Castelo Branco isn’t a city that’s on the tourist trail, and there are two main reasons for that. Firstly, it’s a little out of the way. Although the drive from Lisbon only takes around 2.5 hours, it is the other side of the country from Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Aveiro, and all of the other popular places to visit.
Secondly, there just isn’t that much to see and do in Castelo Branco. There is a castle obviously, and there are other attractions like museums, churches, and the Bishop’s Palace Gardens, but there probably isn’t enough to make The City of Castelo Branco really stand out.
The Region of Castelo Branco is a different story, however. There are a lot of interesting towns and villages in the area including Monsanto, Idanha-a-Velha, and Belmonte. All of these are worth making a special trip for, along with any of the other villages included in Portugal’s “historical villages” designation.
Of course, not being on the tourist trail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While it does mean that there isn’t a huge number of things to see and do, it also means that the city has not been overrun with tuk-tuks and tour groups. If you’re looking to see a fairly authentic Portuguese city, Castelo Branco is definitely somewhere to consider.
How much time do you need? For the city of Castelo Branco itself, a day is more than enough. You could even cover the main attractions (the castle and the gardens) in less than half a day. For the towns and villages in the surrounding region, however, you will need more time – at least 2 days to get around places like Monsanto, Idanha-a-Velha, and Belmonte (and that’s assuming you’re driving).
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Castelo Branco
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Batalha.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Castelo Branco.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental, particularly in Castelo Branco and the surrounding Central Portugal region. There are normally cheaper deals at the airport.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon and Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Castelo Branco and the surrounding Central Portugal region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal, and are a good place to look for luggage storage in Castelo Branco.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Castelo Branco is Lisbon Airport, but Porto Airport is only slightly further away.
Where to stay
There are lots of Airbnbs and hotels in Castelo Branco, but a few that stand out are:
- Hotel Império do Rei – Situated in the city center, this hotel offers comfortable accommodations close to several local attractions such as the Castelo Branco Castle and the Francisco Tavares Proença Júnior Museum.
- Meliá Castelo Branco – Located on a hilltop, Meliá Castelo Branco offers panoramic views of Castelo Branco and features a health club with an indoor pool, sauna, and Turkish bath.
What to Do
There aren’t a huge number of attractions in Castelo Branco, but there are enough to fill a short trip here.
Jardim do Paço Episcopal de Castelo Branco
The Jardim do Paço Episcopal de Castelo Branco (or Bishop’s Palace Gardens) are probably Castelo Branco’s most popular and best-rated attraction.
It was commissioned by Bishop João de Mendonça in the 18th Century, and is designed in a Baroque style with five lakes, neatly-trimmed hedges, and themed areas.
There are lots of granite statues of saints, apostles, lions, and monarchs. Interestingly, any statues of Spanish kings – who ruled Portugal for a period of 60 years – are smaller than any of the Portuguese ones.
Castelo Branco is named after the castle which sits on the hill above the city. Surprisingly, given the name, the castle isn’t actually white although it’s said that it can look white when the sun hits the stone.
The castle itself is worth visiting if you’re in Castelo Branco, but it definitely isn’t Portugal’s best surviving castle: one tower remains along with some sections of the walls. As it’s located on a hill, you get a view over Castelo Branco and the surrounding region.
The streets around the castle are also interesting to wander through. Narrow and cobbled, they are a world apart from the more modern vibe that most of Castelo Branco has. The city wall is such a part of this city’s makeup that some houses have actually built off the wall and use it as one of the walls in their house.
To get to the castle, just follow the signs up the hill.
Cathedral of Castelo Branco
The Sé de Castelo Branco or Igreja de São Miguel is Castelo Branco’s cathedral. It was built in the 17th Century in the 17th Century and briefly lost its status as a Cathedral between 1881 and 1956 when the Diocese of Castelo Branco became part of the Diocese of Portalegre.
Centro de Interpretação do Bordado de Castelo Branco
The Centro de Interpretação do Bordado de Castelo Branco is a small museum that focuses on Castelo Branco embroidery, a key industry for the city – particularly in times gone by.
The centre takes you through all aspects of Castelo Branco embroidery, including sowing the flax, weaving, embroidery, and its commercial aspects.
What to Eat
Castelo Branco, much like the rest of Portugal, boasts a rich gastronomic tradition. One of the city’s specialties is the “Empadas de Castelo Branco”, a type of savory pie filled with meat or fish, typically cooked in a wood-fired oven. The crust is golden and crispy, while the filling is tender and aromatic. Another popular dish unique to the area is “Papas de Carolo”. This dessert is made from sweet cornmeal and flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon. It’s similar to arroz doce, a more common Portuguese desert.
Cheeses are another thing that you should look out for. Queijo de Castelo Branco is made in Castelo Branco itself but, as well as this cheese, it’s also worth looking out for other “Queijos da Beira Baixa PDO” like Queijo picante and Queijo Amarelo da Beira Baixa. Á cabreira, another popular regional cheese, is typically made in Fundão.
There are a number of ways to get to Castelo Branco, including public transport options. You won’t need a car in the city but having a car is pretty much essential if you want to visit nearby towns like Monsanto, Idanha-a-Velha, and Belmonte.
- By Train: While the train route to Castelo Branco is quite scenic, and definitely more scenic than the bus route, on this particular route the bus is often faster than the train. Train tickets can be found on cp.pt.
- By Bus: The bus is often the fastest and cheapest way to get to Castelo Branco, particularly as the train line only connects to certain parts of the country. Bus tickets and timetables can be found through Rede Expressos and Flixbus.pt.
- By Car: The easiest way to get to Castelo Branco and to explore this part of Portugal is by car. The driving time from both Lisbon and Porto is around 2.5 hours.
- Flying: Lisbon and Porto Airport are roughly the same distance from Castelo Branco.