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My Escapes Portugal Madeira Escape to Lush Green Madeira Funchal's Top Attractions

Funchal's Top Attractions

January 23, 2014
April 29, 2015

Madeira's capital is where you should start out your exploration - the city is big enough to keep exploring for days.
You will still be able to see its biggest attractions in 1-3 days. Depending on how exigent you are and how long you like to stay.
Expect a few old churches, several fortresses, colonial buildings and a beach with brown sand!

I only stayed 4 days on Madeira, but due to fatigue after my Barcelona trip (and also following my hotel issue) and dense rain on my first full day - only 3 days remained for visiting the island.
Sadly, I missed out on visiting the famous Botanical Garden (they closed right in front of me), but I managed to hunt down plenty of other attractions.

Palms in Funchal

Palm trees at the Santa Catarina Park

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Luckily, my hotel at the Largo do Chafariz was extremely well-situated (central location). Near the Sé/Cathedral - so, it was easy to head out even for short urban explorations.

Before I enumerate the top attractions, let me mention that Funchal is full of all sorts of exotic plants.
In some areas you encounter banana plantations, but cactuses, ficus trees and palm trees are abundant as well.

Another thing worth mentioning would be about the most famous personalities linked to Funchal: Portuguese soccer player - Cristiano Ronaldo (born in a suburb) and Charles IV of Hungary or Charles I of Austria (the last King of Hungary/last Emperor of Austria) who lived in exile and died in Funchal.

#1 São João Baptista do Pico Fortress

It's the square dark grey-coloured fortification, found on a hilltop not far from central Funchal.
Locals call it simply "São João Fortress".

This fort was one of my favourite attractions in the entire city. The views from there are astounding. And, thankfully I didn't see any crowds.

If you stare out from up there, you'll get to see a rare view of Funchal, including the port area and the white circular building of the Casino.

São João Baptista do Pico Fortress

The entrance to the São João Baptista do Pico Fortress

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#2 São Tiago Fortress

This one is the beautiful yellow fortification on the coast.

It dates back to the 1600's. Somewhat newer than the São João Fortress, the yellow São Tiago Fort was constructed as a measure of defense against attacks from the ocean.

This building is also home to a museum of contemporary art and, it hosts various festivals, concerts and other cultural events from time to time.

São Tiago Fortress

The São Tiago Fortress in the evening

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#3 São Lourenço Palace-Fortress

Technically, it's a fortress, but its ocean side part is less fortified and it looks more like a palace.

Dates back to the early 1500's. Quite asymmetrical in design. Walk around it and observe its irregular shape with thick wall sections.

It's near the marina, so it's easy to find.

São Lourenço Palace

The São Lourenço Palace is situated in front of the marina

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#4 Molhe Fort (Fortaleza do Ilhéu de Nossa Senhora da Conceição)

It's currently part of the cargo port, but it had been actually raised on a small islet (a cliff), which was later connected by road and walls to the land.
If your eyes are not trained to see, you will not even notice that it is actually an old fortress.

Molhe Fort

A tunnel passes under it...

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#5 The Beatles Yacht

It's a large white yacht, which belonged to The Beatles... I'm not a fan, by the way.

Today it's a restaurant "parked on land".
Around it are small "boats" (not real, just look-alikes), inside which the tables and seats are found. So, when you order your meal, you get to sit in a boat, surrounded by shallow water.

Beatles Yacht, Funchal

Beatles restaurant yacht

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#6 The Funchal Marina

Small, but nice checking out. Lots of (generally smaller) yachts and motor boats were anchored, but no luxury yachts like in Barcelona.

I walked out there to admire the views towards Funchal and to see the ocean's waves crashing against the concrete wave breakers.

Funchal Marina

Lots of average boats...

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#7 The Port

Not the Marina, I'm talking about the the "big one", which includes the cargo port and the place where the big cruise ships operate.
Just watch your step (it's easy to walk off dry land!). The water is very deep, there are strong currents and it's less likely anyone will be able to help you if you fall.

The Funchal Port

Ships docked in the port of Funchal

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#8 The Beach

It's a short strip of dark sandy beach (dark brown sand, which reminded me of coffee) and areas covered with lots of pebbles, rocks of various sizes.

The water is cold and the shoreline is full of rocks, holes and vortexes are frequent.

Swimming here is very dangerous, only daring and experienced locals should try. I did see wind surfers and even swimmers...

Funchal beach

It's a rough beach...

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#9 The Sé (Cathedral)

The full name is actually: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (English) or Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Portugal).

Constructed in 1514, it's one of the most prominent buildings in Funchal. There's also statue of Pope John Paul II near it...

The Sé/Catedral was right near my hotel. It was easy to find my way back home. Another reason why that Hotel do Chafariz is a good place to stay.

The Sé's interior has beautiful Flemish paintings, a ceiling carved from Madeiran cedar wood, which is inlaid with ivory and gold.
It's awkward that so many buildings are situated close to the Sé. It's almost impossible to take a good photo of it.

The Sé of Funchal

I stayed just across the road from the beautiful Sé...

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#10 Colegio Church (Igreja de São João Evangelista)

Jesuit temple built in Mannerist style (which is a pre-Baroque style) in 1647.

You must go inside, the ceiling (and the interior in general) is very beautiful. My time was short, but next time I will go check it out.

#11 Convento da Santa Clara

Santa Clara Convent. It dates back to 1497.

Unfortunately, part of this complex has burned down during gunfire by a German submarine in 1916 (although Portugal was neutral during World War I, it suffered this single attack during the "Great War").

Santa Clara Convent

View of the Santa Clara Convent from the Pico Fortress

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#12 Mercado Dos Lavradores

Today it mainly sells agricultural products, but originally it was intended for selling flowers.

It opens early at 7 o'clock on weekdays and Saturdays. Closing hours are at 20:00 on weekdays and at 14:00 on Saturdays.
The market is closed on Sundays and on holidays.

#13 The Casino

It's near the large port (not the marina, the real port) - circular building, a place where they play various shows, they hold concerts here as well...
Due to its interesting modern design, the building alone constitutes and attractions.

The Funchal Casino

The strange-shaped white Casino building

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#14 The Botanical Garden

One of Funchal's very top attractions - home to over 2,000 plants and lots of beautiful exotic parrots.
You can get there by taxi or by bus. The place is situated on higher ground, about 3 km from the city center.

They close the gates at 18:00 and at 17:30 they stop selling tickets already. They open at 9:00 AM.

I say - give it 2 hours for visiting (recommended by many sources, not just by me), it's very large.

#15 The Tropical Garden

Privately-owned very rich garden full of beautiful flowers, exotic trees like palms, ponds and even has a Japanese garden and a mineral/crystal museum.

It's not as important as the Botanical Garden. Give priority to the latter.

Flowers in the Tropical Garden

You can get lost in it, there's a jungle in there!

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#16 The Jardim Municipal

It's a tiny park-like garden in central Funchal, built in the late 1800's.

The mini park only measures 90 m x 112 m. But it's great for resting and seeing beautiful plants and flowers.

#17 The Santa Catarina Park

There, I encountered thick large palm trees, colourful flowers and even an old train engine.
Scenic place for taking photos and the mountains are clearly visible from this part of the city (almost nothing blocks the great sight).

Santa Catarina Park

Viewing the mountains from the Santa Catarina Park

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#18 Câmara Municipal do Funchal (Town Hall)

Stands near the Colegio Church. Pretty typical old Portuguese architecture...

Although this is not one of the very top places to see in Funchal, I recommend checking it out. You'll find it at the Praça do Município.

#19 The Monte and The Monte Church

The Monte is on higher ground, more than 1,000 m above sea level. I could slightly feel the scarcity of oxygen up there... The views are breathtaking. One can see almost all of Funchal from up there!

In order to get to the Monte, you have to take the telecabin/teleférico. And, there are actually two of these aerial tramways. Prices are different, so are the routes.

The Monte Church is actually the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte is where the last Emperor of Austria, who was also the last King of Hungary, is buried (Charles IV of Hungary/Charles I of Austria).

Monte Church

The Monte Church

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Escape Hunter

About the Author:

Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...


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