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A Guide to Coimbra: the best things to do

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With its renowned university, quaint alleyways, age-old monuments, and deep-rooted traditions, Coimbra is a traveler’s dream in the heart of Portugal. If you’re journeying through the country, this historic gem is a stop you shouldn’t miss.

Wondering what Coimbra has in store? Let’s dive in!

💡 The Captain’s tip 💡

Curious about Coimbra’s history? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital (in English). You can choose the tip you want to leave the guide—it’s entirely up to you!

Looking for accommodation in Coimbra? Take a glance at this handpicked selection of excellent-value hotels: accommodations in Coimbra.

Getting to Coimbra

Once the heartbeat of Portugal as its capital, Coimbra sits strategically in the country’s center, roughly 200 km / 125 miles north of Lisbon and a mere 100 km / 60 miles south of Porto.

Getting to Coimbra By Car

From Lisbon: A smooth 2-hour drive up the A1 highway will get you there.

From Porto: Head south on the A1, and you’ll reach in about 1.5 hours.

Heads up: Remember, the A1 isn’t toll-free.

Getting to Coimbra By Train

From Porto: Direct trains make the journey to Coimbra several times daily, taking around 1.5 hours.

From Lisbon: Likewise, frequent trains connect Lisbon to Coimbra, usually clocking in just over 2 hours.

🚘 Car Rentals 🚘

For an unbridled Portuguese adventure, Captain Ulysses heartily suggests renting a car.

His top pick? The Rentalcars platform, where you can sift through offers from leading agencies like Sixt, Avis, and Europcar.

More info: explore car rental deals in Portugal

Day Trips from Porto

Based in Porto? Consider a day trip to explore both Fátima and Coimbra.

Captain Ulysses’ recommendation is this tour which offers flexibility with 24-hour cancellation, several language availability, and rave reviews.

👉 More info: Day tour to Fátima and Coimbra from Porto

Coimbra Highlights: the Best Things to Do

University of Coimbra & The Joanina Library

Overlooking the old town from its hilltop location, the UNESCO-listed University of Coimbra is a must-see. Established in 1290, it’s the pride of Portugal’s academic history. A standout is the 18th-century Joanina Library, a Baroque architectural marvel housing a treasure trove of ancient books.

👉 More info: University of Coimbra | Joanina Library
👉 University of Coimbra Guided Tour

University of Coimbra

The Botanical Garden of Coimbra

Just a hop away from the University, the Coimbra Botanical Garden is a serene retreat amidst urban hustle.

Initiated in 1772 by the Marquis of Pombal, it’s among Portugal’s pioneering botanical gardens. It showcases a global plant collection, segmented into thematic gardens. The greenhouses shelter rare and endangered species.

While entry to the garden is complimentary, there’s a nominal fee for the greenhouses.

👉 More info: Coimbra Botanical Garden

The Old Cathedral of Coimbra (Sé Velha de Coimbra)

Tucked in the city’s historic heart, the Old Cathedral of Coimbra is a Romanesque architectural masterpiece.

Constructed nearly nine centuries ago, it stands as a testament to Portugal’s rich heritage, blending Romanesque, Moorish, and Gothic elements.

Its fortress-like exterior is complemented by a stunning interior featuring a Gothic altarpiece, vibrant azulejos, and Portugal’s oldest cloister. Situated close to the university, the cathedral boasts a sweeping city view.

👉 More info: Sé Velha de Coimbra

Cloister of The Old Cathedral of Coimbra

Santa Cruz Monastery

A Manueline architectural gem, the Santa Cruz Monastery dates back to the 12th century. Founded by Portugal’s inaugural king, Dom Afonso Henriques,

it soon became an intellectual hub. Portugal’s inaugural monarchs, Dom Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, found their final resting place there. In the 1500s, King Dom Manuel spearheaded a significant renovation, evolving the initial Romanesque style into a striking Gothic design infused with Manueline touches.”

oday, it mesmerizes visitors with its grand facade, iconic blue and white azulejos, and the serene “Cloister of Silence”.

👉 More info: Santa Cruz Monastery

Santa Cruz Monastery - Coimbra - cloister

Machado de Castro National Museum

At Coimbra’s heart, the Machado de Castro National Museum beckons art and history aficionados. Housed in a medieval episcopal palace, it’s named in honor of the 18th-century Portuguese sculptor, Joaquim Machado de Castro.

The museum’s eclectic collection ranges from medieval sculptures to sacred art pieces.

The seamless blend of ancient and contemporary architectural elements is a sight to behold.

👉 More info: Machado de Castro National Museum

Fado at Fado ao Centro

Coimbra’s Fado, deeply intertwined with its academic life, offers a unique musical experience distinct from Lisbon’s version.

Fado ao Centro, located in the historic core, is a cultural hub dedicated to preserving this tradition. The artists, whether current students or graduates of the University of Coimbra, truly capture the spirit of this music. Daily performances, exhibitions, and workshops immerse visitors in this age-old musical heritage.

👉 More info: Coimbra’s Fado
👉 Fado performance with a side of Porto wine

Portugal in Miniature: Portugal dos Pequenitos

Portugal dos Pequenitos, translating to “Little Portugal”, is a unique park in Coimbra showcasing miniatures of Portugal’s iconic landmarks.

Established in 1940, it offers a cultural snapshot of the country’s diverse history and traditions.

From replicas of renowned monuments to traditional houses and island representations,

it’s an educational and fun-filled attraction.

👉 More info: Portugal dos Pequenitos

The City Center & Praça do Comercio

Coimbra’s historic center pulsates with life, echoing tales of its storied past. The Praça do Comercio, often dubbed the city’s heartbeat, is surrounded by historic edifices and cobblestone pathways, bustling with shops and cafes.

Coimbra - Praça do Comercio

Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery

On Coimbra’s landscape, the Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery stands as a Gothic architectural jewel. Built in the 14th century, it had to be abandoned in the 17th century due to recurrent floods. Today, its ruins narrate tales of the region’s monastic past.

Santa Clara-a-Velha

Gastronomic Adventures in Coimbra

For a taste of Coimbra’s culinary heritage, embark on a gastronomic guided tour. Savor “petiscos”, the Portuguese answer to tapas, as you meander through the city’s iconic neighborhoods.

👉 Culinary tour in Coimbra

Sailing Through Coimbra

Experience Coimbra from the waters of the Mondego River. These boat tours offer a fresh perspective, showcasing the city’s historic bridges and landmarks while you bask in the river’s tranquility.

👉 Coimbra boat tour

Beyond Coimbra: Nearby Attractions

If Coimbra is your base for a while, the surroundings brim with excursion-worthy spots.

The Ancient Ruins of Conimbriga

A mere 16 kilometers from Coimbra, the ancient ruins of Conimbriga stand as some of the Iberian Peninsula’s best-preserved remnants.

Established during the Iron Age, this city thrived in the era of Roman dominance, its legacy evident in the stunning mosaics, communal baths, and imposing fortresses. Yet, for all its splendor, Conimbriga couldn’t fend off the Suevi invasions of the 5th century.

Now, visitors to the site can delve into the rich tapestry of Roman art, culture, and history, with a museum displaying relics from archaeological digs.

👉 More info: Conimbriga
👉 Conimbriga tour from Coimbra

Conimbriga - fortifications

Kayaking the Mondego

Unveil the Mondego River valley’s natural splendor on a kayaking adventure. “This river is Portugal’s premier kayaking spot. While navigating its waters, you can take breaks at untouched riverbanks, soak in the views, or dive in for a swim. With its mild current, the river offers a kayaking experience that’s both enjoyable and friendly for all age groups.

👉 Mondego River kayaking

Vineyard Ventures

Bairrada, Portugal’s sparkling wine heartland, is a must-visit. On this tour, you’ll get to delve into the Prior Lucas vineyard, uncover the intricacies of winemaking, and sample an array of wines, from effervescent sparklings to robust reds and crisp whites. The region’s coastal proximity blesses the clay soil with perfect weather conditions, giving birth to distinctively unique sparkling wines.

👉 Prior Lucas vineyard tour with tastings

Fátima Sanctuary

A bit further afield from Coimbra but worth every mile is the Fátima Sanctuary. Situated roughly 85 km / 50 miles from the city – a 1h 15m drive away – Fátima’s Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary stands as a pivotal Marian pilgrimage destination in Portugal.

Among its array of sacred edifices, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary undoubtedly shines the brightest.

This hallowed ground honors the 1917 visions of the Virgin Mary to three young seers: Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto.

Yearly, the sanctuary beckons millions, with the 13th of May and October being particularly significant due to their connection with the Marian appearances.

👉 Fátima tour

👉 Avoid queues in Coimbra: book your tickets and tours in advance!

👉 Looking for a place to stay in Coimbra?

 

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