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20 Best Things To Do in Funchal, Madeira For First Time Visitors

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If you’re looking for some of the best things to do in Funchal, Madeira then – as you might’ve guessed by the title – you’ve come to the right place!

As my mum owns a timeshare on this gorgeous little Portuguese archipelago, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Madeira many times over the years.

So, this list of things to do in Funchal results from all that frivolous sightseeing. Are you ready to see what the capital of Madeira has to offer? Let’s get going!

20 Best Things To Do in Funchal, Madeira For First Time Visitors

1. Wander around Santa Catarina Park

Santa Catarina Park, Funchal, Madeira

Santa Catarina Park is one of Funchal’s public parks; the largest one actually.

Enjoy a gentle ramble through the park and take in all the flora, fauna, fountains and views (we nearly got a full alliteration of ‘f’s there!) 

There are plenty of benches and tree-covered nooks dotted around the park, so it’s worth taking your time here if you can.

2. Splash around at the Lido complex

While Madeira may be short on beaches (owing to its history with volcanic rock), the Lido complex is a popular bathing spot.

Here, you can enjoy a swim in a seawater pool overlooking the ocean or directly access the sea if you prefer an open-water swim. 

The Lido is about 2 miles outside of Funchal, so you could walk it in about 40 minutes or catch a bus or taxi.

There’s a wonderful promenade walk near here, which is well-serviced by the council and overlooks the ocean, so you might like to wander along that before or after your swim.

3. Visit Madeira Botanical Garden

Madeira Botanical Garden

The Madeira Botanical Garden is about 2.5 miles northwest of central Funchal and it’s well worth a trip!

There are around 12 acres of gardens to explore, so it warrants at least a couple of hours spent here. 

Alongside impressive landscaped gardens with sea views as their backdrop, you’ll also come across tropical fruit trees, sweeping lakes and even an aviary of exotic birds, including cockatoos and parakeets.

4. Enjoy a tour of the wine cellars at Blandy’s Wine Lodge

Did you know that Madeira has been producing its own wine for centuries? 

While you could sample the local wine from a restaurant, bar or supermarket, nothing beats a wine tour to learn more about it.

Head to Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal to either enjoy a wine tour or wine tasting.

5. Visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Monte Tropical Garden

Roughly 2 miles north of central Funchal is the small suburb of Monte – and there’s much to see and do in this area. 

You’ll probably want to spend the best part of a day or long afternoon making the most of your time here.

Up first is the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, which is home to beautiful areas to walk around at different levels.

Some of these gardens are Japanese-inspired complete with stepping stones, arched bridges, ornate pagodas and torii gates. 

READ NEXT: One Day in Funchal Itinerary

6. Climb the steps of “The Church of Our Lady of Monte”

Monte is also well known for the 18th-century church found here.

It’s called “The Church of Our Lady of Monte” (yes, that is a bit of a mouthful!) You’ll instantly recognise its striking monochrome façade and the many steps leading up to it. 

There are over 50 steps to climb, but it’s worth doing it to marvel at the wonders inside the church.

Monte Church, Madeira

7. Test your adrenaline streak on a toboggan

Once you’ve seen all there is to see in Monte, it’s time to make your way back down the mountains to central Funchal.

If you’ve got a bit of an adrenaline streak, then you’ll probably choose to career down the zigzagging hill inside a traditional wicker toboggan

It’s great fun, but certainly not for the faint-hearted!

8. Take in the views from a cable car

Views of Madeira from the Cable Car

Or, for a more relaxed approach, you could leave Monte via a cable car, which you can stay on down to the main part of Funchal.

This is a great way to sit back and admire some of Madeira’s stunning landscapes and greenery.

9. Take in the sights and history with an Old Town Walking Tour 

If you’d like to learn about Funchal and the history of Madeira, then why not join a walking tour through the Old Town?

Not only will you see the sights, but you’ll learn all about the city and the island as you wander.

I’d recommend this tour, which lasts for around two hours.

10. Hop aboard the Santa Maria de Colombo ship replica

Aboard the Santa Maria da Colombo replica ship in Madeira

In 1498, the intrepid explorer, Christopher Columbus set off on his third voyage to America. Along the way, he stayed on the island of Madeira for six days.

Today, you can hop aboard a replica of Columbus’s flagship, Santa Maria and sail along Madeira’s coastline for about 3 hours or so.

While on the island, you’ll often see it sail past if you’re in the right spot at the right time. 

But nothing beats actually hopping aboard if you enjoy history. You may even be lucky enough to see some whales during your trip.

11. Marvel at the historic Funchal Cathedral

In central Funchal, you’ll likely stumble across the historic cathedral, which bears the name “The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption” (yep, another mouthful!)

This cathedral dates back to the 1400s and you’re usually allowed to look inside – providing a service isn’t in procession.

It’s well worth a look while you’re exploring Funchal’s Old Town.

12. Enjoy a delicious Funchal food tour

Traditional Madeira honey cake

We’ve talked about Madeira’s wine… now for the food!

From Madeira’s infamous Black Scabbardfish and delicious Madeira Honey Cake to swordfish and shark steaks, there are lots of exquisite dishes worth sampling.

Why not join a food tour through Funchal so you can try lots of different foods in one day?

This tour combines food and wine tastings and includes 11 stops along the 3-hour walking route. Divine!

13. Treat yourself to afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace

Speaking of food, a fellow travel blogger once told me that afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace – a luxury 5-star hotel – is another must-do!

An afternoon tea experience here doesn’t come cheap, but I’m sure the food and views more than makeup for that.

14. Dine inside the Fortress of São Tiago

Sticking with the food theme for a little longer, how would you like to dine at a historic 17th-century fortress?

Restaurante do Forte is located at the Fortress of São Tiago overlooking the Atlantic.

They even offer special packages such as picking you up in a classic car or playing live music before a 3-course meal.

15. Go shopping!

You might be surprised to hear that Funchal has several shopping malls. 

I remember visiting with my sister and spending several hours shopping for clothes and gazing at designer shoes in the shop windows. 

If you enjoy fashion or want to pick up some fabulous souvenirs then a trip to one of Funchal’s malls could be just the ticket!

16. Attend a fabulous festival!

Madeira Flower Festival

Throughout the year, Funchal plays host to a number of exciting festivals

See if you can time your trip during one of these festivals and you’ll be treated to fireworks, live music and more. 

Here are a few to look for in Funchal:

  • Madeira Flower Festival: Usually in April or May and – as you might’ve guessed – is dedicated to all things flowers.
  • Madeira Carnival: Usually in February. Watch as Funchal explodes with colour!
  • Atlantic Festival: Usually in June every year. Major features include live music and fireworks.
  • Madeira Wine Festival: Often in March, but not every year. A great time to sample the local wine!
  • Christmas & New Year festivities: Lots is going on through December to celebrate Christmas and herald in the new year. 

17. Go on a street art walking tour

Funchal Marina

Something that surprises a lot of first-time visitors to Funchal is how much striking street art there is to see within the Old Town.

Back in 2010, a local man (Jose Zyberchema) launched the Funchal Painted Doors Project.

To revitalise the area, he collaborated with local artists to create unique street art of varying styles, themes and colours.

18. Hop on a whale and dolphin-watching catamaran from Funchal Harbour

Getting Around Madeira: Catamaran

Another top thing to do in Funchal is to hop on a catamaran from the Funchal Marina for a spot of dolphin and whale watching.

While the boats (naturally) keep a distance from the whales, the dolphins seem to be so used to these tours that they often swim alongside the catamaran, scratching their backs across it.

It’s so fun and interesting to see!

Most catamaran tours also give you time at the end to swim and snorkel in the Atlantic Ocean. It’ll probably be cold but a quick dip is always fun!

Check out Get Your Guide for various catamaran tours in Madeira and their prices >>

19. Take a ferry trip to Porto Santo

Porto Santo is a small island roughly 27 miles northeast of Madeira – and it’s a fabulous day trip or overnight stay during a longer Madeira itinerary.

This island may be small but it packs a punch when it comes to golden sandy beaches and scrumptious food.

From Funchal, the ferry takes about 2.5 hours. It can be a rough ride, though, so you might want to take some seasickness pills beforehand.

20. Enjoy amazing day trips to other destinations around the island

Getting Around Madeira: Camara do Lobos, Madeira

Or why not stay on the mainland of Madeira and enjoy a day trip or two around the island?

From volcanic rock pools on the northern side of the island to incredible mountain vistas and Levada walks in the centre, there are lots of fabulous things to do in Madeira. Check out our full list for inspiration >>

RELATED: 11 Incredible Day Trips From Funchal in Madeira

Read More Madeira Travel Blogs

Want to know more about Madeira ahead of your trip? Check out our other Madeira travel blogs now.

Or, if you’re short on time, then here are our most popular blogs about Madeira:

And there you have it – 20 best things to do in Funchal, Madeira! What are you most excited to see and do first? Let us know in the comments below…

Did you like this list of Funchal attractions and top things to do? Why not pin or bookmark this blog post now so you can read it again later?

20 Best Things To Do in Funchal, Madeira For First Time Visitors
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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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