15 things to do in Bragança (Portugal)

A splendid old town is divided into two parts, the heights of Bragança are ruled by castles and castles, while on the banks of the Ferwensa river below is the new town. To be honest, Newtown isn’t very new either, as the former cathedral here was built in the 1500s.

The medieval castle and castle above are in good shape, with original details and a sleepy neighborhood of cobblestone streets protected by walls. Whether you’re visiting the granite villages of Montesinho Natural Park or heading south to the Blue Flag beaches of the Azibo Reservoir, the countryside should be part of your plans.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Bragança:

1. Bragança Castle

Braganza Castle

Climb up to Bragança’s castle, where the 15th-century castle is visible for miles.

Measuring 17 meters wide and 33 meters high, it was built by the order of King John I and was built on a stronghold in the early 12th century.

What’s special about this building is that it didn’t require much restoration, so what you see has barely changed since the 15th century.

There are small Gothic decorations such as tracery windows and the coat of arms of the royal family of King John Avis.

You can visit the Military Museum (we’ll be here soon) to get a sense of the interior, before reaching the roof for a stunning view of the town and the wooded hills of Montesinho Natural Park.

2. City Hall

town Hall

This pentagonal granite building in the center of the castle has puzzled historians for more than a century.

No one is too sure about its exact purpose, or even when it was built.

Most estimates place it in the 13th or 14th century.

It was probably originally intended to be used as a cistern or as a public meeting hall.

Either way, it remains one of the only examples of Romanesque civic architecture found in Portugal, and you are free to enter and draw your own conclusions.

A series of semi-circular arched windows let in light, and a stone bench is located inside the ground floor.

3. Castle

fortress

The medieval castle was surrounded by a battlement wall, commanded by the castle, and located on a hilltop east of the new city.

To enter, you have to go through the stone gates, and once you are inside the walls, you can find the stairs leading to the battlements, so you can fortify your defenses like a medieval guard.

The castle is older than the current one, dating from the 1130s, and has a lattice of straight cobblestone alleys.

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It’s a quiet, sleepy place with artisan workshops and several bars and restaurants.

For a taste of local traditions, head to the Iberian Mascara e do Traje Museum, where ceremonial masks and costumes are worn for festivals in the region.

4. Museu do Abade de Baçal

Museo do Abade de Baçal

Outside the castle walls in the lower town is the former bishop’s palace of Braganza.

In the early 20th century, the building was turned into a museum for the entire northeastern Trasmontano region, housing art, archaeological artifacts, and coins donated by local writers and military figures.

There are also some splendid religious treasures, such as the wooden ark for the holy anointing oil, the triptych of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius, and several Baroque polychrome statues.

As a testament to the importance of Bragança in the past, the museum has Manuel’s (16th century) liquid and weight scales, while in the distant past there are hand axes, arrows, tombstones, coins, milestones and ceramics.

5. Sé Velha de Bragança

Sé Velha De Bragança

In 2001, Bragança had a brand new, purpose-built cathedral.

It replaced this beautiful church in the new town, which was never the right size.

Still, this old cathedral is a remarkable monument, built in the 1560s as a monastery church and then turned into a Jesuit college.

It was turned into a cathedral when the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal in the 18th century.

Renaissance portals, triumphal arches with city emblems and altars, some of which are worth your attention are the luminous golden woodwork from the 1700s.

6. Bragança Military Museum

Braganza Military Museum

Occupying all four floors of the fortress is a military museum, first created in 1929 when the Portuguese 10th Infantry Regiment was stationed here.

When the army finally left the castle, so did the museum, which was restored in 1983 with all its original collections.

These are light weapons such as daggers, swords, rifles and pistols from the 1200s to World War I.

Many of the most fascinating pieces come from Portugal’s African campaigns in the late 19th century.

These included the personal belongings of Gungunhana, a tribal king who rebelled against the Portuguese Empire and went into exile in the Azores.

7. Santa Maria Church

santa maria church

Inside the castle, near the Domus Municipalis, is the oldest church in Braganza, although all remains of its original Romanesque architecture are in plan.

The rest underwent a series of renovations between the 1500s and 1700s, with the addition of Renaissance and Baroque chapels.

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Before entering, check out the Baroque portal, flanked by two bold Solomon columns decorated with vine motifs.

What catches the eye is the painted barrel-vaulted ceiling depicting the Assumption of the Virgin, and the lavish Baroque altar in the main church.

8. Igreja de Castro de Avelãs

Igreja de Castro de Avelas

The Benedictine monastery, 3 km from the centre of Braganza, was once a wealthy and powerful institution, providing accommodation and places of worship for pilgrims on the Way of St. James.

It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries but declined in the 1500s after being absorbed by the Diocese of Miranda Douro.

A standout feature is the Romanesque chevet on the church, with its three radial apse chapels.

These feature three slender, semicircular blind arches, a design you won’t find anywhere else in the country.

9. Centro de Arte Contemporânea Graça Morais

Centro De Arte Contemporânea Graça Morais

The famous contemporary painter Graça Morais, who has close ties to Bragança, came to school here in the 1960s.

The museum was established in 2008 with space reserved for her art, and exhibitions are updated every few months.

These run alongside temporary exhibitions in various disciplines.

Whether you’re an art lover or not, this building is worth a few minutes: the center is the work of Eduardo Souto de Moura, who designed a modern annex to a 17th-century hall formerly occupied by Banco de Portual.

10. Centro Ciência Viva de Bragança

Centro Ciência Viva De Bragança

In 2007, a historic water mill and its adjacent hydroelectric power plant on the Fervença River were transformed into an interactive science center and children’s museum.

The modern glass-enclosed building and riverside terrace with cafe seating will impress adults.

Kids might get caught up in some clever educational games and experiments on topics like wind energy, the environment, and recycling.

The Old Mill (Casa da Seda) has exhibits about traditional silk production in the Trás-os-Montes region.

11. Montesinho Natural Park

Montesinho Natural Park

A few hours away from civilization, you can venture into this natural park that starts north of town.

The park consists of only a few isolated villages and is set among some 74,000 hectares of granite peaks, verdant meadows, moors and oak forests.

Wildlife abounds in this uninhabited part of the country, home to around 70 percent of all species recorded in Portugal.

The same goes for Iberian wolves, which can be a threat to farmers who keep strong Transmontano cattle dogs to protect their herds.

Walkers and mountain bikers can follow the Sabor, Maçãs and Baceiro rivers, passing Roman bridges, small villages and ancient waterwheels that are still in operation.

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12. Aldeia de Montesinho

Aldia de Montesinho

Woven among the woodlands and pastures of the natural park is the village of the same name.

Montesinho is very quaint, with well-tended rustic stone houses with slate roofs and wooden balconies.

On a cobblestone street, you turn a corner and you’re greeted with breathtaking mountain views.

In one of the traditional houses, there is an interpretation of the natural park, revealing its geology and native species, as well as the trade and customs of the people who live here.

The 1,500-meter-long Serra Serrada hydroelectric dam is not far away, as are the eerie ruins of what was once the nation’s leading mining complex at Portelo.

13. Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

In a natural park bordering Spain is this idyllic frontier village that looks like it might be an outdoor museum.

The remoteness and harsh local environment have contributed to a unique way of doing things known as “aldeia comunitária” or community villages.

Almost everything needed for survival, including livestock, farmland, tools and bread ovens, is shared by the villagers, and everyone should contribute.

In addition to the autonomous system, Leo de Onor even developed his own dialect, which is now dying.

14. Albufeira do Azibo

albufeira do azipo

A short drive south of Bragança, a protected landscape has been designated around this reservoir.

The fresh greenery around it provides habitat for eagles, great crested grbes, herons, storks and harriers.

There are information signs telling you what to see on the trails around the coast.

The reservoir looks especially charming in summer: the north shore has Fraga da Pegada, a beach that receives a Blue Flag every year.

If you need somewhere to relax for a few hours, there is a restaurant with an outdoor terrace and a children’s playground.

15. Local Food

Mirandesa Steak

Braganza food is simple, filling and never has to travel far to get to your table.

In places where winters can be bitter, meat is a staple and appears in most dishes.

Try the Mirandesa veal steak, which comes from cattle grazing in the lime forest, or the Montsinho goat, which feeds on the wild grasses of the mountains.

There are many aromatic and warm stews, often used for game like rabbit but serving almost anything, while sausages and cured meats are never far from the table.

One, chouriço de mel is made with honey and is often eaten as a dessert!

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Braganca, Portugal
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