The city of the students
Coimbra is a university city, located between Lisbon and Porto, and was also the capital of the Portuguese kingdom until 1255, before the change of court. Despite this, it is not highly touristic.
The most iconic spot of Coimbra is his university, among the oldest in the world still active. The city is bathed by the Mondego River, which has its source in Serra da Estrela and divides the city into two banks.
Tips about the city
Coimbra has bus and train connections with the rest of the country.
The city has two train stations, the old one (Coimbra-B) and the new one (Coimbra) closer to the historical center – and with a Bus Terminal located between the two stations.
For short stays in the city, live close to university headquarters.
The region around Praça da República and the neighborhood of Celas are also good options. But if you are visiting the city by car, it is best to avoid the historic center where the streets are narrow (some of them just for pedestrians) and finding a place to park can be difficult.
Coimbra is definitely a walkable city, but if you need to commute, the bus system works very well, with good coverage throughout all district; taxi runs are usually cheap as the distances are short.
Top things to do
University of Coimbra
The University of Coimbra is the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe. Among the attractions of the visit to the university are the Paço das Escolas, the University Tower (from where you have a privileged view of the city), the beautiful Joanina Library, the old prison Chapel of São Miguel and the Capelos Room. The Coimbra Cathedral and the Science Museum are, as well, at the top of the university hill.
Sé Velha (Old Cathedral)
The Old Coimbra Cathedral is situated on the same hill as the university, between the Paço das Escolas and Praça do Comércio. It’s a building in the Romanesque style of the 12th century and has a beautiful cloister, already in transition to Gothic style.
Praça da República, Parque de Santa Cruz – Jardim da Sereia
Praça da República concentrates a good amount of bars and restaurants. Due to its privileged location, it is a meeting point for the students of the city. The main entrance of the Parque de Santa Cruz, Jardim da Sereia, is opposite the square.
Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra
The Botanical Garden of Coimbra is a pleasant and beautiful green area between the historical center, the university and the new neighborhoods of the city. Take a walk through the alleys.
Santa Cruz Monastery and Café Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Monastery was founded in 1131. The building features a varied architectural style and an imposing façade. Inside, the details in wood and the walls covered with Portuguese tiles are its most outstanding characteristics.
Café Santa Cruz is near the church. It has a really charming atmosphere. The café has free cultural events, with exhibitions, fado and jazz shows in its beautiful hall.
Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha (Monastery of Old Santa Clara)
On the banks of the river are the ruins of the old monastery and what remains of the cloister. The construction suffered throughout its existence with floods, as a result of the rise of the waters of the Mondego River. The last one, in the winter of 2016.
In the seventeenth century, due to the floods, D. João IV had a new monastery built, Santa Clara-a-nova (New Santa Clara).
About 17Km from the center of Coimbra, you will find the Museum and the ruins of the city of Conímbriga. The village precedes the arrival of the Romans in Lusitania.
If you haven’t a car, it can be a problem to reach the area. Check here for more info.
Fado of Coimbra
Fado is also the music of Coimbra. While in Lisbon it has its roots linked to popular culture, here it has gained academic acclaim. It’s sung by men, dressed in the characteristic black capes of the university.
Many restaurants around the city and especially those in the historic center offer Fado nights of Coimbra. A good option is Fado ao Centro, at Rua Quebra Costas. Café Santa Cruz also offers nights with free fado shows.
Food and drink
The city has good options of restaurants with varied prices. Being a college town, economic choices are everywhere. Venture through the various downtown bakeries and the small, family-friendly restaurants of the city. A must-see is the traditional Café Santa Cruz, next to the Church of Santa Cruz, in Plaza 8 de Maio, where you can also enjoy free Fado.
While in Coimbra, a good option is to reach the pedestrian street of the city center, Rua Ferreira Borges, and choose one of the pastelarias in the area (one of the best, Pastelaria Briosa).
Where to eat in Coimbra?
If you want a peculiar place to have a meal in Coimbra, your choice is Zé Manel dos Ossos, Rua do Beco, 12, a small nice restaurant with traditional food and nice staff.
Fancy a pint? Where to grab a beer
In Praça da República you have a great variety of bars, restaurant and even a nice Irish Pub to have a beer. On the other side of the river, you can find Praxis Brewery, a local brewery that serves its own beers.