EUROPE (M-Z) PORTUGAL

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA ISLANDS

JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH LISA CAMACHO FROM FUNCHAL, MADEIRA!

Lisa Camacho, a Funchal local, was born and raised in the city. She lived four years in North Portugal, but her heart was always in her birthplace. Since a young age, she had desired to be a guide and show travelers her little piece of heaven. Lisa became a Mountain Guide in 2016 and in 2018, started her own project where she shows her visitors the best of the city and mountains in Funchal and beyond.

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FUNCHAL

Madeira Islands, a remote paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is a cluster of Portuguese islands comprising of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens. Madeira, is the largest of the Portuguese archipelago located off the west coast of Africa.

The island is known worldwide for its wine, the Madeira Wine, the drink that George Washington used to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. Funchal is the capital of Madeira, the first place the Portuguese settled overseas, during the Portuguese discoveries. 

Madeira Islands
Madeira. Image Source

For centuries, Funchal was a very important port in the Atlantic. It was the place where ships would stop for supplies before sailing for the big expeditions. Funchal comes from the Portuguese word ‘Funcho’, that means fennel. It is said that large amounts of fennel covered the area that is now Funchal. 

Funchal, Madeira
Funchal, Madeira

Funchal offers myriads of adventure activities such as diving in the crystal-clear waters, surfing the waves, boat trips, swimming with dolphins, paragliding on the coast and hiking through the eucalyptus smelling mountain woods. It is also the hometown of the world-known footballer Cristiano Ronaldo

Christiano Ronaldo Statue in Funchal, Madeira
Christiano Ronaldo Statue in Funchal, Madeira

 

 

 

 

When is the best time to visit Funchal?

All year round! The climate is mild and it’s not uncommon to see people from Northern Europe coming to the island in mid-winter to get away from the dark and cold winters (still bring a warm jacket as it gets cooler up in the mountains).

I love March/April, September/October especially as it isn’t too hot or cold, it isn’t too crowded as in peak season (July and August) and there’s beautiful flowers like bougainvillea, orchids and jacaranda in the city and mountains.

The off season is in November, January and February.

Funchal
Funchal

 

 

 

 

How to reach the city of Funchal? 

Depending upon your starting point, you can either use plane or ferry to reach Funchal. Many European cities have direct flights to Madeira Islands.

If coming from the capital city Lisbon , Porto or some other place in Portugal taking a TAP (Portugal’s national carrier) flight to Funchal International Airport is your best bet. Or board on a Naviera Armas ferry from the Portimao port in Portugal. Same is true if coming from mainland Spain.

If coming from Porto Santo island, the only other inhabitated island off Portugal, take a twenty five minutes flight, Binter Canarias offer the best deals. Or you can take a ferry. Though the schedule and frequency of ferry varies with season but generally the crossing operates up to 13 times each week with length of journey being around 2 hours 15 minutes.

Funchal port
Funchal port

 

 

 

 

Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Funchal?

The only public transportation you’ll find on the island are buses. To go around Funchal, you can use Horários do Funchal.

From the airport, you can use the Aerobus, get a taxi or book a transfer. There are a few companies that provide this service. 

Buses in Funchal, Madeira
Buses in Funchal, Madeira

 

 

 

 

What are the top three must visit places in Funchal

Monte is a beautiful, romantic place up in Funchal. A great way to get there is by cable car, while enjoying a panoramic view of the city.  Up in Monte, you can visit the iconic church of Our Lady of Monte, saint patron of Funchal, you can (should) visit Monte Tropical Garden. The vegetation is simply amazing, you can visit the African Art and Mineral Museum, take great photos in the Oriental Gardens, observe tiles and even try some Madeira Wine! This Garden is one amongst 12 of the best botanical gardens in the world!

Monte Tropical Garden, Funchal, Madeira
Monte Tropical Garden, Funchal, Madeira

In Monte, you can also see/try the “Sledges”. These are wickerwork baskets, where 2 or 3 people can sit for a crazy 2 km ride downhill. The brakes are the conductors’ boots!
this was an old transportation mostly for business man to go to the city centre in a fast way. 

Sledges in Monte, Madeira
Sledges in Monte, Madeira

The Old Town, in the East side of the City. For centuries, this was a poor fishing village. Now-a-days, it’s a vibrant part of the night life. You can find great restaurants (for all tastes and budgets), bars with local drinks and some of the prettiest doors, as a few years ago, the local tourism board, started inviting artists to paint abandoned buildings’ doors. It is in the Old Town that you will find the Cable Car to go up to Monte, the Madeira Story Centre (an interactive museum with a great restaurant on top), a skatepark as well as a beautiful yellow Fort from the 17th Century.

The Old Town, Funchal, Madeira
The Old Town, Funchal, Madeira

Pico do Areeiro. This is the third highest mountain of the island and one of the most epic places one can get by car. Weather dependent, it is probably the best place on the island for sunrises and sunsets and often we get above the clouds. It is also the starting point for one of the most popular and beautiful hikes of the island, Vereda do Areeiro.

Pico do Areeiro, Madeira
Pico do Areeiro, Madeira
Hike in Vereda do Areeiro, Madeira
Hike in Vereda do Areeiro, Madeira

 

 

 

 

What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Funchal?

Madeira is a small island, so in a few hours drive you can actually cover a few spectacular areas. The North Coast of Madeira is definitely worth exploring. Porto da Cruz is a little village on the Northeast that has the oldest Steam Factory in Europe (sugar cane Rum Distillery), with machinery that is 100 years old! March to May is the harvest season when you can experience the whole process. It is also a very popular surf spot, there is even a surf school! Take a SAM bus (numbers 53, 78 or 208) to Porto da Cruz from Funchal. The express route will be shorter but you will miss on the scenery. Check the network map to understand better. Journey time is around 75 minutes.

Porto da Cruz, Madeira
Porto da Cruz, Madeira

Santana (Santa Ana) is known for its triangular houses, amazing views of the Northeast coast and natural areas. Santana is the place where Madeira’s embroidery (bordado da Madeira) started. You will find it on sale in many shops there. São Jorge is a little village in Santana that has the only still working watermill of Madeira and a beautiful walk on the endemic Laurel Forest (Levada do Rei) that you can do in less than 4 hours. 

Colourful thatched roofs in Santa Ana, Madeira
Colourful thatched roofs in Santa Ana, Madeira

Porto Moniz and especially Seixal are places that you shouldn’t miss as they’re known for the natural pools of volcanic formation. Seixal`s Municipal Eco-Museum have displays based on the region’s history and traditions.

Natural Pool Seixal, Madeira
Natural Pool Seixal, Madeira

You should definitely visit Ponta de São Lourenço, the most eastern part of the island, with amazing contrasts of the volcanic rocks on the sea. It is inside the town of Caniçal in Machico. If using public transport, from Funchal take the bus number 113 from the SAM terminal to reach Ponta de São Lourenço.

Ponta de São Lourenço, Madeira
Ponta de São Lourenço, Madeira

Cabo Girão is one of the highest sea cliffs in the world and has a glass bottom floor. Don’t worry, even if you’re afraid of heights, the views from around the glass bottom are still spectacular. To reach take bus number 7 from Funchal to Ribeira Brava an stop at Cabo Girão. With a rental car it is just twenty-five minutes drive.

Cabo Girão, Madeira
Cabo Girão, Madeira

Câmara de Lobos is the best known fishing village, with its boats on the bay. The Scabbard fish found here descends to depth of 1500 m in the daytime and only comes to the surface at night. Câmara de Lobos is best known for its great fish and meat restaurants and the new art with recycled materials. It lies only five kilometres west of Funchal and can be easily reached by Rodoeste buses or by taxis.

Câmara de Lobos, Madeira
Câmara de Lobos, Madeira

 

 

 

 

What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Funchal?

The most celebrated time of the year is Christmas and New Year. The city is decorated for this season, there’s a heart-warming feeling everywhere and our city gains life with everybody living the Christmas spirit, with a little help of our delicious sweets and liquors for the season.

Christmas in Funchal, Madeira
Christmas in Funchal, Madeira

Right after Christmas, we get ready for New Year. Funchal’s bay is a natural amphitheatre and we have 8 minutes of a fireworks show. It has even entered the Guinness World Records for the largest firework display!

 

 

 

 

 

What is the most loved local food of Funchal? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?

The most loved local food must be Espetada which is beef marinated for 4 to 6 hours in Madeira wine, vinegar and olive oil and skewered on bay leaf. It is still a tradition for us to go up to the mountains with friends and family to barbecue this. A very popular dish among locals and visitors is the black scabbard fish.

Scary looking black scabbard fish, Madeira
Scary looking black scabbard fish, Madeira

Bolo do Caco is a traditional bread, impossible to resist with garlic butter.

Bolo do Caco
Bolo do Caco

The most loved local sweet is Bolo de Mel, made with sugar cane syrup and very traditional of our Christmas. Poncha is the drink you shouldn’t miss. There are a few flavours, but I recommend the Poncha Regional to start with, made with local sugar cane rum, honey, orange and lemon juice.

Bolo de Mel Christmas Cake and Souvenir
Bolo de Mel Christmas Cake and Souvenir

Locals like their meat and fish, however, most restaurants in town offer vegetarian options. There is a Vegan Restaurant (Coração Vegano) with vegan food and there’s also the Vantastic Foodtruck near the Municipal Garden, that offers healthy snacks, most of them Vegetarian/vegan friendly. In Legs Eleven, you will not only find what is probably the best coffee in town, they also offer vegan brownies, banana bread and other delicious vegetarian snacks.

 

 

 

 

 

Where to head for shopping in Funchal

Mercado dos Lavradores is the best known Market in Funchal, however it has become extremely expensive with the increase of tourism. For fruits and vegetables, you can find several stands in the city that offer more reasonable prices. Mercado dos Lavradores is still worth the visit, for all its colors and specially to see the fish market.

Rua Fernão de Ornelas is a street where you can still find some small local shops, nice gelatarias and snack-bars.

 

 

 

Which is the local craft or souvenir of Funchal?

The local craft in Funchal is the Embroidery. To see a part of the process and buy, you can visit Patrício & Gouveia.

Traditional souvenirs are the Bolo de Mel (Fruit Cake, made with Sugar Cane Syrup) and a colourful hat, used by the folklore groups.

Madeira hats
Madeira hats

Madeira islands is of course very popular for its Madeira wine made by heating and ageing the wine. It ranges from dry to sweet.

 

 

 

 

Which are the best streets of Funchal worthy of taking a stroll on?

Praça do Povo is worth spending some time. It is right by the sea, there’s the Marina, a few snack-bars, some food/ drinks trucks and gardens with flowers and even banana trees!

Praça do Povo, Funchal
Praça do Povo, Funchal

Depending on the time of the year, Avenida Arriaga is the place to be. When there’s festivities in Funchal, this area is carefully decorated, there’s several stands with traditional food, sweets and drinks. There is also some shows, from concerts to folklore playing and dancing in the streets.

 

 

 

 

Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of Funchal?

As Funchal is so hilly, is not hard to get a great view of the city. Right in the centre, you have Parque Santa Catarina, with a few lookouts over Funchal. If you go for a drive, Pico dos Barcelos is still one of the best loved viewpoints both by locals and visitors.

Viewpoint Pinaculo
Viewpoint Pinaculo

 

 

 

 

 

Would you suggest any shows in Funchal to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in your city?

The Holy Trinity Church in Funchal (or simple the English Church) has live music almost every evening. Jazz, Blues, a Quartet playing the Beatles and Rock, you just have to choose the kind of music you like to hear more!

The Mandolin Orchestra is a must see. It is the Oldest Mandolin Orchestra in Europe and still the youngest, because the musicians ages range between 12 and 45 years old. They have played several times in different places in Europe. They play weekly, either in The Casino Congress Room or in the Vidamar Hotel Congress Room.

Madeira’s local folklore dance Bailinho da Madeira and music is widespread. Many hotels have folklore group once a week. Check the schedule of the local group Folkloric Group of the People of the Camacha to know where they are performing next. For authentic Madeiran music experience contact the most traditional group in the island, Xarabanda.

Bailino
Bailinho Da Madeira. Image Source

The best place to see street art in Funchal is in the Old Town, specially in the narrow street of Rua Santa Maria. In an attempt to bring life to this street, the local council has started an art project of painting doors there. There is close to 100 painted doors, by different artists which has led to a considerable increase in number of tourists visiting Rua Santa Maria now.

 

 

 

 

 

Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Funchal?

Yogoto.com  With this app, you can find the best activities and restaurants 

Walk me  This app will help you find the best walks of the island, tell you which buses you should take for each walk and give you coordinates.

 

 

 

 

Do you want to give any suggestion to tourists coming to Funchal?

Madeira is known for having a few different climates, so I recommend people to bring layers. The weather changes quite fast, even in Funchal and it’s good to be prepared for the sun and for some rain!

 

 

 

 

 

Things to know :

Visa : You can travel to Funchal with a Schengen Visa. Click here to know the general required documents for a Portugal Visa application.

Tap water : Drinking tap water is safe in Funchal. 

Electric Socket : In Funchal the standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz.

Drones : A drone is allowed to fly up to 120 meters in Portugal. Check these drone footage regulations before flying your quadcopter. 

 

 

 

 

 

IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING TO FUNCHAL OR WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT LISA’S TRAVEL EXPERIENCES THEN BE SURE TO FOLLOW HER ON FACEBOOK/INSTAGRAM

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To know more about Portugal, check our interviews with other Portugese locals from LisbonPorto and Azores.