Guimarães does not deserve to go unnoticed. Not only because it is a thousand-year-old city with a historic center declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, but because Portugal was born here. About 25 kilometers south of Braga and 55 kilometers northeast of Porto, Guimarães becomes an essential visit if we want to know the history of the Portuguese country and, also, immerse ourselves in an enclave with a marked medieval atmosphere.
Before entering the ancient city of Guimarães, its walls already give you a clue of the place you have arrived: “Awho was born Portugal“(Portugal was born here). And so it is: Guimarães is considered the cradle of Portugal because Alfonso Henríquez was born here, who established the Kingdom of Portugal in 1139 and proclaimed his first king: Alfonso I of Portugal. Today, thanks to his excellent state of conservation, its high historical value and its valuable heritage site, Guimarães is undoubtedly an obligatory stop if we travel through the north of Portugal, and so that you don’t miss anything, these are some of its most outstanding places.
Downtown and Plaza Largo da Oliveira
The historic center of Guimarães is small and easy to walk around. Most of its streets are pedestrianized and that makes everything much more pleasant. As you go you will see stately homes where the nobility lived, such as Toural, Mota Prego or the Vila Flor Palace. You will pass under porticoes, balconies and arches that link streets, and you will rest in one of its very careful squares. The Largo da Oliveira Square is the heart of the city, next to the Nossa Senhora da Oliveria church and the São Tiago Square. It is worth wandering aimlessly, entering and leaving the alleys that appear in our path to discover some of the most charming corners of the city. In addition, throughout the historic center you will not lack gastronomic offers where you can sit down and taste a good cod.
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
If we leave the center and walk a little north we will soon reach the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. It was built at the beginning of the 15th century by Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza, for his mistress, and it looks like a fortress. It is of Burgundian style, from the 16th to the 18th century it was abandoned and later it was a military barracks. In the 20th century, important reforms were carried out but many of its hallmarks were preserved, such as its tall brick chimneys. Today it is a museum and its rooms are decorated and set in such a way as to suggest that you are visiting a manor house inhabited thanks to its tapestries, furniture, ceramics and armor.
The Church of Nossa Senhora da Consolaçao e Santos Passos
This church is, without a doubt, one of the most recognizable in Guimarães and is located just a few steps from the historic center. It began as a small chapel built in the 16th century but in 1785 it became a baroque temple. A century later a staircase, a balustrade and two towers were added that today are the reference that allows him to make a difference. In front of it, some flowery gardens act as a welcome mat and inside the altarpieces and the main altar are worth a visit.
A few steps further up is the Guimarães castle, one of the most characteristic landmarks of the city. Its origins date back to the 10th century, when it was built to protect the monks of a nearby monastery from Muslim attacks, and it is closely related to the founding of Portugal since it is said that Alfonso Henríquez was born there. In its interior there is little left, but you can visit it to walk on its walls, get good views of the city and visit the Torre del Homenaje. In front of the castle is the small church of San Miguel, where the first Portuguese king is supposed to have been baptized.
The Sanctuary of Penha
We leave the city to head for the Montaña da Penha, where the Sanctuary that bears the same name awaits us. It is an important pilgrimage center in Portugal and is only 5 km from Guimarães and 10 minutes by funicular. From above, at 617 meters of altitude, we can enjoy spectacular views of the city that gave birth to Portugal while we stroll through its lush green areas. We can go to see the sanctuary, from the middle of the seventeenth century and in which its tall bell tower stands out, but getting there will have been worth it if we take the opportunity to walk along its many paths. Of course, if you want to see it without stress, do not go on the second Sunday in September because that is when its massive annual pilgrimage takes place.