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If you’re looking for a great day trip from Porto, the beautiful medieval town of Guimarães is just 25 miles away, making it a perfect escape from the city. Guimarães is one of the most important places in Portuguese history, and thus it makes for a beautiful, but educational day trip.
The journey to start your day trip from Porto to Guimarães takes about an hour and 15 minutes by train, which departs from the beautiful Sao Bento station. It’s a local train, which is why it’s not the fastest journey. The schedule is also somewhat sporadic. The first part of the trip from Porto to Guimarães is pretty nondescript, but eventually the railway starts to head up into the hills a bit, following streams and small canyons.
The Guimarães train station is a bit outside of town, but it’s a pleasant walk to the historic center, following tree-lined streets past shops, parks, and the Centro Cultural Vila Flor (CCVF). Note that the walk is downhill, and you’ll have to walk back uphill as you end your Guimarães day trip & head back to Porto.
I started by following the outside of the city wall around to the castle, which is situated at the northern end of Guimarães. The walk passes by the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos. I saved the historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for afterward. The entire walk from the train station to the castle takes about 30 minutes.
Guimarães Castle is part of a larger complex that includes a church & the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. There’s a combined ticket for both buildings that’s €6. The Castle entrance fee is only €2, but you save €1 with the combined ticket.
At the center of Guimarães Castle is a large tower, which had decorative banners hanging off of it. Many were twisted, which was unfortunate. If you’re going to decorate a historic building like that, then it needs to be kept in presentable condition, otherwise it looks a bit cheap.
Just after I arrived at Guimarães Castle, a huge tour group got there. The layout of the castle grounds includes a central courtyard, a perimeter wall that you can walk around, and then the central tower. Since the general path of the visit doesn’t lend itself to much passing along the walls, I decided to explore the courtyard first. This would prove to be a wise decision, as the tour group raced through the entire castle in about 5 minutes. Once they were gone, it was much quieter.
Guimarães Castle is a cool little castle. It’s not a huge place, but the castle manages to toe that line between being well-preserved & still being in ruins. There were also plenty of birds, giving the whole thing a Game of Thrones feel.
The visitors center is located inside the central keep. Inside, there are exhibits about the history of the castle as well as Portugal as a whole. The castle was built in 960 to defend against both the Normans & the Moors. It is believed that Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born at the castle, which is one of the reasons why Guimarães is known as the Birthplace of Portugal.
After visiting the castle, I headed to the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. It was filled with typical palace stuff: ceramics, tapestries, weaponry, and such. That said, it was still one of the nicer palaces I’ve visited. Rather than focusing on the contents, much of it was about the building itself. The architecture & design was beautiful.
The first room was the Hall of Lost Steps. I also enjoyed the armory. The banqueting hall was especially impressive. Be sure to look up at the amazing ceiling.
The chapel & noble hall were cool too. Inside the St. Michael’s Room was this intricate cabinet/desk, which I immediately wanted.
I enjoyed the castle more & spent more time there since I like castles more than palaces, but they are both worth a large chunk of your time in Guimarães.
After I was done at the castle & palace, it was time to head inside the center of Guimarães. Rua de Santa Maria runs through the heart of the old town. The beautiful, narrow street is lined with interesting shops.
Just off of Rua de Santa Maria is a large square with several cafes. Along this square were also several other pretty buildings. Even houses that looked like they were about to fall down still had flowers lining them.
Along another nearby square you will find Padrão do Salado. This battle monument is located outside another church, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira.
From here, I curved my way through more narrow, winding streets. At one point, as I was passing a tiny church, a truck was trying to pass it as well. The driver actually had to get out of his truck and close the shutters of the window of the church in order to be able to make the turn.
At the western edge of the historic city center of Guimarães, you’ll find another large plaza called Largo do Toural. It’s surrounded by pretty buildings, and there’s a fountain as well. Just around the corner is a monument called “Portugal Was Born Here”, which is just a plaque on a wall that commemorates the founding of Portugal & Guimarães.
My final stop of my day tour to Guimarães was at a restaurant called Pregaria de Guimarães. I’d spotted it on my way into town, and I knew I had to return to it. The outside patio was full, so I sat inside.
The prego is one of the national sandwiches of Portugal. In its purest form, it’s a simple beef sandwich with garlic. At Pregaria, they take a somewhat more creative approach to their menu, but the core is still the same. This is the place to come if you want a great steak sandwich.
I ordered the broca: Steak stuffed with artesian cow cheese with oregano, bacon, arugula, and mayo with caramelized onion & garlic. I also had mozzarella croquettes wrapped in bacon, as well as some fresh orange juice. You’ll see a lot of fresh orange juice around Guimarães.
It was an amazing sandwich; one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. Portugal knows good sandwiches.
After my late lunch, I headed back to the train station. I spent about 4 hours in Guimarães total. I could have spent more time on the sunny patios, but I wanted to get back to Porto.
Guimarães is a lovely little town. One could easily see it undergoing a renaissance, as there were lots of pretty buildings for sale that just needed a little bit of love. I myself fantasized about buying one and opening a craft brewery. In fact, since my visit, I now see that there’s one that has opened up – the Rua Nova Brewpub.
One thing I noticed was that it seemed like there weren’t many hotels or much nightlife in Guimarães. Most visitors on day trips to Guimarães arrive by tour buses & only stay for a few hours. It would be interesting to stay overnight to get to know it a bit better. There’s not a ton to do for an extended period, but a slower trip & more time at its bars and restaurants would be nice. Of course, perhaps the locals like that Guimarães is just like this – close to Porto, but not overrun with tourists who don’t give them a break from crowds. Whatever path it takes, a day trip from Porto to Guimarães is a great option, even if you can only make it for a few hours.
Traveler. Writer. Photographer. Terrible dancer. 40+ countries & major territories so far, slowly working his way through the rest. Related interests: craft beer, street food, cocktails, culture, sporting events, history, value travel, credit card bonuses, hiking, visiting non-touristy places, bacon, seafood, & cheese