Situated in the district of Braga, the quaint city of Guimarães is one of Portugal’s most important historical destinations. Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, chose this former Roman city to be the administrative capital of the Portuguese kingdom after his victory at the Battle of São Mamede in 1128. Known as the birthplace of the nation, Guimarães is a fascinating place to visit, with its proud castle and well-preserved medieval quarter. The city was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.
This charming old town is a maze of narrow winding streets, flanked by old houses decorated with statues which lead to the impressive main square, Largo da Oliveira and the old Ducal Palace. For a true taste of the medieval atmosphere, visit Guimarães during the first weekend of August for the annual Festas Gualterianas (held since 1452), which features a medieval-style handicraft market, arts fair and lively costume parade.
Places to See:
Castelo de Guimarães (Guimarães castle)
The impressive square keep of the Guimarães castle dominates the skyline for miles around. This shield-shaped castle was built in the 10th century to protect the town against invaders and was expanded in the 12th century as an arsenal and palace. Legend has it that Portugal’s first king was born here. Visitors can also walk along the castle walls and visit the tiny Romanesque chapel of São Miguel. In 1910, the castle was declared a national monument.
Paço Ducal (Ducal Palace)
The restored Ducal Palace features unusual architectural influences from northern Europe. Built in the 15th century by the first Duke of Bragança, the impressive manor house was left to ruins until it was restored during the Salazar dictatorship. The museum and main state rooms contain impressive pieces of Renaissance furniture, exceptional Flemish tapestries and Persian carpets. The Palace is national monument and is used today as an official residence by the Portuguese President.
Mosteiro de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira (Nossa Senhora da Oliveira Monastery)
This monastery church was founded by King Afonso Henriques and restored during the reign of King João I in celebration of his victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. Famous for its ornate Manuelian-style tower, the church has an interesting local legend. An olive tree was planted in front of the church to supply olive oil for the altar lamps, but it withered and died. Later on, a local tradesman placed a cross on the site and the tree miraculously sprung to life! Unfortunately, the olive tree currently on the site is not the original.
Museu de Alberto Sampaio (Alberto Sampaio museum)
The Alberto Sampaio museum contains valuable collections of some of the best religious art, silverware, sculptures and famous Portuguese azulejos to be found in the country. Of particular interest is the chain mail tunic allegedly used by King João I at the Battle of Aljubarrota and a silver triptych depicting the Visitation, Annunciation and Birth of Christ.
Teleférico da Penha (Penha Cable Car)
Visitors enjoy marvellous panoramic views of Guimarães from Penha hill. To get there, take the cable car, which not only offers an alternative to the road system, but also gives passengers a spectacular bird’s eye view of the city.