Immerse yourself in the rich history, vibrant culture, and spiritual heart of Portugal as we journey through the timeless city of Braga. As one of the oldest cities in the country – with roots reaching back over 2,000 years to the ancient Roman Empire – Braga serves as a captivating blend of the past and present. Its cobblestone streets and baroque architecture coexist harmoniously with lively squares, modern cuisine, and a thriving arts scene, making it an irresistibly alluring destination.
Known as the “Portuguese Rome” for its strong religious roots and abundance of churches, Braga is the archaic religious centre of Portugal. It’s home to the oldest cathedral in the country and the magnificent Bom Jesus do Monte, a baroque staircase leading up to a breathtaking sanctuary, both of which serve as major pilgrim destinations. But religion is only one facet of this multifaceted city.
Braga is also a city of remarkable energy and life, infused with a youthful spirit thanks to its status as a prominent education hub. The University of Minho adds a lively student population to the mix, infusing the ancient city with modern verve and vivacity. From the old-world charm of its historical centre to the buzzing atmosphere of its contemporary cultural scene, Braga presents an enticing blend of experiences for every traveler.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the city’s must-see landmarks, introduce you to its gastronomic delights, reveal its hidden gems, and help you understand why Braga is a not-to-be-missed stop in any exploration of Northern Portugal.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Braga
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Braga.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Braga.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Braga and the surrounding Northern Portugal region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in Braga.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Braga is Porto Airport.
Where to Stay
You’ll find plenty of accommodation options on booking.com, but some unique options that stand out are:
- Vila Gale Collection Braga: Housed in the former São Marcos hospital, this 4-star hotel offers a blend of the classical and contemporary. It’s located in the city center, making it a perfect base to explore Braga.
- Casa do Juncal Suites: Situated in a restored 18th-century mansion in the historic center, Casa do Juncal offers spacious suites with modern amenities. The beautiful courtyard is a bonus.
- Hotel do Templo: Part of the Bom Jesus Nature & Spa Hotels group, this hotel offers stunning views of the city and is right next to the iconic Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary.
- Collector’s Home (Hostel): For budget travelers, this stylish hostel located in the city center offers both private rooms and dorms. Its unique decor celebrates the world of cinema.
Day Trip or Overnight?
Ideally you really need two days to see everything in Braga properly, but you could see most of the iconic sights as part of a day trip from Porto. The two cities are well-connected, with frequent trains departing from Porto’s Sao Bento or Campanhã stations that can whisk you to Braga in about an hour. It’s also possible to get the bus there, with the bus journey taking roughly the same amount of time. Train tickets can be found on cp.pt and bus tickets can be found on Rede-Expressos. Flixbus.pt sometimes offers cheaper tickets.
Start your day early to make the most of your time in Braga. Upon arrival, begin by exploring the city centre with its captivating historical sites, including Braga Cathedral and City Hall, not forgetting to wander through the beautifully manicured Jardim de Santa Barbara. Take a break for a coffee in the beautiful Praça da Republica, and look for restaurants nearby that are serving Bacalhau à Braga.
In the afternoon, plan a visit to the iconic Bom Jesus do Monte. Regular buses can take you there from the city center, but for a more memorable journey, consider taking the antique water-powered funicular for an authentic experience. If you’re short on time, a taxi or an Uber would be a better idea.
The panoramic views from the top are breathtaking and provide perfect photo opportunities. After your visit to Bom Jesus, you’ll have ample time to return to the city center for a relaxed dinner before catching an evening train back to Porto.
What to See & Do
One of Braga’s most iconic landmarks, Bom Jesus do Monte, is a sight to behold. This 18th-century sanctuary stands atop a hill just east of the city, offering stunning panoramic views of Braga and its surroundings. A place of pilgrimage and devotion, Bom Jesus do Monte is famed for its magnificent baroque staircase that leads up to the church, symbolically representing the Christian idea of the journey of life and ascension to heaven.
The zigzagging staircase, also known as the Sacred Way, is composed of 573 steps and is interspersed with beautiful chapels that represent the Stations of the Cross, each adorned with exquisite sculptures. You can climb the steps or take the funicular, the oldest water-balanced example in the world, to reach the top.
At the summit, you’ll find the imposing neoclassical church, which houses beautiful religious art and intricate gilded woodwork. The park surrounding the sanctuary is a peaceful retreat, with landscaped gardens, tranquil fountains, and grottoes for exploration.
Braga Cathedral (Sé da Braga)
Steeped in history and brimming with artistic richness, the Braga Cathedral, or Sé de Braga, stands as the oldest cathedral in Portugal and a must-visit landmark in the city. The cathedral’s construction began in the 11th century and its architecture tells a story of the different epochs it has weathered, showcasing a blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, and Baroque styles.
As you step inside, the grandeur of the cathedral unfolds. The main chapel impresses with its Baroque makeover, but the original medieval grace is still visible in features like the outstanding royal tombs of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster in the chapel of King Manuel. The choir is an exceptional work of Renaissance art, adorned with beautifully carved wooden stalls. Don’t miss the chance to explore the cathedral’s two museums, the Treasure-Museum and the Diocesan Museum, which house a remarkable collection of ecclesiastical art, manuscripts, and relics.
Roman Thermae of Maximinus
The Roman Thermae of Maximinus, located in the historical center of Braga, offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s ancient Roman past. Named after the Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax, these well-preserved thermal baths date back to the 1st century AD when the city was known as Bracara Augusta. As one of the largest and most important Roman cities in the Iberian Peninsula, Bracara Augusta had a complex infrastructure, and these thermae stand as a testament to its sophisticated urban planning.
The archaeological site comprises of the remains of various components of the bath complex, including the frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (warm bath), caldarium (hot bath), and sudatorium (steam bath), as well as the praefurnium, the furnace that heated the baths. Each of these sections gives insight into the advanced heating and plumbing systems of the Roman period. As you walk through the site, information boards and illustrative panels help bring the ancient ruins to life, helping you envision what the bustling baths would have looked like in their prime.
Jardim de Santa Bárbara
Tucked in the heart of Braga, the Jardim de Santa Bárbara offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling city streets. Named after the medieval wing of the Archbishop’s Palace that frames one side of the garden, this charming spot brims with tranquility and beauty. As you step into the garden, you’re greeted by a vibrant mosaic of colorful flowers and exotic plants, arranged around a central fountain featuring a statue of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen and miners.
The symmetrical, meticulously manicured flowerbeds present a spectacle of colors, especially in spring and summer when the garden is in full bloom. The backdrop of the centuries-old palace wing, with its weather-worn stones adorned with coats of arms, adds an enchanting historical ambiance to the garden.
Igreja do Carmo
The Igreja do Carmo is a charming church located in the center of Braga, renowned for its unique architecture and historical significance. Built in the late 17th century, this Baroque-style church is a testament to the city’s rich ecclesiastical heritage. It’s easily recognizable by its two bell towers and the magnificent azulejo tilework that adorns its exterior façade, adding a distinct Portuguese touch to the Baroque grandeur.
Stepping inside, the church unveils a harmonious blend of gilded woodwork, intricate frescoes, and precious religious artifacts. The main altar, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is a visual delight, with a remarkable altarpiece adorned with gilded carvings. The interior also houses a valuable collection of 17th and 18th-century religious art.
Palácio do Raio
Situated in the heart of Braga, Palácio do Raio is a marvel of Baroque architecture and one of the most strikingly beautiful buildings in the city. Commissioned in the mid-18th century by João Duarte de Faria, a wealthy merchant, the palace was designed by the renowned architect André Soares. With its ornate blue-and-white tiled façade, the building’s design is heavily influenced by the Rococo style, making it an exceptional example of late Portuguese Baroque.
The palace’s exquisitely decorated exterior gives way to an equally impressive interior. Inside, visitors will find a stunning central staircase, adorned with wooden handrails and an array of sculptural details. The palace is now home to the Dom Diogo de Sousa Museum, which hosts a variety of exhibits showcasing the history and archaeology of Braga and its surroundings.
Arco da Porta Nova
The Arco da Porta Nova is one of Braga’s iconic landmarks and an essential point of interest for visitors to the city. This majestic archway, located at the western entrance of the city, served as a ceremonial gateway to Braga, welcoming dignitaries and other important guests. Commissioned by Archbishop José de Bragança in the 18th century and designed by architect André Soares, the arch is a stellar example of Baroque architecture. The grandiosity of its design, adorned with the coat of arms of both the archbishop and the city, symbolizes the historical prestige of Braga. Standing beneath the imposing arch, you can’t help but feel the weight of the centuries of history it has witnessed. Today, the Arco da Porta Nova serves as a symbolic door to the past, ushering visitors into the rich historical tapestry of Braga.
Braga City Hall
An impressive example of 18th-century civil architecture, Braga City Hall stands prominently in the city’s central square, Praça do Município. This elegant neoclassical building, designed by architect André Soares, features a symmetrical façade adorned with decorative pilasters and a central triangular pediment, all typical characteristics of the neoclassical style. The façade is further embellished with the city’s coat of arms, adding to its grandeur.
Praça da República
Praça da República, often referred to as the heart of Braga, is a bustling square that encapsulates the city’s vibrant energy and charm. Flanked by a number of historic buildings and contemporary structures, the square is a lively hub for both locals and tourists. Here, you’ll find the iconic Arcada, an 18th-century arcade housing a variety of cafes and shops, perfect for a leisurely afternoon of people-watching or enjoying a cup of coffee.
Adding to its allure, the square hosts a beautiful central fountain and is often the site for public events and local festivities. Just a stone’s throw away from major landmarks such as the Cathedral and City Hall, Praça da República serves as a perfect starting point for your exploration of Braga, offering a blend of history, culture, and the irresistible buzz of city life.
What to Eat
Braga offers a culinary experience that is deeply rooted in traditional Portuguese cuisine, with a variety of local specialties that are sure to satiate your palate. The iconic Bacalhau à Braga tops the list, a dish composed of thin, crispy slices of cod served with equally crispy fried potatoes, garnished with onions and peppers for added flavor. This city is also known for its sweet treats, most notably Pudim à Abade de Priscos, a unique dessert created by a 19th-century priest, which offers a delightful blend of sugar, egg yolks, port wine, and surprisingly, bacon fat, giving it a distinctive sweet-salty flavor profile.
In the realm of pastries and biscuits, Braga offers two traditional delights: Fidalguinhos and Tibias. Fidalguinhos are bite-sized cookies made from simple ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, and butter, often served with a glass of port, making them a perfect companion for a relaxing afternoon. Tibias, on the other hand, are long, thin pastries that have a crunchy exterior and a sweet, creamy interior, usually filled with egg yolk cream. Last but not least, while not originating from Braga, the city does make a formidable Francesinha – a traditional Portuguese sandwich layered with various meats and covered with melted cheese and a rich tomato and beer sauce.
Read more about foods to try in Braga
- By Flight: The closest airport to Braga is the Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport in Porto, approximately 50 kilometres away. From the airport, you can take a taxi, hire a car, or use public transportation like the metro and then a train or bus to reach Braga.
- By Train: Portuguese Railways (CP.pt) provides regular train services to Braga from cities like Porto, Lisbon, and Faro. The journey from Porto to Braga is around an hour, while from Lisbon it can take around three to four hours. The Braga train station is centrally located and is a short walk to the city center.
- By Bus: Rede Expressos operates a network of coaches connecting Braga to other major Portuguese cities such as Porto, Lisbon, Faro, and Coimbra. Flixbus.pt is also worth looking at, as it often offers cheaper tickets.
- By Car: If you’re driving from Porto, take the A3 highway which will get you to Braga in approximately an hour. If you’re coming from Lisbon, take the A1 highway to Porto and then continue on the A3 to Braga. The total journey is around 3.5 to 4 hours. For car rental, see discovercars.com or rentalcars.com.