The small Portuguese town of Braga was never on my travel list, but as underrated cities are wont to do, it proved to be a fantastic worthwhile day trip from Porto. With quite a few really interesting sites, this is a must see in northern Portugal.
Stop and smell the flowers
Perhaps more than any other place I’ve ever visited, Braga has some really memorable gardens. You can spot the colorful flowers and trimmed hedges around many of the city’s squares. But none is more beautiful than the Garden of Santa Barbara which sits in front of the fortlike, Episcopal Palace. The wide stretch of flowers includes colorful blooms of yellow, purple and red. There’s a fountain in the center and geometric hedges lining the sidewalks. I’m not often impressed by gardens, but damn. This alone is a good reason to visit Braga in the spring and summer.
Hike up to Bom Jesus do Monte
Though it’s only about 3 miles from city center, you may have to take a car or bus up to this gem of a sanctuary because the route is over highways. It’s more like a complex than a building to see, so this could take some time. The bus (line 2) takes you to the base of it. You won’t even be able to see it from the bottom because of the trees. From here, you can take the funicular up and down, which runs continuously all day. It’s the oldest functional funicular that uses a water balance system.
Of course, the line for the thing is huge. Since I hate waiting in like more than I hate climbing stairs, so I made the trek up on foot. It takes a total of 20-25 minutes to get up the concrete stairs, passing a series of mossy chapels at the end of every flight. At the very least, it’s a shady walk. Once you get up to the base of the main church, you start climbing up the paneled stairs that are covered in religious statues. It’s a beautiful view looking up and down.
And if you’re thinking, like I was, “God I hope there’s a bar up there,” you’re in luck. Because it’s like an amusement park up there. Aside from a snack bar where you can drink and dine under a ceiling of flowers, there are food trucks and pop up ice cream stands. The grounds are stunning with a beautiful view over the city and nice gardens and ponds along with a small grotto you can walk through. There’s also an area with a boating lake and the Castle of Bom Jesus, which is not open to the public.
The church itself is really the most underwhelming part of the excursion. The inside is small and unimpressive, and it’s currently under construction so there was a giant picture of the altar in place of the actual altar, which prominently features Christ’s crucifixion. It’s free to enter at least.
Visit Braga Cathedral
A far more impressive church interior is down in city center where you’ll find Portugal’s first ever cathedral, technically erected before Portugal was founded. Braga Cathedral is one of the better ones I’ve seen in Portugal. It has really spectacular gilded wood organs on either side of the high choir, which I would argue is more impressive than the altar. With a wooden ceiling, the cathedral’s walls and columns are decorated with beautiful woodworking details. You can also visit the adjacent Chapel of Kings, the final resting place for the parents of Portugal’s first king. A complete cathedral entrance ticket also gives you access to the Treasure Museum.
Stroll through Braga’s center
The nicest thing about Braga is what a cute sidewalk cafe kind of city it is. The center is fairly small, perfect for seeing in one day, with some major squares worth passing through like the one in front of São Marcos Church, where you’ll find the Braga city sign. Another popular sightseeing spot is the Arco da Porta Nova, the stone arch entrance that leads you to the center of town that you’ll naturally stumble upon on foot if you arrive by train to Braga station.
From the main walking street Rua Dom Diogo de Souza, you can branch off into the little side streets to enjoy a good lunch or a glass of wine. On a breezy sunny day, it feels like everyone is outside enjoying the weather and the food. The main walking avenue, Avenida Central runs up a large park where you’ll find food and occasional events, along with some interesting sculptures, like a solar panel tree. Around the park, there are restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating and some sites to check out like the Convento dos Congregados church.
If you are seeing Braga on a day trip, I recommend taking the bus directly to or from Bom Jesus do Monte, where you can start or end your day. It’s a straight shot on the 2 bus, and might save you time getting to the train station at the end of your day.
If you’re in Braga for more than one day, I recommend doing a whole day at Bom Jesus do Monte, especially if you’re going in the summer. You can rent a row boat, have lunch, walk around the grounds, go up and down the funicular and leisurely walk the steps, appreciating the beauty of the sculptures. Though it’s doable with the rest of the city in one day, it’s a jam-packed and tiring day. So if you can take it easy and do it with more time, you should.
Many of the ATMs in Braga are Euronet ATMs, which most seasoned travelers recognize as a scam, charging unnecessary service fees. If you’re in need of cash, Google search for Multibanco, which will take you to the ATMs locals use.
The buses take cash and the timetable and cost comes up on Google Maps so you can easily get around without too much of a headache.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Braga guides on GPSmyCity here.