Over the years Portugal has had a total of five capitals, in mainland Portugal, the Azores and even Brazil. Historical, economical, and social contexts led to the multiple changes of the Portuguese main city.


It is widely claimed that Guimarães is the city where Portugal was born. The city that once was called Vimaranes, was the first Portuguese capital, even before the first King of Portugal was born, in 1111. Guimarães was the capital of the County of Portugal, Condado Portucalense, in Portuguese. From the year 868 until 1131, three counts had the most important infrastructures of the county in Guimarães, but then Coimbra became the County of Portugal’s capital.


During the Christian Reconquest, the territory was being expanded, and there was a necessity to move all the courts, and Coimbra was the selected city. By the Mondego River, it would be the perfect choice. From 1131 to 1139, Coimbra was the capital of the County of Portugal. But from 1139 to 1255, Coimbra became the capital of the Kingdom of Portugal, housing several Portuguese kings in Paço Real da Alcáçova, where in 1290 the University of Coimbra was built. During the 16th century, all universities were moved to Paço Real da Alcáçova, known today as the Paço das Escolas.

Some experts say that, officially, Coimbra is still the Portuguese capital, as it was the only city in Portugal where a document was signed to give that importance to a city. King Afonso Henriques signed the document, that was never replaced, and technically speaking, Coimbra may still be the official Portuguese capital.


Lisbon became a very important city due to its proximity to the sea, having enormous importance during the Discoveries when boats would go to the high seas trying to discover how the world was outside Europe. King Afonso III was responsible for turning Lisbon into Portugal’s capital. Lisbon is still the Portuguese capital, however, there were times when the kings decided to move the courts to other places, mainly due to conflicts happening in the country, in a strategy to be safeguarded from any danger.

However, it is interesting to know that Lisbon only became the Portuguese capital because the courts moved to the city, but due to its importance, with time, Lisbon became one of the most important cities in the country, having people just accepting that Lisbon was the new capital. Lisbon is still to this day considered to be the capital of Portugal.

Rio de Janeiro

From 1500 to 1822, Brazil was part of the Portuguese territory and during Napoleon's invasions in Portugal, in the 19th century, the king and the courts moved to Rio de Janeiro, turning the city into the capital of the Kingdom. In 1808, King João IV arrived in Rio de Janeiro and during that time, the king managed to create a lot of infrastructures such as the Bank of Brazil, the Royal Military Academy, the Royal Library as well as the Botanical Garden and the National Museum.

However, after Napoleon’s defence, Portugal faced a period of revolution, leading the Absolutist regime to end the Portuguese monarchy, thus in 1821 the courts went back to Lisbon, to sign the first Portuguese Constitution.

Angra do Heroísmo

On two different occasions, the city of Ilha Terceira, Azores, was considered to be the Portuguese capital.

The first time from 1580 to 1582, Portugal was going through a political crisis after the disappearance of King Sebastião, who did not have any heirs by the time of the battle that probably took his life. Thus, António I moved the courts to Angra do Heroísmo, to try to solve the problem as soon as possible.

The second time was during the 19th century, from 1830 to 1833, when Portugal was experiencing a civil war between Liberals and Absolutists. Once again, to be safeguarded, Queen Maria II moved the courts to the Ilha Terceira, going back to mainland Portugal as soon as the war was over.


Deeply in love with music and with a guilty pleasure in criminal cases, Bruno G. Santos decided to study Journalism and Communication, hoping to combine both passions into writing. The journalist is also a passionate traveller who likes to write about other cultures and discover the various hidden gems from Portugal and the world. Press card: 8463. 

Bruno G. Santos