Welcome to Madeira’s 500-year-old capital, perched on a hill along the Garden Island’s southern coastline. Cobbled streets, stunning gardens, and a cosmopolitan marina are all part and parcel of Funchal holidays. This place flawlessly blends old with new, from the historic Old Town to the smart boutiques and bars. And it’s home to some super-stylish clubs, too, along with rustic restaurants serving up classic local fare. Don’t miss the famously colourful gardens; you can enjoy spectacular views across the bay from some of them. Looking for a beach? There are four of them nearby, just a half-hour walk from town.
Things to do
You could spend hours and hours exploring the cobbled streets of Funchal’s Old Town, dipping in and out of the shops and museums. How about a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art? It’s housed in the 17th century São Tiago Fort. But there’s so much more to this place, too. Holidays to the Garden Island are a change to explore the great outdoors, so pack your swimsuit and your hiking boots and see where your trip takes you.
There are only a few sandy shores in Funchal, as most are pebble beaches, so you’ll find a unique take on a traditional afternoon by the beach. It’s common to find paved promenades with lidos on the edge of the coast with sunbathing facilities and you can still swim in the calming waves as a safe section of the sea is usually marked off. In the Old Town you’ll find Praia da Barreirinha where you can relax on the promenade on sun loungers before taking a dip in the pool. Follow the steps down to the sea and have fun swimming in the stunning setting. If you want to find sand, one of the more popular beaches is the small man-made one in nearby Calheta. The golden sand was imported from Morocco and is ideal for reclining on sun loungers under the glorious warm sunshine.
History and culture
Funchal is Madeira’s largest city and the island’s 500 year old capital. The area became popular with tourists in the 1850s and the main export of the island is the famous Madeira wine, which began trading in the 17th century. You’ll find most of the island’s history and culture in the cobbled streets of the Old Town and 16th century buildings in the centre of Funchal. The general atmosphere when walking around Funchal is upbeat and modern, but tradition oozes through in the shape of traditional food and age-old customs, such as picking grapes in September’s Wine Harvest Festival. Another celebrated tradition is toboggan rides down the steep hill that connects Monte to Funchal. Drivers, also known as Carreiros de Monte, push the wicker cart, which was described by writer Ernest Hemingway as the ‘most exhilarating experience’ of his life.
Madeira follows a typically English way of life, with many of the clubs and bars dormant throughout the week. However, you’ll be able to find evening entertainment throughout the week in Funchal. Enjoy a cocktail or two in outdoor seating and dance to live music if the moment takes you. Madeira has a great selection of traditional food to try too. Dine on hearty meals and sip on the famous Madeira wine transported directly from the vineyards found in the mountains.