Braga - Five Things to Do

by Ana Magalhães

Braga is an exceptional city in the northwest region of Portugal, as it combines the history and culture of the past and the youthful prospects of the future. Its ancient architecture, which date back to the Neolithic and Celtic ages, are perfectly preserved in time; yet it also home to universities, research centers, and computer industries, which usher the city into the future. Braga was named as the European Youth Capital in 2012, during which it hosted youth-oriented programs and activities that were geared towards the active participation of the young generation in society-building for a brighter future. Braga prides itself as a historical and religious city, while at the same time showcasing its natural beauty and boosting its commercial industry with its wide range of restaurants, shops and its vibrant night life.

Keeping this in focus here is the list of top Five things to do in Braga. Enjoy it!

1. Braga Cathedral (Sé de Braga, the oldest cathedral of Braga)

Perhaps the most treasured historical and religious relic within the city is the Sé de Braga (Braga Cathedral), which is older than Portugal itself. Built in the 11th century and consecrated to the Virgin Mary in 1089, the Braga Cathedral has stood the test of time, with its diverse architecture serving as the testament of its resiliency. The Braga Cathedral features artistic influences from the Gothic, Manueline, Baroque and Moorish styles, whilst retaining a little of its Romanesque beauty. The cathedral’s Chapel of Kings houses the tombs of Count Henrique and Countess Theresa – the parents of Portugal’s first king.

2. Historical Center and Street Tours

History is in the heart of the bustling city of Braga, as it is studded with buildings and structures depicting the artistic styles of the centuries that it has survived. The Praça da Répública is a grand square surrounded by archival churches and modern cafés and restaurants. It features a majestic fountain where visitors can chill and enjoy the cheerful mornings and the festive evening atmosphere. It is close to the Convento dos Congregados, a glorious church and the Torre de Menagem, the only remnant of the old Castle of Braga. The best time to visit the Praça da Répública is during the Lenten season, as the square transforms into a street bazaar, packed with shops selling religious souvenirs and holiday items.

Another way of discovering the charm of Braga is to plunge into its cobbled streets and explore it on foot. Walking along the route from Rua do Souto until Arco da Porta Nova feels movie-like, with beautiful shops and houses lining the streets. At the end of this road is a rewarding view of the 15th century arch. Rua da Violinha and Rua Nossa Senhora do Leite are the most Instagram-worthy streets – it definitely feels as if you’ve travelled back in time when you walk down these roads.

3. Santa Bárbara Garden (Jardim de Santa Bárbara)

Aside from the historical and architectural elegance that Braga has to offer, it also takes pride in its natural beauty. The Santa Bárbara Garden is an attractive expanse of lush greenery against the east wing of the Archbishop’s Palace of Braga. The public garden was landscaped in the 1950s, but the elements were designed to harmonize with the medieval allure of the area. The Santa Bárbara Garden is the perfect place to unwind and escape the crowds in the city.

4. Bom Jesus Sanctuary

A tour of Braga will never be complete without visiting its prized jewel in the east of the city – the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary (Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte). This pilgrimage site holds significant historical and religious value, as it is surrounded by symbolic sculptures and fountains built during its renovations over the centuries. What is equally fascinating is the 19th century furnicular – the first tramway system built in Portugal that uses water as a counterweight to move the tram cars up and down simultaneously. Using the furnicular, the trip to the summit of Bom Jesus do Monte takes around four minutes, but if you’re up for a hike, then you can climb the 577-step elegant staircase and marvel at the lifelike statues depicting the Passion of Christ and the fountains symbolizing the Five Senses and the Three Theological Virtues.

5. Nossa Senhora do Sameiro

In contrast to the grandeur of the Bom Jesus do Monte, the Nossa Senhora do Sameiro Sanctuary (Santuário Nossa Senhora do Sameiro) is a modest and quiet pilgrimage site that sits on a 566-meter-high hill, which is even higher than Bom Jesus do Monte’s peak. The Nossa Senhora do Sameiro Sanctuary is a fairly modern shrine, with its Neoclassical church built in the 19th century under the initiative of Father Martinho da Silva, whose tomb also resides within the crypts of the church. It offers visitors a spectacular view of the surrounding hills and the city below. The Nossa Senhora do Sameiro Sanctuary can be accessed by traversing the 1.8km route from Bom Jesus do Monte through the Caminho do Sameiro.

Extra Tip: Traditional Dishes

Touring around Braga all day can leave you famished, and best way to counter that is to try the traditional dishes that the city has to offer. The Bacalhau à Narcisa is a sumptuous codfish dish topped with crunch chips that originated from a restaurant in Braga named ‘Narcisa’ (hence the name), but it is also has a lot of variations to it (Bacalhau à Eusébia, for instance, in honor of Narcisa’s cook). Other gastronomical dishes are the Papas de sarrabulho (Sarrabulho potatoes in a creamy texture of cooked pork blood and meat chunks), the arroz de pato à moda de Braga (savory duck cooked in rice a la Braga style). For dessert, try the Viúvas, a moist cake tart topped with creamy egg yolks and sugar, with a dash of crunchy nuts.

Whether you are a history aficionado, Braga has everything to keep you thoroughly entertained during your Braga trip.