Often referred to as the ‘Portuguese Rome,’ Braga is a beautiful city in the historic Minho region of northern Portugal. Braga is the third-largest city in Portugal.
One of the oldest Christian cities in the world, it was built by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. At the end of every May, the Roman city hosts the huge Braga Romana festival, which celebrates Roman history.
Braga's abundance of historic buildings makes it an exciting destination for architecture and history lovers.
Cute cobbled streets and alleyways leading to impressive squares and plazas make it fun and easy to explore Braga on foot. With churches on every street corner (there are 47 in total), Braga is Portugal’s most religious city. The architectural style in Braga is diverse; you will find everything from Neolithic to Roman, Medieval, and Modernist.
If exploring historic buildings isn’t your thing, the area surrounding the city offers plenty of opportunities for day trips and outdoor exploration to enjoy nature.
Let’s look at some of the best things to do in Braga.
22 fun things to do in Braga
There are so many buildings with religious significance to visit in Braga; it can be hard to know where to start. This list notes some of the most important ones to see on your trip.
1. Bom Jesus do Monte
Let’s start with the most famous sight in Braga- the UNESCO world heritage and pilgrimage site of Bom Jesus do Monte. Nestled up on the hill among the trees, you’ll find this impressive church just 3km outside the city center.
If you want to see the panoramic views from the monte sanctuary, you’ll need to work for it. The Monte Bom Jesus hill is 116m high and you need to climb 580 steps to get to the top. The whitewashed staircase leading up to the beautiful church is a sight in its own right; the beautiful baroque style stairs are some of Portugal’s most photographed.
The monumental staircase represents the Christian ascent to heaven and as you climb, you’ll see statues from throughout Christian history, as well as small chapels that display the passion of Christ.
When you reach the top of the Bom Jesus staircase, the reward is the peaceful sanctuary of the Bom Jesus de Braga, which was built in 1784. The architectural style of this beautiful church is a blend of baroque, neoclassical, and rococo.
From the church, the views of the city below are mesmerizing. In the park surrounding the church, you can take a walk, visit the ancient caves, or even take a rowing boat out on the lake.
If you don’t have your own transport and are staying near Braga, try out a guided day tour of Braga and the surrounding area.
2. Ride on the Funicular
Don’t like the sound of climbing those 580 steps? You can reach the Bom Jesus do Monte via the funicular elevator built in 1882. It’s the oldest funicular in the world that works with a counterweight water balance system.
The engineer who designed the funicular (Nikolaus Riggenbach) also designed the well-known funicular railways in Lisbon.
The elevator operates every half an hour and only costs 2.50 EUR for a return trip at the time of writing. It’s a novel and fun way to get up to the Bom Jesus do Monte hilltop sanctuary.
3. Braga Cathedral
You can’t visit Braga without seeing the city’s cathedral. The Sé de Braga Cathedral is one of Portugal's most important religious buildings.
The cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga as well as the Archbishop of Portugal and Spain. Braga Cathedral has been a national monument since 1910. The gothic style building dates back to 1070 when construction first started, but it took a century to complete.
Once you’re done marveling at the outside of the cathedral, you can take a look at the cathedral’s treasury. You’ll find art from throughout the centuries amongst the collection of treasures.
Another great thing to do on a visit to Braga’s Cathedral is to take a tour of the upper choir to view the two baroque organs and golden stonework.
4. Pass through the Arco da Porta Nova
A trip to Braga wouldn’t be complete without walking through this stone arch in the historic center.
Originally built in 1512, the purpose of the Arco da Porta Nova was as the city’s main entrance. It connected the medieval city with the world outside the walls and was where the city keys were presented to important people.
It may be one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions but is still well worth visiting. When you walk through the stone arch, be sure to look up to admire the intricate stonework.
5. Museu de Arqueologia D. Diogo de Sousa
In this museum named after Braga’s archbishop from the 16th century, you’ll get to see archeological collections from the whole of Portugal’s northern region. You’ll find jewelry, pottery coins, and utensils arranged in chronological order.
A guided tour of the museum will help bring the archeological pieces to life. Events and activities are held at the Museu de Arqueologia D. Diogo de Sousa throughout the year, so check out their calendar to learn more.
6. Visit the sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro
560 meters up the hill from the city center stands one of the most visited sites of Marian worship.
The impressive neoclassical church built in the 19th century has a large white dome.
Inside the building, you will find a collection of precious religious artwork representing various religious viewpoints. There is a silver tabernacle on the main altar with an image of the patron saint.
If the artwork is not of interest to you, it’s worth making your way to the hilltop sanctuary purely for the views and photo opportunities of the city below.
7. Spend time at Igreja de São Marcos
This peaceful 18th-century church, the baroque church of São Marcos, is well worth a visit when you’re in Braga city center.
It is also known as the hospital's church, as it's connected to the São Marcos hospital. Two large towers differentiate this church from the others in the city and life-size statues of the apostle adorn the exterior. Inside the church, you’ll find the relics of the Apostle of St. Mark.
8. Visit the Igreja de Santa Cruz
The next church on your Braga itinerary needs to be the church of the holy cross, Santa Cruz. A well-maintained baroque facade makes it pleasant to view from the outside and the plaza the church stands on is very photogenic.
Go inside this historic building to take a look at the gilded altarpiece carved from gold, the organ, and the pulpit, along with the glazed tiles.
Fun fact: a church in San Jose, California, is modeled on Braga’s Igreja de Santa Cruz.
9. Stroll around Jardim de Santa Bárbara
To break your exploration of churches, visit the Jardim de Santa Bárbara. You’ll find these gorgeous gardens near the Paço Episcopal Bracarense or Episcopal Palace, as it’s called in English.
Geometric designs, combined with a large variety of plants and hedges, make the garden of Santa Barbara a pleasant place to spend some time relaxing and exploring.
Historic relics pepper the elaborate baroque gardens, such as the ruins of the medieval palace which once stood here. Saint Bárbara is the patron saint of the Santa Barbara gardens; her statue is in the center of the garden on the fountain.
10. See the Chapel of Sao Frutuoso
This national monument from the 7th century is in the Real municipality of Braga. The Roman heritage of the chapel is evident; it stands on the site of a temple dedicated to the god of health and medicine, Asclepius.
The small chapel is on the Convent of São Francisco site and is a rare example of a Visigothic building (very few still exist in Portugal) and is laid out in the Greek Cross design.
11. Take in the beautiful Palacio do Raio
Known for its beautiful blue exterior, the Raio palace is a great example of the late Baroque and early Rococo styles of architecture.
André Soares is the mastermind behind the palace’s beautiful facade. The Raio palace has been intricately restored and has ten rooms you can visit. You can see paintings, clothing, art, documents, and furniture within the palace's rooms.
The beautiful main staircase is decorated with traditional blue and white Portuguese tiles. When inside each of the rooms, remember to look up to admire the intricate ceiling designs.
12. Delve into Braga’s history at the Museu Pio XII
This museum is one of the most impressive things to do in Braga Portugal. Home to one of the most expansive collections of religious art in the country, the museum is not to be missed on your visit to Braga.
Founded in 1957 by a pastor who had spent much of his life collecting religious art. There are three main sections to the museum. The first tells the history of humanity through archaeological pieces and art.
Next is the gallery dedicated to Portuguese artist Henrique Medina. Lastly, there’s the Medieval Tower.
13. Have lunch at the oldest cafe in Braga – Cafe Vianna
Dating back to 1858, you can’t miss a visit to this iconic cafe when you visit Braga.
The Cafe Vianna has played an essential part in the social life of Braga throughout the city’s history. One of the most famous coffee shops in the city, it was a meeting point for nobles, artists, activists, and everyone in between. The people who started the 1926 coup used to meet in the cafe.
These days, the cafe is less about politics and more about enjoying the range of brunch, lunch, coffee, cake, and snacks.
14. Check out Museu de Arte Sacra
The Museu de Arte Sacra is in one of the old buildings of the ancient Monastery of Arouca.
From textiles to sculptures, tapestries and paintings, there’s an array of interesting, sacred art to see in this collection.
15. Visit the Museu dos Biscainhos
The Biscainhos museum is the impressive former residence of the noble family of the knight and judge of Braga in the 17th century, Dr. Constantino Ribeiro do Lago. The home was built by Basque stonemasons and artists and completed in 1699.
Inside the house, the Biscainhos museum now has an extensive collection of art, furniture, ceramics, glassware, Portuguese watches, and clocks. It is also worth taking a walk in the house’s stunning gardens.
16. Enjoy coffee in Cafe A Brasileria
Another iconic institution in the city is the beautiful A Brasileira cafe. Break up your museum and church exploration with a coffee break at this lovely coffee shop.
It’s a great spot to sit and watch the world go by from the outdoor terrace. People from all walks of life stop at the cafe, always buzzing with a great atmosphere.
17. Watch the world go by in the Praça da República
Dating back to the middle ages, the Praça da República is always buzzing, especially at sundown. The traffic-free square is an important place to visit in the old town and is filled with cafes and restaurants.
The locals popularly call the Praça da República “Arcada”. It's located between the São Francisco and Barão de São Martinho squares and the Avenida da Liberdade. Historically the square was where all the city’s goods were sold, supplied, and exchanged.
To get more of a feel for the city and guidance from an expert local, why not take a guided city tour of Braga?
18. Go to an SC Braga game
Braga is the home to one of Portugal's most successful football clubs, along with Porto, Sporting Lisbon, and Benfica. They have had some success in European Championships.
If there’s a home game on when you visit the city, why not go and watch the team play? The stadium is impressive in itself and seats over 30,000 spectators; it’s the seventh-largest football stadium in the world! The stadium is carved out of the granite of an old quarry which makes the setting very unique.
You can take stadium tours to learn more about the team and their home ground. The stadium is in the north of the city in the Parque Urbano area and is easily reachable by public transport.
19. Appreciate the creativity at the São Martinho de Tibães
The Monastery of São Martinho de Tibaes Monastery is a 20-minute drive from Braga’s historic center.
A Benedictine monastery was the motherhouse of the Benedictine order in both Brazil and Portugal; this religious building dates back to 1060.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, a lot of artistic experimentation took place at the rococo-style church of the monastery. The extravagant, gold interior is a relic of the creative artistic exploration which took place here.
The art at the monastery had a significant influence on Rococo and Baroque art in Portugal and its colonies.
20. Hike in the Peneda Gerês National Park
If you want to escape the city and spend some time in nature, then head to the beautiful Peneda Gerês National Park for some hiking and exploring. A 40-minute drive from historic Braga, spending time in the park feels like stepping back in time.
From ancient granite villages, tranquil trails, outdoor pools, waterfalls, and stunning vistas, there’s no shortage of things to see here. You’ll find some of the best hiking trails in northern Portugal in this park.
21. Visit the ancient village of Lindoso
Lindoso means beautiful in Portuguese and this small town on the border with Spain lives up to its name and is well worth a visit on your trip to Braga.
The town is one of many historic towns in the Peneda Gerês National Park and is surrounded by natural beauty and the Limia river. It’s a great starting point if you want to do some hiking in the national park.
Don’t miss a visit to the national monument of the 13th century Lindoso castle, which was of critical significance during Portugal’s restoration wars.
22. Taste some Vinho Verde
Northern Portugal is the green wine region and is one of the world’s oldest wine regions. The wine industry is one of the most important economic activities in the Minho region.
Why green wine? The greenness of the region may have influenced the name; however, the main reason for the name Vinhos Verdes is because very young grapes are used to make the wine.
Try out a Vinho Verde wine tour while you’re in Braga to get a complete insight into the production of this delicious wine. Don’t forget to taste some!
Where to stay in Braga
Looking for a place to stay while in Braga, Portugal? Check out these accommodation options in the city center:
The Arch Charming Apartments: centrally located with modern decor and excellent ratings.
Melia Braga Hotel & Spa: a luxury hotel with its own spa.
Vila Gale Collection Braga: a hotel in a beautiful old building and a stone’s throw from the Se Cathedral.
The Domus 26 Guesthouse B&B: is right in the historic center of the city, highly rated and reasonably priced.
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