal has grown up from its colonial past. With a dramatic mountain backdrop, and a lush peripheral stretch of banana plantations and flower gardens, the city certainly has a relaxed feel, but it doesn’t try hard to hide its vibrant nightlife, buzzing café culture and abundance of sightseeing opportunities.
Check out our top 5 reasons why you should visit Funchal in 2018, and rush to do so…
Discover Madeira’s history with a walk through Funchal’s Old Town – said to be the site of the very first settlements on the island. Narrow cobblestoned streets, 15th-century architecture, the impressive Corpo Santo Chapel, the ‘Painted Doors’, and a few quirky heritage shops (stop off at the 60-year old Fábrica de Chapéus (Hat Factory)) will give you a taste of what this city was like centuries ago. Enjoy a coffee with a slice of Madeiran honey cake in one of the many charming cafes, or a glass of Madeiran wine if the mood calls for it!
Meander through some of the local markets, where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, or try delicious local cuisine – try bolo de caco bread, or the grilled chicken and wheat soup to take away! Mercado dos Lavradores is the most popular of them all, located in Funchal’s Old Town, it’s open Monday to Saturday for all your exploring needs.
Deserving of the nickname ‘floating garden in the Atlantic’, Madeira is fiercely proud of its natural beauty and abundance of plant life. Although there are numerous parks and gardens throughout Funchal, visitors simply need to make a stop off at the verdant Botanical Gardens; established in 1960, the gardens boast more than 2000 species and also offers incredible views over Funchal city.
In the year 2000, Funchal won the award of ‘European Flowering City’ – a revered award for all things horticultural. Madeira’s stunning floral offerings have also been placed amongst peers like cherry blossoms from Tokyo, bougainvillea from the Amalfi Coast, cloud forests from Costa Rica and the Alpine Flowers of the Swiss Alps. Plan your visit for April – May, when the Madeira Flower Festival is in full bloom.
For more spectacular views over the Atlantic and this sprawling city, take the cable car from the lower section of Funchal to the relaxed suburb of Monte. Board at Almirante Reis Park, located in the old part of Funchal town, and fly over the city admiring a mirage of blues, greens and reds. At the top, take a look around Monte village. Formerly the site of a health resort for Europe’s high society, it’s full of wonderful examples of classic colonial architecture. A walk around the parish will undoubtedly lead you to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden and its staggering 10,000 exotic plant species. A festival in mid-August, Nossa Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of Monte), is an ideal time to make the trip as you can sample some incredible Madeiran gastronomy and enjoy local music.
Madeira Island boasts an impressive 30 beaches, each with unique properties. Pebbles, black volcanic sand and impressive natural landscapes will impress anyone who is open-minded and ready to forgo the typical stereotype of golden sands and palm trees.
Praia Formosa, Calheta, and the impressive 9-mile Porto Santo are all within close proximity to Funchal and all offer modern comforts, such as public bathrooms, showers, beachside eateries and shady parts for when the sun gets a little too strong. Praia Formosa, as the most popular, also boasts a new coastal promenade with uninterrupted ocean views.
Try your hand at some water sports while you’re here too. Canoeing, windsurfing, catamaran rental and more are easily organisable almost along any stretch.
Café-bars, pubs, bars, nightclubs, dinner shows, live entertainment and even casinos - Funchal has it all! A buzzing nightlife scene is on hand to entertain any visitors to this incredible European city, whatever their taste.
Enjoy live performances of fado, traditional Portuguese ballad music, over a typical Madeiran dinner in the heart of the Old Town. Try your luck at the Funchal Casino which is free to enter. Let your hair down at numerous clubs, some of them al fresco. Visit in February for a taste of Carnival, running at the same time as the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival. Whatever your vibe, Funchal’s certain to delight!
Though not as well-known as Lisbon or the Algarve, Funchal, and indeed Madeira, is the perfect place to explore for either a few days or a fortnight. When you return home, you’ll be full of recommendations for all your friends, trust us on that one! After all, there’s so much more to the island than just being the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo, so hurry, it’s not going to be a well-kept secret for much longer…