Évora Guide: 5+ Best Things to See & Do

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Written by: | Last updated on September 22, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 15 minutes
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Évora, a captivating jewel in the heart of the Alentejo region of Portugal, stands as a testament to various epochs of history, each layer leaving its distinctive mark on the city. A UNESCO World Heritage site and the capital of the Alentejo region, Évora’s well-preserved old town is an exquisite tapestry of winding streets, whitewashed houses, and magnificent monuments, reflecting Roman, Moorish, and Portuguese influences. Surrounded by ancient city walls, its rich history spans over two millennia, offering a delightful fusion of the past and the present.

At its heart, the city boasts the grand Sé Catedral and the iconic Templo Romano, remnants from a time when Roman influence was paramount. But it’s not just ancient monuments that capture the essence of Évora. As you wander its cobbled streets, you’ll find a thriving modern life amidst historic settings. From bustling markets selling local produce to contemporary cafes and art galleries, Évora offers a unique blend of traditions and modernity.

Renowned for its world-class wines, the surrounding Alentejo region lends Évora an air of sophistication with its vineyards and olive groves stretching to the horizon. As you explore further, the town’s delightful gastronomy emerges, grounded in the farm-fresh produce of the region, making it an epicurean’s dream.

Combining its illustrious past with the vibrancy of contemporary culture, Évora is not just a historical site to be observed, but a living city to be experienced. With every step, you’ll discover tales of ancient civilizations, medieval conquests, and modern-day adventures, making it a destination that resonates with travellers of all inclinations.

Useful Resources for Your Trip to Évora

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

  • Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Évora. 
  • Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental. 
  • 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 Évora and the surrounding Alentejo region. 
  • Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. Also, see our article on luggage storage options in Évora
  • 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 Évora is Lisbon Airport. 

Handpicked Accommodation in Évora

Budget

  • Good Mood Hostel – One of Évora’s most popular hostels, the Good Mood Hostel offers affordable accommodation with free Wi-Fi and a welcome drink.
  • Casa dos Teles – Offers basic accommodation in the heart of Évora with free Wi-Fi.

Mid-Range & Up

  • Moov Hotel – Modern and minimalist, the Moov Hotel offers contemporary-themed accommodation at a very reasonable price.

Splurge

  • Albergaria do Calvario – A boutique hotel with traditional features, complimentary Wi-Fi, and an excellent breakfast.
  • Vitoria Stone Hotel – Offering a rooftop bar that overlooks Évora, and a spa with a swimming pool and sauna, this hotel is ideal for a romantic break in Évora.

Want more accommodation options in Évora? Check out the list of these top Évora hotels

Putting Évora on the Map

Évora is situated in the centre of Portugal, halfway between the Spanish border on the right and the Setúbal coast on the left. It’s almost level with Lisbon, around a third of the way up the country.

Lisbon to Évora takes around 1 hour-and-a-half by car, and around the same time by train. From Faro in the Algarve, getting to Évora takes around 2-and-a-half hours by car. Porto is slightly further, just over 4 hours by car.

Although there is an airport in the Alentejo, Beja International Airport, it isn’t a particularly active airport with only 259 passengers passing through in 2016. The nearest airport with commercial flights is Lisbon Portela followed by Faro Airport in the Algarve.

As well as Évora, there are several other towns worth visiting in the Alentejo including Beja, Évoramonte, Arraiolos, and Elvas. Many of these towns are quite small, and can easily be seen in a few hours, so a car is the best way to get around the Alentejo.

Things to do in Évora

Capela dos Ossos

A skeleton in Capela dos Ossos, evora

The Capela dos Ossos, or the Bone Chapel, is one of Évora’s most startling and thought-provoking attractions, seamlessly blending the macabre with the profound. Located within the Church of St. Francis, this chapel isn’t just an architectural marvel but a poignant meditation on life’s transience and the inevitability of death. The walls, columns, and ceiling of this small chapel are meticulously adorned with the bones and skulls of over 5,000 individuals, creating a uniquely sombre ambiance that instantly captures the visitor’s attention.

It is believed that the chapel was constructed in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk who, concerned with society’s increasing materialism, sought to create a space for reflection on the impermanent nature of life. As you enter, an inscribed warning greets visitors: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” which translates to “We bones that are here, await yours.” This poignant reminder of human mortality was intended to lead visitors to contemplate their own lives in the face of inevitable death.

The bones and skulls, most of which belonged to monks, are artfully arranged in various patterns, with some forming intricate designs, while others are stacked in a more straightforward manner. Two desiccated corpses, one of which is that of a child, dangle from chains, adding to the chapel’s eerie atmosphere. Contrary to initial perceptions, the chapel isn’t a place of morbidity but rather a space of contemplation, encouraging visitors to reflect on their own existence and priorities.

Despite its seemingly grim design, the Capela dos Ossos stands as a testament to the age-old human fascination with life, death, and the eternal cycle that binds all living things. For many visitors, a trip to this chapel transcends mere sightseeing, offering instead a profound, introspective experience that lingers long after leaving its bone-lined walls.

The Roman Temple of Évora

The Roman Temple of Évora

The Roman Temple of Évora, often mistakenly referred to as the Temple of Diana, stands as a striking testament to the ancient Roman presence in Portugal and is one of the best-preserved Roman monuments on the Iberian Peninsula. Located in the heart of Évora, a city that is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, this temple is a reminder of the rich tapestry of cultures that have woven their stories into the fabric of the region.

Constructed during the 1st century AD, the temple was dedicated to the Imperial Cult, rather than any singular deity like Diana. This misconception regarding its dedication to the Roman goddess of hunting, Diana, likely took root in the 17th century, stemming from a misinterpretation by a Jesuit scholar. The temple stands on a sizeable platform, with granite bases supporting its fourteen Corinthian columns made of marble, originating from nearby Estremoz. These columns, with their ornate capitals and intact architraves, reach towards the sky, evoking a sense of grandeur and reverence.

Over the centuries, the temple has witnessed the ebb and flow of various civilisations. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was repurposed several times – serving as a fortress, then as a butcher’s shop, and later as a theatre. These varied usages helped in its preservation, with its original purpose and design becoming more evident after significant restoration efforts in the 19th century.

Today, the Roman Temple of Évora is more than just an archaeological marvel; it’s a symbol of endurance and the passage of time.

Cathedral of Évora

The outside of Évora Cathedral

The Cathedral of Évora, known locally as Sé de Évora, stands as a majestic testament to the rich tapestry of religious, architectural, and historical influences that have shaped this part of Portugal. Dominating the city’s skyline, the cathedral is a harmonious blend of Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements, bearing witness to the diverse epochs and styles that have influenced its construction and subsequent modifications over the centuries.

Originally constructed between the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the cathedral’s Romanesque roots are evident in its solid, fortress-like exterior and round-topped windows. However, the Gothic influence becomes increasingly pronounced as one moves inside, where the lofty arches, rib-vaulted ceilings, and delicate stonework provide a stark contrast to the robustness of the outer façade. The main portal, intricately adorned with apostle statues, is a prime example of Gothic decorative artistry.

The interior of Sé de Évora is equally impressive. A vast nave, lined with side chapels, culminates in an ornate main chapel that showcases a beautiful altarpiece made of gilded woodwork. Perhaps one of the cathedral’s most notable features is its choir section, boasting an impressive collection of 14th-century choir stalls, meticulously carved from walnut. Additionally, for those willing to climb the narrow steps to the rooftop, the cathedral offers a panoramic view of Évora’s picturesque landscape, dotted with historic structures and the surrounding Alentejo plains.

In the context of Portugal’s religious and architectural history, the Cathedral of Évora stands out not only for its size — being one of the largest medieval cathedrals in the country — but also for its unique blend of design elements and its testament to the diverse forces that have influenced the region.

Almendres Cromlech

Almendres Cromlech

Nestled in the undulating landscapes of the Alentejo region, near Évora, lies one of the most significant megalithic complexes in Europe: the Almendres Cromlech. Often dubbed as the ‘Portuguese Stonehenge’, this ancient site predates the famous British circle by several thousand years and stands as a testament to the prehistoric communities that once thrived in this region, offering a tantalising glimpse into the beliefs, astronomical understanding, and rituals of ancient Iberian cultures.

The Almendres Cromlech consists of an impressive arrangement of roughly 95 standing stones, or menhirs, which are spread across a sloping hillside in two elliptical formations. Some of the stones bear engraved symbols, the meanings of which remain a mystery but are believed to be associated with celestial events or ritualistic practices. The positioning of the stones suggests an astronomical purpose; they are believed to be aligned with lunar, solar, and stellar events, serving as a ceremonial site or a primitive calendar system that helped track the changing seasons.

What makes Almendres Cromlech especially fascinating is its continuous use and adaptation over millennia. Originally set up in the 6th millennium BC, the site underwent several modifications and reconfigurations over the ages. The chronology of these stones and their varied designs and orientations hint at the evolving understanding and significance of the site for different communities across eras.

Visiting the Almendres Cromlech is a profoundly evocative experience. Walking amidst these ancient stones, one is transported back in time, pondering the ceremonies, gatherings, and rituals that might have taken place here. The surrounding landscapes of olive groves and cork oaks, typical of Alentejo, enhance the timeless ambiance of the site. For those intrigued by ancient history, archaeoastronomy, or simply the mysteries of human existence, Almendres Cromlech is a compelling testament to the depth and complexity of human civilisation’s early chapters.

Igreja e Mosteiro de São Francisco

Nestled within the heart of Évora, the historic city of the Alentejo region, stands the monumental Igreja e Mosteiro de São Francisco, often simply referred to as Igreja de São Francisco. This church and its adjoining monastery are remarkable examples of Gothic-Manueline architecture, highlighting the intricate and decorative artistry synonymous with Portugal during the reign of King Manuel I. Built between the end of the 15th and the early years of the 16th century, the complex holds a place of significance in the architectural and religious history of the region.

The façade of the Igreja de São Francisco is a stunning amalgamation of Gothic grandeur with Manueline ornamentation. The main portal is flanked by statues of the apostles, standing as silent guardians to this sacred space. Inside, the church is expansive and the ceiling vaults high, adorned with a net of stone ribs. One of the most remarkable features of the church’s interior is the Manueline chapel, a true masterpiece showcasing the highly decorative style, replete with maritime motifs, carved ropes, and other symbols, reflecting Portugal’s Age of Discoveries.

But while its architecture is indeed impressive, Igreja de São Francisco is perhaps best known for its eerily captivating Capela dos Ossos or the Chapel of Bones. This chapel gets its name from the thousands of human bones and skulls that line its walls and ceilings. Conceived by Franciscan monks in the 16th century, the chapel serves as a meditative space, reminding visitors of the transitory nature of life with the chilling message above the entrance: “We bones, lying here, for yours we wait.”

Praça do Giraldo

Praça do Giraldo

Praça do Giraldo stands as the pulsating heart of Évora, a city steeped in history and tradition in the Alentejo region of Portugal. This expansive square, with its iconic white buildings and ornate archways, has been a hub of city life for centuries, bearing witness to numerous events, from bustling market days to significant historical moments. It is named in honour of Geraldo Geraldes, or Giraldo the Fearless, a Christian knight responsible for the re-conquest of Évora from the Moors in 1165. Over the years, the square has transformed, but it remains a testament to the city’s rich past and vibrant present.

The architecture surrounding the square showcases the seamless blend of Roman, Gothic, Manueline, and Baroque styles – a reflection of Évora’s layered history. The centrepiece of Praça do Giraldo is the striking Renaissance fountain, dating back to the 16th century, with its eight spouts symbolising the eight streets leading into the square. At night, the fountain is illuminated, adding to the square’s enchanting ambiance. Another notable feature is the Church of Santo Antão, a majestic structure that dominates the northern end of the square with its imposing façade and beautiful interiors.

Today, Praça do Giraldo is not just a historical monument but also a lively social hotspot. Cafés, restaurants, and shops line its perimeter, inviting locals and tourists alike to sit and soak in the atmosphere. Whether it’s sipping a coffee under the shade of an umbrella, exploring the many boutiques, or simply wandering and people-watching, a visit to Évora is incomplete without spending time in this emblematic square.

What to Eat

queijada de evora

The culinary delights of Évora are a reflection of the Alentejo region’s rich history and traditions. A meal here is not just a gastronomic experience but a journey through time, narrated through the flavours and aromas that evoke the region’s sun-drenched plains and ancient traditions.

A standout treat from Évora are the “Queijadas De Évora.” These sweet cheese tarts, made with simple ingredients like fresh cheese, sugar, cinnamon, and eggs, are a mouth-watering confection that boasts a delicate balance between creamy and crumbly. Often enjoyed with a mid-morning coffee or as an afternoon snack, they are a delightful testament to Évora’s contribution to Portugal’s rich tapestry of pastries.

Broadening the palate to the wider Alentejo region, one encounters “Açorda” – a traditional dish often described as a bread soup. It’s a rustic, heart-warming concoction, where stale bread is transformed by soaking in a rich mixture of garlic, coriander, olive oil, and boiling water or fish broth. Topped with a poached egg and sometimes accompanied by cod or shrimp, Açorda is soul food that epitomises the region’s knack for crafting deeply satisfying dishes from humble ingredients.

“Migas” is another Alentejano staple, a hearty side dish that ingeniously uses leftover bread. The bread is crumbled and sautéed with garlic, olive oil, and sometimes added with asparagus or pork bits, until it acquires a soft, almost risotto-like consistency. A perfect accompaniment to various meat dishes, migas showcases the Alentejo’s culinary philosophy of waste-not-want-not, turning simple ingredients into sublime delights.

Events in Évora

  • Rota de Sabores Tradicionais – A food festival that lasts for several months (January – May), during which restaurants in Évora take part and put on special dishes.
  • Festival Évora Clássica – An annual music festival that takes place every year in June. Although the event originally focused on classical music, it has now changed to incorporate many different genres and world styles.
  • Feira São João – A 12-day festival that takes place every year in June. Expect local Aletejo gastronomy, cultural costumes and dancing, and crafts from local producers.

Getting Here:

  • Flying: While there is a small airport in Beja, the nearest airport for most people will either be Faro Airport in the Algarve or Lisbon Airport in Lisbon. From Lisbon, you can easily get to Évora by bus or train and from Faro, by bus. 
  • Train: It’s easy to get to Évora by train from both Lisbon and Porto, and this is the route most people choose to take. For tickets and timetables, see cp.pt
  • Bus: There are regular buses to Évora from towns and cities throughout Portugal. For tickets and timetables, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt
  • Car: While a car isn’t necessary inside of Évora, it may be helpful if you want to explore the surrounding Alentejo region as there are lots of interesting towns and villages here besides Évora. It can also be helpful if you want to visit the standing stones at Almendres Cromlech.