5 Portuguese cities that you can do in a weekend

Praça da Oliveira in Guimarães / Wikipedia
Praça da Oliveira in Guimarães / Wikipedia
16 April 2019, Redaction

Spring is here and it’s time to start thinking about those weekend getaways and city breaks you’re going to enjoy in the sun. The summer holidays are still far away, but a weekend break may be the perfect vacation option to relax, enjoy the good weather and get to know the beauty of Portugal a little better. If you like the sound of that, take note of these 5 Portuguese cities that you can see in just a couple of days.

1. Guimarães

Guimarães Castle / Wikipedia
Guimarães Castle / Wikipedia

Guimarães is the cradle of Portugal and a truly beautiful city. The history and symbolism on display here make it an unmissable visit when you’re in Portugal. The main point of interest in Guimarães is the castle, the first in Portugal and the place where D. Afonso Henriques' resistance against the forces of Leon and Castile began. But Guimarães offers much more, notably a peaceful environment that is perfect for those who want to escape the humdrum routine and get to know a piece of Portuguese history by discovering the city where it all began.

What to visit in Guimarães:

  • Guimarães Castle: the first castle in Portugal to be fully restored and declared a National Monument in the 20th century.
  • Paço dos Duques de Bragança: this palace is now a museum that houses a collection of art from the 17th and 18th centuries and, on the second floor, is the official residence of the President of the Republic of Portugal whenever he travels to the north of the country.
  • Praça de Santiago: a square full of shops and esplanades, ideal for getting a glimpse of how the local people of Guimarães live on a daily basis.
  • Citânia de Briteiros: a set of impressive ruins from the Iron Age. It is one of the most important protohistoric towns on the Iberian Peninsula due to its size, urban layout and architecture.

What to eat in Guimarães:

  • Roast kid or veal: if you're a lover of good meat you can't miss one of these typical Portuguese dishes
  • Cod with baked potatoes: the obligatory bacalhau cod dish that you can find everywhere in the country.
  • Toucinho do céu: this dessert made by monks in a convent is a kind of cake made with sugar, ground almonds, sometimes jam and, finally, a large quantity of egg yolks.
  • Tortas de Guimarães: these shell-shaped sweets, also made by monks or nuns, are another of the most typical sweets in Guimarães. They are made using puff pastry and are filled with pumpkin jam, eggs and almonds. Divine.

2. Aveiro

Traditional moliceiros in Aveiro, Portugal / Wikimedia commons
Traditional moliceiros in Aveiro, Portugal / Wikimedia commons

Often referred to as the Venice of Portugal, Aveiro has a special charm that makes it one of the most interesting cities in the whole country. The Ria holds much of the charm of this city and the best way to explore Aveiro is on one of the typical boats called moliceiros, which are characterised by their colourful decoration and humorous messages written on the side.

We also recommend a visit to the Costa Nova beach, an extensive beach that is considered one of the best Portuguese beaches for water sports. Another thig that makes this beach special are the palheiros, pretty little houses painted with jolly, colourful stripes.

What to visit in Aveiro:

  • Sail the canals of the city in a moliceiro: utterly essential. These boats, formerly used to transport the moliço (seaweed from the river), are the city's trademark. See the city and learn about it with a guided tour by the boat handler.
  • Praça das Arcadas: this square surrounded by arches is one of the most beautiful in the city, located in the historical part of Aveiro.
  • Take a walk along the São Roque Canal and visit the salt warehouse, which is still an active working factory.
  • Ponte dos Namorados: the Bridge of Lovers is the most romantic bridge in the city, decorated with colourful ribbons and bows left by couples who visit from all over the world.

What to eat in Aveiro:

  • Ovos moles: these typical sweets from Aveiro are made with molded wafers in the form of clams, fish and shells and can be eaten with syrup.
  • Pão de ló de Ovar: a moist sponge cake made with eggs, sugar and wheat flour but without yeast or syrup.
  • Caldeirada de eguias: a kind of eel stew, which is a real delicacy that tastes better than it sounds.

3. Óbidos

Óbidos castle / Wikipedia
Óbidos castle / Wikipedia

In the Portuguese district of Leiria is the city of Óbidos, which has a wonderful historical centre surrounded by walls with classic battlements. The village is a maze of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, decorated with flowers and touches of yellow and blue paint that make it truly unforgettable.

This charming village is a huge tourist attraction for all fans of history who come to visit the impressive castle, attend numerous cultural events and activities or just spend a few days in one of the most romantic places in Portugal. Lose yourself in its winding streets, walk on top of the ancient city walls and let yourself be swept up in the history of this open-air museum.

What to do in Óbidos:

  • Castelo de Óbidos: built by the Arabs and later offered as the dowry of several queens, such as Queen Santa Isabel and Queen Leonor, you absolutely must visit Óbidos Castle.
  • The Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria, the Igreja da Misericórdia and the Igreja de São Pedro: All these churches are true sanctuaries of Óbidos and each one a work of art in its own right.
  • Porta da Vila: the main entrance to the town of Óbidos consists of a double gate whose interior is covered with gorgeous 18th century tiles.
  • Museu Municipal de Óbidos: the museum of Óbidos was inaugurated in 1970 and has several religious works.

What to eat in Óbidos:

  • Ginjinha no vidro: dark red in colour, the ginja is a liqueur with two distinct varieties: the straight-up liqueur and the liqueur with fruit inside like sour cherry and sometimes flavoured with vanilla or a cinnamon stick. In Óbidos, people usually drink it from a shot glass made of chocolate that can be eaten at the end!
  • Chocolate: every year, the town of Óbidos hosts the International Chocolate Festival. As well as seeing the marvellous chocolate sculptures they make, you can also taste some of the best chocolaty sweets in the world. This year, the chocolate festival is from April 25th to May 5th.
  • Bread: in Óbidos you can find some of the best naturally fired breads in the whole country, baked in the traditional Portuguese way in wood-burning ovens.

4. Évora

Évora has a strong Roman legacy and artefacts / Wikipedia
Évora has a strong Roman legacy and artefacts / Wikipedia

Being one of the three most important cities in the Alentejo, the whole city of Évora is a museum because its historical roots reach back to Roman times. The architecture, the white houses, the typical Portuguese tiles and the balconies are some of the main things that make this city so special. The UNESCO organisation highlights the city wall, the aqueduct and the cathedral as the places of greatest cultural interest in Évora.

If you go to Évora, it’s obligatory to taste the celebrated Alentejo food. We especially recommend a good lunch in one of the traditional Portuguese restaurants of the city, with some Alentejo cheese and watered down with wine from the region.

Things to do in Évora:

  • The Capela dos Ossos (The Bone Chapel): located in the Church of San Francisco and built by Franciscan monks, this whole chapel has been decorated with the real bones of dead people. Here you will find the creepy inscription “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos”, which means "Us bones that are here wait for you".
  • The Roman Temple of Évora: wrongly called the Temple of Diana, it is an integral part of the city's historic centre, which has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Roman temple is also recognised as a National Monument by the DGPC.
  • The Cromlech de Almendres: this megalithic monument consists of 95 stone monoliths, the most important of its kind on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the most important in Europe. It is impressive not only for its size, but also for its incredible state of conservation after all these years.
  • The Cathedral of Évora or Basilica Sé de Nossa Senhora da Assunção: this monument is particularly marked by the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style and has three majestic naves to explore.

What to eat in Évora:

  • Açorda à Alentejana: this is a different kind of soup, of which various versions exist in different places in the country. Prepared with garlic, salt, olive oil, water and sliced bread, it can also contain coriander, mint and fish.
  • Queijo de Évora: a hard or semi-hard ripened cheese with a slightly yellowish colour that is small and circular and has been recognised with DOP protected denomination of origin status.
  • Torrão Real de Évora or Torrão de Ovos: an irresistible sweet treat prepared with egg yolks, sugar and almonds.
  • Queijadas de Évora: another conventual sweet typical of the city. The queijadas have a crunchy dough and a filling of eggs and fresh cheese.

5. Silves

Silves is a small Portuguese city you can visit in one weekend / Wikipedia
Silves is a small Portuguese city you can visit in one weekend / Wikipedia

In contrast to the frantic pace of life in the coastal areas of the Algarve, Silves' charm is found in its tranquillity, while at the same time offering various tourist activities. Considered the best city in the northern region of the Algarve, the former capital of the Algarve offers a fantastic opportunity to discover authentic Portugal. Although the areas of interest in Silves can be visited in about five hours, it is advisable to spend a night or two to really soak in the calm and special atmosphere of the city.

The main points of interest in this Silves are the Cathedral of Silves, the Municipal Museum of Archaeology of Silves, the Roman bridge and, of course, its biggest attraction, the Silves Castle, made of red brick that dominates the local landscape.

What to do in Silves:

  • Cathedral of Silves: erected in the fifteenth century, the ancient Catedral de Silves has a Gothic style combined with elements from other times, the result of its changes over the centuries.
  • Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves: inaugurated in 1990, the Archaeology Museum allows you to take a trip back in time with artefacts dating back to the 13th century.
  • The Roman bridge: a bridge over the river Arade located in the city of Silves which is said to have been originally built in Roman times and rebuilt in the fifteenth century.
  • Castelo de Silves: at the mouth of the river Arade is the largest castle in the Algarve region, being considered the most beautiful example of Islamic military architecture in Portugal.

What to eat in Silves:

  • Papas del milho: a traditional dish that gave strength to those who had to work in the fields, made with corn;
  • Galinha de cabidela: a chicken stew with… wait for it… the animal's vinegary blood added during cooking. In southern Portugal, it is usually served with sautéed cabbage. Surprisingly tasty.
  • Tarta de alfarroba: a delicious, moist and irresistible pie prepared with carob flour.
  • Morgado de Figo: a cake made using figs and almonds, the most popular ingredients in traditional baked recipes from the Algarve. It also has chocolate, cinnamon, fennel and lemon and is covered with sugar syrup.
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