The Ultimate Coimbra Travel Guide

Coimbra Portugal Unesco Unesco World Heritage Site

Rising beautifully from the Rio Mondego, Coimbra is a vibrant city rich in history. It was Portugal’s popular medieval capital for more than a hundred years, and it’s home to the nation’s most prestigious and oldest university. Its steeply piled historic center records to Moorish times and is amazingly atmospheric, with a monumental cathedral and its dark cobbled lanes. On evenings, the town’s old stone walls echo with the seductive metallic notes of the Portuguese guitar (Guitarra) and the deep, full voices of fado singers.

The town is at its best during college term time, when the young students bring fresh energy to the streets, flooding bars, and partying. Their presence also adds a political edge – behold, the graffiti scribbled outside the repúblicas, and see students addressing political issues.

How to reach Coimbra?

The most nearby airports for Coimbra are Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport and Portela Airport. Numerous flights arrive from different parts of Portugal and elsewhere to these airports.

You can also arrive at Coimbra through shuttle service. Hourly door-to-door transfers between the Coimbra and the airports at Oporto and Lisbon are widely available, and that’s the most convenient way to reach Coimbra. 

All of the trains connecting Lisbon and Porto stop at Coimbra. 

Top Attractions in Coimbra

Universidade de Coimbra

Coimbra’s Unesco-listed university, one of the modern world’s oldest, was initially founded in Lisbon in 1290 CE. It was consequently relocated numerous times before being forever established in Coimbra in 1537 CE. Its showpiece center is the Pátio das Escolas, a large courtyard enclosed by majestic 16th- to 18th-century CE buildings. These include the Torre da Universidade, Paço das Escolas, Capela de São Miguel, Prisão Acadêmica, and Biblioteca Joanina.

Sé Velha

Coimbra’s 12th-century CE cathedral is one of Portugal’s most exquisite examples of Romanesque architecture. The leading portal and facade are especially striking, particularly on warm summer evenings when the yellow-golden stone seems to shine in the soft light. Its foundation was financed by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, and finished in 1184 CE at a time when the Moors still terrorized the nation, hence its crenelated outside and small, slit-like lower windows. Interior attractions include an elegant late-Gothic retable and a splendid 13th-century CE cloister.

Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This excellent museum is an attraction of central Portugal. Housed in a 12th-century CE bishop’s palace, it rules over the town’s ancient Roman forum, remains of which can be observed in the maze of spooky tunnels under the foundation – the cryptoporticus. Once you come out from this, you can begin on the fascinating art collection, which runs the gamut from Gothic religious art to 16th-century CE Flemish painting and beautifully crafted furniture.

Here, you can relish terracotta figures from a 16th-century CE Last Supper by the enigmatic French artist Hodart and some remarkable panels by the famous Flemish painter Quentin Metsys. A collection of gold furniture, monstrances, and Moorish-inspired pieces is almost too much by the time you reach it.

Biblioteca Joanina

The university’s ornate library is Coimbra’s top sight. Named after the popular king (locally famous), King João V, who sponsored its development between 1717 CE and 1728 CE, it features a grand central hall adorned with elaborate ceiling frescoes and massive ebony rosewood and jacaranda tables. Towering gilt chinoiserie racks hold some 50,000 books, mainly on philosophy, law, and theology. Curiously, the library is also home to a colony of bats to defend the books – they eat harmful insects.

Things to do in Coimbra

  1. Stroll to the top of University Hill from the majestic Mondego river (one of the three great rivers of Portugal). You can enjoy a gorgeous view and click numerous photos on the hilltop. 
  2. Visit one of the many medieval-era churches in Coimbra and enjoy the show. Fans of medieval art will have numerous masterful paintings to inspects in most of these churches. 
  3. Participate in student festivals and explore the vibrant nightlife of Coimbra. Expert Advice: students are smarter than you think, and fooling them will always backfire. They are friendly, rebellious, and love partying, and getting to explore the Coimbra nights with them is fantastic. 
  4. Visit Rua de Azeiteiras, a street in Baixa, and enjoy meals at one of the many traditional restaurants.

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