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Top 5 things to do in Guimarães, the cradle city of Portugal

Read my Top 5 things to do in Guimarães, in North of Portugal, for a perfect day discovering the city where the country was founded.

Sara Riobom

July 11, 2016

Full day tour in Braga & Guimarães

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Have you decided where to stay? If not, read my article about the Where to Stay in Guimarães and Braga.

In my opinion, Guimarães is the most beautiful city in the district of Braga and definitely one of the incredible cities near Porto.
With its restored houses, a beautiful historical center and a lot of surprising places, your visit to Guimarães is definitely mandatory if you are staying in Porto.

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Last week I had the pleasure of guiding a wonderful private tour in Guimarães, with people from USA and Israel, which was the perfect excuse to write this article!

The best things to do in Guimarães are:

Palace of the Dukes of Braganza

Photo credit: in_ar23 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA
Photo by  in_ar23

The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza was built in 1420 by Afonso, the future Duke of Braganza, being one of the few medieval palaces left in Portugal. During the sixteenth century it was radically modified by the second Duke of Bragança, which implemented a more symmetrical layout and a functional organization of the floors. Nonetheless, the Palace was soon abandoned and even used as a military building during the Napoleon Invasions.
Fortunately in 1933, António Salazar, the central figure of the Portuguese dictatorship, visited the palace in ruins and ordered its reconstruction. In 1959, after a very controversial renovation of the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, the building was finally open to the public.
It’s a beautiful monument, although not restored according to its original style (it replicates a royal house of the seventeenth century). You should definitely not miss the chance to visit it!

Ticket price: 5€ (free admission on the 1st Sunday of every month and for children <12 years)
Hours: Open every day from 10h to 18h.
Parking: Free in Campo de S. Mamede.

Castle of Guimarães

guimaraes castle porto guimaraes day trip
The gorgeous Castle of Guimarães was built by the Countess Mumadona Dias, the most powerful woman in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula during the tenth century. Later, Count Henry, the father of the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, extended the castle and it was there that Afonso was born.
The Castle of Guimarães was renovated during the renovation of the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, but for years it had been vilified. There was even been a petition, during the eighteenth century, to completely demolish the Castle of Guimarães. Can you imagine such a shameful idea, when you stare at this amazing castle?

Ticket price: 2€ (free admission on the 1st Sunday of every month and for children <12 years)
Hours: Open every day from 10h to 18h.
Parking: Free in Campo de S. Mamede.

Church of São Miguel

guimaraes portugal church sao miguel
It is universally accepted that King Afonso Henriques was baptized in the Church of São Miguel, which dates its construction somewhere in the ninth or tenth century, during the era of Countess Mumadona Dias.
However, the church was first referenced only in 1216, in a document of the Collegiate of Guimarães (long after the death of King Afonso Henriques), and it was only consecrated by the Archbishop of Braga in 1239.
The virtually non-existent decor, the freshness of the stone and the absolute silence make this little church a must stop for anyone visiting Guimarães 🙂

Free entrance.
Hours: Open every day from 10h to 18h.
Parking: Free in Campo de S. Mamede.

Largo da Oliveira

Photo credit: All About Portugal via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo by All About Portugal

Largo da Oliveira, which translate to Olive Tree Square, owes its name to an ancient olive tree planted in front of the (formerly known as) Church of St. Maria of Guimarães. The legend says that the olive tree, which was completely dry, suddenly flourished in 1342, when a trader from Guimarães named Pero Esteves, placed a Norman cross close to the olive tree.
This was interpreted as a miracle, and since then this square started being called Largo da Oliveira, and the church as Church of Our Lady of Oliveira. The olive tree was removed in 1870 against the popular will, and only in 1985 a new one was planted in the same place.
In the stone base around the tree, you can read the three most important dates of the history of this beautiful tree: 1342, 1870 and 1985.
It was also here that a grotesque ritual against the Jewish community of Guimarães took place, but I save that story for my tours 🙂

Zona de Couros (The tanneries’ zone)

porto guimaraes day trip zona de couros
The Tanneries’ zone is a valuable cultural heritage of Guimarães. The medieval art of working leather had been developed in Guimarães since immemorial times, placed outside the city walls because it was a very polluting and malodorous industry.
For centuries, the raw materials were the skins of the cattle of the region. Later came the skins from Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. It was a very profitable business during the nineteenth century due to the wars that ravaged Europe. Therefore, it attracted the investment of countless people of Guimarães, becoming an industry that greatly contributed to the economy of the city and to the development of other vertical industries such as footwear.
In poor working conditions, men cleaned the skins on the granite structures that you can see in the photo on the left, granitic memories of a medieval industry that lasted almost to the present day.

What is the best way to explore Guimarães?

The answer depends on your budget, your traveling style and your expectations.

  • The cheapest way is to take a train from either Campanhã or São Bento train stations, in Porto, and explore the city on your own.
  • If you would like to meet other travelers while exploring the city, then I suggest you to book a group tour to Guimarães. It’s quite affordable and you will visit the main monuments. Bare in mind that you will have a fixed itinerary and it is always a gamble to book a group tour because you never know if you are going to like the group!
  • Alternatively, you can hire a private guide like myself. I will make a personalised itinerary and we will spend the day according to your pace. For more information, please contact me on sara@portoalities.com.

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