Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is a great place to base yourself on this island, especially if you don’t have your own vehicle to get around.
With the best public transport links in Madeira – including to the airport – it’s an easy place to stay, with lots of accommodation choices and some good tour options that will take you around the island too.
But even if you do have your own car, and are staying elsewhere in Madeira, Funchal still makes a great place to visit and enjoy, so here, to bring you the full lowdown on this coastal capital, is my list of the top 10 things to do in Funchal…
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#1 Wander the Old Town
The old town in Funchal is definitely the place to begin your time in the capital and get a feel for this laidback island and its heritage.
Full of cute streets, shops and cafes, as well as some lovely street art and photo spots, wandering here with a strong coffee (just as the Madeirans like it!) is a super introduction.
Known as Zone Velha, the Old Town in Funchal lies just a few minutes back from the waterfront and it’s easy to walk between the 2.
Once you arrive in the Old Town, don’t miss the main streets of Rua do Aljude, Rua da Carreira and Rua De Fernao with their atmospheric and brightly coloured buildings.
For street art, Rua da Santa Maria is the spot to head for, with over 200 pieces painted largely across local doorways.
And then, to truly get under the skin of Funchal’s Old Town and learn more about its stories and its people, I highly recommend this small group historical walking tour.
#2 Visit the Cathedral
And sticking with the sightseeing in Funchal, you can’t spend any time in this city and not take the opportunity to explore the iconic and central Cathedral here.
Situated in the city centre, and known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (or more simply, Sé), this religious building was constructed in the 16th century and is one of the few structures still standing from the early colonial period.
Designed in a Gothic style and built from blocks of volcanic rock mined from the nearby sea cliffs, this cathedral is free to enter and well worth stepping inside.
#3 Get your CR7 Fix!
Did you the famous footballer Ronaldo hails from Madeira?
Neither did I… until I arrived on the island and realised a lot of things, including the main airport, were named after him!
And that’s just the beginning, because this place is Ronaldo mad… and why wouldn’t they be?!
One of the greatest sportsmen of all time, Funchal really is the place to head for your Ronaldo fix, with a huge statue depicting this iconic footballer, as well as a museum dedicated to his trophies, all on offer here!
For the die-hard fans, the museum is worth a visit (validated by the football fan I visited Madeira with!) but for the rest of us, a comedy selfie with the statue will probably suffice!
#4 Check out the Farmers Market
An island steeped in agricultural history (my home, the farming island of Jersey, has very close ties with Madeira for this reason), you can’t to this Portuguese spot and not enjoy some of the delicious local produce on offer.
And one of the best places to pick some up is the Mercado dos Lavradores – a traditional market in Funchal that is filled with local fish, flowers and fresh goods.
The building here dates back to 1940 and is still open 6 days a week (closed Sundays), although heading here on a Friday is definitely the best day to spot women selling beautiful blooms in the traditional Madeiran dress.
#5 Take the Cable Car
Absolutely one of the best things to do in Funchal, you really can’t come to this city and not take the amazing cable car that will propel you up to one of the city’s most elevated districts, the aptly named Monte.
Offering stunning views of the capital and the coast, the Teleférico do Funchal costs 12.50€ for a one way journey, but sure beats puffing your way up the incredibly steep hill that otherwise takes you up to Monte.
Open from 9am – 5:45pm, 364 days a year, the ride takes just under 20 minutes and tickets can be bought online in advance here.
#6 Ride in a Wicker Basket
And now we move on to one of the weirdest, but funniest things to do in Funchal – an activity that truly belies how unique this island is!
Because yes, one of the island’s top attractions is the option to ride down a really steep, traffic-ed hill in a huge wicker basket!
Ok, so if you didn’t know already, Madeira is hill central – the island was a volcano so essentially, as soon as you move metres away from the coastline here, things start rising up to the clouds.
And Funchal is no exception, with the suburb of Monte, where the cable car arrives, being one the most elevated parts of the capital.
If you want my advice, don’t book a return journey on the cable car but instead, once you reach the top, find the church Igreja do Monte and join the queue to take a massive wicker basket ride back down the hill!
And yes, it’s every bit as weird and wonderful as it sounds!
Pushed by men wearing boater hats (who knows why), you can fit up to 3 in a basket, so this is def one to do with your mates.
Prices depend on the number per basket, so grabbing a couple of friends also makes things cheaper as you hurtle down one of the skinniest, steepest streets I’ve ever seen!
Taking around 10 minutes to get down the hill – not all the way to Funchal centre it must be said, but only about halfway – this is certainly the quickest way to at least get a decent amount closer to the main part of the city!
Souvenir photos and queues do belie the touristy nature of this activity, but it’s still worth it in my opinion – just get there either early in the day or late in the afternoon to ensure the shortest wait time.
Tickets can easily be bought at the start of the ride – the top of the hill where you’ll wait to pick up your basket – and cost 30€ each for 2 people or 25€ each for 3 people a basket!
#7 Enjoy a Dolphin / Whale Watching Tour
If you want to enjoy more of this island’s coastline, perhaps from a different angle that the cable car offers, then it’s hard to beat a boat trip when it comes to the top things to do in Funchal.
Leaving from the waterfront area – with half day trips running in both the morning and the afternoon – there’s a huge array of different vessels to choose from here, be it catamarans, yachts or even pirate ships!
Most will take you out from the capital for around 3 hours to spot dolphins (which you’ll definitely see), plus whales if you’re lucky enough to visit during the right season.
I visited Madeira in May – technically Pilot Whale season – but sadly we didn’t spot any of them (I blame myself as I think I’m cursed when it comes to whale-watching trips but that’s another story!), but there are definitely reported sightings during many months of the year.
Beyond the whale disappointment however, I’m really glad I took this boat trip as it was a super way to appreciate the beauty of Funchal from another perspective and to view the second highest sea cliff in Europe – Cabo Girão.
Check out the exact boat trip that I took here.
#8 See the Flower Festival
I also visited the island in May, because this is the month Madeira holds its famous flower festival, with the biggest events held in the capital Funchal, including a huge parade, which usually takes place at the weekend.
Filled with locals and tourists alike, if you’re in Madeira at this time, you can’t miss it!
#9 Stroll the Gardens
And sticking with the flower theme – and you’ll quickly learn if you travel around Madeira at all, that the locals here love a flower – and one of the best ways to take them in is via some of Funchal’s spectacular gardens.
The Botanic Gardens, along with Palace Tropical Gardens, are both situated in the district of Monte and stopping in to visit them between getting the cable car up and riding a wicker basket down, is a great option.
Showcasing over 10,000 species of flowers, these gardens are open between 9am and 6pm and also feature some historical pieces between them, including traditional houses and a palace that looks like a fairytale castle!
This top rated tuk-tuk tour includes a tour of Funchal, plus a visit to the Botanic Gardens and includes an accommodation pick-up in the capital – a great one for families!
#10 Sample the Local Food and Wine
And last but not least on this list of the best things to do in Funchal, you can’t come to this Madeiran city and not sample some of the great food and drink this island is famous for.
Because you know that when you eat and drink things grown in the place you’re sampling them, they’re always going to taste better!
I suggest, eating and drinking your way around the capital at your own pace (it’s easy to go overboard!), or else check out this brilliant Funchal food and wine walking tour, which features an expert local guide as well as 11 local food tastings, 6 drink stops and a heap of interesting info across a 3 hour jam-packed excursion.
When to Visit Madeira?
May to September is the best time to visit Madeira.
How to Get to Madeira?
Fly to the Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport!
Find the best deals at Skyscanner, including with budget airline carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet who fly from London and a range of other cities.
How Long to Spend There?
I’d suggest at least a week to see a lot of Madeira and enjoy many things on this list.
10 days would be even better!
How to Get Around Madeira?
Hiring a car is the best way to get around Madeira. Find a great deal here.
Otherwise, if you don’t want to drive, I really do recommend staying in Funchal – there’s an airport bus that can run you to the capital from the airport and then a public bus service you can use to get around from there.
Where to Stay in Funchal?
Check out these top recommended Funchal accommodation options, which include brilliant listings for every budget.
Travel Insurance for Madeira
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
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So there you have it, my list of the top 10 things to do in Funchal, Madeira.
Which was your favourite on the list?
Tell me all in the comments box below…