For anyone who wants to spend their vacation immersed in a medieval environment, Guimaraes is the place for you. This northern city, sitting inland from the Atlantic coast, has a very different feel to the Portugal of the Algarve and Lisbon regions.
Being the birthplace of the first king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, this city is steeped in historical influence, which can be seen in bucket loads in its well-preserved structures. However, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, and quaint shops, not to mention some stunning mountain top views, there are many more sides to this area than simply history.
But, if you need a little convincing about whether Guimaraes is worth visiting or not, you’ve come to the right place. Let us take you through the top seven reasons why this city needs to be added to your European travel list ASAP.
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Bundles of history
Founded in the 4th century and becoming the first capital of Portugal in the 12th century, it goes without saying that Guimaraes is certainly of historical importance. The first stop on your history tour has to be the Guimaraes Castle. A short walk from the Old Town, this medieval marvel was the birthplace of the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques, and stands today as a signature sight in the city’s landscape.
But if that wasn’t enough to quench your thirst for knowledge, then head on over to the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza and learn all about the powerful Braganza family (the ruling dynasty from 1640 to 1910). Built in the style of a French chateau, this palace is just as breathtaking as it is interesting.
And with an abundance of art galleries, museums, and monuments, there is plenty more to keep any history buff satisfied.
Prepare to be transported to a different time, as you walk the narrow, winding streets of the Historic Center of Guimaraes. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, this urban space is the ultimate spot to marvel at the city’s stunning architecture.
Strolling along the cobbled streets, you are surrounded by an exciting mix of medieval and modern. Centered around two plazas, Oliveira and Santiago, the Historic Center houses the Old Town Hall, churches, and half-timbered houses, all showcasing the impressive medieval building techniques.
Although Guimaraes may lack the stunning sea views of other Portuguese destinations, there are still opportunities aplenty for jaw-dropping sights throughout this city.
Enjoy a coffee in a medieval square
Sitting out in the blazing sun, coffee in hand, watching the world go by is definitely an enjoyable part of any vacation. But now imagine it with the feeling of being on the set of Game of Thrones…or something similar if you’re not a fan.
The Largo da Oliveira Square, named after the centuries-old olive tree planted there, is situated in the Historic Center. Surrounded by Gothic-style buildings and traditional houses of northern Portugal, it’s the perfect place to truly soak in the Guimaraes environment. And with plenty of bars, restaurants, and cafes to choose from, all at fairly reasonable prices, you shouldn’t have a problem getting a spot, even in the busy seasons.
Panoramic views from Penha Mountain
A highlight of any Guimaraes vacation, the Penha mountain top view is simply stunning. Located just 7 kilometers from the city, access to the top is either by car or cable car. Or of course walking if you’ve got it in you. But the cable car (Teleférico de Guimarães) is by far your easiest option and costs just €7.50 ($8.84) return. In fact, even just the ride alone deserves a spot on this list. With spectacular views out to the city as you ascend through the lush greenery, it’s definitely not a journey that will have you asking, ‘are we there yet?’.
Once you reach the 600-meter-high mountain top, you will be itching to get out your camera and snap those sweeping panoramic shots. However, once you’ve taken in the views, there is still plenty more to see. With a small church, places to eat, and several hiking trails, past huge, moss-covered boulders, it’s definitely an area you can spend a good few hours.
Plenty of restaurants
You certainly won’t go hungry staying in Guimaraes. With an abundance of restaurants and cafes to choose from, you can be scoffing down the best of Portuguese cuisine whenever those hunger pangs call.
If you’re after a little seafood, Republica do Polvo offers a wide selection of tasty delicacies, from octopus to fried sardines. However, if you want to try staples of the northerner’s diet, such as caldo verde soup or alheira sausage, Dona Maria, located close to the old town, offers a menu that will have you eating like a local in no time.
And don’t worry, if you’re a bit of a stickler for home-based foods, there are plenty of places offering many international favorites too.
Bring back some famous Guimaraes needlework
While doing a bit of shopping in these parts, you may notice several eye-catching patterns scattered around the place.
These decorative pieces of needlework are known as Guimaraes embroidery (or locally as Bordado de Guimaraes) and date back to the 10th century. Based on a combination of various stitches, it can come in colored versions (usually consisting of red and blue) or an all-white version (known as Guimaraes whitework). For several hundreds of years, a large proportion of women in the region were employed in this industry. However, it really took off in the early 19th century when Empire-style dresses were all the rage.
So why not get a special someone a little token of love, in the form of an impressive stitchwork item – a perfect Guimaraes souvenir.
Stay in a 12th-century former monastery
Accommodation doesn’t get much more interesting than this. The Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes luxury hotel is situated in a 12th century Augustin Convent. This grand building, within walking distance of central Guimaraes, houses a pool, wellness areas, and a restaurant.
With magnificent views overlooking the city, a stay here is certainly in keeping with the old time feel of Guimaraes itself. Having a meal in the dining area, with impressive stone arches, sipping a glass of wine by the fireplace or wandering the marvelous gardens is sure to transport you to the splendor of yesteryear.
So, if you’ve had enough of feeling like simply a tourist on vacation and want to feel a bit more like royalty, this place is waiting to fulfill those fantasies.
Hopefully we’ve convinced you that Guimaraes is worth visiting but do you want to know if the nearby Porto is worth a visit also? Well, find out here.