Coimbra, situated in the central region of Portugal, is not only the 4th largest city in the country but also, it’s former capital too.
With a rich and colourful history, this gorgeous city, set along the Mondego river and situated right between Lisbon and Porto, is a fantastic half-way stop for anyone looking to explore the length and breadth of Portugal.
But, don’t be fooled, Coimbra isn’t just a good day trip from Lisbon, in fact, with all there is to see, do and discover in and around Coimbra, I would highly recommend you spend a night or two to really get the most of this Portuguese gem.
In this post I’ll be outlining all the top things you need to know when planning your trip to Coimbra.
How to get to Coimbra:
Coimbra is located in the Centro district in central Portugal. It is around 200 kilometres north of Lisbon and around 120 kilometres south of Porto.
When considering how to travel from Lisbon to Coimbra, you’ll be glad to know that you have several different options to choose from. This is in large part thanks to the great public transport network in operation in Portugal today.
As such, you may opt to travel either by train, by bus or by car.
The train journey time from Lisbon to Coimbra lasts on average 2 hours. Trains are operated by the national rail operator, Comboios de Portugal and offer departures from either Lisbon’s Oriente or Santa Apolonia train stations. You are able to pre-book your rail tickets directly online, through their website up to 3 months in advance.
The bus service on the other hand is operated by coach company RedeExpressos and the journey generally lasts 2h30 minutes. Again, you are able to pre-book tickets online through the RedeExpressos website with buses departing from either Lisbon’s Oriente or Sete Rios bus terminals.
Lastly, you may prefer a self-drive option and consider renting a car during your stay. This is yet another quick option that should take you around 2 hours in journey time.
It is worth bearing in mind that Portugal’s main national motorways are tolled motorways and you will need to keep this in mind when planning out your travel budget.
Top things to do in Coimbra:
Coimbra is a pure delight to visit. There is honestly so much to see that will no doubt keep you busy for a couple of days. Here is my absolute favourite things to see and do when visiting Coimbra:
Visit Coimbra’s University
Regarded as one of the oldest Universities in the world and having been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Coimbra’s University is probably it’s top attraction.
This beautiful University towers above the city as it’s nestled at the top of the hill, overlooking the historic city.
When visiting be sure to go on the guided tour of the University. The architecture of this University is so intricate and absolutely exquisite. Not only that, but if you happen to be a Harry Potter fan then Coimbra is the place to visit. J.K. Rowling spent time in Portugal writing the now famous novel and Coimbra University is said to have been some of her inspiration.
I can honestly see why. From the students in their traditional black robes, to the University’s hall with its dramatic hanging chandeliers through to the stunning library, you can see Harry Potter around every corner here!
I know it may seem odd a choice for a top sight, but Coimbra’s University is not only steeped in history, it’s truly beautiful too and well worth the visit.
Wonder around the historic town centre
The very first thing we did when arriving in Coimbra was to simply wander through the historic centre of Coimbra. It has charm and personality by the bucket loads!
From the traditional tiled buildings, to the cobbled streets and narrow alleyways, to some funky street art too. There is a surprise around every corner.
As you meander up the hill towards the University you’ll also stumble upon many traditional restaurants and bars where you can grab a bite to eat too.
On our visit they even had a jazz concert in the streets at night which was a lot of fun and really made these historic streets of Coimbra come alive!
Admire the churches and Coimbra Cathedral
Nothing screams Europe quite like visiting churches or cathedrals. And Coimbra is no exception. Some of these beautiful churches include the Manueline-style Igreja de Santa Cruz church, the Sé Velha (old cathedral) as well as the Sé Nova (new cathedra).
All of these are absolutely stunning in architecture and detail and are important and treasured historic and cultural monuments in Coimbra. In fact, the Old Cathedral (Sé Velha), dates back to 1139 when the first king of Portugal, King Afonso Henriques decided to finance the building of a new cathedral in Coimbra, which today is known as the Sé Velha.
Visit the Coimbra University Botanical Gardens
If you’re a nature lover then you’ll adore the Coimbra University Botanical Gardens that’s a serene and tranquil escape from the bustling city.
We were quite surprised at how quiet the gardens were with not that many tourists visiting. That turned out to be a blessing as we got to explore the beautiful lush green gardens in peace and quiet.
I particularly loved the bamboo forest section of the gardens which were absolutely gorgeous! The gardens are open between 09:00 am to 17:30 pm in the winter and 09:00 am to 20:00 pm in the summer and entrance is free of charge.
Listen to a Fado concert in Coimbra
Fado, the melancholic traditional folk music of Portugal is hauntingly beautiful. Often telling stories of the Portuguese culture and people, it’s one of those things you absolutely have to experience when visiting Portugal.
In Coimbra, at the Fado Ao Centro cultural centre, you can do just that. Offering daily live shows that promote Fado from Coimbra, you can immerse yourself into the rich sounds of Fado.
Do note that the Portuguese take Fado very seriously and no loud talking or no flash photography is generally allowed as it will distract the ‘Fadista’ (Fado singer) and guitar players. Fado Ao Centro also doesn’t serve any food as their main aim is the promotion of the Fado itself.
Tickets currently cost around €12 per adult, €6 for children between the ages of 7 – 17 and free of charge for children up to 6 years. You can request your booking either through their website or directly at the venue in Coimbra.
Where to stay in Coimbra:
When we visited Coimbra, we decided to stay at the 3* Hotel Oslo. The hotel was great and perfectly located at only a short walk to the main historic centre. But what I loved most was that the hotel has a small rooftop with loungers where you can enjoy sundowners overlooking the city with the University on the hilltop. It was absolutely beautiful.
For the ultimate luxury experience, book the absolutely stunning 5* Hotel Quinta das Lagrimas which is set in a historic palace. The hotel offers serene gardens, a spa and is situated across the river on the opposite riverbank from the historic centre, meaning you can enjoy beautiful views back over to the city.
Whether you decide to visit Coimbra for a day or for longer, I have no doubt that you will absolutely fall in love with this gorgeous hilltop city. From the quaint cobbled streets, to the incredible architecture of the University, to the sounds of Coimbra Fado or the views out over the city, I’m sure you will leave Coimbra with many happy and fond travel memories.
Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 2 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for travelling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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