Porto is a fascinating tourist destination in its own right; however, visitors to this historic city may well want to take the opportunity to explore a little further afield, especially if they are staying in Porto for more than a few days.
One of the most popular excursions is from Porto to Guimaraes. Just one day in Guimaraes may not be enough to dig beneath the surface, but it will certainly afford the enlightened traveller the opportunity to see some of the city’s most important sights.
It takes around an hour and a quarter to travel from Porto to Guimaraes by train, which is the most comfortable and economical way to travel. The train from Porto to Guimaraes departs from Porto’s Sao Bento Station, which is a destination in its own right for the beautiful azulejos that adorn the interior of the station building. Trains depart every hour.
It is also possible to see Guimaraes by car or by bus, which has the added advantage of being able to include a visit to the historic city of Braga and Bom Jesus, both of which are located nearby. Visitors wishing to do this may be interested in taking a guided tour encompassing both cities together, especially if they are in the area for a few days.
Guimaraes is famous all over Portugal for being the birthplace of the country’s first king, Afonso Henriques, and it was the first capital of the Kingdom of Portugal on its establishment in the middle ages. Thanks to its historical importance, it is known fondly as the “cradle of Portugal” and is rightfully deserving of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Perhaps the best starting point for your trip to Guimaraes is at the Castelo de Guimaraes. Dating back to the 10th century, the castle was originally built to protect the townspeople from attacks by the Moors and Normans. It is also believed to be the actual birthplace of Afonso Henriques, adding markedly to its historical importance.
Next to the castle stands the Igreja de Sao Miguel, or St Michael’s Church and the two buildings together are believed to have started life as a monastic complex, built by Mumadona, with the castle walls added shortly after for protection from the constant attacks. King Afonso is believed to have been baptised in the church here. Don’t leave without exploring the dark dungeons attached to the castle.
Continue your trip to Guimaraes at the Palace of the Dukes of Braganca, located close to the castle and church. Also known as the Paco dos Duques, this charming medieval palace was built in the 15th century and today houses an impressive collection of furniture, carpets, porcelain and portraits, many of which date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Be sure to explore the Banqueting Hall, the Main Hall and the Hall of Arms, which are just some of the most opulent rooms just waiting to be discovered.
With just one day in Guimaraes, taking time to explore the historical centre is a must. Don’t miss the Sao Francisco Church and the Santos Passos Church, both of which are located within the centre and just a short walk apart. The Sao Francisco Church was built in 1500 and restored during the 18th century, resulting in an intriguing mix of Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. The Santos Passos Church, in turn, showcases some beautifully opulent baroque features.
For those with an interest in religious art and artefacts, the Alberto Sampaio Museum is a must-see destination during your one day in Guimaraes. The museum houses a collection of pieces that are mostly of religious origin and subject matter, including a tunic worn by Joao I during his successful 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota, and a silver altarpiece that is believed to have been taken from the Spanish king he defeated. The full collection dates from as far back as the 12th century to the late 1800s.
If you happen to be visiting on the second Saturday of the month and have little people in tow, you will love the children’s activities that are provided by the museum, including puppet shows, workshops, and story-telling sessions.
The Martins Sarmento Museum, with its collection of artefacts recovered from the Celtic settlement of Citania de Briteiros, is another museum which may be of interest for you to visit during your time here in Guimaraes.
Don’t leave this lovely city for your return to Porto without taking the time to explore the narrow streets, lined with historic buildings with grand façades and intricate decoration. A feast for the senses, indeed.