Funchal, Madeira: 5 Budget tips for an island getaway in Portugal

Arriving by boat at Funchal, Madeira. Photo: John

The subtropical Portuguese island of Madeira sits in the Atlantic, about 300 miles (410 km) north of the Canary Islands and about 450 miles (715 km) east of the Moroccan coast. It’s got an unbelievably perfect climate — relatively warm winters and relatively cool summers.

An island of gardens, inland valleys and flowing levadas — irrigation channels, which double as hiking trails — Madeira draws legions of tourists, including many retirees from across Europe all year long. For decades, huge numbers of British tourists have visited Madeira, and one consequence of this tourism history is that Madeirans tend to speak English very well.

Funchal is the largest city on the island, as well as the regional capital. It’s so cute it hurts. The municipal gardens overflow with flora, and the streets are full of beautiful Portuguese tile work. The museums are great, too. The Old Town (Zona Velha) is beguiling and atmospheric. The modern bits of Funchal are also charming.

Many use Funchal as a jumping-off point for countryside walks or even the neighboring island of Porto Santo. Check out Outdoor Madeira, published by the Madeira Islands Rural Tourism Association, for more information on Madeira beyond Funchal. While you won’t come to Madeira for the beaches, you can find idyllic beaches on the nearby island of Porto Santo. Reach Porto Santo by ferry (€57.40 round trip April to September, €47 in low season; 2.5 hours’ duration) or plane (round-trip fares starting at €83; 15 minutes). For more information, check the official tourism resource for Porto Santo.

• A 10-Day budget itinerary through Portugal
• 10 Easy ways to save in Portugal
• Budget guide to Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Funchal, Madeira budget travel tips

Here are five easy ways to save on your trip to Funchal, Madeira:

The spectacular landscape at the Madeira Botanical Gardens. Photo: nutmeg66

1. Take the cable car… one way.

By all means, take the Madeira cable car (Teleférico do Funchal) up the mountain to the Botanical Garden. The views are amazing and there are some lovely gardens to check out.

But instead of coughing up €15 for a round-trip fare, pay €10 for a one-way journey up the mountain and walk back to town. The hills are very steep, and you’ll need to wind your way down carefully. (If you’re quite fit, walk uphill and take the cable car down the mountain.) Whether you walk or ride, the views are amazing.

2. Explore Funchal’s affordable museums

Take advantage of Funchal’s very inexpensive museums. The Casa-Museu Frederico de Freitas (€3) has a remarkable tile collection. The over-the-top Universo de Memórias João Carlos Abreu (€3.50) houses its namesake’s personal collections. The worldly Abreu, Madeira’s former Minister of Tourism, has a quirky aesthetic vision, and this museum makes for a very entertaining exploration. There is also café on the premises.

Pick up and cheap and healthy lunch at the Mercado Dos Lavradores. Photo: bartb_pt

3. Eat well for cheap

It is easy to eat well in Funchal without breaking the bank. One good local restaurant among many is Taberna Madeira (Travessa de João Caetano 16). Sandwiches start at €2.50 and the local soup of the day is €3. Order the roasted lamb for two for only €20.

For snacks and fresh produce, try the Mercado Dos Lavradores, a vibrant farmer’s market.

4. Shop for local gifts (while you sip glass of wine)

Stop by Made in Madeira (Rua Serpa Pinto 27) for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine — and a spot of shopping. This lovely little shop-cum-café sells reasonably priced local handicrafts and delicacies as well as clothing. It focuses on local production in an attractive and compelling manner.

A budget stay at Hotel do Carmo includes a beautiful rooftop pool!

5. Stay at Hotel do Carmo

Madeira resident Kash Bhattacharya recommended this lovely budget-friendly charmer, located in the middle of Funchal. The style of the gorgeous lobby is late 1960s Portuguese modernism, with sharp lines and a well-lighted bar at night. It looks like the set of a period spy caper.

Rooms are very simple no-frills affairs and rates start at €54 per night for a double room. The best perk of staying at Hotel do Carmo? There is a rooftop swimming pool, too! Find out more about Hotel do Carmo.

More hotel options: Search over 500 hotels in Funchal and over 1,200 properties across the Madeira islands.

Your Funchal tips

Do you have suggestions for ways to save when visiting Funchal or Madeira, in general? Share your tips in the comments section below.