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Port Guide

Funchal port guide: What to see, do & eat in Madeira city

Madeira cruise port calls are made to the splendid city of Madeira – here’s how to make the most of your time on the Portuguese island.

Words by Laura French

From colorful cobbled streets and elegant Baroque architecture to flower-bedecked gardens and quaint taverna patios, Funchal knows how to charm – and sailing into the port here is nothing short of spectacular, with dolphins frequently spotted bounding around the shore as the hills unfurl before you in swathes of lush green.

There’s history in abundance, from the Gothic remnants of the intriguing Old Town to the crumbling walls of the 17th-century fortress, and there’s plenty to do too, from tucking into a Michelin-starred meal to gliding above the city in a cable car.

So where should you start if you’re calling into this picturesque port on your next cruise? We’ve put together an insider guide to the key things to do, see and eat in the city, including the lesser-known spots to put on your radar.

How to get from Funchal cruise port to the city center

Funchal cruise terminal is around a mile from the centre of Funchal, so you can walk into the city in around 15 minutes, or take a shuttle bus. You’ll also find taxis right outside the Madeira cruise port.

What to see and do from Funchal cruise port

Stride out

Wander the Zona Velha

At the heart of Funchal is its atmospheric Old Town – a mishmash of quaint, cobbled alleys where locals gather on taverna patios and bars and restaurants and boutiques spill out from candy-colored buildings.

Unmissable here is the Sé Cathedral – a 15th-century Gothic masterpiece boasting an intricately-carved wooden ceiling and ornate altarpiece – and the Palácio de São Lourenço, a well-preserved fortress built in the 16th century, now home to a collection of art from Portugal and beyond.

It’s also the home of several museums – among them the Madeira Story Center, which explores the history of Madeira – and the Forte de Sao Tigo, an imposing, 17th-century citadel built to protect Funchal from pirates following an attack in 1566.

But the highlight has to be Santa Maria Street, an art-filled alley whose doors have been painted in striking murals as part of a project to revitalize the area; think a mermaid on a swing, colorful portraits and paintings depicting cultural traditions by artists from Madeira and beyond.

Explore the Mercado dos Lavradores

When you’re done pottering, swing by the colorful Lavradores market [below, left] to stock up on local produce – expect banana passionfruit, custard apples and monstera deliciosa (or ‘delicious monster’), an unusual-looking fruit that can only be eaten when ripe. You’ll also find plenty of products made from the island’s chestnuts, alongside freshly caught (if pungent) fish and various other delicacies; come on a Friday morning for the best turn-out.

Taste Madeira wine

Madeira has long been known for its fortified wines, and you aren’t short on places to sample the stuff in the city during a call to Funchal cruise port. Among the best-known spots is Blandy’s Wine Lodge, where guided tours can take you around the museum to learn more about the history of winemaking on Madeira – from its 16th-century origins to the present day – with a tasting included afterward.

Also worth a visit when you cruise Madeira is H.M. Borges, founded in 1877 in a former cereal mill and one of only two companies in the city that produces the wine on-site, and Pereira D’Oliveira, which sells the oldest Madeira wines you can get (the first dates as far back as 1850, when it was founded).

Take the cable car to Monte

For picturesque views over Funchal and the surrounding valley on your Madeira cruise port stop, hop in a cable car from the seafront to reach Monte. This elegant, villa-lined neighborhood is home to the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens [below, center & right]– once the private residence of British Consul Charles Murray, now boasting lavish fountains, whimsical sculptures and exotic plants alongside a tranquil Japanese pond.

From here you can take a second cable car to reach the Madeira Botanical Garden, built in traditional Baroque style and boasting around 2,000 species of flora alongside sweeping views over the valley.

The real highlight, though, is the journey back down; traditional wicker baskets mounted on wooden skids leave from Monte, whisking you down the hills and into Livramento, just outside Funchal, on a ride to remember.

Swing by the beach

After some beach time on Madeira cruises? The island isn’t short on dramatic, black-sand beaches and there are several around Funchal; head to Praia Formosa, 10 minutes outside the center, for a mix of pebbled and sandy shoreline, or swing by São Tiago, located in front of its namesake fortress, for shallow, swimmable waters dotted with colorful fishing boats.

Where to eat and drink in Funchal cruise port

Fuel up

When it comes to food and drink while exploring beyond Funchal cruise terminal, you aren’t short on options, with traditional tascas (small tavernas) rubbing shoulders with Michelin-starred spots and fine-dining haunts.

For authentic Madeiran dishes, great steaks and a lively atmosphere, head to local favorite Zarcos and order a side of milho frito, or maize cubes, then follow it up with passionfruit mousse (Madeira is big on maracuja).

Sentidos is well worth a visit for its fresh seafood – try the parrotfish – while Kampo deserves to be on the list if you’re looking to push the boat out, with small, creative plates spanning the likes of oxtail ravioli, fresh sardines and a truffle-stuffed, doughnut-like Berlin ball, all cooked in an open kitchen.

Just as impressive is Il Vivaldi, serving Mediterranean dishes in what feels like an opulent palace – think gold-framed mirrors and chandelier-esque light fixtures – and Armazem do Sal, dishing up the likes of black scabbard fish with lime risotto and filet mignon in romantic, low-lit wood-and-stone surrounds.

On the drinks front, you won’t go thirsty during your call at Funchal cruise terminal; Bar Number Two is one of the best places to try the island’s famous drink, Poncha – a deliciously sweet concoction made with aguardiente de cana, honey, sugar and orange or lemon juice – while the city’s growing craft beer scene can be sampled at FugaCidade, tucked away on a side street and serving Portuguese wines and cheeses.

For something a little more suave, head to Galáxia Skybar, set on the rooftop of the Savoy Palace hotel and featuring a galaxy-themed bar; think star-covered ceiling, sparkling LED lights and silhouetted mountain views to accompany mixologist-made cocktails. Try the Space Truck, made with Madeira wine, Campari and hazelnut-infused gin, for a toast you’ll long remember.

Published 10.30.23