One of the oldest cities in Portugal, Braga is also an ancient center of religious power, with its archdiocese founded in the 4th century. The cathedral is mandatory, as are several old churches, chapels and monasteries in the area.
There is also the sublime Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary, which you can reach via an ornate baroque staircase with allegorical sculptures or a 19th-century funicular. You have to see the majestic old mansions around the city, with their glazes hanging on them, taking you back in time to the life of the Braga aristocracy in the past.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Braga:
1. Bom Jesus do Monte
The city’s most visited tourist attraction is located on a hilltop in the east.
The sanctuary is a pilgrimage site that has attracted religious followers since at least the 14th century.
You need to do your best to climb the stairs, it is over 100 meters and has 640 steps.
Winding down the slopes, these stairs are decorated with baroque sculptures to inspire you as you climb.
Look out for the five senses-themed fountains on your way up the mountain.
Your goal is a neoclassical church built in 1834, but the real attraction is the journey and the inspiring view of Braga from the top.
2. Bom Jesus do Monte funicular
You can always take the cable car, which goes up and down the slopes.
The system was installed in the early 1880s under the direction of Swiss engineer Nikolaus Riggenbach.
Before that, there were horse-drawn carriages, and the vehicles on the rails were dragged up the mountain by horses.
The replacement system is ingenious and is the oldest ropeway in the world using water balance.
The cars were traveling in opposite directions at the same time; the one going down the hill was held down by the water, powering the lighter one.
3. Braga Cathedral
If you’re an architecture student, there’s a little bit of every architectural movement in the city’s cathedrals.
The building has been remodeled several times, equipping it with Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance and Baroque elements and decorations.
The Romanesque triple nave is still easily recognizable, but the immediate distraction is the two Baroque organs from 1737 and 1739, whose shells are covered in lush gilded wood.
Trace the baptistery designed by Manuel and visit the stunning 15th-century reclining tomb of Alfonso, son of King John I.
This is made of wood coated with gold and silver-plated copper.
4. Republic Square
This square is located in the historic center of Braga and is locally known as “Arcada”. The name refers to the 18th-century vaulted building on the west side of the square.
The square itself, planned in the 1800s, is long and grand, surrounded by tall apartment buildings.
From this point on your visit to Braga makes sense, partly because the tourist office is here, but also because of the large number of sights in the square (Igreja da Lapa and the beautiful fountain) and the radiating streets.
During the day there is also shade and cold drinks, and at night you can dine in this stately setting.
5. Santa Barbara Gardens
Adjacent to the medieval Bishop’s Palace in Braga, this fine formal garden is bounded by the palace’s beautiful north wall topped by a typical pointed melon.
The garden is rigorous and orderly, with geometric lines and well-manicured boxwood hedges and greenery.
But in summer, within the border is a field of colorful flowers that attracts many birds.
Back in the palace, there are remains of Gothic arcades that outline the courtyard of the palace, and in the stone carvings on the walls you can make out fragments of sculptures and coat of arms.
6. Basilica of Our Lady of Samero
Just south of Bom Jesus do Monte is another hilltop reserve, at 566 meters above sea level and even higher.
Although it remains one of Portugal’s most frequented pilgrimage sites, it feels relatively quiet compared to its northern neighbors.
The church here is fairly new, dating from the 1860s, but there is an important basilica of Our Lady, which hosts large numbers of faithful on Sundays from June 1st to August 31st. For others, it’s all about the scenery.
There is a huge terrace in front where you can meditate on the countryside of Cavado and Braga in the far northwest.
If you are hiking up the mountain, you will need as much time as possible!
7. Viscanios Museum
In its namesake square is a house museum, housed in a 17th and 18th century noble palace with ornate gardens.
It is a window into the life of the Portuguese nobility, and there is no shortage of exquisite decorations inside.
You’ll find some magnificent varnishes (Iberian painted tiles) and superb stucco shapes, as well as collections of glassware, furniture, jewellery, ceramics and musical instruments.
The one hectare outside is covered with fountains and sculptures, and was landscaped in 1750. There is an orchard area on the parterre, and a formal garden with a labyrinth of boxwood sculptures.
These are considered one of the finest 18th century gardens in Portugal.
8. Palais Laio
This sacred palace built in the 1750s in the heart of Braga was commissioned by the wealthy merchant and knight of the Order of Christ, João Duarte de Faria.
It will give you pause as its walls are covered in a blue enamel that contrasts with the elegant granite carvings on the doorway and window frames.
If you’ve been to Barcelona, you’ve probably noticed similarities between his work and the exaggerated organic fittings on this building’s façade.
Adjacent to the hospital in Braga, the palace houses a free museum with some old medical artifacts and information about the building and its recent restoration.
9. Church of San Frutoso
In this church in the Real area, there is something very old hidden.
This is a pre-Romanesque church built by the Visigoths in the 7th century.
The damage suffered during the Islamic period was repaired in the 9th and 10th centuries, but otherwise the building has been in the same Greek cross layout since it was built.
In the 18th century it was incorporated into a baroque church and you can enter the chapel to the right of the nave.
Inside there are triple horseshoe arches, on the outside you can study the blind arcade and the gabled portico, the main entrance before the chapel was connected to the church.
10. SC Braga
The city’s football team competes in the Primeira Liga.
As a rule of thumb, they are the best team in the league after Porto, Benfica and Sporting.
Braga play in the Europa League almost every season and therefore show a high standard.
But let’s be honest, you’re here to get a glimpse of the magnificent Estádio Municipal, embedded in a former quarry.
It was designed by Pulitzer Prize winner Eduardo Souto de Moura and was built for Euro 2004, when Portugal was the host country.
The stadium has a capacity of 30,000 seats, but only stands on the sidelines, and on the southeast sideline, there is nothing but a huge granite wall.
11. Arco da Porta Nova
Located at the eastern entrance to the historic center of Braga, this Arc de Triomphe is a real turning point.
It was made in the mid-18th century by the Braga-based sculptor Andre Suarez, whose name is often used in the city as he contributed several fountains and sculptures here.
This arch replaces the old portal and has very different characteristics depending on which side you approach it from. The east side is low-key, with an alcove with a Marian sculpture (Nossa Senhora da Nazaré), while the west side is more daring, with a stone coat of arms and pyramid pinnacles above a baroque arch.
12. São Martinho de Tibães Monastery
A moment outside the city of Braga in the west is a Benedictine monastery with an incredibly rich decoration.
There is an interesting reason for this, as São Martinho de Tibães was the alma mater of Benedictines throughout Brazil from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
The resulting wealth is clearly visible in the ornate Mannerist, Baroque and Rococo furniture in the churches and cloisters.
The jaw-dropping decoration is the gilded altarpiece and the unusually intricate woodwork on the triumphal arch in the middle of the nave.
13. Misericordia Church
Located in the same complex as the Bishop’s Palace, this church is one of the few Renaissance monuments in Braga.
It was built in the early 1560s when Bartholomew of Braga was bishop (he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001). The façades are in Mannerist style, while the interior has had a Baroque makeover in the 17th century and is decorated in gold.
The reredos (the decoration behind the altar) are almost absurdly ornate, with paintings and gilding from floor to ceiling.
14. Sao Joao Festival
The night of June 23rd is probably the funnest and most colourful night of the year in Braga.
This is São João, celebrating the birth of Saint John the Baptist, the city’s patron saint. The city spent two weeks preparing, decorating the parade route along Liberty Avenue to Parque da Ponte.
During the day there are percussion bands, traditional musicians playing the accordion and parades in traditional Minho costumes.
That night, people were back in the streets, beating each other with garlic (if traditional) or toy plastic hammers that squeaked.
Tonight’s restaurant serves caldo verde, typical vegetable soup and grilled sardines.
15. Vinho Verde
The main regional drink of the Minho region is vinho verde, literally “green wine”. This does not refer to the color of the drink, but to the youthful age, as it is best enjoyed immediately after bottling.
They are known to be crisp and light, often with a hint of shimmer.
This used to be caused by secondary fermentation in the bottle, but is now usually replaced by carbonation.
The region produces red and rosé wines, but the most common is white wine, made from Albariño grapes.
Fresh vinho verde goes great with bacalhau à Braga, a fried cod with sautéed potatoes, fried onions, and a pickle with carrots, cauliflower and olives.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Braga, Portugal
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