Coimbra was once the capital of Portugal until 1255. Rich in old-world charm, this hilly historic town on the Mondego River is home to the oldest University. Throughout the city, you find small cafes, museums, and plenty of history in the Monasteries. Ready to explore this gem in the central region? Here is our ultimate Coimbra guide to help you plan your next trip.

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Getting around Coimbra

street-view in Coimbra

Photo:  F Pinho

 

From Porto or Lisbon, it’s possible to take the train to Coimbra. There are two stations in Coimbra. One (Coimbra-A) provides services to shorter distances. The main station (Coimbra-B) is where all trains pass through. See more about the train service here.

Tuk Tuk’s are available from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, providing sightseeing and private tours. Each vehicle seats up to six passengers powered by 100% electricity.

There is so much more to see outside Coimbra if you rent a car. For instance, you can see how the locals live in small towns like Luso or Mira.

Best things to do

stroll through the old streets of Coimbra

Stroll through the streets

Coimbra has two zones. The upper section (Alta) is where you will find the University, Joanina Library, and the museum. The University’s end is a perfect spot for photos that overlooks part of the city and the Mondego River.

The lower area(Baixa) is more commercial with restaurants, cafes, and shops. If you’re hoping to visit a local market, try the Quebra Costas Flea Market. This open-air market is open on Saturdays except in the winter months.

Visit the University in Coimbra

historic university in Coimbra

Photo credit: [F Pinho] view of the University

 

The best way to discover Coimbra is on foot. This University is usually bustling with 20,000 students filled with energy. Like many cities in Europe, the cobblestone streets are narrow. However, it is relatively peaceful when students are on vacation during the holidays.

Established in 1290, the University of Coimbra is the oldest Portuguese institution in the world.  The year 1537 saw the relocation of the University from Lisbon to Coimbra.

The Joanina Library is a must-see for your ultimate Coimbra excursion if you have the time. The Baroque-style library preserves books dating back to the 16th century. Tours are available during the day.    Buy tickets here.

Travel tip: To avoid walking through the town park at the top of the hill near the University.

Churches & Monasteries

Santa-Cruz-organ

Photo credit: [F Pinho] view of the giant organ

Churches and Monasteries are so beautiful in Europe. As you walk through the town of Coimbra, below are places I think are worth exploring.

Suggested tour to explore:

 

 Art & Ruins

conimbriga ruins

Photo credit: [F Pinho] Conimbriga ruins

From the University of Coimbra, it’s a short walk to The Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro. Visiting the museum is a must-see for people interested in Portuguese art.

Musicians, singers, and Portuguese guitars are the focus of Nucleo da Guitarra e do Fado. By the way, Fado music dates back to1820, while guitars are 12 strings.  Get tickets to a live Fado concert here.

We also recommend visiting the ruins of Conimbriga, about 16km away from the city. Conimbriga’s archaeological site includes mosaic floors, remnants of public baths, and ornamental flower beds.

The Aqueduct

admire the aqueduct built by the romans

Photo credit: [F Pinho] side view of the aqueduct

After viewing the University and monastery, we wandered downhill to the aqueduct. Construction of the aqueduct took place between 1568 and 1570. Aqueducts were built to transport copious amounts of water to the people in the city. At the bottom are gates entering into the Botanical Gardens.

Botanical Gardens

visit the botanical gardens in Coimbra

Photo credit: [F Pinho] botanical gardens

Marquis of Pombal built the Botanical Gardens in the 18th century. Although not everything is out in bloom during April, it’s still beautiful to visit. In Coimbra, this is perhaps the most picturesque area.

In the center of the gardens is a fountain you can stop to rest or capture photos of the gardens and structures. Check out the old Ficus tree located not far from the entrance. The vast roots come right out of the ground.

Wine & Music in Coimbra

Let’s take a moment to talk about the delicious Portuguese wine. It’s very reasonably priced, and a fun wine experience would help you learn more about the different varieties.

If you plan on staying in Coimbra for a few days, we recommend immersing in the local culture. A Capella is a popular place to listen to Fado music in the evening. 

Fado music is a form of Portuguese singing found in Coimbra cafes and restaurants. Coimbra Fado’s music is different from other parts of Portugal. 

Where to Eat & Drink

Here are some restaurants worth mentioning in our Coimbra guide you should try.

Sete Restaurante is a casual popular wine bar. On the other hand, gourmet tapas & fine wine at Tapas Nas Costas are perfect for a light snack. At the same time, Loggia serves modern cuisine with a view overlooking the old town.

My favorite restaurants are always family-run, like Restaurante Ze Neto with typical Portuguese food.

Ready to see experience this historic city? Let’s get you there.