The best guide to north Portugal
The best independent guide to north Portugal
Braga is regarded as the religious centre of Portugal and is a fascinating city that combines a proud history with outstanding tourist attractions.
It was in Braga that the first cathedral of Portugal was constructed (in 1089), and was the seat of power of Pedro de Braga (1035 - 1096), the first bishop of Portugal. Ever since, Braga has been the religious heartland of Portugal, and today has the highest concentration of religious buildings in any Portuguese city.
Along with the numerous churches, there are characterful shopping streets, elegant Baroque mansions, and grand plazas. Braga is the third-largest city of Portugal and has a young and vibrant population, as it is home to a major university.
Braga is also the setting of the most impressive monument in Northern Portugal, the Bom Jesus do Monte. This beautiful church is famed for its Baroque stairway that climbs the side of a steep hill and depicts the ascent to heaven.
As a tourist destination, Braga is a varied and fascinating city, and is one of the best day trips from Porto. For a day trip, it is very easy to travel to Braga, as both cities are connected by a regular and inexpensive train service.
This article will provide an introduction to Braga and help you get the most from your trip here.
Related articles: Guide to Porto – Day trips from Porto
The Sé de Braga cathedral – The ancient gothic cathedral of Braga, influential in Portugal’s early history and steeped in legends.
The Bom Jesus do Monte – A sacred pilgrimage church, situated at the top of a hill and is reached via a magnificent stairway or the world’s oldest water-powered funicular.
The Praça da República – A grand plaza and bustling heart of the city; where the historical side of Braga combines with the modern-day.
Palacio dos Biscainhos – A splendid 17th-century aristocratical palace that contains Portugal’s finest baroque gardens
Braga may be the religious centre of Portugal, but the city offers more sights than just endless ancient churches.
Braga has a delightful city centre, which is fully pedestrianised and comprises of charming plazas, busy shopping streets, and formal gardens.
The pretty city gardens, including the Jardim da Avenida Central and the Jardim de Santa Bárbara, while each of the main plazas (Largo de Santa Cruz, Largo São João do Souto and the Praça Conde de Agrolongo) has its own unique character.
Braga is a labyrinth of narrow streets, each one concealing historic sights, unique monuments or traditional family-run shops and restaurants. The compact city centre can be easily explored on foot, and is a joy to wander and just get lost in.
Even the Bom Jesus do Monte is more about the decorative stairs and views, than the actual church.
Braga obviously has a lot of churches, but these need not be the main aspect of your day trip, nor should the presumed religious atmosphere deter you from visiting.
The Convento do Pópulo and the statue of Gomes da Costa, the 10th president of Portugal, but who only led the country for 22 days in 1927
The Jardim de Santa Bárbara overlook the ruins of the bishop’s palace
The Bom Jesus do Monte will be a highlight of any visit to Braga, and should be definitely included in your day trip to Braga. The church stands at the top of a hill, and the much-photographed baroque stairway signifies the ascend into heaven.
From the summit of the Bom Jesus hill, there are impressive views over Braga, and the surrounding park provides tranquil forested walks.
If the climb up the 577 steps to the church is too much, then there is the world’s oldest water-powered funicular, to the summit.
The Bom Jesus do Monte is 6km to the east of Braga city centre and is connected by a regular bus service (route 2). The bus departs from the Avenida da Liberdade (see the map in the next section) and is operated by TUB buses (https://tub.pt/), and terminates at the base of the stairs.
The Sacred Way staircases with 577 steps is a lot to climb in the summer heat!
Braga is a fantastic day trip from Porto. There are sufficient sights and attractions to easily fill a day’s sightseeing, and there is a direct train service between Braga and Porto (details later in this article).
It is possible to combine Braga and the Bom Jesus do Monte in a single trip, but it will be a long day of 8-9 hours. A typical day trip would be divided into; train from Porto (1h15min hour each way), 3-4 hours in the historic centre, 2 hours for the Bom Jesus do Monte (including the bus ride) and 30 minutes for lunch.
Note: Braga requires a whole day to explore; never consider combining Braga with Guimaraes as there is too much to see in each city for a single day.
The interactive map below shows a suggested tour of Braga. The green line is the tour of the city, the yellow line is the tour of Bom Jesus do Monte, and the grey line displays the bus route from Braga to the Bom Jesus do Monte. (Note: zoom out to see the entire map)
Sights of Braga: 1) Arco da Porta Nova 2) Sé de Braga cathedral 3) Jardim da Praça do Município
4) Convento do Populo 5) Paláicio dos Biscainhos 6) Jardim de Santa Barbara 7) Largo São João do Souto 8) Largo do Paço 9) Arcada shopping centre 10) Convento dos Congregados 11) Theatro Circo 12) Palácio do Raio 13) Igreja de São Marcos 14) Igreja de Santa Cruz 15) Capela De Sao Bentinho 16) Capela da Nossa Senhora da Torre
Bom Jesus do Monte sights: 17) Elevador Bom Jesus do Monte 18) Santuário do Bom Jesus 19) Via Crucis 20) Miradouro do Santuário do Bom Jesus viewpoint
The Capela dos Coimbras
How about an organised tour?
An organised tour removes the hassle of public transport, provides an enthusiastic guide, and is the chance to meet fellow travellers. The standard of tours in Portugal has greatly improved and now cater to modern and worldly visitors.
We have worked with GetYourGuide.com for the previous 7 years, and some of their best tours of Braga include:
A rushed day trip to Braga will only skim the surface of the city, and a stay of two days is the recommended length of time to discover the city.
A two-day stay provides one day to fully explore the historic centre and a second day to visit the Bom Jesus, and the lesser-known hillside churches of Santuário do Sameiro and Igreja da Falperra.
The Reitoria part of the Universidade do Minho
Braga could be a base for a longer holiday, and the city has a wide selection of restaurants, shops and good nightlife. There is excellent public transport covering the surrounding region, and day trips could include Guimaraes, Viana do Castelo and Ponte de Lima.
When choosing your hotel in Braga, it is advisable to be within 700m of the Se Cathedral, so that you are close to the historic centre and the decent selection of restaurants and bars this area provides.
The map below shows the location of the best hotels in Braga, and if you adjust the dates to your holiday, it will display current prices and availability:
There are much better destinations for young children and families. Families will be fully welcomed, but the majority of the main attractions are of a historical or religious aspect, so will have little appeal to children.
Braga is connected to Porto by an urban railway network, which means there are regular and inexpensive train services throughout the day.
The train departs from the São Bento station in Porto, a single ticket costs €3.20, and the journey takes a tedious 75minutes. The latest timetable can be seen on the CP (Comboios de Portugal) website:
(the link is a pdf, which may download on mobile phones)
The train to Braga waiting in the Sao Bento train station