I had no preconceived expectations about our trip to Portugal. Honestly, I was so glad we had survived January, (post holiday blahs anyone?) and was thrilled to get away for a little bit. I hoped we would enjoy some exploring + family time, eat some good food and soak up the local culture.
We decided to start our trip by flying into Porto and rent a car- staying somewhere in Northern Portugal, then end the trip in Lisbon and fly home from there. (this worked brilliantly btw.)
I knew where I wanted to stay in Lisbon, but wasn’t sure about the first few days of the trip. As usual, there are far more places to see than we had time for! I booked a place near the beach north of Porto and then at the last minute changed my mind.
Finally, I decided on Guimarães as our base to explore some of Northern Portugal. I had never heard of it, but found it when doing the infamous google search for “beautiful small towns in…..”
The day of the trip I started to get a bit nervous, with my lack of research and last minute changes, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Once we landed, we made the short drive to Guimarães from the Porto airport. Soon we were pulling into town, and my heart began to go pitter pat.
As we walked from the parking spot to our hotel (which was in a pedestrian zone) our jaws began to drop and I think my whole family fell in love with this little town simultaneously.
Guimarães has a special place in history because it was the birthplace of the first King of Portugal, Alfonso I, (also known as Alfonso the conqueror.) It is said that he was born in the Castle that sits on a hill overlooking the historic center of the city.
Guimarães is stunning, totally living up to + outdoing the google search that I found it on. The historical center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we loved spending our first few days in Portugal here. In fact we didn’t want to leave.
Here are some of my favorite photos from our time there.
It seems I leave a tiny piece of my heart almost everywhere we visit, and I definitely left some of it here in Guimarães.
We stayed right on the Oliveira Square at Hotel da Oliveira. It was a fabulous find. The hotel overlooks the Church of Our Lady of the Olive Tree and the most beautiful monument called Padrao do Salado. It also sits right next to our favorite restaurant in Portugal- BUXA. (see below)
There are many things to see and do right in Guimarães, as well as tons of nearby towns to explore. It makes a great base for day trips to Braga, Viana do Castelo, Barcelos and even Porto, although I loved Porto so much I think it deserves its own trip and stay.
The Paco dos Duques de Braganca (Palace of the Dukes of Braganca) This was one of my very favorite things from our whole Portugal trip. This palace was gorgeous in a rustic elegant kind of way. If you are not a fan of the opulent palace look, you will love this. The stone and woodwork in this place were phenomenal. It was well worth the 5 euro admission to poke around in all the rooms. (My favorite room was the dining room- go figure. The table could fit 100 people around it I’m pretty sure…)
Guimarães Castle (free admission) It has been said that the first King of Portugal, Alfonso I was born right here. Built in the 10th century, it is a small castle that won’t take much time to visit, but is worth looking inside. When we were there, a man was having a birds of prey demonstration and educating families about his birds. This is the castle that is on the Portuguese National Flag.
Our lady of the Olive Tree (“Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira”) Sitting on the Largo de Oliveira, this church is an important example of Gothic architecture in Northern Portugal.
Padrao do Salado. Sitting right in front of Our Lady of the Olive Tree, this is a gorgeous Gothic monument This Gothic Monument in Oliveira Square that I could not stop taking photos of was built by King Alfonso IV in the 14th century to celebrate the victory of the Battle of Salado.
Eat + Drink:
This wonderful restaurant was our favorite restaurant in town, so good we ate here twice in 3 days. In fact it ended up being our favorite place that we ate at in Portugal! Pedro the owner is so friendly and welcoming- he will take good care of you! (Read my review on Trip Advisor)
Largo da Oliveira 23, Guimarães,
Portugal 44 – 4800-438
T. +351 252 058 242 (reservations recommended)
Divina Gula, tea house + traditional Portuguese sweets
Rua de Santa Maria, Guimarães,
Portugal 44 – 4800-433
A charming place to stop and have a hot drink and a sweet. The owner is very friendly and welcoming- She shared the history of the traditional sweets made by the nuns, and showed us all of her handmade treats and jams and other things made with produce from her garden. Everything was delicious!
Hotel da Oliveira
Rua de Santa Maria,
Largo da Oliveira
T. +351 253 514 157
We loved the location, right on the beautiful Oliveira square lined with cafés and restaurants and the beautiful gothic monument of “Padrão do Salado”. Rooms are soothing + modern and have fab beds + linens, large bathrooms, plenty of hot water and fast internet. The breakfast buffet was fantastic and located in the hotel’s sleek and beautiful restaurant. Ask for a room overlooking the square. If you are like me, you’ll have a hard time peeling yourself away from the windows!