One of the World’s Best Retirement Destinations

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Braga, Portugal
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Live and Invest Overseas.

Braga is one of Europe’s oldest municipalities, founded over 2,000 years ago.

Portugal’s third-largest urban area delivers an authentic Portuguese lifestyle — a tranquil and affordable way of life for expats.

Braga’s unique appeal more than earns its spot as the world’s No. 2 best retirement destination in the 2024 Overseas Retirement Index.

Portugal has long been popular with expats. Its popularity with North Americans skyrocketed in the past three years. Most of the attention, though, has focused on just Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, driving up local property prices and cost of living.

Yet Braga remains affordable in Portugal’s northern Minho Province, and for its rich lifestyle, life here is a bargain.

Braga, the Rome of Portugal

Aerial view of Braga from Bom Jesus do Monte church, Portugal
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Known as the Rome of Portugal, Braga boasts numerous squares, baroque churches, and chapels … 162 in total. The sound of church bells is wonderfully constant. There is something magical about that.

To explore the city, ride a one-hour commuter train from Porto and walk the gentle block and a half from the train station.

An ancient Roman wall is on your left. To the right is a lovely public garden with fountain sparkling in the warm sunshine. What looms in front is the stunning Renaissance city gate, inviting you into the pedestrian heart of the city that was once the capital of Portugal.

For that moment you might believe you were transported back in time. But no, wait … Folks wear modern clothes. Shops sell everything from designer brands, to furniture, hardware, and household items.

You have not stepped back in time … you have just arrived at Braga’s charming and extensive historical center.

Braga’s historical center

Arcada on Plaza de la Republica in Braga at dawn. Braga, Norte Region, Portugal.
Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com

The historical center is extensive. Indeed, it’s what sets it apart from other municipalities. The area is flat and meanders for blocks and blocks.

It is a dense, bustling neighborhood filled with cafes, boutiques, shops, pharmacies, supermarkets, restaurants, businesses, hotels, homes, apartments, hospitals, churches, gardens, fountains, and theaters, all housed in a magnificently restored, pedestrianized area of town.

Religious sites of historical significance abound, like the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro, The Bishop’s Palace, and the Braga Cathedral (Sé de Braga). Pilgrims have journeyed here for centuries.

But life in Braga is not all about hymns, prayers, and homilies … Above all Braga offers tranquility in a well-appointed, well-maintained, and elegant city. It enchants visitors with its vibrant cultural offerings, blending ancient and youthful energies with its historical ambiance and modern-day university town character.

Modern convenience

Braga, Portugal - October 27, 2021: Street atmosphere and architectural detail in the historic city center on an autumn day
Pierre-Olivier / Shutterstock.com

Buildings are not torn down here … at least not entirely. Don’t be fooled by skin-deep appearances. Facades might be the only part of a building that is kept, with a completely new, modern building constructed behind.

Arriving at the city center’s magnificent plaza and fountain you can survey the surrounding hills in the distance with their striking homes, churches, apartments, university, sports complexes, municipal swimming pools, shopping malls, hotels, and convention center. This is a modern marvel, not a 15th century community.

The expressway passes beneath the center of town, which indicates the extent that current-day city planners have gone to preserve Braga’s history. A large parking structure is also hidden beneath the city center.

The modern University of Minho campus adjacent to the center is only 50 years old.

Braga’s national health system hospital is a state-of-the-art regional medical center, which was built in 2011.

Preserved cultural heritage

Musicians performing traditional roman music during Braga Romana festival in Portugal
trabantos / Shutterstock.com

Braga’s many festivals emphasize the importance of preserving its cultural heritage — something to be cherished and continued for the health and well-being of all.

If there’s a holiday, you can be assured Braga has planned a public festival.

By planned, I mean multiple-day affairs featuring published event programs, numerous stages, theatrical lighting, audio-visual, entertainers, light shows, costumes, decorations, food, wine, beer, craft bazaars, and, of course, fireworks. All free of charge for those who attend.

A city that delivers festivals and community events nearly every week of the year — gratis — is one that I think should be on your radar.

Strong tourism year-round

European Union passport on Europe map.
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Braga is the third-most visited destination in Portugal. The city attracts 7 million visitors annually.

According to the Portuguese Tourism Confederation, tourist spending equates to more than 700 million euros each year.

In 2021, Braga was named the Best European Destination to Visit by a Brussels-based EU tourism company.

City of Festivals

couple celebrating and toasting with glasses of red wine
ImYanis / Shutterstock.com

The Portuguese love a good party. Braga’s cultural events calendar is stacked with exciting, colorful festivals, concerts, and exhibitions year-round. The events are multi-day affairs featuring live music, performances, food, drink, and costumed entertainers.

It’s good family fun for all. The best part is, it’s free.

Braga’s calendar makes much of the “top six”: Christmas, Carnival, Easter, Saint John’s Day, Bracara Romana, and White Night. Each event attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Braga also has its own home-grown events, like Verde Cool — a monthlong restaurant festival during which participating restaurants offer a small plate plus a wine pairing for 4 euros.

A gastronomic hub

Restaurant diners eating food at the dining table after a meal with smartphones on the table
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Savory northern Portuguese dishes and drinks can be enjoyed on the cheap because they’re priced for the biggest client base: university students.

Braga is a small city

Happy woman walking in nature
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While Braga is the third-largest urban area of Portugal, the city population is just under 200,000 people. The city is pedestrian friendly.

Thanks to buses, trains, taxis, and ride-hailing apps many residents live comfortably without a car. It’s easy to get around this city and beyond using the well-appointed public transportation system.

Plus, convenient rental car companies are available for the few times a year folks wish to get out on the road and explore.

It’s a university town

teenager teen boy girl date coffee
By GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com

The ambiance is always lively, with people out enjoying its restaurants, cafes, parks, plazas, and modern shopping malls.

Tech industry startups, the Nanotech Center, Braga Philharmonic Orchestra, and theater performances are an exciting by-product of the University of Minho.

Affordable health care

Senior man at the doctor
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Portugal’s health care is ranked 12th best in the world. The national health care system is extremely affordable.

Going to the family doctor, for example, will cost virtually nothing. Many health care services are completely free in the national system.

In Braga, there is a modern public hospital, as well as private hospitals and clinics. There should be no difficulty meeting your health care needs. In fact, you’ll likely be upgrading the quality of care you receive by relocating to Braga.

English is the second-most spoken language in Portugal

Patient talking to her doctor while sitting on an exam table
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It’s taught from an early age in schools. The younger generation speaks it at a high conversational level.

You can get by with English alone in Braga and shouldn’t have a problem finding English-speaking doctors, real estate agents, and lawyers, as well as English-language media.

English-language television programs and movies are not dubbed in Portugal as in other EU countries, but instead have Portuguese subtitles.

Solid expat community

Happy retiree couple
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Braga has a smaller expat community than Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve. That’s part of its appeal — it’s authentic, laid-back, uncrowded, and tranquil.

You will discover that the expat community is very active, making it easy to acclimate to life in northern Portugal.

Surrounding area filled with natural beauty

woman stretching in nature to start training, body exercise or hiking workout in Portugal.
PeopleImages.com – Yuri A / Shutterstock.com

Braga is situated less than an hour from Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, and the vineyards of the Douro River. Famous for outstanding natural beauty, the sprawling landscape of Minho Province has Geres National Park.

The winter rains deliver a verdant, green landscape year-round. In the area you will enjoy walks, hikes, cycles, and drives through the lush landscapes, mountains, river valleys, parks, and river beaches.

River access in the city and across the region provide opportunities for swimming, kayaking, and waterfall canyoning. Within a 30-minute drive, you can be at the rugged Atlantic Ocean beaches of Portugal’s northwest coast, including Esposende, Fao, and Ofir.

Sports

Friends excited and watching a sports game with a soccer ball and cheering in front of the TV
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Sports are a part of life in Braga. Soccer (futebol) is the most popular sport nation-wide. Braga has a team (Sporting Clube de Braga) and stadium in Portugal’s top division.

Motorsports are also a big deal here, with several race tracks nearby and the European Hillclimb Championship (a motorsport competition) hosted every summer.

The municipal sports complex offers public pools, tennis courts, soccer pitches, basketball courts, jogging tracks, and rock-climbing walls.

Diverse property market

Keys on a counter or table.
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A variety of home types are available in the Braga area, including houses, land parcels, apartments, and condos. There’s everything from fixer-uppers with historical value to luxury villas.

Numerous price points reflect the diversity of options in the property market.

Safe as can be

Couple holds hands
Rido / Shutterstock.com

Portugal is the seventh-safest country in the world, according to the Global Peace Index. Braga has lower crime rates than Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve. We have never felt safer traveling somewhere on our own.

Braga’s appeal earns its spot as the No. 2 best destination in the world for an expat life. I’m confident you’ll thank me for suggesting that you check out what this slice of heaven has to offer.

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