The beautiful capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira, Funchal offers vibrant markets, tranquil gardens, easy access to the island's dramatic interior, historic sights and much, much more. It's a little mid-Atlantic miracle.
Madeira grew rich on sugar, wine and shipping, and it has splendid architecture to prove it. Highlights include the São Lourenço Palace and the 16th century Sé Cathedral, but the whole town is beautiful.
A delicious fortified wine, Madeira is the perfect way to round off a vacation meal. Try it at leading wine bars like Blandy's or Beef and Wines.
With plenty of nearby golf courses, the chance to paraglide over the valleys, canoe hire from the harbor and mountain biking trails across the island, Madeira is a wonderful destination for energetic travelers.
Funchal may not be Paris or Venice, but galleries like the Museu de Arte Contemporânea and the Museu de Arte Sacra hold magnificent collections that were acquired by the island's sugar and wine families.
Barreirinha, with its saltwater pool, city beaches like Ponta Gorda - with safe swimming for kids - and more distant resorts like Porto Santo make Funchal a fine beach destination.
Madeira's sub-tropical climate makes for a fantastic garden where lush and vibrant plants that are typically only found in greenhouses can grow right in the open. The garden hosts plants from around the world, with stunning displays of color on view almost every month of the year. There are 35,000 square meters of space in the gardens, which boast mountain views as well as a unique collection of rare and endangered plants indigenous to these islands. Over 2,500 different plant species can be found in the Botanical Garden, which also hosts 300 birds.
A relatively new addition to the island's collection of museums, the Story Centre is perhaps the best place to learn about the history of the island. Its artifacts begins far back in the land's volcanic origins and proceeds through its history as a target for pirate raids and on into the present. A number of vibrant illustrations and models depicting the people who left their mark on Madeira make this museum engaging and educational for the whole family.
When most people think of public transport, they don't consider a cable car. Yet that's exactly how residents and visitors of Funchal make their way from the lower section of the city to the highland suburb of Monte. The cable car is a relatively recent addition to Funchal, but it's already left its mark on the inhabitants and visitors. The cable car line is more than half a mile long, with an elevation gain of well over 1,500 feet. During busy season, more than 800 passengers ride in the car each hour. It's one of the highest-rated attractions in Funchal and offers fun for the whole family.
The Farmer's, or Worker's, Market was unveiled in 1940 as an architectural masterpiece in the New State style, but when you visit, you'll probably spend your time admiring the wares of the vendors more than the architecture. From fresh fruit and vegetables to unique handicrafts, the market has plenty for visitors to enjoy. If you stay in a hotel or apartment with a kitchen, this is the place to go for fresh fish and other local ingredients.
This manor museum houses the extensive sliver, filigree, and antiques collection of wealthy collector César Gomes, as well as those of the Czech John Wetzler. Together, these residents compiled impressive stores of porcelain, handcrafted furniture, pottery, marble, and Christian iconography. Even the grounds of the museum are historic, as they housed the first Donee Generals of the islands. Step outside and wander through the archaeological gardens and you won't be let down. The entire property is chock-full of rare and beautiful items from Madeira's rich history.
Most tourists arrive during Funchal's summer season between late June and late September. However, don't discount spring, when the Flower Festival shows off the island's famous, and dazzling, blooms.
Funchal Airport has plenty of connections to European airports. From there, take the Aerobus (EUR5, 30 minutes).
If you are picking up a vehicle at the airport, take the VR-1 highway and then the ER103. It should take around 20-30 minutes.
Aerobuses run from Funchal Airport, and routes across the island are provided by Rodoeste and SAM.
Exceptional accommodation options in the city include the Royal Savoy Hotel Madeira, the seafront Vidamar Resort Hotel and the tucked-away Quinta da Bela Vista.
Zona Velha - The 600 year-old heart of the city, Zona Velha is where you'll find the Cathedral and major attractions like the Museum of Sacred Art.
São Martinho - Occupying most of western Funchal, São Martinho has some gorgeous gardens as well as an extraordinary cemetery that is full of Art Nouveau concoctions.
São Roque - A hillside neighborhood with it's own distinct feel, São Roque has some great eateries, like Restaurante Miradouro, which offers fabulous views of the harbor below.
Buses run to all of Funchal's suburbs. To ride them, you'll need to purchase a rechargeable Giro card for EUR2.20. After that, single tickets cost EUR1.50.
If you need a taxi in Funchal, expect to pay around EUR2.70 for the meter drop, then EUR2 per mile after that.
Car rental options in Funchal include Europcar, Rodavante and Hertz, and daily rates can be as low as EUR10.
The best place to shop is the Mercado Dos Lavradores (particularly for flowers). You can buy fine wines at Blandy's Wine Lodge, while the Dolce Vita shopping mall offers a wide range of international brands.
Supermarkets in Funchal include Pingo Doce and Continente, where you can expect to spend around EUR2.30 on 12 eggs.
If you want great food to accompany your fortified wine, Funchal delivers. Fantastic local eateries include the pan-European specialists Restaurante Mozart, Portuguese seafood masters O Tasco and Il Gallo d'Oro, the only Michelin-starred restaurant on the island. Prices vary, but meals should come to about EUR20.