The best independent guide to north Portugal
The best independent guide to north Portugal
Guimarães is one of the finest historic cities in northern Portugal.
Guimaraes is fondly regarded by the Portuguese as the birthplace of their country. It was here that the first Portuguese king (Afonso Henriques 1109- 1185) was born, and was the capital city during Portugal's struggle for independence.
Guimarães is a city rich with medieval history and the characterful buildings associated with the era. Found within the city is a magnificent Gothic monastery, a heavily fortified castle, and an elegant 15th-century palace. Between these monuments is a maze of cobbled streets and charming plazas, lined with traditional buildings and family-run shops.
Guimarães is a delight to visit, and it is regarded as the best day trip from Porto. For a day trip, it is very easy to travel to Guimaraes, as both cities are connected by a direct and inexpensive train service.
The Castelo de Guimarães – Constructed in the 10th century to defend against the Moors, it was the birthplace of King Afonso Henrique and later served as his royal court. The castle was greatly strengthened during the 13th century, and these fortifications are what are seen today.
The Praça de São Tiago and Largo da Oliveira - The two medieval plazas at the heart of Guimarães, and the most characterful area of the city. The two plazas contain with many of Guimarães’ oldest buildings, such as the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira and the Antiga Câmara Municipal, and is the ideal location for a relaxing lunch.
The Paço dos Duques de Bragança - An imposing 15th-century palace that exhibits a fascinating collection of 17th-century furniture and tapestries. The palace was extensive restored (and almost rebuilt!) in the 1940s, and is probably much grander today than it originally was.
Monte da Penha – A forest-covered hill (613m) to the east of Guimarães, with giant boulders, tranquil footpaths and stunning views over the region. A cable car connects Guimarães with the Santuário da Penha, the modern church complex at the top of the hill.
You should dedicate one full day of sightseeing to visit Guimarães.
Guimarães is a compact city but has a surprising number of plazas and narrow streets, which are easy to get lost in and makes the city seem much larger than it actually is. A typical visit to the historic centre is three hours, which could be extended to five hours if you include every museum and religious building.
Penha hill (Monte da Penha) is a good addition to a trip to Guimarães. It takes around 90 minutes to explore the sights of Parque da Penha and ride the cable car both ways.
The number of sights makes Guimarães ideal for a day trip from Porto, but this will be a very long day, as the train takes 70 minutes each way (details later in this article). For this reason, you may wish to spend the night in Guimarães, and there are many excellent hotel options within the city.
The Nossa Senhora da Consolação church and the pretty Largo República do Brasil avenue
The majority of visitors to Guimarães visit the city as a day trip from Porto.
A typical day trip to Guimarães is divided into three sections; the medieval quarter, the Paço dos Duques/ Castelo de Guimarães area and the Penha hill (Monte da Penha).
The delightful medieval quarter is focused around three plazas, the Largo da Oliveira, the Largo República do Brasil, and the Largo do Toural. Most visitors begin with this section of the city as it is the closest to the train station. This area also contains the largest selection of restaurants, cafes and shops, and is the recommended area for lunch.
The Paço dos Duques palace and Castelo de Guimarães sit at the top of Largo hill, and this is to the north of the medieval quarter. While in this area, do also visit the Santo António convent and the Igreja de São Miguel, the church where Afonso Henriques was baptised.
The third tourist area of Guimarães is Penha Hill. This should be visited after the other two areas, and only added to a day trip if you have the energy or time. A cable car connects the city up to Penha Hill, and at the summit is the Santuário da Penha, a church complex and pleasant forested footpaths between the huge boulders.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested day trip to Guimarães. The tour starts from the train station, and the Penha Hill section is marked in yellow (Note: zoom out to see all of the markers)
Sights of Guimarães: 1) Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação 2) Largo República do Brasil 3) Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira 4) Largo da Oliveira 5) The Old town hall Antiga câmara municipal 6) Praça de São Tiago 7) Convento de Santa Clara 8) Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo 9) Paço dos Duques de Bragança 10) Igreja de Sao Miguel 11) Castelo de Guimarães 12) Estátua a Dom Afonso Henriques 13) Convento de Santo António dos Capuchos 14) Largo do Toural 15) “Here was born Portugal” city walls 16) Capela de São Francisco
Sights of Penha hill: 17) Santuário da Penha 18) Monte de Santa Catarina (viewpoint) 19) Summit of Penha hill (613m) 20) Miradouro do Penha (viewpoint) 21) Nossa Senhora do Carmo grotto
Antiga Câmara Municipal, the Old Town Hall on the Largo da Oliveira
The Jardim do Largo Condessa do Juncal
The pretty Largo da Oliveira – The plaza is named after the olive tree which grows in its centre
The Praça de São Tiago
The 17th century tapestries hanging in the Paço dos Duques de Bragança
The Teleférico da Penha, the cable car that connects Guimarães with Penha hill
The view from the Monte de Santa Catarina
The famed "Here Portugal was Born" inscription on the city walls
Guimarães and Braga are both popular day trips from Porto.
Braga is known as the religious capital of Portugal, and was the site of Portugal's first cathedral. Close to Braga is the beautiful Bom Jesus do Monte with its decorative Baroque stairway.
Both cities are fantastic tourist destinations, but in our opinion, Guimarães should be visited before Braga. Guimarães has more varied sights and is more characterful.
Advice: If you are limited for time, you may be tempted to squeeze both Guimarães and Braga into a single day trip. This is a poor idea as both cities need at least one day to explore, and should not be combined unless you join an organised tour.
Related articles: Braga guide - Day trips from Porto
A group tour of Guimarães?
An organised tour is a great way to discover Guimarães, especially if you are limited for time or don't want the hassle of public transport.
We have worked with GetYourGuide.com for the previous six years, and a selection of their best tours of Guimarães includes:
Guimarães is 43km to the northeast of Porto, and is served by a direct rail service. In Porto, the train departs from the Sao Bento train station and a return ticket costs €6.20. The Guimarães-Porto railway is an "urban" route, which means there are many train stations and has a tedious journey time of 70min.
The latest timetable can be seen on the Comboios de Portugal (CP) website
This is a PDF, so it may download on mobile phones.
Warning: Do check train times for the return journey (Guimaraes to Porto), especially at the weekends, as there can be gaps of over 2 hours between departures.
Guimarães train station is to the south of the city, and it is a 10-minute walk to the historic centre. On exiting Guimarães station, turn to the right and walk to the city centre via the Avenida Dom João IV; this is the more scenic route.
Related article: Porto to Guimarães
The train to Guimarães waiting in Sao Bento train station
Guimarães is known as the birthplace of Portugal, as it was here that the first king of Portugal (Afonso Henriques) was born in 1109.
Afonso was baptised in the Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo, one of the oldest churches in Portugal. This small chapel stands in front of the castle, and the baptism font is still in its original location.
The battle of São Mamede in 1128, which established Portugal as an independent country, was fought just outside of Guimarães. This battle pitted Afonso Henriques against his mother, Teresa of Portugal, and the Kingdom of León.
After Afonso's victory, Guimarães became the capital of the newly established kingdom, but after 20 years, the capital was relocated to Coimbra.
The Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo