What to see in Braga, Portugal
Braga (Portugal), the attractions of which attract the attention of millions, is located near Porto (50 km). The city is recognized as the center of Catholicism, here since the early 16th century is the seat of the archbishop. Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and ordinary tourists flock here to enjoy the unique architectural sites built in different historical eras.
Photo: Main attraction of Braga (Portugal), view from the top. Braga consists of two parts – old and new. Tourists are of course more interested in the old town, the entrance to which is the Arco da Porta Nova, which was built at the end of the 18th century.
The best time to visit the center of Catholicism in Portugal is Easter, when you can take part in many religious activities.
There are so many sights in Braga, Portugal, that it is almost impossible to see them all in a couple of days. We have chosen the most interesting and significant. The city itself is described here.
Sanctuary of Bon Jesus do Monti
Located just outside Tenoins, on a hilltop overlooking a surprisingly scenic landscape. The pilgrims begin their ascent by climbing the intricately shaped 116 meter long staircase.
The history of the shrine begins in the 14th century, when a cross and a chapel of the Holy Cross were erected on the hill. For two hundred years chapels were built here, and at the beginning of the 17th century the brotherhood of Jesus de Monte was created. This event was initiated by the archbishop. It was he who decided to build a temple in Braga, the appearance of which is still preserved today.
It took many hundred years to complete the temple and landscape complex, designing winding paths and building chapels whose appearance resembled grottoes decorated with biblical scenes. At the end of the 19th century there was installed a tramway, which connected the church and the lower town.
The facade is in the shape of a cross and is decorated with two bell towers, the vaults of which are in the form of onions. There are two niches at the edges of the entrance in which sculptures of prophets are placed and in the courtyard there are statues on biblical themes.
The name of the shrine means the Sanctuary of Christ on Calvary. The landscape complex attracts not only millions of pilgrims but also architects who come here for inspiration.
The staircase is undoubtedly the jewel of the complex. It consists of several spans:
- At the portico;
- the five senses;
- the three virtues.
In the staircase of Bon Jesus do Monti you can see fountains, amazing sculptures that symbolize the human senses, as well as the three virtues.
Note! The park complex is equipped with tennis courts, cafes and restaurants, playgrounds and recreational areas.
- Where to find the site: Three miles or 4.75 km southeast of Braga on the N103, Portugal.
- Opening hours: in summer 8-00 to 19-00, in winter 9-00 to 18-00.
- Entrance is free.
- Official website: https://bomjesus.pt/
Funicular in Braga
An interesting and atmospheric attraction in Braga, Portugal is the cable car that leads to the temple complex Bom Jesus do Monte. For a small fee the streetcar will help tourists get up to the temple. The funicular is in a picturesque place, surrounded by trees and dense vegetation, in such a tunnel it is nice to relax.
The cable car is the first in Portugal – it was built at the end of the 19th century and is water-powered. Before each departure the cable car gives a funny signal.
- Location: Largo do Santuario do Bom Jesus, Braga, Portugal.
- One-way ticket costs 1.5 euros, and round trip 2.5 euros.
- Opening hours: in summer from 9-00 to 20-00, in winter from 9-00 to 19-00.
Useful tip: Such a streetcar is very useful for elderly people who find it difficult to overcome the long stairs. The best way is to go up to the temple on the cable car, and go down the stairs.
Santa Maria de Braga Cathedral
This cathedral is recognized as the most important architectural site in Braga. Its grandeur has been noted by many church representatives, architects, sculptors and artists.
The church was erected in stages. Construction began in 1071, the chapels on the east side were completed 18 years later, and work was halted. Soon the work was resumed and continued until the 13th century.
The temple is decorated in the Romanesque style. A little later, the chapels and the anterooms, decorated in the Gothic style, were added to the main building. The wall of the temple is decorated with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary.
The exterior design of the complex is a mixture of several architectural styles popular at the time.
Inside the building is divided into several parts and all of them are worth seeing. There are also two ancient organs in the temple. Of particular interest is the main chapel in the Manuelino style. There is also a treasure museum, and the main exhibit is the monstrance, which is made of silver and is decorated with 450 diamonds.
Interesting to know! The parents of the first Portuguese monarch are buried in the Royal Chapel and Archbishop Gonçalo Pereira is buried in the Chapel of Glory.
- Where is it: Se Primaz Rua Dom Paio Mendes, Braga.
- The cathedral can be visited from 9-30 to 12-30 and from 14-30 to 17-30 (in the summer until 18-30).
- Tickets: € 2 to the Cathedral, € 2 to the Chapel, € 3 to the Treasury Museum. Free admission for children under 12 years.
- Web site: https://se-braga.pt/
Please note! A half hour drive from Brahe is the small but very cozy and beautiful town of Guimarães. Why you should take the time to visit it, read this article.
Sanctuary of Sâmeiro
The sanctuary is situated a few kilometers from the sanctuary of Bon Jesus de Monte, on a hill (about half a kilometer above sea level). From here you can see Braga as if in the palm of your hand. The shrine is one of the most visited and largest in Portugal.
The sanctuary is notable for the beautiful altar, made of granite of an exquisite white color. There is also a shell made of silver and a sculpture of the Madonna. A long staircase leads to the sanctuary and the entrance is adorned with columns decorated with sculptures of the Virgin Mary and Christ.
At the end of the 20th century, the Pope held a service in the sanctuary and approximately 100 thousand people listened to him. After the memorable event, a monument to John Paul II was erected here, and earlier a monument to Pope Pius IX was erected.
It is also worth visiting the church for the panoramic views of Braga.
Interesting! Most visitors come on the first Saturday in June and the last Saturday in August.
- Map location: Avenida Nossa Sra. do Sameiro 44, Monte do Sameiro, Braga, Portugal. Coordinates for navigation: N 41º 32’39” W 8º 25’19”.
- Opening hours and services are subject to change, check the official website: https://santuariodosameiro.pt
A selection of the most important sights in Porto with descriptions and photos can be found on this page, and you can find interesting facts about the city here.
Santa Barbara Gardens
When asked what to see in Braga in Portugal, tourists unambiguously answer – Santa Barbara Gardens. They appeared in the middle of the last century and are located at the west, the oldest wall of the bishop’s castle, where the library is located. Many tourists who have been here call the attraction the most picturesque in the country.
The garden is decorated in the Renaissance style. The territory is well-groomed, there are different kinds of plants. Here you can see boxwood beds planted in a regular geometric shape and decorated with cedars.
In the central part of the park area, the fountain and the statue of St. Barbara are worth seeing. The latter, in her lifetime, saved her from sudden death, from the sea storm and fire. The northern and southern parts of the garden are separated by a dilapidated medieval arcade.
Location in the city: Eastern wing of the Archiepiscopal Court, Rua Francisco Sanches, Braga, Portugal.
Place de la Repubblica
One of the main attractions in Braga is the square of the Republic, which connects the two parts of the city, the ancient and modern. The most interesting part is the ancient part where Gothic buildings from the 16th-17th centuries have been preserved. Many tourists begin their sightseeing in Braga’s Republic Square because all the important sacred places are within walking distance.
Directly on the square there is the House of Mercy, built in the 16th century, its first floor is decorated with tiles, columns, and the vault is decorated with a crucifix. There is a fountain with a cross and the town hall in the center.
Location : Praca da Republica, Braga.
The palace and garden of the Biscayne Gardens
An old Baroque castle located next to the Cathedral of Braga. The modern appearance of the palace has changed several times, as the structure is many times. Many architects call it a masterpiece of art. The rooms are decorated quite exquisitely – the walls are finished with ceramic tiles, decorated with paintings. It will be interesting to look at this beauty.
The garden, laid out in 1750, deserves special attention. According to the plan of the architect garden is made in several tiers, each of them planted unique plants, installed sculptures and fountains. The garden, like the palace, is designed in the Baroque style.
It is interesting! For three centuries, the palace complex was privately owned, with the government buying it back in 1963.
Where to: Rua Joao Braga 41° 33′ 2.54 N 8° 25′ 51.35 W, Braga 4715-198 Portugal.
Braga (Portugal), whose sights are fascinating and help you organize your thoughts, invites you to visit numerous museums. The most interesting are the Museum of Pius XII and the Noguera da Silva Museum.
All prices and schedules on the page are for March 2020.
See the video for a tour of Braga and a sightseeing tour with a local guide.
Author: Julia Matyukhina
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The Portuguese city of Braga
The ancient Portuguese city of Braga is the spiritual center of the country.It is home to numerous religious sites, palaces, museums and green spaces.
Braga is located in northern Portugal, 50 km from Porto. A relatively small city with a population of 175 thousand people is divided into as many as 62 districts. Braga is the religious center of the country, it is the seat of the archbishop. Catholic holidays in the city are held on a special scale. Therefore, the Semana Santa Easter week is considered the best time to visit Braga.
Features of the city
Braga’s climate is characterized by mild, usually snowless winters and moderately hot summers. Spring and Autumn are quite rainy.
Due to its deep Christian roots, Braga boasts numerous religious monuments from different time periods, all centered in the city’s Old Town. At the same time, Braga is an industrial and university city. The conventional boundary between the Old and New Town is the Arco da Porta Nova on the Prasa da Republica.
Transportation is not necessary to see most of the local sights. Other places of interest, especially outside the city, can be reached by bus. The cost of intracity trips is 1 EUR.
Despite the status of the spiritual capital, the city is not deprived of the standard for a European city entertainment such as nightclubs and bars. Among the specific hobbies is bullfighting. In contrast to the Spanish, it does not end with the killing of a bull. The Festa da do São João, a traditional festival in honour of John the Baptist with costume processions, performances and fireworks, takes place on 23-24 June.
Cuisine and restaurants
Catering in Braga is of course dominated by Portuguese cuisine. Fish and seafood are a big part of it. The fish soup “cataplana”, cod with green peas “bacalhau” and fried perch “robulo” are my favorites. The appetizers are olives and cheese, the side dishes are vegetables or rice. Of course, meat-eaters may order meat dishes as well.
Another thing I liked about Braga is the excellent desserts. They are considered the best in Portugal. I share Braga’s preference for wine and other alcoholic beverages. Madeira and Port wine predominate (Porto is only 50 km away!). Lovers of other drinks can try almond liqueur and strawberry vodka.
Moderately priced restaurants in the city include:
- Inacio (Campo das Hortas, 4) with traditional Portuguese cuisine;
- Pedra Furada (Estreda 306) with numerous vegetable salads and very tasty pastries;
- Brito’s (Praça Mouzinho de Albuque, 49), specializing in grilled dishes;
- Gosto Superior (Prasa Mouzinho de Albuquerque, 29), a vegetarian restaurant.
Braga is the spiritual capital of the country. There are many religious buildings in this city. The most notable of them will be discussed below.
Sanctuary of Bon Jesús do Monti
The Santuario do Bom Jesus do Monte (Sanctuary of the Good Jesus on the Mount) is 6 km from Braga, on top of a hill. A cross has been erected here since the 14th century and in the following centuries chapels have been built which have attracted pilgrims. The present Sanctuary is a church of the XVIII century, to which runs the monumental zigzag Via Sacra (“Holy Stairs”) of 116 m.
The ascent of the 581 stairs symbolizes the Way of the Cross. The same number of chapels along the stairs correspond to its 14 stops. On the way you can sit down on benches. But some zealous pilgrims overcome this path on their knees to better experience the suffering of Christ. For the elderly and infirm there is a funicular, which has been in operation since the late 19th century.
The staircase is divided into three large themed spans with fountains and allegorical statues. They symbolize, respectively, the Way of the Cross, the five human senses and the three Christian virtues – Faith, Hope and Love. As the Jesuits believed, the human senses are the doors through which the soul leaves the prison of the body after death.
The main facade is notable for its two bell towers, columns and sculptures. On the sides of the main entrance are statues of the prophets in niches. The interior of the church is a combination of Baroque and Neoclassical elements. Above the main altar, under a canopy, is a sculptural composition depicting the Crucifixion. The church and staircase are surrounded by a park with grottoes and flower beds, so beautiful that one does not want to leave it.
The top of the complex offers a stunning panorama of Braga.
On the first day I was in Braga I bought a bus ticket at the tourist office on the main square so I could get a first impression of the local sights. There were two pleasant surprises waiting for me. The first – a free guide in Russian. The second – the tour route included the Sanctuary. Free entrance to it was open from 8:30 to 20 hours in high season, and to 18:30 on low. In addition to the sightseeing bus, the regular city bus no. 2 runs here from Braga. You need to buy a ticket for 1.7 EUR from the driver, and then drive half an hour to the final stop.
Sé de Braga was built with interruptions over two centuries – from XI to XIII. Not surprisingly its architectural appearance combines elements of different architectural styles – early Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Manuelineau (the Portuguese version of the Renaissance). The facade is dominated by the side bell towers, between which there is a sculpture of the Mother of God with the Child under the cross.
The interior is dominated by Baroque. First of all, the altar draws attention.
There are five chapels in the cathedral in which local historical figures are buried. Above the center of the three aisles are two ancient organs decorated with sculptures and gilding. The organs are played at the Sunday masses beginning at 11:30 am.
The cathedral has an interesting Museu do Tesouro da Sé (Museum of Religious Art) with five rooms. There you can see an 18th century silver monstrance with 450 diamonds, a collection of 200 bells as well as religious jewelry, priests’ robes, ivory boxes, paintings and sculptures.
The address is Rua Dom Paio Mendes-Rossio da Sé and you can get there by bus 41 to the stop Avenida Robert Smith. Visitors are free every day except Wednesdays, from 9:30 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 17:30 to 18:30. Price for a ticket to the museum is 3 EUR.
Near the Cathedral
There are several other religious and secular buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Cathedral. They are the Churches of Mercy and São João do Souto, the Coimbras Chapel, the Bishop’s Palace and the Biscainiós Palace, and the Santa Barbara Gardens. It is convenient to visit them in a few hours of walking around the Old City, which I did.
The Church of the Igreja da Misericordia de Braga was built in the 16th century. At the beginning of this century, the Archbishop of Braga allowed members of the Brotherhood of Mercy to settle in one of the chapels of the Cathedral. A few decades later, however, the increase in the number of brothers necessitated the construction of a separate church. It is characterized by a Renaissance facade and a Baroque interior. The main altar is decorated with the image of the merciful Virgin Mary, which gave the church its name
The Igreja de Sao Joao do Souto was built in the 12th century, but later reconstructions significantly altered its original appearance. It is dedicated to John the Baptist. The central icon of the interior depicts him, and the ceiling is painted with biblical scenes. The Church of S. Joao do Souto is at the center of the festivities dedicated to John the Baptist. It is celebrated every year on the night of June 23 to 24.
Adjacent to the church is the walled Capela dos Coimbras, built in the 16th century. The Manuelino-style chapel can only be accessed through the Church of S. Joao do Souto. The Coimbras Chapel, unlike the church, has retained its original appearance. Nevertheless, the mixing of styles can be seen here as well. The Romanesque porch is flanked by Baroque columns. From above a lion is looking down on them. The interior is decorated with traditional azulejo tiles depicting the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve.
The name of the chapel is related to the Coimbras family, to whom it is thought to have belonged. The head of the family, João di Coimbra, is buried in the chapel. Next to it is the house where his family lived. It now houses an art gallery.
Church of Santa Cruz
A notable religious structure in Braga is the Igreja de Santa Cruz (Church of the Holy Cross), also close to the Cathedral. The church was built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Very expressive is the facade of the building with side bell towers with clocks and weathervane.
On either side of the cross carved in the pediment is an apple tree – the symbol of the lost Paradise, and a palm tree – the symbol of the Resurrection.
The beautiful facade is not inferior to the interior with a gilded altar image, lots of paintings and panels, marvelous arches and a coffered ceiling.
Monasteries in Braga and the surrounding area have been known since the 6th century, being destroyed and reconstructed. The Tibanis monastery was built in the 17th century and is still undergoing restoration work. The white rococo facade of the former Benedictine monastery gives a visual sense of lightness. Inside, the sculptures of Quiparino do Cruz are of undeniable cultural value. Mosteiro de Tibaes is 4 km from the center at Rua do Mosteiro.
The early Christian cloister of the Duomo is considered the first in the Iberian Peninsula. Its ruins are in Rua de S. Martinho. During excavations in the area of the ruins of the Monastery of Dumio medieval coins, pottery, amphorae, glassware, mosaics were discovered.
The former bishop’s palace of Braga is also near the Cathedral. Built in the 14th century, the Paco Episcopal Bracarense underwent several reconstructions over the following centuries. The individual parts of the palace complex are therefore varied. The oldest east wing is the 14th century Gothic style. The southern wing consists of buildings of the 16th-18th centuries, dominated by Mannerism. Finally, the eighteenth-century west wing is Baroque.
At present, the palace houses a large public library, the Minho University Rectorate and the archives.
The Palacio dos Biscainhos, built at the end of the 16th century, is an example of the Baroque style. The interior features stucco ceilings, walls decorated with azulejo tiles, and 16th-century paintings. The beauty of the Palacio dos Biscainhos is accentuated by the adjoining garden with sculptures and fountains. For the past half century the palace has been home to the Museu Etnografico e Artfstico (Museum of Ethnography and Art). It exhibits paintings, furniture, glass, silver and porcelain products. Museum opening hours are 10:00 – 12:00 and 14:00 – 17:30.
The Palacio do Raio (Mexican House) is one of the best in Braga. The Palacio do Raio was built during the second half of the 18th century. The palace is named after the last private owner. The façade of the building is decorated with blue azulejo tiles. The balustrades on the balcony and roof give the building even more ornamentation.
Inside, the three-bay grand staircase with a sculpture of a Turk attracts attention.
On the Prasa da Republica, the Torri di Menagena is a surviving fragment of the Gothic defensive castle. The Torre de Menagem, with its loopholes, is 30 m high. After passing through the arched doorway, a staircase ascends to the observation deck.
The Sacred Arts Museum is located at Largo de San Tiago, 47. Another name of the Museo de Arte Religioso is Museu Pio XII, after Pope Pius XII. Among the exhibits are many valuable artifacts found during archaeological excavations. These are the tools of the Bronze Age and Paleolithic, prehistoric pottery, objects of worship.
Green Areas and Parks
The name of the Pineda Jerez National Park reflects its boundaries. It extends from Mt. Jeres to the Pineda mountain range. The main landscape of Peneda-Gerês National Park are valleys and mountains covered with dense pine, oak, and yew forests. They are home to many animals, including rare golden eagles. In the villages within the park, you can see espigueiros, barns on poles that store grain and corn. Their appearance has not changed over the centuries.
The park is located 45 km from Braga. A cab ride will cost about 30 EUR. A third of this money can be saved. From Braga, take bus 4 for 25 minutes and 3 EUR to the station Pinheiro, and from there take a 27 km cab for 17 EUR – 20 EUR.
Unlike Pineda Geres, the Santa Barbara Gardens are a man-made attraction. They were laid out in the middle of the twentieth century on the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace. The Garden of Santa Barbara is an example of the harmonious combination of nature, sculpture and architecture. Flowerbeds and boxwood beds, shrubs in the shape of different figures, beautiful statues make the gardens a favorite stroll place for townspeople and visitors. In the center of the gardens is a fountain topped with a sculpture of Santa Barbara. It is believed to save from sudden and violent death, fire, and sea storms.
In every new city, lovers of educational tourism make discoveries for themselves. Braga for me will be associated primarily with the amazing Sanctuary complex. I will also remember with pleasure the Cathedral, Santa Cruz Church and Raiu Palace.