Castelo Branco Portugal – The ultimate travel Guide

Castelo Branco Portugal

In the East of Portugal, inland and close to the Spanish border is the countryside ‘city’ of Castelo Branco. I say ‘city’ in inverted commas, because, although officially a city, Castelo Branco feels much more like a town, or even a village to some! Here you will find a much more relaxed pace of life than in Lisbon or Porto, and it genuinely feels much more authentically Portuguese. If you are looking to experience a traditional inland destination with opportunities for experiencing the countryside and smaller historical towns off the beaten track, then Castelo Branco in Portugal could be the ideal destination for you.

Disclaimer: Templeseeker is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. Other affiliate links may be used in this article on Castelo Branco Portugal, but they do not impact on the price that you pay and they do help me to get this information to you for free. Read my privacy policy for more information regarding affiliates.

I spent a whole week in Castelo Branco, Portugal. Although it’s a destination that can easily be seen in a day or two, I wanted some time to chill out and also time to explore some of the surrounding areas including the river beach swimming pool. I also wanted to see some of the nearby towns and villages including Monsanto, Belmonte, Idanha-a-Velha and Penha Garcia.

Box Garden Jardim do Paco
Box Garden, Jardim do Paco, Castelo Branco, Portugal

Photography copyright: All the images in this blog are original photography by Amy Green and are property of @templeseeker (unless otherwise stated). Please do not use these without permission or without giving credit and backlink. If you would like to use any of these images please email: for permission. 

Introduction to solo female travel in Castelo Branco Portugal

Castelo Branco is perfect for solo travel. It’s a very safe traditional Portuguese old town, where the locals are happy and friendly. Be aware that the population is slightly older in demographic, and it’s not a destination for you if you are looking for bars, clubs and an international scene, but I did have some banter with the old men in a local cafe who started on the port at 11.30am!!! The great thing is that men are very respectful of women here – they are friendly but you don’t get hassle.

Solo female Travel Castelo Branco
Solo female Travel Castelo Branco, Portugal

You may have to learn a bit more Portuguese than you would in Lisbon or Porto, but this really adds to the experience. Also, staff in the hotels and some restaurants still speak good English and so it is easy to get by.

Being a smaller place than Lisbon or Porto, you will find the centre of Castelo Branco very walkable and easily accessible. You can get to know your way around in just one day. I would recommend that you choose to stay in Castelo Branco for at least 3 days if you would like to do some hiking or explore the surrounding areas.

As it is more ‘out in the sticks’ I would advise that you carry more cash on you than you would in the bigger cities – some bars and restaurants in Castelo Branco are still cash only. You can ask ‘posso pagar com cartão/Visa?’ – can I pay by card/Visa?

Castelo Branco Portugal view from Castle
Castelo Branco Portugal – view from the Castle

Where to Stay

There are a few nice options for you to choose from regarding where to stay in Castelo Branco. I opted for Hotel Imperio do Rei, a two star hotel in the centre of Castelo Branco. The location was perfect – walkable to the Cathedral and Jardim de Paco episcopal in less than 10 minutes. A great Portuguese breakfast is offered with cereals, meat/cheeses, pastries and pancakes. Although basic, they offer rooms with en suite and WIFI, and the reception staff are extremely friendly. They recommended some great restaurants and tours for me as well. I loved the photography in the bedrooms that reflected the beauty of the local area.

Looking for something a little more luxurious? Go for the Meliá Castelo Branco which is located on a hilltop overlooking the city. As well as the basic amenities, they also have a health club with an indoor pool, sauna and Turkish bath. The only downside to Meliá Castelo Branco is that it’s 2km away from public transport links, and so if you were hoping to use the trains and buses then Hotel Imperio do Rei is a better option.

Imperio do Rei hotel room
My Imperio do Rei hotel room – I love the local photography above the bed!

What to see and do in Castelo Branco

The best things to see and do in Castelo Branco include Se Cathedral, Jardim do Paco Episcopal and the river beach swimming complex (Piscina Praia de Castelo Branco). Oh, and of course….the Castelo of Castelo Branco is a must!

Historical Centre

The centre of Castelo Branco in Portugal is full of beautiful buildings, many of them have historical significance. Praça Camões, also called the Praça Velha (Old Square), is the start of the old historical area of Castelo Branco.

Castelo Branco Clock Tower

There are several notable buildings worth stopping to see. A great landmark is the Relogio Tower or old Clock tower, which represents the end of the Medieval city walls.

Castelo Branco Portugal Clock Tower
Torre do Relogio – Castelo Branco Clock Tower

Solar dos Cunha ou Solar dos Mota

The construction of the Solar dos Cunha ou Solar dos Mota dates back to the late 17th century. It was built as the residence of the Guilherme da Cunha family. The renovations which gave it its palace-like appearance began in 1870. The Manor House remained in the possession of the family until the late 19th century, when it was inherited by Alfredo Alves da Mota through marriage. The building was left to the Castelo Branco Municipality in 1993 – it was adapted and now serves as the District Archives.

Solar dos Cunha ou Solar dos Mota
Solar dos Cunha ou Solar dos Mota, Castelo Branco

Domus Municipalis

The Domus Municipalis building was built in the 16th century and housed the Castelo Branco Municipal Council. It was also the courthouse and jail and later became home to the Municipal Library. The highlights of the main façade are the veranda, the Armillary Sphere and the Arms of Portugal. The bell tower, still there today, served to announce the closing of the defensive gates of the city.

Domus Municipalis
Domus Municipalis, Castelo Branco

Se Cathedral

You can go inside the Se Cathedral in Castelo Branco. It is locally named the Church of S. Miguel and it probably dates back to the 13th or 14th century. Its existence was referred to in 1213 and it was said to have belonged to the Templars. The central nave has various inscriptions alluding to the reutilisation of structures dating from before the 17th century. The building that we see today is mainly in Baroque- Rococo style. Of note are the elements in gold leaf, the highlights being the main chapel, the Santíssimo Chapel and the Sacristy. Dress conservatively (not too much flesh on show) if you would like to visit the Cathedral and be aware that it is closed on the weekends.

Se Cathedral Casetlo Branco Portugal

Jardim do Paço Episcopal

The Jardim do Paço Episcopal or Bishops palace garden is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Castelo Branco, Portugal. At just €3 per entrance ticket, this destination is well worth a visit. If you have ever been to Bom Jesus (Braga) or Santuario Nossa Senhora dos Remedios (Lamego), the Jardim do Paço Episcopal in Castelo Branco has a similar feel (though on a smaller scale).

Jardim do Paco Episcopal Castelo Branco Entrance
The entrance to Jardim do Paço Episcopal, Castelo Branco Portugal

Enjoy the tiled facade of the entrance, the beautifully cut hedges and statues of the box gardens, the fountains (including the crown pool and the Moses Pool) and the Escadaria dos Reis (staircase of Kings). Walk to the top where the Moses pool is located to get the best photographs of the Box garden.

Jardim do Paco Kings Staircase
Escadaria dos Reis (staircase of Kings), Castelo Branco, Portugal

This was my favourite thing to do in Castelo Branco – it is so beautiful, and with the added bonus of being surprisingly quiet compared to some of the gardens in Lisbon and Porto. Plan to spend at least an hour there to enjoy the peacefulness and get do your photography.

Castelo of Castelo Branco

No visit to Castelo Branco would be complete without a hike up to the Castelo itself. It’s a historically improtant castle as it was built by the Knights Templar in the early 13th Century. The São Gens lookout – which replaces the walls – offers amazing views over the city, so get your camera ready!

Castelo Branco Portugal Castle
Castelo Branco Castle, Portugal

There are many routes up to the castle – Rua Nova, Rua dos Peleteiros, Rua d´Ega and Rua do Muro all head upwards to the summit, where you will find the Church of Santa Maria and the Moorish Castle ruins.

Piscina Praia de Castelo Branco

One of the most relaxing and enjoyable places to go in Castelo Branco is the Piscina Praia de Castelo Branco. These outdoor pools are a great way to cool off during the summertime and it is a family friendly day out.

You can actually walk to Piscina Praia from the centre of Castelo Branco in around half an hour (take plenty of water if it’s a hot day). The tickets are €4,80 per adult with concessions for children and pensioners. You can buy your ticket on site (or online in advance) – ask for um bilhete de adulo, but I found that the staff behind the desk did speak English. Lockers are available and take €1 coins (refundable). The locker keys are not on a wrist band, so I would suggest taking an elastic band or hair bobble to tie it round your wrist to avoid carrying it. Also take a large beach towel and sun cream (maybe even a book) because there are sun beds and places to relax in the sun.

Piscina Praia de Castelo Branco
Piscina Praia de Castelo Branco, Portugal

Piscina Praia de Castelo Branco makes a great family day out and is equally good for a solo trip if you need a morning or afternoon to relax after your travels.

Dining out in Castelo Branco

Castelo Branco is a great place to try Portuguese food and drink, and it’s restaurants really are excellent value. Ask for ‘menu del dia’ and many local restaurants have a lunch or evening meal for €10 deal.

  • Retiro do Caçador – Portuguese – best value local restaurant in Castelo Branco (I had the mixed grill – grelhado mixte)
  • Palitão – Best for Portuguese, European and no. 1 restaurant on Tripadvisor.
  • Cabra Preta – Traditional Portuguese, great atmosphere and best for cheese, wine and Portuguese sausage.
  • Hamburgueria da Baixa – Hamburgers – Best burgers in Castelo Branco all around €8-10 (I recommend the ‘A Patria’ burger with caramelised onions).
  • Tábuas.Come – Relatively new to Castelo Branco and great for steak.
  • Namaste – Best place for Vegetarian and Vegan in Castelo Branco. Only open from 12-3pm for lunch and you need to get there early especially on a Friday (when I went at 1.30pm they had already run out!). They do a gorgeous set vegan/veggie menu for €7,50 with different daily options of hummus, falafel, chick-peas and fresh salad.
  • Cozinha do Castelo – The restaurant of Meliá Castelo Branco, best for speciality and restaurant with the best view in the city. I recommend the pumpkin soup, clams and codfish.
  • Casa da Se – Best place for Gelato (Portuguese ice-cream) in Castelo Branco. It’s owned by the same people who run the Imperio do Rei hotel. I highly recommend the Pistachio Gelato! You can find them on Facebook here.
Portuguese Mixed grill at Retiro do Cacador
Mixed grill at Retiro do Cacador – this with soup starter, bread and olives, chocolate mousse dessert and Portuguese coffee was just €10 – Portugal, you’re spoiling me!

Castelo Branco travel tips

  • Stay at the Hotel Imperio do Rei which is centrally located with friendly staff.
  • Take a good pair of walking boots as you are likely to do a lot of walking and also some hiking.
  • Spend a full day exploring Castelo Branco itself – don’t miss Se Cathedral, Cruxes, Jardim do Paco Episcopal.
  • Take a guided walking tour of Castelo Branco if you would like to learn more about the history of the city.
  • If you are interested in museums with local art and history then check out Museu Cargaleiro and Museu da Seda (tapestries).
  • Eat out at Retiro do Caçador – authentic and very reasonably priced Portuguese food. They have a menu del dia which is soup, main meal (meat or fish), dessert (mousse or ice cream) plus coffee for just €10!
  • Stay for at least 3 days to explore the surrounding areas – check out Covilha, Monsanto, Belmonte, Idanha-a-Velha and Penha Garcia.
  • Have some cash money at the ready – not everywhere will accept card.
  • Take a sun hat, sun cream (factor 30) and after sun plus a water bottle – in the summer months it can get higher than 30 degrees (Celsius).
  • There are supermarkets where you can stock up on cheap drinks, snacks and toiletries – Mini Preco’s are jotted around the city and there is a good Pingo Doce on the main street.

What to Pack for visiting Castelo Branco in Portugal

What to pack for Castelo Branco very much depends on the time of year that you visit. In the summer months of July and August temperatures rise above 30 degree Celsius and so you will need to pack lots of shorts, T shirts and sun cream. However, in the winter months from December to February it can be betwee 5-12 degrees C and so you will need to add jeans, leggings, fleece and a raincoat to your packing. Make sure that you adjust this packing list accordingly.

Also, consider whether you are going to travel hand luggage only – it works out a lot cheaper on the Ryanair and Easyjet flights if you don’t check a bag underneath. I basically packed my tech, my travel documents, my Lonely Planet, one Jersey dress and 3 sets of cycling shorts with 5 tops (vest tops and T-shirt tops) and I was good to go! There are laundrettes in Castelo Branco and the Hotel Imperio do Rei offer a laundry service and so this was plenty. I wore my walking boots and thick walking socks and popped a pair of flip-flops in my packing. All this fitted into my Deuter 30L backpack, and toiletries, I just shove in a toothbrush and buy travel toiletries at the airport or when I arrive. Perfect!

32L Deuter Backpack

Here is a list of what you should pack for Castelo Branco, Portugal…

  • A good backpack (I like my Deuter Groden 32L backpack and it was enough for Castelo Branco in summer).
  • Travel documents (passport and flight/hotel bookings), bank card (my Visa worked in most shops in Castelo Branco) and cash money in Euros.

UK to Portugal travel adapter

  • Laptop and smart phone with chargers plus adapters for Europe (two pin Type C). Download Duolingo on your smartphone and get practicing that Portuguese – you will need it much more in Castelo Branco than you do in Lisbon or Porto.
  • Good walking boots (mine are Karrimor) and thick walking socks (I like Bridgedale Medium weight). Wear them on the plane to avoid having to pack these.

walking boots for Castelo Branco Portugal

  • Sun glasses, sun hat – If you wear glasses regularly I would recommend that you get sunlight reactive lenses to avoid needing to swap between your normal glasses and sunnies).
  • Light Cardigan or a shawl (to keep the sun off you in the day time and to keep you warmer on cool nights). A standard pashmina is fine.
  • Sun Cream at least Factor 30 (I use Ambre Solaire) and after sun – you can also buy this when you get there if you are travelling light as sun cream is reasonably priced in Portuguese supermarkets.
  • Bug Spray – If you are hiking or camping in Castelo Branco in the summer then an insect repellant is a must. Choose one with DEET (or a more eco-friendly DEET alternative).
  • Plenty of leggings, cycling shorts, shorts and T-shirts.

sun cream for Portugal

  • A comfortable pair of hiking trousers such as Regatta or Peter Storm light – ones with detachable bottoms that turn into shorts are great for Castelo Branco.
  • Jumper and Fleece (especially in the winter months (such as Peter Storm or Berghaus).
  • Very basic make up – I’m talking just a lipstick and rouge for summer months as thick make up will just slide off your face!
  • Travel toothpaste and toothbrush plus basic toiletries (you can buy a travel toothbrush and toothpaste set). Most hotels here provide shampoo and/or shower gel so you probably won’t need to pack that unless you are hosteling it or camping.
  • Refillable water bottle – Castelo Branco has a few places with water fountains where you can fill up on the go and save money on bottled water. I like my SIGG – very hardwearing.

SIGG water bottle

  • Several sets of underwear – ladies I recommend packing a sports bra for Castelo Branco (I like my new Balance one it’s really comfy for hiking).
  • Reading Book – Castelo Branco is a relaxing place, so take some fiction to read – I like Bill Bryson if you want some good travel stories! Although a little outdated it’s funny and relatable.
  • A Portugal Travel Guidebook – And finally, I recommend carrying a paperback guidebook for Portugal – I like my Lonely Planet Portugal. The internet is great but it’s nice to have something to read and to help you when you are stuck without WIFI. I love my Lonely Planet – it also makes for good plane reading!

Lonley Planet guide book Portugal

Travelling beyond Castelo Branco

The best local tour guide company for this area is Beira Tours – they offer a variety of tours of Castelo Branco and the surrounding towns and villages. If you have a limited amount of time in Castelo Branco then I would recommend their tuk-tuk tour of the city. If you are in the area for longer then consider one of these tours, which you can also book online with Get Your Guide…

Here are some more details about the nearby surrounding towns and villages that you might like to explore…


You can get to Covilha by train from Castelo Branco and it makes a nice little day trip – it takes about an hour by train. Check out the main square, Igreja Da Misericordia and Praça do Município. You will find some amazing coffee shops in the centre and plenty of local hikes in Covilha (it’s at the border of the
Serra da Estrela Nature Park). There are also a couple of funiculars that you might like to go on: Elevador da Goldra and Funicular de Santo André.


The Portuguese town of Guarda, at 1,056 meters in altitude, is famous for being the highest town in Portugal. Guarda has a rich historical heritage, dating back to the Celtic and Roman periods. The high altitude meant that the city played a strategic role in the defense of the Portuguese border during medieval times. The city’s main square, Praça Luís de Camões, is surrounded by notable landmarks such as the Cathedral of Guarda (Sé da Guarda), a Gothic-style cathedral with impressive interiors and panoramic views from its tower. Other noteworthy sites include the Episcopal Palace and the Church of São Vicente.

And, as expected from a Portuguese city in this region, it also has a castle built on the highest point. Although the castle of Guarda is now in ruins, it is a prominent landmark overlooking the city. Guarda is also the gateway to the Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal.

You can get to Guarda by bus or train from Castelo Branco – book buses on FlixBus and trains on (remember to book with your passport number and carry passport ID on your route). It’s around an hour and a half to Guarda by public transport – still very doable as a day trip.


Perched high on the hilltops near the Serra da Estrela mountains, Belmonte is a charming medieval village famous for it’s imposing 13th-century granite castle. The castle offers panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside. The castle houses a museum that explores Belmonte’s history, including its connection to the Jewish community.

Belmonte has a significant Jewish history and is recognised as one of the centres of Jewish culture in Portugal. The town is home to a community of Crypto-Jews, also known as Marranos, who maintained their Jewish traditions in secret during the Portuguese Inquisition. The Jewish Museum of Belmonte will give you an insight into this history, displaying artefacts and documenting the community’s story.

You can get guided tours of Belmonte from Castelo Branco with Beira Tours – it is difficult to get to by public transport.


About 25km Northwest of Castelo Branco lies Monsanto, often referred to as the “most Portuguese village in Portugal” due to its unique architecture, traditional customs, and picturesque setting.Dominating the village is the Castle of Monsanto, perched on a hilltop. The castle dates back to the 12th century and offers panoramic views of the region. Located within the castle walls, the Chapel of St. Michael is a small Romanesque chapel known for its ancient frescoes and religious artefacts. While you are there, try some of the traditional foods including maranho (a meat and rice dish), migas (bread-based dish – I ate this once in Alentejo!), and some of the amazing local cheeses.


Idanha-a-Velha is a picturesque historical village to the North East of Castelo Branco and close to the Spanish border. Don’t miss the Roman bridge, the castle (Castelo de Idanha-a-Velha), the North Gate (Porta Norte de Idanha-a-Velha) and the Cathedral.

Penha Garcia

Head even further to the Spanish border and you will come to Penha Garcia. One of the notable sites is the Penha Garcia Castle, perched on a hilltop overlooking the village, which dates back to the 13th century. Penha Garcia is also known for its abundance of fossilised dinosaur footprints. These footprints, known as the “Ichnological Park of Penha Garcia,” are preserved in the rocks near the village.

It is possible to combine Monsanto, Idanha-a-Velha and Penha Garcia into one day trip from Castelo Branco if you hire a driver. There are also tours available on Get Your Guide, but be aware that they are only currently running on Wednesdays and Sundays and you will need to book in advance.

Medical Issues and Travel Insurance

It goes without saying that you should always get travel insurance and make sure that you are covered for any pre-existing conditions. If you are registered disabled, you can get specialist ‘Blue Badge’ travel insurance to cover all of your medical needs. And it’s not just medical issues that you need to think about – travel insurance will also cover you in the event of travel delays that are out of your control and also lost luggage that doesn’t arrive the other end after your flight!

Pharmacies in Castelo Branco speak English and have most minor ailments covered (including sun-burn, thrush, mild dehydration). If you end up needing antibiotics you will need to see a doctor so head to the Centro de Saúde de Castelo Branco.

Overall Verdict – Should I travel to Castelo Branco Portugal?

The answer to the question ‘Is Castelo Branco worth visiting?’ really depends on what you are looking for. If you are wanting to socialise with other expats and enjoy a vibrant nightlife, then Castelo Branco is not the place for you. However, if you are more interested in learning Portuguese, exploring remote castles and going on local hikes or relaxing in the countryside then it is perfect. For me, I really enjoyed Castelo Branco – it allowed me to really embrace a relaxing schedule. This, combined with its tradition and authenticity was just what I need after Liverpool and Porto!

Further Reading

If you are travelling in Portugal then you might also be interested in reading the following articles….