Braga is the capital of the little-explored Minho region in the north of Portugal and makes a great base for exploring the area. There are also plenty of things to do in Braga itself, as you’ll see in this article.
In some ways, Braga feels more like nearby Galicia in Spain than like the rest of Portugal. While a few buildings are decorated in the colorful azulejo tiles typical of Portugal, most are whitewashed buildings with gray stone trimmings.
Its Celtiberian history also mirrors that of Galicia, and there are many reminders of its links with ancient Rome as well.
Even though it’s Portugal’s third-largest city, Braga feels much smaller than Lisbon or Porto and offers a very different experience. You can walk from one end of the historic centre to the other in less than 15 minutes.
Of course, not all of Braga’s attractions lie within the historic centre. Two of my favorite sights in Braga (Nos. 1 and 2 on this list) are on the outskirts of the city. Even so, Braga is very walkable and easy to get around.
Whether you’re coming on a short day trip from Porto or staying in Braga for a full five days as we did, here are some sights and attractions to consider adding to your itinerary. This list includes Braga’s most famous attractions as well as some hidden gems.
Best Things to Do in Braga
1. Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte
This church is easily Braga’s most famous sight and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2019. Actually, it’s not so much the church itself that’s famous, but rather the monumental staircase leading up to it.
By my count, there are 582 steps in total. It’s quite an easy, gradual climb at the lower levels but gets steeper at the end. Still, if you’re reasonably fit you shouldn’t have too much trouble making it to the top.
In fact, you’ll probably see locals either walking or jogging up and down the stairs for exercise. The alternative is to ride the funicular, which was built in 1882 and is the oldest water-powered funicular in the world.
If you do take the stairs, pause to admire the fountains representing the five senses on your way up. Each one features a human figure with water pouring from their eyes, ears, mouth, etc. depending on which sense they represent.
Allow yourself some time to enjoy the large park behind the Church before heading back down. There’s a man-made lake where you can even go boating, and some lovely walking trails if you still have energy to spare.
When I visited in late June, there were loads of tiny baby frogs on the path around the lake. Be careful not to step on them!
Bom Jesus is about six kilometers from the center of Braga, and you can take city bus No. 2 to get here. Alternatively, a peaceful walking path called the Ecovia do Rio Este will take you most of the way (more about this at the end of the article).
2. Capela de São Frutuoso de Montélios
This seventh-century chapel is a real hidden gem, and history fans will definitely not want to miss it. Oddly, it sees few visitors, and most guidebooks don’t even mention it. Perhaps this is because it’s on the outskirts of the city, although it’s much closer to town than Bom Jesus.
Saint Frutuoso, the bishop of Braga, built this mausoleum chapel in 660 AD as his own final resting place. It was once adorned with 22 delicate columns, but only 8 are left standing. Nevertheless, it’s a work of beauty and a rare example of Christian architecture from this early period.
Art historians disagree as to whether the chapel is predominantly Visigothic or Mozarabe. What they do agree on, though, is that it’s the most important example of pre-Romanesque Christan architecture in Portugal.
Entrance is free, and you can walk here in about half an hour from the center of Braga. According to the sign out front, it’s open daily except on Mondays, from 2 pm to 4:30 pm.
I suggest calling ahead to be sure, though. The contact numbers provided are Mr. Carvalho at +351 967390365 or Mr. Manuel at +351 919931181. There’s no signage, but you can buy a pamphlet for 1 euro that explains the history of the chapel.
3. Museu Dos Biscaínhos (Museu Etnográfico e Artístico)
This palace was first built in the 16th century, but it’s now decorated and furnished as it would have been in the 18th century. A visit here offers a glimpse into the lifestyle and customs of Portuguese aristocrats during that period.
The room I found the most interesting was called the sala do estrado, or the “platform room”. This was where the women spent most of their time sewing, embroidering and chatting.
While the other rooms in the palace were filled with chairs, this room had none. That’s because the women sat cross legged on Oriental rugs on a raised platform. This is just one example of how Portuguese society was influenced by the East as a result of its age of discovery.
Visitors must be accompanied by a member of staff when touring the palace. It’s not exactly a guided tour, as the staff member who accompanies you is not a trained tour guide and may not be able to answer all your questions. There are plenty of written explanations though.
Most people don’t realize that you can actually visit the gardens for free! Just tell the staff at reception that you’re there for the gardens, and they will let you through. Although the entrance fee for the palace is only two euros and is well worth it.
4. Café A Brasileira
Located at Largo do Barão de São Martinho, this café is part of a franchise of historic cafés that opened around the turn of the 20th century. The most famous one is the Café A Brasileira in the center of Lisbon, where you’ll find the statue of poet Fernando Pessoa seated at a table.
Originally, this location in Braga was run by the same owner. And like its counterpart in Lisbon, it started out primarily as a wholesale shop that sold coffee beans from Brazil. The owner offered a free cup of coffee to anyone who purchased a half-kilo bag of coffee beans.
5. Jardim da Avenida Central (Central Avenue Park)
This elongated park is a very pleasant place for a stroll, with lots of beautiful buildings lining either side. If you walk from one end to the other, you’ll come across convents, statues and various other monuments along the way.
The park starts at Praça da República and continues east for a few hundred meters. Be sure to stop in at the Centésima Página bookstore on your right, shortly after the Basílica dos Congregados (more on the bookstore below). If you continue all the way to the end, you’ll reach Soul, one of the best vegan restaurants in Braga.
6. Centésima Página
This independent bookshop is located inside Casa do Rolão, an ornate 18th-century residence built in the rococo style.
The bookstore’s name means “100th Page”, so you may also see it written as 100° Página. While most books are of course in Portuguese, they do have some titles in English.
Head all the way to the back to find the secret garden and café, a hidden oasis in the heart of the city. There aren’t many vegan options on the menu, but it’s a very relaxing place to come for a drink.
7. Parque da Ponte
This is a lovely park at the foot of Monte do Picoto, at the center of which you’ll find a small chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist, called “Capela de São João da Ponte”.
I happened to be here on the day of the Festa de São João, which is normally a huge annual celebration. Even though the festivities were cancelled due to the pandemic, a large outdoor church service was still held here with social distancing measures in place. The devotion to St. John, especially among the older generation, was palpable.
This park is full of shady trees and picnic tables. If you keep walking past the chapel, you’ll find a lake and a fancy restaurant where you can have a drink overlooking the water.
8. Largo Carlos Amarante
The most obvious feature of this square is the large Braga sign, a popular spot for selfies. But be sure to admire the beautiful architecture while you’re here too.
Directly behind the sign is the Igreja de São Marcos (Church of St. Mark), which has a distinctive convex façade. It was always closed whenever I walked past, so I never got a chance to go inside.
I did manage to enter the Igreja de Santa Cruz, though,which is on your right when facing the sign. Its ornately carved stone façade is breathtaking. The interior was under renovation, so most of it was covered in scaffolding when we visited. Although this did give us the chance to watch one of the art restorers at work.
9. Mercado de São João
Stepping inside this small shop feels like stepping back in time. Not much has changed in the 126 years that it’s been in business.
The focus is on traditional Portuguese products, which unfortunately means lots of sardines, cod and other aquatic animals. Plant-based eaters could pick up some Portuguese jams here, which often come in unusual flavors. Ever tried tomato jam?
This shop also has a great Portuguese wine selection at pretty reasonable prices. It’s located just behind the Cathedral.
10. Casa e Capela dos Coimbras (Coimbras Chapel and House)
The tiled building on the left is the church of São João do Souto, while the Coimbras chapel is the stone building on the right. This ornate Manueline chapel was originally attached to a palace that stood behind it, until the palace was demolished in 1906.
Some of the original Manueline windows and doors were retained in the new structure that replaced the palace, though.
The chapel itself is lavishly decorated with sculptures and azulejos on the inside, but unfortunately I never found it open. But you can still admire the beautiful carved wooden doors from the outside.
11. Chafariz dos Castelos (Castle Fountain)
At the center of a quiet square called Largo do Paço is a beautiful fountain in the shape of a multi-story castle. On top of the castle is a female figure, who represents the city of Braga.
The rectorate of the University do Minho frames the square on three sides, and across the street there’s a row of beautiful, newly restored townhouses. All of these were either for sale or rent when we visited. It should look even nicer once they are sold, as currently the for sale signs detract a bit from the scene.
12. Braga Cathedral
Consecrated in 1089 AD, this is the oldest cathedral in all of Portugal. There’s even a Portuguese saying, “mais velho do que a Sé de Braga”, which means “older than the Braga Cathedral” and is used to describe something that’s really, really old.
Different parts of the Cathedral have separate entrance fees, or you can purchase a combined ticket for five euros.
The most interesting part is not the Cathedral itself, but rather three chapels that are separate from the main building. These are the Capela dos Reis, the Capela de São Geraldo and the Capela da Glória.
Access to the chapels is by guided tour only and includes a visit to the choir, where you’ll have an up-close view of the Cathedral’s twin pipe organs.
If you want to save a few pennies, I suggest buying just the two-euro ticket for the chapels and choir, as you’ll be able to look down into the Cathedral from there. You’d miss the treasury museum (Museu da Arte Sacra), but I found it to be pretty forgettable anyway.
You can also visit the courtyard of the Cathedral for free by entering via the entrance next to the Misericordia church on Largo Dom João Peculiar.
Here you’ll find a hodgepodge of archeological artifacts, including a 3,000-year-old Celtiberian sculpture of a face that’s quite distinct from the later religious statuary.
13. Arco da Porta Nova
This triumphal arch marks the western entrance to the historic city center. In medieval times, the city was completely enclosed by a fortified wall, and this arch was one of the few openings in that wall.
It was renovated in later eras and now sports a combination of Baroque and Neoclassical decorations. If you arrive in Braga by train, you will enter the historic city via this arch.
14. Torre de Menagem
In Portuguese, a “torre de menagem” is the central tower of a castle, often called the “keep” in English. Braga did indeed have a castle at one time, but it was demolished in 1906, and the torre de menagem is all that’s left standing.
It’s normally open to the public, but when we visited it remained closed due to the pandemic. Although judging by the reviews on Trip Advisor, it doesn’t sound like we missed too much.
Several people have reported that they found the top of the tower to be closed, so they were not able to enjoy the view looking down on the city. There are some displays about local history inside the tower, but signage is reportedly in Portuguese only.
15. Termas Romanas do Alto da Cividade (Roman Baths)
While Braga was first inhabited by Celtiberian tribes, those tribes were eventually conquered by the Roman Empire. In 20 BC, the Romans founded the city that they called Bracara Augusta, named after the Emperor Augustus.
Several vestiges of this Roman city are still visible today, the most important of which is this public bath complex. The entry fee is 1.90 euros, or 3.30 if combined with a ticket for the Fonte do Ídolo (described below).
Before touring the ruins, you’ll watch a short video that uses animation to show what the baths would have looked like at different points in history, and what the various rooms were used for. For example, the caldarium was for hot water baths, the tepidarium for lukewarm water, and the frigidarium for cold water.
After watching the video, you can go outside and walk around the perimeter of the archaeological site, looking down on the remains of the baths below you. The neat piles of thin bricks stacked on top of each other are part of the hypocaust system that was used to heat the baths by circulating air heated in a furnace.
Next to the bath complex, you can see some scant remains of an ancient Roman theater.
16. Museu de Arqueologia Dom Diogo de Sousa (Archaeological Museum)
Overall, I was a little disappointed with this museum. Signage is pretty poor, and the staff warned us of this when we entered.
The staff member who sold us our tickets was kind enough to tell us which pieces were the most important treasures in the museum, and which rooms we would find them in.
For me, the highlight was the collection of Roman milestones, erected along ancient roads to mark the distances between towns. The models of the bath complex and some other buildings in Bracara Augusta will help you imagine what the city used to look like.
In addition to the four main rooms of the museum, there’s also a fifth room that’s hidden down a staircase, accessed from outside the cafeteria. Here, you’ll find in situ remains of a Roman house with a floor mosaic, though it’s not in great condition.
Entrance to the museum alone is three euros, or you can buy a combined ticket that includes entrance to the Museu dos Biscaínhos and/or the São Martinhos de Tibães Monastery, which lies about six kilometers outside Braga.
17. Statue of Augustus
When walking between the Arco da Porta Nova and the archeological museum, you’ll come across this statue of Bracara Augusta’s namesake, Emperor Augustus. He’s dressed in military attire but is also barefoot, which represents divinity.
This indicates that the statue was created after he had died and subsequently been deified. In fact, this statue is a copy, and the original is kept in the Vatican Museum.
What’s striking about this statue is that it’s painted in bright colors. You’re probably used to seeing ancient Roman statues in plain marble, but in fact most of these were brightly painted in Roman times. It’s just that the paint has worn off over the centuries.
This statue in Braga offers the rare opportunity to view one of these statues as they were meant to be seen. The colors were chosen on the basis of rigorous research to imitate the original as closely as possible.
18. Palácio do Raio (Raio Palace)
I mentioned at the start of this article that azulejos (tiles) are not nearly as prominent in Braga as they are in Lisbon or Porto. Well, Palácio do Raio is an exception to that rule.
In fact, it offers the best of both worlds, with its beautiful blue tiles offset by windows and door frames in carved granite stone. Designed by renowned Braga architect André Soares for a wealthy merchant, its style is a transition between late Baroque and early Rococo.
The palace was closed when we visited in June 2020, but it should have reopened by the time you read this. But even if you can’t enter, don’t worry. Most visitors agree that it’s better from the outside than the inside.
Apparently there’s not too much to see in the interior, and the consensus among reviewers is that it’s not worth the two-euro entrance fee. Unlike the Museu dos Biscaínhos, this palace is not furnished.
19. Fonte do Ídolo
On the same street as Palácio do Raio is an ancient Roman relic that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Its origins are a bit of a mystery, but it seems to have been a Celtiberian sanctuary that was later converted into a Roman one.
Although there’s no water running here now, this was once a fountain, which is why it’s called fonte do ídolo, or “fountain of the idol”. It’s all a bit difficult to make out, but there are two sculptures on the fountain, along with various inscriptions.
The fountain is now enclosed in a modern building to protect it and can be viewed above from an observation platform. There’s a video shot in a similar style to the Roman baths video explaining the history of the place and theories about its origins.
20. Drink Vinho Verde (Green Wine)
When I’m in Lisbon, I drink mostly red wine. But when you visit Northern Portugal, you have to taste some of the local “green wine” that the region is famous for.
Don’t be confused by the name, as it doesn’t refer to the color of the wine itself. In this case, “green” just means that it’s a young wine from newly harvested grapes. Green wine can be red, white or rosé, but white is the most common. It’s also slightly fizzy.
21. Admire Braga’s Street Art
While the street art scene in Braga is not as impressive as in other Portuguese cities, there are still some noteworthy murals worth seeking out.
These include some works by well-known Portuguese and Brazilian artists like Violant and Utopia, as well as works by local Bracarense artists like silkarte and Bruno Guedes.
My favorite street art spots in Braga are the city bus station and the wall where the Ecovia do Rio Este meets the Parque da Ponte. See my full guide to Braga street art for more on these and other spots around town.
22. Try Brazilian Food
OK, so I realize you probably want to try traditional Portuguese food when you’re in Portugal. But with a population that’s roughly 15 percent Brazilian, Braga is also a great place to try Brazilian food and drinks!
Soul, which I mentioned is on the far eastern end of the Jardim Avenida Central, does an amazing pão de queijo (cheese bread) that’s fully plant-based. And Adamasttor offers both vegan and non-vegan versions of coxinhas (a Brazilian snack similar to arancini in Italy).
As for drinks, Sabores Gelados claims to make the best caipirinha in Braga. I didn’t try any others to compare, but this one was certainly very good, and a bargain at just three euros.
23. Praça da República (Republic Square)
This could be considered the main square of Braga and is a great place for having a drink while people watching, although the cafés on the square are predictably overpriced. Its three main features are the Lapa arcades, the Lapa church and the large fountain.
The arcades consist of 19 arches and were built on the foundations of the old castle walls. They were intended as a commercial space for shops, not a religious one.
However, an engraving of Nossa Senhora da Lapa (an image of the Virgin Mary widely venerated in Portugal and Brazil) was placed here. A priest visiting from Brazil worshipped the image so enthusiastically that it created a religious fervor among the locals, and eventually the archbishop of Braga authorized the construction of a church in the middle of the arcades.
The fountain sits in front of the church and the arcades, and when I visited it was decorated for the Festas de São João.
24. Santa Barbara Garden / Episcopal Palace
This carefully tended garden in the center of the city is open to the public 24 hours. It’s full of rose bushes and other flowering plants, which are switched out regularly in accordance with the seasons.
The Gothic arches, which are all that remain of the Episcopoal Palace where Braga’s archbishop once lived, make a beautiful backdrop. Unfortunately, you can’t get very close to the arches.
Behind them is a newer incarnation of the palace, which is now home to a library open by appointment only. The entrance to the library is on the opposite side from the garden, and from the doorway you can sneak a peek at the beautiful azulejos inside.
25. Ecovia do Rio Este
While hunting for street art in Braga, I came across this lovely walking and cycling path that runs alongside a small river. It’s a very pleasant place for a stroll and is used by locals as a place to exercise.
Signposts point the way to the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, although the ecovia doesn’t go all the way there. Nevertheless, it will get you pretty close, and we enjoyed the walk enough that we decided to return the same way, which is about a 12-kilometer round trip.
At the point where the ecovia runs underneath the Avenida da Liberdade, next to the Parque da Ponte, there’s a large wall with some of Braga’s best street art.