Often described as a “day trip” from the popular nearby city of Porto, you would be FAR more likely to see us day tripping to Porto from this delightful medieval village.
Guimaraes has an almost Venice-like quality that is hard to put your finger on.
How long do you need to see it?
Technically only a few hours if you power through all the streets, but that’s not what travel is about!
Where is Guimaraes?
Guimaraes is in Northern Portugal, and unfortunately, nowhere near the seaside. It is 60 kms Northeast of the large city of Porto.
Getting To Guimaraes
You can get to Guimaraes in around an hour. A bus takes about 50 minutes, and a train takes a little longer, about 1 hr 15 minutes. Very manageable for a day trip!
Is Guimaraes Worth Visiting?
Guimaraes is absolutely worth visiting if you like the idea of spending some time strolling the narrow streets of a medieval town.
There are no cars in most of the historical center, so you are free to roam. Walking through the Old Quarter is really the best part of the visit!
Basically, if you like the idea of spending time in a little village, just strolling around and eating, then Guimaraes is perfect!
If you want an all-day campaign to see some blockbuster sites, Guimaraes isn’t it.
There are plenty of other things to do in the town (I’ll cover that in a minute), but there isn’t anything in Guimaraes that is bigger and better than what’s on offer in other parts of Portugal.
Things to See and Do in Guimaraes
Here are a few of the famous sights that Guimaraes does have to offer!
Guimaraes Castle was built in the 10th century, on foundations dating back to Roman times.
The original purpose of the castle was not to house royals, but protection for the local monastery: Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira.
In fact the castle wasn’t even built by a king or queen, it was constructed by a countess who owned all the land that Guimaraes sits on.
The structure that stands today was largely built in the 1300’s which is when many Gothic elements were added. By that time it did house the royal family, and continued to do so for a hundred years or so.
In the 1800’s the town council wanted to demolish the now ruined castle and re-use the bricks for roadworks.
Fairly happy that didn’t happen.
Restorations finally began in 1937.
The castle is less than a kilometre from the old town, and only takes about 10 – 15 minutes to reach on foot. It is mostly up hill though, nothing crazy, but not a nice flat stroll.
Inside is large but sparsely decorated. You can see some interesting items from medieval times on display.
Palace Duques de Bragança
Also known in English as “the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza,” Palace Duques de Braganca is on the way up to Guimaraes Castle and you can comfortably visit both on the same day.
This medieval estate was built in the 1400’s but fell into ruin between the 16th and 19th century. During the 1800’s the ruins were being used as “a personal quarry” for the locals.
Again with the recycling of castles!
I admire the effort to be sustainable, but maybe restore would be more appropriate.
The Palace of the Dukes is a little more interesting than Guimaraes Castle. There is more to explore and it’s a little more luxurious.
Of course there is no reason not to see both! They are only a couple hundred meters from each other at most.
Museu Alberto Sampaio
Back in the Old Quarter, Alberto Sampaio Museum is located inside the first monastery that was ever built in Guimaraes.
It’s a surprisingly plain building, three floors with simple windows and a flat white front.
Inside there is another surprise: The courtyard and garden.
I’m not sure what the style of the courtyard is, but it is more in line with what you expect from a monastery in Portugal. Many rows of arched columns looking out into the garden.
It’s not quite the Manueline monastery that you can find in other parts of Portugal, but well worth the visit if you are in Guimaraes.
Last but not least, the collections at the museum are great quality, and there are lots of interesting things to see. They usually have a rotating exhibit too, like most museums.
Largo da Oliveira
The main square in the old town. You will pass this sight many times during your stay, and it is *chef’s kiss.*
There are lots of little restaurants here, with idyllic patio dining.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira
The Gothic church adjoining Largo do Oliveira is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, which is also where the square gets its name.
It’s not the biggest and fanciest church that you will see in Portugal, especially from the outside, but this 15th century antique features tall ceilings with Baroque artwork.
I will say that after a while, you do stop being impressed by the inside of most churches in Portugal.
They are all VERY heavily decorated – usually with red and gold – and eventually they all become one in your memory. (Sorry!)
The medieval arch out in front of Igreja de Nossa Snhora da Oliveira is a popular spot to take photos, particularly with the cute old buildings in the square behind it.
Jardim do Largo da República do Brasil
You are very likely to pass this garden on your way into Guimaraes.
This sweeping flower garden is a dramatic meridian for two major roads, and one of the most photographed spots in Guimaraes.
There’s not much to do here, except marvel at the flowers, but still well worth a stop.
Igreja e Oratórios de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos
Wow! Could a church have a longer name? I haven’t seen one!
Simply put, this church is the one at the end of the “Jardim,” the grande finale of that garden.
It’s a very nice church, especially posed in the back of your photos.
Of course the Guimaraes we are talking about is just a tiny part of what is now a fairly large center. The new part of Guimaraes combined with the Old Quarter is now home to some 150,000 people.
There are modern shopping malls in the city, and other amenities of a larger city.
Guimaraes: European Capital of Culture 2012
Guimaraes was named the European Capital of Culture in 2012 because it is known as “the birthplace of Portugal.”
(Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture in 2019.)
A little about the purpose of the EU Capital of Culture project:
“…to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.” – wikipedia.com
Why is Guimaraes Called the Birthplace of Portugal?
Guimaraes is known as the birthplace of Portugal for a few reasons!
- Guimaraes was the first capital of Portugal
- Afonso Henriques – Portugal’s first king – is thought to have been born here
- Guimaraes has been the site of many important battles
- Guimaraes is one of Portugal’s oldest cities. It was founded in the 4th century!
Why is Guimaraes a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
The whole old town of Guimaraes has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it’s “outstanding universal value.”
Guimaraes’ historical center is extremely well preserved (which is why it’s so fun to visit) and there are great examples of architecture from the 15th to 19th centuries.
There are even some remnants dating back to the 9th century!
It is also a World Heritage Site because of it’s importance to the country of Portugal.
The UNESCO boundaries reach from the walled area of the old town, and up the hill as far as Guimaraes Castle. This region also encompasses the Palace of the Dukes.
Where to Stay in Guimaraes
If you can find a place in the Old Quarter, that will be the best spot to immerse yourself into Guimaraes. It’s such a unique historical setting!
You will want to beat the sand out of a rug from your Juliette balcony like an old Portuguese granny.
Thankfully there are a lot of options right in the middle of the old town!
Apartments in Guimaraes
Apartment accommodation is much easier to find in the old town than hotels are.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few reasonably priced options that have very happy visitors:
Light and bright in the old town! This spacious apartment is roomier than most in these old buildings.
The kitchen has everything you need for a longer stay. The apartment has two double beds in separate bedrooms and a living room.
Approx $120+ USD (Before any discounts or special offers)
Also in the heart of the old town, Molarinho Heritage has a ground floor apartment that is perfect for young families or seniors. (No stairs!)
This one even has a dishwasher!
They also have a larger option with 4 bedrooms, but you may have to contact them to book.
Sleeps 4 – 8
Approx $90+ USD (Before any discounts or special offers)
Featuring landmark views over Old Town Guimaraes, Aparthotel Largo da Oliveira offers several apartment options from studio, to luxurious.
You can’t beat this location in the main square, and the units are very stylish and updated.
Approx $125+ USD (Before any discounts or special offers)
Need another family option?
Posh Residences offers a few two bedroom apartments that are cozy, but well equipped.
They also have free off-site parking available, and free breakfast! Both of which are rare in apartments in Guimaraes.
Approx $85+ USD (Before any discounts or special offers)
Hotels in Guimaraes
If you are only in Guimaraes for one or two nights, you might want the convenience and simplicity of a hotel.
Hotels are also a better choice if you need accessible units or parking.
Hotel Toural is one of the only hotels in the old town with parking.
Happy guests rave about the breakfast, and the beautiful on-site garden.
The rooms are clean and simple, and there is a 24 hour front desk. Hotel Toural also offers a laundry service, which can be quite nice on a long trip.
(Nothing against washing clothes in the sink, but getting them all cleaned at once is pretty awesome.)
Approx $90+ USD (Before any discounts or special offers)
A little further away from the Old Quarter, but still accessible by foot, is Santa Luzia ArtHotel.
This modern hotel has beautifully designed rooms, an onsite restaurant, free parking, pool, and spa. Everything you need for a comfortable stay, in a unique setting.
If you are someone who prefers a more luxurious experience, you will like Santa Luzia.
Approx $130+ USD (Before any discounts or special offers)
Accessible rooms available.
Where to Eat in Old Town Guimaraes
We did not have nearly enough time in Guimaraes, and at that time most restaurants were closed in the winter, so I really only remember two that made a good impression.
Historico is my favorite restaurant in all of Portugal, not least because our waiter was very nervous and accidentally lit his sleeve on fire.
Historico is in the west side of the Old Quarter about halfway to the castle. They serve a great range of slightly bougier food.
They are open from 10 am to 11:30 pm.
Rolhas e Rótulos
In Largo do Oliveira is the tiny restaurant Rolhas e Rotulos. This spot is an all-day eatery with an adorable patio, right next to the big church.
They are open all the way from 10 am to 2 am and they serve breakfast!
When is the Best Time to Visit Guimaraes?
Best Time of Year to Visit Guimaraes
The best time of year to visit Guimaraes is probably May/June or September/October.
It’s a popular tourist destination, so in the summer it will be very busy (and hot!). The north of Portugal gets a lot of rain in the winter, so stick to the shoulder season to be safe.
We went at the beginning of November and it rained the whole time. It was still worth visiting though!
Do note that in the off season more things are likely to be closed in terms of restaurants and shops. The major stuff will all be open.
Best Time of Week to Visit Guimaraes
Try to head to Guimaraes on a weekday, it is a popular spot for day trips, so the weekends are much much busier than during the week.
Best Time of Day to Visit Guimaraes
The best time to be in Guimaraes is in the morning or later in the day, after the day trippers have gone home.
You really should stay for a few nights, so you can enjoy walking around the Old Quarter at night when it’s quiet.
By November it will be decorated for Christmas, and it is so charming with all of the twinkly lights.
When we visited we were surprised that most shops took a siesta for a few hours in the afternoon. I’m not totally sure if that was because it was winter and slow season, or if it happens year round.
Is Guimaraes Safe?
Guimaraes is absolutely safe. I actually visited with my Mom, and we were never once nervous as two women, even walking around at night.
What Else is Near Guimaraes?
Sanctuary of Penha
About 15 minutes of winding drive from Guimaraes is the Sanctuary of Penha. This is a more modern church, but what makes it special is the hilltop views of Guimaraes!
There is a cable car here that you can ride to the top of the hill. (And we love a cable car!)
Braga is one of Portugal’s rising stars!
This northern town is just 20 minutes by highway from Guimaraes. It is bigger and closer to the beach, but still has all the charms of historical Portugal.
This isn’t all I have from beautiful Portugal! Check out these other posts: