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Braga is a lively university city in northern Portugal and was named the European Youth Capital in 2012. It has a history going back two thousand years: once known as Bracara Augusta, it was Portugal’s ancient religious capital, with pilgrim site Bom Jesus do Monte located 7km from the city centre. You can use Braga as a gateway for exploring the surrounding rolling vineyards and charming laid-back towns. Or just grab a table under the shade of a market umbrella and sip on a glass of the local wine, vinho verde, at an authentic tasca.
When choosing a Braga hostel, you can opt for a refurbished 19th-century building with original wooden staircase and panelled windows or a lodging built on the ruins of a convent, featuring stone walls and indoor gardens. There are mixed and female-only dorms in Braga hostels, as well as twin rooms with balconies offering panoramic city views. Dinner can also come with sweeping views, as you feast on a homemade meal prepared in a communal kitchen.
In Praça da República, the city’s central square, you can nibble on one of Portugal's famous custard tarts, pasteles de nata, as you watch the street performers. For something more substantial, visit the iconic Café Vianna, first opened in 1858. Rua do Souto is a shopping street lined with independent stores and high-street favourites. If you're travelling on a budget, check out the area around the Universidade do Minho campus, which is packed with lively student bars and restaurants.
Braga Cathedral dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest cathedral in Portugal. Two blocks away, the Garden of Santa Barbara is a display of brightly coloured flowerbeds set against the backdrop of an ancient stone palace. At Bom Jesus do Monte, you can climb the stairs to the top, passing through 17 landings decorated with fountains and statues.
With all the historic sites pretty close together, you’ll be able to make your way around Braga on foot. The closest airport is Porto’s Francisco Sá Carniero Airport; a direct bus from there to Braga takes about 50 minutes. Porto’s Campanhã Station runs frequent trains to Braga Station (Estação de Braga), which is just a short walk from the cathedral. Braga bus station, 500m north of Praça da República, connects with Coimbra, Porto, Lisbon and Guimarães.