Basic Funchal

By | Category: Travel destinations

The Portuguese island of Madeira sits in the Atlantic Ocean about a three-and-a-half four hour flight from the UK. Not quite as far away as the Canary Islands it has the advantage if being slightly less hot and less busy.

This is east of Funchal and shows how hilly Madeira is

This is the island on which Cristiano Ronaldo was born and his name crops up everywhere. Even the airport is named after him and he has his own museum called CR7.

The capital is Funchal which is about fifteen kilometres away from the airport. Unless you want a beach destination, Funchal is an ideal place to holiday in Madeira for the first time because that is where there is where any number of attractions can be found, it has the best public bus network to see the rest of the island and it is from here where you can get a ferry to the only other inhabited island (Porto Santo) in the archipelago that we collectively called Madeira.

Unless you arrive by cruise ship (the terminal is about a two kilometre walk from the main part of the city) then there is a number of options from getting into Funchal. The cheapest is the airport bus which costs five euros each way or eight for a round trip. There are ticket machines and the buses go frequently to liaise with the arrival and departure of flights. The time taken depends where you get off. There are eighteen stops and nearly everyone is pretty close to your hotel. Check the map showing your hotel with the one that shows the rote and if your hotel is not listed by bus stop (as is the case with some of the newer hotels) at https://www.sam.pt/informacoes-aerobus.html then you should be able to easily calculate which is closest. 

some shops give discounts to visiting cruise ship passengers

Secondly you can catch one of the shuttles which vary in price depending on which company you use.  Booking in advance and on the net can get you a price as low as about thirteen euros per person each way but it can be as high as twenty. Discounts are given for paying online before you arrive meaning that you can pay in sterling and save your cash for those souvenirs and snacks that you will undoubtedly buy. It will take between about thirty minutes and just under the hour for you to get to your accommodation depending on where your drop off point is.

Finally, there are taxis, widely available and widely used. They will cost up to forty euros which if there are more than two of you, can be the better option particularly as the journey will probably be a bit shorter and it will take you straight to your hotel.

Madeira attracts walkers; they bring stout shoes. Even if you aren’t walking bring good and comfortable walking shoes because many of the streets and pavements are pebbled. It can be fine when the pebbles are flat but some areas have the pebbles side up which can make them painful after a while to walk on. It also means that if you have a wheelchair the terrain can give you a lumpy ride. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing that many wheelchair users perhaps because of the obvious problems.

pebbled lanes can be tough on feet if not wearing stout shoes

Usually the pavements and pedestrian areas are made from a mosaic of black and white stones laid out almost as track lines. It goes without saying that these are easier to walk on than the pebbles!

Pavements on some streets can be narrow and road vehicles, particularly buses, use most of the lanes so don’t step into the road without thoroughly checking a bus isn’t behind you. The electric ones are noiseless! Try not to walk right at the edge of the pavement as you might get flicked by a wing mirror as I saw happen.

The whole island is hilly and that applies to Funchal. Walking up from and down to the coastline to hotels and shops requires you to walk up hills.

The predominantly yellow single-decker buses make up the public transport in Funchal and close-by villages. They are frequent, cheap and you can buy tickets on board.  Because of the one-way roads and a few pedestrianised roads in the centre buses may not go to exactly where you want. A daily ticket allowing you unlimited travel costs €13.  Double decker buses and coaches tend to be tour buses. 

As an alternative consider the two tour bus groups which are red and yellow double decker services. Designed to give you a tour of the city and some outlying places like the little fishing village of Camara de Lobos and the hill village of Monte, (here you can be pushed in the famous sledges down the road,) a 24 hour pass will cost between €15-€18 depending on which routes you want but you could use them like a regular bus service if you want to see particular spots on their routes. If you are in Funchal on a Sunday and buy a 24 hour ticket then it also applies to the following Monday, giving you, in effect, a two day pass for the price of one and making them cheaper than the public bus service.

Cork used for any number of souvenirs are everywhere

Many people just walk because the city isn’t that large and there are any number of lanes that buses and cars cannot get down such as Rua de Santa Maria, the oldest road in Funchal. Some lanes would not fit a group of three walking side-by-side!

Many visitors will visit the shops so be aware that some stores still close for lunch and a siesta re-opening in the middle of the afternoon. Obviously souvenir shops, cafes and ice-cream outlets stay open in the hope of relieving you of as much cash as they are able. The supermarkets also stay open.

Fifty years ago the main souvenir to buy was embroidery and every street had a seller. Today these seem to have largely disappeared from Funchal at least. Cork products are widely available from shoes to bags and hats to purses. But cork trees are not indigenous and all cork is imported from mainland Portugal where it grows in abundance.

One other souvenir is, of course, the wine known as Madeira although there are varieties of this including the very sweet Malmsy. You get this in the supermarkets although it will cost more than other Portuguese wines (available from under about €1.30-€7 but most are in the three and four euro range.)

One tip. The Universal  Store shop in Rua João de Deus looks like an ordinary souvenir shop. But before entering go left, through a wooden door and down the steps and there is an Aladdin’s cave of Portuguese wines. I even found a bottle of 1913 Madeira wine there. The owner will let you taste some depending on your interest. I was given a 1961 Malmsy to sample. Very mellow and smooth is probably not a wine-writers description but it certainly describes how it tasted. And no, the owner didn’t know I was researching a story; this is his normal practice.

in the Universal Store. There must be thousands of bottles here. the odest i saw was a bottle of 1913 Madeira

If you opt for almost any tour, chances are it will include a church or chapel. There is no special code of dress for entry but there are often services each day so be forewarned that at times you may not be able to move around within the church. Some are only open on Sundays. 

On some tours, don’t be surprised if a photographer appears and tries to sell you the image as you leave, the usual price €5 but you are under no obligation and they certainly won’t hassle you to buy them as can occur in some countries.

For an island that receives as many British tourists as it does, many Madeirans have a grasp of English particularly restaurants, cafes, tourist spots and hotels.  Where there is heritage information, the information is in- and only in – Portuguese and English.

Tipping is unusual apart from by tourists who don’t realise. The exception seems to be tour guides who should be given a few euros afterwards. 

For-armed, go forth and visit Funchal!

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