Guarda Portugal – The Ultimate Travel Guide

Guarda Portugal

Guarda is officially the highest city in Portugal, and it is well worth the visit, even if it’s just for a day trip to appreciate the stunning views from the Cathedral. Guarda is also famous for its Beira wine, Serra de Estrela cheese and codfish, so you will certainly enjoy the gastronomy of the city of Guarda. It’s perfectly doable as a day trip from Castelo Branco or Viseu. If you are travelling to Guarda from Porto or Lisbon, plan to stay overnight.

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What did I get up to in Guarda?!

Recently, I made the trip to Guarda as a solo female traveller. I took the Flixbus from Castelo Branco to spend the day there, and it really exceeded my expectations. So what did I do in Guarda?

I climbed to the castle and did some unexpected lizard photography. I ate lunch with a fellow traveller from the Lake District and his Chinese wife. I climbed to the top of the Cathedral to admire the flying butresses and phenomenal views. I walked around ‘La Juderia’ – the old Jewish quarter. I also befriended the local cheese shop owner who insisted I try numerous local liqueurs – I did not complain at that and knocked them back willingly! Finally, I finished the day off with a gorgeous Chocolate Churro before heading back to the bus station. Yes – all this in just 6 hours in Guarda! And I loved every minute!

Solo Travel Guarda Portugal
Here I am enjoying solo female travel in Guarda – at the top of the Cathedral!

I went to Guarda on a Sunday and expected it to be boring and eerily quiet. This was not the case! Although it had a calm and relaxed vibe, there were other locals to welcome me and fellow tourists to meet and chat to. Guarda was one of my most unexpected amazing surprises of Portugal.

So in short, if you have time to check out Guarda while you are in Portugal, I would definitely recommend it. So first off….how to get there?

Guarda Portugal – Getting there and Away

There is a train station in Guarda and trains run from Lisbon (4.30-5.15 hours – better to get the IC Inter City) and Porto (4.30-6.30 hours again depending on which train you get). You can book your train online with www.cp.pt and you will need to put your Passport ID number in and carry your passport with you for the journey.

Surprisingly though, the buses are actually a little quicker and easier to Guarda than the trains! There are two bus companies that take you to Guarda – Flixbus and Rede Expressos. I’ve used both of these companies successfully in Portugal and they were very comfortable. Just don’t panic if your bus is a few minutes late – it’s happened to me a few times when the bus was 15 or 20 mins later but still got to my destination on time. The buses go to Guarda from Lisbon, Porto, Viseu, Castelo Branco and Covilha.

You can book online and get a digital ticket for both the buses and trains – either print the barcode out or just make sure that you have plenty of charge. I always travel with a Anker Power pack now so that I don’t run out of power on my travels!

Anker Power pack for Guarda Portugal

Guarda Portugal – When is the best time to go?

As I’ve mentioned, you can see everything in Guarda in just one day, although some people like to spend more time there and visit some of the surrounding towns and villages (it’s a good idea to hire a car if you want to do this).

The best time of year to go to Guarda is the shoulder season – either spring (May-June) or Autumn (September-October). Remember that Guarda is the highest city in Portugal and with an altitude of 1,056 m it gets the extreme weathers. This means it gets much hotter than the coastal areas in summer (they are cooled off by the Atlantic breeze). I would recommend avoiding August (too hot – it can get in excess of 30 degrees!) and December and January (too cold – between 4-10 degrees C).

Before you go, it’s worth doing some research on local and regional festivals. The Guarda wine festival in June is a fantastic time to go!

Is Guarda good for solo travel?

As I mentioned, I headed to Guarda as a solo female traveller and had the best time. I had no health or safety issues whatsover and the people were very welcoming and could not do enough for me. The great thing about the smaller Portuguese destinations is that the locals are so happy to see you that you will instantly become friends! I didn’t experience anything negative in Guarda – no pick pockets, no insults, no rip-offs. And so it is a great place for solo travel and very suitable for female solo travellers. Some areas are run down or buildings left to disrepair, but these areas did not feel unsafe – it’s just that most young folk have moved out to the bugger cities such as Lisbon or Porto (or abroad) for work.

Top Tips for Travel to Guarda, Portugal

Here are my top tips for anyone travelling to Guarda…

  • Visit Guarda in May, June, September or October for the best weather.
  • Travel by bus – it is quicker and easier (I used Flixbus and had a good experience)
  • Take a good camera, smartphone and battery pack so you don’t miss any of the amazing views.
  • Avoid wearing skimpy clothes as the Cathedral is the main attraction of Guarda and you don’t want to miss this – T shirts and leggings would be fine, but no hot pants and spaghetti straps!
  • There is a steep uphill climb from the bus station to the centre of Guarda so wear decent walking boots.
  • Be warned that the cobbled streets get very slippy in the rain.
  • Take a sun hat, sun cream and after sun because the sun gets strong in Guarda especially in the summer months.
  • Start your day in Guarda by climbing the castle and look for the cemetery on your left and the wall which has lizards on it to your right on the approach to the castle.
  • Buy the Cathedral ticket that includes the terraces (terra├žos) to see the flying buttresses and the amazing views of Guarda from the top.
  • Don’t miss the best souvenir shop for local delicacies – Quintas de Seia.
  • Take bug spray – a DEET insect repellant such as Jungle Formula (or eco-friendly alternative) as with the heat and the mountains come the mozzies. they don’t carry malaria in Portugal, but still are damn annoying!

What to see and do in Guarda

There are some lovely things to see and do in Guarda. It has a beautiful and small historic centre, which makes it perfect to explore on foot. Here are the highlights of Portugal’s highest city….

Castelo de Guarda

There is not much left of Guarda’s medieval Castelo, other than one main tower, but it is still worth going up there for the views. The tower, which played an active role in defensive strategy, has an irregular pentagonal plan, founded directly on the rocky outcrop, still maintaining its opening on the second floor of the north side of the Tower.

Guarda Castelo

Located on the highest point of the city, at the point of 1056m, the remaining tower dates back to the reign of King Dinis (1279 – 1325) and was built for a range of defensive needs. Due to the high altitude of the city of Guarda, it was instrumental in the defence of Portugal throughout history. The Watchtower was the centre of a military complex, but also a residential building. The citadels architectural complex would have been occupied by a Captain-General, his agents, officers of the royal protection and the garrison.

The tower lost its military value with the advent of the early modern era, but it still dominates much of the Beira’s plateau.

View of Guarda Cathedral from the Castle

The castle grounds are free to explore, but it is not possible to go inside the watchtower. On the walk up to the castle, check out the cemetario velho municipal da Guarda on your left hand side and the street art and cliff face (complete with lizards!) on your right.

Lizard Guarda Portugal
Guarda wall lizard – Look carefully in the rock face and crevices and you will see these little guys!

Cemetario velho municipal da Guarda

The municipal cemetery of Guarda is a beautiful cemetery with angels, crosses and flowers decorating numerous tombs. You will have a lovely view of this cemetery from just before the entrance to the grounds of the castle.

Cemetario velho municipal da Guarda

The tunnel of duplicated brick arches at the back of the cemetery is a popular spot for artists and Instagram influencers.

Arches Guarda Cemetery

Escola Básica 2º e 3º ciclo de Santa Clara

On the way down from the castle to the Cathedral in the historical centre, you will see a gorgeous school building which is the Escola Básica 2º e 3º ciclo de Santa Clara.

Escola Básica 2º e 3º ciclo de Santa Clara

Guarda Cathedral

The highlight to anyone visit to Guarda is, of course, Guarda Cathedral and the phenomenal views from the top terrace. Entrance is 2,50ÔéČ (including the terraces) and you can buy your ticket on the door.

Views from the Cathedral

The cathedral is a fortress style Cathedral influenced by Bathalha monastery. Its style is late Gothic with Manueline influences.

The inside of the Cathedral you are greeted with an impressive stone altar. You will find several side chapels including the Capela dos Pinas, Capela doe Ferros and the beautiful Capela do Santissimo Sacramento.

Flying Butresses Guarda Cathedral
The first level or lower terrace – see the Cathedrals flying buttresses

You need to get the ticket that includes the terraces because the views of both the Cathedral architecture and surrounding areas are spectacular.

Crenellations Guarda Fortress Cathedral
Top Terrace – Crenellations of Guarda’s fortress Cathedral

Gin Gibre

Opposite the Cathedral you will see Gin Gibre – the best place in Guarda for gin lovers! It has a bar and lounge with gin tasting, and becomes Guardas discoteque duing the evening hours!

Gin Gibre

La Juderia

What is interesting about Guarda is the Jewish history of the city, which can be traced back to 13th century, when King D. Dinis gave the Royal charter to the Jewish communities of S. Vicente parish. It spans the area around Porta del Rei and Igreja de Sao. Vincent. The Jewish quarter used to have a Synagogue, kosher food shops and housing. You can walk around the Jewish quarter by yourself, but it is better with a guide. The only prominent feature remaining today is the sign ‘Judaria da Guarda – Associao de Amizade Portugal Israel’ (Judaria da Guarda – Portugal Israel Friendship Association).

The Jewry was located inside the walled city, close to a privileged location for circulation and business, allowing the development of commercial activity. From the 14th century onwards, there was a growth of the Jewry both in occupied area and in number of inhabitants, due to the anti-Jewish uprisings that devastated Castile.

In addition to the synagogue, the Jewish quarter had other infrastructures such as the market
or butcher shop, the atafona (bread milling), water supply wells and its own burial space. With the promulgation of the Edict of Expulsion, in 1496, the Jewish community of Guarda also had to opt for flight or conversion, even if apparent. Some will have fled, while others will have remained in the city and will have left the Jewry, spreading to new streets, but continuing to “Judaize” despite the prohibitions, starting the rich history of the New Christians.

Judaria da Guarda

Janela Renascentista

The characteristically Renaissance window stands out from the wall with an elegant half-cane frame, taking the form of a colonnade with a base and capital, and at the top it ends in an elegant trilobed, topped with spheres and rings in the Florentine style. This stands out not only for its shape, but also for its exuberant decoration. On the left, going upwards, are a cherub, a devil, dolphins and cornucopias. At the top, stylized plant elements. On the right side, two kissing birds, a Candelieri element (typical of Italian Renaissance art), a medallion of a warrior with a helmet, a cherub, cornucopias and other plant elements. On the sill, below, a medallion with the profile of a warrior, with a helmet and raised visor, flanked by two winged mermaids.

Janela Manueline Guarda

It should be noted the similarities between the framing of this window and the entrance porch of the Capela dos Pinas, in the Cathedral, indicating that they are possibly from the same period and even author.

Igreja da Miseric├│rdia

Another prominent landmark and beautiful Church is Igreja da Misericórdia.

The Church of S. Vincent, of medieval origin, was rebuilt in the year of 1790, by Bishop Jer├│nimo Carvalhal e Silva. It had a simple plan and a great outside sobriety, highlighted by the two massive bell towers, which flank the building, the decorated portal and the proud episcopal coat of arms with the arms of D. Jer├│nimo. This outer simplicity leaves nothing to foresee the luxurious inside decoration, consisting of the perfect union between the polychromatic gilt work and Rococo tiles.

In the nave, besides the Baroque represented on the altar and the two gilded pulpits, we should highlight the very rich panels of figurative tiles covering the walls of the church in a logical sequence, making the walls the support of religious messages. Scenes related to the Steps of the Passion are depicted in the presbytery, several episodes of the Life of the Virgin Mary are displayed in the nave and the panels of the baptismal chapel deal with the subject of the Baptism of Christ.

Igreja da Misericórdia

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article and are spending time in Portugal, then you might also like to read the following articles…

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