For a long time I have been intrigued by the beauty of the Portuguese island Madeira, from its striking rugged coastlines to its vibrant countryside and beautiful ornate botanical gardens. This year my birthday conveniently fell on a Saturday, so I decided to book a three night Funchal city break so I could explore this unique Island.
Before booking this trip I must admit I didn’t know an awful lot about this Island, apart from a few general facts. Firstly that it was a Portuguese Island in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco which was popular with holiday makers looking for year round sunshine, and secondly that half of the runway at the island’s airport is perched on stilts above the Atlantic Ocean.
Funchal City Break
Flight Time from London: The published flight time from London to Funchal is 3 hours and 50 minutes, but the actual flight time was around 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Airline & Airport of Operation: I flew to Funchal on British Airways on their daily service from London Gatwick Airport. British Airways fares to Funchal start at £90 return in Euro Traveller (economy) and £244 in their Club Europe business class cabin.
Transfer Time to City: Funchal Airport is located approximately 10 miles from Funchal city centre and takes 20 minutes by road. I took a taxi to my hotel upon arrival which cost just under €40 and because I hired a car on my second day in Funchal I drove to the airport for my return flight and returned my hire car there.
Where to Stay on a Funchal City Break
For this trip I booked three nights in a standard room at the Enotel Quinta Do Sol on hotels for £70 a night on a bed and breakfast basis. I choose this hotel for two reasons: its reasonable price compared to some of the other hotels in the area and its location, just a 15 minute walk to the city centre, yet still offering fantastic sea views.
Upon arrival at the Enotel Quinta Do Sol my first impressions were that the external appearance of the hotel showed that the building was older than than the modern look it had in the pictures that I had seen on hotels. When I entered the hotel I noticed that the interior of the hotel had been extensively refurbished as I was immediately greeted with a stylish, modern lobby which was consistent throughout all of the communal areas on the ground floor, such as the bars and lounge areas. After taking the lift to my floor, I noticed that the modern interior hadn’t yet made its way to my floor because the hallways looked quite dated and at this point I hoped my room wouldn’t be.
I opened the door to a spacious, light and airy room which had been decorated in the same modern style as the ground floor, but on closer inspection I did notice that a few of the items of furniture in the room looked as if they could have been the original furniture, in particular the wardrobes. The few dated items in the room didn’t really bother me that much, because in general the room had a nice modern feel and it was very comfortable. However, after opening the balcony doors to see the sea view I was met with what could only be described as the world’s thinnest balcony: you could just about walk out there, but you could not fit any furniture such as a chair out there. I looked along the side of the hotel towards other rooms, and the rooms seemed to alternate between larger rooms with thin balconies and smaller rooms with larger balconies with tables and chairs.
Feeling a bit deflated about the balcony situation I called down to reception and asked if any rooms with a larger balcony were available. A room was available but they advised that the rooms were quite a bit smaller and suggested I viewed one before deciding. I took them up on this offer, and after visiting a room a few doors down with a larger balcony I decided to swap. The only minor downside to the smaller room was that the wardrobe space and the entrance hallway were smaller than the original room. This wasn’t a problem for me at all.
My room rate for the night included full breakfast which I couldn’t fault at all. There was plenty of hot and cold choices as well as hot and cold drinks, including sparking wine. Also, if you didn’t fancy anything from the buffet there were a couple of chefs on hand in the kitchen to cook a selection of fresh dishes.
The Enotel Quinta Do Sol wasn’t the best hotel I have stayed at, but for the money that I paid I found it to be good value for money. Clean, comfortable rooms with beautiful sea views, a decent breakfast selection, good facilities and close proximity to the city centre.
Top Attractions for a Funchal City Break
Monte Palace Gardens
There are a couple of botanical gardens around Funchal, with the Monte Palace Gardens being the biggest and regarded as the best ones to visit. The gardens are too far to walk to from the city centre, not to mention the hill climb you would have to endure to get there, so the best way to reach the gardens would be to either drive, or take the Teleférico (cable car) from the heart of the city centre. The cable car takes around 25 minutes and costs €11 for a single ticket or €16 for a return.
The gardens are quite extensive and if you want to explore the entire gardens I would allow at least 3 hours for your visit. The gardens are open daily from 9am until 6pm (apart from Dec 25th) and the entry price is €12.50. The gardens are located on the Bom Sucesso Estate which dates back to 1881, and cover an area of 70,000m2 giving fantastic views over Funchal and out to sea. There is a café, shop and also a museum of natural history within the gardens.
If you are feeling adventurous you can descend the hill from the Monte Palace Gardens in one of Funchal’s traditional baskets. A trip in one of the baskets for two people down the hill will set you back €30 and take around 10 minutes to complete the 2km course, reaching speeds of nearly 50km/h. The baskets date back to the early 1900’s when they were first used as a means of downhill public transport for residents in the Monte area travelling down the hill into Funchal.
Take a Drive to Porto Moniz
Porto Moniz is located on the north-west corner of Madeira, around an hour drive from Funchal. When looking on a map it looks a lot further away than it actually is, but in reality it’s not that far. The drive to Porto Moniz will take you along the southern picturesque coast of the island for about 20 minutes before heading inland to cross to the northern side of the island. You will travel through tunnels and dramatic valleys where the weather seems to change suddenly with extremely low clouds masking the tops of the mountains. When you emerge on the other side of the island the scenery takes another change, this time to rugged coastline with rough seas. You will weave around the coast and through a series of tunnels until you arrive at the small town of Porto Moniz.
Even though Porto Moniz is quite small you will find a few restaurants and shops near the marina, as well as its crown jewels – the cold water pools where you can take a swim if the mood takes you. During my visit the weather turned cold not long after I arrived in Porto Moniz, so on this occasion I decided that I wouldn’t take a swim in the pools, but it does give me a fantastic reason to return.
Visit Cabo Girão
Cabo Girão is a cliff which is located on Madeira’s southern coast, about a 15 minute drive west of Funchal. The cliff reaches a staggering height of 580 meters above sea level and is home to the Cabo Girão Skywalk. The Cabo Girão Skywalk is a transparent glass walkway, similar to the glass walkway at the Grand Canyon, and is the highest of its kind in Europe. The skywalk opened in 2012 and offers around 1800 visitors a day stunning views along Madeira’s southern coast and out into the Atlantic Ocean.
On my second day in Madeira I hired a car so I could explore the more or the island. I asked the receptionist in the hotel for some ideas on where to visit and one of the places she suggested was Cabo Girão for the stunning views. When I set off in the morning the sky was quite overcast, however by the time that I reached Cabo Girão the cloud had fortunately just started to break which allowed just the right amount of sunlight to beam down and enhance the the beauty of the landscape. When I arrived at Cabo Girão there was around 50 or so people visiting the skywalk which was nice because it wasn’t too crowded. I spent about 15 or so minutes taking in the views and talking some photos, before heading to the gift shop and café for a quick drink before heading off to my next port of call. If you are looking for great views of this fantastic island I highly recommend a visit to Cabo Girão during your Funchal city break.
Food Recommendation for a Funchal City Break
For dinner on my birthday I decided that I wanted to go somewhere a bit special so I decided to have a look on trip advisor for a restaurant in Funchal for dinner. I found so many nice looking places with good ratings, but one place that really stood out to me was Taberna Madeira. Taberna Madeira is a tapas style restaurant, but obviously focusing on Portuguese cuisine instead Spanish.
I looked online and it suggested that the restaurant was a 20 minute walk from the hotel, as it was a beautiful evening I headed down on foot stopping off on the way at a wine bar close to the hotel for a glass of Madeira wine as an aperitif. I arrived at Taberna Madeira and unfortunately there had been a mix up and they hadn’t received my booking, so they offered us a seat by the bar and a drink on the house while we waited for them to organise a table for us, they did this extremely quickly despite all the tables looking occupied when we arrived.
For dinner I choose 4 tapas dishes as well as a portion of bread and olives. For my tapas I chose; Mackerel with vinaigrette and rosemary sauce, Clams “Bulhão Pato”, chopped local beef cubes as well as their signature octopus dish. All of the food was absolutely delicious and I would have loved to have ordered more but I felt so full after the all the dishes that I had, I couldn’t possibly have eaten any more.
As well as the fabulous food in Taberna Madeira, some other fantastic gems I found while in Funchal were the Ritz Madeira cafe in the city centre and Taxiko Steakhouse. The Ritz Madeira is located in the city centre by Jardim Municipal do Funchal and is the perfect place for lunch and a drink. Taxiko Steakhouse is located quite close to my hotel and offered a fantastic selection of food including some sublime steaks. I can highly recommend their steak on the stone.
Currency: Portugal’s currency is the Euro and at during my visit the exchange rate was around 1.1 EUR to GBP.
Weather: I visited Funchal in late January and the weather was in the late teens and was a mix of being cloudy at times to beautifully sunny at other times.
Best Time To Go: Funchal is a destination that can be enjoyed year round but be aware that during the winter months Madeira can be quite wet, fortunately during my trip I was quite lucky.
Recommended Duration: I visited Funchal for three nights which is probably the minimum time you would want to visit. Most visitors tend to stay for 1-2 weeks, which would be a nice amount of time to explore the island and also indulge in some relaxation time.
Conclusion: I really enjoyed my Funchal city break, there was a very warm, welcoming atmosphere everywhere I visited on the island, overall it seemed a very friendly place. I would definitely return to Funchal again, perhaps next time for longer so I could spend a few days relaxing as well as exploring more of the island.