Often considered Portugal’s capital of culture and history, Braga is a northern city believed to have been established as early as the 1st century BC. It makes for a popular day trip from Porto, and is also a favoured tourist destination in its own right, with so much to see and do. It boasts some of the most architecturally impressive monuments, the oldest cathedral in Portugal, and many other elaborate churches.
As one of the five largest cities in the country, it’s easy to get to and has plenty of options for hotels and restaurants, should you like to stay a little longer. Here we take a look at how to spend one full day in Braga to get the most out of your time.
Where is Braga: How to Get There
Braga is located in the northwest of Portugal, inland from the coast. The closest international airport is in Porto, where there are regular flights from the UK with popular low-cost airlines. You can easily catch either a bus or train from Porto to Braga, both of which take about one hour when using a direct route. There are also direct trains from Lisbon, which take approximately three and a half hours. If you have a car, high-speed highways connect Braga to most other major cities in Portugal.
How to Spend One Day in Braga: Morning
On arrival in Braga, grab a coffee and pastry to go from one of the city’s many bakeries. Tibias de Braga is a fantastic little shop near the train station serving up some of the best pastries of the same name. One of the signature sweet treats of the city, it consists of a crunchy sugared dough filled with cream and a flavour of your choice – raspberry, bananas and caramel, or cappuccino are all popular options.
Next, catch the bus (No. 2) from the station to Braga’s star attraction: Bom Jesus do Monte. This ancient pilgrimage site is located a short drive from the city centre but is worth the little extra journey. Located at the top of a dizzying and elaborate staircase, the 18th-century site features unique architecture from the Baroque period, with a glorious domed roof inside the church itself and beautifully manicured gardens to explore.
There are 577 steps to climb, but the views of Braga from the top are worth the exertion. Visitors also have the option of taking the historic funicular up and/or down from the monument, which is powered by a water counterbalance – making it completely carbon neutral. Built in the 1800s, it represents an incredible feat of engineering for its time and is thought to be the oldest one of its kind anywhere in the world.
It’s worth spending an entire morning at Bom Jesus do Monte to explore the site in full. The staircase itself provides endless fascinating fountains and small oratories, offering depictions from the scenes prior to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In the past, pilgrims would stop here on their way to walking the world-famous Camino de Santiago route. They would climb the incredible staircase on their knees to demonstrate their devotion to God.
Once you have explored the site fully, catch the bus back into town. You can alight at the city centre (Central II) rather than the train station, where there is a large selection of cafes and restaurants for lunch.
How to Spend One Day in Braga: Lunch
There are lots of lovely local restaurants in the centre of Braga for an authentic lunch stop. Tucked away down a side street, away from the hordes of tourists by the cathedral, you will find Pecado da Sé.
This charming little taverna serves traditional Portuguese cuisine with an international flair, with an excellent all-inclusive offer at lunchtime. It includes starters, mains, desserts and a drink for just over €10 per person. Be sure to try the classic bacalhau com broa (codfish with cornbread) for a true taste of Portugal.
How to Spend One Day in Braga: Afternoon
After lunch, you should be well placed for a visit to the city’s second most famous attraction, Sé Catedral de Braga. This hallowed cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Portugal and features a stunning gilded interior complete with intricate tapestries and artworks.
You’ll find Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque influences throughout, and the building’s fascinating history can be traced back to the 11th century before the country itself had even been established. You’ll even find the parents of the very first monarch of Portugal buried here in the enigmatic Chapel of Kings.
After a good look around this significant site, you have two options. You can either head to the Jardim de Santa Barbara, a pretty formal garden located next to the Archbishop’s Palace. Here, a sea of splendid flowers and immaculate box hedges are centred around a breathtaking statue of Stana Barbara. The park is free to enter and looks particularly spectacular at dusk.
Alternatively, check out Palácio do Raio, a residence with a beautiful blue tiled facade designed by a notable Portuguese architect. Commissioned in the mid-1700s by a wealthy merchant, the palace offers an in-depth look into the region’s nobility of the time. Exhibits feature priceless art, sculptures, and books, with opulent rooms all available for viewing free of charge.
How to Spend One Day in Braga: Evening
If you’re staying overnight in Braga or catching a later transport home, there’s plenty to keep you going after dark. The city is known for its prestigious university, meaning there’s a healthy student population and plenty of bustling bars to keep them entertained.
Take an early evening cocktail at Praça da Republica, the city’s main and most beautiful plaza. Café Vianna is a popular and historic option for drinks. For dinner, we recommend heading back towards the cathedral to find pPlace, an inviting bistro serving the best-slow-cooked BBQ ribs in town, along with exotic and unusual cocktails.