I took an hour long train ride from Porto to Braga, cost was around 3.5 euros. Braga is a very small place but beautiful. It has a strong historical aura mixed with the young spirit of a university town. I walked to my hostel – Braga Pop Hostel. Now I HAVE to give a little review on this hostel. The location is central (very close to the pedestrian zone). The interior is clean and colourful. The owner is an ex-veterinary doctor who decided she wanted something else in life and opened this place. Breakfast is included everyday with your rooming price. I was there in November so it was a little chilly in the room, but all buildings in Portugal are chilly in the winter so layer up. I always had hot water for my showers, cable, wifi, and no curfew. It is close to the shopping centre as well as the bus station, train station, and other public transportation. The hostel staff were very helpful with tips on where to eat and visit during the days. I really enjoyed my stay at Braga Pop Hostel.
In this article I will mention the places I saw in Braga since I did not partake in any special tours and so my knowledge on the history is limited. Braga’s buildings are very old and have a sense of mysticism about them. The Braga Cathedral is one of the most important buildings in the city and is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Iberian Peninsula. The Antigo Paço Epsicopal or the Episcopal Palace of Braga was the house of the Archbishop of Braga in the past. It has a beautiful garden that is perfect for taking a seat in on a sunny day and reading a book. The Arco da Porta Nova is the gate to the old city of Braga and is especially beautiful on a sunny day; unfortunately I only had the opportunity to see it when it was raining. If you travel a little bit out of the city you will reach the Termas Romanas or Roman Baths of Maximinus. This list is a small selection of places to see while in Braga. If you follow Braga Pop Hostel’s blog you will receive updates on special events happening in the city – perhaps these will be in full swing when you plan to visit. I met Eduardo, a Couchsurfer, while I was there and we went to a local bar where many university students go during the school year. There are plenty of opportunities like this to meet locals and experience Braga the right way.
From Braga I took a 45 minute bus ride (3,15 euros) from the bus station to Guimarães, the European Cultural Capital of 2012 and with good reason. You can walk from the station to the central square of the city and find the tourist information centre close to the intersection of Largo de 25 Abril and Largo do Toural. I spent the entire day walking through various areas of the city. Zona de Couros is the area where leather is produced into products you and I can buy. They have kept remnants of old machinery used for this process for tourists to see along their walk. Largo da Oliveira is a small square where a beverage or meal can be enjoyed on a patio. The square is surrounded by picturesque buildings of multiple colours and stones. Praça de Santiago is another square to be enjoyed on the way to Paço dos Duques. The castle is another sight worth visiting along with the Capela de São Miguel nearby. Finally the Largo do Toural square is an expansive area surrounded by shops featuring a fountain for everyone’s enjoyment.
I paid to enter the Paço dos Duques and it was a great learning experience. I would say it is relatively inexpensive for the value of the tour. The palace was built in the 15th century by the order of Afonso, an illegitimate son of King João I. It was declared a national monument in 1910. The exhibit features each room set up with replicas of furniture and fixtures characteristic of the 15th century. You have the option to rent an audio tour in English and venture through the palace on your own. I found the dining hall very impressive as well as the cathedral connected to the main structure. Photography is allowed without flash of course. At the end of the tour you can walk across the grounds to the castle which was built in the 10th century by the order of Countess Mumadona Dias. There is no fee to enter the castle and you can climb various staircases to reach the top of the towers and see the breathtaking view of the city around you. Paço dos Duques is especially beautiful from the top of the castle.
Braga and Guimarães were recommended to me by my friend Zé in Lisbon and I am so happy I took his advice! These two cities are gorgeous and have so much character, making them unique in the array of cities I visited on my backpacking tour.
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