The first thing you notice about Braga is the multitude of cafés. They are literally everywhere you look, on every corner and down every side alley. You could throw a stone blindfolded into the city and chances are it would land outside a café or church. It is a city dominated by coffee and God.
Braga, nestled in the hills of Northern Portugal, is statistically Portugal’s third city, if population is anything to go by. Although only an hour and a half from Porto, the contrast between the two could hardly be starker – whereas Porto feels vibrant, metropolitan and active, Braga remains a quiet, sleepy, sedate affair. A city roughly the size of Bath, it would be easy to forget that Braga is really a city and instead consider it a large town that has slightly outgrown itself.
Braga is also a place laced with history. Founded by Romans in 20BC, it remained the seat of political and later religious power in Portugal for much of its history. As a result, a large amount of interest in the city is ecclesiastical in nature; from the impressive cathedral that dominates the city centre, to the stunning twin sanctuaries of Bom Jesus and Sameiro, both of which overlook Braga from the hills that surround the city. The Gêres Park, a short coach ride through the hills is also spectacular to visit – providing that the bus is running on the day you want to go.
Unlike the Algarve, Braga is obviously not a city set up for tourists. Despite the natural beauty of the surrounding areas, the city itself offers little in the way of nightlife – both nightclubs cater to a student audience and offer little in the way of a varied night out. While bars are notoriously difficult to track down in a city swamped with cafés, it is not to say that the city is without charm. It is worth exploring back alleys in order to source out the best place for a drink – often in Braga the bars that look like someone’s basement are the better venues for a night out.
Braga won’t be for everyone. There is a certain beauty to it, however, from the crumbling façades of the city centre buildings to the marvellous flowerbeds that line the Avenida da Liberdade. A nightlife hotspot it isn’t, but if it’s tranquillity you are looking for, you could do much worse than giving Braga a go.