The first time I visited Lisbon was ten years ago. I wanted to explore and discover Central Portugal, a region often overlooked. After spending some quality time in Lisbon, I headed towards the beautiful Coimbra, one of the biggest city in the area. The town is slowing becoming more a more touristy thanks to “Universidade de Coimbra” and its historic library. The university is the oldest in the country and one of the oldest in Europe (reminded me of Oxford). The university is the main attraction, but the former capital of Portugal (1139 – 1250) has more secrets up its sleeves.
- 1 One day in Coimbra – Things to do
How to get to Coimbra
Coimbra is situated halfway between Lisbon and Porto and is easily accessible from both cities. Porto Campanhã station has two trains per hour to Coimbra: fast, one hour, €14/£12.50; slow, one hour 30 minutes, €8.50/£7.50. From Lisbon Oriente station also two trains per hour leave for Coimbra, taking two hours (€23.20/£20.40) and two hours 20 minutes (€17.50/£15.60).
After a lovely train journey where I was able to finalise my 24 Hours in Coimbra itinerary (thanks to a decent WIFI in first-class – €17.50) I quickly checked into my hotel.
Tip: I would recommend booking your tickets in advance to avoid the long queue firstly at the station and paying a higher fare.
If your train arrives at Coimbra B which is a little away from the city centre, you to take a connecting train to Coimbra A for free.
One day in Coimbra – Things to do
I quickly headed out to explore the city as I was eager to uncover the hidden gems the city had to offer. Unfortunately for me, my hotel located in the top part of the town was a good 20 minutes from the main sites. And I soon realised that like Lisbon, the uneven pavements, slippery cobbled streets, and steep alleys were a common thing in Portugal.
Tip: Wear sensible shoes because Coimbra’s steep alleys are covered in polished cobbles and can be slippery even when dry.
After a challenging but enjoyable descent into the town centre, I headed to the main shopping and pedestrian street in Coimbra. Rua Visconde da Luz is a typical shopping street packed with tourists, shops, cafes and restaurants.
See Coimbra from above
Walking in the steep streets of Coimbra might not be like a walk in the park, but they offer a fantastic viewing platform.
Marvel at the beautiful architecture
Walking down the street, you soon realise how important the city was by looking at the buildings built in different architectural styles. Coimbra’s religious buildings are a testament to the city’s splendour. Take for example the Igreja de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Church) which stands on the Praça 8 de Maio right in the centre of Coimbra. The imposing building was built in a Romanesque style with Renaissance style features. The two other cathedrals (Sé Velha and Sé Nova) also follow the same methods of construction.
Explore Coimbra University
Visiting Coimbra without seeing the university would be a shame. Located in the highest part of the city, it takes some legwork and will to get to the university ground, but it’s worth it. Established in 1290 in Lisbon, it relocated several times until it was moved permanently in 1537 to the former Royal Palace of Coimbra. The university is a splendid institution surrounding an open courtyard. The University of Coimbra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 thus joining the other national symbols like the Alto Douro Wine Region and the landscape of Sintra.
I had fun exploring the various corridors of the university. I met people who didn’t access any paying part but were still able to admire the hand-painted tiled walls in and the view over the city and the Mondego river.
My only regret will be not to have seen the Biblioteca Joanina due to time constraint and amount of tourists on site. I wanted to see the extraordinary library inhabited by a colony of bats to prevent the books from being damaged by insects. I decided to climb the steep stairs of the tower expecting to be rewarded with a magnificent view. The more I went up, the more claustrophobic I got. Instead of the great view, I was hoping, I had nothing but a massive clock barring the picture. The tower is to avoid!
Tip: If you want to learn a little more about the university, invest in a guide at the ticket office.
See the botanical garden and ancient city aqueduct.
At the back of the university is the beautiful Jardim Botânico de Coimbra. I love going to parks and gardens to unwind and take in the atmosphere. The 13 hectares garden complementing the Natural History and Medicinal studies is a peaceful place filled with beautiful medicinal and exotic plants. And it’s free!
Close by is the ancient Roman aqueduct (Arcos de São Sebastião – Aqueduto de São Sebastião). The aqueduct used to serve to transport water to the castle at the top of the hill.
Stroll along the Rio Mondego
After relaxing in the garden, I decided to head back down to the town centre. After a much needed “pause cafe” I walked around the Largo da Portagem, the main square in Coimbra. It’s filled with cafes, shops, etc.
I finish by taking a stroll along the river before sampling some of the food Coimbra has to offer. I had a late lunch at Luca (Praça do Comércio 60, 3000-116 Coimbra). I was convinced when a heard a couple telling other visitors that the food was so good that it was their third visit! Who doesn’t want a real-time TripAdvisor review! I have to agree, my toasted sandwich was delicious and the service was excellent too. The price was low for such good food and location.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodations, as a solo traveller, I always look at the following things: cleanliness of the bathroom, a brand I recognise and value for money. On Booking.com, you can stay at Casas da Alta, Serenata Hostel, Sapientia Boutique Hotel or Oslo Coimbra. For my part, I stayed at the lovely Tryp Coimbra, part of Melia Group. The hotel was modern with a spacious and comfortable.
One day in Coimbra is not enough; there are much more things to explore and around the city. I hope ready the tips above will make you want to explore and look into the history of Coimbra. With such an exciting history, it shouldn’t be missed! If contrary to me, you have a lot of time and you are eager for more places, try to add:
- Visit the Joanine Library in the University, Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro and Portugal dos Pequenitos
- Taste Coimbra’s pastries (Santa Clara and arrufadas
- Stroll through the Quinta das Lágrimas gardens
- Discover the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
Pin It for later