The best independent guide to north Portugal
The best independent guide to north Portugal
Braga and Guimarães are both fascinating historical cities that make for enjoyable day trips from Porto, but which one is better and you should be visited first?
Guimarães is fondly regarded by the Portuguese as the historic birthplace of their country and is a delightful combination of ancient history and medieval architecture.
Braga is a much larger and more vibrant city, and is frequently referred to as the religious capital of Portugal. This title often alginates the city to many tourists, but there is much more to Braga than churches and religious buildings. Braga is also the location of the Bom Jesus do Monte, which is considered as one of the finest monuments in northern Portugal.
In our opinion, for a day trip, Guimarães should be visited before Braga, but if you are after somewhere to be based in for a couple of days, then Braga is the better destination.
During your holiday to northern Portugal, you will definitely want to include both Braga and Guimarães, along with Aveiro, the Douro Valley, and Viana do Castelo.
Note: Each of these destinations requires at least one day to fully see. We would never recommend trying to squeeze two of them into a single day of sightseeing.
Related articles: Guimarães guide - Braga guide
Guimarães is the most quaint and traditional Portuguese city in northern Portugal. The streets are lined with medieval buildings, the plazas are bursting with character, and there is an ancient castle older than the country.
There is the delightful Largo da Oliveira plaza with its famous olive tree and Gothic monastery (the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira), which leads to the Praça de São Tiago via the arches of the Antiga Câmara Municipal.
The oldest section of the city lies at the top of the hill, and is centred around the castle (Castelo de Guimarães), which was where the first king of Portugal (Afonso Henriques 1109 – 1185) was born and later ruled from. Just below the castle is the Gothic Palace Duques de Bragança, with its sombre exterior and staterooms filled with 17th-century furniture and tapestries.
Guimarães is a maze of meandering streets, and feels much larger than it actually is. All of the main sights can be seen within four hours of sightseeing, and a day trip is often extended by including Penha Hill and the cable car ride up to its summit.
Guimarães is a destination that appeals to a wide range of tourist types; there is a rich history, there are fascinating sights and numerous photo opportunities.
Guimarães is an amazing destination for a day trip, and you will love your time spent there.
The Castelo de Guimarães – Constructed in the 10th century to defend against the Moors, it was the birthplace of King Afonso Henrique and later served as his royal court.
The Praça de São Tiago and Largo da Oliveira - The two medieval plazas at the heart of Guimarães
The Paço dos Duques de Bragança – An imposing 15th-century palace that exhibits a fascinating collection of furniture and tapestries.
Monte da Penha – A forest-covered hill (613m) to the east of Guimarães, with giant boulders, tranquil footpaths and stunning views over the region. A cable car connects Guimarães with the Santuário da Penha, the modern church complex at the top of the hill.
We may recommend Guimarães over Braga, but Braga is still an outstanding tourist destination.
Braga is very different to Guimarães, with the key aspect that it is a large city, being the third-largest city in Portugal. Guimarães is very focused on its history and tourism, and has a relaxed pace of life. Braga is more vibrant with more shops, restaurants and bars.
The city centre of Braga is fully pedestrianised, and it is a joy to wander the many plazas and shopping streets. The main attraction of the city is the Se Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Portugal. Along with the cathedral, there is the pretty Jardim de Santa Barbara, the Biscainhos Palace and the grand Praça da República.
For your day trip to Braga, you will want to include the Bom Jesus do Monte, which is 5km to the east of the city. The church stands atop of a hill and is reached via a decorative Baroque stairway that represents the ascent into heaven.
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 Sé de Braga cathedral – The ancient gothic cathedral, influential in Portugal’s early history and steeped in legends.
The Praça da República – A grand plaza and bustling heart of the city; where historic Braga combines with the modern-day.
Paláicio dos Biscainhos – A splendid 17th-century aristocratical palace that contains one of Portugal’s finest baroque gardens.