Updated: Dec 16, 2022
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. The city has 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.
Getting around 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 and is 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 streets
Coimbra has two zones. The upper section (Alta) is where the University, Joanina Library, and the museum will be found. 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
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 holiday vacation.
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.
Travel tip: To avoid walking through the town park at the top of the hill near the University.
Churches & Monasteries
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:
Chapel of Sao Miguel
Monastery of Santa Cruz
Old Cathedral of Coimbra
Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
Art & 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 to 1820, while guitars are 12 strings.
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.
Photo credit: [F Pinho] side view of the aqueduct
After viewing the University and monastery, wander 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 is the entrance of the gate to the Botanical Gardens.
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.