The city of Guimarães is well known to the Portuguese as their very first city and the birthplace of their nation. It was first settled in the 9th Century and became the administrative seat of the County of Portugal under Henry of Burgundy. It was also the birthplace of the first Portuguese king, Alfonso I and the city also played an important role in the Battle of Sao Mamede which was integral to the formation of the country of Portugal. The city is invested with a huge height of history – no wonder then that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited tourist city in this largely industrial region.
Photo Courtesy: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/Praça_da_Oliveira_01.jpg
Guimarães is around 50km from Portugal’s second city, Porto, which is many tourist’s first port of call in the country due to the preponderance of cheap and mainstream international flights that land at Oporto airport. It takes around an hour to get from the airport to Guimarães by bus and around an hour and a half by train. The highways are fairly straightforward if you choose to hire a car.
Guimarães has a compact mediaeval centre that is best explored on foot, though you can also take a tourist bus tour around the main sites if you wish, for a very small fee. One of the main attractions of the historic core is the Castle, which was constructed in the 10th Century to defend the city from Moors. The first Portuguese King, Alfonso I, lives here and this was his strategic base as he conquered Portugal. Also at the heart of the city is Largo da Oliveira which is one of its most beautiful and historically evocative places. Be sure also to see the imposing Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. The delightful honey coloured buildings and cobbled streets of the old town are bound to charm you.
Photo Courtesy: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/Guimarães-Altstadt-3.jpg
But Guimarães is more than just its historic core. For something a little more avant garde and different, venture just a few minutes walk from the old town centre and you will find that the city has undergone something of a modern renaissance with old industrial and commercial buildings having been re-purposed into contemporary art spaces and intriguing new museums. Perhaps not as picturesque as the historical heritage, but giving a more balanced view of this city and the surrounding area.
Be sure not to stick too rigidly to the city centre. While in Guimarães be sure to climb Penha Hill for fantastic views back down over the city. There are plenty of day trips to be had from the city, including to the religious centre of the neighbouring city of Braga, or, slightly further but well worth a visit, Portugal’s only National Park, Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês, up on the Spanish border. Of course Porto, and the whole of the Costa Verde, are also within reach.
If you are thinking of exploring the Portuguese Minho region then Guimarães could be a very good place to base yourself during your stay in the area.
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