Braga, the Rome of Portugal, is made for history buffs.
An hour north of Porto by car, you’ll reach another historical Portuguese city: Braga, or as many call it, “the Rome of Portugal.” During the 8th century, Braga was under Arab rule, until 1040 when it was seized by Ferdinand I of León and Castile.
Artists, designers, even students love Braga for weekend escapes. Those hungry for Minho cuisine or historical inspiration often arrive here for cool galleries, hipster cafes and hidden wine bars.
Braga is significant in Portugal due to its size, since it’s the third largest city following Lisbon and Porto. During the 16th century, Braga went through a comprehensive architectural development. The makeover was mainly led by archbishops who transitioned Braga from a medieval town to a Renaissance / Baroque-infused city. Here’s a list of main things to do if you plan on visiting Braga for a day. Please note, it doesn’t include EVERYTHING but part of the fun is also to stroll around and lose yourself a bit in this classical town!
1. DRINK: Have a morning coffee at Mavy.
It was first a grocery store, but now Mavy is a bookstore serving coffee. Especially if you love an institution with a story, you’ll dive right into the Mavy Project – a worldwide initiative which allows people to bring books home but also leave them at any place around the world. Check out the calendar on the wall that lists different cultural events in Braga, then maybe you’ll want to pickup a decoration catching your eye…all the decors are for sale!
2. SEE: Admire Antigo Paço Episcopal.
One of the most famous sites in Braga is the Episcopal Palace, Braga. The Santa Barbara Garden, or Jardim de Santa Bárbara, is a 17th century beauty outside of the 14th century palace which now houses university offices and the city library. Inside, one can also find 300,000+ volumes and 10,000+ manuscripts. Though not open to the public, it’s worth it to snap a few photos of the palace since it features gorgeous Portuguese azulejo tiles.
3. SEE: Say a little prayer at Sé (Cathedral).
The Braga Cathedral is arguably the city’s most famous landmark. Built on top of a destroyed Romanesque church during the 16th century, the Braga Cathedral displays beautiful Manueline towers and a magnificent 15th century porch. Inside the chapel, there’s the tomb of João I’s first born – baby Dom Afonso. Look out for the tomb of Henry of Burgundy and Dona Teresa – parents to the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. Look up, you shouldn’t miss the beautiful Baroque organ cases.
4. DO: Walk through Arco da Porta Nova.
While strolling through Braga, you can’t miss Arco da Porta Nova. The 14th century arch situated near the western wall of the city still acts as welcome sign to visitors arriving in the city. You’ll see the coat of arms of Archbishop de Bragança on the western side of the arch, meanwhile the eastern side is dedicated to Our Lady of Nazareth.
5. EAT: Lunch at the iconic Café Vianna.
Since 1858, Café Vianna has been serving the nobles and aristocrats of Braga on a daily basis. Located in the city center, Portuguese writers including: Eça de Queirós and Camilo Castelo Branco used to hang out here all the time. If you can peek inside the cafe’s game room, know that political meetings used to take place here, such as; 1926’s coup d’état, led by General Gomes da Costa. Enjoy a great meal here, either breakfast, lunch, brunch, or an afternoon drink to soak in the history!
What makes Museum dos Biscainhos (officially: Museu Etnográfico e Artístico) so special is that it’s actually an 18th century noble’s mansion. The interior design of the building features gorgeous azulejo tiles, and several rooms used for various purposes: gaming, music and dining. Today, the museum houses Roman relics, Portuguese furniture, pottery, and other 17th-19th century artifacts. Definitely worth a visit!
7. SEE: Bom Jesus do Monte
6 kilometers outside of Braga is the absolutely breathtaking Bom Jesus do Monte, and you’ve GOT to see this. This 18th century Baroque-style sanctuary captivates large amounts of visitors annually. Folks arrive here simply to admire the grand steps segmented by various chapels highlighting 14 Stations of the Cross. There are Staircase of the Three Virtues, and other statues that adorn the stairway via zigzag patterns. This is a must stop for worldwide pilgrims, and the view on top is glorious!
8. SHOP: Raio Street
There are tons of cute local boutiques on Raio Street, this is where you’ll stock up on souvenir shopping. It starts at Arco da Porta Nova, and it stretches all the way through Braga’s historical center. If you get tired, there will be countless options of restaurants and cafes for you to take a break!
9. DRINK: Manuel dos Vinhos Bar
A tiny bar serving a great collection of wine and beers is Manuel dos Vinhos, which you can find right in front of Braga Cathedral. Making this bar a great place to rest your feet after shopping on Raio Street. If you’re hungry, there are delicious tapas to accompany your glass of wine, champagne, or beer.
10. EAT: Dinner at Arcoense
For real traditional Minho provincial cuisine (northern Portugal,) you’ll want to maneuver 6 kilometers outside of Braga city center and head to Arcoense. The 30+ years old restaurant made a name for itself for producing its own bísaro pigs. There are two varieties of bísaro pig in Portugal: a white spotted one, common in the Minho, and a black or black spotted one, found in Trás-os-Montes. In addition to sausages, Bísaro meat can be made into roast pork or Trás-os-Montes beans stew. Devouring a meal at Arcoense is also indulging in hearty portions, like at a local friend’s Mama’s house.