For many, Braga is one of the best-kept secrets of Northern Portugal. However, in reality, this is the third-largest city in the country, the “Rome of Portugal” and the country’s ancient religious capital. Known as the pilgrimage site of Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga enchants visitors with its elegance and historical tales. Laced with ancient narrow alleyways lined with breathtaking baroque churches and 18th-century mansions, this city reminds travelers of Portugal’s devotion to the spiritual world.
However, don’t expect to find a quiet and pious city. Braga’s old center keeps up with the times and is embellished with a plethora of cafes and boutiques, as well as excellent restaurants and bars. It may come as a surprise for some, but Braga was named the European Youth Capital in 2012, its recognition being a testament to the city’s verve and fun ambiance. Discover the best things to do in Braga and head to one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal:
Embrace the grandeur of Bom Jesus do Monte
Even though this magnificent church and sanctuary is situated outside the city, perched on a hilltop to the east, Bom Jesus do Monte is considered to be one of the most beautiful attractions in Braga. A splendid architectural jewel that lives in harmony with its lovely natural surroundings, this sacred and resting place has been a pilgrimage site since the 14th century. The church was built between 1784 and 1811, and the result is a baroque splendor that will test both your faith and physical limits. You’ll have to climb no less than 640 steps to get inside unless you’re willing to sacrifice the pilgrimage and take the oldest funicular in the world that works with a water-counterweight system. Moreover, the site is not only dedicated to praising divinity. It also is a natural wonder where you can walk among beautiful gardens, fountains, and caves, and admire gorgeous views from its many viewpoints.
Discover a superb blend of architectural styles in one building
Braga Cathedral has been modified so many times that it is now a surprising and fascinating architectural puzzle. If you have an eye for architecture, a visit to Braga Cathedral will delight you with Romanesque, Manueline, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque elements. While its exterior is adorned with richly ornate Manueline towers and roof, the triple nave is easily identifiable as a Romanesque presence and the twin gilded wooden organs inside are a beautiful example of Baroque style. Built in 1070 and reshaped many times since then, this beautiful cathedral is the oldest in Portugal. Make sure you purchase a full-price ticket for a chance to also admire its side chapels, the upper choir, and the museum.
Get a glimpse into the Portuguese aristocracy’s life
Housed inside a palace, the Biscainhos Museum allows visitors to get to know the daily life of the Portuguese nobles between the 17th and 19th centuries. The Biscainhos were the Basque stonemasons brought to Barga in the 16th century to build the Gothic tower of the nearby cathedral. The name of the street and consequently the museum was inspired by them. The palace dates back to the 17th century, and it was once the accommodation of King D. Luis I and the Counts of Bertiandos, an important aristocratic Portuguese family. The one-hectare garden was created in the 18th century following the elaborate and stunning pattern of Baroque gardens, while many of its interior elements of décor date back to the same century.
Relax and have a cup of coffee at Praça da República
Framed by gorgeous buildings dressed in pastel colors, Praça da República is the heart of historic Braga. Also known as “Arcada”, due to the 18th-century building adorned with arcades, this gorgeous square is long and glorious, with stories dating back to the 1800s. The Arcada da Lapa was once the place where the merchants of Braga sold their products and, between 1761 and 1764, was the home of Lapa Church. Currently, the arcade houses two of the oldest cafes in Braga, Café Vianna, opened in 1871, and Café Astória that dates back to 1928. The square is the perfect departure point for tours of the city, as well as a romantic setting for al fresco dinners in an elegant ambiance.
Pamper your senses with a tour of the joyful Santa Barbara Garden
One of the most beautiful things to see in Braga, Jardim de Santa Bárbara mesmerizes visitors with its frenzy of colors and scents. Situated next to Braga’s medieval Archiepiscopal Palace, built between the 14th and 15th century, and framed by magnificent historic buildings, like the University of Minho’s Rectory and the Largo do Paço square, this gorgeous garden gathers between its well-manicured and geometrical boxwood hedges and topiaries a riot of summer flowers.
Admire the gorgeous azulejos of the Raio Palace
A remarkable building due to its magnificent walls clad with blue azulejos that contrast gracefully with the granite carvings adorning the windows and doors, Raio Palace was built in the 1750s at the initiative of João Duarte de Faria, a wealthy merchant and knight of the Order of Christ. The blue tile work dresses a Baroque/Rococo exterior, while the interior dazzles visitors with hand-painted tile panels along the staircase and decadent ceilings. The palace houses a museum dedicated to the hospital formerly situated within these walls.
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