Braga was founded by the Romans over 2000 years ago – it was called Bracara Augusta. It is one of the oldest Portuguese cities and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world.
It is located in the North of Portugal, known as the capital of Minho, and is the third biggest city in the country right after Lisbon and Porto. It was European Youth Capital in 2012.
Braga is well known for its churches and monuments, gastronomy, handicrafts, tradition and festivities.
Here are the places and things to do in Braga:
1. Santa Bárbara Garden
It is a public garden, near the medieval wing of Braga Episcopal Palace. In the middle you will find a 17th-century fountain with a statue of Santa Bárbara on top, hence the name of the garden.
2. Ídolo Fountain
It is a water fountain built in the 1st century with inscriptions and carved figures showing that this fountain may have been a shrine. Near the fountain you’ll find architectonic traces that makes us believe that the shrine was part of a temple. It is one of the places best known in the old Roman city due to its unique nature.
3. Alto da Cividade Thermae
These are ruins of public baths next to a theatre and were built in the end of the 1st century close to the forum of the old Roman city.
This is what’s left from Braga Castle, demolished in 1906. The donjon is located in the historic centre and is opened to the public only when there are exhibitions.
5. Porta Nova Arch
The door was built in 1512 to connect the medieval village to the outside of the walls when the city was expanding. It was the last door to be opened in the city walls. The arch was built in 1772.
6. Arcada da Lapa
“Arcada da Lapa” or simply “A Arcada“, is right in the heart of the city. It was built in 1715 to be part of a building that would shelter merchants that would come to the city to sell their products.
Between 1761 and 1764 Lapa Church was built in the middle of the arches. It couldn’t be a large church since the arches were close to the castle medieval walls.
7. Biscainhos Museum
The museum is in Biscainhos Palace which was built in the 16th century in Baroque style. The museum displays a series of places depicting the hobbies, tastes and traditions of Portuguese nobility from the 17th and 18th centuries.
You’ll have the opportunity to visit the Atrium, the Great Hall, the Deck, Oratory, Music and Game Rooms, the Dining Room, the Stables, the Old Kitchens and lastly the 18th-century gardens, a spectacle of artistic and natural beauty.
8. Theatro Circo
Its construction began in 1911 and ended in 1914. Theatro Circo has the capacity for 1500 people and is one of the biggest and most beautiful theatres in Portugal. Its opening was in the 21st of April, 1915.
In 1999, Theatro Circo underwent a serious space reconstruction and restoration in order to become more modernised. The restoration included the restitution of the original looks of the Great Hall, that was modified over the years.
The reopening of Theatro Circo was in the 27th of October 2006 and is today a standard in the artistic world, not only because it has one of the most charismatic theatre rooms in the country but also because of its eclecticism and quality of its cultural programme.
- Site: www.theatrocirco.com
This building, that was once the Republican National Guard headquarters, is now the most creative place in the city. GNRATION was idealised to be presented when Braga was the European Youth Capital but it was only in 2013 that the building was ready. Notwithstanding, this place is the legacy to the city from Braga 2012.
Here, you must see the open areas and the square that are meeting points by excellence with the vertical gardens. In the three exterior areas you can attend to dance and magic shows, theatre plays, audiovisual projects, debates, performances and even tertúlias and book presentations.
On the ground of the open areas and exterior square you can admire several constellations – that’s why these places are called Pátio Cão Maior, Pátio do Caçador and Praça da Ursa.
- Site: http://www.gnration.pt
10. Seven Fountains Complex
This is a hydraulic engineering system built in the 18th century, designed to promote water collection, channelling and supply to the city. Up until the water collection system began to collect water from Cávado river in 1914, this complex was the main supply source to Braga.
This complex is still active today and its water mines channel water to standpipes, houses and even a spout where people can go to collect the water.
The complex is composed by a group of water mines and structures that stretch for 3500 metres, divided into 14 underground tunnels and 6 junction points known as “Water Mothers” (a Baroque style expression). The seventh water mother and part of the duct were destroyed in 1995 at the time of the construction of housing blocks.
Even though it was considered national monument in May 2011, it is clear that there is much to be done here. It can eventually be one of the main parks and green areas in the city.
- Site: www.bragavirtual.com
11. Braga Cathedral
“Mais velho que a Sé de Braga” (“Older than Braga Cathedral“) is a popular expression that is used when referring to something very old – this supports the idea that Braga cathedral is ancient.
According to tradition, Braga’s diocese was created in the 3rd century, however History only recognises its existence from the year 400 onwards.
The present building is located on top of another religious construction, possibly the older cathedral. It presents two towers in the front that bring it closer to the biggest cathedrals of the Portuguese Romanesque, however it underwent several modifications throughout history.
In the rood screen, the choir stalls and the pipe organs, of gilded wood, are outstanding masterpieces in conception and execution.
The cloister of the beginning of the 19th century is where another Gothic cloister was – that cloister was almost in ruins by the end of the 18th century.
You have to go through there if you want to visit the cathedral’s treasury (Tesouro da Sé ), Nossa Senhora da Piedade Chapel and D. Lourenço Vicente Chapel, also known as the Chapel of the Kings because it is there that you will find the tombs of D. Afonso Henriques parents.
Two other chapels are also part of this monumental set: São Geraldo Chapel and Glória Chapel.
Next to the cathedral, with access through the cloister, you will find the already mentioned Tesouro da Sé, created in 1930. Here, you can see several valuable pieces collected throughout the years.
You will also find what’s left of the Pillory of Braga in the courtyard of the cathedral.
- Site: http://se-braga.pt
12. Tibães Monastery
Former home of the Portuguese Benedictine Order, this monastery is located in the parish of Mire de Tibães, 6 km northwest of Braga. Founded in the late 10th century, beginning of the 11th century, it became one of the richest and most powerful monasteries in the North of Portugal.
When the religious orders were abolished in Portugal between 1833 and 1834, the monastery was closed and its belongings, including real estate, sold in public auction – this process was concluded in 1864 when the monastery itself was sold. In the 1970s the monastery was vandalised, left in ruins and even abandoned.
In 1986, the Portuguese State bought this remarkable building and, in the following years, several interventions took place and total restoration to the monastery and surroundings saved it from total loss. Nowadays, people can visit it and admire its architecture.
13. Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary
Also known as Bom Jesus de Braga Sanctuary, this is the crowning jewel of the city and where art and nature come together to make of this place a sacred and resting place.
The present church is a sample of the Portuguese neoclassical style. Its construction began in 1784 to substitute the previous temple, since it was almost in ruins, and ended in 1811.
Its stairway connects the uptown to the sanctuary. Here, you can see three flights of stairs: The Baroque Portico dating from 1723 where you first see the flights of stairs that will take you to the chapels depicting the 14 steps of the Via Sacra and to the contiguous fountains; the Five Senses Stairway and the Three Theological Virtues Stairway, built in 1837.
The funicular also connects the uptown to the sanctuary and follows the stairway all the way. It was inaugurated in 1882 and was the first funicular built in the Iberian Peninsula and is today the oldest in the world with a water counterweight system still working.
The dense woods, sowed in the mid 19th century, made Bom Jesus a resting and relaxing place where people can admire the diversity of trees, vegetation, gardens, caves, fountains, viewpoints, lakes with rowing boats, etc.
Fun fact: the popular expression “ver Braga por um canudo” (“to see Braga far away”) which means not to achieve what you’re hoping for, comes from the telescope you’ll find in one of the viewpoints through which you can contemplate the city at a distance, surrounded by a bucolic splendour.
- Site: http://bomjesus.pt
14. Nossa Senhora do Sameiro Sanctuary
Also known as Sameiro Sanctuary, it is a monumental neoclassical sanctuary and its construction dates back to 1863 but ended only in the 20th century. In 1964 it was elevated to basilica by the the Pope Paul VI.
The famous image of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro can be seen in the main altar of the basilica.
Facing the sanctuary you will find an amazing stairway and two huge pillars with the figures of Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus on top. Surrounding this area, there is an open space for outdoor mass, a park with many trees, gardens, a wayside cross, some fountains and a chapel.
- Days you will need to visit Braga and its surroundings: 2 days
Where you can eat
Cozinha da Sé
This restaurant is one of the gastronomic references in Braga and it is located in the historic centre. The host is Ricardo Pereira and he says he’s “the best in hospitality and in the art of excellent service”.
The cuisine is mainly traditional even though you will find some international gastronomy dishes. You can taste wine from the different Portuguese wine regions.
This vegetarian restaurant has a diverse gastronomic offer inspired by the various flavours the vegetarian cuisine has. Aside from being a restaurant, Anjo Verde is also a cultural space where you can sometimes see exhibitions and hear classical music once a month.
Where you can spend the night
Braga POP Hostel (affiliate link)
Braga POP Hostel is a space for culture, art and leisure and is located in the heart of the youngest city in Portugal. I believe that travelling is enjoying, learning and sharing and all these things make us richer.
It was the first hostel in Braga and you can find it in the historic centre, a 5-minute walk from the train station and the bus station. It is next to the biggest urban pedestrian area in Europe, where you can find the historic centre, the shopping and leisure areas such as bars and restaurants.
Hotel Mercure **** (affiliate link)
This 4-star hotel was completely restored in 2013 and has a fitness centre and an exterior pool. Hotel Mercure Braga Centro is located in the historic centre of Braga, just 500 metres away from the Cathedral and the shopping area.
You can find a restaurant on the 1st floor with regional and traditional cuisine along with a rich wine list. You can also have a drink on the top floor in the bar with excellent views over Bom Jesus and Sameiro.
Where to go out
This is one of the oldest and more emblematic cafés in the city. It was founded in 1871 and is located in the Arcada building. Personalities such as Eça de Queirós and Camilo Castelo Branco went to this place and its name is even mentioned in some literary works.
People come here not only to have a cup of coffee but also to grab something to eat. Here you can order snacks or something more elaborate.
Café A Brasileira
This is another of the oldest and most emblematic cafés in the city and it was founded in 1907. It is a meeting point for many people leaving in Braga.
Holy Week - Easter: this is the religious event that brings most tourists to the city. On Wednesday people admire the procissão da burrinha (donkey procession), on Thursday is the Ecce Homo procession and on Friday the burial of the Lord procession.
On the Holy Saturday at night, people participate on the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday the paschal visit that starts at local churches and goes to Christian homes, to those who want to receive the news of the Resurrection of Christ by kissing an adorned cross - all this accompanied by the sound of bells.
São João Festivity: it is the biggest festivity in the city and it celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The peak of this festivity is on the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June.
Gastronomy: among other delicacies of this city, we have bacalhau à moda de Braga (codfish à la mode de Braga), papas de sarrabulho (traditional stew made with meat and pig's blood) and rojões à moda do Minho (seasoned pieces of pork loin), duck rice à la mode de Braga, chicken rice "pica no chão" and Abade de Priscos pudding.
Handicrafts: violas and cavaquinhos (musical instruments) are what best characterises the city. You also have linen products, embroideries, forged iron works, farricocos, wooden miniatures and typical Braga ceramics.
Free Wi-Fi access in every street of the historic centre and in the Lúcio Craveiro da Silva Library.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 9h to 18h
Location: Rua de São Paulo 1, Braga
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9h to 19h. Saturday and Sunday from 9h to 12h30 and from 14h to 17h30
Location: Praça da República, Braga
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