Most people do not realise that the Monte Tropical Gardens only opened to the public in 1991. The creation of one of Portugal's most wealthy businessmen, José Berardo, the gardens occupy an area of more than 70,000 square meters, houses, a huge array of exotic plant collections from all over the world, and swans, duck's, and Koi fish.
However, Monte Tropical Gardens are so much more than just "gardens." Throughout the maze of walks you will find a subtle exhibition of tiles representing several eras and coming from palaces, churches, chapels and private houses throughout the former Portuguese empire. Add to this a museum of African sculpture, a magnificent former home, statues, peacocks, to mention just a few features.
Perched high above Funchal City, the gardens present a great day out. I always recommend you take the cable car up. Spend a few hours at the tropical gardens, and then take the famous Madeiran wicker basket ride back down the city. The 'basket ride' starts from just outside the gardens and terminates halfway down towards the city where, as you'd expect, there is a convenient taxi rank should you prefer not to walk the rest of the journey.
One good tip is to take a jumper. Whilst it is often lovely and warm in the city, the tropical gardens are much cooler at this height, and the shade from all the plants can make it a little nippy.
Last point. Don't be confused with another gardens, the Botanical Gardens of Madeira. Also well worth a visit.