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Madeira: Exploring Funchal Sights

With this post I will show you what the city of Funchal, Madeira is like. We will walk around this beautiful colonial city and see all main Funchal sights. 

Funchal, Madeira has a fantastic setting, facing the Atlantic Ocean and backed by mountains. The climate is mild and it’s lush and green all year round.

The city’s historic centre is just like it was taken from a fairytale: all buildings are black and white and the streets between them are made of pebbles from the sea.

I will also show you the Funchal hotel that has the best pool area, and after dark we will take part in one of the oldest Madeira traditions: Cantar os Reis, Singing of the Kings.

Funchal mountain view

Madeira flowers

Funchal, Madeira, the city of flowers

Funchal, Madeira

Above you can see Funchal, Madeira from the nearby Pico dos Barcelos lookout. Funchal as a whole looks just like a huge amphitheatre with protecting slopes to the north, east and west.

As you can tell from the picture, Funchal is not just a little town, it has 268.000 inhabitants and is the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Funchal, Madeira: colourful berries

Madeira’s vegetation and strong colours

We spent an after-Christmas week in Madeira, half of the time exploring Funchal sights and Funchal surroundings and the rest in the northern and western parts of the island.

What is this hundreds of years old city like, founded in 1425, and what can you do in Funchal?

We left our car at the hotel and spent a day walking around the colonial flower city. Below we have the map of Funchal, Madeira and on the map I have marked where we walked.

Walking Map of Funchal

 

Funchal walking itinerary on the map

A good place to start exploring Funchal sights is the Old Town and its yellow fort located in the eastern part of the city. We started in the east and walked through Funchal Old Town to the Farmers’ Market and along the harbour promenade to our hotel pool where we spent the sunny hours of the afternoon. Then came the clouds and we returned to the historic core of Funchal where most sights are.

So we began in the Old Town and Forte de Sao Tiago:

Funchal Old Town (Zona Velha)

Forte de Sao Tiago

Forte de San Tiago gate, Funchal

Forte de Sao Tiago, Funchal fort

This yellow seafront fort, Forte de Sao Tiago was recently restored so it looks newer than it really is. Forte de Sao Tiago was built in 1614 since in those days forts were needed to defend cities against attacks from the sea.

Today that kind of defense is no longer needed and the Forte serves as a museum of contemporary art.

Forte de Sao Tiago Funchal

Funchal museum of contemporary art

The fort is in the oldest area of Funchal where the poorest people of Madeira used to live. You can still tell that it is a run down area, the houses are aged and it’s not super clean like everywhere else in the city. But the area is under transformation and we wanted to see that.

The main street of the Zona Velha of Funchal is the narrow Rua de Santa Maria.

 

Rua de Santa Maria Painted Doors

Rua de Santa Maria artwork

A painted door in Rua de Santa Maria, Funchal

Rua de Santa Maria has become famous for its aged houses and painted house doors. Some years ago there was a public art project in which many artists joined, the aim was to prettify the street and get more tourists to the area. And it helped, Madeira visitors found Rua de Santa Maria and its doors.

You can see some examples of Funchal Old Town doors here. And there are 200 more of them, decorating both sides of the street and most other streets next to it. Needless to say, each door is individual.

 

Funchal old town doors, Rua de Santa Maria

All town houses, too, are individual. What about the house wall below? Like it or not?

Zona Velha is an area of strong contrasts, there is the poverty you can see and feel, the painted doors – and then the wide selection of seafood restaurants and pavement cafés where local fado is played at nights.

Old house, Rua de Santa Maria Funchal

Painted house wall in Funchal old town

So Zona Velha is not only about street art, above all it is a popular eating zone in Funchal. The narrow lanes hide long rows of restaurants that serve fresh Atlantic Ocean seafood. All this makes both locals and tourists flock in the old town in evenings.

Funchal Old Town Restaurants

Seafood, Rua de Santa Maria Funchal

Funchal old town seafood plate

At lunch time it’s much less crowded and it’s easier to find a seat at any Rua de Santa Maria eatery. Funchal old town is a very interesting area and maybe something different from what you expect to see when you travel.

Rua de Santa Maria restaurant street

Funchal old town pebble street and eatery

Some more street views before we will leave the Zona Velha:

Rua de Santa Maria Funchal

Rua de Santa Maria Funchal

Old town restaurants in Funchal, Madeira

As you can tell from my photos this specific morning was a bit cloudy and we now wanted to get indoors. For that purpose there’s no better place than the Farmers’ Market, Mercado dos Lavradores.

 

More Funchal Sights: Mercado dos Lavradores

Mercado dos Lavradores is the place where farmers from all over the island still come to get their products sold. Not only farming products but also other things like local flowers, baskets and craft are sold on the market.

Mercado dos Lavradores flower sellers

Mercado dos Lavradores flower sellers

These women were sitting outside the mercado entrance, dressed in clothes as colourful as the exotic flowers they were selling. These are very typical strong Madeiran colours.

It is so nice to see that Funchal flower sellers still wear traditional clothes: striped woollen skirts and red waistcoats and cardigans. And black hats.

Madeiran flowers

Madeira flowers, Funchal Farmer’s Market

The Mercado of Funchal

Mercado dos Lavradores

Fruits and vegetables on the Mercado of Funchal

The Farmers’ Market itself is a real meeting place of the locals. They travel here by bus from all over the island to meet their friends and get their weekly fruits and vegetables. And these products, they really look good and smell fresh!

 

The Mercado of Funchal, Madeira

I tried to ask what these fruits are but the seller only told me they are frutos deliciosos, like the label already said. Later I found out what this delicious fruit is. The fruit has a difficult name: split leaf philodendron.

Frutos deliciosos

Frutos deliciosos of Madeira

Look how neatly all different sorts of fruit are piled!

In addition to the common fruits Madeira produces such exotic fruits as pitanga, quince, pawpaw, loquat and of course guava, pomegranate and passion fruit.

Mercado dos Lavradores Funchal

Madeira fruits at Funchal’s farmer market

I found a website that has photos of all exotic Madeira fruits and explains them in a very nice manner. So if you are interested in Madeira fruits it’s worth checking out the Madeira Exotica website.

As we came out from the Mercado we once more stopped and looked at the women with their flowers we noticed that there was a beautiful azulejo tiling on the wall behind. This kind of ceramic tiles are very typical of Funchal, Madeira and all Portugal.

Exploring Funchal sights Mercado flower sellers

Funchal flower sellers and azulejo tiles

And what happened in this moment- the SUN came out! Madeira January weather varies and you never know if today is going to be a sunny day or not.

So when the sun came out we just had to rush to our hotel pool before the next clouds will be gathering. We took the straightest way to our hotel which was through the port of Funchal.

The Port of Funchal

Exploring Funchal sights Funchal harbor

The port of Funchal

Funchal has a big and busy  harbour that has lots of boat traffic and rows of restaurants on the quayside. As the city is a popular cruising destination huge ocean cruisers unload their thousands of passengers here for a day or two. In addition there’s a large marina for those that arrive in the island with their own yachts.

Funchal men playing cards

Funchal men playing cards

Here you can see local men playing cards in a seafront park. We saw all over men playing cards and board games and they all looked so concentrated. But we – we wanted beach life, right now!

Funchal Beach Life

Enjoying the pool, Funchal

Enjoying a heated Funchal hotel pool

So we jumped into the turquoise waters. If you are a sun lover and visit Madeira in winter try to choose a hotel close to where you are spending your days. In that way you can easily interrupt what you are doing and get all those sunny moments.

Sunbathing in Funchal

Enjoying Madeira sunshine

Funchal has a lot of small hotels and guesthouses all around the city but most of them don’t have pools. Since Madeira’s ocean shore is steep and rocky there are hardly any public beaches either, practically there are no beaches at all.  This means Funchal beach life is limited to hotel pools.

So we wanted our hotel to be at walking-distance from the old city centre – and we wanted to have a good pool. Coming from a country that has snow in January you just want some sunshine and beach life on your holiday, even if your main interest is to explore the island.

So we checked in at Royal Savoy Hotel Madeira and got a room with splendid views and a huge balcony where each two of us could have our own peaceful corner.

Funchal hotel balcony

Our Funchal Royal Savoy balcony

We had a glass of wine and a lazy afternoon. Below you can see how rocky the Madeira shoreline is. The Funchal Royal Savoy Hotel is located on a small peninsula next to the harbour and you have the ocean on both sides – even if there’s no access to ocean waters. Sometimes there is, depending on how rough the sea is.

Wine on Funchal hotel balcony

 

Funchal ocean views and Portuguese white wine 

Pools and a Garden

Funchal Royal Savoy’s pool area is the biggest and best of all hotel pools in Madeira. There are many different pools some of which are heated, and there also is an indoor pool.

Royal Savoy Funchal pool and gardens

Royal Savoy Funchal pool and gardens

The pool area was beautifully landscaped which we liked a lot and there were private corners between rocks giving shelter from the wind.

 

Taking it easy in the garden

So we used this beautiful hotel as our base for exploring Funchal sights and we also went to see the surroundings of Funchal which you can read about in my other Madeira posts. One more photo of our Funchal hotel pool:

Royal Savoy Funchal pool area and castle

Royal Savoy Funchal pool area

But – I still have to show this…. The pool area had a small garden with a pond, waterfall – and a small artificial levada!

Royal Savoy Funchal pool area levada

A Madeira levada in a garden

I have to admit that we didn’t have time for any levada walking while in Madeira. We had a car and made road trips to see all parts of the island which we thought would give us more this time.

But in this garden with a tiny levada I was dreaming about Madeira levada walking…

Royal Savoy Funchal garden and levada

Royal Savoy Funchal garden and waterfall

Dreaming about levada walking from Funchal

So the hotel was a good choice, the staff was wonderful and the service as good as it can be. And above all, the breakfast was rich and delicious. Recommend! If you got interested, here’s a link to the Royal Savoy  Funchal website:

Hotel Royal Savoy Madeira

Royal Savoy Funchal fruits for breakfast

Royal Savoy Funchal breakfast

Our Funchal hotel breakfast

Now let’s go on, of course we didn’t travel all the way to Madeira just for a hotel. We were there to see Madeira and its capital, so back we went to the city:

Parque de Santa Catarina

Parque de Santa Catarina

Funchal hills from Parque de Santa Catarina

The landscaped park Parque de Santa Catarina is on a small hill and gives fantastic views of the bay and the harbour and the city beyond it.

 

Christopher Columbus spent years in Madeira

In Parque de Santa Catarina we found a statue of Christopher Columbus. But why is he here?

Yes, Columbus lived in Madeira. He came to Madeira in 1478 to buy sugar and then married the governor’s daughter. They lived together in Porto Santo, a small island north of Madeira but Columbus had his work and office in Funchal.

However after a number of years Columbus wife died and he then moved back to Spain where he got his coming journeys financed.

Avenida Arriaga

Exploring Funchal sights Funchal kindergarten walking

Children walking in the historic centre of Funchal

So we entered the historic city centre of Funchal (which is a different place than the old town).

It was a normal Thursday afternoon. Groups of children were on the way to the playground, people were sitting in pavement cafés and relaxing on park benches, and taxi drivers were waiting for their customers.

Taxis waiting for customers

Yellow taxis of Funchal 

Taxis are needed in Funchal since most hotels are located in a separate hotel zone which is a long walk but a short taxi drive from the city.

So we walked along Funchal’s main avenue, the tree-lined Avenida Arriaga.  Avenida Arriaga has a paved pedestrian area with benches and car traffic in this street is limited. The pedestrian area is the place in Funchal where locals stroll in evenings and spend their leisure time.

Funchal Baroque Buildings

Banco de Portugal

Banco de Portugal Funchal

Banco de Portugal, Funchal

Avenida Arriaga is lined with black and white Baroque buildings like this Bank of Portugal office and the Palacio do Governo Regional next door.

Most of the buildings are centuries old but the Bank of Portugal building was built first in 1940. Yet they built it in the traditional style. In Madeira they really want to keep their old building style and traditional house colours and that makes the city very appealing.

Exploring Funchal sights Funchal street view

Funchal jacaranda trees

This is a side street of Avenida Arriaga, Avenida Zarco. Like many other avenues it is lined with jacaranda trees that make all the city blue and purple in spring. If I’m ever going to return to Madeira I’d love to come in the spring and see Madeira’s jacaranda trees in flower!

Funchal locals in traditional costumes

Local men in Palacio do Governo Regional of Funchal

The Palacio do Governo Regional has a pretty patio and colourful tiling work on the walls. This kind of tiling is very typical of Madeira:

Palacio do Governo Regional tiling

Typical Madeira tiling

But let’s look at the municipal park when it’s all filled with Christmas stuff.

Jardim de Sao Francisco

Madeira Christmas train

Funchal park Christmas decoration

Jardim Sao Francisco Christmas stuff

This is the flower-filled park Jardim Sao Francisco in Funchal historic centre. Could it be Funchal’s official Christmas park? Maybe when the Christmas decoration is so abundant.

The Madeirans have prepared all kinds of Christmas trees, small Christmas huts and a long Christmas train for Funchal children to play in.

Funchal municipal park Christmas tree

Funchl Chritsmas decoration

Funchal Cathedral (Sé) and Nativity Scene

Sé do Funchal

The Cathedral Sé do Funchal

Then there is the Funchal Cathedral (Sé). I couldn’t guess how old this cathedral is: it was built in the 15th century at the time when the first settlers arrived in Madeira and it still looks the same, after all those six centuries.

Nativity scene in Funchal

Avenida Arriaga Christmas scene

Portugal is a Catholic country and the Catholics have beautiful nativity scenes around Christmas.

You can see them everywhere, in every village and on every square. This one in front of Funchal Sé is one of the biggest I have ever seen. Real-sized camels, kings and the holy family.

Nativity scene in Funchal

The holy family in a Funchal street

Funchal Squares and Building Style

Funchal square

A typical Funchal square

As I already mentioned all buildings in the historic centre of Funchal have the same style. Windows and doorways are framed with black stone which makes a strong contrast to the gleaming white walls. In addition there are many wrought-iron balconies and the roofs are red.

Funchal Santa Claus

Santa Claus and his reindeer

Many of these buildings are quintas, elegant mansions that wealthy citizens used to build for themselves. Most quintas were built in fine Baroque style like this palace. It is the Museu de Arte Sacra that contains a huge art collection of religious items.

The Museu de Arte Sacra was built in 1600 by wealthy Madeiran sugar merchants that sold a lot of sugar from the island to the Flemish countries. As sugar was valuable product they earned a lot and brought precious Flemish and religious art from their journeys.

Museu de Arte Sacra, Funhcal, Madeira

Museu de Arte Sacra, Funhcal, Madeira

This is the patio of Camara Municipal, Funchal town hall. The Camara Municipal is located on the biggest square of Funchal, Praca do Municipio.

Funchal townhall inner courtyard

Inner court of Camara Municipal of Funchal

The square, the patio and all streets in central Funchal are paved with carefully selected sea pebbles which all are exactly the same size.

Grey, black and white stones were laid in mosaic patterns. Incredible, beautiful and so practical! Stone pavements will last forever.

Funchal Christmas decoration

Funchal pebble pavement

So when you walk in Funchal, Madeiral, look at the pavements, they are a work of art!

Avenida Arriaga Christmas MarketFunchal Christmas market

Funchal Christmas market

But we went back to Avenida Arriaga to see the local Christmas market where traditional habits and country life were shown and they also showed how to bake traditional bread.

Local traditions, Madeira

Madeira traditions, baking

Traditional Madeira habits

And of course, again there was a nativity scene. A really big one. Do they build all this just for Christmas or is it here all year round?

More Madeira Nativity Scenes

Nativity scene, Funchal

Nativity, Funchal

Madeira scenes with the three kings

All nativity scenes have the three kings. The Three Kings Day was to be on the next day and we were wondering if we would see any kings tonight.

The three Kings, Funchal

The three kings, Funchal

We now headed to the municipal park again since it was getting dark and all Christmas decoration had now evening lights.

 

Jardim de Sao Francisco Christmas Lights

Funchal Christmas church in park

Jardim de Sao Francisco Christmas, Funchal

We walked around in the park staring at the beautiful lights and noticed that for some reason more and more people were gathering in the park.

Why did they all come here? Yes, they all came here to sing for the three kings.

 

More Funchal Christmas lights

 

Cantar os Reis

Preparing the Madeira Cantar os Reis

Cantar os Reis, Funchal

There was a large scene and crowds of people, most of them Madeirans, sitting in a circle around it. For some reason long rows of pieces of cake were being laid on the table.

It turned out that it was the Kings’ cake that each of us got a piece of, together with a little glass of wine. But before the cake there was going to be a lot of singing.

Funchal Madeira Cantar os Reis

Singing performances of Cantar os Reis

Cantar os Reis is a Madeira tradition, one of the oldest and most popular traditions of the island. What is is about?

On the evening of January 5 Madeirans in all villages throughout the island go door to door and sing traditional songs that only belong to this specific occasion. This happens in all Portugal but most of all in Madeira and Cantar os Reis means the end of Christmas.

 

The three kings Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar

These are the three kings Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar and of course they are present in their own party.

Cantar os Reis January 5, Madeira

Celebrating Cantar os Reis in Funchal

Funchal Madeira Cantar os Reis

The main concert of Cantar os Reis, Madeira

Cantar os Reis is a big thing in all Madeira and we happened to find its biggest occasion. Groups from each village come to Funchal and sing their carols and at the end they all sing together.

We were so lucky to be able to participate in Cantar os Reis. But Cantar os Reis and the Christmas season is only one of the many festivals Madeira offers round the year.

Madeira Festivals

In the spring the Madeirans have the carnival and the flower festival and in the autumn comes the wine festival and there is much more, look at the photo. If any of these festivals happens to take place at the time you’re visiting, join it and you will get to know local people and learn about local life in Madeira.

Madeira festivals 2017

List of Madeira festivals

But for us, no more festivals tonight. We had a super late dinner and walked back to our hotel – and enjoyed the magic evening lights of Funchal. In winter they have this kind of lights everywhere:

Sé Funchal evening lights

Funchal Sé Christmas lights

Look at these lights outside the Cathedral Sé, in the trees of the main avenues and in our Funchal hotel!

Funchal evening lights

Royal Savoy Funchal evening lights

Royal Savoy Funchal Christmas lights

Evening lights of Funchal, Madeira

Now, good night from Funchal, the capital of the green flower island of Madeira!

More on Madeira Travel

If you are planning a trip to Madeira check out my other posts on the island:

For more information on Madeira you can also check out the official website of Madeira Tourism:

 

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