Flora, Fauna & Funky Rides: a Funchal (Madeira) Travel Guide

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk

Along the southern coast of Madeira lies Funchal (pronounced “foon-sholl”), the island’s capital city. Located on the southern coast of the island, Funchal offers a wonderful combination of walking streets, elegant gardens, markets, cafés and restaurants.

As for accommodation, Funchal has much something for everyone, ranging from apartment rentals to 5-star resorts. Many of the hotels and resorts are family-friendly. Most have swimming pools and terraces that are perfect for laid-back relaxation.

We explored Madeira for 4 days & 4 nights, and most of our time was spent in and around Funchal. You can easily get lost here for several days or even a week. But if your time on the island is limited, you can see the main highlights of Funchal in one day. We’ll show you how to make it happen.

We should also mention: Funchal features some pretty unique and incredible modes of transportation. We’ll show you those, too…

♪♩♪ Let us take you on a funky riiiiiiide…all around Funchal ~♩♪♩

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Five fun-filled Funchal activities

1. Take a cable car up to Monte

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk
VIew from the Funchal-Monte Teleférico (Cable Car).

Funchal is made up of 10 civil parishes (districts). At an elevation of 3400 feet (just over 1 km), the parish of Monte offers the best panoramic views of Funchal.

The 2.5 mile walk from Funchal’s harbor (Porto de Funchal) up to Monte would take over an hour, but the faster and more photo-friendly way to get to the top is by riding the Funchal-Monte Teleférico (Cable Car). A one-way trip takes around 15 minutes and the views on the way up are spectacular.

Practical info:

  • Open: every day of the year, except Christmas
  • Hours: 9:00am – 5:45pm
  • Tickets: available at both terminals: Parque Almirante Reis in downtown Funchal (at the bottom) and Monte Station (at the top). Check online for prices and answers to other frequently asked questions.

travelhelix tip: the last cable car up leaves 20 minutes before closing time. We tried to buy a ticket at 5:30pm–15 minutes before closing time–but were told we just missed the last car of the day!

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2. Explore the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

After you’ve taken your fill of pictures at the top, explore the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, right next to the cable car terminal. The inside of the palace isn’t accessible to the public, but the surrounding 17-acre (70k square meter) area has a lot of cool stuff to check out.

Inside the garden, peacocks and chickens roam freely. Around the central lake, Tasmanian black swans & Scandinavian white swans swim in harmony. Koi ponds, pagodas, Buddhist sculptures and bamboo decorate two Oriental gardens, lit up with lanterns by night.

The 3-floor Monte Palace Museum is also inside the garden. The bottom floor features a collection of minerals and gems from Africa & the Americas. The 2nd and 3rd floors feature an equally-impressive collection of stone sculptures from 1960’s-era Zimbabwe.

Practical info:

  • Open: every day of the year, except for Christmas
  • Garden visiting hours: 9:30am – 6:00pm
  • Museum visiting hours: 10:00am – 4:30pm
  • Tickets: check online for ticket prices & guided tours

transportation tip: the number 20 & 21 buses from central Funchal will also take you up to The Monte Palace Tropical Gardens.

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3. Get pushed downhill in an old-school Funchal street toboggan

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk
Two Carreiros, and their carro do cesto. Monte, Funchal, Madeira.

Our experience in Monte was defined not by the cable car up, but by the trip back down. This mountaintop community is home to one of the most unique and exhilarating forms of transportation you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Let’s take it back…nearly 500 years

Monte was originally established in 1565 as a summer refuge for wealthy families. For nearly 300 years, when the aristocrats of Monte needed to make the long, steep trip down to central Funchal, they did what everyone else did: they walked. Around 1850, they said to themselves “there’s gotta be a better way…”

As is the case with many of the world’s greatest inventions, Monte’s carros do cesto were born of a desire to do things better…stronger…FASTER.

carro do cesto → “basket car” (but most people just call them “street toboggans”)

Over 160 years later, these toboggans are still flying downhill through the streets of Monte, although the wealthy aristocrats have been replaced by fun-loving tourists.

How they work:

The toboggan is essentially a wicker basket that holds up to 4 passengers. Greased wooden runners function like the blades of an Olympic bobsled.

Two drivers (called Carreiros) dressed in white clothes and straw hats, push the toboggans down the mountain & steer them around sharp corners.

Going too fast? Sharp turn approaching? No problem! The Carreiros simply “hit the brakes” by pressing their rubber-soled boots into the concrete street.

For us, “seeing it to believe it” was not enough. We had to experience one of these toboggans firsthand. The price (30-40€ depending on how many passengers) was well worth it.

Madeira: revolutionizing “high-speed downhill public transportation”…since 1850.

transportation tip: the ride lasts for 1.2 miles (2 km) and ends in the suburb of Livramento, roughly halfway down the mountain. From there, you can walk the rest of the way down to central Funchal, or catch a bus or taxi. If you go for a taxi, be prepared for a non-negotiable, flat fee (we were quoted 20€).

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk
The smiles say it all.

Snack time?

After an exhilarating toboggan ride through the streets, it’s time for a snack & a cold beverage. Back down in central Funchal, BeerHouse Madeira is a great option for a cold one. Or, try Sete Mares for a refreshing poncha and some bolo do caco (traditional Madeiran garlic bread).

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4. Peruse the Presidential Palace

As an Autonomous Region of Portugal, Madeira has its own government and its own President. La Quinta Vigia, located in the city center of Funchal, is the Presidential Palace.

Walking through Santa Catarina Park, we stumbled upon this residence. We soon found ourselves wandering the gardens, appreciating its many-feathered residents.

Practical info:

  • Hours: Monday – Friday 9:00am – 12:30pm & 2:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Closed: Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays

travelhelix tip: info online indicates that the property is “open to the public during working hours.” As we walked through the gate, a guard came out of his booth and told us there was an entry fee of 1€ per person, which we paid him directly.

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5. Ride in style to a seaside dinner

If you’re looking for a great combination of flavor & ambience, Restaurante Do Forte will not disappoint. Apart from the great food, the restaurant is also known for its “pick-up packages” which include round-trip transportation in your choice of a 1932 Austin 12, a 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II or…a tuk-tuk!

For our anniversary, D surprised A with one of these packages. Hilarity ensued, and lasting memories were made.

First, let’s rewind to the previous night:

reflections from D: about last night: the two of us are strolling just before sunset, capturing some incredible pastel photos of the surrounding Atlantic, and discussing dinner options.

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk

reflections from D (continued): Adam notices a huge yellow fortress at the end of the promenade and says, “let’s check it out!” In classic D-style, I respond “yeah, let’s do it!” Not realizing–of course–that this fortress is the restaurant I’ve made us a “surprise” reservation at for TOMORROW night–our anniversary. We made it all the way to the entryway courtyard, at which point I dropped an awkward “wait–let’s get outta here. This may or may not be the place I’m taking you tomorrow night. Bye.” NICE ONE, D. Nice one.

Our anniversary evening begins with a tuk-tuk pick-up from our hotel.

reflections from A: she went tuk-tuk over Rolls Royce? This girl KNOWS ME!!!

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk

Our driver, David, takes us up to the Miradouro Vila Guida, where we enjoy a glass of sparkling wine along with stunning views over the harbor.

We arrive at the restaurant just before sunset and enjoy a fantastic 3-course dinner, plus wine pairings.

reflections from D: well let’s see, I somehow managed to knock SIX glasses off the table, but only TWO of them broke…that’s actually a pretty GOOD outcome, right?! Check, please.

After dinner, David drives us home in the 1932 Austin 12. The 12-minute drive becomes an animated, hilarious adventure through the streets of Funchal.

Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk
Our two modes of transportation for the evening.
Funchal, Monte, Madeira, Portugal, cable car, teleferico, street toboggan, carro de cesto, Carreiros, Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Botanical Gardens, tuk-tuk
Thank you David for getting us around Funchal this evening, safely and in style!

This quick video pretty much sums up our evening, cruising around Madeira in…well…a couple of funky rides.

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One more thing, which we missed

6. Alternate route up to Monte: Botanical Garden cable car

Not to be confused with the Funchal-Monte Cable Car that we took from lower Funchal up to Monte, this alternate route offers a similar cable car experience, plus an extra mountaintop garden for you to enjoy: Madeira’s famous Botanical Gardens.

Check out the Parrot Park which is home to over 300 exotic birds including Dwarf Parrots and Macaws.

Practical info:

  • Open: every day of the year, except for Christmas
  • Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm (cutoff for entry is 5:30pm)
  • Tickets: discounted combination packages include cable car transport + entry into the Botanical Gardens

getting from Funchal to the Botanical Gardens: depending on where you’re coming from in Funchal, the walk up to the Botanical Gardens will take 30-60 minutes. From the Parque Almirante Reis terminal (for example), it’s a steep, 1.2 mile walk. You can also drive or take the #29, 30 or 31 bus.

When you’re done enjoying the Botanical Gardens, ride the Botanical Garden Teleférico (Cable Car) up to Monte Station. This takes around 9 minutes, and the views are supposed to be as beautiful & dramatic as the Funchal-Monte route.

How to get back down the mountain? Street toboggan, of course.

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Exhausted? Us too…

Still hungry? There are plenty of incredible eating and drinking options around Madeira.

Have fun. Travel safely. And enjoy this incredible island.

Cheers!

-DnA

PS–let us know if you take any funky rides of your own, while you’re out here. We’d love to hear about them!

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