Elvas is a small Portuguese town located in the Alentejo district, very close to the Spanish border. This location made Elvas a very important defensive stronghold for many centuries. In fact, a few of the attractions in Elvas are military and related to it, like the several forts, the walls, and the castle. However, there many more things to do in Elvas; you can visit the aqueduct, eat the typical food from Alentejo, enjoy the Guadiana River and explore the beautiful whitewashed town center.
In this post, we will explore some of the best things to do in Elvas and some closeby towns that are also worth the trip, but also what to eat, where to stay and when is the best time to visit Elvas!
Best things to do in Elvas
#1 Amoreira Aqueduct
Amoreira aqueduct is by far the most recognizable landmark in Elvas – it’s huge and visible from almost everywhere. In fact, for us, it’s impossible to think of Elvas and the enormous aqueduct not coming to our mind immediately.
In the 16th century, the city of Elvas had outgrown its water supply capacity, so it was decided to build an aqueduct to bring water from Amoreira to Elvas. The construction started in 1537 and only ended in 1620. Later, in the 19th century, there were huge renovation works. In 1910 it was considered a national monument, and since 2012 its a UNESCO heritage site.
The aqueduct was designed and constructed by Francisco de Arruda, the same architect of Belem Tower and the Cathedral of Elvas. It has almost 8.5 km long and 843 arches, making it the biggest in the Iberian Peninsula. In its highest part (very close to Elvas), it has 4 levels of arches supported on buttresses and 31 meters high. It’s really impressive.
#2 Nossa Senhora da Graça Fort
If the aqueduct is the most visible attraction in Elvas, Nossa Senhora da Graça Fort is the most impressive and arguably the most important. It’s located in a hill, north to Elvas. From afar you can see that there’s something important there, but you don’t have an idea of what it is, and how big it is.
Graça Fort was built only in the 18th century, in Monte da Graça hill. It’s a star-shaped fort, and the location is very strategic, it both defends the city and prevents the invader from using the hill as an offensive position. The fort was crucial during the peninsular wars (it served as a base for General Wellington), and it was never conquered, proving its effectiveness.
Visiting this Fort is probably the most remarkable thing to do in Elvas. The fort is huge, with layers and layers of defensive protection and you can wander inside, on the walls, and outside freely. It can be a 1-2 hours visit or a 4 or 5 depending on how thorough you are and how much you enjoy this kind of attraction. We absolutely loved it and spent more than 3 hours there.
- Ticket: 5 Euros, 8 if it’s a guided tour.
- Open: 10:00 to 18:00 (17:00 in winter)
#3 Santa Luzia Fort
Santa Luzia Fort is the other star-shaped fort of Elvas. It’s located south of Elvas on the opposite side of Graça Fort. It’s smaller, but it was built 150 years before. Both forts, the walls, the castle, and several smaller forts of the area are UNESCO heritage forming the Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications site.
Santa Luzia Fort isn’t impressive as the Graça fort, but if you have time and enjoy military architecture, it may also be worth visiting. Moreover, you can find inside the fort a military museum, with all the military history of Elvas (which is very long) and some artifacts of the many epochs of Elvas’ history.
Despite not being as imposing as the Graça Fort, it was vital during the Restauration wars, particularly during Elvas’ siege and lines of Elvas Battle.
#4 Elvas Castle
The Castle of Elvas is the oldest and highest part of the city. Its very long history starts with a Celtic Castro, which later became a Roman city, then Visigoth, and in the 8th-century Muslim. During the 11th and 12th century the city and castle were conquered and reconquered several times until finally became Portuguese in 1230. You can still find some remains of the Muslim walls and fortifications.
Besides the usual walls and fortified towers, the castle offers some magnificent views of the long plains of Alentejo and the Graça fort. From there, you can also see Badajoz in Spain and better understand how close you are to our neighbor and old enemy. Thus, how important Elvas has been in the history of the Iberian Peninsula.
#5 Walls of Elvas
If the walls of Elvas could talk, they would have a lot to tell you! As mentioned above, the walls of Elvas are also a part of the Elvas UNESCO heritage site – they include the original Muslim walls, the medieval walls built to fortify the town, and the 17th-century modern walls.
In fact, when you entered Elvas, you got to the largest bulwarked fortification in the world, with defensive structures in the shape of a star that encloses a perimeter of nearly 10 km. These are many walls, with several levels, that completely surround the city, making it truly a garrison town and a testimony to the evolution of military strategy up to the 19th century.
There are many walled towns around the world, but Elvas is up there with them in terms of size, complexity, and ingenuity.
#6 Wander through the old town
Finally, the city itself! After so many attractions (particularly on the outside) you might think that the old town of Elvas isn’t that nice… you would be wrong! Elvas is a typical beautiful whitewashed village built on a hill with steep, narrow streets. The wonderful white houses with yellow lines and the historic squares make it an attraction in itself.
Wandering through the city is a pleasure, everywhere you turn, there’s another charming street. Though don’t forget to bring your walking shoes, it’s really steep at some points, and the old cobbled streets make it even harder. Besides the castle, there are 2 squares you need to visit, Praça da Republica and Largo de Santa Clara. Let’s explore them.
#7 Praça da República (Republic’s Square)
Republic’s Square is the main square of Elvas, the city’s heart, and where people gather during festivities and fairs. It’s a large square with Portuguese traditional flooring, many cafes with terraces, and several of the most important and imposing buildings surrounding it.
The old Cathedral of Elvas is on one side of the Square while the house culture and tourism office on the other. The house of culture is also the old town hall, and it’s one of the most beautiful typical buildings in Elvas.
The old cathedral was originally built in the 16th century with Manueline (Portuguese Gothic) style, and it kind of stills the show. After many interventions, it’s now an imposing building with huge neoclassic doors, Manueline details in the laterals, a Baroque chapel, and Portuguese tiles in the interior.
#8 Largo de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Plaza)
After visiting Praça de República, we recommend you to continue walking up Portas do Sol Street until you reach Largo de Santa Clara – a charming triangular Plaza. Santa Clara plaza has a wonderful Manueline pillory in the center, and it’s enclosed by the ancient Muslim walls.
Besides the twisting pillory, in Largo de Santa Clara, you will find Dominicas’ church and Santa Clara Arch. Igreja das Dominicas is a kind of unique church due to its octagonal plant with a central dome and the walls completely covered with old carpet-style tiles. Santa Clara Arch is a very charming old arch built in the old Tempre Doors of the Muslim walls.
These 3 features make this old plaza very charming and worth the visit. It’s also on the way to the castle, so you’ll probably visit without looking for it.
#9 Ponte da Ajuda (Ajuda Bridge)
Ajuda Bridge was built to connect Elvas to Olivença in the 16th century. The bridge was destroyed and rebuilt a few times until 1709 when the Spanish army destroyed it to never be rebuilt again. Ajuda Bridge is kind of impressive with 380 meters long and almost 6 meters high.
The bridge was very important for Portugal as it was the only way to get to Olivença without going to Spain. Olivença is a municipality that is still disputed by both countries. According to the treaties between the countries, it should be Portuguese, but Spain never gave it back so, in practice is Spanish.
A big portion of the bridge ruins are still there, and they are in a good state, considering that the bridge is in ruins for 300 years. It is a very nice place to enjoy the views and contemplate the river for a while. It’s also a very pleasant area for picnics and maybe even go to a swim when it’s hot. Note that you’ll need a car to get to Ajuda Bridge as it’s a few Km from Elvas.
#10 Indulge into the local gastronomy
Portuguese food is tasty and hearty, but unless you start looking at it thoroughly you won’t realize how local it is. For such a small country there are huge differences in terms of dishes and flavors. The food from Alentejo is very different and has many dishes that you can only find there. So, when in Elvas take the opportunity to have as many local dishes as possible.
You should note that the typical dishes of Alentejo use lots of pork, lamb, bread, olive oil, coriander, and garlic. Some of the dishes you should try include:
- Açorda – soup with lots of coriander, egg and stale bread.
- Migas – side dish to many other dishes, consists of fried bread with olive oil, paprika, garlic, salt, and pork fat. This is our favorite thing in Alentejo.
- Ensopado de Borrego – Lamb stew
- Sopa de Cação – Fish soup made with the Cação fish, olive oil and coriander.
- Gaspacho – typical cold tomato soup. Somehow similar (but not the same) to the Spanish Gazpacho.
- anything with Porco Preto – Porco Preto (Iberian pig) is a special race of pig that’s particularly good and typical from Alentejo. If you like pork, this should be a priority.
When it comes to deserts, Alentejo also has its share of amazing sweets, but in Elvas you really need to try Sericaia com ameixa de Elvas (Sericaia with Elvas Plums). It’s a conventual sweet, so it obviously has lots of eggs and a good amount of cinnamon. It’s decorated with the typical plums of Elvas.
If you are looking for a good restaurant to eat typical food from Alentejo, we really enjoyed our meals in Adega Regional. It has many of the typical Alentejo dishes and a few others from the rest of the country. It has quality food at a reasonable 10-15 Euros per person (with drinks and dessert), and it’s inside the walls, so it’s straightforward to get there when exploring Elvas.
Where to go next / Day trips from Elvas
Despite being in a rather remote area of Portugal Elvas has a few other things to do close by. We are not going to explore them here, but we need to mention a few of them so you can choose where to go after visiting Elvas.
Vila Viçosa is very small, but it has a huge attraction, the ducal palace of Vila Viçosa. This royal palace was the seat of the House of Bragança, the ruling house of Portugal between 1640 and 1910. It’s a huge building and those who love to explore palaces and history will have a blast there. It’s only 30 km from Elvas.
Évora is the main city in Alentejo. It has plenty of things to do and see and if you probably already have it on your list. Evora is bigger and more important than Elvas, thus you probably have a day trip from Evora to Elvas than the other way around. Anyway, you must include Evora in your itinerary and don’t miss the Bones Chapel, the Roman temple, the Cathedral, Giraldo square, and Almendres Cromlech.
Castelo de Vide
Castelo de Vide is about 75 km north of Elvas. It’s another small whitewashed town with a castle. It’s also a town with many small alleys and streets and famous for having an old Jewish quarter. It’s a really beautiful region with many olive trees and oaks, we have been there many times and really enjoy the town.
Marvão is very close to Castelo de Vide, only 10 km. So if you are visiting one, you have to visit the other. Marvão is located at the top of a mountain and has the perfect setup. The castle, the gardens, and the village look like they were taken out of medieval times. It is one of the most charming small towns in Portugal. Check the best things to do in Marvão here.
Where to stay in Elvas
Besides all the cool things to do and see that we mentioned above, Elvas has one other very nice advantage. Similarly to most towns in the interior of Portugal, it’s much cheaper than the coast, particularly Algarve and Lisbon. You shouldn’t have any problems finding a nice small hotel/hostel to stay in. There are options for any wallet from the luxurious Villa Gale Collection Elvas to the budget-friendly Alcamim guesthouse. Have a look at the map below:
Best time to go to Elvas
When it comes to choosing the best time to visit a place we always look at two things, the best weather and avoiding big crowds. We have never got big crowds in Elvas so, that won’t probably be a problem and you don’t really need to factor it. The weather on the other hand…
The Alentejo region is very hot in Summer, one of the hottest regions in Europe. High temperatures can reach 40ºC, quite easily. So, July and August probably isn’t the best time to visit Elvas. It’s likely that you’ll get these burning hot temperatures which would ruin any please you could take from the activities above…
On the other hand, during the shoulder season, temperatures are mild, but still hot and you can get the best of your time. So, you suggest you travel to Elvas (and all of Alentejo really) during Spring and Autumn. Spring is particularly nice, as the fields are green due to the rain in Winter.
Even during winter, it rains far less than in Porto or even Lisbon, and it rarely is very cold. So, if you are planning a winter trip to Portugal, the Alentejo can be a great option. In order of preference, I would go to Elvas in Spring, Autumn, Winter, Summer.
Day trip to Elvas
On a final note, we need to mention you can see most of Elvas in one day. Plus, a day trip from Evora is perfectly possible, but not from Lisbon. It’s way too far to visit Elvas directly from Lisbon or the Algarve on a day trip. You’ll lose most of the day in the car/bus.
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