The historic town of Funchal is best known for its gorgeous gardens and pretty cobbled streets.
In town there’s a famous lido complex, with botanical gardens and separate children’s pools. Walk 25 minutes out of town, meanwhile, and you’ll come to Praia Formosa - four black sand and pebble beaches. Stop at one of the restaurants or cafes here, or stroll back to town along the prom.
Winston Churchill was a big fan of Madeira, describing it as a ‘floating garden’. Certainly in Funchal you’ll find some of the world’s most exquisite floral displays, and there are no less than six public gardens worth checking out. There’s even a famous flower festival that takes place every year, two weeks after Easter.
Funchal might be an old city, but it’s also a modern capital, with stylish tapas restaurants and café-bars. Head down to the marina and you’ll find cocktails and modern Portuguese dishes on the menu. And there are discos and clubs downtown, where DJs keep the crowd going until the early hours.
On Saturday head to the Mercado dos Lavradores – the Worker’s Market – between 7am and 2pm. Watch the fishmongers whip out their huge knives and prepare everything from sardines to tuna and swordfish. It’s the best free show in town.
Funchal is famous for its lido, a complex of outdoor pools overlooking the sea. Take your pick from large pools, small pools, seawater pools or dedicated family pools. You’ve also got table tennis and waterslides, as well as restaurants and snack bars. Or if it’s beaches you want, try Praia de Sao Tiago, a dark-sand-and-pebble beach in the old part of town.
The tropical gardens are a must-visit. Try the beautiful ones that surround the Monte Palace. You’ll also find waterfalls and tropical plants at the Municipal Garden, while the city’s Botanical Garden is surrounded by mountains and is home to some 3,000 species of plant. Orchid lovers, meanwhile, should head to the miniature forest at the Orchid Garden.
The spectacular mountain scenery makes this a great place for walkers. Take a guided hike along the levadas – a series of mini canals that surround the city – and experience Madeira’s beauty close-up. And you can’t miss the toboggan ride – a wild trip down a hill in a wicker basket. The cable car will get you up there.
Funchal serves up a big choice of restaurants. You’ll find everything from pizzerias and Indian food to sophisticated tapas joints. The harbour’s the place to head for local specialities like scabbard fish and swordfish, washed down with a glass of vinho verde, a light white wine. The boat restaurants are also worth checking out – look for the one once owned by the Beatles.
Shopping in Madeira has really upped its game, and you’ll find big-name brands at malls like Dolce Vita, next to Santa Caterina Park in downtown Funchal. In Rua do Castanheiro, meanwhile, you’ll find shops selling locally made wicker and embroidery – as well as the world-famous wine. And make sure you visit the local markets, which teem with fresh fruit and flowers. The Mercado dos Lavradores in the Old Town is the most famous – it’s open every day except Sunday.
Irish bars, English pubs, chic cocktail bars – Funchal has them all. Most of them are down by the seafront, so you can sit outside and enjoy the views. And if it’s late-night drinking you’re after, head downtown. Here you’ll find a row of clubs, including an al-fresco disco where you can dance under the stars.
Funchal is the capital of Madeira, a Portuguese island 400km north of Tenerife. The city sits bang in the middle of the island’s southern coast, just a 20-minute drive from the airport.