Braga Car Hire
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Braga is Portugal’s third-largest urban centre in the Minho province of the country’s northwest. Situated between the Este and Cávado Rivers, it has a population of just under 200,000 and is part of the Portuguese Way pilgrimage route. In 2012 it was named the European Youth Capital, and 35% of its population is under 30. Due to its distance inland it can be very hot in summer, although the seasons are well defined and the climate is generally pleasant.
The cost of living in Portugal is cheaper than that of the UK and you’ll see that from the car hire deals available. Presently, a Renault Twingo or similar mini-size vehicle costs just £60 for 4 days and the stylish Citroen C3 (compact) is only £86 for 4 days and even a compact elite car such as the Jeep Renegade 4x4 – perfect for going off the beaten track – is only £39 a day. Rent a car with Enjoy to explore Braga and northern Portugal – but first, here’s a bit more about Portugal’s third city.
- About Braga: Braga is Portugal’s third-largest city and part of a major urban area on the Iberian Peninsula. It has been described ‘Portugal’s Rome’ with its network of cobbled streets (many are closed to cars) interlaced with pretty squares, and its numerous churches whose bells remind visitors of its pious nature. However, there’s much more besides - Braga’s high-end old centre is packed with energetic cafes and slick boutiques, some superb restaurants and low-key bars.
- Airports and Access: Braga is served by Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, or simply Porto Airport (OPO) located 50 km (31 miles – around 35 minutes’ journey) from Braga. It’s modern and spacious and it consistently places among Europe’s top three airports.
- Driving Around Braga: there’s so much enticing driving around Braga and the surrounding region, but here are a few choice trips:
- Famous Braga: For a province and city renowned for its religiosity, it’s fair to say that most of Braga’s notable citizens hail from its Christian past. Paulus Orosius (c. 385 – c. 420 AD) was a friend of St. Augustine and a historian and theologian in his own right, while Saint Ovidius was the third bishop of Braga diocese who was martyred for his Christian faith in 135 AD.
Braga has evidence of settlement dating back thousands of years to the Megalithic period. It was subsequently occupied by Celtic tribes until its conquest by the Romans in around 136 BC and after that the Suebi and Visigoths (Germanic tribes) occupied the area until a brief occupation by Moorish invaders in 716 AD, themselves expelled by Christian armies lead by Ferdinand I of Leon and Castile around 1070 AD. Braga hosts the famous Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount) a Baroque masterpiece that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated 5 km (3 miles) from the city.
Braga to Pinhão takes around 90 minutes, going further inland through the Douro Valley into the heart of Portuguese port wine country. The local museum and tiled train station are the main attractions in the city, but before you head back be sure to visit Vila Nove de Foz Côa, where the Côa Valley Archaeological Park has 22,000-year-old Palaeolithic rock art. Take the A11 and A4 and enjoy a leisurely drive to Pinhão.
A slightly longer drive at 100 km (60 miles) is the Braga to Guimarães route, a short drive of 25 minutes via the A11. Guimarães is thought to be the birthplace of Portugal and is full of mediaeval Gothic buildings, cobbled streets, and numerous attractive cafés on delightful stone squares. Visit the castle ruins, site of numerous battles, or take the Penha Park cable car to enjoy stunning panoramas and nearby hikes.
Portugal’s second city, Porto is a popular yet unspoilt visitor destination. It received the European Best Destination award in 2012, 2014, and 2017, and the core of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll around and get lost in the Ribeira (Riverside) district which is full of picturesque merchant’s cottages and narrow cobblestone streets, you’ll want more than just a day to rummage through Porto’s many exciting diversions. It’s just 40 minutes by car, on the A3.
For any driver looking to stretch their legs, the Serra da Estrela Mountains are a must. It is a wonderfully windy road up to Manteigas, flattening out as you climb up to Torre, Portugal’s highest mountain at almost 2,000 metres. Then it’s a stunning drive back down Europe’s largest glacial valley. The valley’s lower levels still have traditional thatched barns and farms, and the views are simply breath-taking. It’s a longer drive, at 3 hours along the A25, but you can stop in Porto en route.
If you’re heading south-east to Guimarães, why not keep going to Lamego? It’s a Baroque village in the Douro region that is also noted for its port wines. Portugal’s first king came to the throne here in the 12th Century, when he built Lamego’s main church, the Sé (meaning ‘cathedral’). The Our Lady of Remedies Sanctuary is the village’s most popular sightseeing spot, but there’s also a 12th Century castle and 13th Century keep. Lamego is approximately 90 minutes from Braga via the A11 and A4.
Guide to Braga
Although Braga is inland, it’s not far to the golden sands of Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Some of the most pristine beaches accessible from Braga have the safety, cleanliness, and azure waters visitors expect. Matosinhos Beach is dog-friendly, has wooden walkways, is clean and free of algae and garbage and is generally a great place to relax. Praia do Quião is much quieter and is used by the locals so there are no places to rent sun loungers or parasols, which keeps it un-touristy. Praia da Azurara is an expansive beach noted for its surfing, with nets for volleyball and football, and a casual bar.
City and Culture
Braga’s churches are world-famous, but there are also a number of outstanding museums dotted throughout the city. The Museum of Pius XII houses collections of Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age tools, and Prehistoric and Roman pottery. Additionally, the Museum of Stringed Instruments features Portuguese instruments as far back as the Middle Ages, including Portuguese guitars, Mandolins and banjos, and the museum of Image is located close to Braga castle and is dedicated to photography.
Sports and Pastimes
Football is the most popular sport in Portugal, as it is in most European countries, and Braga is no exception. Sporting Clube de Braga is the local team which plays in the top Portuguese league ̶ they were finalists in the 2011 Europa League final (losing to local rivals FC Porto). The European Hillclimb Championship is an annual motorsport event in the city’s closed-off streets, while there’s a motor-racing track in Palmeira near the city which has held European Touring Car Cup events. For the family there are all kinds of activities, ranging from indoor climbing to bowling and amusement centres for the kids.
Things to do in and around Braga
Braga is one of northern Portugal’s premier tourist spots, yet it remains accessible and inclusive to all types of visitor. Whether you want to focus on topping up your tan or absorbing as much history and culture as possible, you’ll never be stuck for activities.
Perhaps the most iconic of Braga monuments is the Baroque Sanctuário do Bom Jesus do Monte, the city’s leading tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a sanctuary church and pilgrimage site, with steps that represent the stairway to heaven, climbing 116 metres. The Sé de Braga (Cathedral of Braga or Braga Cathedral) is known for its historical significance and architectural contributions ̶ built in the 12th Century, it has been greatly modified over the years to include Romanesque, Baroque, Manueline and Gothic styles. Due to its compact size, a walking tour is often the best way to visit some of the city’s sights.
One might not think of Braga as a watersports venue because it’s inland, but on the River Cávado you can jet-ski, water-ski or even try flyboarding ̶ it’s a new sport that involves strapping on special boots and gauntlets (big gloves) which then shoot water downwards, giving the wearer lift (like a jetpack!) and enabling you to soar over the waves at heights of up to 10 metres. Just don’t forget to take plenty of photos to show off on your social media…
Although Braga isn’t as famous (or infamous) as some of its more brash southern neighbours in the Algarve or the Spanish coast, you’ll find a number of bars, late-night cafés, and wine bars to unwind with a glass of port – there’s even a karaoke bar! The Rua Dom Paio Mendes is a strip of nightspots just behind the Cathedral (Sé de Braga) where you’ll find late-night shenanigans galore with DJs providing the soundtrack. Meanwhile, one of Braga’s oldest clubs is the Sardinha Biba in the Mercado do Carandá, pumping out house and techno for a younger, happy crowd.
Eating out in Braga
Braga is a bastion of traditional Portuguese cuisine, and of course seafood features heavily, but not exclusively, on the menus. Try the Bacalhau à Narcisa, a kind of light meal of battered codfish, olives, rice and onions (although there are many varieties). Arroz de Pica no chão is a chicken and rice dish cooked in blood: absolutely mouth-watering. Here are some more choice eateries:
The Braga area has 10 Michelin-starred restaurants, but (just like Portugal in general) some are very reasonably priced. Cruz Sorbral focuses on simple traditional cuisine with an outstanding wine list, and it’s family friendly. The typical cost of a meal is €30 - €50.
A little further afield in Portela (about 10 km from the city centre) is Ferrugem. This trendy Michelin-starred eatery showcases modern cuisine, simply but creatively prepared. Situated in an old barn, it’s an interesting mix of rustic and modern; prices are in the €40 - €60 range.
Pizza and Ice Cream
Braga’s reputation for traditional Portuguese cuisine is well deserved, but that’s only a slice of the culinary pie available in the city. Try top-rated Pizzeria Luzza Braga, with its thin, wood-fired pizzas on airy bases. It’s vegetarian- (but not vegan) friendly and is very popular, so booking is recommended.
Special mention goes to O Sorbet D’Amour, a specialist ice cream and desserts shop. With flavours ranging from chocolate to cactus flower (really) to smoothies and frappuccinos, it’s not that cheap, but as the ice cream has been described as peerless, O Sorbet D’Amour deserves an outing of its own for all the family.
Restaurante Casa Alves is a café-restaurant serving traditional Portuguese, European, and café-style dishes. The chef Abilio always has some special dish up his sleeve which you’ll love. The service is good, prices are very reasonable and the décor is cosy. Whatever main dish you order will come with roast potatoes and champagne rice!
Braga’s Airport is Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, or just Porto Airport (OPO), situated 50 km (30 miles) from the city. There are a number of car rental choices in Braga, provided by our trusted hire partners like Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, Keddy, and Sixt, not to mention our local partner companies. Pre-booking online can yield discounts of 5% – 10%.
Buses and Trains
Braga station is a major terminus railway station, with an impressive new high-rise building erected in 2004. The long-distance trains connect Braga with Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto, as well as (with a transfer in either Lisbon or Porto) southern cities like Evora or Faro. Braga is also a terminus for one of the local train lines extending from Porto. Trains are clean, air-conditioned, and reasonably priced, and even a journey to Lisbon takes under four hours. Bear in mind that nearby cities are not always directly linked by rail, so check your connections as you might have to ‘go back to go forward’.
Public transportation within Braga is provided by Transportes Urbanos de Braga, which operates a few dozen bus lines throughout the municipality. As the municipality is quite large, it has been divided into three zones (coroas) for fare calculation purposes. Almost all tourist attractions are in Coroa 1, but outlying sanctuaries such as Bom Jesus are in Coroa 2. Long-distance buses connect Braga with almost every other Portuguese city.
You drive on the right-hand side of the road in Braga. The speed limits are: 120 km/h (74 mph) on motorways, 90 km/h (55 mph) on non-motorway main roads, and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas. Here are some other important notes:
Drivers must carry a valid driving licence, passport (police routinely stop foreign cars to check ID), insurance documents, MOT certificate if the car is more than three years old, and car hire documents.
Speed limits are rigidly enforced, speed traps are commonplace and driving offences will result in an on-the-spot fine, which must be paid immediately (the police carry mini card machines nowadays).
Drink-driving is strictly prohibited and anything over 0.05 mg of alcohol in the blood could result in a fine, suspension of license, imprisonment, or all three. You’re not allowed to drive and phone /text in Portugal (as elsewhere), or to honk your horn at night unless it’s an emergency or is necessary to perform a safe manoeuvre.
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