It would be appropriate to expect that Portugal’s oldest city should offer a number of distinguishing features to set it apart from the rest, and indeed Braga does not disappoint.
The city is home to some of the most exciting and important Roman heritage, Baroque architecture and ecclesiastical history, and situated at its very heart is the Praça da Republica — the central square that seems to sum up Braga’s history and culture in one single place.
The Praça da Republica Square is Portugal at its best. It is a wide, expansive space with a fountain at its heart and surrounded by grand architecture from a variety of periods that define the history of this historic city. The fountain is named the Vianna fountain, and in fact many locals simply refer to the Praça da Republica Square as “Vianna”.
To one side of the square, set off to perfection by the waters of the fountain, is the church of Congregados and a stretch of arcaded buildings. To another are the ramparts of the Torre de Menagem, the original keep of Braga Castle, partially hidden from view by a cluster of bars and cafes. Café society plays a big part in everyday life in Portugal and Braga is no exception. The oldest café in the city is the Vianna Café, which lies in the heart of the square and has been a leading congregation point for residents and visitors alike since it was opened as long ago as 1858.
By day, the Praça da Republica Square is the perfect place for hanging out, people watching and admiring your surroundings from the comfort of a café chair, with a pastel de nata, rich, freshly brewed coffee or a light local beer for company. Things are livened up regularly by a variety of street artists who come to entertain the crowds. By night the mood changes and the Praça da Republica becomes a popular dining destination, especially in summer when it is possible to sit outside and enjoy the balmy evening weather as you taste some of the gastronomic delights of one of Portugal’s leading culinary centres.
If you are in Braga for a short time only, the small number of gift and craft shops that line the square should be enough to satisfy your needs, and the tourist information office is also conveniently located on one corner. The sweeping Avenida da Liberdade opens up from the square, making the perfect jumping-off point for exploring this ancient city, and many of Braga’s most important landmarks are within easy reach, including the Raio Palace, the Cathedral and the Museum of Archaeology.
If you are fortunate enough to visit Braga during Semana Santa (Holy Week), you will find the square transformed into a vibrant street fair with a series of booths and stalls selling local crafts, confectionery and all manner of gifts to remind you of your visit. It is also on the main route for the colourful Easter parades that play such an important role in Portugal’s cultural calendar.