On our road trip through Portugal Coimbra was the second of our three main destinations, and boy did it take us by surprise. The city as we know it today was built upon the ancient Roman settlement of Aeminium, making Coimbra one of the oldest cities in Portugal and all of Europe. Its importance continued in the early Middle Ages, when it served as the Portuguese capital for around a hundred years. However, with the decline of the Portuguese empire, Coimbra evolved from a political power to a centre for culture and the arts. The city on the Mondego river today is a full-blown university town with the University of Coimbra, founded in 1290 and therefore the oldest Portuguese-speaking academic institution in the world, which dominates both students’ lives as well as tourists’ interest in the city. It is definitely a must-see!
It is probably easiest to get in by car as it will take you directly into the centre. Coimbra also makes a good stop-over destination on your way from Lisbon to Porto as it lies nearly halfway between the cities. Alternatively you can take the train, but make sure to catch a connection from Coimbra B (long-distance terminal) to Coimbra A (in the Baixa district, downtown). From here on the city can easily be explored on foot, although most of your destinations will lie uphill, so make sure you wear a pair of comfy shoes.
We strongly recommend that you take the time to explore the university grounds. If you have the time you can also check out the famous Joanine Library, a marvellous piece of Baroque interior design displaying 55,00 books. We arrived here just at the beginning of the academic year and were lucky to observe new and old students gathering around the university grounds, dancing and singing. So kick back and find your student way of life 😉
Apart from the university grounds you can spend your time meandering the inviting narrow streets of the old town which is littered with worn out shops and budget eateries. and gazing at some of the many, many, many ornately decorated churches scattered throughout the city. The whole time we spent in Coimbra there was a great romantic vibe about it and I would even recommend it as a perfect romantic getaway. If you have a little bit of extra time on your hands, you may also want to visit the Roman ruins of Conimbriga, about 15km from the city. In any case though we strongly recommend that you check out the city’s vibrant night life. After all, students do know how to party. Oh, and don’t forget that the Coimbra Fado is very distinct from its Lisbon variation. Have fun! 🙂
If you are travelling by car and are coming from Lisbon or are headed to Lisbon, we suggest you make a short stop in Batalha and marvel at the beautiful Batalha Monastery. Erected in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota – the city’s name Batalha literally means battle – it has deservedly been added to the long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Just like many monuments in the Belem district of Lisbon, it is an example of the famous Portuguese Manueline style of architecture and it is one of the best examples of late Gothic architecture in Portugal.
If you travel in the opposite direction, only 58km you will find the town of Aveiro. It is a small university town, somewhat famous for its canals and painted boats called moliceiros. It has therefore been dubbed as the Portuguese Venice and is definitely worth stopping by for a coffee break. Its real treasure though are the beaches which lie just a stonesthrow away. We decided to kick back here for a couple of hours, dip our toes into the cold waters of the Atlantic and catch up with our travel literature. Unfortunately it was entirely too cold to go swimming, but the view was certainly redeeming!
Our final verdict: Coimbra is best enjoyed in 1-2 days!
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in and around Coimbra? What was your favourite sight? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!