Guimarães, often referred to as the birthplace of Portugal, is a city deeply entrenched in history, heritage, and culture. Nestled in the northern region of the country, this UNESCO World Heritage city is an immersive trip back to medieval times with its well-preserved city centre, charming cobbled streets, and emblematic monuments.
Guimarães is primarily known for its association with the formation of Portugal, being the birthplace of the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques, in the 12th century. This historical prominence resonates throughout the city and is vividly seen in its meticulously preserved ancient buildings.
The city’s architectural highlight is the impressive Guimarães Castle, a symbol of the nation’s foundation, that looms high on a hill overlooking the city. Add to that the stunning Palace of the Dukes of Braganza and the idyllic Church of São Miguel do Castelo, and you have a triumvirate of historical landmarks that are essential to understanding Portugal’s heritage. But Guimarães isn’t just about history – it’s also a vibrant, living city with a young population due to its University of Minho campus (Campus of Azurém), adding a lively, contemporary layer to its timeless charm.
Although you could see most of the attractions in Guimarães as part of a day trip, you ideally need a good two days to see everything here, particularly if you plan to see the Penha Sanctuary. Guimarães’ location also offers easy access to the rest of Northern Portugal and makes it a popular base for exploring the region. If you plan to see any of the attractions nearby, you should allow even more time.
Depending on how you’re travelling, there are several ways to get to Guimarães.
- Flying: The closest airport to Guimarães is Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport in Porto, which is around 50 kilometres away. This airport is served by numerous international airlines with regular flights from many European cities, as well as some intercontinental flights. From the airport, you can take a taxi, a shuttle, or use public transportation to reach Guimarães.
- By Car: Guimarães is well connected by highways to other major cities in Portugal. If you’re driving from Porto, you can take the A3 and A7, which takes around 40 minutes. From Lisbon, it’s about a four-hour drive via the A1.
- By Train: Guimarães has its own train station, served by the Portuguese train company CP. There are regular connections from Porto’s Sao Bento and Porto-Campanhã stations, with the journey typically taking a little over an hour. For train tickets and timetables, see cp.pt.
- By Bus: There are several bus companies like Rede Expressos and Flixbus that run regular services to Guimarães from many cities across Portugal, including Lisbon, Porto, Braga, and others. The city’s central bus station is conveniently located in the city centre, making it easy to reach your accommodation.
Where to stay
Between Airbnb and Booking, there are plenty of accommodation options in the city. However, there are a few options that stand out:
- Pousada Mosteiro de Guimarães: Set in a beautifully restored 12th-century Augustinian monastery, this hotel is both historic and luxurious. It features stunning views of the city and the Santa Marinha Mountains, while its tranquil setting ensures a peaceful stay.
- Casa do Juncal: This boutique hotel is located in a carefully restored 18th-century building in the heart of Guimarães’ historic center. It combines the charm and character of its historical roots with modern comforts and stylish design.
- Hotel da Oliveira: Situated within the historical center, this hotel is directly within the city’s UNESCO World Heritage site. Each room is named after a significant figure from the city’s history, immersing guests in the rich culture and heritage of Guimarães.
- EMAJ – Boutique Hotel: Located in the centre of Guimarães, this quirky hotel offers a unique blend of historical architecture and contemporary design. Its striking exterior and funky interior design set it apart as a vibrant and unique place to stay.
- Casa do Ribeiro: For something a bit different, Casa do Ribeiro offers a chance to stay in a traditional Portuguese country house. It’s located just outside the city centre, providing a tranquil retreat with beautiful surrounding countryside.
What to See & Do
There is a lot to see in Guimarães, and more than enough to keep you busy for at least a day or two.
Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza is a must-visit attraction in Guimarães. This imposing medieval estate, originally built in the 15th century by Afonso, the first Duke of Braganza, beautifully exemplifies the period’s architectural style with its unique mix of Portuguese and Northern European influences. As you wander through the grand rooms, you’ll find them filled with fascinating collections of art, tapestries, furniture, and weapons from the era. Don’t miss the chance to climb to the upper floors, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over the charming cityscape of Guimarães.
A trip to Guimarães would not be complete without a visit to the iconic Guimarães Castle, widely known as the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. This historic fortress dates back to the 10th century and was crucial in protecting the town from invasions during the Middle Ages. Visitors are invited to explore the robust stone walls and towers that hold centuries of history within their confines. One of the highlights of the castle is climbing the Keep, from where you get spectacular views of Guimarães and the surrounding landscapes.
Enjoy the Views from Penha Park
Ascending to the lofty heights of Penha Mountain, you will find the scenic Penha Park and the serene Penha Sanctuary. Just a few kilometres from the center of Guimarães, these attractions offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling city below. A combination of the natural beauty of the park and the spiritual appeal of the sanctuary make a visit to Penha a must-do when in Guimarães.
Penha Park is an inviting spot for nature lovers and families, providing several walking trails that meander through the lush vegetation, revealing breathtaking views of the city and its surrounding landscapes at various vantage points. The park is dotted with picnic spots, restaurants, and even grottos to explore.
In the heart of the park lies the Penha Sanctuary, a modernist church that’s been a site of pilgrimage since the 1930s. The sanctuary is not only a spiritual refuge, but its panoramic balcony provides awe-inspiring views over Guimarães and far beyond. Whether you hike up the trails, take a cable car, or drive up the mountain, Penha Park and Sanctuary offer a rewarding and invigorating experience.
Roam around the Old Town
Roaming around the Old Town of Guimarães is a delightful experience that transports you back in time. As you stroll through its medieval narrow lanes, you’ll discover well-preserved, traditional houses with unique Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque styles, alongside charming boutiques and quaint cafes. The Old Town’s heart is Largo da Oliveira, a square crowned by the Church of Our Lady of Oliveira and the quaint Padrao do Salado monument. The surrounding area is replete with cobbled streets, ancient buildings, and picturesque plazas that lend the city an old-world charm.
Largo da Oliveira
Largo da Oliveira, or Olive Square, is a quintessential centerpiece of Guimarães’ historic old town. Encircled by well-preserved medieval buildings, including quaint houses, charming cafes, and unique shops, the square takes its name from a large, ancient olive tree that stands in its heart. This tree overlooks the emblematic Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira and the iconic Gothic shrine, Padrão do Salado, adding to the timeless allure of the square.
The lively atmosphere of Largo da Oliveira, enhanced by the nearby street musicians and the chatter of locals and tourists alike, makes it a great place to soak in the city’s culture, enjoy a meal or coffee, and observe the daily rhythm of life in Guimarães.
Igreja e Convento de São Francisco
The Igreja e Convento de São Francisco in Guimarães is an exquisite monument that embodies the city’s deep-rooted religious heritage. Originally built in the 14th century, this Franciscan monastery and church is a stellar example of Portuguese Gothic architecture, with notable Manueline influences. Inside, the church is home to a fascinating mix of decorative styles, from stunning Azulejos (traditional Portuguese tiles) to beautiful Baroque wooden carvings. Outside, you’ll find a serene, landscaped cloister that offers a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Citania de Briteiros
Although not quite in Guimarães, Citania de Briteiros is a fascinating archaeological site located just a short drive from Guimarães. This ancient Celtic Iron Age settlement, also known as the “Briteiros Ruins,” gives you a glimpse into life more than 2,000 years ago. Here, you’ll find well-preserved stone structures, including residential compounds, bathhouses, and even a council chamber, set across a sprawling hilltop with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The site also features a small museum where you can learn more about the Celtic people who once occupied this area.
Getting to Citania de Briteiros from Guimarães takes around 25 minutes by car.
What to Eat
Some typical dishes that you’ll see on restaurant menus in Guimarães include cabrito assado (roast kid goat), Arroz de pica no chão (rice cooked in rabbit or chicken blood), rojões (fried fatty cubes of pork with potatoes), bacalhau assado (roast bacalhau), sopa de nabos (turnip soup), and vitela assada (roast veal). Some of these are specific to Guimarães, but many are common across the whole of The Minho and Northern Portugal.