It has been exactly one and a half-year since I had to cancel a trip to Portugal due to family issues. Now it was finally the time to visit Portugal together with my wife and kids. We took a flight from Amsterdam to Madrid where we would take a rental car to Porto first. Then continue down to Lisbon and back to Madrid. Why fly to Madrid is probably the question in your head right now? That’s in Spain! We did that because we had nested airline tickets and this trip was for free. Read all about booking cheaper business class flights in a recent post I did. From Porto we did a one day tour to Guimarães which is a beautiful medieval town and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy this town with me; let’s start at the castle.
Guimarães Castle is the birthplace of D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal. The foundations of the current castle date back to the late 10th century. Its last major renovation and extension took place in the early 14th century. In these three centuries it was the residence of several noblemen and in 1111 it became the birthplace of the first Portuguese king. Built to defend a local monastery against the Muslims it’s now an important iconic structure for Guimarães and all of Portugal.
I parked the car on the large parking just next to the castle. I recommend you to park there as it will be the most efficient place. Parking was free as was the entrance to the castle. The castle has not much to offer and the only thing to do is to see the walls from the inner courtyard and walk over the walls. The castle is built in a shield kind of shape. It’s nice to walk around it but don’t expect too many wow moments. The historical value is of more importance as the current remains are in appeal. From the castle it’s a short walk to the Palace of the Dukes. Between the castle and palace you can have a look inside a small chapel.
Palace of the Dukes
The construction of the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza started in the early 15th century but was never really finished until it got renovated in the 20th century. Its ownership changed from the 1st Duke of Braganza until the 10th Duke of Braganza. He finally abandoned it completely in the second half of the 17th century. At that time a rescue plan was initiated but didn’t work out as planned. The following centuries the palace was used as a quarry and its stones used for other buildings. In the early 19th century the army started to use the palace as barracks but parts stayed in ruins. It was until the end of the 19th century that its historical significance was recognized. A large renovation took place and the palace opened its doors again a half century ago. Finally finished as it should have been.
I don’t remember the exact fee to enter the palace but it was not much. I think I had to pay a small additional fee to make photos. This is something I do not mind at all. The Palace of the Dukes functions mainly as a museum of medieval Portuguese artifacts. There are also temporarily expositions which were at the time of my visit about armory. When I entered through the main doorway I got the feeling I entered a cloister, not a palace. The different rooms are structured around the main courtyard surrounded by Gothic arches. These Gothic arches form a corridor with above a corridor on the second floor. Pillars support the roof there. Just opposite the main entrance is the chapel. It’s a chapel decorated with beautiful wood carvings and stained glass windows. Sunlight lit up the chapel through the windows in many different colors. A lovely sight.
The various rooms display a vast amount of items ranging from tapestries, furniture, ceramics, sculptures, weaponry and other small objects. I loved the huge banquet hall with its beautiful wooden roof and huge tapestry on the wall. It’s interesting to see how the people lived in the palace during the short time it was inhabited. A part of the building is used today as the official residency of the president. It took over an hour to visit this most visited museum in Portugal. From there I continued to Olive Square to have lunch.
Other places of interest in Guimarães
Olive Square is the center of the medieval town Guimarães. It’s the perfect place to have lunch and this is exactly what I did. One thing you will probably notice first is the Gothic shrine in front of the church that commemorates the Battle of Salado. It looks like it’s planted there randomly. The name of the square comes from an old olive tree that’s growing on the square. The Church of Our Lady of the Olive-Tree together with its cloister make up one side of the square. I couldn’t visit the church as there was a private gathering but I did visit the museum in the cloister. The museum has a beautiful collection of medieval silver pieces, tunics and statues. See the gallery for some samples. I also loved the romantic courtyard!
The other side of the Olive Square is the location of the old town hall. You can still see some remains. Some arches with one floor on top. It’s now an art museum which I personally did not visit. After lunch I continued to stroll through the small streets with beautiful medieval houses. I really got the back-in-time-feeling in Guimarães. As it was a Sunday there were no shops open and it was very quiet which was actually very pleasant. After I explored the city for an hour I circled back to the car to drive up to the top of the Penha Mountain. There is a cable car to go up the mountain but it was closed. As I needed to drive back to Porto it was better to take the car up and go directly back from there.
Penha Mountain is the highest place in the area at about 600 meters. At the top there are many facilities like picnic areas, restaurants and more. There is a small medieval chapel at the top from where you have a beautiful view of the old town of Guimarães. A larger, newer, church is built a few hundred meters from the old chapel. It’s modern but worth a quick look inside.
It was already around 4:30 PM before I drove back to Porto; back to the Intercontinental Porto Hotel (review) where we stayed. It was time to try a restaurant I was eager to visit. Interested to know which one? Then read about my top 6 hotspots in Porto for lunch & dinner. A day trip to Guimarães is highly recommend if you are in Porto; actually from anywhere in Portugal. No trip to Portugal is complete without a visit to the birthplace of Portugal: Guimarães. I’m sure you will enjoy this medieval UNESCO town as I did.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Guimaraes too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!