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Funchal is the capital of Madeira and is also referred to as the 'floating garden', as the island in the Atlantic Ocean is evergreen and blessed with a big amount of wildflowers. The name of the capital is derived from the Portuguese word for fennel, which grows in the wild on the island. Funchal is an old and very charming town with cafes and terraces on intimate squares, and picturesque streets. Many cruise ships anchor in the harbor and so you will encounter a lot of day tourists in the city.
We already mentioned the floral splendor of Madeira, which is collected in the Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico) and in the Orchid Garden (Jardim Orquídea). On the lively covered market Mercado dos Lavradores not just every day goods are for sale, but exotic flowers and locally made handicrafts too. In the Botanic Garden stands the Natural History Museum with an interesting exhibition of the different animal species on and around Madeira. The focus lies on the marine life; it contains among others turtles, fish, shellfish, marine flora and algae.
The capital has a surprisingly large number of museums. The Museum of Contemporary Art (Museu de Arte Contemporânea) is in the Top Five of Portuguese museums. This museum - located in the fort Sao Tiago - has a wide collection of modern Portuguese art, starting in the sixties of the last century.
Madeira is famous for the likewise named wine which is created here. In the Instituto do Vinho da Madeira you can learn all about the history of this type of wine and what needs to be done before you can say: "A glass of Madeira, my dear?" If you can't get enough of the madeira wine, you can also visit one of the oldest wine cellars of Funchal, Adegas de São Francisco. It includes a 17th century wooden wine press. Of course you can try a glass of Madeira here, but it is the intention that you then buy a bottle in the store.
The history of Funchal and Madeira is the central theme of the Story Center Museum. It's a very fun, interactive museum and certainly no 'dead exhibition'. There are interactive displays and sounds and smells (!) that bring the history of the island alive. The museum in the former home of the photographer Vicente Gomes da Silva is fun too. He settled here in 1865 and created a photo studio in the garden of the house. This Museu de Fotografia "Vicentes" has a wonderful collection of photographs of Madeira in the second half of the 19th century.
At the port of Funchal you can find the starting point of the gondola to Monte, a district located on six to eight hundred meters above sea level. You can find a beautiful garden here too, the Jardim Tropical, at the Monte Palace. Inside this former palace is a museum with a beautiful collection of African sculptures from the fifties. Also worth a visit in Monte is the church Igreja de Nossa Senhora, where Emperor Charles I is buried. Because Monte is so high, you can descent with a so-called toboggan back to Funchal. A toboggan is a kind of double sledge with two drivers at the rear (carreiros).
Madeira's stunning nature is overwhelming. If you drive a rental car over the island you'll be amazed by the lush vegetation, colors, scents and vistas. The northern part is less touristy than the South. The coast is a lot rougher here too. One of the villages on the coast is a tourist attraction: Santana. It is called the prettiest village of Madeira. There are typical so-called palheiro houses. Originally these were brick sheds with a roof of straw, but poor people used them to live in too.
In the fishing village of Caniçal, on the east coast, is the Whale Museum (Museu da Baleia). Whaling was once an important source of income for Madeira. There is a lifesize model of a whale, an artwork made of whale bones and teeth, and images of the hunting methods used. Boat trips to see live dolphins and (if you're lucky) whales are organized from various places in Madeira. From Caniçal, drive your rental car a bit further east and you will have a fantastic view on the east coast of Madeira from the peninsula Praínha.
Madeira does have some beaches, but the best beach is on the island Porto Santo, forty kilometers from Funchal. There is a regular, fast ferry connection from the port. From the the boat you can already see the eight kilometer long sandy beach of Porto Santo. This is the paradise for lovers of sun, sea and sand!
If you have spend enough time on that beach you can have a look in the house where once lived Christoffel Columbus. The history of the famous explorer and his relation with Madeira is revealed in this Casa Colombo Museu.
There are many things to do on Madeira: diving, surfing, deep sea fishing, canoeing, cycling and paragliding. Furthermore, there are three golf courses in Madeira, and one on Porto Santo. You can make spectacular hikes on Madeira as well, for example through the Parque Natural do Ribeiro Frio (laurel forests with levadas, old aqueducts) or the national park Ponta de São Lourenço (volcanic rock formations and rare plants) in the east of the island.
Being a very popular holiday destination, Madeiro doesn't lack accommodation. Most hotels are concentrated in and around Funchal on the south coast, between Praia Formosa in the west to Fort Bela Sao Tiago in the east. There are several hotels near Caniço de Baixo too. Increasingly popular are the so-called quintas, traditional country houses that now serve as holiday accommodation. We recommend you book your hotel or other accommodation well in advance.
In Funchal it is best to park your car in one of the car parks around the old center. There is a large car park near the port and there are parking spaces along the coastal road too. If you are going to explore Madeira with your rental car, keep in mind that the roads in the interior are narrow and winding. Furthermore at times there is a strong wind and in the mountains fog can form suddenly.
Madeira's airport is situated near the town Santa Cruz, east of Funchal at about thirty minutes from the capital. Madeira Airport is easily accessible via the only highway the island has, road numer 101.