Settled in the ninth century, Guimaraes played a key role in Portugal’s formation and as such is naturally one of the country’s most historic cities. It’s located in northern Portugal and though it doesn’t lie on the banks of the Douro River, which crosses the entire country, it is a popular choice when it comes to excursions from Porto, where most Douro river voyages begin. Though of course Lisbon is today Portugal’s capital, Guimaraes was at one time the centre of the country’s administration and indeed, if you look carefully on an area of the old town walls, you can still see the words 'Portugal was born here'. It’s no surprise then, that Guimaraes is a popular destination for visitors to the country as well as a place of pilgrimage for nationals.
Not surprisingly considering its huge historical significance, Guimaraes’ centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most visited tourist destinations. This whole area is the city’s most popular attraction, with charming and ancient architecture to enjoy at every turn and it’s certainly a rewarding experience to spend a little time soaking up the sights while sipping on a coffee or enjoying a snack at a local café or restaurant.
Though it’s pleasurable enough to take a leisurely stroll and drink in the atmosphere, there are a number of architectural attractions which bear particular exploration. The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza was built by the first Duke of Braganza, the illegitimate son of King John of England and is today a national monument. After lying in ruin for centuries, it was restored in the 1930s and today, is one of the Portuguese President’s official residences. There are a wealth of treasures to enjoy within its walls, such as tapestries, ceramics, armour and furniture.
Beautiful faith-based architecture is also a key feature of the city, with one particular favourite being Igreja de Sao Francisco. Its stunning interior makes it one of the country’s most beautiful places of worship, thanks to a gold-covered chapel as well as its side altars and stunning sacristy. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira is another religious landmark, dating back to around 950AD and enjoying a position right at the heart of the city’s historic centre. Wherever you decide to explore in the city however, you won’t have to go far to experience its beautiful churches.
Showcasing the city’s ancient history, the Citania de Briteiros ruins are a popular attraction with the more adventurous visitor, and are the preserved remains of an ancient Celtic settlement which lies just a short ride out of the city itself.
The city is a great place to sample traditional Portuguese fare if you have time to eat during your visit, with a number of reasonably priced restaurants conveniently located in the historic centre.