12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Évora
Nestling with dignified repose in the heart of Portugal's sun-baked Alentejo province, Évora is one of the country's oldest and most enchanting cities. Rising to prominence under the Romans, the town was also occupied for some 500 years by the Moors. Medieval Évora thrived as a center of learning and the arts, and was patronized by a succession of Portuguese kings. Its numerous churches and monasteries stand as testament to a devout and pious legacy.
The melding of such diverse cultures and religions coupled with an abundance of different architectural styles prompted UNESCO to declare Évora's old town a World Heritage Site. Conveniently, this precious hoard of monuments and museums is clustered together within the city walls, and can be easily explored on foot. Similarly, Évora's lively market town atmosphere is best appreciated by following the narrow cobblestone lanes that snake away from the brooding cathedral to pass gurgling fountains and flower-flecked squares. Along the way, colorful handicraft stores and family-run cafés busy themselves under granite-wrapped arcades. Restaurants, meanwhile, serve some of the tastiest gastronomy in the land.
See also: Where to Stay in Evora
1 Sé (Cathedral)
Don't be put off by Évora cathedral's rather austere complexion. Its weathered granite façade has after all endured the elements since 1204, and the heavy-set structure can't help but resemble a fortress, a look accentuated by a pair of imposing asymmetrical bell towers. Those with an eye for architecture will notice the melding of the Romanesque with the Gothic, but everyone will gush at the stunning 14th-century sculpted Apostles that wrap themselves around the building's main portal. Inside, even whispering sounds too loud, but the mood of secluded gravity is lifted somewhat by the 18th-century high altar and polished marble chancel. A more dazzling backdrop is the treasury, which doubles up as a museum of sacred art brimming with rare and priceless artifacts fashioned out of gold, silver, and other precious metals. The top draw, though, is the roof from where a memorable Alentejo panorama can be admired.
Location: Largo do Marquês de Marialva, Évora
2 Museu de Évora (Évora Museum)
Modern and kid-friendly, Évora Museum does away with the stuffy and cramped. Instead, this delightfully engaging cultural and educative draw is spacious, light and airy, and superbly designed to showcase a collection of regional treasures housed in what was once the residence of bishops and noblemen. Yes, this is a former palace building dating way back to the 16th century, and the city's history is all here under one roof. It's worth spending time mulling over the exhibits. For instance, the art gallery features an extraordinary 16th-century Flemish polyptych, a fantastically detailed painting of 13 panels executed in vivid Technicolor, and this kind of brushwork requires serious study. The main core of the museum is its collection of archaeology, and its Roman sculpture pinches all the glory - a giant 2nd century AD column rises up like a rocket as if to emphasize the period.
Location: Largo Conde Vila Flor, Évora
3 Roman Temple
The city's pin-up tourist attraction is still often referred to as the Temple to Diana, despite the fact that there's no proof the monument was ever dedicated to the Roman goddess. The legend persists, however, as does the misnomer. But it doesn't really matter; this remains Évora's head-turning crowd pleaser, and one of Portugal's most significant Roman landmarks. Believed to have been erected in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, the 14 surviving columns topped by Corinthian capitals stand solid over a granite base; the architrave, itself an impressive piece of masonry. The ancient structure has worn well, and you can't help feeling a sense of awe as you pause under its mighty façade. At night, the temple is illuminated and the soft, ethereal glow only adds to its grandeur and mystique.
Location: Largo do Conde de Vila Flor, Évora
4 Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval
The grand-sounding 14th-century Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval incorporates vestiges of the city's long lost castle, the castellated walls surrounding the property being an obvious reference. The palace is still a private residence, but the owners have selected a number of rooms in which to showcase valuable family heirlooms, a fascinating collection that includes valuable 15th-century illuminated manuscripts, clunky 16th-century suits of armor, and assorted antique weaponry, as well as painting and sculpture from the 17th and 18th centuries. There's a spooky surprise in the shape of the palace's pentagonal Torre das Cinco Quinas - the Tower of the Five Shields. Said to be haunted, this is medieval ghost busting at its best. The café in the gardens offers a relaxing interlude from chasing phantoms.
Address: Rua Augusto Filipe Simões, Évora
5 Igreja São João Evangelista
The unassuming box-like exterior of the church of St. John the Evangelist belies its eye-popping interior, a floor-to-ceiling starburst of fabulous early 18th-century azulejo (tile) panels, which depict scenes from the life of São Lourenço. Even non-religious types will take a step back to admire this outstanding effort by painter António de Oliveira. The 15th-century church, however, hosts a grisly sideshow, an ossuary full of bones from tombs in the vicinity. While tiptoeing towards the nave, look out for the building's oddity - the Moorish cistern hidden under a trapdoor set among the pews. If it's locked, ask the custodian to lift the lid on this intriguing anomaly.
Location: Largo do Conde de Vila Flor, Évora
6 Igreja Real de São Francisco
The rather nondescript church of Saint Francis just happens to feature the most macabre tourist attraction in Portugal, the grisly Capela dos Ossos. Visitors of a sensitive disposition beware: the Bone Chapel is lined with the remains of 5,000 monks, disinterred from local cemeteries ostensibly to make room for lesser mortals. Hundreds of skulls and broken skeletons wallpaper the 16th-century oratory. Bizarrely, two wizened corpses, one a child, dangle intact from a chain near the altar. Despite its creepy reputation, the chapel draws tourists of all ages fascinated by its gruesome interior design. And no one appears fazed by the sarcastic reminder across the entrance that reads: Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos (We bones that are here await yours).
Address: Praca 1° de Maio, Évora
7 Praça do Giraldo
Évora's handsome central square is the city's bustling hub, a favorite meeting place where locals mingle with tourists. Probably named after Geraldo Sem-Pavor (the Fearless), the outlaw who ousted the Moors in 1165, the square hosts a lively weekend market, but is a shopping destination in its own right, with several boutiques situated under the graceful arcades that line Giraldo's eastern flank; nearby Rua 5 de Outubro is lined with shops that sell handicrafts and curios, from copperware to carved cork. In summer, restaurants set tables across the esplanade, and the colorful scene is café society at its most ebullient. It's a far cry from the beheadings and Inquisitional burnings witnessed in darker, medieval times. Fortunately, today's entertainment is likely to be animated street theater or a live music concert staged under the shadow of the 16th-century Igreja de Santo Antão.
Location: Praça do Giraldo, Évora
8 Convento dos Lóios
Spending a night in the cells takes on new meaning in this 15th-century former monastery. Most of the building is now part of a luxurious pousada, a hotel of exceptional historical character. Non-residents are welcome to step under the Manueline porch to take a peek inside. Actually, the portal dates from 1485 and is a surviving feature of the original convent, which was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755. Visitors are limited in where they can wander, but the chapterhouse is accessible and so are the cloisters, where people can enjoy a coffee or even a romantic dinner under the arched, floodlit galleries.
Location: Largo do Conde de Vila Flor
9 Universidade de Évora
Évora's old university halls are awarded full marks for looks. Its graceful Renaissance cloister is dripping with sculpted marble and embellished by sky blue azulejos (tiles). But the real learning experience begins in the classrooms, the walls of which have been decorated with tiled panels representing each of the subjects taught. The university was founded in 1559, the hallowed ambiance enlivened by the use of tiles to depict studious themes such as Aristotle teaching Alexander, and Plato lecturing to disciples. Some of the panels are enormous - complete works of art that still gleam 200 years after being painted. The school is still used by students, and visitors must check with the gatekeeper before exploring. The 18th-century Baroque chapel, known as the Sala dos Actos, is certainly worth investigating. If it's closed, ask the custodian for the key.
Location: Largo dos Colegiais 2, Évora
10 Largo da Porta de Moura
The Moors' occupation of Évora left its cultural footprint throughout the city, and this picturesque square is so named because of the Moorish gateway that used to guard its western approaches. Today, only vestiges remain, but sightseers can admire the square's other architectural draw, the Renaissance fountain with its iconic marble sphere. It dates from 1556 and is still in remarkable condition considering that the fountain's base effectively acts as a traffic island in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the street is not too busy and the little cafés lining either side provide for an impromptu coffee break. Otherwise, come back at night to see the orb shimmer under spotlight.
Location: Largo da Porta de Moura, Évora
11 Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Aquaduct)
The whimsically named Aqueduct of Silver Water caught the imagination of Portugal's greatest poet, Luís de Camões, who described the majestic 16th-century watercourse in his epic Os Lusìadas, published in 1572. The structure is still regarded with awe, the tallest arches of the surviving nine-kilometer stretch reaching a height of 26 meters and visible throughout the city and beyond. Over the years, shops, warehouses, and other commercial premises have been constructed within its arches. There are even some houses snuggled between its walls. The most interesting examples can be admired in and around Rua do Cano. But for some truly imposing views of the aqueduct, visitors should follow the well-signposted trail that begins just outside the city walls.
Location: Rua do Cano, near Largo do Chão das Covas
12 Jardim Público (Public Gardens)
Prime picnic territory as well as ripe for a pleasant stroll, the city's public gardens embroider the southern edge of the old town near Igreja Real de São Francisco. The grounds are set inside the walls of the once opulent Palácio de Dom Manuel, the only remains of which is the elegant Galeria das Damas, a pavilion built for Manuel I in the 15th century. Early spring sees the gardens burst into color when flowers carpet the lawns, and park benches are at a premium. Weekends attract local families, and you might have to wait for a table at the outdoor café spread over a light-dappled terrace.
Where to Stay in Evora for Sightseeing
Obviously, the most convenient hotels for sightseeing are those inside Evora's walled old city. But some excellent choices are just outside the walls, offering the advantages of free parking and easy car access (which is rare within the walls). Here are some highly-rated hotels close to the attractions in Evora:
- Luxury Hotels: Inside the walls, in a quiet neighborhood close to the aqueduct, the small Albergaria do Calvario has spacious rooms, underground parking, fast internet, and an organic breakfast with a la carte hot dishes. Surrounded by Evora's top attractions, Pousada Convento de Evora is a historic convent restored into an elegant hotel with its own courtyard pool and an excellent restaurant. Smart, art-filled, and ultra-modern M'Ar De Ar Aqueduto is in a quiet neighborhood inside the walls; its pool sits in a landscaped patio with views of the nearby aqueduct.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Barely outside the walls and a 10-minute walk to the cathedral, Vitoria Stone Hotel has a rooftop infinity pool, restaurant, and rooms with rain showers and balconies. Overlooking a quiet square in the center of the walled old town, close to the cathedral and top attractions, Hotel Solar de Monfalim is a historic manor house with antiques and a covered porch for relaxing. Just outside the walls, near the Public Garden and São Francisco church, Dom Fernando has free Wi-Fi and breakfast, garage parking, and rooms with balconies overlooking the swimming pool.
- Budget Hotels: Inside the walls, near the Public Garden and a five-minute walk from lively Praça do Giraldo's cafes and restaurants, the basic Moov Hotel Evora has free Wi-Fi and cheap parking. In the same area, but just outside the walls, Ibis Evora has basic rooms with reliable, free Wi-Fi and free parking. Hotel Santa Clara Evora Centro has small rooms in an excellent location near Praça do Giraldo and the center of the old town.
Day Trips from Évora
Cromeleque dos Almendres
About 15 kilometers west of Évora is the isolated megalithic Cromlech of Almendres, a mysterious oval made up of 95 lichen-encrusted granite stones that date back to between 4000 and 2000 BC. This mysterious piece of Neolithic real estate is believed to have been a temple dedicated to a solar cult. Indeed, some archaeologists maintain that the circle functioned as some kind of primitive astronomical observatory. As if to strengthen the enigma surrounding their purpose, a solitary two-and-a-half-meter-high stone, known as the Menhir of Almendres, is positioned one and a half kilometers away from the cromlech. The two sites are linked by a marked pedestrian trail that snakes through an olive grove, and while kids will appreciate the hide-and-seek opportunities provided by the stones, mature minds will no doubt be moved by this ancient and sacred destination.
Location: Guadalupe, between Évora and Montemor-o-Novo
The fortified village of Arraiolos is noted for the dramatic ruins of its 14th-century castle, the walls of which embrace the whitewashed Igreja do Salvador. The hilltop stronghold affords impressive views of the surrounding countryside, but what really crowns this picturesque hamlet is its reputation for needlecraft. Some of the best carpets in Portugal are woven here, hand-embroidered bright wool rugs stitched by nimble-fingered ladies following a tradition that has endured since the 13th century. The finest examples are the elaborate floral designs crafted over several months by teams of women who weave around the clock to produce beautiful and intricately designed tapestry. The rugs make unique souvenirs, either as wall hangings or floorcoverings, and are sold in the carpet shops found threaded along the main street.
Location: Arraiolos, 23 kilometers northwest of Évora
About 80 kilometers from Évora, the charming town of Beja clings to a hilltop in the fertile plain of Baixo Alentejo. It is the largest town in Alentejo after Évora and an important commercial center, especially for agricultural produce. The Old Town of Beja boasts many fine old buildings and winding alleys lined with gleaming white houses. The best starting point for a tour here is the Praça da Concaiçao, embellished with a statue of Queen Eleanor (1458-1525). In this square lies the remains of the Convent of the Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao), which once cloistered nuns from the order of St. Clare. Built between 1459 and 1506, the convent displays some Manueline features and currently houses the regional museum with archeological exhibits, paintings, coins, folk art, costumes, furniture, and one of Portugal's finest private collections of azulejos. Diagonally opposite the convent lies the church of Santa Maria (13th century) with four small towers linked by Gothic arches. Another worthwhile tourist attraction is the massive castelo (castle) above town built by King Dinis I around 1300 on the remains of a Roman fortress. Its handsome crenellated tower, built partly of marble, is the highest castle tower in Portugal. At Trancoso, near Celorico da Beira, sightseers can also visit the ruins of the castle where King Dinis married Queen Isabel in 1282.
Estremoz, less than 50 kilometers from Évora, is famous for its beautiful marble. So plentiful is this precious stone, that it adorns much of the town and is even used in the cobblestones and steps. A castle dating from 1258 presides over the old town and is now an elegant pousada (historic hotel). During the early 14th century, it was the residence of King Dinis and Queen Isabel. Today, visitors can admire a marble statue of the queen on the terrace or climb the 13th-century keep for panoramic views. Nearby is the Municipal Museum with a collection of antique furniture, local pottery, and ecclesiastical art. For shoppers, the Saturday market in Rossio Marquês de Pombal, the town's main square, sells a fabulous selection of local cheeses and pottery and is one of the biggest markets in Portugal.