Guimaraes turned out to be our favourite Portugese city so far! Located about 1.5hr train ride north of Porto, Guimaraes is referred to the "birthplace of Portugual" as it's widely believed that Portugal's first, King Afonso Henriques, was born there.
We spent about 7 hours in Guimaraes with the first five hours wandering around its UNESCO listed historic center with medieval architecture and inviting piazzas with open air cafes, and the remaining two hours hiking in the nearby hills and forest area of Monte da Penha (Penha Mountain).
As soon as we arrived in Guimaraes, we knew we were going to like it as we breathed in the fresh air and looked at the lush green hills in the distance. The historic center is blessed with well preserved medieval buildings such as the 10th century Guimarães Castle and the 13th century São Miguel do Castelo Church. Strolling around, we came across a lot of baroque style churches and convents. The restored Dukes of Bragança Palace resembling a French chateau stood proudly on a hill next to the Guimaraes Castle. The Largo República do Brasil garden was another highlight - it honours and commemorates the proclamation of Republican government in Brazil on 15 November 1889.
We loved all the piazzas with seating set up by nearby restaurants and cafes. The Olive Tree Square (Largo da Oliveira) was especially interesting with a 14th century church Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Oliveira, a centuries-old olive-tree, a 14th century Gothic shrine and some picturesque houses. Apparently it's one of the favourite squares by both locals and visitors alike to chill having a coffee or a glass of wine. It's not hard to guess why!
The general feel of Guimaraes was quaint, clean, peaceful and lively. It's surrounded by green hills. It's the perfect size of a town to our liking - we jokingly call it the Portugese version of Boulder in US as it happens to be university town as well! We could happily live there for a while.
After sitting down at the lovely Largo da Misericordia (Mercy Square) for a lunch break accompanied by the impressive stone carved statue of Afonso Henriques, we headed to Part Two of the day trip - Monte da Penha (Penha Mountain), the highest point of Guimaraes.
Between the choice of walking 3.5km up the road or riding a cable car for 10 minutes, we quickly chose the latter without needing to convince each other! The Penha Mountain is characterised by humongous moss covered boulders, among which you can walk, climb, duck under and even measure your waist line! In additional to the nature side, the Penha Mountain also boasts a very important pilgrimage center - Penha Sanctuary and many religious sculptures. Our favourite religious feature is a small chapel built inside a cave with windows carved out of rocks.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves taking a break from the city and being back in nature exploring all sorts of trails among those huge boulders covered with thick moss. It felt like an alien world. The panoramic view on top of the mountain over Guimaraes city was great too.
Guimaraes makes a great day trip from Porto, especially for those who love history, architecture and nature. It also works as a nice break from Porto's busy and noisy city life.
Some Practical Information
We caught the train from Porto's Sao Bento train station to Guimareas. The return ticket cost €6.5 per person. The journey was 1 hour 20 minutes. The train was very comfortable and clean.
The cable car ride from Guimaraes to Penha Mountain is 1.7km in distance and costs €7.5 return per person.