Guarda Guide: What To See & Do

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Written by: | Last updated on December 1, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Guarda is an enchanting city located in Central Portugal, nestled on the highest point in the country. Boasting a history that spans back to Roman times, the city is a gem of cultural heritage and natural beauty. Guarda is celebrated as an intersection of rich historical tradition, architectural splendor, and idyllic landscapes, given its unique position amidst the Serra da Estrela, Portugal’s highest mountain range.

casa do bom cafe

From its ancient city walls to its captivating historical centre, Guarda maintains its charm through cobbled streets, medieval arches, and majestic towers. The city’s prominent jewel is the imposing Gothic cathedral, Sé da Guarda, which overlooks the town from the highest point. Guarda is an amalgamation of epochs, each leaving a distinct imprint on its urban fabric, creating a remarkable fusion of styles that contribute to the city’s allure.

Antigos Paços do Concelho

Guarda’s captivating beauty extends to its surroundings where nature thrives. With the Serra da Estrela mountains just a stone’s throw away, this city provides an excellent base for outdoor adventures, including hiking, skiing (during winter), or simply picnicking amidst the serene landscapes.

There aren’t a huge number of things to see and do in Guarda. However, the city is worth a visit either for a few hours or as a base for exploring the region. 

Useful Resources for Your Trip to Guarda

Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Guarda. 

  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Guarda. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental, particularly in Guarda 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 Guarda and the surrounding Central Portugal region. 
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Guarda. 
  • 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 Guarda is Porto Airport, but Lisbon Airport is only slightly further away.  

Where to Stay

  • Quinta do Rio Noémi – Located just 5 minutes’ drive from Guarda, this beautiful stone house offers tranquility in the Portuguese countryside, allowing you to relax and experience this beautiful part of rural Portugal. 
  • Hotel Lusitânia Congress & Spa – Located in a peaceful part of Guarda, this four-star hotel boasts a lovely mix of contemporary design with traditional Portuguese accents. It’s known for its spa facilities, which provide a delightful retreat after a day of exploring the city.

What to Do

There aren’t a huge number of attractions in Guarda, but there’s enough to occupy you for a few hours. Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Guarda Cathedral. 

Sé-Catedral da Guarda

Se Catedral da Guarda

The Sé-Catedral da Guarda, also known as the Cathedral of Guarda, is a beautiful monument of immense historic significance and a must-see attraction in the city. Originally constructed in the late 14th century, this Gothic-style cathedral dominates the city’s skyline and serves as an enduring symbol of Guarda’s rich past. Despite its imposing exterior, it carries a sense of serenity that enhances the spiritual experience of visitors.

guarda cathedral side

Inside, the cathedral impresses with its strikingly high ceilings, elaborately designed chapels, and a stunning main altar. As visitors step in, they are met with a grand nave and two aisles divided by sturdy stone columns. One of the main highlights of the interior is the chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, which is adorned with blue and white 17th-century tiles depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. The cathedral also features a noteworthy collection of sacred art, including a variety of sculptures, paintings, and ornate woodwork.

guarda cathedral back

The Sé-Catedral da Guarda stands as a powerful testament to the artistry and architectural mastery of the past. With every element, from the detailed stonework to the harmonious blend of Gothic and Manueline styles, it offers visitors a fascinating insight into Portugal’s rich religious and cultural heritage.

Igreja da Misericórdia

igreja miscordia

The Igreja da Misericórdia, or Church of Mercy, is another historic jewel in the heart of Guarda. Located in the city’s old quarter, this 17th-century church is a superb example of the baroque architecture popular in Portugal during that period. Its grand facade is adorned with beautiful carvings and decorative features that draw the eye and intrigue the visitor.

 

Stepping inside, the visitor is welcomed by a stunning nave filled with ornate woodwork and gilded carvings, reflecting the intricate craftsmanship of the period. The main altar is a masterpiece, heavily embellished with gold leaf detailing, and framed by a striking painting of the “Visit of Mary to Elizabeth”, which is the epitome of the Misericórdia’s dedication to acts of charity and mercy. The church’s interior also houses an impressive collection of religious artwork and sculptures, some of which date back to the 16th century.

Igreja da Misericordia interior in Guarda
© Portugalist

Judiaria da Guarda

medieval arch jewish quarter

The Judiaria da Guarda, or the Jewish Quarter of Guarda, is a poignant reminder of the city’s rich and diverse history. Located in the old medieval section of the city, this was once a thriving neighbourhood where the Jewish community lived until their expulsion from Portugal in the 15th century.

As you wander its narrow, winding streets, you can still see traces of this community in the preserved architectural elements of the houses but, quite frankly, there aren’t many reminders of this neighbourhood’s history. The most noteworthy landmark in the area is the “Pedra de Anel,” a marked stone ring embedded in the wall of a house, which, according to tradition, was where Torah scrolls were tied during religious processions.

What to Eat

arroz de pato
arroz de pato

In Guarda, the cuisine is a wholesome blend of local produce, traditional cooking methods, and time-honoured recipes. One such dish is “Borrego Assado no Forno” (oven-roasted lamb), known for its tender, succulent meat that melts in your mouth, typically paired with roasted potatoes and a medley of local herbs and spices.

“Arroz de Pato à Moda da Guarda” (Guarda-style duck rice) is a hearty dish, richly flavoured with savoury duck meat and often accompanied by slices of smoked sausage. This sits alongside “Arroz de Tomate Malandrinho” (tomato rice), a simple but delectable dish characterised by its slightly runny texture. Then there is the traditional “Bacalhau à Lagareiro,” a classic Portuguese dish where cod is soaked, baked, and served with copious amounts of olive oil, garlic, and potatoes.

The unique “Sopa de Castanhas” (chestnut soup) is a creamy, rich soup especially comforting during the colder months, while “Creme Caseiro da Guarda” is a locally-made cream that is a must-try dessert in Guarda.