Why visit Braga?
Braga is a homely, intimate city that packs an unexpected punch. The sound of church bells are a constant accompaniment and a ringing reminder of the devote history of a place, strewn with baroque churches, narrow lanes and hidden plazas.
Despite its spirituality, it is not to stay that Braga is an ageing city, as the Universidade de Minho ensures a lively student scene with reasonably priced restaurants and bars catering to students and budget travellers alike. Braga, unlike its more cosmopolitan bigger brother Porto, retains the air of familiarity without being suffocatingly so.
Braga: the facts
The region around Braga has been inhabited since Neolithic times, but truly grew in importance when the Celtic Bracari occupied the territory in the Iron Age. They, in turn, were followed the Romans who established Bracara Augusta in 20 BC as an important administrative centre for the newly conquered Roman lands in Portugal.
The Germanic Invasions of the Iberian Peninsula during the 5th century, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, quickly gave way to the Islamic rule of the 8th century which saw a gradual decrease in the importance of the city. This decline was not arrested until the imposition of Christian rule by Ferdinand I of León and Castile in 1040.
In the Middle Ages Braga played an important role in the Christianisation of Portugal and Spain, as home to the bishopric of Braga, one of the oldest seats of Christian power on the Iberian Peninsula. However, due to its distance from the coast and provincial status, the city was again left behind during the Age of Portuguese Discoveries.
Rejuvenation occurred during the 18th century when attempts to modernise the city and a series of architectural transformations to churches and civic institutions in the Baroque style were implemented. These renovations included work to the municipal hall, public library, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte and many urban palaces.
Braga has a Mediterranean climate similar to other cities in the north-west Iberian Peninsula. However, it is notable for its significantly hotter summer temperature, with a highest recorded temperature of 41.3 °C. The summer averages between 15°C – 20°C and the mild winters rarely dip below freezing and average between 5°C – 8°C
Weather in Braga now
On the culture front, the Braga International Folk Festival takes place the last weekend of August, MIMARTE – Braga’s Theatre Festival shakes down in the first half of July. The Municipio de Braga promises local, national and international troupes performing in public areas and work “based on spontaneous interaction with the spectator”.
Elsewhere, the annual Bracara Augusta Roman historical re-enactment festival, transforms the city’s historical centre and its citizens into Romans for a day every June. On Sunday afternoons during July & August, on a stage in the main Avenida, the local government also provides live music with a focus on Folk groups. Check out the municipal government website for more information.
The pedestrianised centre of Braga is an easy place to orientate yourself. The Rua do Souto cuts through the city centre east–west and has a number of roads snaking from it, both north and south. The tranquil Jardim de Santa Barbara (Santa Bárbara garden) and Praça do Municipio (Municipal square) lie to the north and to the south of Sé Cathedral. Back to R. do Souto now, at the east end of which is the Largo Barão de São Martinho, a huge square, from which going east is the shopping street of Avenida Central and to the south the pedestrian thoroughfare Avenida da Liberdade. The tourist office is on the corner of these two roads.
Braga Free Walking Tour
Braga Monument & Sights Guide
Monument Type: Cathedral
Address: Rua Dom Paio Mendes 10
Opening Times: Winter: Tues – Sun: 9 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. & 2 p.m. – 5.30 p.m. Summer: 9 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. & 2 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.
Price: Cathedral Free Permanent Exhibition 3€ Certain chapels 2€
Information: Sé Cathedral one of the most important monuments in the city of Braga and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga. The Archidocese, and thus the cathedral’s roots, date back to the 3rd century AD, and it is one the oldest on the Iberian Peninsula. Work began on the cathedral in 1089 and the original construction was built in the Burgundian Romanesque style which greatly influenced many other churches and monasteries in Portugal in that period. Later modifications left a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Baroque styles of which the addition of new chapels and the entrance gallery in the Gothic style and the Manueline main chapel are of particular importance. Later various Baroque additions include the towers, chapels and much inner decoration.
Praça da Repúblic
What is it? Large open plan square that marks the heart of Braga old town
Where is it? Located at the junction of Avenida da Liberdade, Avenida Central & Rua dos Chãos, to the east of Braga Cathedral
Information: Popularly referred to as Arcada, the broad public square of the Republic is the perfect place to start and finish your day in Braga. The site has long been the centre of life in Braga, formerly being the central market before it was transformed into a garden square in the 19th century. Important buildings surrounding the space include the neoclassical Igreja da Lapa (Lapa Church) and two coffee shops that boast over 100 years of history and are emblematic of the city, the Cafés Vianna and Astoria.
Bom Jesus do Monte
(Good Jesus of the Mount)
Monument Type: Sanctuary
Address: Estrada do Bom Jesus, 4715-261
Opening Times: 7.30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Information: The sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is located 5km away from the town centre but is arguable Braga’s finest attraction. The chapel itself, standing on top of the hill, was designed in the Baroque style in the 18th century but the real wonders of the site lay in the extraordinary zigzag staircase replete with allegorical fountains and the fabulous views over the city below. The Bom Jesus funicular, which offers a much easier way to access the sanctuary, was built in 1882 by Niklaus Riggenbach and is the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula. Uniquely, it works by a water counterbalancing system, loading water into the car at the top of the hill, weighs it down so it descends to the bottom, at the same time drawing the lighter, drained car up the hill, where the process starts afresh.
Jardim de Santa Bárbara
(Garden of Santa Barbara)
What is it? Municipal garden consisting of geometric designs carved from beds of boxwood.
Where is it? In the old town, alongside the eastern wing of the historical Archbishop’s Palace of Braga
Information: The peaceful Santa Barbara gardens are a nice spot to take break while walking around town. The most dominant feature is the Gothic wall of the Archbishop’s Palace, which dates back to the 14th & 15th centuries, but other nice features include a statue to Saint Barbara on a fountain and the broken ruins of an arcade, that belonged to a now gone medieval palace.
Arco da Porta Nova
(Arch of the New Gate)
What is it? Baroque and Neoclassical triumphal arch.
Where is it? The western entrance to the medieval walls of the city, at the end of Rua do Souto.
Information: Completed in 1532, the Arch of the New Gate replaced, as the name suggests, an early arch constructed in the 14th century. Later additions have left a predominately Baroque arch flanked by four pilasters and crowned by plinths with pyramidal pinnacles. It is decorated by the coat of arms of the archbishop Gaspar of Bragança, above which is an allegorical figure of the city of Braga. The eastern façade, with only two relief pilasters, is surmounted by an image Nossa Senhora da Nazaré (Our Lady of Nazareth) in a recessed niche.
10 things to do for free in Braga
Braga is one of Portugal’s lesser known tourist attractions but it is all the better for it and is an extremely welcoming place for the budget-friendly traveller. So, without further ado let’s dive right into our 10 things to do for free in Braga, a handy guide to ensure you don’t miss anything, without spending a penny.
① Arco da Porta Nova (Arch of the New Gate) is emblematic of the city and was completed in 1532. It is predominately in the Baroque style and adorned with allegorical figures of the city.
② Jardim de Santa Bárbara (Garden of Santa Barbara) is a nice spot to take break while walking around town. Nice features include the broken ruins of an arch from a former medieval palace and the Gothic wall of the Archbishop’s Palace, which dates back to the 14th & 15th centuries.
③ Museu D. Diogo de Sousa (Museum of Archaeology; Rua dos Bombeiros Voluntários) was founded in 1918 and moved to the current building in 2007. Its collection mostly comprises of items found in excavations that took place in Braga with pieces from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages.
It is Free on Sunday: 9.30 am – 2 pm.
④ Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount; Estrada do Bom Jesus) is located 5km away from the town centre but is arguable Braga’s finest attraction. The chapel on the hill is precious and the view afforded over the city is breathtaking. Also be sure to check out the extraordinary zigzag staircase replete with allegorical fountains. Although, perhaps best on the way down!
⑤ Termas Romanas do Alto Cividade (Remains of Roman Baths; Rua Dr Rocha Peixoto) are the remains of an extensive bathing complex – with a theatre attached – dating back to the 2nd century AD, which were probably abandoned in the 5th century. It is Free on Sunday 2 p.m.-5/6 p.m. (summer/winter).
⑥ Praça da República (Republic square) is popularly referred to as Arcada, and is a broad public square and city of life in Braga. It is the perfect place to start and finish your day and offers a great opportunity to people watch.
⑦ Museu dos Biscainhos (Biscainhos Museum; Rua dos Biscaínhos) is Braga’s premier art gallery and houses a permanent collection of Decorative arts and crafts including furniture, ceramics, European and Oriental porcelain, European Glass, European and Portuguese watches and clocks. It is Free on Sunday 12 pm – 3 pm.
⑧ Fonte do Ídolo (Fountain of the Idol; Rua Raio) is a Roman fountain located in the civil parish of São José de São Lázaro and is dedicated to the Gallaecian and Lusitanian gods Tongoenabiagus and Nabia. It was built during the era of Roman Emperor Augustus and is also Free to visit on Sunday: 4 pm – 5.30 pm.
⑨ Palácio do Raio (Palace of Raio; Rua do Raio) is a Baroque-era residence, designed by André Soares da Silva and is notable for its rococo face covered in azulejos tiling. It is, unfortunately, closed to the public, but definitely still worth seeing from the outside.
⑩ Sé Catedral (Braga Cathedral; Rua Dom Paio Mendes 10) is one of the most important monuments in the city of Braga and is a wonderful a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Baroque styles. It is free to visit although some of the side chapels do demand an entrance fee.
Staying in Braga can be a tricky business. Cheap accommodation isn’t exactly abundant and there is no city centre camping that will help you save a few extra pennies. Nevertheless, here are the two cheapest sleeping options in the city, just be warned that in the summer demand creeps up, so perhaps it’s worth booking ahead.
Truthostel / ex-Residencial Avenida (Avenida da Liberdade 738) is the cheapest accommodation option in Braga. There are two room options available 4 bed mixed dorms (11.25 €) and privates (25 €) and the hotel is ideally located right in the city centre. WiFi is included, although its reliability is in question, and there have been some grumbles over the cleanliness. But it’s a hostel, it’s cheap, so what do you expect?
Braga POP Hostel (R. do Carmo 61 3º) is the city’s most popular hostel and is again perfectly located in the centre. Accommodation options include 6 bed mixed dorm (15 €) 4 bed mixed dorm (17 €) and privates (18 €) and the hostel comes well reviewed. Facilities include WiFi, breakfast and a common room.
Braga is a large university town, which helps to ensure a lively nightlife throughout the year. Clubs are open at the weekends and on Wednesday, the main student night, but don’t expect them to get busy until late. There are two major nightlife centres in Braga, each catering to a specific audience:
→ University Zone: Located to the east of the centre, near the University campus there are several smaller bars where students come together for a beer at the end of the day. The prices tend to be cheaper and the atmosphere more earthy.
→ City Centre Zone: In the historical centre, you will find a larger selection of pubs and clubs. The bars tend to be more fancy and the prices slightly higher.
Things to Try & Buy
In the city of Braga itself, souvenirs can be quite limited but ideas include textured linens, pottery & ceramics and woodcarvings, which can all be bought around the city centre. However, a little to the west of the towards Barcelos, in the hamlet of São Paio Merelim, is a highly regarded textile factory that transforms flax into high quality linens, which make an interesting and unique gift.
Braga’s cuisine is an undeniable mix of flavours from both sea and land. The most common food is bacalhau (salt – dried cod) which is ubiquitous in Portugal, but other notable local specialities include polvo grelhado (grilled octopus), cabrito assado no forno (roasted kid), arroz de pato (duck with rice, smoked sausage, sweet carrots, and onions) and frigideira de carne (shredded beef, minced onions, red peppers, and spices in an earthenware dish topped with puff pastry).
To drink, be sure to try vinho verde (green wine) which has a peculiar but not unpleasant taste, a little less acidic than normal whites. If you looking for somthing non-alcholoci then coffee is the way forward. Try ordering um café (a small shot of strong, rich coffee) served with a cinnamon stick meant for stirring, or uma galão (a shot of coffee topped with full-fat milk).
WiFi in Braga shouldn’t be too hard to find. In the centre and around the university there are numerous cafés and bars that offer internet services, and failing that, you can always try one of the many hotels in the city. Check out this useful map with some free WiFi spots marked:
Estação Ferroviária de Braga (Braga Train Station; Largo da Estação) is centrally located and lays at the end of branch line 9. Taking a train from Braga to Porto is very easy and very cheap because Braga is within Porto’s suburbano network meaning commuter trains travel ever hour or so (3.20€, about 1 hour). There are also Alfa Pendular (AP) trains that travel to Lisbon (27-33€, about 4 hours) and Coimbra (16-20€, about 2½ hours). Be warned though as taking the AP train to Porto from Braga is a lot more expensive, take the suburbano!
Estação Rodoviária (Braga Bus Station; Praça da Estação Rodoviária) is located a little north of the old town and is serviced by a number of companies offering routes spanning the length and breadth of Portugal. Empresa Hoteleira de Gerês runs the line to Campo de Gerês (every 45 mins weekdays, a lot fewer at the weekends). Rede Expressos run numerous services including Lisbon (20€, 4½ hours), Porto (6€, about 1 hour) and Coimbra (14€, around 2½ hours). Arriva lays on more local services such as Barcelos (2.30€, 1 hour) and Guimarães (2.75€, 50mins) but do offer over 8 buses a day to Porto (4.50€ about 1 hour).
The IP-1 Porto – Vigo, Spain motorway runs north to south, close to Braga’s western edges. The A-11 Portuguese Coast – Guimarães motorway also passes east–west, just south of the city. To the north and east there is a dense network of scarcely used national and country roads.
Braga Hitchhiking Out
The decision whether to hitchhike out of Braga was a tricky one. On the one hand we wanted to stay true to our hitchhiking ethics, on the other hand, our next destination was Porto. Taking the train was a lot quicker, more comfortable and in the long run cheaper, as we wouldn’t have to buy food from the expensive motorway service stations. The train was very comfortable, yes. Thanks for asking.
South towards Porto, Coimbra & Lisbon
On the road to Porto & Barcelos, there is a petrol station from where you can attempt to hitch. To reach it simply cross the motorway by walking over Avenida de São Pedro de Maximinos, which is located a short walk south of the train station, or east of the city centre depending on your location and then following the motorway until reaching the CEPSA garage.
North towards Peneda-Gerês National Park & Spain (Vigo, Santiago de Compostela)
Take any of the following buses 3, 28, 29, 41, 44, 45, 46, 49, 51, 67, 72, 73 or 81 to the roundabout Largo de Infias which is located to the north of the city centre. A little further on, there is a nice little spot onto the National Roads which span off north, north-east and north-west.
Written by: Jon