Overlooking the Mondego river, Coimbra is the fourth-largest urban centre in Portugal, after Lisbon, Porto and Braga. Also known as the university city of Portugal, Coimbra is home to the first university in the country and one of the oldest in Europe. Founded in 1290, the Coimbra’s University Alta and Sofia, are two architectural centres composed of 31 magnificent buildings. Thanks to its important legacy, the University was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2013.
Coimbra is filled with impressive constructions from different periods of history. The Roman occupation left an aqueduct, from which the remains were later incorporated into a medieval renovation. The Muslim settlement brought a fortified palace, that was later used by the early Portuguese Monarchs. During the Middle Ages, a lot of emblematic buildings were built. Examples of those are the Santa Cruz Monastery - the Patheon where the first kings of Portugal are buried - the old Cathedral and the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha - the most important Gothic work in the city. In the Renaissance period, Coimbra was considered one of the main artistic centres of Portugal, with several Manueline and Renaissance works in the town.
Coimbra has also been an important musical centre in Portugal for centuries, acclaimed by its own musical genre called “Fado de Coimbra”. It is mostly related to academic traditions and is characterized by the use of a specific guitar, with a specific structure - “Portuguese guitar”.
The University of Coimbra was the first university to be created in Portugal. One of the oldest and most prestigious in Europe, founded by D. Dinis in 1290, the university institution moved back and forth between Lisbon and Coimbra, until D. João III definitively established it in Coimbra in 1537. Listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 2013, the university operates under the name University of Coimbra Alta and Sofia and comprises 31 buildings, used for teaching and science-related activities.
Access to the historic centre of the University is made through the Porta Férrea. When we enter the Paço das Escolas, we find ourselves surrounded by monumentality. The highlights are the Paço Real decorated with a sublime neoclassical archway called Via Latina, the University Tower with clocks on each side and the “Cabra” (its most famous bell) and the Chapel of São Miguel with a beautiful Manueline portal. But the most precious gem is Biblioteca Joanina. It is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Detailed painted ceilings, carved tropical wood and gilded woodcarving representative of the Portuguese Baroque style.
The site where the University is located has a privileged view over the Mondego River and the Botanical Garden. Take the opportunity to enjoy the panorama.
Fado de Coimbra is part of Portugal’s intangible heritage with roots in the 16th century. Totally different from Lisbon's Fado, Fado de Coimbra is a serenade fado. It has a lower sound due to the below note to which the Coimbra guitar is tuned, as it must be interpreted only by the male voice. The song themes are always about longing and the love for the woman, for the city and for the University. One more peculiarity is added to its distinct identity: it is considered to be the most erudite music genre in Portugal, although never denying popular influences, as many of the great fados of Coimbra are poems by some of the most illustrious Portuguese poets who studied in Coimbra.
We propose that you enjoy a day in a musical and romantic tone. Visit onde of these places called “Casas de Fado”, that will show you the best of this Portuguese musical expression: Fado Hilário, à Capella, Fado à Centro, Café Santa Cruz.
The Romanesque monastery was founded in 1131. Inside the main chapel, you can find the tombs of the first two kings of Portugal, D. Afonso Henrique and D. Sancho I, who granted donations for the construction of this magnificent religious temple. There are still very few remains of the Romanesque period since the need for further reconstructions made the building changing throughout times. It is the case of the two side towers and the Manueline portico, which is the decorative element that mostly stands out on the facade.
A visit to the interior of the monastery takes us on a path of religious architectural splendour.
Surrounded by the City Hall and Café Santa Cruz, the Church of Santa Cruz completely overshadows these two buildings. However, pay attention to Café Santa Cruz. It is a legendary place in the city of Coimbra, which refurbished the parish church with Manueline elements from the 16th century, creating a space for literary gatherings in 1923. The erudition environment still seems to hang in the air.
The Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha consists of the ruins of the old convent of the city. As it suffered from floods for centuries, it was replaced by a new building in the 18th century, which is still operating today.
Visiting the old convent, you will first find a modernist building, where there is an exhibition with objects found in the excavations, the timeline of the floods and a room displaying a 15-minute video about the history of the site. Then, a path through an extensive green lawn leads to the ruins of what was once the monastery, which was abandoned in 1677. The entrance ticket costs 4 euros.
The Santa Clara-A-Nova convent began to be built in 1649 to replace the old one. In the new convent, visitors can see exhibitions, visit the church, the cloister, the chapel, besides taking the best pictures of the city, since from there you have one of the most beautiful views over Coimbra.
Quinta das Lágrimas is the place where D.Pedro and Inês de Castro lived their forbidden love. In the romantic, serene and lush gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas, whose palace now houses a luxury hotel, the Infante and his beloved spent time together in secret, away from the disapproving looks of the royal court.
The legend says that Inês was murdered at the behest of Pedro's father at Fonte dos Amores and that even today, Inês's blood and Pedro's tears are flowing through the fountain. The charm of this forest and its gardens are absolutely astonishing. Walking through neo-Gothic ruins and centuries-old trees will take you back in time. This is the perfect place for you to experience your own love story with your better half.
The name of the museum honours one of the most notable Portuguese sculptures of the 19th century - Joaquim Machado de Castro. The Museum is housed in a 12th-century bishop’s palace and preserves a beautiful cloister of the 12th century, creating the ideal environment to host one of the most complete art collections of Portugal. It is a centenary museum with a rich collection of sacred art, that stands over the city’s ancient Roman forum, remains of which can be seen through the maze of tunnels under the building.
The museum’s collection is fascinating. It goes from the Gothic religious sculpture to 16th-century Flemish painting and ornately crafted furniture. The Machado de Castro National Museum is one of the country’s most important museums of fine arts and archaeology, displaying important painting, sculpture and decorative art collections, covering a period of more than 2000 years.
The most unusual tourist spot in the whole city is undoubtedly Portugal dos Pequenitos. It is a miniature park with typical Portuguese houses and other emblematic Portuguese monuments. This is a magical space where children have fun getting to know the whole history of Portugal in a playful way, and even at its scale. All the monuments and typical houses of the various regions of the country were replicated in a small perspective.
In addition to architecture, you can also get to know the traditional clothes and costumes of Portuguese history at the Costume Museum, which is part of the park. Tickets for children cost 5.95 euros and for adults 9.95 euros.
The nearest airports to Coimbra are located in Lisbon (190 away) and Porto (120km away). However, Lisbon airport is where you can find most of the international flight connections from the rest of the world.
You can either go by train, bus or car from Lisbon to Coimbra. You can catch the train at Oriente station. Trains to Coimbra run every hour and you should expect the journey to take approximately 2 hours.
If you prefer to go by bus, the best way is to take the express bus at the Sete Rios station. Express buses to Coimbra run every hour and you should expect the journey to take approximately 2 hours and a half.
Coimbra bus service is run by SMTUC. The bus service ensures trips to any point of the city. It works, from 6:00 to 00:00, with short and regular periods. Tickets can be bought on board and cost €1.60. The city also comprises an elevator – a funicular connected by a walkway – which takes you from the market up to the university district. It'll save you a steep uphill climb.
There are also bike and electronic bikes throughout the city available to rent. The company that provides this service is By Bike.
Coimbra has several shopping malls of various sizes offering high street names, eateries and leisure facilities.
Around the old Cathedral, Coimbra’s narrow streets are full of independent shops selling locally-made souvenirs, craftworks and jewellery. One of the busiest streets for shopping in Coimbra in the cathedral area is Rua Ferreira Borges. Here you will find many shops selling artisan products such as ceramics, basketry, embroidery, linens and costume jewellery. The Praça do Comércio, an expensive square filled with shops, is another good spot for hunting down traditional crafts.
There are also several markets in Coimbra. The Mercado D. Pedro V is the main municipal market and dates right back to 1867. The Feira de Velharias is located in Praça Velha, or the old square. This fun flea market has a bit of everything, from stamps, coins and books to antique watches, radios and embroidery pieces, sold by private individuals and antique dealers. The Feira dos 7 e dos 23 is another market, this one based on the banks of the River Mondego.
In Coimbra, the summer is warm, dry and the sky is cloudless most of the days; the winter is cool, with precipitation and partly cloudy skies. Throughout the year, the temperature generally ranges from 4 ° C to 28 ° C and is rarely below -1 ° C or above 35 ° C.
The rainy period of the year lasts 10 months, from August 21 to June 28, with a minimum continuous rainfall of 31 days of 31 millimetres. The maximum rainfall occurs during the 31 days around December 27, with an average total accumulation of 112 millimetres.
The rainless period of the year lasts for 1.8 months, from June 28 to August 21. The minimum rainfall occurs around July 23, with an average total accumulation of 7 millimetres.
The best time of the year to visit Coimbra and do hot-weather activities is from the beginning of July to the end of August.
There are all types of restaurants in Coimbra to choose from. You can either find small and friendly local restaurants, laid-back cafés or Michelin-starred masterpieces. Whatever you prefer, you should not miss the local ones, to make sure you get a real fell of the traditional cuisine. Here follows a list of our suggestions:
Ze Neto Restaurant
Arcadas da Capela
DUX Taberna Urbana
Café Santa Cruz
Located between the sea and the mountains, the nearest beaches of Coimbra are river beaches. The district is characterized by the valley of the River Mondego, which dominates the landscape of the region. Discover the river beaches of the district.
Praia Fluvial de Alvoco das Várzeas
Praia Fluvial da Ponte das Três Entradas
Praia Fluvial da Senhora da Graça
If you prefer to explore real beaches, you should head 50 km to the west of Coimbra, where lies the northwest coast of Portugal. Here you will find beautiful wide-open sandy beaches. Costa Nova and Figueira da Foz beaches are the most well-known, but you should also explore Murtinheira, Tocha and Leirosa.
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