At over 500 years old, the port of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira is a wonderful place to visit, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a grown-up only destination. I took my family for a stay in the island’s capital recently and discovered a wonderful range of things to see and do which kept my children happy and active for our entire stay.
While many parents looking for a sunny seaside holiday rely on the old family-friendly favourites like Benidorm,the Algarve or Tenerife, Funchal offers a quieter environment with just as much to do. From cable car rides and toboggan trips to playgrounds and mini golf, here is my guide to the top children’s activities in Madeira’s capital.
The moment we arrived in the city my children spotted the famous Funchal cable car and wouldn’t give me a moment’s rest until I promised we would take a ride on it. The cable car goes from the Old Town and soars up to the historic Monte over a distance of 3,200 metres, rising 560 metres. It was only a 15 minute journey but the kids loved every minute of it, glued to the windows watching the city shrink away as the cable car rises. I have to admit that I loved the stunning views over the city and out towards the sparkling Atlantic.
At the top you’ll find the historic district of Monte with its beautiful church. The kids will love letting off steam in the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and Municipal Park.
You can take the cable car back down again if you like, but you’d be missing one of Funchal’s most unique experiences: the Monte toboggans. You might be wondering how on earth a toboggan works with the complete lack of snow in Madeira’s sunshine capital (I know I was dubious when I first heard about this historic tradition).
All is revealed when you reach the Church of Our Lady of the Monte where the toboggan drivers in their white straw boaters and white shirts and trousers wait with their wicker sledges ready to push you down the road on a wooden platform. Apparently this tradition dates back to the 19th century when the wealthy inhabitants of the city used this as a quick way of getting from Monte back to the city centre below. Needless to say, the kids thought this was the best thing ever, and even suggested I could create a similar basket sledge back home to do the school run!
The Painted Doors of Rua de Santa Maria
Back in 2010 a severe storm damaged many of the properties on the city’s famous Rua de Santa Maria – the oldest street in Funchal, dating back to 1430. In an attempt to revitalise the battered area the council invited local artists to paint the doorways along the cobbled street. The result is a fabulous outdoor art gallery of doors which is simply amazing to walk along. The kids thought this was great fun, running from door to door to see the different works along the way.
Parks and Playgrounds
Thankfully there is no shortage of parks and playgrounds in Funchal to keep your children entertained (or for you to wear them out before bed time). These were two of our favourites:
Santa Catarina Park
With stunning views over the city, the Santa Catarina Park has a great children’s playground with plenty of slides and swings for little ones to play on, and a lake with ducks and swans. If the kids want something a little more tranquil there’s also a great play room with arts and crafts materials for them to use (if accompanied by an adult).
Santa Luzia Garden
This park is handy because it’s set in the city centre and has two great playgrounds and a fun maze that my kids had a wonderful time losing and finding their way in and out of.
Mini Golf with a View
The Panoramic Gardens were a great discovery. With tennis courts, playgrounds, peddle cars and fabulous views we spent quite a lot of time here. By far the best highlight of this park, as far as the youngsters were concerned, was the 12-hole mini golf course.Running across much of the green area of the Gardens, this is a fun way of spending an afternoon or even a whole day.
How to Get to Funchal
Another great thing in Funchal’s favour if you’re holidaying with small children is its proximity to the airport which is just on the outskirts of the city, so no long transfers with tired children. Madeira Airport has a good range of flights from the UK with airlines including British Airways, easyJet and Jet2. Flight times are around three hours.
Save yourself the stress of looking for transport after you land by booking an airport transfer with Shuttle Direct online before you leave home. Let Shuttle Direct know the ages of your children and they will meet you at the airport with all the child and booster seats you will need.
Where to Stay
Pestana Bay Ocean Aparthotel – Set just three miles outside of Funchal with direct access to the beach, the all-inclusive Pestana Bay Ocean Aparthotel has its own shallow pool, terrace, restaurant, bars and lounges. The rooms have their own kitchenettes, where you can cook family favourites, and balconies with ocean views.
Pestana Royal Premium All Inclusive Ocean & Spa Resort – For a little extra grandeur try the Pestana Royal Premium All Inclusive Ocean & Spa Resort. Set on Formosa Beach – just outside the city – the hotel is a family favourite with two outdoor swimming pools, a spa, kids club, playground, mini golf course and tennis courts.
Enotel Lido Madeira – All Inclusive – For a truly high-end option book yourself and the family into the Enotel Lido Madeira – All Inclusive. Just three minutes from the beach, all the stylish rooms have wonderful ocean views. The three restaurants serve a selection of international cuisine. There is no shortage of entertainment for little ones with a children’s pool, kids club, live entertainment, playground, games room and a babysitting service (for an extra charge).
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct is one of Europe’s leading airport transfer providers offering a range of services to carry you and your family to your holiday accommodation. Let them know what you need when you book and the cars will have the exact number of child seating you require when they meet you at the airport.