In the north of Portugal, just a few miles farther from Porto is the
city of Braga. With fewer tourists heading this way, you’ll often find
yourself alone visiting its churches, museums and gardens.
Braga is home to so many churches that it’s often called the Portuguese “Roma” and every time the hour strikes its bells will remind you of this. No other church is as impressive as the Bom Jesus Sanctuary with its dramatic stairway made up of 577 steps and accessible via a charming funicular too.
Besides its remarkable religious sites, the city is also a great base to explore the Peneda-Gerês National Park, an astonishing reserve where mountains and waterfalls take over the landscape. Here you can hike through the woods, relish the views from the top of the mountains or jump from a cliff, landing in the crystal clear waters of a lagoon.
In this 3-day itinerary, we’ll take you through the best attractions in Braga and Gerês and show you some of the best restaurants and hotels in this region.
A few miles east from Braga is the Santuário do Sameiro. Established in 1863, it's one of the largest Marian shrines in Portugal, attracting many pilgrims throughout the year. Outside, the sanctuary stands out with its imposing white dome and neoclassical design, while the interior is a bit more modest. Standing high above a hill, it offers incredible views of the region's surrounding mountains, which make it worth the visit.
Once home to a noble Portuguese family, Palácio dos Biscainhos turned into a museum in 1978. Today visitors can peek inside this Baroque-style palace and admire its stunning ornamented ceilings and tiled walls. Dotted around its rooms is a collection of decorative items, from furniture to glassware and ceramics. After touring the museum, step outside and take a wander around the gardens.
Designed by André Soares in the 18th century, this iconic arch features a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical styles. It marks the entrance to Braga's old town, leading the way to Rua Dom Diogo de Sousa, a street lined with cafés and restaurants.
Just a few steps away from the arch is the Igreja da Misericórdia. Despite being completed in 1562, the church suffered several changes through the centuries, resulting in a concoction of styles. The structure is mostly Mannerist, but you can also notice a few Baroque elements inside such as the gilded altar.
Portugal is full of cathedrals, but you'll find the oldest one in Braga. Even before the nation was born, this cathedral already existed, with records tracing it back to 1070. As the years went by, more elements were added or reconstructed, so what you see today is a fusion of architectural styles. The overall structure is Romanesque, the bell towers and its roof are Manueline, and its interior is mostly Baroque with lavish pipe organs rising above you. A separate ticket will give you access to the upper choir and the chapels, like the Capela dos Reis, which contains the tombs of the parents of the first king of Portugal.
Jardim de Santa Bárbara is a small landscaped garden located in the heart of Braga. It's worth passing by here to capture its colourful flower beds and shrubs, backed by the medieval cloisters of the Episcopal Palace. In the middle of the garden is a 17th-century fountain with a statue of Saint Bárbara, which gives it its name.
If you need a little break from sightseeing, head to Café A Brasileira. Set in the corner of Largo Barão de São Martinho, this historic café stands out with its blue and white façade. It opened its doors in 1907, making it one of the oldest cafés in the city. These days it’s a popular meeting spot for the locals, both young and old, who come here to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee or a delicious pastry. When the sun is out, you can sit by the terrace.
Praça da República plays host to many of the city's cultural events. Also known as Arcada, this square is home to a series of cafés and restaurants, as well as a few churches like Igreja da Lapa and Convento dos Congregados. Tucked away behind the square is the Torre de Menagem, a square tower that belonged to an old medieval palace.
From Praça da República take a walk down to the Retrokitchen. Run by a friendly Portuguese couple, this retro-style restaurant serves delicious homemade meals for an affordable price. There’s a set menu for lunch which costs less than €10 and includes soup, main course, coffee and dessert.
As you pass by Palácio do Raio, you can't help noticing its façade. From the tiles on the walls to its doors and balconies, everything features the colour blue. This 18th-century palace was first designed as a noble residence for João Duarte Faria but was later purchased by Miguel José Raio, giving its name. For a while, it served as a hospital, and today it functions as a museum. Its rooms are also decorated with tiles and feature a collection of items from paintings to textiles and old medical instruments. Nearby is the Fonte do Ídolo, an ancient Roman fountain.
Sitting atop a hill a few miles east of the city is the imposing Bom
Jesus do Monte Sanctuary. It's one of the city's most iconic landmarks,
famous for its dramatic winding staircase featuring fountains and
Baroque statues. While it’s possible to walk to the sanctuary from the
city centre, it’s a bit of a stretch, so we suggest driving or taking
the bus number 2. Once you get to the bottom, you can walk up the steps
or hop on the funicular.
Installed in the 1880s, the Funicular Bom Jesus is one of the oldest funiculars in the world to be run by water. Even before that, horsecars were already whisking visitors up this strenuous hill. Whichever way you choose to arrive, incredible views of the city await you at the top.
The area has been a pilgrimage site since the 14th century, but the sanctuary you see today was completed in 1834, hence the Neoclassical design. It's worth visiting the sanctuary and then wander around the surrounding gardens, stopping for a drink at the café on the edge of the hill.
Another great spot to capture the city from above is Monte do Picoto. This hilltop park is only a 10-minute drive from the city centre. Besides its impressive viewpoint, it also includes an adventure-themed park offering a variety of activities from paintball to tree climbing. If you're travelling with kids, and want to make the most of the park, you should come here earlier in the day.
Finally, head west from Braga to see the Mosteiro São Martinho de Tibães. Between the 16th and the 18th century, this monastery was the headquarters of the Benedictine order in both Portugal and Brazil. Take your time to wander around the halls of the monastery and then visit the church to admire its extravagant Rococo interior. Surrounding the monastery is a large park that is worth exploring too.
After visiting the monastery, you can grab dinner at Taberna do Lebre.
This cosy tavern located on the outskirts of the city specialises in
traditional Portuguese petiscos. They offer set menus (ranging from €10
to €20) which include starters, a main dish, a drink and dessert. We
recommend trying the codfish fritters and the rabanada, the
Portuguese version of French toast.
Set high amidst the Gerês mountains, overlooking the Cávado river, is this impressive sanctuary. It takes about one hour to drive from Braga to São Bento da Porta Aberta, located on the western edge of Gerês. Along with Fátima, it's one of the largest sanctuaries in Portugal drawing pilgrims from all corners of the globe. It's called Porta Aberta (Open Door) because its doors are always open to travellers. Even if you're not religious, you can't help feeling in awe with the mountain and river views. A few minutes from the sanctuary is a small river beach called Praia da Ribeira.
Vila do Gerês is a spa town located in the heart of the National
Park and a great place to rest as it contains several guesthouses. It’s
famous for its thermal waters, and you can enjoy relaxing and healthy
treatments at the spa centre, Termas do Gerês.
While you’re here, visit Parque das Termas. Stretching for nearly two hectares, this park is surrounded by centenary trees. As you wander around its shady paths, you'll hear the rippling water from the Gerês river which flows through the park. There are a variety of facilities inside including a seasonal outdoor pool, a tennis court, ping pong tables and a large lake where you can rent a boat. The park is open between May and October, and it costs around €1 to access it, with some services such as the pool and the boats costing extra. If you're a guest at the hotel Águas do Gerês, the entrance to the park and the pool is free.
Close to Parque das Termas, you'll find two astonishing viewpoints — Miradouro da Pedra Bela and Miradouro das Rocas. Set 800 metres high, Pedra Bela offers splendid views of the mountains, the Caniçada dam and the town of Vila do Gerês. Further east is the Miradouro das Rocas, where you'll get a 360º panoramic view of the landscape.
With so many waterfalls spread across Gerês, it can be hard to choose where to go. If you can only fit a couple in your itinerary, Cascata do Arado and Cascata do Tahiti are the ones to see.
Set around 900 metres high, Cascata do Arado is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region. You can walk from Miradouro das Rocas here, and when you reach the base enjoy a refreshing swim. It's also possible to park nearby, simply follow the road from the viewpoint until you see a bridge, park the car around there and then walk the rest of the way.
Cascata do Tahiti is a bit harder to access, but its crystal clear waters make it worth the trek. Its official name is Cascata de Fecha de Barjas, but most people know it as Tahiti. To get there, you'll need to drive past the village of Ermida and then follow the road to Fafião. You can park the car by the side of the road, and then take the steps next to the signpost. The trail can be quite slippery, so be careful when walking through the rocks. When you get to the end, take a moment to capture this impressive natural landscape, and if the weather allows it, go for a swim.
After seeing the waterfalls, you can go for lunch at the Restaurante Fojo dos Lobos. Located in the village of Fafião this restaurant serves traditional Portuguese meals. Start with a chouriço and then move on to the Posta Mirandesa, a thick piece of beef usually served with fries and salad. The restaurant gets its name from a granite pitfall located nearby. After lunch, you can head there and take in the views of the valley and the river below.
A few miles north from Fafião is the extraordinary Poço Azul. Translated as Blue Well, this hidden lagoon lures visitors with its emerald waters that make you feel like you're in the Caribbean. It's one of the deepest lakes in Gerês, and if you look past the cool temperatures, you'll find a peaceful spot for a swim surrounded by the shady woods. To get to the lagoon, you need to start at the Ermida village and then follow the PR14 trail on foot, passing through the Fonte do Arado and Tribela. In total, it's about 8 km each way. We recommend taking a GPS-tracker, so you don't miss it!
The next waterfall on the list is further east in Pincães. From Fafião, take the N308 towards Cabril, and halfway there you'll find the village of Pincães. Park your car here and then follow a dirt road for about 20 minutes until you reach the waterfall. As the water drops, it forms a beautiful natural pool that calls for another swim, especially during the summer.
Not far from Pincães is another iconic attraction that deserves a visit — Ponte da Misarela. This medieval bridge crosses over the Rabagão river amid a steep canyon. Legend says that the bridge was built by the devil to help a fleeing thief, hence why some call it the Devil’s Bridge. It's worth capturing the bridge from a distance, so you can see its impressive arch forming over the rocky landscape and the river. After a rainy day, you might spot a small waterfall cascading down the side.
If you're still up for another walk in Gerês, head over to the Xertelo village and follow the trail of the Seven Lagoons or Sete Lagoas. It's a 7km stretch, but you can stop along the way to capture the astonishing views of the mountains before you reach the lagoons. You can also walk here from the Ponte Misarela, but it takes a bit longer. If you prefer you can come early in the morning instead so you can go for a swim or even jump from the rocks. Make sure to bring proper hiking shoes with you as it's not the easiest walk.
After a tiring day of hiking and swimming, you can reward yourself with a glass of wine at the Geira Adega Wine Bar. Housed in a cosy stone house, this is the ideal place to try Vinho Verde, a traditional wine from this region. While it translates as “green wine”, it stands for a young wine. Most Vinho Verde is white wine, but it’s also possible to find red and rosé variations. To go with the wine, order a sausage and cheese board. If you want a heavier meal, you can always go back to Fojo dos Lobos.
Start your second day in Gerês with a swim at the Cascata da Portela do Homem. Set right near the Spanish border, it's one of the most visited waterfalls in the region as it's easy to access. The water comes from the Homem river and drops down the rocks, forming a stunning natural pool below. If you're feeling brave, you can jump from the cliffs, which can reach up to 10 metres. The best way to get here is to drive to Portela do Homem, park near the border and then walk towards the waterfall.
From Portela do Homem you can follow the trail to Mata da Albergaria, a stunning woodland dominated by century-old oak trees. Within it, there’s a Roman road called Geira Romana which once made the connection between Bracara Augusta (current Braga) and Asturica Augusta (present-day Astorga in Spain). Along the way, you’ll find the remains of this old road, as well as a few milestones. Access by car is limited, so it's best to hike here.
Lindoso is a tiny village in Gerês dotted with granite houses. It's famous for its medieval castle and its striking espigueiros (granaries). Most granaries are made of wood, but these stand out with its imposing stone structure rising amid the hills. Created in the 17th and 18th century, they were used to dry and preserve corn. Take a close look at the vast collection of espigueiros and then climb up to the castle. Established in the 13th century, it offers splendid views over the surrounding mountains and the Lindoso Reservoir.
You can stop for lunch at Cafe Restaurante MÓ, located a few miles west from Lindoso. This small restaurant offers an affordable lunch deal featuring delicious hearty meals, from steaks to stews. If you want something lighter, it's also possible to order a toast or a burger.
After lunch, you can continue the tour to Soajo. Similar to Lindoso, this remote village is also home to a series of stone granaries, some of which are still used by the locals to store corn. Take some time to wander around the village's narrow streets and capture the views over the Lima river and the Gerês mountains. Follow a walking trail from here, and you might run into some wild horses who roam freely through this region.
A winding road leads the way from Soajo to the tiny village of Tibo. Before reaching the village, you'll find the Miradouro de Tibo, a viewpoint set 800 metres above sea level overlooking the Peneda mountain. It's worth taking a break here to capture the fantastic views of the landscape. Standing up here, you can see the village, the Veiga river and the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Peneda in the distance.
Nestled amid a valley and protected by a granite outcrop is this impressive 19th-century sanctuary. The Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Peneda is like a mini version of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, with a 300-metre staircase zigzagging its way up to the church. It is said that in 1220 a shepherd saw the Holy Virgin here, and since then it's become a popular pilgrimage site. Climb up the steps and admire the statues along the way representing Faith, Hope, Charity and Glory and around 20 chapels depicting scenes from the life of Christ. In the first week of September, the village comes alive with the Nossa Senhora da Peneda festivities, which includes a candlelight procession and lively nights with traditional folk music.
The last attraction of this Gerês itinerary is the hilltop village of Castro Laboreiro. Located a few miles north from Peneda and close to the Spanish border, it's renowned for its medieval landmarks. Start your tour near the castle ruins and then head towards the centre where you'll find a cluster of granite houses, a church and a medieval stone bridge.
From Castro do Laboreiro, drive towards Melgaço and settle down for dinner at Adega Sabino. Dating back to the 1940s, this restaurant specialises in traditional Portuguese cuisine. Try the Cabrito do Monte (roasted kid) or the Bacalhau com Broa (codfish with bread crust), both big enough to share between two.
There are many restaurants in Braga and Gerês where you can enjoy a good meal. Below are a few of our recommendations:
You can see Braga’s main attractions in one day, but it’s worth spending some extra time here and explore the natural wonders of Gerês. From historic properties in the city centre to rural hotels in the middle of nature, Braga offers plenty of accommodation choices.
If you want to stay in the centre of Braga, we recommend the Burgus Tribute & Design Hotel or the Hotel Vila Galé Collection Braga.
Burgus Tribute is a four-star hotel located within Braga’s old town. In a street of plain white buildings, this hotel stands out with its yellow exterior. There are 14 rooms inside each named after a remarkable figure of the city’s history. The hotel also features a restaurant which serves a mix of meat and seafood options.
Set in a 16th-century building facing Largo Carlos Amarante is the Hotel Vila Galé Braga. This luxurious hotel offers 123 rooms, including private balconies with city views. During your stay, you can go for a swim in the outdoor pool or relax in the spa which includes a heated indoor pool and a gym. Within the hotel are also two restaurants and a bar.
For those who want to make the most of Gerês, we suggest one of the following hotels: Hotel São Bento da Porta Aberta, Águas do Gerês or Hotel Rural Misarela.
Hotel São Bento is an elegant hotel set on the west end of Gerês, 40km away from Braga. Some of its 38 rooms include a whirlpool bath or balconies facing the mountains. There’s also a restaurant on-site specialised in traditional Portuguese cuisine. Next to the hotel is the beautiful sanctuary of São Bento da Porta Aberta.
Set amidst the mountains of Gerês, you’ll find the Águas do Gerês Hotel. This cosy hotel offers a variety of services including a restaurant, two swimming pools and a wellness centre, with beauty and medical treatments. Nearby are some of the region’s most incredible waterfalls and viewpoints.
The Hotel Rural Misarela is the farthest one from Braga, located near the iconic bridge of Misarela. Nestled amid the countryside, this hotel has 13 rooms that overlook the Rabagão river. The property also includes a restaurant, an outdoor pool and a lounge with a fireplace where you can warm up in the winter.
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