Visitors to Madeira have no shortage of things to do during their holiday on the small Portuguese north-Atlantic island. The trails alongside the levadas (old water channels) offer great opportunities for pleasant walks through the island’s volcanic landscape, while water-based activities include sailing, windsurfing and even diving.
Yet for those visiting Madeira, time should also be given to exploring the main town and capital of the island. Funchal is home to almost half of the population of Madeira and the city has played a major role not only in the island’s history, but that of Portugal as a whole. So how would you spend two days in Funchal? Here is a suggested itinerary.
Get a flavour of Funchal by heading to the market. Madeira is an island where fresh produce is a source of pride and you can brush shoulders with local people as you pick up snacks for a picnic lunch or late breakfast. Visit the colourful Mercado dos Lavradores but be warned that prices are unmarked and notoriously over-inflated for tourists.
Take a wander through the Old Town, where once the men who became wealthy from the sugar trade set up their homes. Stroll through the narrow streets of Sao Pedro, visiting the district’s churches and convents that date back to the 17th century. The Sé is where the earliest settlers moved in and where King Manuel set about building the first city of Funchal. The cathedral survives from the early 16th century.
Stop for lunch at one of the back street restaurants where locals take a break from their work to eat. Rua da Carreira is a popular choice and in the more modest restaurants you’ll find very reasonable prices and a lively vibe.
It’s easy to spend a while wandering through Funchal and the very modern street art that has been encouraged in order to brighten up some of the more neglected buildings has created an open-air art gallery that you can browse at leisure.
Head up to Monte, high above the city’s main streets and rooftops, by cable car. It takes around 11 minutes to complete the mile-long route, during which time you’ll enjoy great views of the island’s lush greenery and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
The cable car deposits you at the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, where you can easily spend a full day wandering through the grounds and admiring the 2500 varieties of tropical plants, collected from every continent of the world and presented in five distinct areas on the 35,000 sq metre site.
While you’re in Monte and before heading back to Funchal, pay a visit to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, a beautiful 18th century church and a popular place of pilgrimage.
Where you’re ready to return to town, take a ride in the world-famous toboggan ride, racing down the 2km slope in the wicker sledges that have been used on this route since 1850. From the end of the ride into town, it’s a short and fairly easy stroll.
By now you’ll be ready for an afternoon drink, so head down to the marina area where you can relax with a glass of local wine and a plate of local savouries, before it’s time to freshen up and head out for dinner.