Why visit Coimbra? Find out 10 amazing reasons!
If you plan on visiting one city when traveling to Portugal, Coimbra is a great place! The heart of the city is its University, but there is so much more to see and do! Coimbra is about a 2 hour drive from Lisbon and a 1 hour drive from Porto. You can also take a variety of trains or buses to its center! So that you can get the ultimate Coimbra experience, we recommend renting a car, so you can get around easily and get to know everything about this amazing location and its surrounding areas! Have a browse through our top 10 must do things in Coimbra!
1. Visit Coimbra University
Originated in 1290, Coimbra University is the oldest university in the world. Having shifted bases over the years, it was established in the city of Coimbra in 1537. For 10 euros, you can buy a ticket to visit everything inside the university from St Michael’s Chapel to the Museum of Sacred Art. The university is bustling with young people, and you will frequently see them in their traditional uniform of all black, including the black cloak, which resembles something out of a Harry Potter movie! Coimbra University is unlike any other university you’ve ever seen as its Baroque style is quite luxurious!
2. Visit the University Library
You’ve likely heard of the amazing bookstores in Portugal, such as Lello Bookstore in Porto or the Bertrand Bookstore in Lisbon, but nothing will prepare you for the unique beauty of the Joaninha Library inside the university! Keen to promote science, art and culture, King Joao V sponsored the construction of this breathtaking Baroque style building, hiring some of the most well known architects and artists of the 1700’s. Housing over 250,000 books, some of which are handwritten, you’ll find a wide variety of themes from philosophy to medicine and law, among others. The most amazing part of this visit is the Academic Prison – the only one in the world! At a time where the university still had some legal power over its students, if you misbehaved or disrespected your teachers, this is where you would end up!
3. Get lost in Quinta das Lagrimas
Quinta das Lagrimas, or the Estate of Tears, is named for the famous love story of Prince Pedro and Ines de Castro. The two shared a forbidden love affair, as Ines was the lady-in-waiting for the price’s bride. When his bride died in childbirth, Prince Pedro secretly married his true love Ines. The King suspected of this affair, so had Ines stabbed to death, ending the possibility of Ines becoming the queen. When the king died, the now King Pedro had his love’s killers executed and Ines’s body exhumed. The corpse placed on the throne, crowned, and the entire court was made to pledge allegiance by bending the knee and kissing the corpse’s hand. It is said that the fountain in the estate was created by Ines’s tears and the rust colored stains on the rocks are said to be her blood. Today, Quinta das Lagrimas is a tourist attraction and also a 5 start hotel frequently booked for weddings!
4. Become a child again in Portugal dos Pequenitos
A magical location and said to be the first theme park in Portugal, you will delight at the miniature buildings and monuments dedicated to the history of Portugal! Here you will get to get to know all of Portugal and its colonies in Africa, Macau, India and Timor! All buildings and monuments are kids size, but adults can enjoy trying to get into them too! From the breathtaking Belem Tower and Monastery, to a variety of traditional houses from each region of Portugal, and even kid sized museums dedicated to costumes, furniture and naval history, visiting this park makes for a fun day out in Coimbra!
5. Take a cruise on the Mondego River
Cruising the Mondego River offers you amazing city of Coimbra, from the hill top university to the many cathedrals and monuments. Normally about an hour in duration, on a ferry ride (we recommend Basofias ) you’ll get to sail under the Queen Saint Isabel Bridge and admire all of the sights and sounds of the region! The Mondego River is also quite popular for watersports such as stand up paddling and also kayaking, which are perfect if you’re into more active holidays!
6. Smell the roses at the Botanical Garden
Located in the heart of Coimbra, you can enjoy 13 hecatres of breathtaking flowers, plants and trees! A true paradise for nature lovers. Designed with a cool mix of organized plantation and wild lush areas, you will find the most varied forms of plants! From medicinal herbs and plants, to rare and exotic flowers, trees and even a tropical area, we definitely recommend a visit! The best part of this? Entrance is free!
7. Go back in time at Conimbriga
A visit to Conimbriga makes for a fun filled history lesson! This well preserved archeological site is home to a true Roman city! From its amazing city walls, to the baths, what is most impressive is the vast amount of mosaic tiles, that have been lovingly restored! You can walk through lovely courtyards and gardens, enjoying the history of what was created centuries ago! A visit to the museum is also a must do, as many artifacts can be found here from coins to daily utensils, jewelry and sculptures.
8. Take a stroll under the Almedina Arch
Once the defensive wall guarding Coimbra, this arch and tower is now a local tourist attraction! As you take a stroll through the historical center of Coimbra, you’ll find this 12th century structure, complete with an ancient bell that was used to warn of the opening and closing of the city, as well as a warning for intrusions. From here you can take a leisurely stroll down towards the river, leading to Largo da Portagem and even the famous Rua Ferreira Borges for some retail therapy! If you prefer exploring more historical sites, you can continue on up the road and get to know the Monastery of Santa Cruz as well as Jardim da Manga.
9. Try a Santa Clara Pastry
If there is something you HAVE to taste while in Coimbra, it’s the Santa Clara Pastry! One of the most popular local delicacies, this yummy pastry originated in the local monastery of the same name. With a crispy doughy cup, the inside is a decadent almond and egg yolk filling! Depending on where you eat it, you can find it in a cupcake shape, folded over like a mini calzone, or even in cookie form! Whatever way you eat it, it is one of the best pastries you can try in Portugal!
10. Listen to Coimbra Fado
Fado is the traditional song of Portugal. Haunting and soulful, the lyrics are melancholic and delivered with heart. Fado in Lisbon is quite different from what you will find in Coimbra! Originating from students, the lyrics are more in sync with academic life and, as opposed to Lisbon, is traditionally sung by men. Wearing the uniform of black pants, cassock and cape, accompanied by the unique 12 string Portuguese guitar, you won’t want to miss out on this performance! We recommend visiting Fado ao Centro, as they offer daily shows and also you can stroll around the Cultural Center. You’ll learn more about this traditional song, and even get to see performers rehearse prior to show time!
Are we missing anything? If you’ve been to Coimbra and know of more cool things to see and do, comment below!