Braga is located in the far North of Portugal and is the capital of the Minho region. Rich in religious, historical, and architectural wonders, Braga is a great place to head for anyone seeking a culture-rich trip. Despite its historical charm, which gives it a quaint, relaxed feel, Braga is actually Portugal’s third-largest city, and there are plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants for you to enjoy in between sightseeing.
Many people allow just one day to see take in the wonders that Braga has to offer, and a car journey from Porto to Braga takes roughly 45 minutes. There are various tours that squeeze in a load of activities into a full or half day’s tour, but we recommend taking it slow if you have the time.
As well as the tourist attractions and fine wine and food, the streets of Braga perfectly combine old and new, giving them their own unique feel – spend some time in the squares if you can, admiring the buildings and soaking up the local atmosphere. It also hosts various festivals throughout the year, and we definitely recommend factoring these into your trip if you have the flexibility.
Braga is also a surprisingly budget-friendly place to explore – many of its most famed attractions are completely free or will only set you back a couple of euros. The food and drink are also reasonably priced and, if you really want to take things slow and soak up all Braga has to offer, there’s plenty of affordable accommodation on the outskirts too.
To get you started on your trip to Braga, we’ve highlighted some of the top things to do while you’re there (warning: you’re going to want more than a day to explore this intriguing city!).
Often referred to as the ‘religious hotspot’ of Portugal, a visit to the Bom Jesus do Monte should be high on any visitor’s list to Braga. This religious sanctuary is located high on a hill 6 km to the east of the city center, but it’s definitely worth the journey. The site days back as far as the 14th century and is an amazing feat of architecture – you’ll notice hints of baroque, rococo, and neoclassical styles all combined into a single structure.
To reach the church, you can zigzag your way up the 640-step granite staircase and admire the flowers, statues, and fountains as you do. Although the sights encountered en route are almost as magical as the church and views from the top, if you’re worried about making it up the steps, then you’ll be very pleased to know that there’s a funicular railway that carries people up and down the hill.
Catching a ride on the Iberian Peninsular’s first funicular is one you’re unlikely to forget – it’s the oldest in the world that still relies on the weight of water pulling one carriage down the hill to power movement of another up it (but don’t worry, it’s definitely safe, and your legs will appreciate the rest).
Bom Jesus: free
Funicular: €2 for full trip, €1.2 for a one-way ticket
Bom Jesus: 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (Monday to Saturday); 10:30 am to 6:30 pm (Sunday)
Fernicular: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm (summer); 9:00 am to 7:00 pm (winter)
Construction of the Cathedral of Braga began in the late 11th century, and it is in fact Portugal’s oldest cathedral. To survive this long, the cathedral underwent numerous restorations throughout the ages, which means there are influences from various eras present in the building’s architecture – mainly Roman, Manueline renaissance, and baroque… with a slightly gothic twist overall.
The building is located in Braga’s historic center, and you can marvel at its dual twoers from street level. However, getting in there and fully exploring the interior, which is comprised of three aisles and five chapels, none of which are alike. It’s also home to two baroque organs from the 1730s, and the choir stalls themselves are a sight to behold thanks to their intricate gilded wood carvings.
There’s also a section containing various tombs (Capela dos Reis or King’s Chapel), including those of the parents of Portuguese King Afonso Henriques (but you’ll have to pick up a ticket for this section). The cathedral’s treasury is also home to various artifacts from times gone by, including the first cross ever used for mass in Brazil. Entrance fees vary depending on which parts of the cathedral you want to visit, but it’s only €5 to go all out and access all ears, so why not? Plus, if you get your timings right, you’ll get a guided tour of the whole place.
Opening hours: Daily 9.30 am-12.30 pm; 2.30 pm-5.30 pm (in summer) 6.30 pm (in winter)
Guided visits: Monday to Friday 10,00h; 11,30h; 14,30h; 16h.
Price: Cathedral €2; museum, Cathedral, Chapels and Coro Alto €5; Cathedral, Chapels, and Coro Alto €3; Museum €3
If you want to brush up on your history of the local area, then head over to the Biscainhos Museum. The building itself was previously a palace and home to the counts of Bertiandos, so it’s not surprising that it’s garnished with lavish decorations. The elegant style of the baroque gardens is also noteworthy, and you’re bound to pick up on the sense of grandeur oozing from this noble household before you even enter its interior.
The 17th- and 18th-century palace was converted into a museum in 1978, so you can now embark on guided tours of the interior. En route, you’ll encounter impressive artwork, Roman trinkets, and quirky furniture as well as seeing first hand the contrast between the living quarters of the noblemen and their servants. Keep an eye out for the splendid tile work (known locally as ‘azulejos’) that adds a unique Portuguese flair to this grand palace.
Opening hours: 10 am to 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 5.30 pm (Tuesday to Sunday)
Price: Adult €2; student €1
As much as we love Braga’s historical buildings and museums, we must admit that things can get a little stuffy when you spend hours inside these ancient structures. If you fancy a breath of fresh air to rejuvenate you in between your visits, then we definitely recommend heading over to the Garden of Santa Barbara.
The gardens are maintained to a very high standard, and among the carefully trimmed hedges and shrubs, you’ll find exquisitely colorful flowers. It doesn’t stop there, however, the gardens feature a particularly impressive backdrop of rustic stone walls that form part of the ex-Archbishop’s medieval home (we are in Braga after all). In the daytime, you can really appreciate the flowers in their full glory, yet in the evening the whole place takes on an enchanting vibe when illuminated by orange street lights. Whatever time you chose to visit, the gardens are well worth a trip, and the best part is, it won’t cost you a penny.
Opening hours: 24/7
If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of historical sights to see without paying any entrance fees, and you’ll spot tonnes of interesting structures as you wander around Braga’s historic center. One such structure is the Arco da Porta Nova, which was built way back in 1512. Unlike most arches at the time, this one did not lead to any pathway of importance, nor did it ever have a door.
In this way, it has become a symbol of the city, and people from Braga are therefore teased for leaving doors open (for instance, if someone forgets to shut a door, they’ll be asked ‘hey, are you from Braga?’). There is no charge to wander through this archway, and the surrounding streets are home to various cafes and coffee shops so you can even admire it as you sit back and sip a coffee.
If you’re in Braga on June 23rd, then you’re in for a real treat because this is the first night of the Festa de São João. The streets of the city come alive for this celebration of Saint John the Baptist, and you’ll see decorations of flowers and lights all over Braga’s buildings and monuments. Music rings around the streets during the daytime, and you can witness various bands erupting into song, dressed in traditional attire. There will be dancing, fireworks, and bonfires, and the festival will continue for days.
The Minho region, named after the River Minho that forms the border with Spain, is famed for its vineyards. Although it produces a range of wines, its signature wine is certainly the Portuguese vinho verde (green wine). If you’re day-tripping to Braga from outside the Minho region, it would almost be rude not to sample this unique beverage while you’re there.
Plus, you’re bound to get tired from traipsing around museums and looking at old buildings all day… so you definitely deserve to sit back in one of the squares and watch the world go by as you sip a cool refreshing vinho verde.
The Braga Romana festival is another date for your diary, and occurs annuals in May and lasts for 6 days (for 2021, the proposed dates are May 19 to 23 – but this depends on the corona situation). During this time, the streets become littered with stalls where you can sample tasty snacks, try out various beverages, and marvel at the handiwork of the crafts.
You’ll also witness processions of people dressed in full Roman costumes marching throughout the streets, paying homage to the early days of what was ‘the opulent city Bracara de Augustus’ (see this article for more information on the historical roots of the festival).
No trip to Braga is complete without a visit to the Raio Palace, constructed in the 1750s (and restored in 2015) and located in the heart of Braga. The exterior boasts impressive blue and white tile work and has hints of baroque and rococo architecture, with an overall slightly gothic appearance – you’ll definitely notice it if you’re in the area.
Inside, ten rooms make up a comprehensive interpretive center, and the tile work here only gets more impressive – the hand-painted tiles on the stairs and walls are truly mindblowing. This, combined with the monuments and painted ceiling, makes for one incredible interior design. The center also houses trinkets, artwork, and more and is open from Tuesday to Saturday every week.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 1 pm and 2:30 to 6:30 pm.
Portugal is a haven for coffee lovers – you’ll find quaint coffee shops in almost every town serving up great coffee at fraction of the prices you’ll see elsewhere in Europe. If you’re looking for a place to get your coffee fix while in Braga, then we recommend checking out the Café A Brasileira.
The inside of Braga’s civil parish has been home to this coffee shop since 1907, and it’s a popular hangout spot for the locals (so you know the coffee must be good). Situated on the corner of São Marcos street, this little cafe really is in the thick of things, and it’s a charming place to people watch and soak up the ambiance of the area.
It may be just outside Braga (roughly 6km to the west), but the Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães is definitely worth visiting if you’re in or around Braga. Constructed above Roman foundations, the monastery was founded way back in the 6th century. It was reconstructed in 1078 and in 1567 it formally became the headquarters of the Portuguese and Brazilian Order of Saint Benedict.
Further restored in the 19th and 20th century, the monastery is an intriguing mosaic of times gone by, and you can clearly see the Mannerist, Baroque and Rococo influences through the structure. The gilded altarpiece is particularly impressive, and the ancient baroque organ and intricate tiling only add the splendor.
There you have it – the top things to do in Braga. As you’ve seen, a trip to this culturally rich city will not leave you disappointed. Home to some of Portugal’s finest architecture, religious sites, and museums, Braga is a definite must-see for anyone traveling in the north of Portugal.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!