Cidade dos Arcebispos: Archbishop’s Town
At only 60 kilometres from Porto, this makes the perfect day out if you have the time after visiting Porto, or if you planned this trip on purpose. The city lies only 20 kilometres west of Guimaraes, the city where the country Portugal as such was born in the 10th century, another of the most beautiful and historical cities in the country, UNESCO World Heritage Site listed. The three of them, Porto, Braga and Guimaraes are unique sights on their own, some of the must visit places in the country.
We planned this trip from our base Porto, and while we decided to have as our main highlight the city of Guimaraes, we left the open possibility, if time permitting, to then end our weekend tour here to Braga for the rest of the day before heading back to Porto’s airport. Our flight was thankfully quite late at night, so we had plenty of time; all we needed is good organisation and preparation and this worked great as you can imagine; otherwise I would not be writing a travel guide for this city right now.
The city is a wonder, like anywhere in Portugal you can never be wrong. There is a large amount of beautifully preserved old buildings covered in tiles all over the historic area, palaces, charming squares and dozens of churches all around the usual and so characteristic Portuguese way of paving the streets, in stone and granite mosaics. Another unique fact in Braga is the oldest water-counterbalancing funicular in the world still in operation, linking the upper city with the sanctuary at the top of the hill from where you get the views of the entire city.
When thinking about where to go for food and what to order, that’s not as easy as in other major cities in Portugal as Lisbon or Faro. The entire northern region of the country is quite expensive, and finding a decent price is hard. Not every place do “menu del dia” so it is only a-la-carte. That we can strongly recommend is Restaurant Inacio in Campo Das Hortas, literally next door to the Arco da porta Novain the square at the front. It’s the restaurant in one of the corners. They have the best menu and the best value for money, huge plates and top quality. See from their menu they have dishes for 1 and for 2 person, the 2 person is absolutely enough for 2 believe me. Great staff and super friendly.
The national dish is cod, and any other type of fish; so are the great grilled meats, and the national pastry by excellence is the pasteis de nata, which are an egg tart pastry that originated in Lisbon’s neighbourhood of Belem, hence why you might find them named as pasteis de Belem. If you’ve ever been to a former Portuguese colony then you already know them, they are everywhere across the former empire.
That’s all for this brief introduction to the city, however for more information about Braga check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Portugal’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Braga
- Surrounding the medieval old town While there are some Roman remains, the highlight is without doubt the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte.
-Roman Therms and Theatre At the southwest of the medieval core, just east from the train station are some Roman remains and the Archaeological Museum of Braga.
-Campo Novo Square At the northeast from the old town is the main square of one of the most elegant districts of the city.
-Bom Jesus do Monte One of the most iconic landmarks of Braga, this church with its impressive monumental Baroque stairs all the way from the base of the hill to the very top.
-Bom Jesus Funicular The oldest funicular in the world moved by water counter-balancing. It is located in parallel with the famous flight of stairs leading up to Bom Jesus do Monte.
- Medieval old town One of the oldest cities built in Portugal after the country as such was born. Small but every building worth to see.
-Palácio dos Biscaínhos Built in the 16th century, with Baroque gardens, is located at the very western edge of the old town, near the train station.
-Pópulo Church At the small square in the front of the main facade of the Biscaínhos Palace. Built from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
-Porta Nova Arch Right at the beginning of the main street that cuts through the old town, Rua Dom Diogo de Sousa.
-Largo do Municipio After entering by the Porta Nova, taking the first street north you reach this square.
-City Hall At the western side, built in Renaissance style.
-Library On the eastern side facing the City Hall.
-Santa Barbara Gardens Continuing east straight after the Largo do Municipio. Entirely surrounded with historical buildings, among them, the old Moorish Castle.
-Largo de São João do Souto Along the pedestrian street heading south from the Santa Barbara Gardens, passing by beautiful buildings, coffees, bars and restaurants.
-Cathedral From Largo de São João do Souto, continue along Rua de São João heading west. You will see its back facade at the end of the street. Built in the 15th century primary in Gothic style. The front entrance, by the square, offers a better view among the buildings around it.
-Largo de São Paulo Starting from the Cathedral Square and following the main north-south street, Rua Dom Gonçalo Pereira you will reach the next square.
-São Paulo Church From 1589 in an extreme austere appearance.
-Pio XII Museum The next building, attached to the São Paulo Church, dedicated to the sacred art an archaeology.
-São Tiago Tower One of the former watchtowers from the fortifications, has the Chapel of Our Lady of Tower attached in this side, while at the opposite side (at Campo de Santiago) it is clearly visible in full.
-Campo de Santiago Passing through the gate by the São Tiago Tower you reach the other side and this square.
-São Marcos Church Continue from Campo de Santiago towards the east. The church was built in the 18th century, facing Largo Carlos Amarante.
-Raio Palace Before heading north from the Largo Carlos Amarante, surround the São Marcos Church by the side street to admire this baroque palace entirely covered with blue ceramic tiles.
-Republic Square The largest square in Braga, towards the northeast end of the old town. Here are some of the finest residential building in Braga, and a wide choice of bars and restaurants.
-Old Castle Only the tower survives, nowadays as an art gallery. In order to see it you need to go behind the buildings, around the corner of Cafe Astoria.
-Lapa Church On the western edge of the square.
-Congregation Convent Built in the 18th century in baroque style.
-Penha Church Towards the eastern end of this square, built in 1720 has marvelous painted ceramic tiles decorating the interiors depicting the history of the city.
The nearest airport is Porto’s Francisco de Sá Carneiro International Airport, 15 km to the north of that city, and is connected to downtown by metro and buses. The AeroBus costs 6 Euros for a single ride and takes you directly to the heart of the city, Praça da Liberdade. However, the cheapest, fastest and easiest way is to take the metro for 1.80 Euros (plus 0.60 for the rechargeable ticket). Just follow the signs from the arrivals hall; but you need to know there is no one at the station selling tickets, only automated machines, where if you do not have Euros you will not be able to pay by card (only Portuguese cards are accepted), nor pay with a note higher than 10 Euros! A bit limited considering it is a brand new metro system with state of the art ticketing machines. The solution is easy if you cannot manage to buy a ticket: ride it for free (not that I am encouraging this to you, but only if you are left with no other option). There are no barriers, just pass through. Having no one to manage at least a ticket office in an international airport station is already bad enough, so why to hassle or loose time.
Once in Porto, you can get on the commuter rail line to Braga from both main stations, Sao Bento or Campanha. Don’t worry on finding which train and where to get off, the line is “Braga Line” and it’s the last station. The journey time is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, with frequencies of a train every hour.
In Braga, the train station is west of the medieval old town, a very short walking distance along the main road that also traverses through the entire historic core west to east. Almost every street in the old town is pedestrian, and distances very small for what there is no need to consider any public transportation to go anywhere. The farthest you will need to go is towards the northeast of the city, what is called as “Upper Braga” where the funicular railway to the Bom Jesus do Monte hill. It is quite a walk here, indeed, however easy manageable as it follows directions through the main street, easy to find out.
We came to the city as a day trip from Porto, our base. Being that near this large city, where we flew to, was the best option not only for revisiting Porto, but because you have plenty more choice of hotels and deals over there than here. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
From our experience in Porto, we stayed at the Hotel America, right in the middle of the city in Rua de Santa Catarina 1018, just few meters behind Trindade train station and short walking distance to Avenida Trindade, the heart of the city. The location could not be any better, meaning we never needed any public transportation to move within the city; as for the property itself, it was nice. Not a high expectations but not a disappointment, it was just right. Simple, family run business with spacious rooms, comfortable and quiet; and a good breakfast. Bearing in mind this is not a city where hotels come cheap nor are good deals, this was a great value for money and we can recommend to anyone on a city-break.