Guimarães is a beautiful town with a very difficult name to pronounce. It’s a historic and medieval town and a great day trip from Porto worth visiting. You may not ever be able to comprehend why you’d want to leave Porto, but let me tell you, this town is worth it.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site
The historic town center of Guimarães is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for being an “exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town” in Europe. Known as the “birthplace of Portugal,” Guimarães was the first capital of the country. It is believed to have been settled originally in the 9th Century B.C.
I actually got a lesson from a local man on the top of Penha Mountain on how to pronounce Guimarães. It took me about five minutes of repeating it after him to finally get it. And unfortunately, I’m not sure I could say it correctly now!
The second “a” has an almost nasal sound to it. In case this helps, I pulled this from Wikipedia: (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɡimɐˈɾɐ̃jʃ]). Exactly, right?
My Favorite Places in Guimarães
There are many beautiful and historic places to visit in Guimarães. Here are the places that I chose to visit and enjoyed.
Castle of Guimarães (Castelo of Guimarães)
This National Monument was built in the 10th Century to defend a Monastery from the Moors and Norsemen. Guimarães Castle is a symbol of the beginning of Portuguese history. However, it was abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair before being renovated in the early 20th Century. As a result, there is not much left inside the castle, though the exterior is truly impressive. Touring the castle is inexpensive and worth a quick view, especially for the views from the top of the towers.
The Church of San Miguel (Igreja de San Miguel) is on the grounds of the castle and it was said that King Alfonso I, the first King of Portugal, was baptized there.
The castle is located at R. Conde Dom Henrique, Guimarães, Portugal. It is open from 10-6 daily and the cost is 2 EUR ($2.20 USD). A combined ticket with the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza (next door to the Castle) is available for 6 EUR ($6.60 USD).
Palace of the Dukes of Braganza (Paço dos Duques de Bragança)
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza is next to the Castle of Guimarães and is also a National Monument. This palace was a medieval estate built in the early 1400s by Afonso, Count of Barcelos and first Duke of Braganza, the illegitimate son of John I of Portugal. The palace fell into ruin from misuse and was restored during the Estado Novo regime.
I took some time to tour several floors with carefully reconstructed rooms. A couple of the rooms have an impressive ceiling that looks like the inside hull of a ship. There is also a small chapel in the building.
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza is open daily from 10-6. The entry cost is 5 EUR ($5.50 USD), and a combined ticket with the castle can be purchased at the palace for 6 EUR ($6.60 USD). It is located at Rue Conde Dom Henrique 3, Guimarães, Portugal.
City Center Squares: S. Tiago Square and Oliveira Square (Praca S. Tiago and Largo da Oliveira)
The Monument of Salado (Padrao do Salado ) is located in Oliveira Square in front of the Church of Our Lady of Oliveira (Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira). It is a large square with several restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking these two National Monuments.
According to the city guide I picked up in the visitor’s center, Monument of Salado commemorates the Battle of Salado fought in 1340 against the Moors. This monument was built in the Gothic style and has a Normand cross under it. The Church of Our Lady of Oliveira dates back to the foundation of the city and is the site where a convent once stood.
These squares are now lined with restaurants, each with several to choose from with indoor, and extensive outdoor seating. I decided to take a break to grab a glass of vinho verde and a snack while looking out at the Monument of Salado. While I was there, a newly married couple arrived to have their wedding photos taken.
Church of Our Lady of Consolation and the Holy Steps (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos)
This church is beautiful on its own and is perfectly complemented by a beautifully striking garden geometrically shaped with red flower accents. I spent a while walking around this area and enjoying the beauty.
Wander the City
This city is stunning and there is a lot to see with building-lined streets, churches, and other buildings of interest, parks, and squares. It’s worth taking time to walk around to take it all in.
Cable Car (Teleferico de Guimarães) up Penha Mountain to the Sanctuary of Penha (Teleférico de Guimarães to Santuário da Penha)
Penha Mountain is high above the city, overlooking Guimarães. You can drive or hike up the mountain, but another fun option is the cable car ride to reach the top.
The ride took just under 10 minutes, though it did seem a little longer as I am not a fan of heights. This becomes a challenge as I do love the views that come with heights, and of course, you need to find a way up to see them. The ride wasn’t as bumpy as some I have taken and I was able to enjoy the views as we climbed.
In the winter season from November to March, the cable car only runs from Friday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The cost is around 5€ ($5.50 USD) for a round trip.
Sanctuary of Penha
Sanctuary of Penha (Santuário da Penha, also Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Penha) was designed by the Portuguese architect José Marques da Silva. The design is primarily Art Deco, a dramatic departure from tradition with typical churches in Portugal. Construction was of mostly local granite. Work began in 1940 and was completed in 1947 when the church was consecrated.
I was surprised that the sanctuary isn’t very attractive, however, the spectacular views of the city of Guimarães more than compensate for it. There are also many walking paths around the property where you can walk in the woods amidst large boulders.
It was outside the sanctuary that I met Joao and his son, and their dog, Luna. He spoke very good English and we talked for a bit until I asked him if he was from Guimarães. I clearly didn’t pronounce it correctly, so Joao gave me a lesson on how to say it. I thought it was quite charming that he wanted me to know how to say it properly and found it entertaining.
Getting Lost and Getting Found
I got massively lost on my way back to the bus station. After wandering for a while, thinking I was going in the right direction and not wanting to use my phone for navigation as I had little battery left. I finally stopped walking, mystified as to how I could have gotten so lost in such a small city.
An old man saw me standing there and walked over, talking in boisterous Portuguese. He, unfortunately, spoke no English and no Spanish, so I pulled out of my hat the one thing he might know: “shopping mall”.
“Ahh!” he said and proceeded to give me rapid-fire directions in Portuguese of how to get there. When he realized I had no clue what he was saying, he waved his hands for a moment then walked away. He returned a minute later with shoes on and proceeded to walk me halfway there. Now we were down to just a few turns and I emphatically agreed to indicate I understood. He was very pleased when he left me. This is one of the things I love about the Portuguese people: their friendliness and willingness to help, even when not really asked (but clearly needed).
How to get to Guimarães
You have lots of travel options to go to Guimarães including going by bus, train, rental car, Uber, or group tour. You can rent a car and drive there or you have the option to take a taxi or an Uber if you choose. It’s is a great place for a day trip and only a 45-minute drive from Porto and a 25-minute drive from Braga. There are also a number of day tours that will take you to Guimarães from both Porto and Braga if you’d rather not navigate the travel aspect at all. I do love going on these short tours as you also get a guide knowledgeable about the history of the area.
There is also a great bus system in this area with multiple companies that will take you to Guimarães, which is what I did. I took the bus for a day trip from Braga and it couldn’t have been easier. The train does run this route from Braga to Guimarães as well.
The closest airport to Guimarães is Braga, so you will likely fly into Braga or Porto to get to Guimarães. Then you would take the transportation options noted above.
Day Trip from Braga
Guimarães is an easy day trip from Braga, where I was staying. From Braga, you can go by bus or train with public transportation. I chose to do the bus as it’s surprisingly a little faster.
The bus station in Braga is a ten-minute walk from the city center, and it offers some interesting suggestions on how to spend your time while you wait for the bus (see picture below). There are several bus lines that go this route. I chose Transdev, which offers hourly service each way as of this posting. The cost was only a few Euros round trip. The schedule for Transdev from Braga to Guimarães is here.
The Bus Ride from Braga to Guimarães
The bus winds through some small, pretty towns in the countryside. The ride takes just under an hour to arrive at the bus station at Guimarães, which is attached to a shopping mall. This is very handy when you get lost and are trying to make your way back as the locals are familiar with the phrase, “shopping mall”).
Once I arrived at the bus station, it wasn’t very clear which direction to go. I wandered around a bit until I saw a sign that led me to the town center. There are some gorgeous churches to stop and see, and the architecture is beautiful here.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a walking tour I wanted to take in English, so I did this trip on my own.
Where to Stay in Guimarães
If you get up early, you can see most of the main sites in Guimarães. However, it’s nice to be able to take your time and to get a more in-depth feel for an area. I’d recommend staying right in the center of town where you can walk everywhere to see the sites, or just outside of it. Here are some places that look good:
These places range in price but all are in or around the city center.
Where to Eat in Guimarães
I ate a snack at Buxa right in Oliveira Square and it was good. I honestly didn’t even go inside as I was so enjoying the day but it looks nice from pictures! You really can’t go wrong with any of the places right in this square or S. Tiago Square if you factor in the location and the views of the squares. This is the core of the historic district and you can sit at a lovely table outside in the good weather and enjoy the view of the historic building and life in the small city of Guimarães.
Some other places in the historic center that look good are 34, located at Largo António Leite de Carvalho 34, 4810-153 Guimarães, Portugal, and if you want a splurge check out A Cozinha por Antonio Loureiro at Largo do Serralho 4, 4810, Guimarães, Portugal. A more affordable and casual option that looks really good is Cantinho dos Sabores, located at R. Francisco Agra 33, 4800-157 Guimarães, Portugal.
Guimarães is a quaint medieval historic town and worth adding to your itinerary. If you’re able to find a walking tour, I think it would be really interesting to learn more about what you’re seeing. I spent around 6 hours here and thought that was a good amount of time.
A visit to Guimarães can be paired with an early morning visit to Bom Jesus in Braga detailed in this post if you want to do a combined day trip from Porto. It makes for a long day if you want to see the city of Braga as well, which also has a beautiful and historic downtown. I recommend an overnight in either city, but that’s up to you!
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