Our first trip with just the two of us in the van was to Elvas, Évora, and Estremoz on a long weekend.
Elvas is a UNESCO World Heritage city located in Alentejo, Portugal, very close to the border with Spain (if you enter through Badajoz).
If you are on your way to Lisbon by car, reserve a day to visit Elvas, you will surely like it.
What has made Elvas most famous is its aqueduct and its fortifications. I’ll tell you below. Keep reading.
What to See in Elvas in 1 day? Must-visit places
Take a walk through the town of Elvas
The town of Elvas is very picturesque, with narrow streets and low white houses with yellow window frames. Very typical of Portugal.
Take a leisurely stroll, and lose yourself in its streets. The center is small; you can easily walk around.
Book a private tour of Elvas to immerse yourself in history and learn all the details.
Old Town of Elvas
After passing the system of walls surrounding the city center, you will see that the buildings have been kept in excellent condition, thanks to centuries of protection.
The most interesting points to visit are:
The Republic Square of Elvas is the nerve center of the city. It is full of bars and restaurants where you can try the gastronomy of the Alentejo region, with pork and bread as its base.
Here markets are held, and there is also the Elvas Tourist Office and other public buildings.
Its construction began in 1511, and in 1517, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption began. It took almost a century to complete the work. It was declared the Cathedral of Elvas in 1882.
Our Lady of Assumption Church
It is the old cathedral of Elvas that is located in Republic Square.
As I have already mentioned above, the church was built in the 16th century, at the height of the Manueline period, and is known for its detailed ornamentation.
It is one of the works of the famous architect Francisco de Arruda, who also designed the Belém Tower in Lisbon.
The church lost many ornaments after its renovation in the 17th and 18th centuries, but some are still preserved, such as the side doors.
Inside, you can see very well-preserved 17th-century tiles, the side chapels, and the 18th-century organ.
In the adjacent building from the 17th century is the Museum of Sacred Art, with numerous works of art collected from different regional churches.
Sao Domingos Convent
This church was built in the 13th century in the Gothic style and then renovated in the 18th century with elements of the Baroque style.
Its primary use was to house a hospice, and during the Portuguese Restoration War, it was used as a military barracks.
Largo de Santa Clara
It is a small square but worth including on your visit. It can be accessed by passing through the Santa Clara Arch, formerly part of the city walls.
It was a passage through which the old citadel was accessed.
In the center of the square is Pelourinho, or Picota, built in the 16th century. It served to hang the heads of the condemned so that everyone could see them and thus avoid further irregularities.
The Fernandina Tower
It is a three-story rectangular tower, also known as Torre Nova, built in medieval times. It was part of the defensive system of the city.
It currently houses an exhibition on the fortifications of Elvas that recounts the importance of these constructions throughout history.
Museum of Contemporary Art of Elvas
It brings together the collection of António Cachola, a native of Elvas, and is the only museum that exhibits only Portuguese pieces.
It is located in the old civil hospital and houses 300 works of art. In addition, every six months, temporary exhibitions are organized for the general public.
On the outskirts of the city of Elvas
The Aqueduct of Elvas
Elva’s aqueduct is an engineering work from the 16th century, carried out due to the lack of water and the increase in the population of this town. But it was not until 1622, almost a century later, that the works were completed.
This Amoreira aqueduct is 12,380 meters long and has 843 arches and several public and private intramural cisterns.
During the war in the mid-17th century, called the Restauração War, they were about to demolish it to build a new set of fortifications.
Thanks to the citizens who opposed it, it was not demolished; instead, they built an underground cistern 56 meters long by 5 meters wide and 8 meters high, which continues to supply the Portuguese city in drought.
Due to its monumentality and state of conservation, it constitutes one of the world’s most admirable historical, technical, and artistic specimens.
In addition, on the esplanade next to the aqueduct, you can sleep in your van or motorhome, with beautiful views and for free.
Elvas is the most fortified city in the world, with several kilometers of walls, two forts, moats, bastions, dry moats, and a castle.
Thanks to this powerful complex, Portugal could restore itself, after the Battle of the Lines of Elvas, as an independent country from Spain in the 17th century.
Elvas Castle is located in the highest part of the city. It was built on an old Islamic fortification conquered by Sancho II in the 13th century. Over the centuries, it underwent several modifications.
The current appearance is from the 16th century, and the city’s mayor has lived here.
During the 18th century, it was part of the defensive system. Still, it was very vulnerable to artillery attacks, and in the middle of the 19th century, it ceased to have a military function and was abandoned.
In the 20th century, some inhabitants of Elvas promoted its restoration and left it as it was in 1906, and thus the first Portuguese National Monument was born.
You can visit it for €1.50.
The Tribute Tower
It is the tallest tower of Elvas Castle, located in the west wing. It was used as the residence of the mayor-alcaides until the end of the 16th century.
Inside, you can see a room with an exceptionally well-preserved ribbed vault.
The Fortress of Our Lady of Grace
O Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça is located at the top of Nuestra Señora de Gracia hill, one km from the Elvas fort.
Thanks to this position, it has managed to keep a large part of its medieval walls and almost all of its bastion complex in a good state of preservation. Therefore, it is one of the essential visits to do in Elvas.
This Fort is from the 18th century, and the remains of other settlers from the Iron Age or Roman times disappeared with its construction. There was also a Hermitage until 1763 that was demolished.
Inside the Fort is the Governor’s House, very well preserved.
The shape of this fortress is rectangular, with the walls in the form of peaks, which, seen from the air, reveals its starry shape.
The Santa Luzia Fortress
O Forte de Santa Luzia is one of the best in Elvas. It is located on the top of Santa Luzia hill in Elvas (Alentejo). Since 2012 it has been part of the World Heritage of Humanity UNESCO.
Its dominant position was crucial in the Elvas Fort Square defense, which, together with the Nossa Senhora da Graça fortress, boasted that enemy forces had never taken them.
The fortress has a rectangular floor plan and four bastions at the vertices with sentry boxes at the projecting angles.
What most caught my attention were the walls, which from the sky seem to have the shape of a star. It is ideal for those who go with drones to see it in all its splendor.
Since 2001 it has housed the Military Museum.
The Military Museum
If you like the war theme, in the military museum of Elvas, you will find the largest collection of bastion fortifications worldwide, which were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The museum can see different collections related to the military theme. For example, how were military vehicles, communications, and health services.
There is an interpretation center where you can get a global idea of Elvas from a military, religious, civil, and archaeological point of view. Without a doubt, essential.
The English Cemetery
Near the Castle, in the bastion of São João da Corujeiro, is the English Cemetery.
This small cemetery contains five graves,
- Three are from English soldiers who died in the battle of La Albuera (1811) or from wounds received in that battle,
- the fourth is that of Commander Bull, and the fifth headstone is supposed to be that of Major William Bull’s widow.
Fortim de Sao Mamede
It was built in the early 19th century by order of Duke Wellington on a site out of sight of the other forts.
It was connected to the main Fort by a covered walkway.
Previously there was the São Mamede chapel in the same place where its name comes from.
Elvas International Carnival
One of the things that can be done in Elvas is to visit the International Carnival of Elvas, which has become very famous.
Dozens of comparsas gather here and parade through the city. In fact, Spanish troupes come to parade in Elvas and various samba schools. I would love to see it one day since Rio is a bit far from me!
Eat at El Cristo Restaurant
El Cristo seafood restaurant is one of the most recognized restaurants in Elvas. When we commented that we were going to Elvas, everyone told us, “you have to go to Christ to eat,” and that’s where we went.
This restaurant has been running for over 40 years; it’s enormous. I don’t know how many tables there can be or how many waiters are working.
But the service is excellent and the food better than better. Of course, they do not accept reservations. The ideal is to go early, with European time, around 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.
The most typical are the bacalhau dourado and the sapateira. You have to taste them, yes or yes!
The bacalhau dourado is cod with fried potatoes and eggs, all shredded and delicious.
The sapateira is a stuffed crab with a strong crab taste and is accompanied by bread to spread the filling. They also leave you the legs and the tweezers so you can have fun 😉
Do not forget to try the exquisite desserts. And the prices are excellent.
Where to Sleep in Elvas?
In Elvas, you can stay in a hotel in the city or a rural house a little further away. The prices are excellent, for €50 you can stay in the center at the Hotel São João de Deus.
As I told you, we went in the van and slept on the esplanade next to the Elvas aqueduct.
In addition to being free and ample, a van from a nearby bakery passes by in the morning, selling bread and rolls at excellent prices, ideal for preparing your breakfast.
This area is beautiful, ideal for a relaxing getaway, or as it is called now: slow travel, move slowly, visit slowly and enjoy the moment. Do you already know Elvas?
Ensure your trip!
Remember to take your travel insurance with you. Even if you go to the neighboring country, you never know, and it is better to travel forewarned. So go to Mondo and choose the best insurance that suits your style and needs.
Plan Your Trip to Portugal
- Printable PDF trip planner
- Rent a camper van or motorhome
- Car rental at the best prices
- Itinerary to tour Portugal in 15 days
- Best Things to do in Lisbon
- What to see in Estremoz and Evora?
Last Updated on 22 September, 2023 by Veronica
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Vero, a seasoned traveler, has explored 25 countries and lived in five, gaining a rich perspective and fostering an infectious passion for travel. With a heart full of wanderlust, Vero uncovers the world’s hidden gems and shares insights, tips, and planning advice to inspire and assist fellow adventurers. Join Vero and let the shared passion for travel create unforgettable memories.