Port Review: Funchal, Madeira

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It may be 885km from Lisbon and located off the coast of Africa, but Funchal is a distinctly Portuguese destination, with hints of an earlier connection with Britain.

The Facts

Location: On the island of Madeira, off the coast of north western Africa.

Language: Portuguese, although in the tourist areas some people have an understanding of English.

Currency: The euro.

Docking/Anchoring: Cruise ships dock near the city centre about a kilometre from the oceanfront promenade. 

Transport: Most cruise lines offer a shuttle to the downtown area and taxis at the port are relatively inexpensive. 


Madeira’s capital, Funchal, sweeps up from a harbour to the steep hills that surround the city. It’s an attractive destinatinon, fronted by a grand oceanfront promenade, which makes it a memorable cruise destination to sail into or out of. Cobbled pavements, historic buildings and classic European shops and cafés combine to make this a truly Mediterranean experience, despite its location.

Don’t Miss

The oceanfront promenade, the Avenido do Mar, is the heart and soul of Funchal with its shaded cafés and bolo do caco (flatbread) stalls.

Monte is a small village that overlooks Funchal which began its existence as a health resort for Europe’s elite. You can walk up to Nosse Senhora do Monte via a flight of stairs and get an impressive view of Funchal, or take the cable car.

The Mercado dos Lavradores is an art-deco open air market which was built in the 1930s and it’s a lively place where you can buy fresh produce, flowers, spices and local handicrafts.

Best Photo Op 

From the village of Monte you get an aerial panorama of Funchal, and if you don’t fancy taking the stairs there’s a cable car which runs to the top.


Despite taking on the Euro as the national currency, shopping in Funchal remains pretty good value and the island is famous for handmade embroidery including tea towels, sheets, towels and shirts. Wicker ware hats are very Madeiran, and naturally the area is famous for its Madeira wine, a dessert tipple which is enjoyed after dinner. The oceanfront promenade has plenty of local stalls selling souvenirs and the Mercado dos Lavradores is open from 7AM to 8PM on weekdays.

Food And Drink

With its Portuguese heart and soul you can easily eat and drink your way around Funchal’s restaurants and bars. Seafood is a specialty and espada is a native fish which is easily found while espetada is another traditional dish of meat hunks served on a skewer which hangs downwards. Stews are also traditional and they come in all varieties and include rabbit, goat and fish. Restaurante Gavião Novo on Rua Santa Maria 131 serves Madeiran favourites such as espada with banana, and espetada (beef kebabs with laurel and garlic) for around €11.

Pick Of The Excursions

The Cable Car, Monte, Toboggan Ride and Gardens tour over half a day is easily the most popular excursion. It starts with a cable car ride of 15 minutes from Funchal to the village of Monte. While in Monte you'll get a chance to experience the historic snowless sled ride which dates back to the early 19th century. Your sled is a wicker basket chair set on runners. Two local guides dressed in traditional white flannels and straw boaters run alongside your sled and guide it down the slope with ropes. The tour finishes at the Botanical Gardens. 

One of the full day tours takes in Ribeira Brava, São Vicente & Porto Moniz. The small village of Ribeira Brava perches along a steep canyon bisecting the island. São Vicente village offers views of Madeira's famous sea cliffs which are the second highest in the world, and most tours include lunch here. Porto Moniz is renowned for its tide pools and the drive provides views of cliffs, waterfalls and small valleys, each with its own microclimate. 


Joanna Hall