The religious capital of Portugal, Braga is a conservative city that’s known for its elaborate Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions as well as its historical core, dominated by an abundance of Baroque churches. Visiting here and nearby Guimarães makes an easy one-day trip from Porto.
Founded by the Romans in the far north of the country, Braga still shows traces of the empire. The Roman Thermae of Maximinus — known locally as Termas Romanas do Alto Cividade — is an extensive bathing complex that dates to the 2nd century and includes several monumental buildings. You can visit the ruins, which are still an active excavation site.
The historic old town boasts wide plazas and pedestrian streets that are dotted with fountains and flower beds. The streets are lined with gray stone buildings, brightly painted townhouses, fashionable restaurants and designer boutiques, as well as cafés that spill out onto the cobblestones.
The city is home to the country’s oldest cathedral, a rambling structure that was begun 1,000 years ago. It’s made up of a millennium-worth of styles, including a Baroque nave that glitters with gold ornamentation. Look for the filigreed towers and roof designed by Manueline master João de Castilho, best known for his Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém.
The cathedral is also the focus of the city’s elaborate Semana Santa observances, held each year the week before Easter. The processions consist of long lines of men snaking slowly through the streets wearing ritual robes and hoods, often carrying banners, candles or floats. The city’s many churches and the cathedral are all bedecked in swathes of purple fabric and hold special services throughout the week.
Outside the city is the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, a pilgrimage site that still draws legions of penitents each year. The focal point is the Escadaria do Bom Jesus, a grand Baroque staircase that pilgrims sometimes climb on their knees. It leads to a gloriously solemn church with a gray-and-white stone façade and twin steeples, high on a hill. The church offers sweeping views of the city and is surrounded by grottoes and gardens, making it a pleasant place to ramble for a few hours.
Portugal’s exquisitely preserved first capital city, Guimarães is just a 45-minute ride from Porto. At its heart is a medieval old town full of winding cobbled lanes and stone-paved plazas framed by 14th-century buildings with wrought-iron balconies.
UNESCO named the historic quarter a World Heritage Site in recognition of its unchanged architecture as well as its foundational role in Portuguese history — it’s not only the country’s first capital, it’s also the birthplace of its first king, Afonso Henriques.
The 11th-century castle where the eventual monarch was born is still a stalwart fortress that looms over the town. Its crenellated ramparts and seven sturdy towers command views of the red-roofed town and the hilly countryside beyond, rolling into the distance. Nearby, you’ll find Igreja de São Miguel de Castelo, a squat and plain Romanesque church that is purported to be the site where Afonso was baptized.
A short stroll away is Paço do Duques de Bragança, a 15th-century palace that was also once Salazar’s presidential residence. On a tour of the high-ceilinged rooms, you can see a collection of medieval weapons and huge tapestries.
Best time to visit Braga and Guimarães
You can visit Braga and Guimarães year round, though there’s some chilly rain between November and March. Between April and October, you’ll have mild temperatures and sunny skies, with the very best weather in May and September. If you’re not interested in attending the processions, you might want to avoid Braga during Semana Santa.
Suggested itinerary featuring Braga and Guimarães
This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Braga and Guimarães, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.