Get ready for a full schedule of cultural visits: Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal’s first king Afonso Henrique, is rich in palaces, museums and monuments.
It’s an elegant city proud of its noble past, with a charming historic center where it’s really nice to get lost, but it’s not one of those museum cities that keep thinking nostalgically about what it was.
Guimarães is a cheerful city with a lively nightlife and animated traditional festivals. The most famous is the Festas de Cidade e Gualterianas during which the city celebrates its patron saint with a wild program that includes a market of ancient tradition, concerts, traditional dances, bullfights, fireworks and parades.
It is possible to concentrate the visit of all the main monuments of the city in a walking tour of two-three hours, but to fully enjoy the special atmosphere of this town, allowing yourself one or more pleasant stops in its squares, it is best to devote at least one full day.
The old town is located northeast of the modern city and is a fascinating maze of cobbled streets and squares. During your walk, look up to admire the granite terraces and loggias, wrought iron balconies, towers, cloisters and magnificent historic buildings that line the streets of the center.
Since there are many monuments to visit, if you have little time you should make an itinerary before arriving, marking the attractions to visit.
Here is what to see in Guimarães.
The symbol of the city is the Castle of Guimarães, a medieval fortress so perfect that it looks like a movie set.
Visitors are welcomed by a bronze statue of Afonso Enrique or Afonso I, a king with many nicknames (The Conqueror, the Founder, the Great…) and a great merit in the history of Portugal: he made the north of Portugal independent from the kingdom of Galicia and started a long struggle to reconquer the southern territories in Arab hands.
The king would have been born within the walls of the castle, although it has not been confirmed historically. Certainly, however, the construction of the castle predates his birth.
The interior of the Castelo de Guimarães is less impressive than the exterior facade with its magnificent seven towers, but it is worth a visit both for its symbolic value as the cradle of Portugal and for the splendid views that can be enjoyed from the top of the towers.
After visiting the castle, enter the small Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo, a humble Romanesque-style church where the historic king was baptized and where nobles and knights who fought at his side are buried.
More opulent than the castle of Afonso I is the palace of another Afonso, his successor and illegitimate son of King João I, who went down in history as the first Duke of Braganza.
Built in the fifteenth century, the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza (paços dos duques) fell into disrepair when the dukes moved to the Alentejo; it was restored in the twentieth century to accommodate the residence of Salazar.
You can easily recognize it from the tangle of red brick roofs visible from afar and in this case, unlike the other castle, the interior is no less exciting than the exterior. You can stroll through sumptuous rooms richly decorated with frescoes, tapestries, weapons and armor, original furniture of the time.
As in many Portuguese cities, the squares are the nerve center of city life and precious guardians of historical monuments and artistic masterpieces. Meeting point for people of all ages, they are the right place to take a break from visiting museums and monuments.
The two most beautiful squares in Guimarães are Largo da Oliveira and Praça de Santiago, divided by the old town hall(Antigos Paços do Concelho), a 14th century building with an arched underpass.
Arrive early in the morning to admire the architecture of the beautiful historic buildings and sip a coffee in peace and quiet; if you want a more lively atmosphere come here in the evening for an aperitif of fresh vinho verde.
For a great view of the city of Guimarães climb to the top of Monte da Penha, a wooded hill that is the highest point around the city and a pleasant relief from the heat on summer days.
It can be reached effortlessly by an old funicular railway that is still in operation, leaving from the Parque das Hortas, about 600 meters from the historic center… but only on weekends. On other days you’ll have to move by car or reach the Mosteiro da Santa Marinha da Costa (now home to a luxury hotel) by bus and continue on foot.
The church at the top of the mountain is not particularly interesting, but the views and the coolness of the trees are worth the trip.
Guimarães is full of beautiful churches to visit. Here are the most interesting ones:
If you love art and history, Guimarães has many attractions to offer you. Here are the museums not to be missed:
The top attraction around Guimarães is the Citânia de Briteiros, one of the most interesting Celtic settlements dating back over 2000 years in the region. It spreads on a hill just a few minutes drive from the city center, occupying an area of almost 4 hectares of land.
As you walk through the prehistoric citadel, you will see the remains of the defensive wall, two reconstructed huts that show visitors what life was like at that time, a magnificent stone gateway and a building used as a bathroom.
The highlight of this archaeological site is Pedra Formosa, a monolith with intricate inlays of Celtic motifs used as a burial chamber.
The hotel offer of Guimarães is quite varied, with solutions suitable for all budgets and all types of vacations. You can choose between hostels, B&B, family run hotels, modern hotels and vacation apartments, charming hotels.
For those who want to do some nightlife, we recommend sleeping in a hotel in the center of Guimarães. If, on the other hand, you are not interested in staying late at night and you have a rental car available, consider sleeping in a rural house in the surroundings of Guimarães: the few kilometers you have to travel to reach the center will be amply rewarded by the beauty of a traditional house immersed in the countryside.
For those who want to treat themselves to something special, we recommend a night or more at the Pousada Mosteiro de Guimarães, a luxurious five-star hotel housed in a 12th century convent on the slopes of Monte da Penha.
Guimarães is located in the Minho region of northern Portugal. The nearest international airport to Guimarães is Porto, which is served by many low-fare flights from the rest of Europe.
The city has good train and bus connections with Braga and Porto; there are direct buses to Lisbon, but they are less frequent and the trip is a bit long (about 5 hours). With a rental car you can reach Guimarães from Porto in just 40 minutes.
Another possibility is to visit Guimarães with a day tour from Porto; if you want to visit Braga as well, you can choose a tour that includes both cities or, if you are a wine lover, a tour that includes in the program a visit to a winery with wine tasting.
Guimarães is also an excellent base to explore the Minho region.