Funchal city, Madeira Island

Funchal is the capital of Madeira and the most populous out of the Portuguese mainland. The city encompasses an area of 76.15 km² and has 111,892 inhabitants (2011), subdivided into 10 parishes.

The view of Funchal is magnificent, with its crooked streets that go down the mountain side, and in front of the blue sea. This breath-taking landscape has captivated visitors from around the world. The city gained its name from the impressive amount of fennel (funcho in the Portuguese language) growing in this valley, and that led João Goncalves Zarco, who arrived here in 1420, to award it the name Funchal.


The climate is subtropical, with mild temperatures throughout the year. However, the landscape resembles that of a Mediterranean country than the tropics. Seen from afar, Funchal is also a sea of colourful vegetation, dominated by shades of pink bougainvillea, purple jacaranda trees and the spectacular trees with shades of red that line the roads.


The streets branch out from the polarizing centre, the Cathedral, built by King Manuel I. In downtown, the old town, we highlight several churches and the eighteenth and nineteenth century houses. The flowers and fruit markets in the main squares of the city are characteristic aspects of Funchal, not forgetting the toboggans that descend steeply from Monte to Funchal on a steep descent, directed by skilled men, the so-called “carreiros”.

Funchal is not only an ancient city. Without losing its pristine beauty, many new buildings gave rise to big hotels, shops and other attractions addressing the needs of modern tourism.


Santa Maria Maior is the oldest parish of Funchal, the undergrowth houses there were built since the beginning of settlement. To protect this unique architecture, the entire historic centre has been classified as heritage. Many buildings are hundreds of years old and still have their built-in ovens on the exterior walls. There’s also no shortage of street entertainment!

During recent years this zone has been completely recovered. They opened typical restaurants and people of all ages are now able to enjoy the freshness of a large garden and can take a cable car ride providing a very scenic trip. The St. James Fort, built in the first half of the seventeenth century, during the Spanish occupation (1580-1640), currently houses the Contemporary Art Museum.


The Farmers Market is two steps away from the historic area and was designed by architect Edmundo Tavares in a style between the art deco of the 30s and modernism. The main door opens onto a patio, animated daily by sales of fruits and vegetables. All exposed in elegant stands and ready to be seen, smelled and tasted. Counter tops made of flowers are a colour world apart, loaded with camellias, proteas, strelitzias and orchids. Florists don colourful costumes that remind you of the colours seen around the island. Upstairs, the arcades surrounding the courtyard are reminiscent of an oriental market. At one end of the building is the fish market, exposing all that the richest Atlantic waters have to offer.


Funchal is crossed by three streams, covered with colourful bougainvillea creepers. These flower beds were set by the French Brigadier General Reynaldo Oudinot. The expansion of the city did not occur in a planned manner. With the influence of demographics and the economic climate, the houses began to “conquer” the valley.

The central area is still dominated by Gothic and Baroque style buildings, with a heavy and sombre look. One of the characteristic elements of the local architecture are the stone frames around the doors and windows. The hipped roofs also give the city its charm. Decoration toppings include figures carved with the most curious motifs, such as children’s heads, pigeons, cats or British Bulldogs.


The heart of the city stands next to the Cathedral and almost all public buildings that surround it have kept their original design. The construction of the Cathedral in 1485 was ordered by King Manuel who gave precise instructions for its location and funding. The construction was completed in 1514.

If we use the Cathedral as a starting point, there are dozens of streets and squares to visit all around, all lined with traditional Portuguese sidewalk. Madeira has created its own version of the sidewalk using small pebbles and cobblestone. It is also widely used in gardens and the exteriors of farms.

The Sacred Art Museum is housed in the former Bishop’s Palace. The museum has a rich collection of Flemish paintings, the evocative splendour of the sugar trade. Many of the paintings were purchased by merchants of the sixteenth century. One of the museum’s façades is facing the Town Hall Square. At the center is a fountain designed by architect Raul Lino in 1942. At one of the tops of the square is the Town Hall, and the block to the north occupied by the St. John the Evangelist School Church which belonged to the Jesuits.


Climbing the Pretas Street we come to the area of São Pedro and Santa Clara. Since the beginning of settlement, it was in this place that the most important families resided. Pursuing the steep walk of Rua Santa Clara the Casa Museu Frederico de Freitas can be found, which depicts the lifestyle and living arrangements of well-off families at the time. In the spaces surrounding the main building we can find a copy of a house, which the locals call “houses of pleasure.”

Continuing uphill, there are the Santa Clara Convent and Santa Clara Church. The convent was founded by the son of João Gonçalves Zarco. Both are buried here. Across the João Carlos Abreu Universe of Memories museum, showcasing sculptures, paintings and a library. Across the street is another museum, the Quinta das Cruzes. This is the house where João Gonçalves Zarco lived. It is surrounded by lush gardens where we can see an archaeological park, lapidary stones and Orquideary.


Back to the Arriaga Avenue we can visit the San Francisco cellars, also known as Old Blandy Wine Lodges. The facilities of the former San Francisco Convent have exceptional conditions to house the Madeira Wine Company old wines. The wine stores hundreds of vintage bottles that are over a hundred years old, ready to sell to the public. Between wineries and aging facilities here we can find stored 800,000 litres of wine.

Across the street is the fortress and St. Lawrence palace, a beautiful example of seventeenth-century military architecture and residence of the island’s governors between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this site is classified as a national monument. Adjacent to the palace we can find the splendid Baltazar Dias Municipal Theatre, built between 1884 and 1887 and inspired by the famous “La Scala” in Milan.


In the city, accommodation is not a problem, boasting many options for all tastes and pocket sizes. Being Madeiran hospitality an art anywhere on the island, the standards of the service provided is very high. One of the most inspired creations of Madeira is Reid’s Palace Hotel. Entering here is like taking a trip back in time. The hotel represents the realization of the dream of William Reid, a Scotsman who came to Madeira with nothing more than five pounds in his pocket, he worked tirelessly to build one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe.

Oscar Niemeyer, the famous Brazilian modernist architect designed a remarkable set in the second half of the 70s. The shape of the Casino of Madeira and the neighbouring Casino Park Hotel are in tandem, to the point they form a sun and a moon when seen from the air.

Along Estrada Monumental a new tourist area with several four and five star hotels has been developed up along the coast. Tourism is one of the pillars of the Madeiran economy and this is reflected in how visitors are welcomed.


The village of Monte is located 600 meters above sea level, which gives you a cooler climate and a green landscape. Here, on 15th August, the largest procession of the island is held, the Senhora do Monte. It is in this church that the former emperor of Austria is buried, Charles I, who was in exile in Madeira. It is also near this church that the famous toboggans wait for their clients. The descent is an adventure not to be missed. Ernest Hemingway described it as “One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.”.