Guimarães, a small city in the northern part of the country, is affectionately referred to as the birthplace of Portuguese state and identity as it was here that they originated in the first half of the 12th century. Its medieval historic centre, which has been well-preserved and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, makes Guimarães an increasingly popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways in Portugal. The city is located just an hour away from Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal, making it easily accessible by both road and railway.
In this blog post, I will provide you with a simple self-guided tour of Guimarães. The tour will take you to the city’s most well-known attractions, including the 10th-century castle that played a significant role in the establishment of Portugal, as well as the cable car that will transport you to the top of Monte da Penha, where you can enjoy breath-taking panoramic views of the lush Portuguese countryside.
Centro Cultural Vila Flor
Arriving by Car: If you are arriving by car, the Centro Cultural Vila Flor is great for parking. You can park for the whole day at the paid parking lot of Centro Cultural Vila Flor. If you are coming off season then you can park by the castle.
Arriving by Train: The train station is also just a few steps away. Leaver the train station, turn left, along Av. Dom João IV, and first right along Av. Dom Afonso Henriques to get to the Centro Cultural Vila Flor.
Enjoy strolling around the gardens of this historic house with their flower beds bordered by boxwood with a wide variety of shrubs and ornamental herbaceous species. Look for the ponds and fountains in the centre, which are surrounded by garden terraces.Read more about the Centro Cultural Vila Flor
Largo do Toural
Head back to Av. Dom Afonso Henriques and turn right to walk along it until you reach Largo do Toural.
Largo do Toural is a central square located in Guimarães, which serves as a gateway to the city’s medieval historic center. A large fountain sits at the heart of the square, while the Church of São Pedro stands on one side, and a long wall of tall buildings on the other. These buildings have facades composed of seemingly endless rows of elongated windows with narrow strips of wall covered in traditional Portuguese tiles, known as azulejos. This gives Largo do Toural an elegant look and feel.
Here, you will see the iconic sign “Aqui nasceu Portugal” (meaning “Portugal Was Born Here”) affixed to a portion of the medieval defensive wall. This proudly proclaims the fact that the County of Portucale became the independent Kingdom of Portugal in the first half of the 12th century, right here in the city of Guimarães.
Several small eateries and traditional shops can be found around Largo do Toural, making it a great place to stop and get breakfast, a snack, coffee, or water. Additionally, there are several pharmacies in the area where you can find last-minute essentials such as hand sanitizer or tissues.Read more about the Largo do Toural
Martins Sarmento Society
120 meters from the north end of Largo do Toural, the Museum of the Martins Sarmento Society.
The Museum of the Martins Sarmento Society holds the distinction of being the oldest archaeological museum in Portugal. Housed in an exquisite neoclassical edifice, the museum features the Gothic cloister of the former Monastery of São Domingos. Visitors can look forward to an extensive collection of thousands of Celtic and Roman artefacts, with a particular focus on the excavations of Citânia de Briteiros, a Celtic hill-fort that saw occupation by various cultures through the Middle Ages. Located approximately 15 kilometers from Guimarães, the museum is a must-visit destination for history buffs.Read more about the Martins Sarmento Society
Squares of Guimarães
Starting at the north end of Largo do Toural, retrace your steps and head northward towards Rua de Santo António. This long street is lined with fancy boutiques and boasts facades covered in beautiful azulejos. From Rua de Santo António, walk northeast for approximately 110 meters, then turn right onto Rua Val de Donas.
As you enter the historic centre of Guimarães, you’ll notice an array of houses and buildings in various styles. Each structure reflects the passage of time and the architectural changes that have taken place throughout the centuries. Taking a leisurely stroll down the street, you’ll come across charming small balconies with wrought-iron railings, blooming potted plants, and cobbled lanes. The ambiance is nothing short of magical, and it’s quite enjoyable to take your time soaking it all in.
The first square you will come to is the Fonte do Largo Dr. João da Mota Prego, with a couple of olive trees, fountain and an aromatic lavender plantation. As you enter the square you pass the Casa das Rótulas, possibly built in the first half of the 19th century. Its use of wooden railings placed on the upper balcony is typical of houses in the north of Portugul built from the end of the sixteenth century.
Continuing along Rua Val de Donas you to get to the Largo dos Laranjais or the Square of the Orange Trees. Again this is a small rectangular square, this time with orange trees at its centre and overlooked by a tall medieval tower – Casa dos Laranjais.Read more about the Largo dos Laranjais
Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo
Leave the square along the Rua das Trinas and you will come to Jardim do Carmo or Gardens of Carmo. At the start of the gardens is a bust to Martins Sarmento, the archaeologist from Guimarães who lived in the square. It was a group of his admirers, who created the Sociedade Martins Sarmento in 1882 (see above).
On the right is the Church and Convent of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, built in the 17th century in Baroque style, deserves a visit inside. On the left a chain of palatial houses. Look for the houses with some with coats of arms on the front, of the nobles who once lived there.
You are now climbing onto the small hill of Monte Latito which is also widely known as Colina Sagrada – the Sacred Hill of Portugal. The hill holds three monuments to the founding of Portugul: Castle of Guimarães, Church of São Miguel and the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança.
At the top of the hill you sill see the Statue of D. Afonso Henriques the founder of Portugal. The statue shows the Conqueror King is depicted in a warlike stance, holding a sword and shield with both hands on a bronze statue raised on a granite pedestal. This is an iconic statue in the country and one of the most well-known images of the founder of Portuguese nationality.
Behind the statue is the Church of São Miguel and to your left the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança.
Read more about the Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo
Palace Duques de Bragança
Head back to the Palace of the Dukes and purchase a ticket to see the Palace and the Castle (€6.00).
Construction of the estate around 1420 was initiated by Dom Afonso, the first Duke of Braganca. However, the family eventually moved to a different location, and the palace was left to deteriorate until it fell into ruins by the mid-17th century. In 1910, the palace was declared a National Monument and extensive restoration work was carried out, drawing inspiration from other medieval palaces of the period.
One of the palace wings currently serves as an official residence for the Presidency, and visitors can admire the palace’s stunning private chapel, banquet hall with a chestnut ceiling modeled after the upturned hull of a Portuguese caravel, and an impressive collection of tapestries, rugs, paintings, furniture, ceramics, and weapons. The palace’s official website provides detailed information about the collection.
Visitors can choose to explore the palace on their own or as part of a guided tour, with a recommended hour for the visit. It is advisable to purchase a joint ticket that includes both the castle and the palace.Read more about the Paço dos Duques de Bragança
Guimaraes Castle, located on the hill of Monte Largo, is widely regarded as the birthplace of Portugal as it was where the first king of Portugal, Afonso I the Great, was born in 1109. 19 years later, he won a crucial victory near Guimaraes over the troops of his mother, Teresa, thereby freeing Portugal from its dependence on Leon and Castile.
Interestingly, the fortress on this site has been in existence since the seventh century during the Visigoth era. It was built on the orders of the Countess of Portugal Mumadona Dias in the tenth century to protect against threats from the Moors to the south and Vikings from the sea. This order, dated December 958, still exists today. The castle was originally composed of a single donjon surrounded by a defensive wall.
In the 14th century, the entire village was surrounded by a 2 km defensive wall, and access to the castle was controlled by eight 28-meter towers with gates. However, today, only the eastern 1-km section with four towers and several gates of the old city wall remains. A suspended wooden bridge connects the western wall and the central gate.Read more about the Castelo de Guimarães
Muralhas de Guimaraes
Head behind the castle towards the carpark and follow the road along the outside of the ramparts. You come to a large open area infront of the courthouse. There is a statue to the Countess Mumadona Dias, who jointly governed the County with her husband from the year 920. After the death of her husband around 950, she ruled alone until his death in 968. To the rights of the courthouse is the area of the city walls that you can walk along.
You can see one of the of city gates and walk along the top of the old walls for a short distance, and it is a pleasant way to survey a part of the town.Read more about the Muralhas de Guimaraes
Rua de Santa Maria
Head along Rua de Nuno Álvares until you reach a small square and the Rua de Santa Maria. On the one side of the square is the intricate Baroque facade of the Convento de Santa Clara, which is now the Town Hall – if you can have a look around the cloisters.
Dating back hundreds of years, Rua de Santa Maria is a long street named after St. Mary that served as a crucial connection between the Castle of Guimarães and a wealthy convent dedicated to Santa Clara.
As you stroll down Rua de Santa Maria, you’ll come across numerous exquisite historic buildings and charming shops selling locally made souvenirs.
Additionally, this street is where you can sample some of Guimarães’ famous pastries and sweets, including toucinho-do-céu, tortas de Guimarães, and douradinhas de Guimarães. These delicious treats are made by hand using recipes passed down from centuries-old convents.
Further down Rua de Santa Maria, you’ll discover one of the most picturesque historic squares in Guimarães – Praça de São Tiago. This idyllic square is adorned with colourful facades and cobblestones, and it’s dotted with local restaurants where you can savour delicious food while enjoying the charming surroundings.Read more about the Rua de Santa Maria
Praça de São Tiago
If you continue walking down Rua de Santa Maria, you will soon reach one of the most charming and historic squares in Guimarães, known as Praça de São Tiago. This picturesque square is a vision of vibrant facades that encircle a cobbled expanse, dotted with tables from the nearby restaurants.
According to tradition, an image of the Virgin Mary was brought to Guimarães by the apostle S. Tiago, and placed in a pagan Temple in a square that came to be called Praça de S. Tiago. Quite an old square, referred to over time in various documents, still retains its medieval features.
It was in its vicinity that the Franks who came to Portugal in the company of Count D. Henrique settled.
There was a small porched chapel from the 17th century. XVII dedicated to Santiago that was demolished at the end of the century. XIX.
Largo da Oliveira
Either continue down the Rua de Santa Maria or head south from Praça de São Tiago, under the vaulted arcade to reach another exquisite square, Largo da Oliveira.
A really lovely old square in the centre of Guimaraes with the most beautiful buildings surrounding it, with the eponymous olive tree and a small open Gothic chapel in the centre.
Antigos Paços do Concelho: The medieval town hall, Antigos Paços do Concelho, stands above the vaulted arcade that separates Praça de São Tiago from Largo da Oliveira. Built between the 14th and 15th centuries, this historic building is crowned with the statue of a warrior.
Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira: One of the oldest churches in Guimarães, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, has a history dating back to the 10th century. It was an important site of prayer and religious pilgrimage during the Middle Ages.
Padrão do Salado: The Padrão do Salado is a 14th-century arched monument that covers a raised cross. It was erected in commemoration of the Battle of Rio Salado in 1340, when the armies of Spain and Portugal stopped the invasion of the Iberian peninsula by the sultan of Morocco.Read more about the Largo da Oliveira
Alberto Sampaio Museum
Head past Arches of Padrão do Salado south along Rua Alfredo Guimarães, keeping the Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira on your left.
The Alberto Sampaio Museum, founded in 1928, is housed in three spaces – Chapter House, Cloister, and Priory – that once belonged to the adjacent Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira. The museum features eight rooms and several thematic clusters with objects from the 12th to the 19th centuries.Read more about the Alberto Sampaio Museum
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação (Guimarães)
Head south from the Alberto Sampaio Museum and you will see the stunning view of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação.
You can see the iconic landscaped garden of Largo da República do Brasil. With an eruption of seasonal blooms contained between geometrical lines formed by beautifully trimmed shrubs, the garden leads the eye down to a thin tall church dating back to the 18th century, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação.Read more about the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação (Guimarães)
Monte da Penha
To get from the Igreja e Oratórios da Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos to Penha Cable Car, also known as Teleférico de Guimarães, it’s a short walk of about 450 m. From Largo de São Brás, turn right onto Rua Dr. Ricardo Marques, then after 74 m, turn right onto Rua do Rei Pegu. Continue straight for 190 m, take a slight left across Jardim do Lugar das Hortas, and after about 100 m, you will arrive at the station of Penha Cable Car.
This cable car is said to be the oldest in Portugal and has been operating since 1995. Its cabins are small, and the entrance door is narrow, so be careful with loose clothing and keep your bag in front of you as you board the cabins, which move slowly forward.
Penha Cable Car has seasonal opening hours and is closed for most of the week during the low season (click on the button below for more details).
The cable car will take you to the top of Monte da Penha, which is 617 m high. The journey spans over 1,500 m and takes a few minutes. As you approach the top station of the cable car, you’ll see the Sanctuary of Penha, a modernist-style structure built between the 1930s and the 1940s that is well worth a visit.
Around the sanctuary, there is a beautiful nature park with hiking trails, picnic areas, panoramic viewpoints, grottoes, monuments, and even a camping area. The park is dotted with enormous mossy boulders that give it a surreal and magical feel. It’s a great place to escape on a hot day and relax in the shade of the trees while taking in the splendid views.
When you’re ready to head back down to the city, you can take a return journey on Penha Cable Car.Read more about the Monte da Penha
Igreja de São Francisco Guimarães
From the bottom of the cable car, return to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação and walk halfway down the Largo da República do Brasil, and turn left onto Rua Padre Gaspar Roriz.
Next, you’ll come across the grand edifice of the Church of São Francisco. Its stunning interiors boast magnificent blue and white azulejos, and meticulously crafted wood carvings embellished with delicate gold leaf.
However, it’s important to note that the Church of São Francisco typically closes its doors at 5 pm. If you wish to marvel at its beauty, you’ll need to efficiently manage your time while exploring the other attractions on this one-day tour of Guimarães.Read more about the Igreja de São Francisco Guimarães
Finally head back to the Train Station or car park. Hope you enjoyed our self guided walking tour of Guimarães!
Tours and Activities from Guimarães
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Self-guided tour of Guimarães (with photos & map!)
Guimarães, a small city in the northern part of the country, is affectionately referred to as the birthplace of Portuguese state and identity as it was here that they originated in the first half of the 12th century. Its medieval historic centre, which has been well-preserved and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, makes Guimarães an increasingly popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways in Portugal.