Braga, Portugal was the first stop on our weeklong Iberian roadtrip. Chosen purely based on location – it’s a 40-minute drive from Porto where we landed and an hour drive to Peneda Geres where we were headed – we knew nothing about the city when we arrived. 24 hours later, we left Braga enlightened and converted.
Minho Free Walking Tour – A Braga Essential
The real game-changer was the Minho Free Walking Tour, which was highly recommended by our hosts at Domus Guesthouse 26. Locals always enrich the travel experience and our guide was no exception: a bubbly bracarense who took us on a lively two-and-a-half hour tour of the old town.
Braga residents are very proud of their city, and there’s a lot to be proud of. Braga was the “Portuguese Rome”, the capital of the province Gaellecia, in Roman times. Fast forward to the Middle Ages, Braga played a central role in spreading Catholicism in the region, which gave rise to key figures (see: mostly archbishops) who supported the arts, like the exuberant Baroque style that Braga is also known for today. Historical facts aside, what made the Braga walking tour memorable was hearing local stories, jokes, and quirks – the stuff you can’t Google.
If you’ve got limited time in Braga, this should be #1 on your list of things to do. Tours run twice a day at 11am and 3pm – rain, shine, or snow – and start at Arco da Porta Nova. Look for the guides with green umbrellas!
Visit Portugal’s Oldest Cathedral
In addition to Baroque and Romans, mention Braga to a Portuguese and they will likely think of archbishops. Today, Braga is home to one of Portugal’s three archdioceses (the other two are in Lisbon and Evora). But back in the Middle Ages, it was all Braga. The Archdiocese of Braga was historically the Catholic hub of the region, so you can only imagine what kind of crazy executive powers archbishops wielded. Here’s an example: even Portuguese monarchs weren’t allowed to set foot in Braga without the archbishop’s approval! (Take that, Your Majesty.)
To get a taste of Braga’s ecclesiastical history, a visit to Sé de Braga, Portugal’s very first Cathedral, is a must. Admire the patchwork of architectural styles, ornate ceilings and walls, and the mammoth pipe organ for just 2 EUR. But if Catholic opulence is not your thing, feel free to explore the open areas like the cloisters – where you can find ancient emojis, featured below – free of charge.
Go Bananas for Bananeiro
I’ve drunk many a shot in life and I certainly don’t remember them all, but I had one in Braga which I’ll remember forever, thanks to one very yellow ingredient.
I’ll leave the juicy storytelling to the folks at the Minho Free Walking Tour, but tl;dr: a dude and his friends decide to drink muscat wine while eating a banana, news spreads across the city, turns into a Christmas Eve tradition called Bananeiro.
Good thing is, you don’t need to wait for Christmas to get a taste of the Bananeiro. For just 1.50 EUR, you can drink the real deal at the Casa where it all began.
Snack (or Lunch) on a Frigideira
Portugal’s got quite the selection of snacks, from rissois to bolinhos to a never-ending list of pastries. But in Braga, there’s a snack you have to try: the Braga-born and beloved frigideira.
Invented in the Frigideiras do Cantinho, one of Braga’s oldest establishments, think of frigideira as the empanada‘s flatter, flakier cousin, traditionally filled with ground meat but can also be served various ways (e.g. with egg on top, cheese, ham, fries). It’s only a frigideira if it’s served warm, so send that thing back if the waitress pulls a fast one on you!
A classic frigideira – in its oily, fatty glory – costs a mere 3 EUR and could easily fill you up for lunch. Trust me, I eat a lot and it filled me up juuust fine.
Festa de São João – If You Time It Right
Considering we didn’t plan to be in Braga, we got quite lucky that we visited right in the middle of Festa de São João, the city’s annual giant party to honor St. John.
The beginning wasn’t so lucky though. We arrived by car and were greeted by closed roads because of a procession. So we parked the car and walked to the hotel – but this meant we needed to cross the street where the procession was happening. Intimidating as f*, but we did it.
And we might have even spotted the archbishop. Typical Braga.
Daytime Braga already looked festive, adorned with bright banners and colorful arches, but nighttime Braga turned the mood way up. Residents flooded the main square, stalls selling the usual festival fare peppered the streets, Portuguese and techno music blasted from various stages, and the arches – now with their lights on – proved they were photogenic.
Festa de São João happens each year in June, so time your trip right!
Are you planning to go to Braga, or have you already been? Share your tips/thoughts/questions!