Funchal, the capital of Madeira Island, is set along the warm southern coast between the large fishing villages of Câmara de Lobos and Santa Cruz. Its name derives from the Portuguese word for fennel (funcho) found all across the region at the time of its discovery and which can still be found today. This fascinating city, certainly the liveliest and most vibrant region of the Madeiran archipelago, has everything you'd need to spend an entire holiday but is also a great start off point before heading out on an exhilarating tour of the island. Despite its many attractions which sometimes flood the streets with tourists, Funchal's local life is practically uninterrupted. Tourism has simply become part of the way of life here.
Funchal's thriving city centre is where you'll find the greatest number of tourists, anytime of the year, wandering along its hundreds of cobbled alleys and streets decorated with the typical Portuguese pavement design. The dozens of stylish cafés with outside seating are what provide visitors with an opportunity to relax, watch the crowds pass by and drink a typical Portuguese coffee whilst listening to the almost constant melodic sounds that travel through the air originating from the guitars and other instruments of street performers. When all relaxing is over, head towards Funchal's marina and get your ticket on board one of Funchal's exciting boat tours that will take you out to sea, offer you unique views of the capital and even the chance to swim with dolphins and catch whales on camera!
The "Old Town" (Zona Velha), one of the most visited parts of the capital, day and night, makes up Funchal's historical city centre where you'll find interesting museums; forts, Quintas; churches; the famous fresh produce market called O Mercado dos Lavradores (the Worker's Market); lush gardens; a cable car to take you up to the high slopes of Monte city; a huge selection of must-visit restaurants where you can sample the finest of Madeiran gastronomy; plus the not so old "Painting of the Doors" project which has breathed life back into some of the town's most worn out areas.
Dotted with orange rooftops and overlooked by scenic undulating mountainsides, the entire city of Funchal, that faces the Atlantic Ocean like a natural amphitheatre, is best viewed along the bay area known as Avenida do Mar. It is along this avenue also where the island's biggest events and festivals take place starting with its imitation of Brazil's Carnival celebrations; its brightly-coloured Flower Festival parades; the illuminating Atlantic Festival and, finally, the highly anticipated New Year's firework display. The city centre's Avenida Arriaga is also a common host of interesting annual exhibitions showcasing things like regional delicacies, tropical flowers, Madeira Wine, Portuguese literature, embroidery work, and handicrafts. Christmas is also an exciting time to be in the capital when Christmas decorations and hundreds of thousands of lights brighten-up the evenings in this already energetic city.
Just outside the city centre, towards the west, lies the touristic zone called the Lido. Here is where the majority of Funchal's top hotels are situated. This busy area is also popular for its fine-dining restaurants, the Forum Madeira Shopping centre, its long promenades and the Praia Formosa pebbled-beach where you can gaze peacefully at wonderful views towards the Atlantic, Câmara de Lobos or daunting rockfaces and cliffs like that at Cabo Girão.