Originally founded by the Romans, 2,000-year-old Braga later became the first Christian settlement in Portugal. Today, it’s a lively university town with a thriving nightlife and a compact yet beautiful Baroque heart.
Most of ancient Braga’s main attractions are centered on the arcaded Praça da Republica, strewn with fairy tale churches and focused on the lovely Arcada fountain. The centerpiece of all this architectural majesty is Portugal’s oldest cathedral, built in the 11th century and now showing off a variety of styles from Romanesque to Baroque. Amid the gilded choir stalls and Baroque flourishes, the King’s Chapel houses the tomb of Henry of Burgundy, the father of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques.
Along with the tranquil Garden of Santa Barbara, a cluster of historic buildings surround the cathedral, including the church of Santa Cruz and its Mannerist splendor; the serene late-Renaissance Museu dos Biscaínhos, with its fine displays of Asian decorative arts; and the 14th-century Archbishop’s Palace. A short walk from the Praça da Republica down the flowered promenade of Avenida da Liberdade leads to the 18th-century Rococo Casa do Raio, built by eccentric architect André Soares. Its façade is almost entirely encrusted with blue-and-white Portuguese azulejos tiles.
But Braga’s pièce de résistance and Portugal’s most celebrated Christian sight is the Neoclassical Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary, located three miles outside the city in Tenões.
Braga is accessible from Porto in under an hour. Regular bus services run between the two, and electric trains leave Porto from the main railway station, with trips taking about an hour and 10 minutes.