Braga is one of Portugal’s most beautiful cities, and it’s packed to the brim with history and culture – particularly churches. While some people visit Braga as part of a day trip from Porto, there’s enough here to keep you busy for at least two days if not three or more.
As well as all of the history and culture that Braga has to offer, it’s other selling point is how close it is to Porto – less than an hour by train or by car – so it’s very easy to include it in your trip, along with Guimarães which is just south of Braga.
What to SEE
Bom Jesus do Monte
Without doubt, Braga’s main attraction is Bom Jesus do Monte. Situated 6 km outside of Braga City Centre, this beautiful sanctuary is one of the most famous and most beautiful pieces of architecture in Northern Portugal.
There’s a lot to Bom Jesus – including a lake and the actual church of Bom Jesus – the most impressive and most popular part is the staircase. There are 573 of them in total, which are broken up with 17 different landings that each contain sculptures of different biblical scenes and statues of religious importance.
The lake, as mentioned, is also worth visiting. The altar inside the church is quite unique as well. Rather than just having Jesus or the Virgin Mary, it has a very detailed crucifixion scene.
The best way to experience Bom Jesus is to climb the 573 steps to the top but, don’t worry: there’s a funicular if you don’t want to do that. The lower funicular station is right next to the bus stop as well, which is good news if you aren’t particularly mobile, and it’s also very affordable: as of 2019, a 1-way trip costs €1.50 while a return costs €2.50.
To get to Bom Jesus do Monte, take bus #2. This stops at the bottom of the steps, and you can either walk up the steps or take the funicular up. You can get the bus from Braga Train Station, Braga Bus Station, and from the João Penha stop on Rua do Raio (map). The journey takes around 20 minutes and costs €1.65 each way. Alternatively, you could also take a taxi or an Uber.
Sé de Braga (Braga Cathedral) is an incredibly impressive building, and probably the second most impressive church in Braga after Bom Jesus.
While the Cathedral itself is impressive, some of the most interesting parts are found on the guided tour. This tour seems to only be in Portuguese, which isn’t ideal for everyone, and it’s only at specific times, but, if those two factors aren’t a problem for you, it’s definitely worth doing.
You’ll get to see a few smaller chapels, the very beautiful clock and organ upstairs, and a mummified body of Dom Lourenço Vicente (which is quite gruesome-looking).
Note: Braga Cathedral closes for lunch. The opening hours are 9:00 – 12:30, and then 14.30-17:30 (18:30 during the summer months).
Braga City Hall
One little known attraction in Braga that’s definitely worth visiting is the local Câmara Municipal or council building. The building was designed by architect André Soares, and work began in 1754 and was completed in 1865.
While the building is definitely beautiful from the outside, the real beauty is on the inside: beautiful staircases with walls of blue and white azulejos on either side.
This is a workplace, but it’s still possible to come in and see the hallway and the beautiful staircase. You’ll wish this was your office!
Igreja dos Terceiros
There are more than 30 churches in Braga and all of them are special, but the Igreja dos Terceiros was one of my favourites. It’s grand, it’s beautiful, it’s ornate, and visiting it is free. It’s also right in the heart of Braga City Centre, so there’s a good chance that you’ll pass it at some point as well.
Roman Thermae of Maximinus
There are a few Roman ruins in Portugal but, because of their age, most of them really just give you the outline of the buildings that were there before. Even Conimbriga near Coimbra, which is one of the best examples of Roman history in Portugal, disappoints many visitors who are expecting more complete buildings.
Disclaimers aside, the Roman Thermae of Maximinus is worth a visit. It’s easy to think of Braga as churches and medieval ruins but, long before that, Braga was the Roman settlement of “Bracara Augusta.”
While the excavations are interesting, what I really loved about these ruins was the juxtaposition of what’s believed to be a Roman theatre next to a block of fairly unattractive flats. The contrast is incredibly and just shows how much history is beneath our feet, especially in Europe.
Entry costs just €1.90 and this includes access to the Fountain of the Idol in the city centre as well.
Fountain of the Idol
The Fountain of the Idol is quite a small and somewhat obscure attraction but, as it’s included with the Roman Thermae of Maximinus and it’s right next to Raio Palace (see below), it’s somewhere that you can easily pop in and visit.
There isn’t a lot to see in all honesty, but there is an educational video that gives you a better idea of what this would have looked like during the Roman Era.
Palácio do Raio
Raio Palace is easily one of Braga’s most beautiful buildings. Even if you don’t decide to go into the palace itself, just seeing the exterior is worthwhile as it’s such a beautiful building.
The palace is no longer an actual palace but an interpretative centre that gives a history of the building and showcases pieces of art, sculpture, and clothing.
Arco de Porta Nova
Designed by André Soares in the late 18th Century, the Arco De Porta Nova is one of the main – and most beautiful – entrances to the city.
Garden of Santa Barbara
Located in the centre of Braga, in the northeast corner the Archbishop’s Palace, The Garden Of Santa Barbara is one of the most popular public gardens in the city.
It’s small, but well-maintained and free to enter. It’s somewhere you’ll probably pass at some point, so be sure to stop by and take a look.
Igreja do Carmo
The Igreja Do Carmo is yet another of Braga’s many churches, but one that, even though it’s a little out of the way, is worth making a trip to.
In particular, it has a very beautiful organ that’s located at the back of the church by the entrance.
Igreja De Santa Cruz
The Igreja De Santa Cruz is conveniently situated in the heart of Braga, and it’s likely that you’ll pass by it at least once while you’re visiting the city.
This 17th Century church uses both Mannerist and Baroque architectural styles in its design, and the interior contains beautiful gold-leafed carvings which were added to the building later in the 18th Century.
What to DO
Climb the Castle of Braga
Braga Castle was once a huge fortification, with walls that went around the City of Braga, but today all that really remains is the main tower.
This medieval tower is well-preserved, which is surprising considering that nothing really remains of the rest of the castle. But although the tower is well-preserved, there’s not a lot to it other than four walls and whatever exhibition the council is running inside. If you use your imagination, though, you can get an idea of what the castle might have been like.
This tower was one of five towers and, as well as the walls that protected the city, there were also eight gates. The Tower of Porta Nova, the Gateway, the Tower of Santiago, and the Tower of São Sebastião are all still standing, so if you walk between them you can get a little idea of how the castle was structured.
The tower is free to visit. You can climb to the top, where you’ll get some decent views of Braga through the tower windows. There is normally an exhibition inside as well.
Capela de Nossa Senhora da Torre
The Capela De Nossa Senhora Da Torre and the accompanying São Tiago tower make up another of Braga’s city entrances.
Like the other Castle of Braga tower, there isn’t a lot to see besides the four walls, although this tower has the addition of the Capela De Nossa Senhora Da Torre.
This chapel was added to the tower in the 18th Century as a thank you to the Virgin Mary for protecting the nearby Jesuit College of Santiago from the destruction of the 1755 earthquake.
Pius XII Museum
Braga’s Pius XII Museum, while not particularly big, has a lot of interesting historical artefacts (particularly from Braga’s Roman Period) as well as religious artefacts and paintings from its more recent history.
If you’re interested in history, it’s well worth a visit.
Shop at Braga Market
If you’re staying in an Airbnb or self catering apartment in Braga, ditch the supermarket and do your shopping at Braga Market. This is a lively market with lots of stalls selling great quality fresh fruit and veg, fish, and meat, as well as some other regional delicacies.
What to EAT
For foodies, a trip to Braga means an opportunity to try a few regional dishes that aren’t easily available in the rest of Portugal or even in places as close by as Porto.
The following are probably the best dishes that you should try in Braga. The foodie’s guide to Braga lists a few more, as well as dishes from the surrounding Minho region, and the best dishes that you’ll find almost everywhere in Portugal.
Bacalhau à Braga
Portugal has lots of different recipes for its national dish. Some say there are more than 365, while others say that there are more than 1,000. Either way, that’s a lot of dishes.
Bacalhau à Braga (sometimes it’s also called Bacalhau à Minhota after the surrounding Minho region) is one of the best and most popular recipes that you’ll find in Portugal. While you can find it fairly easily in other parts of the country, it’s worth trying it here in Braga where it’s on just about every restaurant menu.
The recipe combines bacalhau with sliced potatoes, onions, roast peppers, and generous helpings of olive oil to make a dish that is hearty and tasty.
Pudim à Abade de Priscos
Portugal has a lot of desserts and one of the best ones, Pudim à Abade de Priscos, comes from Braga. It’s very sweet, it’s very sticky, but it’s also very delicious. The best way to try this is with a cup of black coffee, either a café (an espresso) or an abatanado (similar to an Americano) to wash it down.
Fidalguinhos may just be another biscuit, but they’re a very tasty biscuit all the same. No doubt you’ll stop for a coffee at some point while you’re exploring Braga and, when you do, be sure to order a few of these little gems.
Like most sweet things in Portugal, the recipe for Fidalguinhos comes from the local convent – in this case: The Convento de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios de Braga.
The biscuits, which have a slight cinnamon and lemony flavour, aren’t just meant to be tasty but also satirical as well. They’re designed to look like crossed legs, which apparently represents the people born into money who didn’t have to work hard to do anything.
Because Braga has both a bus and a train station, it’s a very easy destination to get to. The train is often the cheaper option, particularly if you’re coming from Porto, but it’s always worth checking both the bus and the train.
It’s easy to get to and from Braga by bus from just about anywhere in Portugal. Tickets and timetables for long distance coaches can be found at Rede Expressos.
It’s also possible to go directly from Porto Airport to Braga and vice versa with GetBus rather than having to go into Porto first.
Braga is well-connected to the rest of Portugal by train, and it’s very easy to get here from Porto, Lisbon, or even further away destinations like the Algarve.
- From Porto, the Urban (U) train takes about an hour and is very affordable. Note: it’s not possible to buy tickets for the Urban trains in advance or online. It’s also worth noting that this train is a commuter train and it can get quite busy, particularly around the morning and evening rush hours.
- From Lisbon, there are normally direct Alfa Pendular (AP) trains that connect Lisbon to Braga in just less than 3.5 hours.
Tip: if you’re just visiting Braga for the day, there are lockers in Braga Train Station and some luggage storage apps like Radical Storage list a few options in the city centre as well.
Read more about luggage storage in Braga.
You won’t need a car to visit Braga as the city is quite small and walkable. Of course, Braga may just be a stop-off on a larger trip around Northern Portugal in which case having a car will probably be useful.
While there is parking in Braga City Centre, it’s probably easiest if you park outside of the historical centre.
Braga’s nearest airport is Porto Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport, which is about 54 km away. Vigo Airport across the border is Spain is the next closest, roughly 106 km away.
It’s possible to get a bus directly from Porto Airport to Braga and vice versa with GetBus.
- If you want to take the train: take the metro or a taxi to either Porto’s São Bento Train Station or Porto Campanhã Train Station and then take a train to Braga.
- If you want to take the bus: take a bus to the Renex Bus Station on Campo 24 de Agosto (nearest metro: 24 de Agosto).
There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela, and one of those routes, The Braga Way, passes through Guimarães, Braga, Barcelos, and Ponte de Lima.
This definitely isn’t the most popular route, which has its pros and cons, but one of the pros is all the places it takes you to: Guimarães, Braga, Barcelos, and Ponte de Lima are all Portuguese destinations that are all worth visiting.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Braga is one of the largest and most famous religious festivals in Portugal. It’s estimated to attract around 100,000 visitors.
The celebrations take place over the Easter period and feature parades from members of different Catholic brotherhoods as well as a large mass.
It is one of the most important weeks in Braga’s calendar, and one of the best times to visit the city.
Braga has a very unique Christmas tradition, something which you should observe if you’re visiting the city on Christmas Eve. Every year, on December 24th, people from all over Braga come to Casa das Bananas to eat bananas, drink muscatel, and wish each other a Merry Christmas.
The tradition, known as the “Bananeiro” takes place on 26, Rua do Souto. The tradition started when the owner of a banana shop decided to setup a small stall outside his shop selling glasses of Moscatel. When a customer asked him if he had anything he could eat, he gave him a banana.
When the owner’s son heard about this, he started bringing his friends to the shop for a banana and a moscatel. Somehow or other, word got out, other people started coming, and, before long, Bananeiro had become a Christmas tradition.
Nowadays, so many people come to Rua do Souto that the street is packed. It has become one of the highlights of the year, however, with everyone in good spirits, wishing each other a Merry Christmas.
Best time to visit?
In contrast to some parts of Southern Portugal, winters in Braga can be cold, grey, and damp, and the best time to visit Braga is during the summer when the weather is warmer.
July and especially August are the most touristy months in Portugal, so it’s normally better to visit in either June or September. Accommodation will be slightly cheaper but, more importantly, attractions like Bom Jesus do Monte and Braga Cathedral will be less busy.
How many days do I need?
It is possible to do a rushed day trip of Braga but, to really get a proper feel for the city, you should really allow at least two days for Braga. Three would be even better, as it would allow you to take things at a more relaxed pace.
There’s a lot to see in Braga and it does require a little planning. Bom Jesus do Monte is about 6 km outside of the City Centre so you’ll need to either take a bus or a taxi there and some attractions, like Braga Cathedral, close for lunch.