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Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte – Visiting Portugal’s Hilltop Church with 573 Steps to Climb (With Practical Tips and Map)

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is one of Portugal’s most important landmarks and the perfect illustration of the famous maxim that ‘Life’s a journey, not a destination’.

With a history that spans 600 years and a basilica that crowns the wooded Mount Espinho near the third-largest Portuguese city – Braga – the most striking thing about the sanctuary is its stairway.

Composed of 573 steps, 17 landings, and numerous fountains, allegorical statues, grottoes, and friezes, the stairway ascends from the bottom of the hill to the basilica on its top. It’s a Baroque vision of granite details, whitewashed walls, and perspective views.

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte with the Stairways of Five Senses and Three Virtues - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The stairway seems to grow organically from the hill just like the huge trees that flank it. It produces a huge impression on the visitor who, step by step, climbs up following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims who throughout the centuries have slowly journeyed uphill. Just like we all do in life always seeking to reach our personal hilltop and to grow as humans in the process.

Looking up at the stairway and the church to which it leads, it’s easy to understand why in 2019 the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a Christian pilgrimage site and one of Europe’s Sacred Mountains. It is a place of important religious, cultural, and architectural heritage where you can feel your soul soar. Even if you hold different beliefs or if you are not strictly a believer.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

As you stand on top of Mount Espinho, the feeling is of peace and gladness for simply being there. At your feet, the Baroque stairway descends down the slope, all geometric lines and black and white patterns. Behind you, the basilica elevates its symmetrical facade and the bells in its tower sing a happy song of welcome.

A carefully landscaped garden effortlessly leads the eye over to the hill’s lush vegetation. The calming trickle of water can be faintly heard. In front of you and as far as the eyes can reach – some say all the way to the Atlantic Ocean on a clear day – a glorious panorama spreads out.

The view from the bell tower of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The city of Braga stands at the centre of this natural amphitheatre surrounded by undulating hills under the sky of Portugal. It’s one of this world’s rare spots where nature and man have worked together over many centuries to produce pure harmony.

The manmade lines and structures elevate the hill and nature lovingly holds it all in her green embrace. It’s a very special place. One that I truly loved seeing for myself.

As such, in this blog post today, I want to share with you beautiful photos and useful information so as to inspire you to see the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near the city of Braga in Portugal for yourself.

The Baroque stairway seen from above - Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

I will start with a short overview of my trip to the sanctuary a couple of weeks ago. Then, I will share with you lots of helpful details and practical tips to make it easy for you to plan your visit.

How to get to the sanctuary from some of the main Portuguese cities? How to get to the hilltop basilica if you can’t face climbing up 573 steps? How long to spend there? When is the best time to visit? It’s all covered!

Each block of information is under its relevant heading, so you can scroll up and down the page to easily find just the details that you need.

Portugal has so much to offer to the discerning traveller and the north of the country is studded with countless must-see sights. Among them all, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte stands out with its location, history, and architecture. It’s a place you simply cannot miss.

Find out why!

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte – Visiting Portugal’s Hilltop Church with 573 Steps to Climb

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Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, Portugal - How to Visit and What to See - rossiwrites.com
Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, Portugal - How to Visit and What to See - rossiwrites.com

My Personal Experience of Visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal

A fountain and the flights of the Stairway of the Five Senses leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte has been on my travel bucket list for decades. I first heard about it when I spent two months interning at a local radio station in the nearby city of Guimarães in the 1990s.

‘You have to see Braga and its sanctuary!’, the locals would tell me time and time again. I was very young then and a bit apprehensive to travel on my own. So, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the idea of catching the bus to Braga and then finding my way to the sanctuary which is about six km outside of the city’s historic centre.

Nowadays, such hurdles (if you can call them that) don’t stop me. But it’s important to know that what we are today is the result of our yesterday’s fears. Luckily, the fear of travelling and exploring has evolved significantly throughout the years to become a kind of a driving force that always makes me want to go out there and see things for myself.

So, when my husband and I first started discussing spending a week in Portugal in the run-up to Easter, I immediately said that a day trip to Braga and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte was definitely and irrevocably something that we had to do.

Sao Bento Train Station - Porto, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

With Braga being about an hour away from Porto – Portugal’s second-largest city and our base in the north of the country – this was one easy excursion to organise. We caught the urban train from São Bento – Porto’s magnificent train station decorated with 20,000 blue and white tiles or azulejos as they are known in Portuguese.

Clean and spacious, the train left on time, its large windows promising panoramic views along the way. We glimpsed a huge meander of the River Douro saddled by the Maria Pia Bridge and soon small towns and lush hills followed endlessly one after the other.

The train stopped at over a dozen non-descript stations along the route. So, just as it sped up it had to slow down again thus interrupting every three minutes or so the calming rhythm of wheels on the tracks.

Just under an hour later, we pulled into Braga’s railway station – a large, dark structure where people smoked standing up by a couple of small tables right between the platforms and the on-site cafe. Really not an auspicious start for what otherwise turned out to be a glorious day.

A whimsical grotto in the park of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

We stumbled outside, an overcast sky greeting us and Braga’s traffic slowly trundling past. A very polite railway employee had pointed us to the bus stop in front of the station and we stood there waiting for bus number 2. Twice per hour and in about 25 minutes, it connects Braga’s railway station and historic centre to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte.

The bus arrived right on time, we purchased tickets at 1,65 euros per adult from the driver, and we were on our way. Glimpsing the lively streets of Braga as we drove past, gave us our first taste of this beautiful Portuguese city. Soon, the bus had left the historic centre behind. Small suburbs with residential blocks of flats were quickly replaced by green lush hills. They were dotted with houses surrounded by lush flowering shrubs and orange trees heavy with fruit.

Around a small curve in the road, we glimpsed a stone arch flanked by two fountains and two rectangular buildings with whimsical beehive-like roofs. This was the start of the lower part of the Baroque stairway leading all the way up to the sanctuary. A car park stood around the corner from the arch. The bus drove into a small square and dropped us off. A man suddenly called to us with an urgency in his voice: “Quick! The funicular is about to leave!”.

The water-operated funicular - Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

As luck would have it for those who can’t or won’t climb the 573 steps of the sanctuary’s stairway, there is a small funicular taking visitors all the way to the basilica on the hilltop. It runs twice per hour and its operating times are tied up to the arrival of the bus from Braga.

We hurried to the wooden tram car of the funicular. It stood at the bottom of the steep 300 m long track and it was full of a group of tourists. There was no space for us to sit in. Just then, the tour guide generously invited us to position ourselves right at the front of the funicular. The tourists groaned. We had not only arrived almost late but we also managed to bag the best views.

Always trying to be considerate to others, we squished ourselves down as much as possible so as not to obstruct their view. Then up we went enjoying the three-minute ride and the emotion of reaching such a special place in such a fun way.

Halfway up, the funicular’s second tram car rushed past us in the opposite direction. With tanks full of water, it travels downhill while dragging the other tram car uphill. It’s an ingenious mechanism and the Bom Jesus do Monte funicular is the oldest in the world moved by water counterbalancing.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Reaching the top, a beautiful sight revealed itself to us. The basilica stood there – proud, symmetrical, and beautiful in its Neoclassical design – with meticulously designed gardens around it. A wide terrace brimmed the edge of the hill’s top. Standing up there we could see the famous Baroque stairway in all its geometric glory. It descended the slope in perfect zigzagging lines drawing the eyes to the panoramic view of Braga huddled in the valley’s embrace.

Just then, the church bells struck ten o’clock. The slow solemn rings were followed by a happy melody chimed by numerous bells of different sizes and tones.

Inside, the basilica felt full of light. Its symmetrical pillars soared high and supported the elegant arches of the ceiling. Choral music filled the space, making you want to spend longer enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Inside the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The full-size sculptural group of the altarpiece depicted the Crucifixion. It expressed suffering, grief, and somehow a message of hope without the over the top drama and even gory details that often seem to dominate the wooden and terracotta sculptures of Portugal’s churches.

Eager to see more, we paid the humble fee of one euro per adult and climbed to the top of the bell tower. The stairs first took us to a small balcony affording a bird’s-eye view of the church’s interior. A large pipe organ stood up there. Next to it, a small display showed precious religious artefacts.

Up the steps we went, all the way to the top floor of the bell tower. Beyond the thick see-through partitions used to make the space safe for visitors, beautiful panoramic views stretched across the valley and all the way to the undulating hills on the horizon.

The view from the top of the bell tower of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Next, it was time to explore the park behind the basilica. Dotted with whimsical grottoes and statues, at its heart is a small pond where handmade colourful boats can be rented for 15 minutes at a time.

Unfortunately, they were locked when we visited so we headed instead to the playground on the other side of the pond. With equipment for both kids and adults to keep active, it was a nice place to stop for a bit after all the travelling and sightseeing of that morning.

Colourful boats in the park behind the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

We briefly debated making the 20-minute walk on foot from the park to the nearby Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro. They say that it reveals even better views of Braga and there is also a bus that connects it back to the historic centre.

However, we didn’t have much time and also this would have meant missing out on the opportunity to actually walk downhill on the famous Baroque stairway. So, we kept to our original plan and with just under half an hour left to the next bus to Braga, we hurried down the steps.

The Baroque stairway leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Don’t make the same mistake! The stairway deserves much longer than that. Built as a spiritual and physical pilgrimage, traversing each one of its 573 steps is meant to take your faith and body on a journey.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is after all one of Europe’s Sacred Mountains. In other words, this is a devotional complex recreating the Passion of Christ. Its Baroque stairway represents the Way of the Cross – the events culminating in Christ’s Crucifixion.

As most tourists nowadays, we explored the stairway downhill instead of uphill. The historic funicular makes it too easy to travel to the top. Climbing the stairway to reach the hilltop basilica, however, to this day is an important spiritual and religious pilgrimage undertaken by thousands of people every year.

Statues on the Baroque stairway leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The stairway was built in stages between 1723 and 1837. Its lower part is known as the Stairway of the Portico and has 376 steps. The upper part is split into the Stairway of the Five Senses with 104 steps and the Stairway of the Three Virtues with 93 steps. Fountains, allegorical statues, chapels, and many different details build a visual story that the pilgrim absorbs as he climbs up the slope, ideally, on his knees.

Nowadays, this visual language of religion, devotion, and faith is lost on many of us. So, giving the Baroque stairway the time that it needs gives us a chance to stop to notice and decipher many of the symbols along the way.

A small chapel and a spiral fountain - Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Down the steps and the beautiful landings we rushed, past the whitewashed walls creating the striking perspectives. My eyes drank the geometric beauty around me, eager to linger longer on every detail.

Soon, we had reached the main landing that separates the lower and the upper parts of the stairway. It is from this vantage point that some of the most iconic photos of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte are taken.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte with the famous Baroque stairway - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Yet, the lower part of the stairway is also very special. Combining long paths with sharp turns and numerous short flights of steps, it stands in the shadows of the lush trees that surround it.

Small chapels are dotted along its length. Inside them, terracotta figures recreate seminal scenes from the Passion of Christ.

A flight of steps leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Breathless, we reached the bottom of the hill just as the bus to Braga was about to leave. Clambering on board, it was good to know that we had managed to stick to our plan for the day – three hours for the Sanctuary and the rest of the day in Portugal’s third-largest city.

And yet, I know that both – sanctuary and city – deserve a longer period of time to just slow down and experience them even more deeply. I hope that soon there will be a chance for me to return. In the meantime, grab every opportunity to see for yourself these beautiful and special places in Portugal as soon as viable.

Where in Portugal is the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte?

Braga seen from the steps of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte stands on top of the small Mount Espinho in the north of Portugal. It is six km away from the third-largest Portuguese city – Braga. It’s also easy to reach from the nearby Portuguese cities of Porto, Guimarães, and Barcelos.

The sanctuary is part of the civil parish of Nogueiró e Tenões. With a story that spans 600 years, nowadays it consists of a church (elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica by Pope Francis in 2015), a monumental stairway in the Baroque style, and a wooded park with chapels, manmade grottoes, fountains, and ponds.

This religious and architectural complex occupies an area of 26 hectares and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here is a map showing the exact location of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte (with a purple icon) in relation to the cities of Braga, Porto, and Guimarães (with green icons) in Northern Portugal. You can zoom in and out, as well as calculate directions depending on your specific point of departure:

Why Visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga in Portugal?

The Baroque stairway leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is one of Portugal’s most important religious, architectural, and cultural landmarks. With a history that dates back to the 14th century, its current buildings and structures are from the 18th/beginning of the 19th centuries.

Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the sanctuary is set in the bosom of nature. Its hilltop position provides splendid panoramic views over the nearby city of Braga and the surrounding hills.

The sanctuary’s Baroque stairway is of particular interest. It’s comprised of 573 steps and 17 landings. It’s designed to take the pilgrim on a deep spiritual journey in the steps of the Passion of Christ. The culmination is reaching the hilltop basilica’s altarpiece with a full-size sculptural group depicting the Crucifixion.

With its perspective views, whitewashed granite walls, and rich ornamentation, the Baroque stairway has earned the basilica to which it leads the accolade of being Portugal’s most photographed church. In addition, this is one of Europe’s Sacred Mountains – devotional complexes created after the Council of Trent in the 16th century and offering to the faithful the chance to pray at places recreating the Passion of Christ without the need to travel all the way to Jerusalem.

If you have an interest in history, architecture, religion, beautiful views, and photography, a trip to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga is a great thing to do in Northern Portugal.

Abridged History of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The sanctuary is dedicated to the Bom Jesus do Monte – Good Jesus of the Mount.

The figure of Bom Jesus in the religious practices of Portugal and the Portuguese-speaking countries corresponds to Jesus Christ specifically during His Passion and Death. This is mainly represented by the events on the Calvary from the crowning with thorns and the flagellation to the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion, and then the burial of Jesus.

There are many churches and sanctuaries dedicated to Bom Jesus around the world. The Sanctuary of the Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga is one of Portugal’s most important places of religious pilgrimage. In the general context of Christianity, this is a Sacred Mountain.

Sacred Mountains are devotional complexes built on a high peak or on the slope of a mountain in the bosom of nature. Reaching them requires a certain effort and dedication. Smaller chapels are placed along the way, often recreating the Via Crucis (also known as Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross in English). These are sculptural or painted depictions of Christ and the events of His Passion – from the Last Supper to His Crucifixion.

Particularly well-known, for example, are the Sacred Mountains (or Sacri Monti) in the Northern Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. Just like them, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga in Portugal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Detail of the Baroque Stairway leading up to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The history of the sanctuary spans six centuries. Here are the main moments throughout it in an easy to follow format:

1373 – first mention in official documents of the era of the small Hermitage of the Holy Cross on Mount Espinho. Otherwise, the hill had been attracting pilgrims since the start of the 14th century when a large cross was placed on its top.

1494 – the hermitage is rebuilt on the orders of D. Jorge da Costa – Archbishop of Braga and Lisbon.

1522 – the hermitage is rebuilt yet again on the initiative of the deacon of the Cathedral of Braga. At the time, this sacred place gains widespread popular devotion and its importance grows significantly.

1629 – the Brotherhood of the Bom Jesus do Monte is created. To this day the brotherhood looks after the sanctuary and promotes devotion to the Holy Cross and Bom Jesus. At the time of its foundation, the brotherhood built a devotional chapel, houses to host the ever-growing numbers of pilgrims, and the first chapels of the Via Crucis.

1722-23 – the then-Archbishop of Braga – D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles – envisions a large-scale rebuilding and restructuring of the sanctuary. He begins the construction of the Baroque stairway up the hill, orders the construction of a hilltop church, and leaves his mark on the project which will take over one century to complete.

1784 – the hilltop church erected under the guidance of D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles can no longer accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims visiting the sanctuary. A decision is taken to demolish it and instead the construction of the hilltop basilica as we see it nowadays begins. Designed by the Portuguese architect Carlos Amarante, the church has strong Italian influences and is one of the first Neoclassical buildings in the country. It’s finally completed in 1811 and consecrated in 1834.

2015 – the church of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is elevated to a Minor Basilica by Pope Francis.

2019 – the sanctuary is inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.

What to See in the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal?

The funicular station of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Here is a nice and tidy list of the main sights to explore and the more interesting corners to see during your visit to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga in Portugal.

I have provided a short description for each and where possible, a photo, so that you know what to expect.

The Stairway of the Portico of Bom Jesus leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Stairway of the Portico of Bom Jesus (Escadório do Pórtico do Bom Jesus) – this is the lower part of the Baroque stairway leading up to the sanctuary on top of Mount Espinho. It was the first portion of the stairway to be built. Its construction began in 1723.

This part of the stairway has 376 steps split between numerous short flights and linked by long flat paths with an easy to navigate inclination. Above the first flight of steps stands a large arch decorated with the coat of arms of D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles – then Archbishop of Braga and the ideator of the stairway and the expansion of the sanctuary.

A fountain and the flights of steps leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Stairway of the Five Senses (Escadório dos Cinco Sentidos) – this is the main portion of the upper part of the Baroque stairway. It regularly features in photos of the sanctuary as its perspective views and whitewashed walls are really striking.

The fountain of the Five Wounds serves as a gateway to this portion of the stairway which has 104 steps. Then each consecutive landing here features a fountain dedicated to one of the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

A fountain on the Stairway of the Three Virtues leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Stairway of the Three Virtues (Escadório das Três Virtudes) – this last portion of the stairway has 93 steps and it was built in 1837. It blends seamlessly with the Stairway of the Five Senses completing its geometric perspective.

It’s dedicated to the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Again, on each landing, there is a fountain visually representing each virtue with the symbols inherent to it.

The Stairway of the Five Sense leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Landings – some of the landings (as well as paths) connecting the different portions of the Baroque stairway are covered with the beautiful calçada portuguesa. This is a traditional style pavement that like a mosaic recreates patterns and images using stones in black and white.

Hotel and a chapel at the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Chapels – small rectangular, circular, and octagonal chapels with conical roofs stand at key spots around the sanctuary. They house sculptural representations of the events of Christ’s Passion. Made of terracotta, the figures have expressive, often agonising faces and bodies are contorted to reflect the harrowing events.

If you want to have a peak inside each chapel and you are travelling with impressionable kids who may not be used to this particular type of religious art, you may want to gently prepare them for some of the scenes.

View of the surroundings of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Squares and Forecourts (Largos and Terreiros) – several small squares or forecourts stretch around the basilica on top of Mount Espinho. The Largo do Pelicano is of particular interest as it stands where the original church built by D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles once stood.

The entrance of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Basilica of Bom Jesus – the current church on Mount Espinho was built between 1784 and 1811. Its Neoclassical design is the work of Carlos Amarante – an architect from Braga. The church was consecrated on 10th August 1857. In 2015, Pope Francis elevated it to the status of a Minor Basilica.

Inside, don’t miss the Chapel of Relics. In a glass sarcophagus here are preserved the relics of St. Clement – a martyred Roman soldier of the 3rd century. Above the sarcophagus, there is an impressive collection of reliquaries – each shaped like a small bust representing the saint the relic of whom is kept inside. Among them are the Four Evangelists, St. Lucy, St. Francis, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Make sure that you put a bit of time aside to climb the steps to the top of the bell tower. There are some beautiful views of the basilica’s interiors and exteriors to be admired from up there.

The statue of St. Longinus - Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Statues – there are many statues placed around the sanctuary. Some represent major Biblical figures and others are allegorical. The equestrian monument of St. Longinus catches the eye as soon as you reach the top on board of the funicular. A local legend states that if a single girl walks around the base of the statue three times without saying a word, she will get married in the space of one year.

The water-operated funicular - Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Funicular (Elevador) – in operation since 25th March 1882, this is the world’s oldest water-powered funicular. Twice per hour the two tram cars go up and down the 300 m tall steep slope transporting you to the top of the sanctuary (or, respectively, the bottom of the hill) in three minutes or so.

When you arrive at the top, stop for a minute to see the water streaming from a small tube and filling up the tank of the tram car thus getting it ready for the next trip down the slope.

Bear in mind that in winter, the funicular stops for an hour and a half long break at lunchtime. So, if you are planning to use it, organise your times of arrival and/or departure accordingly. Check current opening times here.

The Casa das Estampas next to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Casa das Estampas – this is a well-stocked souvenir shop right next door to the basilica. Inside you will find all sorts of religious and typical Portuguese keepsakes to take home with you. From the ubiquitous magnets to handmade embroideries and azulejo tiles, the choice is yours.

The park and the pond behind the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Park, Gardens, and Surrounding Woods – the sanctuary is in the bosom of nature and it’s surrounded both by meticulously landscaped gardens and luxuriant woods. Follow the paths that crisscross the top of Mount Espinho to explore all the beauty that’s in store for you.

The gardens present a beautiful carpet of seasonal blooms, carefully selected and colour matched for maximum effect. In the park behind the basilica, there is a lovely pond with handmade rowing boats that visitors can hire for a small fee.

Whimsical grottoes, allegorical statues, small ponds, bandstands, and fountains abound. In the park, there is also a kids’ playground and right next to it there is an open-air exercise area for adults.

There are several coffee shops and toilets for the visitors of the sanctuary. A handful of hotels stand unobtrusively near the basilica, too.

When Is the Best Time to Visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal?

The bell of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The best time to visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga in Portugal is on a clear day. The location and architecture of the sanctuary are such that you will want nice weather in order to be able to enjoy the dramatic landscape and the panoramic views at their very best.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be bright and sunny but ideally, there should be no rain. The way the Basilica and its monumental stairway are built, they both protrude from the hill and are embraced by the lush woodland around them. So, going uphill or downhill you are very much in the bosom of nature and being there during a downpour or a heavy fog will significantly take away from the enjoyment of exploring such a special place.

We visited on a spring morning at the start of April. The sky was overcast but the visibility was great thus allowing our eyes to travel far across the vast panoramas all the way to the horizon. While it was a bit chilly and jackets were a must, I was actually quite happy that our visit was not on a hot sunny day. I would imagine that going up and down the steps with the sun blazing above could be quite taxing.

A whimsical grotto and the Casa das Estampas next to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

You also need to take into consideration lunch breaks and religious services when pencilling a visit to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in your travel plans. For example, the basilica cannot be visited by tourists when mass is celebrated and on Sundays, mass takes place three times during the day.

Also, in winter a lunch break of up to an hour and a half is observed by the different facilities of the Sanctuary. For example, the funicular, the Casa das Estampas, and the bell tower. In summer, the bell tower still gets closed for a long lunch break.

If you only have a limited amount of time to visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, then work your visit around the opening times of the basilica and the different facilities. You can check the most up-to-date information on the official website here.

For example, we visited on a Wednesday between 9.30 am and 12.30 pm and managed to see everything we had in mind – from the basilica and the views from the top of its bell tower to the Casa das Estampas and the pond in the park.

How to Reach the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

It is very straightforward to reach the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte from anywhere in Portugal either by car, public transport or organised tour.

The sanctuary is six km away from Braga – the third-largest Portuguese city. So, any itinerary you follow will most likely include getting to Braga first, especially if you are travelling by train and/or bus.

Here is how to proceed:

By Car:

Use Google Maps or an alternative GPS app to get specific directions from your point of departure to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. There is a free car park at Largo do Arco at the bottom of Mount Espinho.

The car park is a two-minute walk away from the arch marking the beginning of the Baroque stairway. You will find the funicular’s station just around the corner from the arch.

Here are some sample travelling times to give you an idea of how long it will take you to drive to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte from some of the most important Portuguese cities:

from Braga – 10 mins
from Guimarães – 25 mins
from Porto – 50 mins
from Coimbra – 2 h
from Lisbon – 3 h 30 mins

By Train / Bus:

Portugal has a well-organised railway system operated by the national train company Comboios de Portugal. Trains running at regular intervals throughout the day connect Braga to the country’s largest cities.

Porto to Braga – trains leave from Porto’s São Bento station and also stop at Porto’s Campanhã station. The journey lasts either 54 mins or 71 mins depending on the number of stops along the way. It’s quite a tedious journey as the train stops at numerous small towns but it’s very inexpensive and very easy to make. You can check the timetable at this link.

Lisbon / Coimbra to Braga – in Lisbon trains leave from Lisboa Santa Apolónia and Lisboa Oriente train stations and on average take about 3 h 37 mins to Braga. Coimbra is a stop on the same railway line. It takes about 1 h 41 mins to reach Coimbra from Lisbon and then about 1 h 56 mins to reach Braga from Coimbra. You can check the timetable at this link.

Guimarães to Braga – you can reach Braga from Guimarães either by train or by bus. By train, you will need to take the train headed to Porto and then change at Lousado where the train arriving from Porto with destination Braga also stops. Alternatively, you can take a bus connecting Guimarães directly to Braga. Travel time by bus is about 45-50 mins. You can check the timetable at this link.

Braga to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte – once you arrive in Braga, you will need to catch bus number 2 to reach the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. The bus stops right in front of the train station and then at several stops skirting the city’s historic centre.

The journey to the sanctuary takes about 25 mins. You can buy tickets directly from the bus driver. Alternatively, you can purchase a tourist ticket (Bilhete Turístico) for either 1, 2 or 3 days from the ticket office inside the train station. Have a look at this link for the current bus fares in Braga.

The last stop of bus number 2 is right next to the funicular station at the base of Mount Espinho. The first stop for the journey back to Braga is right opposite the funicular station. It’s all very easy and very well organised. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The local people are very nice and most of them speak English, so travelling around Portugal is a smooth experience.

By Organised Tour:

If you are short on time and want to see the maximum within a day or if you enjoy having it all organised for you, then there are many guided tours taking in Braga and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Portugal.

A knowledgeable and friendly guide will escort you from the nearby city of Porto to the sanctuary and other places of interest in the area giving you in-depth information about this corner of Portugal, its history and traditions.

Here is a selection of the best day trips from Porto to Braga, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, and beyond. Click on the photos for more details and to book now:

How Long to Spend at the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal?

Colourful boats and a clock tower in the park behind the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

In my experience and if you don’t want to rush it, you will need at least two hours to experience the sights and the hidden corners of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Portugal.

Starting with the exciting funicular ride, the arrival at the top, the enjoyment of the splendid panoramas, the visit to the basilica, the climbing of the bell tower, then a bit of time browsing the souvenirs in the Casa das Estampas, the leisurely walk in the surrounding park with its ponds and grottoes, and then the walk down the monumental stairway, there is so much to do and see here and time really flies fast.

If you would rather walk the stairway both up and down, then add at least another half an hour to your schedule. Plus, if you decide to also visit the nearby Sanctuary of Sameiro, then you will need about 20 minutes for the walk to it.

A grotto in the park behind the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

We spent about three hours visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte and I felt that I could easily have spent the whole day there. It was a very peaceful place where I felt so calm and in the moment. It’s definitely one of those sights where you feel happy just for being there. Simply sitting on a bench and taking in the views felt so relaxing and satisfying. It was very much a feeling of being at the right place at the right time and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Helas, our time was tied up to the schedule of the local bus and as we wanted to explore Braga in the afternoon, come lunchtime, we had to rush downhill to catch the bus back into town. We felt tempted to stay at the sanctuary for the whole day but with so much to see in Braga in particular and in Portugal as a whole, time was of essence to us.

So, yes, to summarise. How long to spend at the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte will really depend on your sightseeing style and available time. If you are very organised and walk super fast, you may be able to fit it all in about an hour and a half or two and then head to your next point of interest.

If you want to experience the place, to truly immerse yourself in its peace and quiet, then take it easy, stop to admire the views, light a candle in the church, enjoy a bite to eat, walk in the park, let your kids play in the playground, take a boat ride on the pond, and above all, take all the time you can afford to slowly climb the sanctuary’s monumental stairway.

Practical Tips About Visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal

The Baroque stairway leading to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Here are some first-hand tried and tested practical tips to make your visit to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Portugal as smooth as possible.

Bear in mind that visiting the sanctuary is a pilgrimage in itself. No matter what your religious beliefs (or lack of) may be, you are welcome to visit and explore while showing your respect for the place, its history, and religious and cultural importance.

Dress appropriately – as usual, shoulders and knees should be covered in the sanctuary’s area. On hot days, a nice lightweight scarf that can be unfurled and wrapped around the upper half of the body will come in very useful.

Wear comfortable shoes – if you decide to walk up and/or down the sanctuary’s stairway instead of taking the funicular both ways, make sure that you wear comfortable shoes with a good grip.

Respect religious services – the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a place of prayer and reflection. Mass is held every day Monday to Saturday and three times on Sundays. Tourist visits during religious services are not allowed. You can check their current times at this official link.

Keep your energy levels – bring water to keep hydrated, especially, if you are climbing the monumental stairway on a hot day. There are several eateries in the sanctuary’s area where you can get a bite to eat and a nice cup of Portuguese coffee.

Book a guided tour of the sanctuary – it’s a great way to get to know its history. Guided tours are organised by the sanctuary itself. They are on different topics, with different duration, and are held in Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, and Italian. Have a look at this official link to see how to book.

Check the official website for up-to-date information – always refer to the official website of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte for up-to-date information about visiting this extraordinary place. Click here to access the official website in English. It is also available in Portuguese. The sanctuary also has a Facebook page and an Instagram profile.

What Else To Do in the Vicinity of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal?

A dusk panorama of the River Douro and the historic centre from the top of of Dom Luis I Bridge - Porto, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is in a very beautiful part of northern Portugal. Nearby, there are many historic cities, picturesque villages, and one-of-a-kind sights that are easy to reach by train and road.

So, you can definitely spend a few days in the area just taking it all in. Here are some of the best landmarks and places to discover for yourself. To make it easier to browse through all the suggestions, I have grouped them by type:

Nearby Portuguese Religious Landmarks:

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro – this is another beautiful sanctuary opening splendid views over the surroundings of the city of Braga. You can easily walk to it in about 20 mins starting from the hilltop basilica of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. There is a direct bus connecting the Sanctuary of Sameiro back to Braga.

Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães – this historic monastery was founded in the 11th century and is a must-see if you have a specific interest in Portugal’s and Europe’s religious heritage. It’s about 12 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte and is best reached by car or bus number 50.

Penha Sanctuary – crowning Mount Penha next to the city of Guimarães, this sanctuary was built in the first half of the 20th century. With a hilltop position, it’s surrounded by large mossy boulders. Up there, you can hike, camp, and enjoy the splendid panoramic views. About 37 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, the Penha Sanctuary is best reached by car or by train to Guimarães and then cable car to the summit of Mount Penha.

Nearby Portuguese Cities and Towns:

Braga – Portugal’s third-largest city is a must-see if you are planning a visit to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte. With a picturesque historic centre, a millennial history, and delicious local desserts, this is one Portuguese destination you wouldn’t want to miss. About six km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga is best reached by car or local bus.

Guimarães – this is Portugal’s founding city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Come here to enjoy the beautiful historic centre and to visit the medieval castle where in the 12th century the Portuguese national identity was born. About 29 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Guimarães is best reached by car, local bus, train or organised tour.

Porto – Portugal’s second-largest city is famous for its wines, picturesque cobbled streets, and churches covered with traditional azulejo tiles. A must-see when you are in the north of the country, this is a large and exciting city with so much to do, see, eat, drink, and enjoy. About 60 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Porto is best reached by car or train.

Barcelos – this small yet picturesque Portuguese town has produced the country’s most recognisable symbol – the black cockerel with colourful wings and proud red crest. It’s all based on an old legend that you can learn on a trip to Barcelos. About 30 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Barcelos is best reached by car or local bus.

Viana do Castelo – this is a splendid city in the northernmost corner of Portugal. With sprawling views of the Atlantic Ocean, an excellent museum of the folk costume, and especially good doughnuts (called bola de Berlim in Portuguese), a day trip is a must. About 67 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Viana do Castelo is best reached by car or local bus.

Nearby Portuguese Archaeological and Historic Sites:

Citânia de Briteiros – an archaeological site preserving the remains of the Castro culture – a Bronze Age civilisation that flourished in the northwestern regions of the Iberian Peninsula up to the arrival of the Romans. About 11 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Citânia de Briteiros is best reached by car.

Nearby Portuguese Natural Sights:

Peneda-Gerês National Park – Portugal’s only national park, this is a place of wild beauty where hiking paths follow ancient Roman roads and hidden waterfalls and natural ponds seem plucked out of a magical fairytale. About 33 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, the Peneda-Gerês National Park is best reached by car and organised tour.

Douro Valley – famous for its vineyards and terraced shores, this is the valley of the River Douro – the third-longest river on the Iberian Peninsula. About 65 km away from the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, the Douro Valley is best reached by car or organised tour.

As you can see the choice truly is overwhelming. There is so much to do and see in the area, that you can make your visit to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte one of many highlights of a road trip in Northern Portugal.

In Conclusion

Side view of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte - Braga, Portugal - rossiwrites.com

Bom Jesus do Monte is a hilltop sanctuary near the city of Braga in the north of Portugal. With a history that spans 600 years, nowadays, the sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Often referred to as the most photographed church in Portugal, Bom Jesus do Monte stands out with its Baroque stairway. Composed of 573 steps, 17 landings and numerous fountains, allegorical statues, chapels, and decorations, the stairway is a triumph of design and architecture.

Many pilgrims and visitors from all over the world flock to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Portugal to climb its stairway, learn about its history, and enjoy the splendid panoramic views that its hilltop location opens over the city of Braga.

In this blog post, I shared with you detailed information about visiting this important Portuguese sanctuary for yourself. From how to get there from a number of large Portuguese cities to what to expect, hidden corners to see, and how to get to the top without any effort, everything is covered in detail.

It’s all based on my personal experience of visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in April 2022.

Have a wonderful time travelling around Portugal!

And enjoy visiting the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga in the north of the country!

Now, get ready quick for your visit to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Portugal!

 

 

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Christine Witton

Sunday 1st of May 2022

An excellent post Rossi. I love reading your posts and found that this one on Bom Jesus very informative. Being a slow traveller, if I do get to Braga and Bom Jesus, it will be a full day trip.

admin

Monday 2nd of May 2022

Thank you for your kind words, Christine! Yes, definitely, Braga and Bom Jesus do Monte are worth it a full day and more. I hope you like visiting them as and when the chance presents itself. Best wishes!

Rossi :)

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