45 things to do in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Things to do in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Here are 45 of my favourite things to do in Funchal, Madeira, as well as a few things to do in Madeira more widely. I’ve been there enough times now that I feel I can give plenty of tips on how best to spend your time in this beautiful island city.

I’ve tried to avoid anything too obvious like the Monte toboggans. And I’ve only focused on the city of Funchal itself and day trips you can easily do from it without a car rather than looking at the entire island of Madeira… Otherwise, this will turn into 45 million things to do and no one will have the patience to read it. I’ll be impressed if anyone actually reads all 45 things, to be honest…

Please note that I originally published a version of this post a few years ago but I’ve updated and re-written almost all of it this year before re-publishing it, so it’s all current and accurate information for you. I visit Madeira regularly and like to keep on top of what new things to do in Funchal there are, so I’ve added in lots of new stuff and also weeded out things that no longer make the cut. I hope you find it all useful! Let me know in the comments.

Anyway, read on if you want some tips from a self-confessed Funchal/Madeira addict. Enjoy.

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The best bars in Funchal and Madeira: from poncha to craft beer

The best bars in Madeira and Funchal | PACK THE SUITCASES

Here’s my pick of the best bars in Madeira, mainly focusing on the bars in Funchal that I know really well and always recommend. The island is full of places serving the Madeiran national drink poncha but there’s also an emerging craft beer scene (craft beer as in the hoppy hipster kind). And while Madeira isn’t the go-to place for crazy nightlife, there’s still somewhere to drink around every corner.

Poncha is a delicious and rather strong alcoholic drink from Madeira, made with boozy sugar cane rum, honey, sugar, orange/lemon juice and other fruit juices. The traditional lemon one is my favourite because I’m all about that sour life. But if you’re not so sour, you might like the maracuja (passion fruit) or tangerine variants. Legend has it that if you drink three poncha, you’ll be able to speak fluent Portuguese. I can confirm this is very much not true. You’ll barely be able to speak. 

Madeira’s growing craft beer scene should also be on the agenda. I’ve found some brilliant bars serving local hoppy IPAs from Portugal. This type of beer seems to be catching on in a bid to escape the generic Coral lager everywhere (Portugal’s Heineken).

If this all sounds up your street, you’ll like this list of the best bars in Funchal and other places to get your boozing on in Madeira…

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Where to eat in Funchal and Madeira: the best restaurants and cafés

The best restaurants in Funchal and Madeira | PACK THE SUITCASES

If you’re looking for the best restaurants in Funchal and where to eat in Madeira more generally, you’re in for a treat. There is a real foodie scene on the island, with plenty of traditional places but also some cute hipster cafés. Most of the food Madeira serves up is delicious and I’ve sampled so much of it over the years that I feel a) fat and b) ready to recommend my favourites. 

I love Madeira and I love eating so this is my expert guide to combining the two: I’ve listed the best restaurants in Funchal, the best cafés/snack bars/food stalls in Funchal, and the best places I’ve eaten in other towns around the island that you might find handy on day trips too. Obviously, all this food needs washing down with some booze so don’t miss my other post on the best bars in Funchal.

I should also add that although Madeira is an island that produces a lot of its own delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Funchal and Madeira generally are rare. It’s definitely a meat-heavy place. But there are plenty of restaurants in Funchal and beyond that serve meat/fish but also cater to vegetarians and vegans really well. So if like me you eat a mostly plant-based diet, it’s well worth doing a bit of planning ahead to make the most of it.

Anyway, dig out all your clothes with elasticated waistbands. Let’s get onto the eating. 

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10 beautiful day trips from Florence by train and bus

Best day trips from Florence by train and bus | PACK THE SUITCASES

Here are my picks of the best day trips from Florence by train and bus, because I firmly believe in always doing travel – especially in Italy – without a car. In a city as well connected with public transport as Florence, there’s no need to put yourself through the stress of driving in Italy both on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and amid some interesting attitudes towards the Highway Code.

There are so many things do in Florence itself (have a look at my other blogpost on that), from eating/drinking to soaking up history and culture, that you can easily just visit the city and stay there. But Florence is also a perfect base for getting out and about on day trips to see even more in the surrounding areas. Florence is the capital of Tuscany, at the very heart of Italy, which means you can branch out from all angles. Day trips from Florence to the surrounding towns and cities are very doable by regional trains and buses. But the city is also well connected with high-speed trains from its main station, Santa Maria Novella, which means you can go surprisingly far in under two hours.

If you’re planning your Florence trip, I hope this blogpost is useful. Let me know in the comments below which ones you enjoy out of my recommendations for the best day trips from Florence…

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How to do a day trip to Camara de Lobos, Madeira

How to do a day trip to Camara de Lobos, Madeira | PACK THE SUITCASES

Camara de Lobos, Madeira, is a pretty little fishing village set in a peaceful cove just 9km outside the centre of Funchal. With its white-washed buildings with red-tiled roofs and idyllic sea views, it’s the stuff postcards are made of (or should that be Instagram photos now?). It’s so close to the city centre and easily reachable by bus, so it’s a popular day trip from Funchal for visitors to Madeira. 

Camara de Lobos translates literally as ‘chamber of wolves’. Quite a dramatic name for a quaint fishing village. Alas, there are no wolves there. The name comes from the gaggles of sea lions that used to hang out on the rocks in its cove. Madeira’s discoverer, João Gonçalves Zarco, spotted these lads on his second voyage to Madeira in 1420 and mistook them for wolves. Perhaps he was on his way to Specsavers. But the name stuck. Camara de Lobos even has some wolves sea lions on its municipal coat of arms. Keep a look out for that around and about as you explore the town.

Anyway, I thought I’d put together this short guide on visiting Camara de Lobos as I know it pretty well and have a good few tips for you. Hope it’s useful. Let me know if you’ve visited or used any of the tips down in the comments…

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23 things to do in Lucca, Italy: discovering Tuscany’s walled city

Things to do in Lucca, Italy | PACK THE SUITCASES

If you’re planning a trip to this famous walled Tuscan city, here are 23 of the best things to do in Lucca, Italy, which should give you a good flavour of the place. I spent two nights in Lucca as part of a wider Tuscany trip, and this wee selection of sights, eats and activities is more than enough to pack into a short stay.

Lucca is known as the ‘city of a hundred churches’. I’m not sure whether that’s factually accurate, but there are a lot of them. You’ll enjoy visiting if that’s your thing. But if you’re doing a longer Italian trip and the thought of traipsing round yet another church makes your heart sink (we’ve all been there), fear not. There’s plenty of other things to do in Lucca, not least getting your 10,000 steps a day in walking the extensive medieval walls that encircle the city. There’s also a tower with trees growing on top, with stunning views. Oh and a beautiful yellow piazza in a Roman amphitheatre, where you can sit with a glass of wine and watch the world go by. 

If that sounds up your street, read on for more detail on 23 things to do in Lucca that I personally recommend…

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