All Articles 3 perfect days in Funchal

3 perfect days in Funchal

Joana Taborda
By Joana Taborda8 Apr 2024 10 minutes read
Panoramic view of Funchal on Madeira, Portugal
Panoramic view of Funchal on Madeira, Portugal
Image: Алексей Облов/Getty Images

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be living on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I would have said not in a million years. But once I visited Funchal, the capital of Madeira, I quickly fell for its rugged coastline and powdery beaches, tropical forests and volcanic peaks.

This three-day itinerary covers the main attractions, but also fits in plenty of outdoor adventures like the best local swimming spots, sunrise hikes, wine-tasting excursions, and dolphin-watching tours. Bonus: I’ve also included plenty of Tripadvisor reviews and ratings, so you know that other travelers loved these spots, too.

Day One

Sunset over Doca do Cavacas, Portugal
Sunset over Doca do Cavacas, Portugal
Image: TomasSereda/Getty Images

MORNING: A dip in the Atlantic

Start your your day with a morning dip. There are a handful of bathing spots dotted along the São Martinho neighborhood, where you’ll find most of the hotels. The Lido Bathing Complex is by far the most popular, with two swimming pools (one just for kids) and direct access to the ocean. If you want something a little bit more picturesque, head further west to Doca do Cavacas, where you’ll find natural pools of crystal-clear water backed by rocky cliffs. I like this spot because of the tiny whitewashed houses lining the trail down to the water. You’ll pay a small fee to enter, but it’s worth it if you want easy access to the sea.

Otherwise, you can continue on to Praia Formosa, a pebbly beach that’s a great place to sit and watch the waves. (Water shoes are handy if you want to avoid a tippy-toe walk into the sea).

AFTERNOON: A feast of seafood and tropical fruit

After a refreshing swim, make your way up to Estrada Monumental, the main road into the heart of Funchal. Before you get too far, stop for lunch at Madmarket. You might initially overlook it because it’s in a shopping center, but don’t let that stop you. Lined with bottles of wine, the dining room is sleek and modern. This kitchen serves up some of the best seafood on the island. I recommend the perfectly prepared tuna steak, but the octopus and squid aren’t bad, either.

Stroll east towards the city center, passing through pretty Parque de Santa Catarina. Locals love it, filling every available spot of the grass when the weather is warm. Then continue straight to the 15th-century Cathedral of Lady of the Assumption. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but the interior is surprisingly ornate, especially the gilded altarpiece.

From the cathedral, it’s a 10-minute walk to the Mercado dos Lavradores. As soon as you step inside this market, you’ll be astounded by the display of tropical fruits. Make sure to sample the long and slender fruta deliciosa, the fruit of the monstera plant that tastes like a blend of pineapple and banana. Also look for the anona, or custard apple, which isn’t an apple and doesn’t taste like custard. It has a sweet-and-sour flavor. Sellers will often offer free samples, but some less scrupulous ones may sweeten the deal by adding a sprinkle of sugar to the fruit. If you’re intent on buying something, you might find a better deal in the stalls around the market.

Travelers say: “We found [Parque de Santa Catarina] on our walk into Funchal and were attracted by the beautiful fountains. It's a bit of peace and tranquility before the hustle of Funchal and a great place to chill." —TriciaBishop

MERCADO DOS LAVRADORES AREA TOUR OPTIONS

What better way to get to know the city’s culinary scene than by joining a food tour? The Madeira Food, Wine, and Cultural Tour takes you through iconic spots like the Mercado dos Lavradores, as well as to some local cafés and restaurants.

For a deep dive into the history of Madeira, take the Old Funchal Walking Tour. It includes a visit to the Mercado dos Lavradores.

Hope aboard a Tuk-Tuk Tour of Funchal and hit all of the city’s top attractions, including the Mercado dos Lavradores.

EVENING: Street art, poncha, and more poncha

Enter Funchal’s Zona Velha—the Old Town—along the Rua de Santa Maria. Dating back to the 15th century, this lively cobblestone street is now full of bars and restaurants where the waiters will do their best to coax you inside. In between, you’ll spot a series of doorways painted by local and international artists as part of an initiative called Arte de Portas Abertas (Art of Open Doors). Number 1 has a depiction of Funchal's cobblestone streets, while Number 97 features a giant version of Madeira's traditional dough dolls.

Take a right turn at Travessa do Forte towards the São Tiago Fort. It’s hard to miss this 17th-century fortress because of its bright yellow facade. One of the best places to admire the exterior is from the Santiago Beach Bar, a no-frills joint on the waterfront. This area is a favorite swimming spot for locals throughout the year. Afterward, head to nearby Lá ao Fundo for contemporary Portuguese cuisine. I love the pear and brie samosas and the golden bream filets with saffron and ginger risotto.

Before you call it a night, you have to sample some poncha. This punchy cocktail, made with sugar cane moonshine, honey, and fruit juice, is Madeira’s official tipple. Near the waterfront, Bar Number Two is among the best spots to try a poncha à pescador, or fisherman’s poncha, made with lemon juice. But why stop with just one flavor? On a cobblestone street, Rei da Poncha serves ponchas made with passion fruit and just about every other flavor you can imagine.

Worthy detours along the way

Day Two

Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal
Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Sunrise in the mountains

Wake up early to catch the sunrise at Pico do Arieiro, Madeira’s second-highest peak. You’ll be joined by locals and travelers eager to witness the first rays of sunshine. It’s a 40-minute drive to the top of the 6,000-foot-tall mountain, but you can always book a tour with a local guide. That way, you can cover a couple of other sights as you circle back to Funchal.

Another option is to head up to the village of Ribeiro Frio to hike the Vereda dos Balcões. Madeira is known for its network of levadas, the trails that follow irrigation channels across the island. There are plenty to choose from, but the 2-mile Vereda dos Balcões is one of my favorites. The breathtaking valley views at the end are definitely worth it, and you might spot a friendly Madeira firecrest.

Travelers say: “A delightful, virtually flat 1.5km levada walk through the trees brings you to the Balcões viewing platform with stupendous views of the laurel forests & the mountains beyond. Stay a while to watch the shadows & colors change." —Lexi61

AFTERNOON: Bolo do caco and Madeira wine

Leave the mountains behind and head back to the city center for lunch. Near the cobblestone Praça do Munícipio, Latada do Doutor is a great spot for traditional dishes. There’s a sign outside the entrance, but it’s easy to miss as you’re walking by. Grab a table on the second-floor patio and enjoy some bolo do caco, a sweet potato bread slathered with garlic butter, or the filete de espada (filet of a local favorite called the scabbard fish).

A few steps from the restaurant is Blandy’s Wine Lodge. Blandy’s is one of the largest producers of a centuries-old fortified wine called Madeira, which was used by the founding fathers to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (The legend is that they downed 54 bottles of the stuff.) The 45-minute tour is interesting, but the real treat comes at the end when you get to the tasting.

After the tour, head towards the waterfront and enjoy a stroll along the promenade at Avenida do Mar. From here you can watch the cruise ships gliding by and hear the arrival horn of the Lobo Marinho, the boat that takes travelers to neighboring Porto Santo. If you’re a soccer fan, you may want to pop into the CR7 Museum to learn more about Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal’s most famous soccer player, he was born in Funchal. Or you can just pose next to the statue of him in front.

PICO DO ARIEIRO AREA TOUR OPTIONS

  • If you want to brave one of Madeira’s most iconic hikes, this Self-Guided Sunrise Hike between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, the island’s tallest peak, may be for you.
  • Tick Pico do Arieiro, Ribeiro Frio, and other must-sees off your list by joining this Madeira East Tour. It departs from Funchal.

EVENING: Fine dining and ocean views

Follow the road towards the cruise terminal, and you’ll soon reach the Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora da Conceição do Ilhéu. It’s worth taking the lift up this 17th-century fortress for the panoramic ocean views. Even better, you can book a table at the Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva Restaurant for a meal overlooking the Atlantic. On the left side you can Funchal gleaming in the distance, while on the right is the port and the ocean beyond. Start with beef tartare, which pairs perfectly with a pineapple daiquiri. For a main dish, the braised tuna with sweet chili mango is always a winner for me.

If you can muster the energy, hit the bars along the Rua Imperatriz Dona Amélia, including the Musa Lounge Bar (a hip spot where the craft cocktails are made with fresh flowers) or Poncha da Imperatriz (a show-stopping place with a carriage suspended above the crowd).

Worthy detours along the way

Day Three

Dinner at Terra
Dinner at Terra
Image: Maxdeuk/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Tropical gardens and cable cars

Kick off your third day in Monte, a hilltop neighborhood known for its lush gardens. Head here by cable car and you’ll have great views of the coast. Fuel up with breakfast at Land Food & Coffee, opposite the cable car terminal. (You catch a glimpse of its terrace right before the end of the ride up.) The avocado toast is the thing to order here.

Now it’s time to head to the Monte Palace Madeira. Covering 17 acres, this garden is dotted with sculptures, fountains, and tropical plants from all over the globe. My hands-down favorite spot is the Oriental Garden, with red pagodas reflected in lakes filled with koi. And then there are the flamingos, with their pink plumage contrasting against the lush greenery.

After touring the garden, head to the ​Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte​, a Baroque church framed by a steep stairway. A few steps from here is the starting point of Madeira’s famous Carreiros do Monte ride. The wicker baskets that were once used to carry goods now quickly whisk you down the hill towards Estrada do Livramento. From the bottom, take a taxi back to the center of Funchal.

Travelers say: “You could easily spend half a day simply wandering around and discovering hidden paths allowing relaxed exploration of the Monte Palace gardens without feeling over-crowded. Refreshments are available in the form of a tearoom with great views over Funchal. Sturdy footwear is recommended as many paths are uneven but it was a delight to visit and worth taking your time over.”—Louisa C

AFTERNOON: Craft beers and dolphins

Make your way to the waterfront and grab lunch at Beerhouse, on one of the city’s piers. If you have a big appetite, order the espetada de carne, a traditional skewer of beef. If you want something lighter, try the prego, a juicy beef sandwich served in a bolo do caco. This place is also a brewery, so make sure to try one of their beers. My favorite is the Hipnose, an IPA with notes of citrus and passion fruit.

From the pier, it’s only a short walk to the marina. A great way to spend the afternoon is by joining a dolphin-watching tour on a catamaran. (If you’re lucky, you may even catch a pod of whales swimming by.) There are many options, but one of the favorites is a two-masted vessel called the Bonita da Madeira. The wooden ship is modeled on those that sailed these waters in the 15th century.

DOLPHIN-WATCHING CRUISE TOUR OPTIONS

  • Hop on a Dolphin-Watching Catamaran Cruise and you’ll soon be sailing along the shore gazing up at some of the highest sea cliffs in the world. If you want to take a dip, snorkeling gear is available.
  • A marine biologist teaches you about the region’s marine life on this Whale and Dolphin Tour. Binoculars are provided so that you can get a good look at the bottlenose dolphins that often swim past.
  • Traveling in a group? Why not book a Private Boat Tour so that everyone can set sail together to Calhau da Lapa, one of the island’s prime swimming spots.

EVENING: Jam sessions and rooftop parties

Back from your cruise along the coast, head to the steps facing the Praça do Povo, a popular meeting point on the bay. If you happen to be around here between late August and early September, you may be treated to a glass of wine at the region’s annual wine festival. If not, you can always enjoy a beverage from one of the surrounding kiosks.

For dinner, head north to Terra, where the menu is inspired by the owners’ travels around the world. You’ll choose from the Mediterranean-style mezze, Thai-inspired hot and sour soup, Peruvian ceviche, and a wide range of other dishes. There are a few vegan options thrown in as well.

Just around the corner is the Museu Café, a bar and café attached to a museum of religious art that hosts weekly jazz concerts and other live performances. If you’re more in the mood for a DJ, check out what’s happening at the rooftop bar of the Three House Hotel.

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


There’s a reason why Madeira has been nicknamed the “island of eternal spring.” There’s hardly a bad time to visit the island, as temperatures rarely are higher than 70 degrees. Located on Madeira’s southern coast, Funchal is among the sunniest places on the island. Summer is by far the busiest season. If you want to avoid the crowds, you’re best off visiting in spring or early fall. You can expect more rainy days in winter, but you’ll also see the whole island decked out with holiday lights.


Most museums in Funchal close on Sunday and Monday, but major attractions like the Monte Palace are open daily. Small shops tend to have shorter hours on the weekend, closing on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Some restaurants close on Monday.


Keep track of time, or you may miss lunch. Most restaurants stop serving lunch at around 2:30 pm. Some stay open, but only offer nibbles in the afternoon. Dinner is served around 8 to 9 pm. Shops are usually open from 10 am to 6 pm, though some may close for an hour around noon.


São Martinho: Close to the swimming areas highlighted on Day One, São Martinho is where you’ll find most of the hotels in Funchal. That includes upscale options like the Reid’s Palace, which has great ocean views. There are also more affordable options like the Allegro Madeira, with its famous rooftop bar.

Zona Velha: If you want to be closer to the action, staying at the Zona Velha may be for you. The Hotel Porto Santa Maria is only a few steps from the bustling Rua de Santa Maria, which we highlighted on Day One, but also the cable car up to Monte Palace Madeira, which kicks off Day Three.


Public transportation: Madeira has a network of buses that cover different parts of the island. You can reach the São Martinho and Monte neighborhoods, as well as areas farther away, including the Ribeiro Frio. You can buy tickets on the bus.

By bike: The center of Funchal is relatively flat, but beyond that the region can get pretty hilly. Currently, there’s only one designated bike lane in Funchal, which takes you along Estrada Monumental to São Martinho.

By taxi: You can hail one of the yellow taxis on the street, or use rideshare apps like Bolt or Taxiin to book one. Keep in mind that there is a limited number of cars on the island, so you may have to wait to get a confirmation.

Airport transfers: If you’re carrying heavy luggage, you’re best off taking a taxi from the airport. There are plenty of yellow taxis parked outside the building, though it’s worth checking out the ride-share apps to see if there’s a better deal.


Joana Taborda
Joana Taborda is a Portuguese travel writer based between Lisbon and Madeira island. Her clients include Lonely Planet, Fodor's, DK Eyewitness, and several travel blogs. She loves hopping on a train to little-known towns and drinking the local craft beer everywhere she lands. You can follow her latest adventures @cityodes.