The best independent guide to Central Portugal
The best independent guide to Central Portugal
Evora is one of the finest tourist destinations in central Portugal. It is a delightful city, that combines Portuguese charm with a varied selection of fascinating historical sights.
Evora was one of the most influential cities of medieval Portugal, being an important religious centre and situated on the main trading route to Spain. This rich history is reflected in the sheer number of historical monuments. There are medieval palaces, gothic religious buildings, delightful plazas, and cobbled streets, all contained within Evora's ancient walls.
Evora should not be mistaken for a sleepy old relic that is reliant upon its glorious past; the city is young and vibrant, with a large student population who attend one of the world's oldest universities.
Evora is surrounded by the Alentejo, a region of sun-baked olive groves, fortified towns and traditional villages, all of which are a joy to explore from Evora. The Alentejo region offers a truly unique Portuguese experience, with a distinctive heritage and an unhurried pace of life, a consequence of the sweltering hot summer months.
Evora may not be as famous as other larger Portuguese cities, but it should be high on your list of places to visit while in Portugal.
Related articles: A guide to the Alentejo region
There are many outstanding tourist sights in Evora, and the best are:
The Templo Romano Évora – Constructed in the first century as a temple dedicated to the cult of Augustus, and is the best-preserved Roman Temple on the Iberian Peninsula. It's fourteen granite columns have survived Visigoth destruction (5th century), and later were incorporated into the royal palace and even used as a slaughterhouse.
The Catedral de Évora – The mighty 13th-century cathedral of Evora, regarded as the finest gothic building in Portugal, signifies Evora's medieval importance. Heavily fortified walls and massive stone pillars conceal delicate art such as the rose window and carved apostle statues that surround the entrance.
The Capela dos Ossos – A macabre chapel lined with the bones of over 5,000 bodies that were exhumed from the city's medieval graves. Ghoulish, but the most popular tourist attraction in Evora.
The Aqueduto da Água de Prata – The 16th century aqueduct that once transported water for over 9km to Evora. Outside of the city walls, the aqueduct rises into grand aches, while within the city walls, houses and shops have been constructed beneath the stone arches.
Evora is an outstanding destination as a day trip from Lisbon. This will be a very long day trip and will involve a lot of travelling, especially if you are reliant on public transport. Once in Evora, all of the major tourist attractions can be seen within about 4-5 hours of sightseeing.
A typical 1-day tour of Evora is shown in the interactive map below. The green route is the classic tour of the historic centre, which includes the cathedral, the Roman Temple, the university and the Bone Chapel. The yellow route is an additional tour of the north of the city, which follows the aqueduct. The two grey lines are the routes to and from the train and bus stations.
Tour sights; 1) Praça do Giraldo 2) Igreja de Santo Antão 3) Catedral de Évora 4) Evora museum 5) Roman Temple 6) Evora university 7) Igreja do Carmo 8) Igreja da Graça 9) Igreja de São Francisco 10) Capela dos Ossos (bone Chapel) 11) Ruínas Fingidas 12) Palácio de Dom Manuel (Royal Palace) 13) Câmara Municipal (city hall) 14) Arco Romano 15) Beginning of the aqueduct 16) Arches of the aqueduct
Warning: Many of the tourist attractions managed by the city council shut for a two-hour lunch.
Advice: During the summer, Evora is significantly hotter than Lisbon, and the intense sun makes sightseeing very draining from 11-3pm.
Have you considered a small group tour to Evora?
An organised tour is a great way to discover Evora, especially if you are based in Lisbon. The standard of tours in Portugal is very high, with knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides, and tours that are designed for modern tourists. An organised tour fits so much sightseeing into a single day, and removes the hassle of public transport.
We have worked with GetYourGuide for the previous five years, and some of their best tours to Evora from Lisbon include:
• Evora Portuguese Heritage Small-Group Day Tour €70
• Evora and Wine Tour €74
• Evora Full-Day Tour with Wine Tasting from Lisbon €89
• Evora and Megaliths Full-Day Tour from Lisbon €80
The pretty cobble backstreets in Evora
If you have the time, Evora is the ideal place to slow travel and experience authentic Portugal. The surround region is also popular for rural tourism, yoga retreats or to unwind from stressful lives.
Spending at least one night in Evora allows for a more relaxed method to discover the city, and is highly recommended in the hot summer months. A third day could visit the pre-historic standing stones of Cromeleque dos Almendres and the majestic castle at Evoramonte.
Advice: To get the most of the Alentejo region a rental car is needed as there is limited public transport.
The Cromeleque dos Almendres date from 6000 to 4000bc, and certain stones have ancient circular engravings
Further days could explore the Alentejo region, with day trips to the marble towns of Estremoz, Vila Viçosa and Borba, and the fortified town of Elvas. Elvas has unique star-shaped defences and forts, which were constructed from centuries of border fighting against Spain, and is a fascinating tourist destination.
Related articles: Guide to Elvas
Fascinating fact: The town of Olivença (in Spain) is at the centre of one of Europe’s oldest border disputes. In 1815 the region should have been returned to Portugal under the Congress of Vienna, but Spain refused and has remained Spanish ever since.
For an even longer stay, Evora has the added benefit of providing great value for accommodation and food, with prices significantly cheaper than Lisbon or the Algarve. To understand how inexpensive living in Portugal could be, look at the prices of houses for sale in the rural regions of the Alentejo.
Evoramonte castle stands atop one of the highest hills of the Alentejo region
The map below shows the location of hotels and rental rooms in Evora, and by altering the date to your holiday, the map will display current prices:
Evora is connected to Lisbon by regular and inexpensive rail and bus services. There are more daily bus departures than the train, but the railway provides a more relaxing journey.
Travel times for both bus and train are around 1.5 hours, and the fares are comparable at €12.50 for a single adult ticket. The frequency of the public transport means that Evora can be visited as a day trip Lisbon.
Related articles: Lisbon to Evora
Evora train station is modern but very quiet, with only a handful of departures per day
There are three historical monuments that could be considered as the main tourist attractions of Evora; they are the Sé Cathedral, the Roman Templo de Diana and the Aqueduto de Água de Prata. Most visitors to Evora will also want to see the Bone Chapel…..
The Sé cathedral
The Sé cathedral is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture.
The cathedral has two mismatched towers, and this is unique for gothic religious buildings, which usually have a panel of symmetry across the front portal.
A visit to the cathedral allows access to the roof, from which there are wonderful views over Evora.
The cathedral with its two very different towers
The Templo de Diana
The Templo de Diana is the best-preserved Roman temple on the Iberian Peninsula. The temple is named after the Roman goddess Diana but when it was constructed in the 1st century, it was actually dedicated to Augustus – the emperor who created a cult about himself.
The temple has been so well preserved, as during the medieval era it was incorporated into the palace that stood here. Later, after the destruction of the palace, the temple was used as an abattoir and even a wood store!
The Templo de Diana with the cathedral to the rear
The Aqueduto de Agua de Prata
The Aqueduto de Agua de Prata provided a constant supply of water to the city and is connected to the water springs in Graça do Divor, 18km to the north. The aqueduct was commanded by King João III and was completed in 1537.
The highest arches are seen outside of the city walls, while inside the city, houses and shops have been constructed beneath the arches.
Historic intrigue: The name of the aqueduct (the Silver Water Aqueduct) has a double meaning. The first, and more obvious, is the silver appearance of the water under the bright summer sun. The second reflects the astronomical construction costs, which were so high that it nearly bankrupted the regional government.
Outside of the city walls the huge arches span the valley
The Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel)
There is no stranger tourist attraction in Evora (and possibly central Portugal) than the macabre Capela dos Ossos. The walls of this small chapel are lined with the bones and skulls of more than 5,000 bodies that were exhumed from the crowded graveyards of Evora.
These bones have not just been stored in the walls but actually create the decoration of the chapel. The Franciscan monks who designed the chapel followed the Counter-Reformation belief, that death is purely a transitory stage.
The creepiness is compounded by the wording above the entrance, which reads "We the bones wait for yours".
Skulls and bones form decorations
Unique activities in the Evora region
Within the Alentejo region are many unique activities and tours some of the best include:
• Guided marble art and archaeology Tour in Vila Viçosa
• Walk through a cork forest and guided tour of a cork farm
• Rural Alentejo tour in a 1974 Land-rover
Note: you will need a car to travel to them
Evora has incredibly hot summers, warm springs and autumns. Winters are mild but there is always the chance of wet days.
Early spring is the best season to visit Evora, when the rolling plains are lush and full of flowers and the days are bright and pleasant.
The average weather of Evora
Summers are extremely hot in the Alentejo region and sightseeing can only be done in the early morning or late in the afternoon. For tourists intending on visiting during the summer, follow the locals’ example, by operating at a much slower pace and taking a long lunch. All municipal tourist attractions close for an extended two-hour lunch, irrespective of the season, so plan your day of sightseeing around this long break.
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