Actvities & Attractions
Experience an oasis of green on your holidays in Funchal
Indeed, one of the most exciting and popular pastimes is to ride a wicker toboggan down the steep car-free roads that lead from Monte back into Funchal. But even if you’re not up for such thrilling activities, Funchal still has the ability to captivate your spirit. This is certainly the case in the large number of botanical gardens dotted around the city. Meticulously cultivated with exotic plants, serene pools and flowers of every colour, they’re a dreamy way to spend an afternoon in Funchal. Somehow, they seem to have held on to a primness unique to the English Victorian era, and it’s likely you’ll find yourself sipping tea at an ornate tearoom whilst admiring the genteel view.
A stroll into the centre of Funchal does much to heighten this general sense of peacefulness too. Pristine white townhouses lead you into secluded squares decorated with fountains and statues, whilst the beautiful churches and the Funchal Cathedral are not to be missed.
But perhaps one of the most noticeable aspects of Funchal is how is takes a unique approach to everything. For instance, Madeiran food and drink features delicacies that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, and you’ll get to sample these at the numerous traditional restaurants in Funchal. Even sunbathing has a distinctive approach here, as rock pools and the Lido area of several open-air swimming pools are a fantastic replacement for the usual bucket-and-spade beaches. Although in every eventuality, Funchal is a city where new experiences are made to feel familiar.
Historic attractions and lush landscapes
It’s likely that when you think of holidays in Funchal, you imagine rising green hillsides, overflowing with fragrant flowers of pink, purple and yellow. And it’s certainly true that Funchal and its hilltop neighbour Monte have lush landscaped gardens in abundance. However, what you may not know is that Funchal has just as much beauty to offer in its man-made attractions. Pristine white palaces and grand houses decorated with ornate teak woodwork converge around open squares and narrow cobbled streets. With such tradition on show, you’ll discover that the churches, cathedrals and museums here are as elegant and interesting as any you’ll find on mainland Europe.
But back to those botanical gardens. Funchal has been quite rightly famed for the astonishing attractiveness of its local landscape. The consistently comfortable climate allows plant life to thrive, resulting in no less than six gardens for you to explore in the nearby area. The most famous of these is the Palheiro Gardens, which somehow still retains the leafy Victorian style it had when it was first created in 1885. On your stroll around the gardens, you’ll see glassy green lily pools, trim hedges, firs, and a smattering of vibrantly coloured flowers. Perhaps yet more beautiful still are the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, nestled in the hills of Monte and best reached by cable car from Parque Almirante Reis. The Japanese Garden here is simply exquisite, where you’ll see glistening orange koi gliding gracefully by in serene pools, surrounded by cascading waterfalls, flowing fountains and sprouting bonsai trees. Its white triangular peaked palace houses yet more delights, with ancient oriental ceramics and African tribal sculptures and masks. Looking out from the palace, the orange-topped white houses of Funchal drift all the way down to the sea.
Returning to Funchal, one more garden we simply must mention is the Madeira Garden. The Madeira makes the most of its hilltop location with wide open spaces that look out upon the sea and the neat rows of white houses below. There’s a real artistry in the colour of the flowers on display, where flowerbeds are trimmed into patterns of searing bright reds and yellows.
But away from all of the greenery that Funchal is famous for, a venture into the atmospheric avenues of the town itself will leave you no less delighted. A dense network of white, yellow and pink pastel houses will lead you towards the Cathedral of Funchal. Built in 1514, the understated white and brown brickwork outside hides an interior of gleaming gold and incredibly colourful paintings. In fact, Funchal has a fine line in ornate 16th century churches, which are often far more elaborate inside than their exteriors suggest. Colegio Church, which presides over a pretty black and white tiled square, is another example of this trend. Its brilliant white walls and jet-black woodwork are a complete contrast to its shimmering altar of gold and decoratively painted walls.
The buildings in Funchal have a unique whitewashed style of their own, something that is continued at the Sao Lourenco Palace. This historic structure dates back to 1529 and has been the residence of countless captains and governors of the island. Today, it houses an interesting exhibition about the construction of the fortress and its rich history that is inextricably linked with the development of Madeira.
Whilst Funchal is literally overflowing with gardens and historic sites, conveniently, because Madeira is such a compact island you could still easily reach some fun family activities outside of the resort. For instance, the Santa Cruz Water Park is only 11 miles away, and it features nine different slides, two swimming pools and a lazy river, all set at the waterfront for stunning views of the Atlantic. Plus, for even more family fun the Santana Theme Park is just 20 miles away. This highly original site encompasses high adrenalin activities like bungee jumping and cable sliding with traditional craftwork shows and landscaped lakes and gardens.
Finally, for if you fancy a spot of golf, there’s nowhere more idyllic than Palheiro Golf Club
, around six miles from Funchal. This course was only built in 1993, and the surrounding Atlantic Sea makes an impressive backdrop to the long, meandering fairways.
Unique cuisine and international dishes
The Madeiran cuisine is rich and varied, offering local specialities that are extremely rare anywhere else in the world except for this small island. The black scabbardfish, known in Madeira as espada, is a great example of the originality you’ll find on the menus during your holidays in Funchal. A rather scary looking fish (it is shiny jet black with huge fanged teeth), it tastes delicious, like a fresher melt-in-the-mouth variety of the classic white cod meat. As it has to be line caught from depths of at least 600m, Madeira is one of the only countries on earth that actively fishes for the espada, so it’s certainly worth trying too. Focusing on main courses, another very popular dish in Madeira is Espetada. This delicious variant on classic shish kebabs features chunks of beef and onions rubbed with garlic and skewered over hot wood chips.
Other fantastic delicacies include several sweet treats such as the doughnut-like malasada and the honey and almond enriched bolo de mel cake, developed from a medieval recipe. Of course, when it comes to sweet flavours on the island, we can’t forget the local Maderia wine too. Known as Malvasia wine with the sweetest of this kind called Malmsey, the wine is made from white grapes yet has an unusual coffee colour due to exposure to the air. It makes for a delicious dessert wine after enjoying a meal outdoors overlooking the greenery and vibrant flowers amidst the hilltops.
As Madeira welcomes visitors from all over the world, its restaurants have taken on a wide range of international influences. Portuguese cuisine such as piri-piri chicken and egg custard tarts is prominent throughout, although you’ll be just as likely to find contemporary gourmet food and tasty Indian curries.
You could also choose to have your meals taken care of at an all inclusive or half board hotel. The stylish Enotel Lido Resort is the first all inclusive hotel in Madeira, and you can stay there with Jet2holidays. While half board hotels are well represented by the contemporary Hotel Raga and the elegant Vila Porto Mare Resort, which is part of our exclusive Luxe Collection.
Beaches, rock pools and lidos all close by
The closest beach to the centre of Funchal is the dusky black shingle volcanic beach of Praia Formosa. Only ten minutes drive from central Funchal, the open views of the Atlantic make up for the lack of sand and the beach has been awarded the Blue Flag for its cleanliness and safety.
By just crossing the tunnel at Praia Formosa to Doda do Cavacas, you’ll come to a sunbathing and swimming strip that’s much easier to recommend. The natural pools formed out of the rocky coastline make for a spectacular way to enjoy the water. There’s a large concrete area for basking in the sun (without worrying about sand!) whilst stone steps lead you into the cooling Atlantic waters enclosed around brown and green moss-coated rocks. If this sounds appealing to you, stay at the LTI Pestana Grand Hotel with Jet2holidays and you’ll be just moments away from the rock pools.
To make up for the smaller choice of beaches, Madeira also has the famous Lido area. It consists of numerous man-made saltwater swimming pools, such as the Lido and Punta Gorda, that look out upon the Atlantic, this coastal part of Funchal is also popular for nightlife, bars and restaurants. So you shouldn’t have to walk too far to find somewhere to eat or drink!
However, if you really can’t do without a soft, golden beach during your holidays in Madeira, your best option will be to head to Porto Santo. This tiny island is around a 40-minute boat trip from Funchal, but for great sunbathing it’s certainly worth it. The shoreline is of the most radiant gold, and incredibly, the sand here has been scientifically proven to alleviate the pains of rheumatism and broken bones.
Great evenings out along the coastline of Funchal
Whilst Funchal certainly isn’t the wildest place in the world, being a capital city it still offers you a good choice of bars and restaurants. For holidaymakers, much of the interest in the evenings is focused around the Lidos that line the Funchal coastline. Here you can enjoy a cool ice-filled drink on balmy evenings, listening to live singers and bands. Popular nightspots here include Bar FX, Awards Bar and Joe’s Bar and Beerhouse.
The sweet Malvasia wine grabs all the attention worldwide, but Madeira actually has a surprisingly varied selection of locally produced wines that range all the way from dry to sweet. Sample them all in the rustic stone and wooden furnishings at Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge, which even has a traditional winemaking press on show.
And for a glamorous way to end the night, how about a visit to Madeira Casino? Whilst the full choice of games including poker and roulette are all present, it doesn’t have to be all about gambling at the casino either. An unusually shaped, oval building lit up at night by vibrant neon purple, you can mix with the locals at the Palm Bar or get dancing at the glossy modern Copacabana nightclub.