Forget Lisbon – Here’s Why You Should Be Heading To Braga
Plan a spring break to this northern Portuguese city, where neighbourhood cafés, blousy urban gardens and a thriving independent shopping scene await
17 April, 2023
Braga, Minho, Portugal.
Don't be surprised to meet a Roman roving the streets of Braga in May. Next month, the northern Portugese city celebrates its classical past, with exuberant military marches, streetside tented dining and elaborate gladiator battles all organised to commemorate the city's glory years as the capital of Roman Galicia. It's not all classical kitsch, though. For travellers less inclined to mix with patricians and plebeians, there's more to explore. Despite its far-reaching history, Braga is a fresh-faced university city and, as the home of a still-strong fashion manufacturing industry, any stylised togas and pteruges you spot on a stroll through its walkable historic centre are as likely an offbeat fashion choice as classical cosplay. Elsewhere, the city's dining scene is revving up, inspired by neighbouring Porto's prowess, and the young creatives choosing to stay put after finishing university degrees are driving a buzzy, grass-roots cultural scene and a rush of slow fashion startups that are putting the city's garment-making skills to good use.
Jardim de Santa Bábara, left, and the city centre | Photo credit: Anton Ivanov
The clothes. Braga is Portugal's leading fashion manufacturing centre and its sartorial finesse filters into shopping options. Make like the tousled, linen-clad local crowd and source your own Braga-made attire at slow fashion label Obi Clothing, then hunt down a pair of vegan trainers from Zouri. The footwear brand was founded by a Braga native, and uses plastic waste gathered from Portuguese beaches to craft its kicks.
Where to stay?
Book into an eave-tucked premium suite at Hotel Moon & Sun Braga. Rooms at this boutique 25-key city centre stay are tight on space, but the sun-baked, touriga franca-red terraces with views over terracotta-tiled roofs make up for the small square footage.
Where to go for dinner?
O Filho da Mãe, an airy Rua Dom Afonso Henriques restaurant with a Latin American-influenced menu devised by Brazilian chef Juliana Junqueira Fleury. Order the sea bass ceviche scattered with mint, pistachio nuts and peppery nasturtium leaves.
O Filho da Mãe
And for a drink?
If you don't fancy elbow-barging your way to an espresso in the morning, stroll past the crowds at the historic café A Brasileira and find a caffeine fix at bookshop and coffee house Centésima Página instead. The magnolia-shaded garden is the best sipping spot in the city - and the bookshop is a hub for the local literary crowd, thanks to its regular events and exhibitions.
Who to take with you?
Someone who knows their Aurora from their Apollo. The town fizzes with festivities when May's Braga Romana marches into town for a kitsch-filled three days. Expect short skirts, flaming chariots, and tipsy toga-wearers. For more Roman relics, take a peek at the Alto da Cividade Roman Thermae. Archaeology students from the University of Minho are currently excavating the city's ancient baths.
Braga Romana, left, and Braga architecture | Photo credit: Trabantos / Shutterstock
Essentials to pack
A spring city break in Braga wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Jardim de Santa Bárbara to spot red tulips, frilled cornflowers and sun-seeking cosmos in bloom. Bring back the scents of the city with a stop at artisan perfumers Yntenzo, whose bathroom essentials are beautifully packaged with azulejo tile-printed labels.
How to get there
There are no direct flights to Braga from the UK. Instead, jump on a plane to Porto from London Heathrow. Braga is about 40 minutes by car from Porto Airport. There are also regular local bus services.