While Madeira and its capital may be Portuguese – at less than 340mi (550km) from both Morocco and the Canary Islands – Funchal has a climate ideal for growing orchids, as well as its own distinctive culture.
With entry to many of its museums and gardens costing €3 to €5 (£2.50 to £4.30), there’s plenty to do in Funchal on a budget. The gardens are especially unusual where you can spend days wandering by the foliage, in orchid displays and along rows of statues and sculptures. Funchal is a coastal city – rocky and dramatic in places – so you’ll need to be a fan of hills to get the most out of it. But with the ocean as your backdrop, Funchal is a quirkier city-by-the-sea than most and the views really make the hills worth climbing.
Quinta da Boa Vista
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Over 20 years in the making and with more than 500 varieties of orchid on show, Quinta da Boa Vista is something of a life’s work for the owners of the estate. You’re not likely to see this many orchids in one place again anytime soon. It’s a hike uphill to get here – but worth the effort for the spectacular views over Funchal. The owners are on hand to answer questions and they offer tea and cake once you’ve viewed the orchids.
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As Madeira is a volcanic rocky island, you’ve got to expect a fair number of rocks on the coastline. This beach is the biggest – and most popular – with areas boasting soft sand and others with lots of rocks. There’s plenty of restaurants overlooking the sea if you want to sit comfortably and listen to the waves crash against the boulders – or you can join a yoga class on the sand.
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Don’t be fooled by the name: the palace here remains closed, but the gardens and displays are the real attraction anyway. Monte Palace is like a weird fantasy land – there are oriental gardens, lakes with carp swimming in them and displays of African art. Spend hours here wandering around the pagodas before visiting the cafe at the top of the hill as the perfect way to round off your visit.
Funchal Cable Car
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The cable car travels from Monte up to the Botanical Gardens and is the easiest – and most scenic – way to get up there. The cable cars are clean and well kept and the views are incredible: see right over Funchal, the bay and out to sea. It’s perfect if you’re visiting the Botanical Gardens as it takes you directly to it and then back down again – but there are also some good walks you can do from the top if you prefer.
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This is a pretty unusual museum, dedicated to the trophies of Christiano Ronaldo, who was born on Madeira and brought up here. The island is rightly proud of its most famous son and if you like football, you’ll love this museum. And if you don’t like football, how often are you going to get to see a whole museum dedicated to the trophies of one footballer? The displays are missing key information about the man, but the trophies are impressive. At just €5 (£4.30), it’s worth a visit.
Madeira Botanical Garden
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High up on a hill – at the top of the cable car ride – are Madeira’s Botanical Gardens. The views alone are spectacular and if it’s plants and flowers you’ve come to see, you won’t be disappointed. The Bom Sucesso Estate – where the gardens are located – dates back to 1881 and was originally built as a private park. Now well-maintained gardens open to the public, you can spend a couple of hours here, including a look inside the on-site natural history museum.
Museu Quinta das Cruzes
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This grand manor house estate has been a museum since 1953, after serving as the home of the first appointed captain of the island. The estate features gardens and an orchid display, but it’s inside where the real treasures await. In this former manor house, you can wander the vast rooms and view works of art, antique furniture and ornate jewellery. And if you’re a fan of Madeira’s free-roaming cats, there are plenty here just waiting to pose for your photos.
Mercado dos Lavradores
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This colourful and lively open-air food market is fun for a wander around, but be aware that this is one for the tourists. There are two levels to this farmer’s market: on the ground floor, fish and meat are for sale and upstairs, it’s fruit and vegetables. The market vendors also sell flowers and other foods. While it’s visually appealing and great for taking photos, some of the prices are a little high so you’ll need to get ready to haggle.