Funchal Monte cable car at Funchal, Madeira

Funchal Cruise Port: DIY Shore Excursion Guide to this Madeira Gem

Calling all UK cruisers! Setting sail for Madeira? Chances are, your exciting adventure includes a stop in the captivating port of Funchal, Madeira. Funchal isn’t just a popular stop for Canary Island cruises; it’s also a cherished gem for Transatlantic voyages, offering a taste of European charm amidst the vast Atlantic Ocean.

But whether you’re cruising across the Atlantic or island hopping, Funchal promises a delightful day trip. This guide will be your one-stop shop for planning the perfect Funchal adventure, from navigating the cruise port to uncovering the city’s must-see sights and unique experiences. So, ditch the crowded tours and get ready to experience the magic of Funchal, Madeira, all on your own terms!

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Funchal Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž (Straightforward)!

Funchal is an easy-to-navigate cruise port for DIY cruisers! Here’s why it’s easy to do a DIY excursion in Funchal:

  • Prime Location: Forget about long, tedious transfers! A scenic 15-minute walk along the waterfront promenade takes you straight from the cruise port to the heart of the action in Old Town
  • Buses Galore: Funchal’s got a fantastic bus network that’ll whisk you away to most attractions in Funchal and Monte.
  • Cable Car & Toboggan Thrills: Want to mix things up? Take the scenic cable car up to Monte, explore the gardens and church and then whizz back down on a traditional wicker toboggan!

Funchal Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need to Know

  • Funchal Cruise Port Address: Av. Sรก Carneiro, 9000 Funchal, Portugal – see it marked on my Funchal cruise port map below ๐Ÿ‘‡
  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Official Website: Port of Madeira has ship arrival listings, Visit Funchal is the official tourism authority with a handy tourist map (PDF)
  • Recommended Transport App: Use Google Maps for navigating Old Town & for walking directions. Use Horarios do Funchal (local bus authority) for bus maps and timetables but Google Maps will also give you accurate bus routes.
  • eSIM for roaming in Madeira: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when youโ€™re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Funchal Cruise Port Map: ๐Ÿ‘‡ Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version. Use buttons on bottom left to zoom in/out. If the map is not loading, click here to see it directly on Google Maps.

Funchal Cruise Port to Town Centre: Your Options

Funchal Waterfront Promenade with view of cruise port, Madeira
Funchal Waterfront Promenade | Image by Monika Neumann from Pixabay

From Funchal cruise port, it’s best to either walk or catch a shuttle to Funchal town centre (if your cruise line is offering one). There are local bus stops but the closest stop won’t save you much walking!

  • Walking: It’s a leisurely 15-minute walk along the waterfront promenade; Zona Velha (Old Town) starts there.
  • Shuttle: If your cruise line offers a shuttle service, then it will drop you off either at the waterfront promenade (where the public bus stops are) or one of the side streets near there. The motor coaches certainly don’t want to navigate around Old Town due to the narrow streets!
  • Bus: The closest public bus stop is outside the Savoy Hotel – also about 15-minute walk from the cruise port. So if your cruise line is not running a shuttle to the town centre, then you might as well walk to the waterfront as the bus won’t necessarily save you many steps!

Sightseeing using Local Buses in Funchal

Funchal has a great network of buses across the entire island and the routes to popular attractions are surprisingly frequent. Here’s a few tips I learnt from my DIY shore excursion using the local buses:

  • Bus Day Pass is your best bet: A 1-day ticket is โ‚ฌ5 (โ‚ฌ4.50 + โ‚ฌ0.50 for a GIRO card). Buy this at the main bus stop at the waterfront promenade – there’s a staffed ticket booth and a ticket machine – cards accepted. Otherwise, one-way tickets are โ‚ฌ1.95 on the bus, cash only. The nice lady at the ticket booth also gave me a huge bus map and accompanying timetables! I’ve marked the ticket office on my map above ๐Ÿ‘†.
  • Bus to Monte: If the prospect of the Funchal <> Monte cable car queues puts you off, then Bus #20/21/22 will get you to Monte. Use Google Maps to find the next departure. Between the three bus routes, there’s usually a few buses per hour on weekdays. Journey time is about 30 minutes.
  • Bus to Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botรขnico): Not to be confused with the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens! Bus #29/31/31A will take you from the waterfront promenade. There’s a second cable car connecting Monte with the Botanical Gardens. The Funchal <> Monte cable car and the Monte <> Botanical Gardens cable car are separate. Don’t get them confused like me! I thought they were the one and the same and use the same ticket!

Funchal & Monte Must-Sees: A Journey of Flavours, Views & Thrills

1. Stroll Through the Old Town (Zona Velha)

Funchal Old Town square, Madeira
Image by Alfred Koop from Pixabay

Zona Velha, dating back to the 15th century, was once the centre of Funchal’s maritime activity, where sailors and merchants from around the world converged. Here’s a few highlights to spot as you explore the Old Town:

  • Rua Santa Maria: This is the most iconic street in Old Town and it’s great for some Instagram-worthy selfies with doors of local houses transformed into canvases for vibrant murals.
  • Sรฉ Cathedral (aka Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumptions): Built in the early 16th century in the Gothic style, admire the beautiful stained glass windows
  • Mercado dos Lavradores: Lively local market but there’s very few stalls with ready-to-eat goodies. However, this is good if you want to shop for Madeiran handicrafts.
  • Fortaleza de Sรฃo Tiago: Well-preserved 17th century fortress where you can get panoramic views of the harbour (and a snap of you with your cruise ship behind you).

2. Ride the Funchal Cable Car to Monte

Funchal cable car up to Monte, Madeira

This fun cable car ride will take you from the heart of Funchal to the charming mountain village of Monte. While you can also reach Monte by local bus, this 15-minute ride will let you enjoy colourful rooftops, verdant gardens with the sparkling Atlantic Ocean stretching towards the horizon.

In Monte, there’s plenty to see, from the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, the historic Nossa Senhora do Monte Church, and the exhilarating Monte Toboggan Ride.

  • Getting to Cable Car Station:
    • Walk from Cruise Port: Around 30 minutes. From Old Town, it’s about 5-10 minutes.
    • Bus from Cruise Port: Walk to Hotel Savoy bus stop (15 minutes), marked on my map above. Buses route #1, #2, #4 or #9 heading towards town centre (4 stops) and cable car station is a stone’s throw away when you get off the bus. Tickets purchased on bus are โ‚ฌ1.95.
  • Opening Hours: 9am to 6pm daily, with last cable car down at 5:45pm
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ18 return for adults, โ‚ฌ9 for kids aged 7-14, free for kids 6 or under. โ‚ฌ12.50 one way for adults, โ‚ฌ6.50 for kids 7-14.
  • Queues: There’s two queues – one to purchase tickets and one to queue for cable car rides. During busy summer months, get here early to avoid queues! You can always tour the Old Town in the afternoon!
  • Note: If you intend to do the famous Monte Toboggan ride, then you only need to purchase a one-way ticket up.

3. Monte Palace Tropical Garden

Cascading waterfalls in Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, Funchal, Madeira
Image by Phil Wild from Pixabay

Not to be confused with the Botanical Gardens. This expansive botanical paradise, spanning over 70,000 square metres (around 18 acres) has a varied array of exotic flora from around the world. There’s also several ponds, cascading waterfalls and Japanese gardens to walk through. Don’t miss the sculpture collection and the Tile Museum, showcasing Portuguese tiles dating back to the 15th century.

  • Opening Hours: Gardens open daily from 9:30am to 6pm.
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ15 for adults. Kids under 15 enter free with a paid adult. This is in addition to the cable car ticket.
  • Tip: Wear comfortable shoes, as the garden’s paths are hilly and uneven at times.

4. Monte Toboggan Ride

Monte Toboggan Sleds with their drivers
Image by millefinke from Pixabay

The Monte toboggan ride is a traditional mode of transportation, dating back to the 19th century. It involves sliding down the steep streets of Monte in a wicker toboggan sled, controlled by two “carreiros” (drivers).

The toboggans, made of wicker and wood, are steered by the carreiros using rubber-soled boots as brakes. The descent covers about 2km (~1.2 miles), with twists and turns that will leave you exhilarated. Believe it or not, the toboggans were used as a practical mode of transportation between Monte and Funchal, offering a faster alternative to walking or riding a horse-drawn carriage.

If you’re considering the Monte Toboggan ride, note that the ride can be bumpy! During summer months, queues as long as 2 hours for the ride down are not uncommon. So pre-book your Monte Toboggan ride. Cruisers, you’ll be picked up at the Cristiano Ronaldo museum (aka CR7 Museum) at the Funchal waterfront and driven to Monte, so no cable car queues either! Cash rides on the day (2024 prices) are โ‚ฌ27.50 for one person, โ‚ฌ35 for two people (in the same sled) and โ‚ฌ52.50 for three people. If you’re two adults and two kids, the whole family can fit into one sled but only if your kids are not fully grown teenagers!

The toboggan rides will end at Livramento – see it marked on my map. Bus #19 will take you back to the waterfront promenade.

5. Botanical Gardens

If the Monte Toboggan ride does not interest you, then there’s an alternative way down. Catch the Monte <> Botanical Gardens cable car ride. The ride takes about 10 minutes through the Ribeira de Joรฃo Gomes valley. The Botanical Gardens is slightly bigger than the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and has just as exotic plant species on display.

  • Opening Hours: Open 9:30am to 5:30pm, last boarding 10 minutes before closing.
  • Options:
    • Option 1: Return Monte <> Botanical Gardens trip (and head back down with the Monte <> Funchal cable car)
    • Option 2: One-way Monte <> Botanical Gardens trip and head back to Funchal on a bus. Bus #29/31/31A will take you back down to the waterfront promenade.
  • Tickets: Roundtrip โ‚ฌ14 for adults, โ‚ฌ7 for kids. One-way โ‚ฌ9.25 adults โ‚ฌ4.50 kids. Botanical Gardens entry tickets are extra โ‚ฌ6.

Funchal’s Flavours: Must-Try Dishes & Madeira Wine

From fresh seafood delicacies to heart meat dishes, there’s something to tantalise every palate. Of course, no visit to Funchal would be complete without indulging in the island’s most famous export: Madeira wine.

1. Sampling Madeira Wine

Whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or simply curious to try something new, sampling Madeira wine is a must while in Funchal! The wine’s distinct character is the result of a process called “estufagem”, which involves heating the wine to high temperatures and exposing it to oxygen.

This process gives Madeira wine its signature caramel, nutty and dried fruit flavours, as well as its remarkable ability to age for decades or even centuries. Its ability to withstand long sea voyages made it a favourite among sailors and merchants and it was even used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence!

Visit a selection of local wineries with a tasting tour or join a short wine tasting in Old Town to enjoy this unique Madeiran experience.

2. Madeira’s Local Favourites

Here’s what to look out for in menus or join a guided foodie walking tour to try out the following:

  • Espetada: This iconic Madeiran dish features succulent cubes of beef marinated in garlic, bay leaves, and salt, then skewered and grilled over an open flame. It’s the Portuguese version of meat skewers.
  • Bolo do Caco: This warm, round sweet potato yeasted flatbread infused with garlic butter is a staple in Madeiran cuisine.
  • Lapas: These grilled limpets, a type of shellfish, are a local delicacy, often served sizzling in their own shells with a drizzle of garlic butter and lemon juice.
  • Black Scabbardfish with Banana: This unique dish combines the delicate flavor of black scabbardfish, a deep-sea fish found in the waters surrounding Madeira, with the sweetness of locally grown bananas.
  • Pastel de Nata: These creamy custard tarts, dusted with cinnamon, are a beloved Portuguese dessert and a must-try for any sweet tooth. If your cruise is heading to the Portuguese mainland, then have these there instead.

Featured Image by Erik Karits from Pixabay

Whether you explored the historic streets of the Zona Velha, soared above the city on the cable car, or discovered hidden treasures in Monte, I hope this guide helped you make the most of your day in Funchal!

If you found this blog post helpful in planning your DIY shore excursion, I would really appreciate it if you can share my guide with your fellow cruisers in your roll call groups. And as always, I wish you safe travels and unforgettable port days wherever your cruise takes you next!

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