Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is selected by many as their favourite holiday destination.
The city lays on the sunny side of the island. With its houses built close to each other on the side of the hills near the sea, the bay of Funchal looks like a huge amphitheatre.
Luxurious hotels, especially in the city part of São Martinho, shopping streets, restaurants, bars, museums and wonderful gardens with exotic trees and flowers ensure a nice holiday. It is easy to understand why so many tourists prefer a hotel in Funchal. 300.000 out of the more than 500.000 tourists that come to Madeira every year, will stay in the city. Together with the 120.000 inhabitants, accounting for 1/3 of the entire population in Madeira, they make a nice atmosphere. Everyone who makes a trip to Madeira must include a visit to Funchal, otherwise you haven't really been to Madeira at all.
Must sees in Funchal
Promenade along the Marina (harbour)
From the Estrada Monumental, where you have the bigger hotels, to the harbour and the Avenida do Mar, you can walk along the most beautiful streets, all the way towards the fortress of São Tiago. You can visit many parks, such as the Santa Catarina Park, and admire the huge cruise ships at the harbour. Most museums are situated near the Marina, such as the Museum of Christopher Columbus, the wine museum, and -not to be missed- the art museum "Arte Sacra". It is remarkable how all foot paths are shaped with very small lava stones. Every single stone was cut and layed by hand !
Mercado dos Lavradores - The market of Funchal
The market is a well known picture from Funchal. Fresh vegetables and fruits are recommended by local farmers and form a colour splendour. The "flower girls" wear a traditional red and green dress and sell flowers including the Strelitzia or "Bird of Paradise Flower", a symbol of Madeira. You may be surprised to find out that these girls are in fact older and often large women.
On the fish market, located in a separate section of the Mercado dos Lavradores, an upheaval dominates under the fishermen who cut the fish with expertise into pieces. Especially tuna and espada (black scabbard fish) are shown on the counters.
The Teleférico - cable car to Monte
Using the teleférico, a modern cable car, you can go for a ride all the way up, 500 meters above Funchal and to Monte. The ride gives you a nice overview off Funchal and the houses packed together on the hill side. Monte is a charming place with many quintas. It is said that the air in this place is so healthy that it has a healing effect on people who suffer from breathing sicknesses. In the church, the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Monte, there is the tomb of the Austrian Emperor Charles I, who was married to a niece of the King of Portugal.
Carros de Cesto, the famous wicker toboggan ride
Just underneath the church of Monte, you can go for a ride using the toboggan. The wicker sleds are steered by two Madeiran men dressed in their typical white trousers, shirt and straw hat. This is probably the most famous tourist attraction on Madeira. For 25 euro you make the descent from Monte towards Funchal. Upon arrival, a photo of your ride will be waiting for you for only 10 euro (prices of 2012). You can then decide to walk back into Funchal. It is a bit far and steep but it's possible and definitely a lot cheaper than the taxis who will charge heavily for the short journey.
Finding your way in Funchal
Using the Via Rápida, Funchal is only 15 minutes away from Caniço de Baixo, and about 20 minutes from Madeira International Airport in Santa Cruz.
Funchal is a big city. It can be somewhat crowded but traffic jams seldom occur. If you are not staying in Funchal and want to visit the city, then would suggest to leave the Via Rápida at the exit "Hospital" (Hospital). Drive straight ahead, pass the roundabout, and further downhill towards the Lido. At the traffic lights (with Hotel Pestana Carlton Madeira right in front of you) you turn left and take the "Avenida do Infante" to head for the old city centre. For a good and cheap parking turn left at the next roundabout near the Marina (harbour) and drive in the car garage a little bit further down the road.