Braga is a common destiny for tourists visiting Northern Portugal, or as a day trip from Porto. Fairly seen in a day, Braga is especially atractive for its historic and religious relevance. As Minho’s capital, it’s an important promoting center for the region’s tourism and a commercial outpost for its products. It’s also the 5th most populated city in Portugal, and the largest outside of Lisbon and Porto’s metropolitan areas.
Braga was the capital of the Roman Province of Gallaecia, and after the Roman period it kept the status of most important city in Northern Portugal until it was lost to Guimarães, during the Reconquista, and then to Porto as the Portuguese kingdom thrived. Religiously, it’s the seat of the oldest Portuguese bishopric, which throughout history has strongly influenced the city’s development. Braga is today an important pilgrimage stop on the Portuguese road to Santiago, and people visit from many countries to attend the Easter celebrations.
As a Porto local, I have done some day trips to Braga (the last one being in May) and I’m writing this report detailing some info on the city, what to see and do, how to go, etc. hoping to give some insight to anyone visiting Porto or the North who may be thinking of spending a day in Braga.
Trains to Braga depart regularly from Porto’s São Bento station. The trip takes about an hour and costs 6,20 € roundtrip. Braga’s train station, as Porto’s, is also pretty central so no problem at all reaching the city. Train schedules below:
If driving a car, the A3 highway links both cities, with a distance of nearly 50km and 4€ toll charge (one-way).
My recommended trip of Braga would include a walk around the old center and a visit to its main monuments and a typical Minhoto lunch on one of the town’s restaurants. After lunch, relax a little and then go up to the town’s ex-líbris, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, recently promoted to a Basilica and a candidate to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
With this in mind, plan your trip in order to arrive in Braga between 10 and 11am. Although there’s plenty to see, the city isn’t exactly a large metropolis, the train/car ride is relatively short, and most importantly, you’re on vacation, so there’s no need to wake up at 7am and rush it.
Coming from the train station, the entrance to the old town center is made through Arco da Porta Nova (Arch of the New Gate), which is one of the few remaining features of the ancient walls. This gate never had a door, because at the time it was built the bishop did not think it would be of use, so it became a running gag for Portuguese people to imply that Bracarenses always leave their doors open when they leave their house.
Covering the center takes about 2 hours. The most important feature is, as you’d expect from a religious center such as Braga, the Cathedral. Originally Romanic, later works incorporated elements of Gothic and Baroque, turning it into a mixture of architectural forms. Due to the antiquity of the church, it’s usual to say, when talking about someone or something’s advanced age, that it’s older than Braga’s Cathedral (another Braga gag, as you see there are plenty). Entrance fee is, if I’m not mistaken, 2€.
South of the Cathedral, Largo de São Paulo is a wide square and visiting the Pio XII Museum, it is possible to go up the tower of Nossa Senhora da Torre for great views of Braga.
Avenida da Liberdade, while pedestrian, it’s mostly famous for shopping and for hosting Braga’s most relevant show venue, Theatro Circo, which also has a bar. Praça da República is really lively during weekends, with several activities promoted by the city and lots of cafés and terraces outside where to enjoy a drink and people-watch. A Brasileira, for instance, is one of Braga most famed cafés.
They say Guimarães is for Castles and Braga is for Churches, although Guimarães has nowhere near as many Castles as Braga has Churches: Santa Cruz, Lapa, Congregados, Pópulo, etc. But Braga also had a Castle, demolished on the early XX’s century and of which only a keep remains. The nearby Rua do Souto and Rua do Castelo are two of the most characteristic streets on Braga’s center.
The Jardim de Santa Bárbara appears on many of Braga’s postcards. It’s a very small garden which gets completely filled with flowers on warm weather. Really beautiful, especially with the medieval Episcopal Palace behind it. Several wings have been added to the Palace during different times of history, and it is possible to contour the entire perimeter of the building noting all the different architectural styles. Today, many public services such as Braga’s Public Library or the Municipal Archive use the Palace as their facilities.
About this time you’re probably hungry. Braga is a great place to enjoy Minho’s cuisine, one of the finest in Portugal. Rojões à Minhota (pork meat with potatoes), Bacalhau à Braga (Braga style cod) and Caldo Verde (cale and potato soup) are some of the region’s main courses. Also, the Minho region is famous for Vinho Verde, a type of wine endemic to the Portuguese territory between the Minho and the Douro rivers. Verdes are typically more gassy, lighter and lower on alcohol than matures, and although reds are produced, whites are way more appreciated.
For a nice Minho meal I’d recommend Taberna do Migaitas, nearby the Cathedral. Nice staff, good regional dishes. Had great Rojões à Minhota here. Velhos Tempos is also a good choice, although a little bit further from the center.
After lunch, take a look at the Biscaínhos Museum, or chill for a while at one of the city’s cafés. A place which I really loved to visit was 100ª Página (100th page) a bookstore on Avenida Central. A lovely terrace on the back, plenty of sun and great ice cream. Perfect place to buy a book about Braga and enjoy a coffee before carrying along with your trip.
Then it’s time to make way to Bom Jesus. The Sanctuary is located high up on a hill, westwards from the city. The 88 bus goes all the way up the hill, but it does not go through the center. Other option is take the 02 bus, which takes you to the foot of the hill, and then you need to go up nearly 600 stairs! Nah, just kidding, only if you need to pay some kind of religious promise, otherwise you can take the cable car up, 2€ round trip or 1,20 € one-way. Some people choose to descend on foot, as several statues guard the stairway and with gravity’s help you can actually enjoy the ride.
Below there’s a link for the bus routes and schedules, to figure where and when to catch them. The Sanctuary is also recheable by car
The Basilica sits directly on top of the staircase. Behind it there’s a beautiful, relaxed, stroll-inviting green area. Sometimes, beneath the trees, it’s possible to get a glimpse of the Sanctuary watching over the city. The whole set is amazing and I’ll risk saying that this is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
A treat for those visiting by car. There’s a road behind the Sanctuary where, by some kind of optical illusion (or black magic, or whatever), the apparently descending slope is actually ascending. So, drivers line up one at a time to stop at the road, locking in neutral and release the breaks to experience their car going up the downhill road all by itself, or by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Here are the coordinates to the place, you’ll know you’re there when you see a line of cars with 4 blinkers waiting their turn for the ride.
To top off this day, nothing like watching the sunset at Sameiro, yet another Basilica, even higher than Bom Jesus’. This counts as a bonus though, because without a car your only option to reach it is the 88 bus, which is not very regular. You can take too long going up and back down, ending up having a conflicted schedule. But it’s up to you to decide, considering that a sunset up there is really something.
Then, time to gear up and return to Porto.
I’ve added some photos of my trip which you can check here (as soon as they’re uploaded):
So a day trip to Braga from Porto is very easy to do. Often TA members on this forum ask whether it’s doable to visit Braga and Guimarães in a day. Impossible without a car, but if you rent one it’s doable allright. However, even if you only visit the highlights in each, you’d have a terribly rushed day, moving constantly without even having time to absorb what you’ve just seen or visited. Of course everyone has their own way to plan their trip, and some people do not mind doing a more superficial tour in order to visit more places, but as for me, I’d advise to spend a day in each, and if this is impossible, choose one over the other.
Funny how, whatever your location is in Portugal, when you move 50km to any direction, you end up on a completely different place, with different landscapes, food, wine, personalities, accents, etc. Funnier how despite these differences, we’re still the same people. We all speak Portuguese even though it sounds different. We all love wine, whether it’s Douro, Dão, Verde, Alentejo, etc. We all eat cod, despite cooking it differently. We’re all friendly even if some of us close their doors when they go out. We don’t have “countries within our country”, but rather a bunch of small regions who, whilst maintaining their undoubtedly Portuguese identity, add those little local twists that keep our people so differently equal.