When you take a European cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to cruise to Funchal, the coastal, capital city in Portugal’s region of Madeira. Funchal is an area known for its wine, artisans, historic architecture, breathtaking landscapes, flowers and fauna. While spending a full day in Funchal, you’ll get to experience the best of what Portugal has to offer. If you’re wondering what to do in Funchal, carry this list along with you so you can hit the top 10 highlights after you disembark in port.
1. Ride the Monte Cable Car
Ride above the treetops for two miles in a cable car to Monte, a neighborhood point in Funchal that overlooks the picture-perfect scenery of the harbor, ocean and mountainside dotted with white houses. You’ll rise up 1,837 feet along the way. The cable car ride is about 15 minutes, and replaces a steam train railway that once connected the two cities during the 20th century.
2. Explore Tropical and Botanical Gardens
Near the upper Monte cable car stop, visit a tropical garden and an accompanying museum. Stroll through exotic plant species, a waterfall and a pond in this fairytale-landscaped setting. Walk alongside free-range peacocks, chickens and ducks that make the garden their natural habitat. This is a great activity for the whole family to enjoy!
From there, travel on a second cable car from the upper Monte station through the picturesque João Gomes Stream Valley to a botanical garden. There you’ll find a mesmerizing variety of exotic specimens of local flora, topiaries and plants from other Atlantic Islands.
3. Take the Toboggan Ride
You don’t need to take a cable car back down to Funchal when you can ride down on a toboggan! Funchal is known for this unique practice: tobogganing down the streets in a sturdy, wicker sled. This “snowless” sled ride is an island tradition dating back to the 1800s. It was invented as a way to quickly bring people down from the steep road of Carro de Cesto to the Livramento suburb of Funchal. After an exhilarating sled ride, you’ll need to take a cab and continue down to the city of Funchal. No worries though, each high-speed sled ride is navigated by experienced tobogganers.
4. Visit the Funchal Cathedral
Portugal is home to some of the most beautiful and ancient churches in the world. See Gothic and Romanesque-style architecture up close while visiting the Funchal Cathedral, built by Portuguese colonists in 1514. Its peaceful, yet richly ornamental interior is crafted in the Manueline style, which showcases its Flemish influence. The full name of the church is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
5. Tour Santa Clara Convent
This hidden gem may not be on many lists of what to do in Funchal, but don’t pass up this unique peek into old Portugal. Built in the 15th century, the Santa Clara Convent is located at the top of a hill in the center of Funchal. It is a working convent, complete with tours given by nuns. You’ll have the opportunity to see the monastery church and the cloister’s garden during your guided tour.
6. Stroll the Praça do Município
The main square in Funchal is called Praça do Município. Much of the black and white stone mosaic pavements you’ll see are made of lava rock. In fact, many of Funchal’s pavements are crafted mosaics. In the main square, you’ll also find the town hall, built in the 18th century. Easily stroll around the square and see additional architectural gems, such as the Colégio Church and the Sacred Art Museum.
7. Drive to Camacha
If you are interested in seeing a bit of Madeira outside of Funchal, take a leisurely bus or taxi ride to Camacha. This beautiful village is known for its basket makers and is at the center of Madeira’s willow craft industry. While there you’ll find stunning, intricate wicker products made by a select group of talented artisans.
8. Saunter around Funchal’s Old Zone
Though Zona Velha (the old zone) may be a bit touristy, it is an area full of shops and restaurants. Head over to Rua do Aljube and its surrounding areas for even more shopping. For another lively jaunt just next to the area, visit the Farmer’s Market, also called Mercado dos Lavradores. Once there, your senses will become overwhelmed with the vivid colors and scents of local flowers, fruits and vegetables.
9. Visit High Peaks
If you want to experience more high points and vistas of Funchal, take a coach or car ride to the city’s summit, Pico do Arieiro. There, you’ll enjoy a shop, café and viewing points for photos. Visit the highest peak on the island, Pico Ruivo, which is accessible from Pico do Arieiro. If you’re adventurous and up for an all-day hike, the round trip hike takes around six hours, so plan wisely before having to embark on your ship.
10. Wines of Madeira
Once you’ve finished touring Funchal’s points of interest, there are plenty of places to sip and buy the famed wines of Madeira before heading back to your ship. You can become a wine connoisseur for the day and spend the entire day wine tasting your way through the city.
Whether you focus on garden hopping or sightseeing, Carnival cruises are designed to offer you the most unforgettable experiences. A European cruise is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime and a cruise to Funchal is a must-do. Be sure to tag us in your photos along the way using #Choosefun!