We found our way from the Guimaraes train station to the historic city center only to discover hundreds of school children gathering in the center. Of all the days we could have chosen to visit Guimaraes, we happened to pick the one day on which seemingly, there was a city-wide school field trip.
The Birthplace of Portugal
Guimaraes was founded in the 4th century and is said to be the birthplace of Portugal. The history is long and there are a plethora of stories passed down through the generations. It’s easy to see why this quaint little city is so significant to Portugal, and it is an easy day trip from Porto.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Once we made our way to the historic city center, which is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and got over the shock of discovering hundreds of students, we found our way to the visitor’s center to pick up a map of the city. Having done our homework we had pretty much pinpointed the highlights of the city, we just needed the map to see the layout and chart our course. Once we got our bearings we set off and did our best to dodge school groups as we explored our way through the narrow streets.
Truth be told, having the students overflowing the cobblestone streets of the historic center of Guimaraes turned out to be a good thing because it motivated us to move in opposite directions. Whichever way they were headed, we went the opposite way. It got to be a bit of a game. It was very sweet though when we came upon a small group of students who were gathered with their teacher and one of the boys called out to us. Do you speak English? Yes, we do, we responded. He handed us the teacher’s camera and asked if we would take the group’s picture, which of course we did.
With our handy dandy map of the city, we explored the highlights of Guimaraes. I think it’s fair to say that one could easily spend a few days exploring this lovely historic city, but we made the best of our one day and we definitely caught the highlights.
Castelo de Guimaraes
Castelo de Guimaraes was built in the 10th century by the order of Countess Mumadona. It was built as a fortification to protect the Mosteiro de Santa Maria. Today, it is a shell of a once commanding fortress. Visitors can pay a minimal admission fee and walk around the edges and up/down several flights of stairs. It’s fairly easy to see the outline traces of what once was, and the views from the top are well-worth the price of admission.
Paco Dos Duques de Braganca
From the fortress ruins we made our way to the palace, Paco Dos Duques de Braganca, built in the 15th century. Many of the rooms have been renovated to give visitors a feel for the original. The palace was built by D. Alfonso, the illegitimate son of D. Joao I, the 8th Count of Barcelos. Ya just gotta love the sordid tales of history. When we were in Lisbon visiting the coaches museum, there was a coach made especially for the illegitimate children of a royal.
Padrao do Salado
With our stomachs growling we made our way back to the central square to do a bit of window shopping and to look for a nice spot to enjoy a casual lunch. Near the square we found the Padrao do Salado. It commemorates the battle of Salado in 1340 against the Moors. Seriously, Guimaraes must be the birthplace of Portugal. The history is phenomenal and it’s everywhere you turn.
I should mention that by the time we settled in to an outdoor cafe for lunch, the field trip students had left the city center. It must have been a half-day excursion. Being a retired elementary school teacher, I well-remember field trip excursions. They can either be all kinds of fun, or all kinds of not-so-fun. But, that’s another story from another life.
Teleferico de Guimaraes
After satisfying the hunger pangs we made our way to the Teleferico de Guimaraes and we rode the cable car to the top of Montanha. We were gifted with panoramic views of the city below. There is a lovely tree-shaded picnic area, hiking trails lined with massive boulders and a small modern church, which has an interior echo that has to be heard to be believed. I coughed inside and the sound bounced off the walls so loudly it startled me.
A Church & Gardens
Once back in the city, we had just enough time to visit the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolacao E Santos Passos. This church, and the fantastic geometric gardens was a wonderful surprise. Don’t you love it when you’re visiting somewhere and just stumble across something that absolutely makes your day? The church dates back to the 16th century. The doors were unlocked and we were able to enter. It wasn’t the most ornate church we’ve visited, but it was definitely special. What sets it apart is the gardens. I suppose they are not actually on the grounds of the church, but rather they are city gardens. Either way, it’s very special and shouldn’t be missed.
Exploring the historic charms of Guimaraes makes for the perfect day trip from Porto. One could easily spend a few relaxing days exploring all of the nooks, crannies and cobblestone alleyways. But, if all you have is a single day, then make the most of it. Explore the highlights of this wonderful place and time in history. The city is a living museum.