Vila Real is ranked seventh in the list of Portugal's most livable cities in the survey of living conditions published by the Portuguese newspaper Expresso in 2007.
The region shows traces of inhabitation during the paleolithic era, while the settlement of Panóias had a Roman presence. Vila Real itself was founded in 1289 by King Denis of Portugal, hence its name meaning Royal Town. It housed more members of the royal family during the Middle Ages than any other settlement in Portugal except the capital in Lisbon, and family Coats of Arms remain above old houses, some of which still occupied by those families. Vineyards were introduced to the municipality in 1764, growing red, white and rosé wines for export. Despite its royal presence, Vila Real only gained city status under the Portuguese Republic in 1925.
The coat of arms of Vila Real - a sword embedded in a wreath of zambujeiro (wild olive tree) and the slogan Aleu - is derived from the decorative motif of the tomb of Pedro de Menezes, 1st Count of Vila Real, found in the Igreja da Graça in Santarém. 'Aleu' or 'aleo' is an old Portuguese term for a 'gaming stick' (as used in hockey or shuffleboard). It refers to a famous episode concerning Pedro de Menezes from shortly after 1415. Pedro de Menezes was engaged in an outdoor game in the king's presence when a messenger arrived reporting an imminent Moroccan attack on Portuguese-held Ceuta. Menezes is said to have raised his gaming stick (aleo) and told the king that "with that stick alone" he could defend Ceuta from all the power of Morocco.
The city is the headquarters and main campus for the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), a public university founded in 1986.
Vila Real airfield (VRL) - Located 4 km from city centre, near the Industrial Zone, in the Folhadela parish. Has a paved runway with 950×30 m. There's a scheduled airline service with Aero VIP to some domestic destinations.
The Corgo line was a metre gauge railway that connected the city to Regua, 25 km south, in the Douro valley. It closed for renovation in 2009, but due to spending cuts by the Portuguese Government the closure has become permanent. It followed the Corgo river valley and offered splendid views to the characteristic vineyards clinging on to almost vertical. Until 1990 the Corgo line also continued north to Chaves.
The city bus system in Vila Real is run by Corgobus; there are 5 lines and about 1.35 million people in 2008 were transported.
Vila Real's municipality consists of 20 freguesias or civil parishes, which are not all coexistent with the ecclesiastical parishes or paróquias. The civil parish Vila Real (Nossa Senhora da Conceição, São Pedro e São Dinis) is officially the city of Vila Real.
Administratively, the municipality is divided into 20 civil parishes (freguesias):
Located in a promontory, formed by the gorges of the Corgo and Cabril rivers, Vila Real has an elevation of 460 m. The Alvão and Marão mountains overlook the town on the North and West side, respectively, rising up to 1400 m.
Due to the geographical location, its climate is a mix between Temperate and Mediterranean. Winters are long, with negative temperatures and frequent frosts. Snowfalls usually occur at least 4 times a year. In Summer, it is common to reach temperatures near 40 °C.
Vila Real was the fourth Portuguese town to have public supply of electricity, but it was the first to produce hydroelectric power, in 1894.
Sport Club Vila Real is the city's football club, founded in 1920. It has played in the Portuguese third and fourth tiers, currently competing in the fourth, the Terceira Divisao.
Vila Real is twinned with: