The best independent guide to Madeira
The best independent guide to Madeira
The mountainous island of Madeira appears as an oasis of green amidst the deep blues of the swirling and rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
All cruise ships to Madeira moor in the sheltered bay of Funchal, which is the capital and largest city on the island. Funchal is an instantaneously likeable destination for cruise passengers; the harbour is in the city centre, the climate is always pleasant and the setting is incredibly scenic.
Funchal is situated in a steep river valley, with traditional painted houses given way to forested covered hills, which are often shrouded in low-lying clouds.
An independent tour of Funchal will get much more out of the city than some bland and crammed coach tour.
By avoiding the mass tour, you will escape the other 48 people who want to ride the toboggan run at the same time as you, who will ruin the tranquillity of tropical gardens or form long queues to board the cable car.
Funchal is a very safe destination, which has the atmosphere of a small Portuguese town rather than a major municipal centre. The most hassle any tourist will experience is an enthusiastic tour boat sellers or polite restaurant maître d' touting for business.
In Madeira language will never pose an issue as everyone speaks English fluently and often a second or third Europe language. As for getting lost, there is no real chance, as the city is a natural amphitheatre with your ship the focal point, clearly visible from anywhere in the city.
Below is an interactive map showing our suggested tour for a one-day tour of Funchal. The green line shows the morning tour and the yellow the afternoon. The cable cars and toboggan ride are marked in blue.
Key stages of the route are:
Stroll along the harbour front to the cable car (3), which passes the CR7 Cristiano Ronaldo museum (1) and the Palacio de Sao Lourenco (2). The cable car whisks passengers up to the scenic Monte district, high in the hills above the city. The Tropical Gardens (6) are close to the cable car station or it is a second cable car (4) to the Botanical Gardens (5). The Botanical Gardens should not be missed, so long as you have sufficient time.
The Nossa Senhora do Monte (7) is an ornate baroque church and the terraces provide wonderful views of the region. At the base of the church (8) are the wicker toboggan carts which slide down the steep hill to the Livramento district (9).
Advice: The toboggan ride does not end near the centre of Funchal; it is either a 2km downhill walk, waiting for the public bus (ever 30-40minutes) or paying over the top for a taxi. The taxi drivers know they can rip off tourists and will demand as high as € 25 for the 15minute ride.
Back in the centre of Funchal, visit the Madeira Story Centre (10) to learn the history of the Madeira. The Cidade Velha (old town) is a charming section of the city with cobbled streets, the Capela do Corpo Santo (11) and the yellow painted Sao Tiago fort (12). Within the cobbled streets of the Old Town are many restaurants ideal for a relaxed lunch.
The next section explores the commercial heart of Funchal, and begin with the city hall (13) and Igreja do Colégio (14). Wander the pedestrian streets to the ancient Se cathedral (15) and then along the Avenida Arriaga (16) with its classic Portuguese architecture.
If you have the energy, you could make the steep uphill walk up to the Fortaleza do Pico (17) with its wonderful view over the city. An alternative is to visit the Cristiano Ronaldo museum (1), which is also close to the cruise ship terminal.
This route is suggested as it tries to avoid the midday crowds at the cable car and toboggan run. For lunch, there is a better selection of restaurants and cafes in downtown Funchal than in Monte.
There are two hop-on-hop-off tour buses companies which navigate around Funchal, the red or yellow brands. These do cover a lot of different areas but do not include Monte, which is generally a highlight of any visit to Funchal.
Typically, most of the areas that you would “hop off” are within the city centre and can be easily walked. If you do choose to join one of these tours it is suggested to complete the entire circuit and then get off at the stops which seems interesting.
The commentary for both tours is very limited and simply laughable at certain sections.
Here are the entrance fees and costs for a day trip to Funchal along with links to official websites.
Note: all links to external websites open new tabs
Funchal - Monte cable car – €11/€16 (single/return)
Advice: A single is only needed if you plan to return by the Toboggan ride
Monte Palace Tropical Garden – €12.50
Botanical gardens entrance and cable car (Monte - Botanical gardens) - €13.00/€16.50 (single/return)
Toboggan ride – €25/€30/€45 1/2/3 per cart (plus an expected tip....)
Taxi from the end of Toboggan ride to central Funchal – €25 for a 2km ride (this a complete con for tourists!). Public bus (€2) or a 25min downhill walk.
CR7 museum entrance fee – €5
Yellow hop-on-hop-off tour bus – Funchal circuit €15
Madeira Story Centre – €5
All cruise liners to Madeira moor in the deep-water harbour that overlooks Funchal. The cruise liners can either be moored on the sea wall side of the harbour or the city side, but there is a tendency to moor on the sea wall side first.
No matter the location of the mooring it is only a short walk along to the waterfront and historic centre of Funchal. There is no real need to hire a taxi for this short walk and the waterfront promenade is perfectly flat.