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A New York Times article informed me that Guimarães is one of the youngest cities in Europe with half the population under 30. I know it has a university. But on New Year’s Day as I sit in a bar that could double as a refrigerator, nestling an icy beer (not a wise choice) and watching my breath make pretty, swirling patterns in the air whilst the only other punter sits hunched over a laptop in the corner, I struggle to make a sentence with the words vibrant, youthful, and Guimarães.
In fairness, New Year’s Day isn’t a day for making a judgement on the nightlife in any town, especially if the younger residents have been tripping the light fantastic and then some like they were to welcome the New Year in Porto where they were still partying at 9.30am the day after the night before.
There are plenty of arty and cultural events, concerts, street theatre and fiestas throughout the year in Guimarães, especially in its year as European Capital of Culture, and I’m sure it’s idyllic sitting in one of the quaint old plazas cooling down with a long, chilled Super Bock in the summer months. But what about those other times? What about those times when it’s cool, wet and a weekday? Where do you go to find the nightlife then?
Meeting Places in Guimarães
First of all, there’s the question of where to meet up with your friends. If you’re young and beautiful (you don’t really have to be beautiful) you head to one of the café/bars at Largo da Oliveira and, if it’s warm enough, grab a table in the square outside of somewhere like Rolhas e Rótulos.
Older night owls head to Largo do Toural to meet up before moving on.
Early Evening Café Bars in Guimarães
We found some of the cosiest bars were the cafés/pastelarias. There’s a bit of a blur between coffee shops, cafés and bars in Portugal with some places having a different personality after dark. Most cafés in Guimarães sell beer, wine and spirits. Like the younger population, we found the area around Largo de Oliveira had some of the best of these (Rolhas e Rótulos, Medieval etc.). The big draw for these types of drinking establishments on a coolish evening is that they are cosy inside (see bars).
Bars in Guimarães
There are a decent amount of bars in the old centre of Guimarães. Most are either on or tucked away in streets around Praça do Santiago. Many are also intimately small and, like a lot of the bars we frequented in Porto, never shut their front doors. This might be great in summer but a coat, jumper and some cold weather survival gear is required in winter unless you’re one of the hardy locals. Some bars still allow smoking, but often the way to spot a bar in Guimarães is by the handful of men congregated around its doorway. They act as a handy landmark as it’s not always easy to spot bars in Guimarães (see No 29 in the photo). Televisions seem to be obligatory in cafés, bars and even the poshest restaurants. For football fans this is a nice little bonus as Portuguese TV screens lots of English and Scottish Premier League matches…then the highlights…then more highlights.
Late Bars and Music Bars in Guimarães
Most bars stay open till midnight during weekdays and till around 2am at the weekend but there are a couple of other quite sophisticated venues which also have live music, concerts and cultural events.
São Mamede on Rua Dr. José Sampaio, on the road to the Pousada de Santa Marinha might have the look of a gay bar from the outside but actually it’s an attractive cultural centre with art exhibitions, a cocktail bar, cinema and concert venue. During the week the sleek, modern masculine bar is favoured by couples…and their laptops. Strangely few people were drinking alcohol when we visited and bizarrely they don’t seem to serve wine except for port which, when requested, well and truly marked our cards as old fogeys. The music was mainly mid 80s British which made me feel I was well up with the happening scene in Guimarães.
Another good bar/cultural venue is the Concert Café at the Vila Flor Cultural Centre and Palace a few minutes walk from the old town centre. With minimalist retro chic décor, cocktails and live music at weekends, it’s a popular haunt for Guimarães’ cultured set.
Price of Drinks in Guimarães
Alcohol is cheap and measures are generous. Super Bock beer can range from under €1 for a small bottle to around €1.50 for a normal sized bottle. What’s big and what’s little in beer terms can vary from bar to bar. Wine is exceptional value by the glass with a couple of euros resulting in a glass that looks as though it contains the contents of half a wine bottle.