On our road trip through Portugal, Coimbra was the second of our three main destinations, and boy did it take us by surprise. Although (or maybe because) it is relatively small in size, it simply charmed our socks off. We arrived late in the evening and felt as though we had the entire city to ourselves. Hands down, Coimbra became our favorite romantic getaway. We explored more during the next few days and loved it even more. That’s why we have compiled a quick overview of things to do in Coimbra for you 🙂
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 center for culture and the arts.
How to Get to Coimbra
It is probably easiest to get in by car as it will take you directly to the center. 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). For more information on the train service, please refer to the official website.
Another increasingly popular option is to take a bus to Coimbra. Flixbus offers a couple of cheap routes, particularly when coming from Spain (e.g. Salamanca). The bus stop lies a little further from the city center, but tickets are generally very cheap, especially on routes where train service is infrequent.
Where to Stay in Coimbra
Coimbra can easily be explored on foot, although most of your destinations will lie uphill, so make sure you wear a pair of comfy shoes.
Considering the size of the city, Coimbra hosts a surprisingly large number of hotels. Most of them concentrate around the university hill and close to the train station. However, a few hotels can also be found further out and across the Mondego River.
Personally, we stayed at Hotel Oslo which was probably one of the most comfortable hotels we stayed at in all of Portugal. Its location is convenient, just next to the train station and within walking distance to the old town. Parking is also available, which was a big plus for us, as well as the delicious breakfast.
The hotels biggest selling point, however, is its incredible rooftop terrace which simply offers the most magnificent views of Coimbra. We actually spent an entire afternoon there with the terrace to ourselves, sipping on some cold beer and reading a couple of good books 🙂
What to Do in Coimbra
Although the best thing to do in Coimbra is to simply walk around the old town and take in the atmosphere, Coimbra still has a few beautiful sights to offer. Below we have compiled a short list of things to see in Coimbra. If you are in town for longer, why not check out our day trips from Coimbra below?
1. Coimbra University & Joanine Library
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.
Simply put, no visit to Coimbra can be complete without a visit to the university grounds. If you have the time you can also check out the famous Joanine Library, a marvelous 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 😉
2. Coimbra Churches & Monasteries
Coimbra is home to some of the most beautiful yet understated Catholic churches and monasteries in all of Europe. As you walk through the old town, you will likely pass several chapels as it is. However, some are worth exploring in greater detail, such as
- Chapel of Sao Miguel
- Monastery of Santa Cruz
- Old Cathedral of Coimbra
- Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
- the New Cathedral
If you have a little bit of extra time on your hands, you may also want to visit the Roman ruins of Conimbriga. Located about 15km from the city center, they are a little out of the way, but definitely worth a look.
Conimbriga is one one the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal. Most of the structures lie in ruins, but they still give an indication of what life was like more than 2,000 years ago. In order to get there from Coimbra by public transport, you’ll have to take a bus from Coimbra to Condeixa (see more information here). Buses marked with a “C” will stop at Conimbriga. The bus journey takes about 40 minutes and costs 2.5€ each way. Please note that buses only run twice per day.
Where? Condeixa-a-Velha 3150-199, Condeixa-a-Nova
Opening hours? Daily, 10:00-19:00
How much? 4.5€
4. Coimbra Nightlife & Coimbra Fado
No matter what you do, we strongly recommend that you check out the city’s vibrant nightlife. After all, students do know how to party. To really immerse yourself, visit one of the bars around the old Cathedral where students and professors alike gather to discuss religion, politics, and life in general. One of the local’s favorites is Cafe Santa Cruz, an old converted church. Other favorites include Bar Quebra Costas and Feito Conceito.
Oh, and don’t forget that the Coimbra Fado is very distinct from its Lisbon variation. One of the most popular Fado places in Coimbra is A Capella, yet another transformed chapel. It is open daily and offers a fado performance at 21:30. The cover charge is 5€.
Day Trips from Coimbra
If you are traveling 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 stone’s throw 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!
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 favorite sight? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!