For centuries, Guimarães has been at the forefront of Portuguese history. Situated in the old county (before Portugal was a country) it stands today as an exceptional example of how a medieval settlement has evolved to a modern European town from the 10th century. Nowadays, the cultural landscape of Guimarães is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this day trip from Porto—in the company of a historian or architect—we will delve into the historically rich past of this foundation city over the course of about four hours, visiting the castle, the medieval town center, and a number of other charming locations relevant to the tale of Guimarães.
From Sao Bento to Guimarães…
Meeting our docent at Porto’s central train station, we’ll take the train out to Guimaraes together and get started with a bit of background information about the UNESCO site itself and how we will spend the day. Many tour companies offer Guimaraes excursions with a private car service, but at Context, we prefer to live like locals and find this option to be more sustainable and perfectly relaxing (not to mention cost-effective!).
Day Trip From Porto
Upon arrival in Guimarães, we’ll hop in a taxi for a short ride to the city center, where we will amble through the quaint and charming medieval streets. We’ll note an array of architectural differences and details that fit within the traditional building styles of centuries before. We may talk about the influence of the Portuguese colonies in Africa and the New World, like the use of ground floor granite and timber housing patterns. We will spend some time soaking up the atmosphere in two delightful squares: Largo da Oliveira and Praça de Santiago. Separated by architecturally impressive stone arches, we may see locals having their daily coffees, reading papers, and basking in the sunshine. On our route, we will also walk down the oldest street in the whole of the country. History resonates in this charming city, commonly referred to as the birthplace of Portugal.
From Palaces to Tiny Romanesque Churches
Our next stop is a former residence called the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. Inspired by 14th century European architecture, this grand palace was constructed in the early 1420's by Afonso, Count of Barcelos, future Duke of Braganza. We’ll marvel at the open-air courtyard, the gothic arcades and the columned walkways as our docent digs into the history behind the establishment of this magnificent structure and the tribulations it has witnessed. We’ll discuss the varied rooms within, from the chapel to the boat-ceiling dining room to vibrant Flemish stained-glass windows; the palace received extensive renovations in the 20th century, so we’ll take time to consider how this impacts the visiting experience today, as well as how one can properly renovate a historical site. The palace contains 16th and 17th century art, furnishings and tapestries. Steps away from the palace is, arguably, one of the most important buildings in Portugal. But what is it? From the outside it looks like a not particularly notable church, but it played a critical role in Portuguese history. Our docent will discuss the story linked to it in more depth: we will be standing in front of the Romanesque church where Afonso (the first King of Portugal) was probably baptized.
A King’s Castle
After these important sites, we will make our way to the big finale, a medieval 10th century castle atop Largo Hill. As we admire the sprawl of Portuguese countryside below, our docent will set the scene as we approach the medieval stronghold before us. We’ll talk about the galician aristocrat, Mumadona, who was one of the most powerful women in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. This notable figurehead ordered the construction of the castle in order to guard her county against Moorish and Norman incursions (coming from the sea and from the south, respectively). We’ll walk in the ruins of the castle walls as we survey the scene below us, imagining defending our fortress from the early attacks of these enemies. Our docent may use the interactive exhibition to further demonstrate the history and evolution of this majestic fort, discussing its varied architectural styles: from the initial Romanesque to later Gothic additions. We’ll talk battles, kings and the checkered past before we descend the castle and return through the medieval streets of Guimarães.
We’ll leave each other with a better understanding of the charming and medieval city that has played such a critical role in Portuguese history and identity. With our packed itinerary of key sites, along with the freedom to keep exploring on your own after we leave one another, we’re sure you’ll be impressed with the first capital.
Where do we meet? Where does it end?
The tour meets near Sao Bento train station in Porto. You will take the train to Guimarães with your docent (the ride is about 1 hour). The tour ends in Guimarães. You will have return train tickets that can be used anytime. Most people choose to stay in Guimarães, have lunch, and return to Porto independently.
We’re staying in Guimarães, can we still do the tour?
This tour is designed as a day trip from Porto. All group tours are required to start in Porto. Should you like to book privately, we can arrange for the docent to meet you in Guimarães. If booking online, please mention this in the notes section so we can adjust your booking.
Can this be done by car?
While this tour is designed to travel by public transport, if you are booking privately we can certainly arrange for car service. Please contact us for more info.
Is this tour appropriate for children?
This walk is not a part of our official family program. That said, we may be able to arrange a visit with a family-friendly docent. Please contact us.
Is this seminar walking intensive, and/or wheelchair accessible?
We do cover extensive territory on this seminar. Please contact us with any questions; we will be happy to advise if this seminar will be appropriate for you.