There are two big gardens to visit on Madeira, and they are both on high ground. When we arrived, the clouds were covering the mountains where the gardens are, so we decided to wait for better weather before visiting.
You can drive to the gardens, but they are best approached by the cable-car that leaves from the edge of Funchal, the main town. There are in fact two cable-cars; one that goes to the Tropical Gradens, (The Monte Palace Gardens) and the other that goes on from there to the Botanical Gardens. You can visit both gardens in one day, but we thought that the main one, the Tropical Gardens would be enough.
Once you are ready to leave the Tropical Gardens, you can take a traditional sled ride down the mountain slope, guided and pushed by a couple of local lads. So 3-in-1: cable car, gardens, sled ride.
The cable-car gives you spectacular views over the old town of Funchal, and takes you over the little houses perched on the valley sides. It leads to the entrance to the tropical gardens, where you can spend a whole day admiring the plants and landscaping. Originally, a funicular railway used to take you to the gardens, but it had a nasty accident and was replaced.
The gardens are constructed in one of he steep-sided valleys that are a feature of the Madeira landscape. They make extensive use of the river that runs down, with small ponds, cascades and other water features. The garden furniture is Japanese in style.
You can easily spend all day at the Tropical Gradens, so once we were "gardened out" we made our way back to the town. An option you can choose is to take the traditional toboggon ride part-way down. We did this on a different day, as part of a coach tour. The sledges don't take you all the way down, so it's a good idea to be ready to walk the rest of the way, or have a ride available.