One of Portugal’s many alluring attractions for intrepid travellers who like to explore all corners of a country they are visiting is that it is relatively small. You can, for example, travel by road from the main tourist hotspot of Algarve in the south to Portugal’s northern border with Spain (Galicia) in not much more than five hours.
Along the way, Portugal offers a magical land of contrasts, via Lisbon – its venerable capital – and wine regions such as Porto and the Douro Valley to Braga, which has just been ranked number one in European Best Destinations’ list of places to visit this year.
Located in Minho province, around 600 kilometres from Faro, Braga was also second in the 2019 list (behind Budapest). The 2021 ranking was compiled from votes by hundreds of thousands of travellers in more than 190 countries who were asked the question, “Where would you like to go on holiday in Europe as soon as it is safe to travel?”
Braga reportedly tallied more than 100,000 votes, with Rome a distant second and Cavtat (Croatia), Florence (Italy) and Sibiu (Romania) rounding out the top-five. The Portuguese city was the favourite destination for tourists from the UK, Spain and Brazil, and one of the top choices among travellers from the US and France.
According to European Best Destinations, the “Portuguese Rome” has something for the tastes and preferences of all travellers. “Braga will appeal to lovers of history and architecture. Braga is also a must-see destination for gourmets, but also for shopping addicts (with one of the largest shopping centres and a wide range of independent shops in the city centre)… and a must-see destination for spirituality with sumptuous churches, monasteries and shrines.
“Incredibly romantic too, Braga is one of the happiest cities in Europe and among the ones with the best quality of life in the world. Still thinking about COVID? Braga has been recognised by the OECD for the quick and innovative response of the authorities to stop the epidemic by protecting the most vulnerable.”
In addition, noted the travel website, the city is committed to sustainable tourism and is part of the network of cities with zero CO2 emissions. “A city of tradition and modernity, Braga is dynamic, sparkling, cultural, gastronomic, historical… With its many cultural events, and its great meeting points, it is a city to discover at any time of the year. For families, lovers, for a cultural city break or shopping or a gastronomic getaway, Braga is the destination to visit.”
Braga’s main tourist attractions include its gothic cathedral, the Santa Barbara gardens and the Bom Jesus de Monte sanctuary (reached by funicular and sculptured stairs).
Further South on the Lisbon Coast…
Cascais was the leading Portuguese destination last year, named fifth after Colmar (France), Athens (Greece), Tbilisi (Georgia) and Vienna (Austria).
European Best Destinations said it was “with Biarritz, one of the most beautiful and prestigious coastal destinations in Europe… Cascais boasts a perfect location, just two steps away from the capital city and its international airport and other must-see locations such as Sintra (UNESCO Heritage Site), Ericeira (World Surfing Reserve) and Mafra (the ‘Portuguese Versailles’).
“With its mild year-round climate, the ‘Portuguese Riviera’ offers a surprising variety of landscapes and attractions, combining a wide range of offers in a unique destination. From pure leisure to business, golf, sun, sea and water sports, it simply has it all and offers a new definition of the concepts of eco- and activity-based tourism.”