Tradition and modernity. Those are the words that describe Bragança, a lovely small town in the countryside of Portugal. Distant from the most famous cities – Lisbon and Porto – Bragança is located in the northeast of Portugal, in the region of Trás-os-Montes, and borders with Spain. This position influences the town’s climate which makes it a hot and cold land with snow in the winter and a 40ºC degrees sun during the summer. Nature, nightlife, history, culture and pilgrimage. Here’s a small guide of how to enjoy the stay in Bragança in all seasons.
A student town
Bragança is known by the number of students it receives every year. The Instituto Politécnico de Bragança (IPB) is an excellent university that receives students from different parts of the country and also international students from all over the world. The pace of life there is calm like any small town, and the population of elderly is large, but it also has many places to go and enjoy the night.
What to visit
If you like nature and history, Bragança is the right place to go. Walking through the town, you can find many monuments, museums, churches, and a medieval castle. For the nature lovers, the fauna and the flora are very rich and unique. There are many options for ecotourism and practising sports. The Parque Natural de Montesinho (Natural Park of Montesinho) and Parque Natural do Lago de Sanábria (Natural Park of Lake of Sanabria) are some examples.
In town, you can see historical and modern buildings together. The churches, monuments, museums, and the castle tell the history of the place. Bragança has a Celtic and Roman heritage which influence the local culture. However, modernity is also there. There are a science centre and a contemporary art museum with exhibitions from local and national artists, a theatre and a shopping mall. Bragança is also part of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. The town is on the way for pilgrims, and many of them stop by there and enjoy it at least for one day.
In the Museu Abade Baçal (Abade Baçal Museum) you can find archaeology, religious art, ethnography, numismatics, and antique furniture. In the tower of the castle (Torre de Menagem), you can visit an interesting military museum with weapons from the twelfth century until the World War I.
There is also the Museu Ibérico da Máscara e do Traje (Iberic Museum of Mask and Costume) which preserves and promote the culture and identity of the people of the border region. There you can find typical masks and costumes of some winter festivals and carnival of the area.
Churches and Monuments
There are many interesting monuments from different ages in Bragança. Past and present meet in the architecture of the town with its secular buildings and also the modern ones. The medieval castle of Bragança is from the twelfth century and is located in Cidadela, a small walled region in the historic part of the town in which the castle, the Domus Municipalis, and the Santa Maria’s church are part of.
There are many other churches historical churches, but the new Sé cathedral stands out for its modern architecture. Inaugurated in 2001, it was the first cathedral built in Portugal in the last 400 years. It is a 10,000 square meters building designed by the architect Baçal Rosa. There are more interesting buildings to visit that you can find by walking in the historic center of the town.
What to eat
Although Bragança is a small town, you can find a variety of foods to choose. Since the typical Portuguese cuisine to Italian, Brazilian and even Chinese. There are also fast food restaurants and cafés. However, if you like to try new flavours and experience the local culture, the recommendation is the regional cuisine. Rancho, feijoada transmontana, and alheiras are some examples of local food. For that, you can go to some restaurants like O Abel, Solar Transmontano, and O Careto. You can also try some sweets and artisanal bread made in nearby villages.
Where to stay
There are good places to host for all prices. The Pousada da Juventude is a member of the Youth Hostels Association, and it’s a good option if you’re a backpacker and is coming in a group or even alone and want a comfy place to stay and meet people. Many international students live there. They have single and shared rooms and an excellent staff. Other options are the IBIS hotel, Pousada São Bartolomeu, São Lázaro Hotel, and Bragança Palace Hotel.
The young spirit in the town can be seen by the several numbers of bars and nightclubs that are open almost every day. Electronic, Latin or African music, hip-hop, Brazilian, there is a club for any of them. Here’re some good places to enjoy the night in Bragança:
Electronic music, DJs and theme parties with good prices, especially for women. Party the whole night spending a little money.
Salsa, mojitos, dirty dancing, and party until the morning. A good place to learn how to dance Latin music and make friends.
Pop, electronic and African rhythms. Good prices and great people together.
Rio Live Concept
A bar where rock’n’roll rules. Live shows, lounge bar, snacks, and a great staff.
A mix of bar and nightclub. A place to just sit and enjoy a drink and also to dance and party with pop and electronic music.
Some drinks, snacks, and literature. That’s the combination which better describes the Biblioteca Café, a snack bar in a library-style decoration and real books for you to read while you enjoy your coffee or sandwich.
What to do in Bragança
The winter in Bragança is really cold; maybe it’s one of the coldest towns in Portugal. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to do or go there during the season. Some of the traditional festivals occur in winter, so you can avail to participate in them in Bragança or nearby villages.
During the winter solstice, the people from the villages light fires to celebrate the fertility of the fields, the men, and the animals. It’s an ancestral tradition that remains. The men wear masks and become the main character in the ritual festival.
This mystic and secular tradition involves Christmas, the Feast of Kings, and carnival, which is celebrated with the “Entrudo Chocalheiro.” The guys wear a mask a costume made of wool with coloured fringes. They also wear a belt with many rattles that they shake in the single women while other play the drums and bagpipes.
The hot season encourages people to go out and enjoy the sun. For that, you can go to the public pool and have a relaxing day or travel to the river beach of Azibo that is next to the town. Another option is to do ecotourism, practice sports or visit the nearby villages.
Furthermore, medieval fairs and the traditional street market are also good options. In addition to it, live concerts and many plays in the theatre, religious festivals and the Academic Week which celebrates the graduates on the streets of the town and you can join them in the party.
Every year, in the middle of April, many students graduate, and their celebrations are cool and funny. Music, dance, drinks, people, and foam. A lot of foam in the street graduates’ parade.
How to get there
Take the bus to Bragança on Rede Expressos or Rodonorte Stations in Porto. It takes 3 hours from there to Bragança.
Take the bus to Bragança on Gare do Oriente or Sete Rios Stations. The trip takes about 7 hours.