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The New York - Funchal direct flights start this November. This is the perfect motto for us to share our 1-day itinerary for the city of Funchal. This is a route made by us (locals), designed to get you acquainted with Funchal's main destinations. You can use this article as an essential guide as to what to do in Funchal in 24 hours or as a list of places to visit for 2, 3, or more days in Madeira's capital.
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Funchal is the capital and largest city of the Autonomous Region of Madeira. With about 105,000 inhabitants it is the sixth-largest city in Portugal. It is located on the southern slope of Madeira Island about 15 minutes from Madeira International Airport. Its name derives from the vast amount of fennel that grew there when Madeira was discovered in the 15th century.
We can use many adjectives to describe Funchal: it is a vibrant, colourful, historic, romantic, exotic, sweet and artistic city. In the case of Madeira's capital, you have to see it to believe it.
We start our day tour in downtown Funchal at the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer’s Market). Opened in 1940, the Mercado dos Lavradores is an example of Estado Novo architecture (the time of the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal), while also having Modernism and Art Deco characteristics. On the walls of the market, you will find several tile panels depicting regional themes. These are the work of painter João Rosa Rodrigues and produced by Fábrica Battistini (Lisbon), by Maria de Portugal.
Various regional products are sold here throughout the week, such as fruit, fish, plants and a variety of spices and nuts, but it is on Fridays and Saturdays that the Market acquires its maximum exuberance and splendour: from early in the morning the surrounding streets fill up with vans that come to drop off produce from all over the island. It is traditional for the local to "go to the market" on one of these days to stock up on fruit and vegetables, fish and flowers. If you want to do as the locals do, start the day with a black sccabardfish sandwich and a barley coffee in one of the many "tascas" (small coffee shops) next to the market.
As you leave the Mercado dos Lavradores, you can cross over to Fernão de Ornelas Street. This is one of Funchal's most famous streets, named in honour of a former Mayor of Funchal who was the driving force behind the construction of the Farmer’s Market and was responsible for modernising the city between the 1930s and 1940s.
On Fernão de Ornelas Street you will find Bordal - one of the main manufacturers and exporters of Madeira Embroidery. Here you can take a Historical tour of Madeira Embroidery, passing through the various phases of the traditional manufacturing process of this Madeiran ex-libris. Bordal has played a fundamental role in the modernisation and recognition of Madeira embroidery as a luxury product that is now being used by designers and haute-couture brands such as Chanel.
Then, you can continue south (towards the sea) to Avenida do Mar. This is one of Funchal's main road arteries. Avenida do Mar has several points of interest: the Madeira Legislative Assembly building, Praça do Povo (“the people’s square”), Funchal Marina and São Lourenço Palace. The latter is an example of military and Manueline architecture, and it is the current official residence of the Representative of the Portuguese Republic in Madeira.
Going up Avenida Zarco, next to São Lourenço Palace, you will come to the statue of João Gonçalves Zarco (Portuguese explorer who led the expedition that discovered Madeira Island) which marks the intersection with Avenida Arriaga.
Once here, you can’t miss the Funchal Cathedral. This cathedral, classified as a national monument since 1910, is considered one of the architectural jewels of Manueline art at a national level and is one of the few buildings which still survives almost intact from its construction, which began in 1493.
Notice the decorative details of the seats, which depict aspects of Madeiran daily life, and contemplate the magnificent Mudéjar ceilings, which were recently restored. Covering an area of over 1,500 m2, they constitute the largest and most extraordinary piece of Mudéjar art in Portugal and possibly in Europe. Mudéjar art is a style orginating from the Iberian Peninsula between the 12th and 16th centuries, which combines and reinterprets Christian artistic styles with Islamic influences.
Another place not to be missed is Municipal Garden, also known as the Dona Amélia Garden. It has beautiful specimens of Madeiran flora as well as plants from other parts of the world. Opposite, is the Teatro Municipal Baltazar Dias, a beautiful neoclassical style building.
We recommend a visit to the cellars and Madeira wine tasting at Blandy's Wine Lodge, which sits close to the Municipal Garden. The Blandy family is one of the oldest Madeira wine producers, with a tradition dating back to 1811.
We should be getting close to lunchtime by now! It's worth waiting a bit and having your meal in Monte, our next destination. The parish of Monte is located in the highlands of Funchal and the fastest (and most scenic) way to get there is by taking the cable car that leaves from the Almirante Reis Garden near Avenida do Mar.
One of Monte's biggest attractions is the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte. Here lies Charles I of Austria, the last of the Habsburgs to rule the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
After visiting this beautiful church, we recommend you stop by the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. This garden houses an abundant collection of exotic plants from the four corners of the world, various free-roaming animals, large tiled panels and a museum where you can see vast collections of minerals and contemporary African sculpture.
The Carros de Cesto are the main reason why many tourists come to Monte. These basket cars are handcrafted from wicker and wood and are driven by two drivers - "carreiros" - who use the rubber soles of their own shoes to brake and skilfully guide these cars through steep descents. It is a truly unique experience.
After this thrilling experience, a walk along the seaside to Praia Formosa comes in handy. This is the largest public beach in Madeira, composed of several small sandy and pebble beaches. A promenade passes through Praia Formosa that goes from the Lido area (where some of the most famous hotels in Funchal are located) to the city of Câmara de Lobos. Walking along this promenade, you can stop at Doca do Cavacas to enjoy the beautiful sunset and have dinner overlooking the sea.
Funchal at night is an active and warm city. The main nightlife destinations are the Zona Velha (Old Town), with several bars where you can taste the typical Madeiran Poncha, Rua das Fontes, near Avenida do Mar, and Rua do Favilla. For disco lovers, Vespas and Copacabana, at Madeira's Casino are the most popular options.
Funchal is a city with a lot to discover, and with places for all tastes. So, below we present several locations that have been left out of this itinerary but are definitely worth a visit:
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