Guimaraes, now a small town in northern Portugal, was the birthplace and home of the first king of Portugal. Thus, it can be said that it’s Portugal’s cradle. Due to its long and rich history, but also to its setting, Guimaraes is full of sights that makes it worthy of a day trip from Porto. Its historic center is full of old beautiful mansions and churches. Not far from it, one can visit the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza and the Castle of Guimaraes. The city even has UNESCO World Heritage status and was European Capital of Culture in 2012. Just a cable car ride away from the center, are the mountains, from where one can enjoy the nature and a birds eye view over the city.
Day trip from Porto to Guimaraes: A little bit of the history of Guimaraes
Guimaraes was founded in the 9th century and in the 12th became the first capital of Portugal. This is where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born. As a result, it’s considered also the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. That’s why you’ll see in the center of Guimaraes the following words: “Aqui Nasceu Portugal” (“Portugal was born here”).
How to get from Porto to Guimaraes on a day trip?
Guimaraes is in northern Portugal, just 60 km away from Porto. There’s also the closest international airport. Guimaraes makes for a great day trip from the bustling city. Trains leave from São Bento station almost hourly and the journey takes around 70 minutes. Once you get to Guimaraes, the train station area won’t look very promising. But don’t worry! Start walking and you’ll soon see beautiful old buildings, winding alleys and tiled houses, a hint of the things to come. Guimaraes is a very compact city and completely walkable.
If you don’t want to take care of planning the trip, or want to see also Braga and don’t have enough days to visit both of them on individual day trips, you had better join a small group tour to Guimaraes and Braga from Porto. With public transport on a single day, this is almost impossible to do and, in case you do succeed, it will be much too rushed. In Braga, besides another beautiful city, one can see the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, another UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its Baroque zig-zagging staircases.
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What is the best time of the year to go on a day trip from Porto to Guimaraes?
Guimaraes is a pleasure to visit almost year-round. Spring and autumn enjoy a pleasant weather. In summer it doesn’t get as hot as in the rest of Portugal either. Winters are mostly rainy and cold. If you like medieval festivals, the first week of August is the perfect time for you. That’s the time of the annual Festas Gualterianas, a costume festival held in Guimaraes since 1452.
Accommodation options in case you decide to stay overnight
Guimaraes is a great city to visit and it has enough pretty squares, monuments and museums to make for a whole day trip from Porto. But if you’d like to see more of the Minho region, time will be too short. In this case, see some accommodation suggestions below:
- Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes – for a historical experience with a view. The 12th century Augustin Convent in Penha park was converted into a hotel. It’s embellished with magnificent azulejos and chestnut ceilings.
- Hotel da Oliveira – if you rather stay in the city center. The historic manor house hides modern and comfortable rooms.
- My hostel – if you don’t want to splurge on accommodation, this property has doubles close to the city center, a seating area and garden views.
If none of these appeal, there are plenty of other accommodation options to choose from.
*Minho region is a mountainous province of incredible beauty, peppered with noble cities, traditional villages and monuments. It is also the place where vinho verde is produced.
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What are the best things to do and see on a day trip from Porto to Guimaraes?
Take a look at the best things to do and see in Guimaraes, an underrated Portuguese city. You could start with a coffee and pastry in Toural square, followed by a walk to the Sacred Hill of Guimaraes, where the ruins of the Castle of Guimaraes, the Church of San Miguel and Palace of the Dukes of Braganza stand and make your way back to the city center just in time for a late lunch.
Relax in Largo do Toural
I feel like every visit to Guimaraes should start here. This is the most important and largest square in town and a perfect place to enjoy a pastry and a coffee for a quick breakfast. More than this, you’ll find the ancient words “Aqui nasceu Portugal” (Portugal was born here) engraved in the city walls. The history of Guimaraes revolves around these words. Some time ago, the square was used for cattle fairs and bullfights, hence the name. Now, it’s lined with historic tiled buildings, cafes, shops and restaurants. Largo do Toural is one of the liveliest places in Guimaraes.
Climb on the City Walls
On the way to the castle, you have the opportunity to climb the medieval city walls. If you do, you’ll be able to see the city from a different point of view. Guimaraes was surrounded by walls in the 13th century. The defending structure had eight gates and three towers. The top of the wall is covered with red paint and it will be like walking on the red carpet with the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza in front of you.
Take a nice photo of Largo Republica do Brasil
Right where you can climb the wall, there’s a beautiful square with flower beds, an impressive Baroque church and mountains in the background. You’ll probably want to take a photo of it, but don’t hurry. The best views, you’ll get from the top of the walls.
Visit the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
The palace was built at the beginning of the 15th century and was the residence of the first Dukes of Bragança. This is where Catherine Braganza, the future wife of England’s Charles I grew up. Today, this is the most visited museum in northern Portugal, but over time it was neglected and had to be restored. Take a look around the castle and note the galleries, Gothic pointed arches and column-like brick chimneys. This is a nice preview for the medieval luxury inside the building.
Visit the interior and enjoy the magnificent tapestries, paintings, furniture, ceramics, weapons, wooden ceilings and fireplaces. Inside the palace, there’s also a chapel decorated with multicolored Flemish stained-glass windows. Another intriguing feature is the ship-like ceiling of the dining hall. There’s a combined ticket that includes the entrance for the castle next door. For up to date prices and schedule, check the official site.
Explore the Castle of Guimaraes
The 10th century stronghold is the oldest of the well-preserved buildings and historic monuments that embellish Guimaraes. This is where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born and lived. It looks impressive from the outside, but inside there’s not much to see, mostly ruins. From the castle walls, one also has fine views over the city and the mountains around. After all, it was a defending castle, built on top of a hill in order to easily spot potential invaders, the Moors and the Normans. As Guimaraes was the first capital of Portugal, this castle is also one of its greatest historical symbols. It costs 2€, if you don’t have a combined ticket with the palace.
Enter the Church of San Miguel do Castelo de Guimarães
On the path between the palace and the castle of Guimaraes, there’s the Romanesque little chapel of San Miguel. Into the floor, visitors will spot some very old tombstones. On them are the names of knights who died protecting the castle and are buried under the church. Supposedly, Alfonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was baptized in the font still kept inside. Mass is celebrated here annually on his birthday to commemorate the event. Admission is free of charge.
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Discover Santo Antonio dos Capuchos Convent
While finding our way around Guimaraes we were particularly impressed by the hidden tiles gardens and amazing architectural details of this ex-convent of the Capuchin friars. It was built in the 17th century using stone from the castle and the previous town hall. From the 19th century it hosts a hospital. One can take a tour for a small fee.
Do some shopping on the pretty Rua de Santa Maria
Rua de Santa Maria is a lovely street that runs through the historic center from north to south. On this street were once the homes of the nobles and richest people in Guimaraes. The beautiful archway dates from medieval times and is a great photo opportunity. The buildings with beautiful balconies are now home to independent shops. Buy yourself a small souvenir! You won’t be out of options, from olive oil, condiments, chocolate to soap, mugs with printed azulejos, kitchenware and jewelry.
Explore the historic center of Guimaraes
The old core of Guimaraes was designated UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001. It is “an exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town.” But the city is not a museum. Many of the medieval buildings are still being used. Take a walk through the time worn cobbled alleys and you’ll feel transported back in time. Every few meters, your eyes will meet a new sight pointing to a different trend or period in Portugal’s long history.
Have a drink in Largo da Oliveira
After seeing the three monuments on the Sacred Hill of Guimaraes, it’s the right moment to relax with a glass of wine in Largo da Oliveira. The pretty square is dominated by the old Church of Oliveira and surrounded by traditional Portuguese houses.
Largo da Oliveira got its name from a venerable olive tree that was in the middle of the square. Legends say that it was dry, but a cross was placed inside and it flourished again. Sadly, against people’s will, it was replaced with another olive tree.
Being in the historic center, Largo da Oliveira is full of people after midday, but before that you can have it all almost for yourself and admire its beauty. Later, people start to gather and the bars, restaurants and shops will be full. It’s still beautiful, but the atmosphere is very different.
Some of the town’s landmarks are set within the square:
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira / Church of Our Lady of Oliveira
This beautiful monastery was founded by Afonso Henriques in the 12th century on top of an earlier convent. It can be said that it’s as old as Guimaraes. Besides, it was a stop on the way of the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. The Manueline bell tower was added in the 16th century. At this moment, the cloister houses the Museu de Alberto Sampaio.
Alberto Sampaio Museum
Appropriate to the building it hosts it, the museum shelters sacred art collected from the former monasteries in the region. Various textiles, pottery, sculptures, paintings and gold pieces are also part of the exhibition. One of the highlights is the tunic Don Jõao I wore in the battle of Aljubarrota.
Padrão do Salado
In front of the church is the Padrão do Salado, a spectacular Gothic shrine from the 14th century. The monument was built as a memorial for the Battle of Salado in 1340. In this battle, the Portuguese and Castilian forces defeated the Moors. It has four arches that meet in the middle forming a kind of pavilion. The cross inside is the one that’s said to have given live to the olive tree in the square.
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The Old Town Hall or Antiga Câmara Municipal de Guimarães
One of the most mysterious buildings in the square is the Old Town Hall. The upper floors belong to the Convent of Santa Clara from the 16th century. In this monastery , the nuns prepared the cake of Guimaraes, a beloved traditional sweet that can be found in the local pastries. But the ribbed arches at the ground floor are from the 14th century. They remained from an even older building where rulers would meet to take the decisions.
Cross the Old Paços do Consello to Praça de San Tiago
The 14th century arches separate two beautiful old squares, Largo da Oliveira and Praça de San Tiago. This is also full of cafés and bars where you can sit and people-watch over a coffee or glass of vinho verde. According to the legend, the square is called Sao Tiago because he brought an image of Virgin Mary to the city and placed it here.
Try the local cuisine
I’m not the greatest fan of Portuguese cuisine. Usually, I love fish, but cod (bacalhau) was not my favorite, or maybe I didn’t find the recipe for me yet.
However, Portuguese sweets are delicious. And even if pasteis de nata are really tasty, there are so many more delicacies. In Guimaraes there are several sweet treats to try. This is due to the high number of convents. Traditionally, they would be donated eggs on special occasions and the nuns would make sweets out of them. Other common ingredients are almonds and cinnamon. Local to the area is toucinho do céu and tortas de Guimarães.
We bought our sweets from Doces Camir (among others whose name I don’t recall). They were delicious. But please don’t make the same mistake I did. Do not buy their cappuccino! It’s not made out of real coffee, but soluble and it wasn’t even well dissolved.
As per food, Guimaraes is famous for its lamb dishes. The local wine is the sharp vinho verde.
Visit Museu Arqueológico Martins Sarmento
The archeological museum in Guimaraes is housed in the 14th century convent of Sao Domingos. Most of the collected objects were unearthed at prehistoric Citânia de Briteiros and Castro de Sabroso, close to Guimaraes. But there are also exhibits from the Stone Age. The exhibition aims to offer visitors a glimpse into the Paleolithic and Neolithic past of the area.
Admire the tiles of Igreja de São Francisco
Away from the city center, the beautiful Romanesque church is a must visit due to its spectacular blue-tiled walls from the 18th century. The church was founded even earlier, in the 15th century. Thus, the exterior is quite plain and in total contrast with the ornate interior. Other notable features include the Gothic dome, the large wooden arch that separates the main chapel and the double-tiered cloister.
Find the zona de couros (leather area)
The streets around the San Francisco Church were once used for the city’s flourishing leather industry. During the last few years, some of the old leather-making infrastructure was restored. In Largo de Cidade, one can see a set of hollow stone cubes irrigated by a small water stream. In them, animal skins were left for days to make them malleable and afterwards to be tanned. I hadn’t seen this type of structures since I was in Morocco, almost eight years ago. This was an interesting sight.
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Get the cable car up Monte da Penha for some brilliant views
If you have time, get a cable car to the top of Penha mountain. There’s a lovely park with terraces to sit and enjoy the panoramic views over the city. One can also have a picnic or dinner with a wonderful view. In addition, one can visit the majestic sanctuary dedicated to Senhora da Penha. The forested hill has lots of beautiful paths to walk and enjoy nature. If the cable car does not operate, you can also venture uphill by car or on foot. This is also the place of Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes, in case you want to stay in a historical place with a view.
Admire the gardens of Palaci da Vila Flor, a nice end for a day trip from Porto to Guimaraes
The cultural center Vila Flor is located in one of the richest mansions in town. It is now used to host art exhibitions, conferences, speeches and concerts. But visitors can also just take a look around the beautiful gardens. From the balustrade, one can view the castle and the old town of Guimaraes.
Now it’s time to go back to the train station and return to Porto!
Final thoughts on a day trip from Porto to Guimaraes
I hope you enjoyed this article and decided to see the place where Portugal was born. Guimaraes is one of the prettiest and full of history cities you could visit on a day trip from Porto. If you have a car or more time, one of the places close to Guimaraes you might want to check out is Citânia de Briteiros, a settlement from the Iron Age.
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