Braga, Portugal is a charming historic city in the northern part of the country. This is Portugal’s third-largest settlement. However, the ambiance here is far from that of a crowded metropolis.
The quaint narrow passageways, the cobbled streets, and the charming cervejarias of Braga exude more of a small-town feel. A popular day trip from Porto is to combine a trip to Braga with a trip to nearby Guimarães. In truth, lovely Braga is deserved of a full day of your time.
Falling in Love with Braga, Portugal
As you meander through the serpentine-like network of Braga’s backstreets, you will find that the city’s narrow passageways open out into lively piazzas. These charming squares are lined with opulent baroque architecture and stunning gothic churches.
Braga is widely-regarded as being the most religious place in Portugal. Indeed, it is not difficult to see why.
Churches occupy virtually every street corner here. As the clock strikes on the hour, a cacophony of church bells rings out around the city.
Braga: Portugal’s Oldest City
A little known fact about Braga is that this is Portugal’s oldest city. Braga dates back over 2000 years.
Locals affectionately refer to Braga as being the “Portuguese Rome”. This is on account of the city’s origins as the Roman City of Bracara Augusta which once stood here. Ancient monuments, ruins, churches, and excavation sites greet you at every angle making Braga a history buff’s dream!
Things to do in Braga, Portugal
There are enough things to do in Braga to warrant spending one or two days in the Northern Portuguese city. One day here is enough to see everything.
Two days may be nice if you prefer to really soak in the atmosphere. This way, you can enjoy people-watching in the various coffee shops and restaurants at a relaxed pace.
Ascend the 577 Stairs to the Bom Jesus do Monte
The Bom Jesus do Monte is arguably Braga’s most famous tourist attraction. The higgledy-piggledy layout of the site’s baroque staircase is the entire reason that many people decide to venture to Braga in the first place.
The steps are said to represent the stairway to heaven. If you do not fancy the climb, you can also take the water-powered funicular that runs up the hill to the church.
The Bom Jesus do Monte Pilgrimage Site
Traditionally, pilgrims would climb up the stairs on their knees to show their devotion to God. Before you reach the baroque staircase, there is a small uphill hiking trail that leads you through the woodland.
Small shrines and religious buildings are situated every few paces along the trail. If you peep inside them, you will see huge, lifesize statues that depict scenes from Jesus’ life.
The church at the top of the staircase is a neoclassical building that dates back to 1834. Its construction was noteworthy in Portugal as this was one of the very first neoclassical structures to be built here.
The interiors are beautiful, However, it is the grounds that encompass the church that steal the show.
The Bom Jesus do Monte is actually situated in Tenões on the outskirts of the city centre. It is a little tricky to reach.
If you don’t want to walk 50 minutes across town to reach the Bom Jesus staircase, you should take either the bus or a cab. The #2 bus runs between Braga city centre and train station and stops just outside of the Bom Jesus site.
Explore the Bom Jesus Gardens
Once you have ascended the Bom Jesus staircase and wandered around the church and its grounds, you can spend a little time exploring and relaxing in the gardens that surround it. From this hilltop location, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramas over Braga.
The Bom Jesus gardens boast a boating lake and a woodland trail. Both of these spots are particularly pleasant during the summer months.
There are refreshment stands scattered throughout the park. However, you may want to consider packing up a picnic filled with delicious traditional Portuguese snacks and delicacies and enjoying lunch in the sun.
Watch an S.C. Braga Football Game
If your time in Braga coincides with a local football match, you may want to consider buying tickets to watch S.C. Braga. The team plays within Portugal’s premier league (Primeira Liga).
Additionally, it is widely considered as being one of the best teams in the country. SC Braga typically ranks in fourth place after the “big three” Portuguese football teams: Benfica, Porto, and Sporting Lisbon.
Venture Inside the Many Churches of Braga
Braga is a religious hub. It goes without saying that there are dozens of churches here.
You don’t have to make an exploration of the city’s churches a focal point of your Braga itinerary. However, they are very interesting to explore.
Even if you are not religious, the interior frescoes and azuljeos of Braga’s churches will take your breath away. Practically every street corner boasts a church. Some are constructed in Gothic style, others have been decorated with beautiful Portuguese azulejo tiles.
The Chapel of São Frutuoso is a particularly interesting church that is worth adding to your Braga radar. The exact construction date of the church is unknown.
However, the building is one of the most unique religious sites in town. São Frutuoso has been built in a Roman-Byzantine style.
Meanwhile, the stunning Misericórdia Church is considered as being one of the most important Renaissance buildings in the city. The church dates back to 1562 and boasts a spectacular carved baroque altar, along with some impressive interiors.
Tour the Sé de Braga
The Sé de Braga is the city’s cathedral and a place that is well worth visiting. Braga’s Cathedral was the very first cathedral to be built in Portugal, and the building was constructed even before the country was founded.
The building dates back to the 11th century. A mishmash of various architectural styles coexists here. This is because the Braga Cathedral has been renovated and rebuilt various times over the centuries.
The interior of the cathedral is comprised of five chapels. Keep your eyes peeled for the breathtaking stained glass windows and the ornate 18th-century double organ.
Wander Through the Garden of Santa Barbara
The Garden of Santa Barbara is a small flower garden set in the midst of Braga’s busy shopping streets. The gardens are named after the statue of Saint Barbara which sits at the centre.
Fragrant floral arrangements and exotic cacti encompassing the statue.It takes just a moment to pass through here. But the gardens offer a slice of peace and tranquility in the heart of the city centre.
You will note that locals come to while away the time here. The garden is something of a Braga rendezvous point.
Locals come here to sit and chat with friends, play card games, and read books. The gardens back onto an old stone palace. This was once the home of the Archbishop
Admire the Azulejos of the Raio Palace
The Raio Palace may well be one of the most picturesque buildings in the city. Somehow, the Rococo/Baroque exterior of this 18th-century palace feels reminiscent of some of Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona.
The front facade of the Raio palace is adorned with beautiful blue Portuguese azulejo tiles that are painted with a floral design. There is a medical museum set inside the palace which is free to enter.
Even if you do not plan on visiting the museum, it is worth marking this location on your map. Pass by and admire the Palace exteriors as you explore Braga on foot.
Sip Coffee and People Watch at Cafe a Brasileira De Braga
The stunning aesthetics of the Cafe a Brasileira De Braga stand out from the crowd of cafes and coffee shops in the city. This old building, with a facade of beautiful blue azulejo tiles, always seems to have a wealth of well-heeled locals sipping tea out front of it.
Brasileira opened in 1907 and was managed by Adolpho de Avezedo. Avezedo was a Porto businessman who offered a free cup of coffee to anyone who stopped by and bought a kilo of coffee beans.
History aside, this is a lovely place to stop and people watch. There is a restaurant on the second floor, and the ground floor is for coffee and snacks.
Prices here are a little more expensive than usual. A simple Prego no pão sandwich will set you back €9.50. Arguably the ambiance is worth it.
Attend a Local Festival
If you have some flexibility surrounding your travel dates, you may want to consider planning your trip to Braga and Northern Portugal so that it coincides with a local festival. The Braga Romana festival that takes place annually in May, or the São João festival that is held each year in June, are both worth observing.
The Annual Braga Romana Festival
Braga Romana festivities take place in Braga every year. They celebrate the Roman heritage of the region.
The city of Bracara de Augustus was founded between 16/15 BC by the Roman Emperor César Augusto. Braga Romana celebrates Roman life. During the events, locals dress in historic Roman attire or recreate scenes from daily life.
São João Festival
São João is a festival that has deep roots in local history. This originated as a Pagan holiday in the 14th century. At that time, the São João fetival was a way to thank the Sun God for a good harvest.
It was then transformed into a Christian celebration in honour of São João. Today, São João sees colourful processions dance down the historic streets of Braga.
Processions are followed by all-night parties and firework displays. This festival has been a Northern Portugal tradition for more than 700 years and has become a beloved part of Portuguese culture.
Visit the Benedictine Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães
The Benedictine Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães sits 5km outside of the centre of Braga. Religious or not, the monastery is well worth a visit. This is far more than “just another” spiritual building.
São Martinho de Tibães is encompassed by stunning, expansive gardens filled with flowers and a lake lined with centenarian trees. The lake is known as Lago do Mosteiro de Tibães. You could easily dedicate half a day to wandering through the grounds and exploring the various buildings here.
Learn about Monastic life in the old monastery, and don’t miss the Rococo style church that accompanies it. The church’s interiors are adorned with 24k gold ornaments and decorations that induce a “wow” factor.
Guided tours take place here daily. They depart at 11 am, 3 pm, and 4.30 pm respectively.
Take the Time to Get Lost in Braga’s Backstreets
Part of the charm of visiting Braga, Portugal is found in taking the time to simply get lost amid the city streets. This is the case anywhere you travel if you really want to scratch beneath the surface of the local culture.
Wandering through the narrow residential streets that veer off from the Praça da República and the central city streets. Stop for coffee and people-watch at random intervals as you do so. This is just as rewarding as crossing Braga attractions off a “must-see” list.
Braga is a Photographer’s dream and it is difficult not to be amazed at the city’s sights. Here, when you are greeted with charming pastel-coloured houses and old-fashioned storefronts at every turn.
Follow the Footsteps of Pilgrims to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro
The Bom Jesus do Monte is one of the most frequented tourist sites in Braga. However what most day-trippers to the city do not know about, is the fact that another, equally impressive hilltop sanctuary awaits just a couple of kilometers away nearby.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady Sameiro is a whitewashed Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The church has become a popular pilgrimage destination for locals who come to meditate and pray.
From here you can enjoy the fantastic panoramas of Braga. Additionally, there are far fewer crowds here than at Lady Sameiro’s popular neighbour.
Learn About Portuguese Nobility at the Biscainhos Museum
The Biscainhos palace and museum sit adjacent to the streets and garden of the same name. This palace was named after the noble family that once occupied it.
The family were Basque stonemasons who had moved to Braga to aid in the construction of the Se cathedral. The building was founded in the 17th century and then transformed and renovated in the 18th century.
You may not have heard of the Biscainhos family. However, the palace and its grounds have been transformed into a living museum.
Biscainhos palace provides an interesting insight into what life was like for the Portuguese nobility during the 18th century. The various annexes and outhouses are also incorporated into the tour so that you can also view the living conditions and daily life of the chaplains, servants, and slaves.
Stroll Through the Elegant Biscainhos Gardens
The elegant Biscainhos Palace is surrounded by terraced Baroque gardens that are just as worthy of your time as the palace and its exhibits. The gardens are divided into various sections.
Here you will find vegetable gardens, orchids filled with fruit trees, and formal gardens adorned with sculptures. Not to mention, the entire site is encompassed by perfectly preened hedges and flowers. Don’t miss the circular viewing room that has been carved into one of the walls and has been decorated with colourful azulejo tiles.
Sample the Local Delicacies of Braga
Portuguese cuisine is as much of a highlight of visiting this beautiful country as seeing the touristic sites. Different regions of Portugal are renowned for different local dishes.
In Braga, a popular delicacy is the “bacalhau a Braga”. This is a codfish that is deep-fried and served with fried onions, sautéed potatoes, and a selection of fresh home-cooked vegetables.
Meals in Braga are best enjoyed with a refreshing glass of Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is a crisp, light wine that is produced in the Minho region of Portugal.
Typically, this sparkling beverage is made with albariño grapes. It is the perfect accompaniment to meat and fish dishes.
Felix Taberna is a local favourite in Braga. This is a great choice if you want to sample traditional regional dishes.
Another popular choice among Braga residents is Casa de Pasto des Carvalheiras. The latter is a quaint eatery specialising in meze-style dishes.
Indulge in a Little Retail Therapy
The historic streets of downtown Braga are occupied by both brand-name and independent boutique stores. If you are looking to indulge in a little retail therapy, you will not be short of places to browse here.
The baroque and neoclassical stone archway of Arco da Porta Nova acts as Braga’s very own Arc de Triomphe. The archway marks your arrival into the city’s commercial centre.
From here, head to the shopping streets of Rua Dom Diogo de Sousa, Avenida da Liberdade, and Rua do Souto. You will find everything on these streets. Braga stores sell everything from obscure trinkets and antiques to chic fashion items and handmade leather shoes.
Discover Braga’s Roman Past
A Roman city once stood in the place where Braga is found today. This was the city of Bracara Augusta.
Some remnants of the old city still remain. One notable Roman ruin is the Thermae of Maximus – the sun-bleached remnants of an old Roman bathhouse and theatre.
The latter is what remains of an old Roman shrine. It was associated with an ancient cult and is dedicated to the Lusitanian and Galician gods Nabia and Tongoe Nabiagus.
Uncover the Secret Gardens of the Nogueira da Silva Museum
The Nogueira da Silva Museum is named after the Portuguese Entrepreneur who founded the national lottery. The museum is set inside his former residence. He gifted his elaborate home to the University of Minho after his passing.
The various exhibition rooms contain ceramics, paintings, sculptures and art pieces which Da Silva collected throughout his life. The highlight of this museum, however, is the beautiful secret gardens which are situated at the rear of the building. The gardens boast stunning water features, a collection of intricately-designed sculptures, and walls decorated with bright azulejo tiles.
Getting to Braga
It is easy to reach Braga from Porto whether you decide to do so via public transport or as part of an organised tour. A discussion of the various travel options available to you is provided below.
Travel to Braga by Train
You can take a train from Porto’s Sao Bento and Campanhã railway stations, and a return ticket is just €7 per person. Trains from Porto to Braga depart regularly throughout the day.
The journey from Porto to Braga takes between 50 and 70 minutes depending on the specific train service that you use. You can check the timetable on the official Portuguese train website here.
Take a Tour of Braga
If you prefer to take an organised tour of Braga, there are plenty of local companies which offer you the opportunity to do so. This tour departs from Porto and leads you through the most notable sites of Braga and Guimarães.
The price includes the services of a local guide, admission to the various attractions, and a traditional Portuguese lunch. Opting to explore Braga with a guide enables you to gain a more in-depth understanding of the city’s historical sites, churches, and attractions.
Rent a Car to Explore Northern Portugal
Renting a car provides you with more freedom and flexibility to explore Northern Portugal. There are many reputable rental companies that have offices in Porto.
It is easy and affordable to rent a car and explore the northern regions of the country. Avis, Hertz, and Sixt all operate in the area.
Staying Overnight in Braga
Many people that visit Braga do so on a day trip from Porto. With that said, you may wish to stay overnight in the city if Braga is a stopping point on a wider Northern Portugal itinerary.
There are plenty of charming accommodation options in Braga that suit a range of budgets. A selection of some of the best-rated hotels in the area is detailed below.
Hotel Vila Gale, Braga
The Hotel Vila Gale offers affordable luxury in the heart of historic Braga. Rooms here start from €90 per night.
The hotel is housed inside a grand 1508 palace, and the interiors of the hotel are every bit as exquisite as the exterior. A spa, in addition to indoor and outdoor pools, is available for hotel guests to use. You can browse the latest room rates and availability here.
Hotel Do Parque
The Hotel Do Parque is not only a great budget choice in Braga, but it also boasts the best location for exploring the Bom Jesus Do Monte. Rooms at this understated hotel start from just €60 per night. The hotel is nestled in the mountains and set inside a gorgeous 19th-century house.
Rooms at the Hotel Do Parque are spacious and are decorated with plush contemporary furnishings and a neutral colour palette. You can check the hotel’s latest availability and room rates here.
Visiting Braga, Portugal:
Do you have any further questions about visiting Braga, Portugal or planning a Northern Portugal trip in general? I spent two months living in lovely Porto in Spring 2020.
I am happy to assist you with any questions that you may have. Please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below if you need anything. I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Safe travels! Obrigada! Melissa xo
Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase through some of the links enclosed here, I may receive a small amount of commission.
This is charged at no extra cost to you. Thank you for understanding.