Braga, Portugal

It was late in the morning when we left Guimaraes to head out to Braga. We passed through more of the green Minho countryside along the way, including some terraced fields that I noticed.

Braga used to be called Bracara Augusta during Roman times. It is a religious center for Catholics today, and has been so almost all through its history. It is the oldest catholic archdiocese in Portugal. The Archbishop of Braga has claimed primacy over the whole Iberian Peninsula since the middle ages.

Braga has the oldest cathedral in Portugal. The city is considered a center for the baroque style of architecture.  It is a big and more modern city than Guimaraes.

The primary religion in Portugal is the catholic faith. I noticed that both Guimaraes and Braga have plenty of catholic churches – almost around every corner. The catholic church used to be very powerful in Portugal and also used to play a role in the civil affairs of the country. During the Age of Enlightenment, there was a move to reduce these powers. A stop was put to recruitment into the religious orders in Portugal at some point in time. In 1910, the First Portuguese Republic abolished the policy of having the Latin Church as the state religion, in favor of secularism. However, the right-wing Salazar regime from 1932 to 1974 re-established Catholicism as the state religion. Portugal today is once again a secular state. The laws relating to the existence of different religious orders still hold in Portugal. Diocesan churches exist to allow the population to practice their religion, but the convents and monasteries are mostly unoccupied and sometimes converted to historical sites.

This is one of the churches that we passed as we drove into town.It is the Igreja dos Terceiros (Church of the Third Order).

We had time to walk around a section of town on our own after our arrival. The outdoor cafes were already open and occupied.

I visited the Braga Cathedral on my own.

The style inside the church is baroque. To say that the church was opulent is an understatement! The amount of gold in the choir space at the rear of the church was overwhelming. There were also a few shrines with altars along the sides, and statues of different saints also lined these sides.

After exiting the church, I joined the others in our group for some shopping going on at one of the gift stores in front of the cathedral. There were many mementos made from cork at the tourist stores. Portugal is one of the major suppliers of cork to the world. One of the symbols of Portugal that I got more familiar with during this shopping interlude was the Rooster of Barcelos. Here is the tale of the rooster. You can see it on some of the tea towels in the picture above.

The next stop was for lunch. Lunch was accompanied by the local green wine that the Minho province is known for. Many bottles were put away effortlessly at our table as we dug into our food!We made some new friends during lunch. There was a happy mood as we exited the restaurant.

Rui told us later, perhaps as a joke, that in Portugal a meal without wine is called breakfast!

The next stop was the Church of Bom Jesus up on the hill. It turned out that I had been looking at a different church during the ride into town and thinking that this was going to be our destination later in the day. This is what I had seen in the morning.

I got a view for an instant of the church that we were actually going to visit during the bus ride up the hill.

There was a surprise waiting for us as we drove up the hill. We were going to take a funicular ride up to the church from a point partway up the hill. This was a unique funicular, operated using a water balance! It is the oldest such funicular in the world. Here is a video that I found on the Internet.I stood in the open space in front of the cabin of the carriage as we made our way up the hill – to the stop at the top where our friends were waiting for us.

The Church of Bom Jesus is a center for pilgrimage in Portugal. The pilgrims walk up the steps of the Bom Jesus do Monte staircase as a part of their pilgrimage.The steps start near the bottom of the funicular. The pilgrims can stop along the way to pray at the stations of the cross. The last station is at the altar of the church.It turned out to be a more modern church than others we had visited thus far during our travels. The inside was less ornate than others.

There is a small grotto next to the church on the grounds of the sanctuary. The grounds were interesting to wander in.

This statue of Saint Longinus, the centurion who pierced Jesus on the cross, can be seen in the pictures above and below.

You get a good view of the valley from one of the locations on the grounds of the sanctuary.

This was our last stop in Braga. We started the drive back to Porto, and got back to hotel just before 6pm. This picture taken in town gives you an idea of gas (petrol) prices in Portugal. The prices are in euros/liter.

The city of Porto appears to have all the conveniences that one has gotten used to in the US, including private car hiring services like Uber, and food delivery services such as the one seen in the picture below.

After returning to the hotel, we went out looking for a place to have dinner at. We ended up walking quite a bit along the Avenida da Boavista (the road on which our hotel was located), peering into restaurants along the way. We ended up where the Casa da Musica is located, just before a big roundabout and park, without success. We then walked along the roundabout and got on to the Praça do Bom Sucesso, finally landing up at the food court within the Mercada Bon Sucesso. It was a good walk after a long day!


We returned a few days ago from a visit to Portugal. We were on an organized tour exploring the country from north to south, starting from the city of Porto and ending up in Lisbon. We stopped at many interesting places along the way, learning about the country, and experiencing it. We spent hours wandering leisurely through narrow old cobblestone streets of many an old medieval town, streets that were lined with old buildings of character – with their distinctive metal railings and the occasional laundry hanging out to dry. We also visited bigger and more developed cities and experienced the difference between the new and the old. There is something fundamentally similar about the tourist experience wandering the streets of both the older and newer towns in Portugal regardless.

We visited many old churches – in different styles, monasteries with their dormitories and cloisters, palaces, and castles – all over the country. We even passed through a national park, drank many a bottle of wine with our meals, and also sampled the unique cuisine of this small country, which we were told was about the size of Maine! We learnt about their history, which perhaps bears some similarity to the history of many other countries in Europe – the movement of people, the conquests, the local kings and queens and their kingdoms, the development of nation states, the nature of their explorations of the rest of the world, etc.. We learnt about the kind of things – their stories, products, etc.. – that are a part of their culture and their economy.

The towns that we visited were typically full of tourists just like us. The towns centers and their squares were full of shops for tourists, cafes, bakeries, ice cream stands and restaurants – with outdoor seating under the large umbrellas that provided shade. There were the street entertainers. There was generally a atmosphere that I typically do not experience when visiting towns in the US. I especially enjoyed having that cold beer with my lunch, perhaps concluding the lunch with a shared dessert and a cup of espresso.

And, all along the way, there were other unique experiences and quirky stories that added additional sparkle and spice to our travels.

One has to eventually breakdown the details of these travels further, but a list of the places we visited, with a few sample pictures is perhaps a good place to start.

Porto and Gaia

Guimaraes and Braga

Bussaco Park and Palace Hotel




The Convent of Christ on the Hill

Castelo de Vide



Cascais and Sintra

Alcobaca, Nazare and Castelo de Óbidos

They have a saying in Portugal that the Portuguese go to Porto to work, Braga or Fatima to pray, Coimbra to study and Lisboa to party! They have it all covered!

It was a fun trip, and quite a different experience from that of the trip to Morocco.