The birthplace of Portugal
At only 50 kilometres from Porto, this makes the perfect day out if you have the time after visiting Porto, or if you have planned this trip on purpose. The city lies only 20 kilometres east of Braga, another of the most beautiful and historical cities in the country. The three of them, Porto, Braga and Guimaraes are unique sights on their own, some of the must visit in Portugal. After all, this is from where the country as such was born in the 10th century, precisely right by the Guimaraes Castle. With so much history thriving on every street, every turn, it is no surprise UNESCO has recognised it and listed as a World Heritage Site.
The city is very small and extremely compact. The UNESCO area is reduced to the medieval core which is intact. Once, it was completely surrounded by fortification walls, but were mostly turned down in order to expand the city with elegant wider streets and avenues, notoriously to the east of the old town, centred around the Mumadona Square where the streets follow from here an orthogonal grid typical from the 19th/20th century extension of most of the European cities.
Visiting Guimaraes is straightforward and won’t take you much time. A day trip is well more than enough, with plenty of time to do everything and actually having the other half of the day to complete your day by going to the nearby city of Braga. Although double in size than Guimaraes, is a perfect combination that I strongly advice you to do. Going from Porto to either of them by commuter railway only takes approximately 1 hour, and in between them, one of the many public buses take around 30 minutes.
When thinking about where to go for food and what to order, that’s not as easy as in other major cities in Portugal as Lisbon or Faro. The entire northern region of the country is quite expensive, and finding a decent price is hard. Not every place do “menu del dia” so it is only a-la-carte. The national dish is cod, and any other type of fish; so are the great grilled meats, and the national pastry by excellence is the pasteis de nata, which are an egg tart pastry that originated in Lisbon’s neighbourhood of Belem, hence why you might find them named as pasteis de Belem. If you’ve ever been to a former Portuguese colony then you already know them, they are everywhere across the former empire. From Guimaraes itself you will find other traditional pastries as the tortas de Guimarães and toucinho do céu. Every patisserie and coffee place will have any of these.
There’s nothing else to be said in this brief introduction to the city, however for more information about Guimaraes check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Portugal’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Guimaraes
- Surrounding the medieval old town Apart from the train station, the once fortification walls that were tore down to enlarge the city are now squares and gardens.
-Alameda São Damaso All around the southern edge of the medieval city, some remains of the city’s wall still in place.
-Church of S. Francisco Towards the eastern side of the Alameda.
-Largo do Toural This square lies to the west of Alameda São Damaso, surrounded with beautiful buildings all around.
-Igreja de S.Pedro In Largo do Toural, southern side.
-Wall With the inscription “Aqui nasceu Portugal” (here Portugal is born).
-Jardim do Largo da República do Brasil This garden heads towards the southeast of the city, to near the base station of the Penha Funicular.
-Av. Alberto Sampaio East of Alameda São Damaso, this street retains the entire walls as it heads towards the Mumadona Square, heart of the “new town” at the northeast corner of the old town.
-Mumadona Square Heart of the “new town”, from where straight streets and avenues were laid when the city was expanded in the late 19th century.
-Penha Mountain Southeast of the city, where from the top you get the panoramic views of the entire city. Don’t fall fool in walking all the way up and take the cable car instead, not only will save you loads of time but also will save your breath. A round trip is 5 Euros.
- Medieval old town The first city built in Portugal after the country as such was born. Small yet every building beautifully preserved.
-Largo Condessa do Juncal One of the largest squares inside the old town, towards the southern end, a street from the Alameda São Damaso.
-Igreja da Misericórdia By the northern corner of Largo Condessa, built in 1606.
-Casa dos Lobos Machados Opposite the Misericórdia Church, built in 1754 in baroque style.
-Largo Joao Franco The next square, just by the north face of the Igreja da Misericórdia.
-Largo da Oliveira (Olive Square) Is the most famous and beautiful in the city, completely surrounded by historical buildings and traditional houses.
-Collegiate Church of Our Lady of the Olivea Here in Guimaraes there is no cathedral, but this is the most important church in the city.
-Old City Hall At the northern corner of the Largo da Oliveira, with porticoed arches linking to the Praça de Santiago.
-Praça de Santiago The next square and last inside the historic centre.
-Carmo Gardens At the northern end of the old town, outside of what would have been the city’s walls.
-Dukes of Braganza Palace Originally built in around 1422 for Alfonso, Count of Barcelos, illegitimate son of king John I of Portugal and future Duke of Bragança. Entrance fee of 5 Euros. Just few meters ahead east from the Carmo Gardens, literally behind the Mumadona Square.
-Castelo de Guimarães The next building north from the Braganza Palace. Built in the 10th century by Mumadona Dias to defend the city from the Muslims, it is from here that the first king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, lived and started conquering Portugal from the Muslims. The beginning of the country Portugal as such is regarded from being in this place. Entrance fee of 2 Euros.
The nearest airport is Porto’s Francisco de Sá Carneiro International Airport, 15 km to the north of that city, and is connected to downtown by metro and buses. The AeroBus costs 6 Euros for a single ride and takes you directly to the heart of the city, Praça da Liberdade. However, the cheapest, fastest and easiest way is to take the metro for 1.80 Euros (plus 0.60 for the rechargeable ticket). Just follow the signs from the arrivals hall; but you need to know that there is no one at the station selling tickets, only automated machines, where if you do not have Euros, you will not be able to pay by card (only Portuguese cards are accepted), nor pay with a note higher than 10 Euros! A bit limited considering it is a brand new metro system with state of the art ticketing machines. The solution is easy if you cannot manage to buy a ticket: ride it for free (not that I am encouraging this to you, but only if you are left with no other option). There are no barriers, just pass through. Having no one to manage at least a ticket office in an international airport station is already bad enough, so why to hassle or loose time.
Once in Porto, you can get on the commuter rail line to Guimaraes from both main stations, Sao Bento or Campanha. Don’t worry on finding which train and where to get off, the line is “Guimaraes Line” and it’s the last station. The journey time is 1 hour 13 minutes, with frequencies of a train every hour.
In Guimaraes, the train station is south of the medieval old town, a short walking distance. Every street in the historic area is pedestrian, and distances very small for what there is no need to consider any public transportation to go anywhere. However the only sight I would strongly recommend you to take the cable car is for the Penha Mountain, rather than exhausting yourself and losing too much time on foot.
We came to the city as a day trip from Porto, our base. Being that near this large city, where we flew to, was the best option not only for revisiting Porto, but because you have plenty more choice of hotels and deals over there than here. Also, what would you do in the evening/night here in Guimaraes! Not much, the good bet is in Porto. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
From our experience in Porto, we stayed at the Hotel America, right in the middle of the city in Rua de Santa Catarina 1018, just few meters behind Trindade train station and short walking distance to Avenida Trindade, the heart of the city. The location could not be any better, meaning we never needed any public transportation to move within the city; as for the property itself, it was nice. Not a high expectations but not a disappointment, it was just right. Simple, family run business with spacious rooms, comfortable and quiet; and a good breakfast. Bearing in mind this is not a city where hotels come cheap nor are good deals, this was a great value for money and we can recommend to anyone on a city-break.