Braga is located in Northern Portugal and was founded by the Romans more than 2000 years ago with the name Bracara Augusta. It is one of the oldest Portuguese cities and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world.
Considered as the capital of Minho region, Braga is the third biggest city in Portugal, after Lisbon and Porto. In 2012 it was the European Youth Capital and in 2019 was considered the second best European tourist destination.
Braga is also known as the “Portuguese Rome” because of its many and beautiful churches. But other treasures can be found in this city and you can’t miss them! Discover beautiful monuments, enjoy the gastronomy, the handicrafts, the traditions and popular and religious festivities.
Below, you’ll find the 20 places you can’t miss during your visit to Braga, the itinerary to easily discover the wonders of this city, where to sleep, where to eat as well as the traditions and festivities that you can admire.
Before finding out the places to visit, I urge you to watch my video below and discover the wonders this city has to offer:
Top 20 things to do in Braga:
1. Basílica dos Congregados
Congregados Basilica was built during the 18th century (but it was only in 1964 that its construction ended when the west tower was erected) and was part of the old Convent of the Congregation, in Baroque style.
Inside the church, you can admire four granite statues representing Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David and in the chancel the plaster, typical of the city’s Rococo style.
2. Arcada da Lapa
Located in the square Praça da República, the arcade was built in 1715 where part of the city walls were at. This sheltered place was, for a long time, a place where the city’s merchants sold their products.
Between 1761 and 1764, Lapa Church was built in the middle of the arcade due to the increasing devotion of the inhabitants towards Nossa Senhora da Lapa.
Under the arcade you’ll find two of the oldest cafés/restaurants in Braga: Café Vianna, inaugurated in 1871, and Café Astória in 1928. Don’t hesitate to stop for a moment and have a cup of coffee while enjoying this square’s beauty.
3. Igreja dos Terceiros
Located at the back of Arcada da Lapa, Terceiros Church was built in 1690 by the Franciscan Order. At first sight, this church is nothing special, but I suggest you enter to admire the wonderful glazed-tile panels.
4. Torre de Menagem
The 30-metre high keep or donjon, is what’s left of the Braga castle, destroyed in 1906. The primitive castle dates back to the Roman Empire (3rd century), having undergone some restorations and improvements throughout the centuries.
After the 16th century, the castle lost its defensive function due to the new techniques used by the opposing forces.
As I mentioned before, the castle was destroyed in the beginning of the 20th century, perpetuating the local custom of destroying everything that is old to build new. Braga suffered from this and, sadly, lost some of its historic buildings because of it.
5. Jardim de Santa Bárbara
The garden Jardim de Santa Bárbara is one of the places you can’t miss during your visit to Braga. Apart from its natural beauty, this location is surrounded by historic buildings.
In the centre of the garden, you can admire a 17th-century fountain with a statue of Saint Bárbara whom this place was named after. Facing the garden, you’ll find the Archiepiscopal Palace, built between the 14th and 15th centuries; to the left, you can admire the back of the University of Minho’s Rectory and the beautiful square Largo do Paço.
6. Museu dos Biscainhos
Inaugurated in 1978, Biscainhos Museum is located at a palace with the same name, built in the 17th century. This place was an accommodation used, among others, by the king D. Luís I and the Counts of Bertiandos, an important family of the Portuguese aristocracy.
The museum displays several rooms and spaces where one can get to know the daily life of the Portuguese aristocracy between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Apart from its one-hectare garden, dating back to the 18th century (one of the most important in the Baroque period), what I loved the most was the beauty of the palace and its amazing collections.
7. Arco da Porta Nova
Porta Nova’s Arch was built in 1512 (the current version is from 1772) to connect the medieval city to its surroundings, outside city walls, during the expansion of Braga.
This entrance to the medieval city never had a gate since, by that time, the walls and castle didn’t have their defensive function anymore.
While passing through the arch, don’t forget to raise your head to admire the front and back facades with a statue of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré and another representing the city.
8. Museu de Arqueologia D. Diogo de Sousa
Inaugurated in 2007, this archaeology museum gives its visitors an insight over the archaeological researches that took place in Braga and surrounding area throughout the years.
Here, you’ll find collections from the Palaeolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages and another from the Roman Empire, a period in which Braga was created, under the name of Bracara Augusta.
Information: between Porta Nova Arch and the archaeology museum, you can make a stop at the square Largo Paulo Orósio to admire the statue of the emperor Caesar Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire.
9. Capela da Nossa Senhora da Torre
Built between 1756 and 1759 as a way to thank Our Lady for protecting Braga during the major earthquake of 1755 that destroyed Lisbon, this chapel is located at the tower Torre de Santiago.
Apart from admiring the beautiful facade of the chapel and tower, you should also know that you can go inside and discover its five floors and the Museum Pius XII, located in the square Largo de Santiago.
Information: between the museum of archaeology and Nossa Senhora da Torre Chapel, you can visit the Roman Thermae located in the street Rua Dr. Rocha Peixoto.
10. Igreja de Santa Cruz
Built in Baroque and Mannerism styles from the 17th century, Santa Cruz Church was rebuilt less than 100 years later because of its poor condition.
The facade, still from the “first version” of the church, was restored in 2000 and is, for me, the most beautiful among all the churches in Braga.
11. Igreja de São Marcos
Inaugurated in 1836 and property of Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Braga, a catholic institution that helps the poor and sick people, São Marcos church was the one that surprised me the most!
Contrary to Santa Cruz Church, this church amazed me for its interior due to its unique style, different from the other churches in the city. When I visited this church, I had the feeling of being in the National Pantheon, in Lisbon, but in a smaller scale.
12. Palácio do Raio
Built in 1755 by an important merchant of the city, this palace became known as Raio Palace after its sale in 1853 to viscount Miguel José Raio.
In 1882, the viscount’s heirs sold the palace to a local bank that subsequently resold it to Santa Casa da Misericórdia. Afterwards, this institution established some services of São Marcos Hospital in this place.
From 2015 onwards, the palace gained a new life with the Interpretation Centre that was setup in this place and that shows to visitors the history behind this religious institution, São Marcos Hospital, inaugurated in 1508 and closed in 2011, of religious art and you can even admire its beautiful decoration – I loved it!
Information: in the same street (Rua do Raio), you can visit Fonte do Ídolo, a Roman water fountain sculpted by Celicus Fronto in the 1st century.
13. Theatro Circo
Considered as one of the most beautiful theatres in Portugal and in Europe, Theatro Circo is the place you can’t miss during your visit to Braga.
Its construction began in 1911 and ended in 1914 and its total capacity is 1500 seats. This theatre soon became one of the biggest and most beautiful Portuguese theatres.
The first show in Theatro Circo took place in the 21st April 1915, performed by Lisbon’s company Éden Teatro. Between 1999 and 2006, Theatro Circo underwent restoration works and was restructured. The biggest stage was restructured according to the original design which set it free from all the additions made throughout the years.
The reopening of Theatro Circo happened in the 27th October 2006 and it is today a reference in the field of performing arts, not just because it has one of the most charismatic theatre halls but also because of its eclectic and high-standard program.
You can discover Theatro Circo and its treasures by going on a guided tour. Tours are available in Portuguese and English and take place on Mondays and Saturdays at 14:30 and last one hour (the schedule may change depending on the theatre’s program).
Apart from discovering the magnificent theatre hall with 897 seats, you’ll also have access to the backstage (stage, rehearsal area, dressing rooms, trap room, etc.), always in the company of a guide that will explain how the theatre works.
This tour showed me the true beauty of this place – it is, without a doubt, the most beautiful theatre I have ever seen! Aside from that, I had the chance to visit the backstage which helped me understand how a theatre really works.
- Tickets and schedule: www.theatrocirco.com
When you leave the theatre and before visiting the next place, don’t hesitate to make a stop at Café A Brasileira, inaugurated in 1907 by the same owner of the famous Café A Brasileira in Lisbon and in Porto.
14. Casa dos Crivos
Built between the 17th and 18th century, Casa dos Crivos is the only house in Braga to have a facade full of shutters, very useful to protect the building from the heat as well as giving the residents the possibility to see everything outside without being seen.
15. Sé de Braga
With its origins in the year 400, the present cathedral of Braga dates back to the 11th century and is considered to be the oldest Portuguese cathedral.
As centuries went by, the cathedral underwent several modifications, reason why it presents today some different architectural styles such as the Romanesque and the Baroque.
Apart from having the possibility to visit the cathedral, you’ll also have access to four chapels, one of which (Capela dos Reis, literally Chapel of Kings) with the tombs of the parents of D. Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese king.
You’ll also have the possibility to admire the 19th-century cloister and the Treasure-Museum, created in 1930 and holding an important religious art collection.
The cathedral of Braga is, without a doubt, another monument you can’t miss during your visit to the capital of Minho region.
Information: to visit all the wonders of the cathedral, you’ll have to purchase the ticket for options 1, 2 and 3.
- Tickets: http://se-braga.pt
When you leave the cathedral, look to your left and admire the beautiful facade of the church Igreja da Misericórdia de Braga, built in the 16th century and renovated in 1891.
Information: during your walk from Casa dos Crivos and the cathedral, go to the square Largo São João do Souto to admire the Coimbras Chapel, dating back to 1525.
16. Largo do Paço
To finish your visit to the historic centre of Braga, don’t miss the opportunity to admire the square Largo do Paço, located in the street Rua do Souto.
Surrounded by the Archiepiscopal Palace, which is today the building for the University of Minho’s Rectory, the square has a beautiful fountain, Chafariz dos Castelos, dating back to 1723.
What to visit close to Braga historic centre
17. Miradouro do Picoto
Located less than 3 km from the historic centre of Braga, this viewpoint is at Monte do Picoto. From here, you’ll have a wonderful 360º view over the city and the sanctuaries of Bom Jesus do Monte and Sameiro.
Information: right beside this viewpoint, you’ll find Picoto Park (Rua João Evangelista de Araújo Vieira) where you can do lots of activities like tree climbing and paintball.
18. Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte
Listed in 2019 as World Heritage by UNESCO, Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary, also known as Bom Jesus de Braga, is a place where art and nature live in perfect harmony which makes it a wonderful location and a sacred and resting place.
The construction of the basilica began in 1784 to substitute an old temple that was demolished because if its poor state of conservation. The construction ended in 1811.
The stairway connecting the uptown to the sanctuary is divided into three sections: the Baroque, from 1723, where you’ll find chapels displaying the Passion of Christ (Via Sacra); the five senses section with fountains and statues of characters from the Bible and the three virtues section with chapels and fountains representing faith, hope and Christian charity.
The funicular, also known as the elevator, connects the uptown to the sanctuary as well and follows a parallel route to the sanctuary’s stairway.
Inaugurated in 1882, this was the first funicular built in the Iberian Peninsula and it is today the oldest funicular in the world working with a water-counterweight system.
At Bom Jesus you can also admire the beautiful gardens, the caves, the fountains, the viewpoints and even discover the lake and relax on a rowing boat.
Fun fact: if you’re driving to the sanctuary, don’t miss the opportunity to go to the “magic road” where you can see your car moving backwards on its own, on neutral, in a street that is going up. Here is a video proving this!
Actually, our eyes are deceived (optical illusion) by the road below which is going down and the surrounding landscape – the truth is that the “magic road” goes down not up.
If you want to try it yourself, check the coordinates in Google Maps.
Information: the access by car to the sanctuary is paid (around 1 €).
Here is the map to access the sanctuary by car, funicular or using the stairway.
In blue: route by car. The star marks the point where you’ll have to pay if you want to proceed by car and point B is one of the parking lots and one of the exits. In red: route if you want to go on foot. In black: funicular’s route.
To climb the stairway or take the funicular, park your car here or in the square Largo do Arco.
If you got to Braga by train, know that you can take the bus nº 2 in the historic centre (Avenida Central) that will take you to the funicular of Bom Jesus do Monte.
Located just 5 km from the historic centre, Bom Jesus do Monte is, definitely, a slice of heaven that you can’t miss during your visit to Braga!
- Site: http://bomjesus.pt
19. Santuário do Sameiro
Sameiro Sanctuary is a neoclassic temple and its construction began in 1863 but ended only in the 20th century. Pope Paul VI elevated this place to the category of basilica in 1964.
Facing the sanctuary, you’ll find a stairway and, at the bottom, two columns with statues of the image of Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart. Surrounding the sanctuary, you’ll see a place to celebrate mass in the open, a park with trees, gardens and a chapel.
When you visit this place, apart from admiring the gardens, take the opportunity to discover the interior of the basilica, the crypt and climb to the top of the church to enjoy a magnificent 360º view over Braga and its surroundings. In clear-sky days, you can even catch a glimpse of the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, located 40 km away.
To enjoy this wonderful view, go to the back of the basilica and climb the stairs that will take you to the top of this monument (paying entrance).
20. Mosteiro de Tibães
Old base for the Portuguese Benedictine congregation, Tibães Monastery is located at Mire de Tibães, 6 km away from Braga.
Founded in the 11th century (the buildings still standing are from the 17th and 18th centuries), this was for many centuries one of the richest and most influential monasteries in Northern Portugal.
When religious orders were disbanded from Portugal, between 1833-1834, the monastery was closed and its assets were auctioned; the selling of its assets only ended in 1864.
From the 1970s onwards, the monastery was left to ruin and abandoned. After the Portuguese state bought it in 1986, a restoration project was in place to give life back to the monastery as well as giving the chance for visitors to see this monument.
When you visit this monastery, take the opportunity to admire the beautiful church, the museum and stroll through the garden with fountains, a chapel and a lake.
Apart from being open to the public, the monastery has a restaurant and a small hotel (affiliate link) with nine rooms, very much appreciated by guests that stayed there (rated 8,8/10).
- Days needed to visit Braga and its surroundings: 2 days
Itinerary to visit the 20 most beautiful places in Braga
If you get to Braga by car, I suggest you park your car in the underground paying parking lot “Parque Avenida Central” and then visit the places in this article by the same order I presented them.
If you arrive to Braga by bus, then the stop will be at the bus station, located 700 metres away from the historic centre (Basílica dos Congregados). Visit the places in this article by the same order I presented them.
Are you taking the train to Braga? Then start your visit to the city in Biscainhos Museum, then, once you get to Theatro Circo, visit Basílica dos Congregados, Arcada da Lapa, Terceiros Church, the keep, Santa Bárbara Garden, the cathedral, the square Largo do Paço and finish at Casa dos Crivos.
These itineraries will be useful to you if you’re counting on visiting every point of interest in the historic centre that I mentioned in this article. However, if you don’t have the time or don’t want to, you can make your own itinerary using Google Maps.
To discover the points of interest outside the historic centre of Braga, I suggest you use a car as your means of transportation since it will give you more freedom of movement and time to visit each place.
If you want to use public transportation to visit Bom Jesus do Monte and Sameiro sanctuaries, you can take the bus n° 88 at the historic centre, in the street Rua do Raio. As I mentioned before, bus n° 2 will also take you to Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary.
To visit Tibães Monastery, you’ll have to take bus n° 50 at Carmo bus stop, located close to the bus station.
The other possibility to discover the wonders of Braga and its surroundings without having to hire a car or lose too much time in public transportation is by taking a guided tour leaving from Porto city.
With pick-up service at your hotel in Porto, this guided tour (affiliate link) will take you to the amazing cities of Guimarães and Braga.
After having visited the historic centre of Guimarães, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and after lunch (included in the tour) you’re going to discover the points of interest of Braga like the cathedral, the beautiful streets and, at sunset, the wonderful Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary.
Are you staying in Porto and want to explore the city of archbishops on a 4-hour guided tour? If so, don’t hesitate and choose this activity (affiliate link)! During this unique tour through Braga, a guide will take you through the beautiful historic centre and tell you some curiosities and stories of this ancient city that you wouldn’t know otherwise.
However, the two places to highlight in this activity are, without a doubt, the cathedral and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus, which offer some of the best views over the city. A must-see!
Where to sleep in Braga
Hotel Mercure **** (affiliate link)
Fully renovated in 2013, this 4-star accommodation has a gym and an outdoor pool and welcomes its guests in the centre of the city, just 500 metres away from the cathedral.
Rooms are equipped with air conditioning, cable television and free Wi-Fi connection. Apart from that, all the rooms have a bathroom with hairdryer, bathtub and free toiletries.
Located on the first floor, this restaurant’s hotel serves regional and traditional dishes. You can also have a drink at the bar located on the last floor and enjoy the panoramic views over the city and gaze the sanctuaries of Bom Jesus do Monte and Sameiro.
Located at Tibães Monastery, this hotel has nine rooms with air conditioning, bathroom, cable television and a modern decoration.
The biggest advantage of this accommodation is that you can spend the night at a century-old location and, at the same time, you can imagine how was the life of monks living here.
Located just 500 metres away from the historic centre, this hotel gives the possibility to spend a pleasant night in Braga at a very affordable price and with all the comfort one could ask.
You’ll have at your disposal rooms with air conditioning, a television and a desk as well as a private bathroom.
Where to eat in Braga
One of the gastronomical references in Braga, the restaurant Cozinha da Sé is located in the historic centre of the city. The host, Ricardo Pereira, is known to be a very welcoming person and serves dishes like no one. The cuisine is essentially traditional but it also prepares some dishes of international gastronomy and serves wines from various parts of the country.
This vegetarian restaurant offers a gastronomy inspired by the diversity of flavours vegetarian cuisine has. The restaurant Anjo Verde is a place not only to eat but also a place of culture, a place where you can admire some exhibitions and enjoy classical music once a month.
Located just 500 metres away from Arcada da Lapa (historic centre), the restaurant Gosto Superior was the biggest surprise during my visit to Braga! Here, you can enjoy delicious vegetarian dishes at very affordable prices (around 8 € per person).
Hint: preferably, go to the restaurant when it opens so that you won’t have to wait for a free table!
Other restaurants you can try during your visit to Braga:
Traditions and Festivities in Braga
Holy Week – Easter
This is the religious event that attracts more visitors to the city. Wednesday is the procession Procissão da Burrinha, Thursday the procession Procissão Ecce Homo and Friday the procession Procissão do Enterro do Senhor. Saturday is the day before Easter and, on Easter Sunday, groups of priests and acolytes leave the churches and visit Christian houses that want to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, kissing an ornate cross.
Saint John Festivity
This is the biggest festivity in the region and celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The highlight of this festivity is during the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June.
Every year, in the end of May and beginning of June (check dates here), Braga relives, for a few days, the times when it was part of the Roman Empire.
You can walk along the beautiful streets and admire a Roman market where several artists will make you feel like you were in those times. You can also admire handicrafts and the arrival of Emperor Augustus to Braga.
Are you going to visit Braga? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!
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