“Aqui nasceu Portugal” – “Here Portugal was born”! This sentence is engraved on the remains of the walls of Guimarães and reflects the proud and long history of the town. Here we will show you the places to visit, the streets to roam and ultimately, the best things to do in Guimarães and how to go to Guimarães.
Guimarães was the first Portuguese capital and where D. Afonso Henriques won S. Mamede Battle against his mother. This is considered the seminal moment for the independence of Portugal. It was also from Guimarães that the Portuguese Reconquista was built before moving the capital to Coimbra.
In 2001, the historic center of Guimarães was inscribed as a UNESCO heritage site recognizing Guimarães’ importance in Portuguese (and world) history. As per UNESCO itself, Guimarães is “an exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town, its rich building typology exemplifies the specific development of Portuguese architecture from the 15th to 19th century through the consistent use of traditional building materials and techniques”.
In 2012 Guimarães was the European Capital of culture, adding a creative side to the city, on top of the cultural and historical relevance.
Best things to do in Guimarães
#1 Explore the Guimarães Castle
Guimarães castle is where all the legends start, and you can feel it while visiting it. This was a major battleground before independence and during the first centuries of Portugal’s existence.
Built in the 10th century to defend the population from attacks of the Vikings and the Moors, it was later expanded several times until becoming a major landmark in Portugal. It was abandoned for centuries, after the invention of cannons. In the 20th century, it was restored to today’s look.
This is one of the most impressive and well-preserved castles in Portugal, besides being obviously the most important one… Don’t forget to climb the fortifications and watch the city from above.
- Price: €2 (free admission on the 1st Sunday of every month and for children <12 years)
- Working Hours: Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
#2 Go to the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza is a 15th-century manor house located right next to the castle, above the old town. Many people argue that it’s the most impressive landmark of Guimarães, even more than the castle itself.
The most striking characteristics of the Palace are the unusual 16 brick chimneys that rise above the rooftop on the outside and the beautiful courtyards with galleries and Gothic pointed arches on the inside.
Despite deteriorating for centuries after being abandoned by the owners, it was fully restored during the 20th century and is now a museum and the official residence of the President of the Republic when he’s in the north of Portugal.
A visit to the interior of this palace is very worth your time and money. The palace holds many artifacts from the age of the discoveries and other interesting features like furniture, ceramics, tapestries, fireplaces, and even weapons.
- Price: €5 (free admission on the 1st Sunday of every month and for children <12 years)
- Hours: Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
#3 Roam in Guimarães old quarter
Despite the imposing castle and the unusual Duke’s palace, the main attraction in Guimarães is the old quarter, which has the ability to take you back in time with its iron balconies, granite houses, arcades, and passageways. More than being famous for its big monuments, Guimaraes has a beautifully preserved medieval center and at the same time a lively, fun, fully functional town.
Today, you can find cafe-filled squares, evocative hostels, and delightful restaurants. Plus, Guimarães is also a college town, lending it also an irreverent and youthful spirit.
Wandering around Guimarães is always pleasant, and the whole medieval center is worth visiting, but there are a few streets, squares, and things you need to see while roaming the old quarter of Guimarães.
#4 Largo da Oliveira (Oliveira Square)
Largo da Oliveira, which translates literally to “square of the olive tree,” is the old town’s heart. This is a very charming plaza with beautiful old buildings in all directions! You have old stone houses with balconies, the Nossa Senhora da Oliveira church, the old town council chambers, and several cafes where you can rest and enjoy the views.
Padrão do Salado is a wonderful 14th-century gothic monument with four arches and a cross in the middle commemorating the battle victory in the 14th century is also located in this square, in front of the church.
#5 Nossa Senhora da Oliveira Church
This is one of the most impressive Gothic churches in Portugal. Though its origins come from the 10th-century, the building standing today is from the 15th. On the inside, you can enjoy ornate baroque artwork. It’s really worth the stop, as you’ll be visiting several other places only a few meters away.
#6 Old town council chambers
The old town council chambers are such a wonderful and unusual building located on the edge of the Oliveira square. The arches that you walk through are what lends it this unique impression. On the other side of the chambers, you can find Santiago Square, which is almost as interesting, as Oliveira Square.
#7 Largo de Santiago
As we said above, Largo de Santiago, or Santiago Square, is somehow similar to Oliveira Square with lovely old stone houses, cafes, and restaurants with terraces where you can watch the world go by and maybe enjoy typical Portuguese food.
#8 Santa Maria Street
Santa Maria Street goes from north to south of the old town connecting the town hall and the castle, and it’s the oldest and prettiest street in Guimarães. This means a lot when we are talking about a town that’s famous for its quaint streets!
Walking along Santa Maria Street will make you feel that you returned to the medieval ages due to the buildings’ architecture, yet you’ll also find plenty of shops and restaurants.
#9 Largo do Toural – Toural Square
Toural square is located on the edge of the old quarter of Guimarães. It’s surrounded by old, traditional houses – some of them with traditional Portuguese tiles making it different from the others. This is also where you can find the famous ”Aqui nasceu Portugal” sign mentioned earlier.
#10 Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos church
A very unusual church with several architectonic styles that don’t really seem to connect. Yet, that’s probably what makes it so striking…
#11 Climb to Mount Penha
Almost every northern Portuguese town has its own sanctuary on top of a hill… You could easily spend weeks going through them all. Penha is Guimarães hilltop sanctuary, located only 6 km from the center and easily reachable either by car or through the lift. Or if you are up to it, you can hike up, but it will take a lot of time, and it is tiring.
The Guimarães / Penha cable car has a length of 1.7 km and rises around 400 meters in about 10 minutes. In addition to being a fun experience (as almost all cable cars are), it offers pleasant views of the city and mountains.
Price: 3 Euros for the lift
#12 Explore Penha Sanctuary and Park
Penha sanctuary is a bit different from many others in Portugal, as it’s a very recent one. It was built from 1930 to 1947 by Marques da Silva with an Art Deco Style, and it’s a monument of singular beauty and architectonical value.
The sanctuary is the main reason why this became such a popular area, but Penha is more than just a sanctuary, it’s a beautiful park with huge boulders covered in moss, lush green forest, and several trails for you to hike and maybe even have a pick-nick. Being so high above the town makes it the perfect place to enjoy the best views of town and surroundings.
- Price: The park and the sanctuary are free.
#13 Citania de Briteiros
This is the furthest tourist destination from Guimaraes in this list, yet it’s located only 14 km from the town center, on mount São Romão. If you are driving it’s very easy to get there if not, it’ll be much more difficult to reach.
The archeological site of Citânia de Briteiros is one of the most important sites of the Castro culture of the Iberian Peninsula. This settlement survived from 2000 BCE to the middle ages (including the Roman period) and impresses for its size, “urban” form, and developed architecture, which includes defensive walls, public meeting places, bathhouses, and lots of homes!
Walking around the Citania de Briteiros is a very pleasant experience, perfect to be done on sunny days when you can visit the ruins, have a picnic and fully enjoy the mountain views.
- Ticket: 3 Euros;
- Open: From 9:00 to 17:00
#14 Enjoy the regional gastronomy
Like nearly all cities in the North of Portugal, Guimarães is definitely a place to appreciate food. Similar to all food in the North of Portugal, Guimarães traditional dishes are heavy farmer’s food with strong flavors and generous quantities. The most famous Guimarães specialties are Cabrito Assado (roasted lamb), Arroz “Pica no Chão” (rice made with chicken), Rojões (slow-cooked pork beef), and the famous Bacalhau Assado (Roasted Salted Cod).
Guimarães is also known for its delicious traditional “Doçaria Conventual” (desserts that were created in Convents). It won’t be easy to resist all the sweets displayed in numerous pastries, the most notorious are Toucinho do Céu, Tortas de Guimarães, and Douradinhas.
How to go to Guimarães
Guimarães is very easy to reach by car, train, and bus. If you want to do a day trip to Guimaraes, the easiest way is probably to do it by car, allowing you to travel when you want and where you want. However, both trains and buses are good options when traveling to Guimarães – they are quick and numerous, facilitating your job.
Driving between Guimarães and Porto
It’s only 55km and takes 45 minutes, so it’s pretty easy and fast to drive from Porto to Guimarães. You need to take the highway A3 and then the A7 to Guimarães. In Guimarães, it won’t be easy to park in the old town; on the other hand, it’s very easy (and free) to park close to the Castle and walk your way around town. That’s what we do.
Porto to Guimarães Train
If you don’t have a car, the train is an excellent option. There’s a direct train from Porto to Guimarães, which should take roughly 1h10 minutes. You take the train in Campanha or S. Bento in Porto and leave at the station in Guimarães, fairly close to the old town. Also, very easy and convenient. There are plenty of trains throughout the day, each way.
Bus from Porto to Guimaraes
There are also several busses, from Porto to Guimarães during the day. They should take between 1h and 1h30 depending on the bus route. The Buses usually leave from Campo 24 de Agosto to Guimarães main bus station, which is only about 500 meters from the old town center.
Best time to visit Guimaraes
Guimarães is in the north of Portugal, which has lower temperatures and rains much more than in the south. For this reason, we advise you to visit Guimarães during spring and summer and maybe early autumn. This is the high and shoulder season for traveling in Portugal.
Despite Guimarães being a terrific travel destination, it isn’t crowded yet, so you shouldn’t have much trouble visiting during peak season, maybe except on weekends during summer and festivities.