Very close to Porto there are several interesting places and cities to which you can take a train ride. One of these cities is Braga, famous for its religious atmosphere. In this post I share my experience and the main attractions to see in Braga in one day.
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How to get there from Porto
Braga is located south of Porto and is easily reached by train. In Porto take the train from the São Bento station and after an hour you’ll be arriving in Braga.
The station in Braga is quite close to the center so you can reach it on foot in approximately 10 minutes.
Getting out of the station you just have to walk on Rua da Andrade Corvo avenue until you see the Arco da Porta Nova. This arch marks the access to the old town.
It is also possible to get there by bus and the station in Braga is in the center as well. If you are staying near a bus station in Porto, this option might suit you.
History of Braga
Braga is the fourth most populated city in Portugal (after Lisbon, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia). It may not seem like it, especially when we explore its compact historical center.
It’s a city with a long history as it was founded by the Romans in the year 16 b. C. with the name of Bracara Augusta in honor of Cesar Augusto.
The bishopric of Bracara was founded in 388, giving the city its religious character that it still preserves.
The city lost its status as the capital of Galicia when it became dependent on the kingdom of León where Afonso III resided most of the time.
In the 11th century the city already named Braga was reorganized around the new Cathedral built by orders of Bishop Pedro de Braga. The city recovered its importance in the region when the archbishopric of Braga was created in 1071.
Alfonso IV of León gave Braga as a gift to his daughter Teresa for her marriage to Don Enrique de Burgundy in 1093. These would later donate the city to the archbishops.
From the 16th century, modifications and an expansion of the city began. They built new streets and structures, and the old ones were modified with the architecture style of each period.
And that is how thanks to this religious past and the archbishopric that there are many and beautiful buildings to see in Braga.
What to see in Braga
Our visit was during the Christmas season so that added even more charm to our trip. Also, there were almost no tourists, so we had the city to ourselves. The only detail is that we had rain and this, with the few hours of sunlight in winter, slightly hindered our plans.
Still, we could enjoy some attractions of Braga.
These are some spots and interesting buildings that you can see in Braga in one day:
Arco da Porta Nova
The first thing to see in Braga if you come from the train station is the Arco da Porta Nova. This arch has a combination of Baroque and Neoclassical styles.
This gate was part of the wall completed in 1373 and was one of the entrances to the city. It was rebuilt on several occasions and in the 17th century, Bishop Gaspar de Braganza added Rococo elements.
The west façade has a Baroque style and the Gaspar de Braganza coat of arms. A statue representing the city of Braga was also placed on top of it.
The east side façade was designed Neoclassical by André Soares in the late 18th century. It is decorated with a niche in which a sculpture of Our Lady of Nazareth rests.
If you continue walking on this street, Rua Dom Diogo do Souza, you will see beautiful and colorful buildings, as well as some shops.
The truth is that we didn’t see the cathedral itself. We entered the Igreja da Misericordia behind the cathedral, and we were able to look out onto a patio through the glass doors. Anyway, the Cathedral was around the corner, and we weren’t even aware.
Its construction dates back to the year 1070 when Bishop Pedro de Braga ordered to build it on the ruins of a Roman building. With the passage of time, chapels were added to it, besides other renovations.
It has a combination of various architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, and Baroque. In the patio that shares with the church of Mercy we could see some pieces, I suppose that remains of previous buildings.
The price to enter the cathedral is €2, to visit the museum it costs €3 and to visit the choir and the chapels it costs €2. There are combined tickets to visit 2 areas that you prefer for €4 and if you want to see all the ticket costs €5.
Sanctuary Bom Jesus do Monte
One of the main attractions to see in Braga is the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary. Its baroque stairs make all tourists want to come and take their picture.
It’s located on a hill and it’s known there was a chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross built in 1373. In the year 1629 they built a pilgrimage church dedicated to Bom Jesus.
In 1722, they began building the current sanctuary with the first flights of stairs and some chapels. Over time the church went through several transformations, and reconstructions. The one we see today has a Neoclassical style and was built in the late 19th century.
The surrounding land became a park, and they built an elevator which is still in use. This sanctuary is located on the outskirts of the city so if you want to see it you will have to take a bus to get there.
That was what prevented us from visiting it, as we had a rainy winter day with few hours of sun. The bus can be taken both in the center of Braga and at the train station.
Check out these tours to and from Braga if you don’t have much time and want to see the most:
Casa do Raio
A very beautiful building that you have to see in Braga is the Palace or Casa do Raio. It’s lined with blue tiles and has a Baroque style.
The house was built between 1752 and 1755 and designed by André Soares. It was the home of the João Duarte de Faria family and acquired in 1853 by Miguel Jose Raio who gave it its name. At the end of the 19th century it passed into the hands of Casa da Misericordia, a charitable institution.
It currently functions as the Interpretive Center Memories of the Mercy of Braga. Among other things you can see sacred art, paintings, sculptures, and historical archives. Admission is free. Unfortunately we did not enter, so if any of you visit it, tell me what was it like.
Archiepiscopal Palace and the Gardens of Saint Barbara
The Archiepiscopal Palace located near the Cathedral is the palace of the Archbishops of Braga. It has various architectural styles accumulated throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It currently functions as a library and archive.
Next to this group of buildings you can see the Saint Barbara Gardens that … well, on my visit they were under maintenance. In winter, they are not so striking, but in spring I imagine they must be splendid. Even so, the arches and the old buildings give it a very beautiful appearance.
Torre de Menagem
The keep tower is all that remains of the old castle of Braga. The city walls were built during the 11th century and the castle during the 14th century. It was destroyed in 1906.
This tower was one of the 6 watchtowers of the castle, of which there are still some vestiges. It is currently used for the promotion of the heritage of Braga and it’s possible to visit it for free.
Town Hall or Paços do Concelho de Braga
The building that houses the Braga Town Hall was built between 1753 and 1756 and designed by André Soares. It is a beautiful baroque building that stands out in the Campo de Touros or bullring square.
Churches and religious monuments are many so you may want to take note of some important and/or beautiful places to see in Braga.
The truth is that I didn’t visit the churches inside, but if you have time or interest you might as well do it. In Portugal, many of the old buildings have tiles art interiors that makes them unique.
Well, some of the most important churches or that I liked the most, at least seen from the outside are:
Igreja da Misericordia
The Church of Mercy is actually adjoined to the Cathedral as I already mentioned it. I really don’t know where one begins and the other ends 😅 as they share the patio, so if you visit one, you will surely see the other.
It was built between 1560 and 1562. It is the only Renaissance monument despite having suffered several renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Igreja da Santa Cruz
This Mannerist Baroque style church began its construction in 1625 and was finished in 1737. They had to repair it and rebuild it during this time as it was deteriorating rapidly.
Convento Dos Congregados
The Convento dos Congregados is another example of baroque architecture, with rococo elements. It dates from the 17th century when the Congregation or order of San Felipe Neri arrived in the city. The basilica was designed by André Soares and its construction began in the 16th century.
Funily, the statues of the saints Felipe Neri and Martín de Braga, made by the sculptor Manuel da Silva Nogueira, were placed on the facade until the 20th century.
It is currently occupied by the music department of the University of Minho.
Igreja de Sao Marcos
The church of St Mark is a baroque church from the 18th century. At some point a hospital was located here for what is also known as the hospital church.
On its facade there are sculptures of various saints, highlighting that of the patron St. Mark. The tomb with the relics of the Holy Apostle are found in this church for the veneration of the believers. It is another option to see in Braga.
In front of this church there is a fountain and the letters of Braga where you can take the obligatory photo.
Igreja dos Terceiros
Another church that I found nice for its tiled walls is the Igreja dos Terceiros or Church of the Third Order.
It dates from 1690 and was built with the alms of the believers for the Third Regular Order of St Francis. With a Baroque style, the facade displays a statue of the Immaculate Conception in a niche.
Igreja de São João do Souto
The São João do Souto Church next to the Capela dos Coimbras, is one of my favorite churches. It has a Baroque style and is covered with green tiles. It was built in the 18th century, yet before there was another building from the 12th century.
The attached chapel was built in 1525 by order of D. Joao de Coimbra as a private chapel. It is related to the Casa da Coimbra that is in front of this church. Both have a Manueline style. I found it a picturesque church to see in Braga.
And you definitely have to wander through the center of Braga and walk its streets and alleys that have a peculiar charm.
Pay attention to all the beautiful and colorful buildings in the Old Town. Many of the stores are located in old buildings that are worth stopping to watch.
Sit down to savor a coffee and a pastei de nata in one of its cafés and enjoy the history and the retro vibe of this city.
Avenida da Liberdade
Also, don’t miss Avenida da Liberdade, the longest avenue in Braga. On this avenue there are many shops, cafés and restaurants. It is embellished with planters that in spring must look very beautiful. Even in winter the avenue is quite photogenic and worth seeing.
Take the chance to do some shopping for gifts and souvenirs. I went into some stores with seasonal offers and I found some things that I bought for myself and to give as a gift.
You’ll be able to find fashion stores like Zara and H&M, as well as other local and gift shops.
What else to do and to see in Braga
In Braga there are several museums that you can visit if you are interested or if you are staying more than one day. In fact, it is a good idea to stay longer and make a base in Braga to visit the surroundings.
If you choose to stay for one night or longer, check out these deals in Braga:
These are some museums and places that you can see:
Mosteiro de São Martinho de Tibães
The Monastery of St Martin was founded in the 4th century, although most of the buildings you see now were built between the 17th and 18th centuries.
It has a Baroque and Rococo style like most of the buildings in Braga. It was once the residence of the Benedictine congregation and is currently open for tourist visits. The cost of admission for adults is €4.00.
Museum of Archaeology Don Diogo do sousa
The archeology museum would be another interesting visit to do in Braga. Most of the exhibits are Roman remains. The building where it is located is rather modern and the entrance fee is 3 euros.
Museu dos Biscainhos
Located in a 17th century manor house, this museum displays decorative art from the 17th and 18th centuries. Here you’ll see paintings, furniture, porcelain, silverware, textiles, among others. It’s a good example of a Baroque residential palace as well.
Museu da Imagem
If you like photography, you may want to take a look at this museum. You will be able to see historical photographs and a collection of cameras. The best? It’s free!
Costume Museum Dr. Gonçalo Sampaio
We went through this museum and it caught my attention, but as I mentioned before, we didn’t have much time to visit museums. Also, we did not plan the visit well, sometimes it happens.
Well, this museum is a project carried out by the folkloric ballet group Dr. Gonçalo Sampaio founded in 1936. Costumes with 150 years of history are exhibited in Braga. It seems to me that it is free since I didn’t see the prices anywhere.
To end I want to give you some advice, especially if you are taking a day trip and are short on time.
If you want to visit the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary, you can do so arriving to Braga since the bus stop is just outside the train station. The bus line is number 2. There is another stop in the center of Braga, but maybe it is a little more difficult to find.
Find out what attractions you want to see to plan your day, especially if you travel in winter like I did because are less light hours.
There is a McDonald’s in the center where we covered ourselves from the rain and took a hot choco.
What do you think about Braga? Did you already know about this city? Did you know it was a city with so much history? I did not haha! Leave your impressions in the comments section!
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