There are so many things to do in Coimbra and soon you’ll realize that it has a very special mystique, the result of a past full of history. This city located in Central Portugal was the second Portuguese capital (the first was Guimarães) up until 1255, when Lisbon became the capital.
Thousands of Portuguese people in the country and abroad still have Coimbra in their hearts, remembering the years they spent in the University – years of nonchalance, parties and great expectations.
Here is the top 10 of the places to visit and things to do in Coimbra
1. Seminário Maior de Coimbra
Located close to the Botanical Garden, the seminary Seminário Maior de Coimbra is more than 250 years old and is one of the treasures yet to be found by those visiting the city.
At this seminary built and inspired by 18th-century Italian architecture, you can admire unique places like the Episcopal Chambers, the beautiful church Igreja da Sagrada Família and the amazing library Biblioteca Velha where you can admire more than 8500 books dating back from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
Apart from all this, take the opportunity to enjoy the magnificent views over Mondego river in the noble floor of the building. Don’t miss it!
2. Fado ao Centro
If you want to hear music that truly represents Portugal, don’t miss the opportunity to get to know the house Fado ao Centro. Here, the band that plays Fado is composed of students and former students of the University of Coimbra who bring beautiful songs in a welcoming and lovely place. Definitely one of the things to do in Coimbra!
- Schedule for Fado: everyday at 18h
- Tip: try to arrive early because the house isn’t that big.
For more information click here
3. Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Santa Clara-a-Velha Monastery, founded in 1283. At the site, you can watch a video about the monastery and the history of that place. Aside from all the culture you will also have the opportunity to enjoy a peculiar architecture.
4. Santa Clara-a-Nova Monastery
The Santa Clara-a-Nova Monastery, also known as Queen Saint Elizabeth Convent (Convento da Rainha Santa Isabel), was erected in the 17th century (1649) replacing the old medieval monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, ruined by regular flooding of Mondego river.
5. Machado de Castro National Museum
Museum where the modern and the contemporary meet. Magnificent architecture, bringing to light the Roman Cryptoporticus. In addition, it offers to visitors the best artwork and historical paintings.
- Opening hours and prices: museumachadocastro.gov.pt
- Tip: next to the entrance, you’ll find a restaurant where you can admire the views over the old city while enjoying your meal
6. University of Coimbra Alta & Sofia
Listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, a visit to the University of Coimbra must be on your list of things to do in Coimbra! It is one of the oldest universities in Europe and was founded in Lisbon in 1290; it moved permanently to Coimbra in 1537.
One of the points of interest you can’t miss in this university is its library. Regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Coimbra, the Joanina Library has a peculiar architecture and an endless archive.
Its construction began in 1717 and it is the most famous and beautiful Portuguese library, due to its unique style.
The library is composed of three floors. In the upper floor, the library is composed of three rooms connected by polychrome wood arches. The walls are covered with red, dark green and black lacquered shelves with golden chinoiserie embellishments. The ceilings are in baroque style and are decorated with optical illusion embellishments.
You will find more than 60 000 volumes, dating from the 12th century until the 18th century, of which law, theology and philosophy books stand out.
In the University, aside from the Joanina Library, you may discover S. Miguel Chapel, Academic and Medieval Prison, Arms Room, Capelos Room, Private Examination Room and the University Tower.
Located at the oldest part of Coimbra and characterised as being on a higher region, the University of Coimbra is accompanied by the city’s museum as well as the New Cathedral (Sé Nova). You will need time to walk around the city in order to get to know all the details.
- Tip: you can get a guided tour – it will be a much more interesting tour. You will get to know every detail of the university.
- Where you can buy the ticket: to visit the Paço das Escolas (historic part of the university), you should purchase your ticket at the university’s store, in the General Library’s lobby (Largo da Porta Férrea, in front of the Faculty of Arts). If you choose to take part in a guided tour, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Opening hours: check the site of the University of Coimbra.
7. Coimbra’s Old Cathedral (Sé Velha)
The Sé Velha was designed by French Master Robert in the 12th century. The central gateway has a clear Moorish influence, while the side door shows an elegant Renaissance style.
You should visit the church and its Gothic cloister from 1218.
8. Santa Cruz Church and Monastery (Igreja e Mosteiro)
An enthralling church, starting with its architecture: Gothic style and a gateway remembering Coimbra fado.
Constituted by side chapels, the Santa Cruz Church Monastery does justice to all the history it represents.
8.1 Café Santa Cruz
When you finish your tour to Santa Cruz Chuch and Monastey, take a brake in the magnificent Café Santa Cruz, located in the old Church of São João de Santa Cruz, built in 1530.
After the desacralisation of this church, the building had many roles such as a hardware warehouse, a police station, a plumbing warehouse, a fire station and even a funeral home.
It was necessary to alter the façade to a Neo-Manueline style to be allowed the opening of the café in 1923.
- Tip: Apart from drinking a cup of coffee you may also watch a representation of the Fado de Coimbra (definitely one of things to do in Coimbra)
- Schedule for Fado: check here
9. Portugal dos Pequenitos
Whenever you want to spend time with your family and are visiting Coimbra, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the theme park Portugal dos Pequenitos Park. You will find the biggest Portuguese monuments, the typical villages and the Portuguese discoveries’ theme but at a small scale.
It is a world of beauty kept in a place with over 75 years of history and visiting it should be one of the things to do in Coimbra, especially if you have kids.
- Site: www.fbb.pt/pp/en
10. Almedina Arch and Tower (Arco e Torre de Almedina)
The function of the Almedina Tower, erected over the Almedina Arch, was to protect the main gateway into the city.
I hope you have enjoyed these top 10 of the places to visit in Coimbra.
Naturally the city has other attractions but the ones described above are a must to make your trip to Coimbra worth your while.
- Days you will need to visit Coimbra: 1.5 days
Where you can spend the night in Coimbra
Hotel Oslo*** (affiliate link)
Oslo is a family-run hotel located at 50 metres from the train station and with views to the city and to its historic university. Renewed rooms with access to Wi-Fi and free parking are available at the hotel. If you want, the staff can also help you run through the things to do in Coimbra.
Hotel Dona Ines Coimbra*** (affiliate link)
The Hotel Dona Inês Coimbra is located at a 10-minute walking distance from the historic centre of Coimbra and its train station. A business centre, a tennis court, an exterior swimming pool and car rental are available at the hotel. Wi-Fi access is free in all the public areas.
Casas da Alegria (Apartamento) (affiliate link)
Casas da Alegria is located next to Mondego river, in Coimbra, where you will find available studios and 1 bedroom flats with free Wi-Fi access so that you can check your list of things to do in Coimbra.
Hotel Ibis Coimbra Centro** (affiliate link)
Hotel Ibis Coimbra Centro offers Mondego river views and is located at 300 metres from Coimbra train station. Coimbra historic centre is 500 metres away. Free Wi-Fi is available.
Where you can eat in Coimbra
Restaurante/Tasca Ze Manel dos Ossos: 7-20 €/person
La Botiga Bistrô & Mercearia: 15-20 €/person
Restaurante/Tasca Quim dos Ossos: 4-9 €/person
Coimbra is located 200 km north of Lisbon’s airport and 130 km south of Porto’s airport. If you’re taking a flight to Portugal, then you can rent a car and take the A1 highway. If, on the other hand, you cross the border in Vilar Formoso, then you should take the A25 highway and then IP3 highway.
In the city, you can explore the historic centre on foot. However, to discover other places, you can take SMTUC buses, covering most of the city. One of the best services is the blue line Linha Azul composed of electric buses and that cover the medieval area of the city.
Where you can go out
Café Santa Cruz: Check 8.1 of this article
O Moelas Cocktail Bar: Bar much frequented by students. Try the gizzard sandwiches!
City of Coimbra and Holy Queen Festivities – taking place between the last week of June and the first of July, these festivities are the biggest in the municipality and you won’t want to miss them.
In even years, the festivities are in honor of the Holy Queen Isabel and, during these festivities what stands out are the magnificent processions that take the statue of the saint from Santa Clara-a-Nova Monastery to Santa Cruz Monastery and vice-versa.
Are you going to visit Coimbra? Then don’t hesitate to book your hotel room, your car or the best activities by clicking the links below. This way you are helping me in the development of my blog and I’ll be able to offer you free tips and travel guides so that you can better prepare your visit to Portugal. Thank you!
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