Braga has just been voted the best European destination for 2021, according to a new survey by the European Tourism Council (ETC). The city received 109,902 votes from Internet users and established itself as a destination of excellence and reference for international tourism.
Braga, which has already been named the second-best European destination for 2019, is called the Rome of Portugal. It is a city filled with catholic churches and religious art, scattered around beautiful colored streets and the locals are very welcoming.
Going back to Roman times, when it was first founded in 16 BC, Braga was the first city in Portugal.
With centuries of history, Braga looks like a living, open-air museum that you will never forget.
How to get from the Porto airport (OPO) to Braga:
This is probably the best option to get to the city center and it is not expensive. Taking about an hour to get to the city center of Braga, as it makes no stops. The prices are around 9 euros per person.
There are no direct buses from the airport to Braga. It is possible, but you will need to change at least twice and it can take a bit more than 2 hours.
Of course, this is the most convenient and the fastest way to get to the city center of Braga. And the most expensive.
The price should be about 60 euros, depending on where you are going in the city of Braga. Just be careful about overcharging. In Portugal, all taxis are mandatory to have fare meters on the dash. Pay only what’s on the meter and tip if you want.
Renting a car to go to Braga is a good option. It will give you the freedom to travel to Braga and explore the sights around Braga, the National Park of Peneda do Geres, the Douro, and even Porto if you are staying a few days in Portugal. And the trip should take you around 40 minutes.
If you don’t want to drive for yourself and to take a taxi, consider an airport transfer. The prices are around the same as a taxi and the driver will be waiting for you at the airport and take you directly to your destination in Braga.
Best things to do in Braga
The best way to get to know all of the most important sights in the historic center of Braga is to do a walking tour.
There is a great group of locals that provide free walking tours of the historic city center, the sanctuaries, and even more.
And the best thing is that it is completely free. But at the end of the tour, just give a tip to the guides: Minho Free Walking Tours
Historic Center by tuk tuk
If you are not feeling up to do a walking tour, consider discovering the city by tuk-tuk and a great thing about this option is that you are going to have a guide just for yourself and you will do the tour at your speed.
Tuk-Tuk City Tour
Another great thing to do in Braga is to explore the trails in the mountains, with the untouched nature and roman remains, surrounding the city.
Download this app developed specifically to guide you on the many trails that exist.
If you are staying in Braga and if you are feeling up to go to the beach, although Braga is a bit far away from the ocean, it has many river beaches around it. Called Praias Fluviais, these beaches have many commodities that some beaches don’t have and the feeling of being on a beach in the middle of a mountain is just memorable.
And if you have a car, they are at a distance of 15 to 20 minutes from the city center of Braga.
Parque Nacional Peneda do Gerês
Close to Braga is the protected National Park of Peneda-Geres, the only one in Portugal. This beautiful park is full of natural wonders and wildlife.
If you have a car, it is a great option to spend a full day, especially with your family, or for a romantic hike.
Although it is a National Park, we can find many activities to do here like canyoning, hiking, off-road tours, etc.
Best sights in Braga
Click on the names to open on Google Maps.
Located on the top of a hill, with amazing views over Braga, you will find the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. Under construction for 600 years, it has many architectural influences scattered on its several chappels, the main church, fountains, gardens, and even on the 116 meters (380 feet) staircases, leading from the bottom of the mountain to the entrance of the Sanctuary.
We can even explore the park around it with its caves and viewpoints over Braga.
Although the history of this place goes back to the 14th century, It was classified as a World Heritage Centre by Unesco, only in 2019.
Going from the high part of Braga up the Sanctuary, it’s the funicular called Elevador do Bom Jesus. Taking this funicular will save you a lot of time and save your legs. A ticket costs 1,5 euros for one way or 2,50 for a round trip and it works every day of the week and leaves every 30 minutes.
Only a 20 minutes drive away by car, from the city center of Braga, you will find a perfectly conserved medieval castle, high on a mountain. The Castelo de Guimaraes is considered to be one of the seven wonders of Portugal. And for good reasons. The main one is the fact that this castle is connected to the birth of Portugal and several battles were fought here, to gain the independence of Portugal.
And according to the locals’ beliefs, he was born the first Portuguese King D. Afonso Henriques. It is still possible to visit the chapel that the story says he was baptized and even see the baptism font.
During the times it had a lot of purposes, from a defensive castle to a storage house of the king and even a prison. And in 1846 in a town vote to demolish the castle, it still stands today, by a single vote.
This is a great opportunity to visit a perfect conserved castle, filled with stories and views and soul.
Standing in another hill of Braga is another beautiful sanctuary, the Santuario do Sameiro. With a more modern look than the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus, the original church was finished in 1869 after a short 6 years of construction, in a neoclassical style. But after its inauguration, it was obvious that the size of the church was not sufficient for the number of visitors and so began the construction of the basilica, which finished in 1953. But after that, space was still not enough, so a crypt was built underground.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, cobblestone squares, and viewpoints. Leading to the entrance of this sanctuary, you will see a huge 265 steps staircase, that once on the top, look back to enjoy some of the most beautiful views over Braga. And if the weather is clear, Santuario do Sameiro is so high that you can see the Atlantic Ocean.
To get there take the bus or drive. Don’t walk there, because if you do, you will still have those 265 steps waiting for you at the end of the walk.
In contrast to all the medieval and modern look of Braga, between the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus and Sameiro, is a well-preserved village from the Iron Age.
This village was discovered in 1875 by a Portuguese archaeologist and after study of the remains, it is believed that it was occupied until Roman times and abandoned in the 3rd century.
But even the remains found are more than items and preserved buildings, on the proximity of the village, rock paintings were found on closer hills.
Right in the middle of the historic center of Braga, is its main church, the Sé de Braga. Locals have a saying about this church: Portugal was not yet a country and there was already the Sé de Braga. And to state the truth of this, the parents of the first king of Portugal are buried here.
This church was built on top of a Roman temple dedicated to Isis, but after many reconstructions during the centuries, only very few traces remain of its original form.
And because of this, you can find different styles in this church, from the romantic style to the baroque style and a colorful interior makes this church a beautiful piece of art in the heart of Braga.
The ticket prices range from 2 euros to 5 euros, depending on what you want to see. If you have the time, do the full tour, you will not regret it
Just be aware, that if a religious ceremony is ongoing, the visits are not allowed.
Probably the most iconic building of Braga, the Arco da Porta Nova was built to be an entrance on the city walls, in 1512, but rebuilt in 1772.
Accompanied by a medieval tower, it is possible to visit the interior. Just look for the Museu da Imagem, to enter the tower.
One of the things that Portuguese people say to someone that did not close a door: “Es de Braga?” meaning: are you from Braga? They say this because this arch never had a door. After all, at the time it was built, Portugal was not at war. So because of the lack of a door at the entrance of its city walls, Braga is known to always have an open door to its visitors. But this is also true for the locals, one of the most welcoming people in Portugal.
Very close to the Arco da Porta Nova you will find the Palacio dos Biscainhos. Built-in the 17th century for a noble family of Braga, this building is now occupied by the Museu dos Biscainhos.
Here you can see a huge collection of daily life items of the 17th and 18th centuries, in display in several luxurious rooms inside the palace.
After leaving the museum or if you want to completely skip the museum, go to the gardens of the palace. They are beautifully decorated with baroque style and are extremely well maintained. Taking a walk in these gardens will make you feel that you are in a movie.
A 10 minutes walk from the Arco da Porta Nova, there is another palace from the 17th century, but this is not just another palace. It was designed by the same architect that designed the Arco da Porta Nova and also has some work in the Se de Braga.
Now it is a museum filled with daily life items, religious items, and even medical items from the time the palace was used by the Hospital of Braga.
Although the collection is very interesting, when you are inside you will have the feeling that the collection is just decoration, the details of the palace on the inside are even more spectacular than the outside.
This is the heart of the city of Braga. The hanging spot of the locals, this beautiful square is full of old buildings, fountains, and shades provided by trees. Also, it has many restaurants and cafes. If you are looking for a place for a stroll have a drink and simply hang out in the city of Braga, this is the place.
The monastery of São Martinho de Tibães is one of the oldest buildings in Braga. Going back to the beginning of the 11th century, this monastery was once very important for the presence of the Catholic church in the North of Portugal.
Now it serves more as a training center for architects and artisans. This is a great opportunity to see beautiful craftsmanship and architecture from centuries ago.
Outside of Braga:
If you have time to spend, consider doing a walking tour in Porto or a road trip in the Douro region. Read our free guides:
Where to stay in Braga
Braga has many options for accommodation, from small hostels to beautiful design hotels. Just keep in mind if you don’t have a car, to be in the historic center and if you do have a car, to be in a hotel that has parking, because parking in the historic center is very difficult and scarce.