Funchal is the main hub of Madeira where all the tourists vacate for the perfect summer holiday. Here’s all the things you must get up to when visiting.
Madeira prides itself on its marine life!
With several types of whale known to hover around the coastline all year round, jumping on a boat and catching a glimpse of them is a must on your things to do in Funchal list.
We took to the ocean on a Madeira Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour from Funchal and it was incredible!
With so many companies to choose from, we opted for VMT Madeira, one of the highest rated companies in Funchal.
The duration of the trip was 3 hours long, and ‘’with a strong possibility of spotting whales and dolphins in their natural habitat’’ promised, we weren’t disappointed.
During the trip we stopped on a couple of occasions as pods of dolphins and several types of whales passed by.
Pilot Whale and Sperm Whales are most commonly seen through the year, but with other species such as Sei Whale, Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Bryde’s Whale, Minke Whale, and even Orcas many more can be found.
All in all it was an incredible experience and we recommend whale watching in Madeira to anyone visiting the island.
Towards the end of the trip there was also a stop for swimming/snorkelling below the cliffs of Cabo Giro. These are some of the highest sea cliffs in the world!
Water sports are another of the top things to do in Funchal, seeing as there’s so much coast.
We ventured out early one morning and jumped on SUP’s (or Stand Up Paddle boards) to test our balance in the ocean. Fair to say Lauren was much better than Charlie.
Honestly standing out in the ocean looking back at the island was an incredible memory we’ll always carry with us. The freedom that comes with stand up paddle boarding is something we’d never experienced. It was literally like walking on water!
We can highly recommend the guys at Madeira Native Motion for SUP.
3. Classic Car Trip Along The Coast
One of our favourite things to do in Funchal, was cruising along the coast at sunset in our 1973 Daimler Sovereign.
With plenty of classic car tours available you may want to check out the Cabo Girão & Poncha Tasting by Classic VW.
Our guide couldn’t have been friendlier, and it was as if we’d arrived on the set of an old Portuguese movie.
We took a cruise through the mountains and around the vineyards before ending up at our restaurant for dinner.
We stopped in all the passing old towns and our guide even taught us a little about the farming and agriculture!
Madeira is a really fascinating island, so it would be a shame not to deeply explore the roots. Not to mention, take it back in time on one of the best Madeira tours – the classic car tour.
In our opinion one of the top Madeira tours the island has to offer!
Another ocean activity, and this time you can fly high above it!
Our first experience at parasailing was a hit as we launched off the back of a speedboat and cruised along the harbour front at around 600ft above sea level thanks to Madeira WaterSports.
A truly unique way to see over the island of Madeira from the South coast.
5. Natural Swimming Pools At Doca Do Cavacas
The amazing natural swimming pools at Doca Do Cavacas have been formed by volcanic lava, and they are now filled with sea water.
The naturally created pools are definitely a highlight of the Madeira coast, and one of the best ways to visit them is via a Câmara de Lobos Tour.
With your personal local guide at the steering wheel take a scenic drive along the west coast to the famous fishing village of Câmara de Lobos.
At the Doca Do Cavacas, there is a car park, changing rooms and bathrooms with lockers. There is also a snack bar open during the summer months along with first aid, sun loungers and sunshades for hire.
The sea flows naturally into these insane volcanic rock formations, allowing families to have an awesome day out by the ocean.
Taking a Madeira jeep safari was one of the highlights of our trip to the island.
With so many mountains and off roading opportunities, it makes complete sense to jump in a 4×4 and take off early one morning.
There are so many options when booking a Madeira jeep safari tour of the island, that it can be a little overwhelming. However we opted to go with Mountain Expeditions and cannot recommend them enough!
With full day or half day tours available, you can even completely customise your own tour with an experienced professional driver.
From ‘the best of the South’, to ‘the enchanting North’, you can contact the qualified drivers and give them a breakdown of exactly what you’d like to see.
We chose the Madeira: Full-Day South Coast Jeep Tour and our day with Mountain Expeditions was incredible. The guide was on time, spoke great english an catered to our every need.
We spent a full 8 hours exploring every corner of Madeira we hadn’t yet touched. João our driver couldn’t have been more helpful!
For a completely unique experience, add a jeep tour to your list of best things to do in Funchal!
7. Cable Car Experience
Fancy seeing Funchal from above without having to parasail?
The Funchal cable car journey starts at the old part of Funchal, and transcends up into the small suburb of Monte.
The Quinta Jardins do Imperador, Monte Palace Tropical Garden, the Church and the view over the bay are a handful of reasons to ride the cable car to the top.
And after all of that, coming back down in a basket car is an experience that MUST be on your list of things to do in Funchal.
8. Monte Palace Tropical Garden
From the top of the cable car experience, the natural first stop is Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
If you have a fear of heights, or just do not fancy the cable car trip, you can get a private tour to the top.
We can recommend the Madeira Private Half-Day Guided Gardens Tour, which includes hotel pickup and drop-off, a local guide, and entrance fees to both the Botanical Garden and Monte Palace Garden.
Covering over 70,000 square meters and home to a huge collection of exotic plants, the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is an exhibition of worldly nature.
With sections such as water features, a Japanese garden and African art there is plenty to entertain culture lovers within the grounds.
Don’t forget to check out the exhibition of gems and stones, and the indoor African sculptures.
9. Madeira Toboggan Ride
To get down from Monte there’s no better way than the traditional Madeira Toboggan Ride.
Again, if you have a fear of heights, or just do not fancy the cable car trip, you can get a private tour to the top.
You can take the Monte Toboggan Experience by Tuk-Tuk. Which includes hotel pickup and drop-off, a trip to the starting point via tuk-tuk, and your Madeira Toboggan Ride ticket.
Another option is to take the Nuns Valley, Monte and Sleigh Ride Tour. A 4 hour tour, where you discover 3 different points of interest on the island of Madeira, before riding the Madeira Toboggan back down to Funchal.
Made from wicker and wood, these two seated sledges cruise down the narrow streets of Monte all the way back down to Funchal.
Powered by two carreiros, or sledge drivers, wearing white uniforms and straw hats, the 2km journey takes roughly 10 minutes as they use only their boots as brakes.
But don’t worry, it’s completely safe and a great form of income for locals thanks to tourism.
10. Try Local Poncha
The most traditional drink of Madeira and one that can be found in almost every shop around the island, all year round.
The original recipe reads something like:
1/4L of brandy cane sugar
3-5 tablespoons of honey
Juice of 2 lemons
Although it has been adapted and mixed over the years to suit different tastes, and the locals will argue which is the TRUE Poncha mix!
One thing’s for sure though, it’s said that ‘You haven’t truly been to Madeira, if you haven’t tried Poncha!’ So be sure to add this to your list of things to do in Funchal.
11. CR7 Museum
The CR7 Museum in Funchal, opened in 2013, is dedicated to the famous Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
The museum is located at Praca do Mar, in the main port in Funchal, the capital of Madeira. Funchal being where Ronaldo was born on 5th February 1985.
Costing just €5, it takes about an hour to get round and see all the exhibits. Including club trophies, individual honours and trophies, match balls, signed football shirts and more.
If you are a real Ronaldo fan the Private Cristiano Ronaldo Tour with CR7 Museum visits the museum as well as the area where Ronaldo grew up, his first club and all things Ronaldo!
A must of things to do in Funchal, especially for all football fans.
12. Eat Local
I love trying out different foods when I visit somewhere new. Here are some of the popular and traditional foods of Madeira.
Bolo de caco is a staple food in Madeira. It’s a flat, round bread made with sweet potato, flour, salt, sugar and yeast, then baked on a flat stone. It’s often served as an accompaniment to meals with garlic butter or cheese. Alternatively it is used as a sandwich bread with fillings such as ham, tuna cheese etc.
Pastel de nata is a traditional Portuguese pastry filled with a smooth egg custard. The beautifully creamy filling has a slightly burned top and a layered, light and crisp puff pastry base.
Lapas or limpets are very popular on Madeira as light snack or as appetizer. Being an island, nearly all menus on Madeira serve seafood. Lapas are served grilled with garlic and butter, then just add a zest of lemon and enjoy.
Where To Stay In Madeira
Recently awarded as Europe’s Leading Design Hotel, the luxurious Vine Hotel is located in Funchal.
It offers a fusion restaurant with stunning views, a Wine Therapy Spa, access to the fitness centre and a rooftop infinity pool.
Each room features an LCD TV with in-room movies, free WiFi and a laptop-size safe.
The roof terrace sports a heated infinity pool, massage facilities as well as a 20 yard hot tub, with views of Fort São João and the mountains.
The newly renovated 4-star Hotel Baía Azul is ideally situated a 4-minute walk from Funchal’s beachfront.
It offers 3 swimming pools, 3 restaurants, a Spa and a sun deck overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the gardens.
The hotel has a total of 215 bedrooms with sea-inspired decor. All rooms come with an en suite bathroom, bath amenities and a hairdryer.
Not only that, but a flat-screen cable TV, a minibar, a kettle and a safe deposit box too.
Free WiFi access is provided in all rooms and common areas.
Funchal Apartments – City View is venue is set in Se district, around a 10 minute walk from Funchal center, and features a terrace with the cathedral view.
The property includes free WiFi, plus express check-in and check-out.
There is also a shared kitchen, ATM and currency exchange for guests.
All rooms include a wardrobe, a desk and a shared bathroom.
For more places to stay in Madeira, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.