The Best Things To Do in Coimbra, The City Of Culture

Coimbra is, for me, one of those cities that one must know when visiting a country, one of those cities that, when you make your planning is almost mandatory.

And the reason is not only because the university of this city is a World Heritage Site, which it is, or because it was the capital of Portugal for a hundred years, which can be sensed and read in the details of the city.

Or because it is a city that breathes history in every street and on every corner? No, no, it is because of its inhabitants and the atmosphere that this city has, full of young and dynamic people, that reminds me so much of Salamanca.

Coimbra, A Young City With A Long History

Coimbra Pedestrian
Coimbra Pedestrian

Except if you go in summer when the city rests quietly, the city bustles with young people and students, crowded bars, and activity during the remaining ten months.

I love this atmosphere, so when I come across a city like this for me, it’s a must see. And if you go in summer, you will be lucky to visit it in peace and quiet and with few people in general.

During our tour of Portugal, of course, this was a must-see city to which we will return!

What To Visit In Coimbra?

Coimbra Universidad Velha
Coimbra Universidad Velha

So let’s visit Coimbra, which you will read this article for.

In Coimbra, the main street that divides the city in two is the pedestrian street Visconde da Luz, which continues on Rua Ferreira Borges and starts at Praça 8 de Maio, and ends at the Mondego River and divides the ancient city into two parts clearly differentiated, the Alta and Baixa.

The Baixa is next to the river and the shopping and cafe area. The upper area, which is also the most monumental, is accessed through the Almedina Arch, which is one of the remaining vestiges of the Moorish city.

Visit the University of Coimbra

Coimbra as seen from the University

Coimbra is best known for its university, the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe. It was founded in 1290, not in Coimbra, but in Lisbon.

Coimbra University provides a one-of-a-kind experience, and hiring a car is an excellent opportunity to explore the city and its surroundings.

The university moved from Lisbon to Coimbra and from Coimbra to Lisbon until 1537, when the university was definitively transferred to Coimbra by order of King Joao III.

It is a driving force for the city and defines it in every aspect. If you go to Coimbra and you have little time, this is the first thing you should visit.

The University of Coimbra is in the upper part of the city. It is over 700 years old and has a stately and proud aroma.

During the school year, students walk the streets and faculties, and during the summer, some of them dressed in traditional costumes try to earn a few euros to be able to pay their tuition for the following year.

If you plan to visit universities in Coimbra, Portugal, staying connected with an internet SIM card is crucial. This way, you can access important information like schedules and maps on the go.

Plus, it gives you peace of mind in emergencies, allowing you to quickly call for help or access vital information, like when you contact your travel insurance from HeyMondo.

The University of Coimbra Nova

Coimbra Nova University
Coimbra Nova University

When you arrive at the University of Coimbra, you will see two differentiated parts, the old university with the classical buildings that we will discuss later and, looking back at them the “new” or “new university” built by the dictator Salazar in the 50s.

The great pity is that the dictator threw away and demolished a part of the historical university to build this new part, a mistake of biblical proportions and incalculable cost. As the saying goes, “There is nothing more dangerous than a fool with the initiative.”

The dictator Salazar was a law student at this university and later became a professor. He wanted to make a “monumental university” and, like all dictators, leave a historical legacy.

Coimbra Sunset University
Coimbra Sunset University

The square is sober, and what am I going to fool you? It reminds me of some buildings I saw in Moscow or Romania of communist dictatorship type, although they say Italians designed them.

But it has a nice view, especially since it is at the top of the city. Going up to the university at sunset is an ideal time to see the sunset (from the old part, not the new one), as you can see in this photo.

The University of Coimbra Velha

Coimbra Universidad Velha
Coimbra Universidad Velha

Beautiful and proud in the old part of the university undoubtedly highlights the Paço das escolas through which you can access the different schools and, of course, the Juanina library, which is probably the main tourist attraction of the university (and the most expensive).

In addition, in this square, you can access the Chapel of San Miguel, the Clock Tower, the Sala dos Capelos, and the rectorate.

You will need a ticket to enter all these buildings, so if your budget is limited and you have to choose, don’t hesitate, the Juanina library. The rest will have to be discarded.

The Clock Tower had two bells, one large, and one small.

On special occasions, they would play the large bell and to call students to class, they would ring the small one, which was also known as La Cabrita. However, some intelligent students who didn’t want to attend class would opt to steal the small bell instead of skipping.

It has been stolen quite a few times, in fact. No bell, no school, smart guys.

Coimbra Universidad Velha
Universidade Velha

The Joanina Library is clearly the most important tourist spot of the University; it is made entirely of wood and, to some extent, reminds me of other old university libraries, such as the Long Room at Trinity College.

They are notable not so much for their design, but for being entirely made of wood, filled with books, and situated at such a height that they require stairs to access them. The wood contains decorations made with gold leaf.

King Joao V founded it as part of his efforts to promote science and culture during his reign.

Coimbra Universidad Velha
Universidad Velha Cloister

To access the University of Coimbra, if you go by car, the best way is to get to Republic Square and from there, go up to the University, where you can park in some places.

The Plaza de la Republica is a good place to have a coffee and also has access to the garden of Santa Cruz on one of its sides (it is square).

Coimbra Parque Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Park

When you go up, you will also see the San Sebastian Aqueduct. It was not built in Roman times, but rather constructed in the 16th century. People believe that it was built following the layout of a Roman one.

Coimbra Aqueduct
San Sebastian Aqueduct

And behind the aqueduct of San Sebastian is the huge botanical garden with many species of trees. It is very nice and quiet, we took a nice walk and felt great, and the entrance is free.

Coimbra Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden

The Cathedrals of Coimbra

Coimbra Se Velha
La Se Velha

Coimbra has two cathedrals, the Sé Nova and the Sé Velha. The Sé Nova, or New Cathedral, is beside the University, just behind the medical school.

While the Sé Velha, or Old Cathedral, is a little further down, from the Se Nova down the Travesía Rua Do Norte and then Largo Se Velha. I liked the old cathedral better but to each his own.

Coimbra Se Nova
The Se Nova de Coimbra

Walking down from Se Nova to Se Velha, you will see the Museo Nacional Machado de Castro, the most important art museum in Coimbra.

Having attractive and functional shoes designed perfectly for exploring the city’s cobbled streets and historic sites is essential when visiting Coimbra, Portugal. 

Coimbra Machado de Castro Museum
Machado de Castro Museum

Coimbra Pedestrian Walkway

Coimbra Pedestrian
Visconde da Luz Pedestrian Walkway

Going down a little further, you reach the pedestrian Vizconde la Luz. This street is worth a good walk, and usually, some musicians are playing in the street; you will also see pastry shops that proudly display the awards received for their egg white-based sweets like those of the Briosa bakery.

Very tasty indeed, although, you know, a second in the mouth and a lifetime in the Michelin.

Coimbra Sweets Pedestrian

We met this kid playing with his father, who did a phenomenal job. He caught our attention because there were a lot of people watching, and the truth is that the kid did it with great naturalness.

Coimbra Pedestrian
Child on the Coimbra Pedestrian Walkway

At the end of the street is the Santa Cruz monastery, founded in 1131 with the support of King Alfonso Henriques and later donated to the Augustinian monks. Here is the tomb of King Alfonso Henriques, and King Sancho is next to the town hall.

In addition, you will find a cafeteria attached to the monastery that maintains the old design, I do not know if it was part of the monastery, but it looks like it.

Coimbra Santa Cruz Monastery
Santa Cruz Monastery

If you leave the City Hall behind you and go back along the pedestrian street, behind the street on the right is the Plaza do Commercio, which is good to rest and have a drink.

If you keep going down, you will reach the river that you can cross by the bridge of Santa Clara.

Coimbra by Night
Coimbra by Night

Across the River

Here are the remains of the monastery of Santa Clara a Velha and following the road up to the top of Santa Clara, where there are viewpoints with beautiful views of the city.

Visits near Coimbra

Near Coimbra, you have three very worthwhile visits, the first one is the Mata do Buçaco which is a forest that has been preserved for 800 years by the monks and is a beauty.

The second are the Roman ruins of Conímbriga, which are very well preserved, and finally, the traditional village of Piódão.

Where to Sleep in Coimbra?

Want to know where to stay? Well, there are plenty of accommodations for all tastes and budgets. We went camping, but it was a new campground with no shade. It was very uncomfortable to sleep because the tent looked like a sauna.

I leave you this link with the different options to sleep in this beautiful university city. Choose the one you like the most!

And this is all I can tell you about my visit to Coimbra, what do you think? Did I leave anything out?

Plan Your Trip to Portugal

Last Updated on 22 October, 2023 by Veronica

Disclosure: Some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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