The 5 capitals of Portugal throughout history

The 5 capitals of Portugal throughout history

Discover the cities that have been capitals of Portugal throughout history! Did you know that Lisbon was not always the Portuguese capital?


Portugal is considered the first national state to be formed in the world, in 868 AD, in the context of the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which resulted in the expulsion of the Moors (Muslims) from Europe. At that time, it was known as Portuguese county. O kingdom was founded in 1139, after the victory in the Battle of Ourique, when D. Afonso Henriques becomes the first king of Portugal. However, the independence from Portugal was recognized by the Kingdoms of Leon of Castile only in 1143, fur Treaty of Zamora, which put an end to the Portucalense County and officially gave rise to the Kingdom of Portugal. A few years later, in 1179, the kingdom was recognized by the Catholic Church.


Throughout history, 5 cities have been capitals of Portugal: three of them in mainland Portugal, an island capital and a well-known city in South America. They are: Guimarães, Coimbra, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and, on two occasions, Angra do Heroísmo (Azores). Then, check out the chronological sequence and the reasons why Portuguese capitals have changed over time.


Guimarães is the city where “Portugal was born” and officially the first capital, since its foundation in 1096. Before being called Guimarães, the territory where the castle is located was called Vimaranes. In the context of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, in the 9th century, the domains of Vimaranes were granted to the knight Diogo Fernandes. One of his daughters, Countess Mumadona Dias, had a monastery built and to defend the parish priest, she ordered the construction of a fortification, currently known as Guimarães Castle, considered one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal.

Guimarães Castle: The beginning of Portugal's history
Guimarães Castle

It was in this castle that D. Afonso Henriques was born in 1111, who became the first king of Portugal. guimaraes was capital of Portugal until 1129, when the seat of power was transferred to Coimbra. Breathing history, the Historic Center of Guimaraes is listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 2001 and has a rich architecture built mainly between the 15th and 19th centuries, using traditional techniques and materials.

Read more: Portugal: What to do in Guimarães – 1 day itinerary
Portugal: What to do in Guimarães - 1 day itinerary
“Aqui Nasceu Portugal” sign in Guimarães, in the north of the country


As D. Afonso Henriques continued to reconquer the territory from the Moors and expanded the kingdom to the south, it became necessary to change the capital to meet the needs of the Portuguese Court. Thus, the city of Coimbra was chosen to serve as the official residence and seat of power, becoming the second among the capitals of Portugal. Between 1131 and 1255, Coimbra was the capital of Portugal and the royal palace known as Royal Palace of Alcáçova became a royal residence since the first Portuguese king, D. Afonso Henriques.

Portugal: What to do in Coimbra - 1 or 2 day itinerary
The city of Coimbra | Photo: publicity

In 1290, the Coimbra University was founded by King D. Dinis and, in 1544, all the faculties settled in the historic Paço Real da Alcáçova, currently known as Palace of Schools. In 2013, the area of University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia, was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Coimbra is also home to the famous Quinta das Lágrimas, a historic place that is related to the tragic love relationship between Inês de Castro and the future King D. Pedro I of Portugal.

Read more: Portugal: What to do in Coimbra – 1 or 2 day itinerary
Portugal: Complete Guide to Visiting the University of Coimbra
In the Palace of Schools


After a few years, Coimbra no longer offered the necessary conditions to remain the capital of the Portuguese kingdom. Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom of Portugal in 1255, when King D. Afonso III decided to transfer the capital from Coimbra to the city due to its strategic position, close to an excellent estuary to receive several ships. Lisbon thus became the most famous of Portugal's capitals and is the current capital of the country.

Portugal: What to do in Lisbon - 3 days itinerary
Street in the center of Lisbon

Lisbon played a crucial role at the time of the Great Navigations, at the end of the 15th century, one of the strategic priorities of King D. João II. The city was at the forefront of scientific and technological progress that made possible the discovery of archipelagos and the conquest of different territories. Interestingly, Lisbon ceased to be the capital on some occasions: between 1580 and 1582, from 1808 to 1821 and between 1830 and 1833. In all cases, these changes occurred due to internal and external conflicts.

Read more: Portugal: What to do in Lisbon – 3 days itinerary
Portugal: Visiting the Belém Tower in Lisbon
Belem Tower, one of Lisbon's main attractions

Lisbon is a beautiful city on the banks of the Tagus River that is home to a series of very important cultural heritage sites. Since 1993, the Belém Tower it's the Jerónimos Monastery are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

CURIOSITY! The change of capital from Coimbra to Lisbon was never made official in writing, but the city came to be considered capital since the court took up residence there. This change was never made official through documents. Therefore, the official capital of Portugal is still Coimbra, do you believe it?


In the context of the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, the Portuguese Crown decided to move to Rio de Janeiro to protect itself from possible invasions and attacks. The city of Rio was already the capital of the Portuguese colony and ended up also playing the role of capital of the kingdom of Portugal. Leaving Lisbon on November 29, 1807, the trip lasted almost two months and, on January 22, 1808, D. João IV and the royal family disembarked in Salvador before moving on to Rio de Janeiro, whose arrival took place on March 8, 1808.

The 5 capitals of Portugal throughout history
Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Portugal between 1808 and 1822

During the period when Rio de Janeiro was the capital, the Portuguese Crown opened its ports to friendly nations, founded the Bank of Brazil, the Royal Military Academy and created the Royal Library, the Botanical Garden and the National Museum. After the defeat of Napoleon, Portugal faced a liberal movement known as the Liberal Revolution of Porto, in 1820. This event provoked the return of the Portuguese Court in 1821, resulting in the implementation of the first Portuguese constitution the following year.


Located in the Azores, an autonomous Portuguese territory in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the city of Angra do Heroísmo is located on the south coast of Terceira Island, one of the nine islands that make up the archipelago. The city was the seat of the Portuguese government on two separate occasions:

  • between 1580 and 1582: When D. António I of Portugal established the government in this place in the period when there was a serious succession crisis, after the death of King D. Sebastião in the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir, who did not have direct descendants.
  • between 1830 and 1833: When Queen D. Maria II of Portugal took refuge during the Portuguese Civil War, also known as the Liberal Wars, a conflict between constitutional liberals and absolutists over royal succession. At the end of the war, constitutional monarchy was restored in Portugal.

Due to its beautiful bay, rich history and important cultural heritage, the Central Zone of the city of Angra do Heroísmo was classified as UNESCO World Heritage in 1983.

The 5 capitals of Portugal throughout history
Angra do Heroísmo Bay and Monte Brasil | Photo:

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  1. Portugal does not have an official capital. There is no law establishing Lisbon as the capital of the Republic. The same happened throughout the entire history of Portugal except for one moment. The 1822 Constitution established Lisbon as the capital of Portugal, as a way of obliging the king and court to move from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon. When the 1822 Constitution was replaced, there was no longer a capital imposed by law.


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