The best guide to north Portugal
The best independent guide to north Portugal
Braga is a wonderful tourist destination that combines history and culture, with numerous outstanding tourist attractions.
The city is regarded as the religious centre of Portugal, as it was the home of Portugal’s first bishops and earliest cathedral. This extensive history is reflected in the sheer variety of historic monuments and ornate churches.
Along with the numerous churches, there are modern shopping streets, grand Baroque buildings and grand plazas, and the entire city is a joy to explore. Braga is the third-largest city of Portugal, and has the shops, restaurants, and nightlife of a major city, along with a young and vibrant population, as it is home to one of Portugal’s largest universities.
The ancient Sé de Braga cathedral
Along with being an enthralling city, Braga is also the setting for one of the finest monuments of Northern Portugal, the Bom Jesus do Monte.
This beautiful church and much famed Baroque staircase that depicts the ascent to heaven, is 5km from the city and is a must for any trip to Braga.
Braga makes for a fantastic day trip from Porto, and it is easy to travel to, as it is connected by a direct train service.
The Bom Jesus church
The Arcada shopping centre at the top of the Praca Republica the main square of Braga
Braga maybe the religious centre of Portugal, but the city offers more sights than just endless ancient churches. The historic centre 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.
The Jardim de Santa Bárbara overlook the ruins of the bishop’s palace
Braga is a labyrinth of narrow streets, each one concealing historic sights, unique monuments or traditional family-run businesses. This is a city to explore on foot and simply get lost in.
Even the Bom Jesus 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 Bom Jesus do Monte will be a highlight of any visit to Braga, and should definitely be visited as part of your day trip. 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 great views over Braga, and the surrounding park offers relaxed forested walks.
If you don’t fancy the steep pilgrimage hike up to the church, then you can ride the world’s oldest water-powered funicular to the top.
Sacred Way staircases represents the ascent to heaven, and 580 steps is a lot in the summer heat!
Braga makes for 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. For details of travelling from Porto to Braga, please see later in this article.
A suggested tour of Braga is shown in the interactive map below. The green markers detail the Braga city tour, the yellow points the tour of Bom Jesus do Monte, and the grey line shows the bus from Braga to Bom Jesus.
Braga: 1) Arco da Porta Nova 2) Sé de Braga 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 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 1) Elevador Bom Jesus do Monte 2) Santuário do Bom Jesus 3) Via Crucis 4) Miradouro do Santuário do Bom Jesus
The blue tiles Raio Palace
It is possible to combine Braga’s historic centre and the Bom Jesus complex (which is 5km out from the city centre) in a single trip, but it will be a long day (8-9 hours). The day trip is divided into; 1-hour train from Porto (each way), 3-4 hours in the historic centre, 2 hours at the Bom Jesus do Monte and 30 minutes for lunch.
Braga requires a whole day to explore; never consider combining Braga with Guimaraes as there is just too much to see in a single day.
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:
Reitoria, Universidade do Minho
A rushed and intense day trip will only skim the surface of Braga, and a stay of two full 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 Capela dos Coimbras
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 historic or religious nature so will have little appeal to children.
Braga is connected to Porto by the urban railway network, which means there are regular and inexpensive train services throughout the day.
The trains depart 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:
(link opens a new tab)
As the trains are so convenient and frequent, there is no reason to consider bus travel. For visitors travelling to or from the airport should use the Getbus service, which takes 50 minutes and costs €8.
Related article: Porto to Braga
The Braga train waiting in the Porto Sao Bento train station