This makes Coimbra an easy day trip from the most areas of Portugal or the perfect base for a holiday.
Coimbra is set over looking the river Mondego. You can see the magnificent buildings as you approach, due to the city’s elevated position.
Although it is no longer the most important city in Portugal, it is a city not to be missed. It is steeped in history, with many of the prestigious buildings from its time as the capital, still intact.
There is a vibrant atmosphere in the city.
This vibrancy comes from the large university that is located in the city and one of the most important sites on any visit.
Coimbra from the river
One of the oldest universities in Portugal and the world, Coimbra university was founded in the 13th century and is still in use today. It was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2013; which also expands to cover Rua da Sofia and the upper part of the city.
You can tour the university grounds for free or pay for a guided tour. Visit the the Chapel of São Miguel which houses an imposing Baroque organ and the Joanine Library, where you will find thousands of books dating back to the 16th century and are arranged in beautiful gilt-covered bookcases. The Joanine library is easily one of the best examples of the Baroque style. The sheer opulence of the building leaves you breathless.
From the tower you will have access to a 360-degree view of Coimbra.
If you visit during Fresher’s week, you will be able to sit back and enjoy the festivities where you will see lots of groups of students wearing different capes and gowns.
Praça da República, Coimbra
Praça da República is a square is at the top of the leafy Avenida Sá da Bandeira, that leads to the entrance of Jardim da Sereia. This is a great place to sit back and enjoy a drink or something to eat. The square is surrounded by very inexpensive cafes, bars and restaurants, the perfect place to view fresher week activities. Though beware it can get very busy. If you sit in the square itself, there is table service from the bar, but the menu is quite limited. If you prefer a wider variety of drinks or food, then choose one of the many restaurants and fast food places around the square.
Jardim de Sereia, Coimbra
Jardim de Sereia (or Parque de Santa Cruz) is located at the top of Praça da República. The entrance to the park is through an arch which features three statues representing Faith, Charity and Hope. The arch is flanked by two turrets in the Baroque style.
Once through the entrance you will find a waterfall, Fonte da Nogueira, from where the water flows to the fountain. The architecture is stunning.
The park itself, is a great place to spend some time, with an extensive selection of trees and fauna, this is the perfect place to relax, have a picnic and get some shade during the hot summer months.
The arch at Jardim da Sereia Coimbra
Aqueduto de São Sebastião and the Arcos de São Sebastião
The Aqueduto de São Sebastião, also known as the Arcos do Jardim [ Garden Arches] should not be missed on any trip to Coimbra. The aqueduct dates back to the 16 thCentury, but was actually built on the remains of an old Roman version. There are 21 arches stretching for approx 1 kilometre and is located by the Botanical gardens.
If you are driving into Coimbra, you are quite likely to drive through the Arcos de São Sebastião where you can see the city in all its glory as though framed for that perfect Instagram shot.
Arcos de São Sebastião
Aqueduto de São Sebastião
Jardim da Casa Museu Bissaya Barreto em Coimbra
Adjacent to the Arches, is a small but wonderful museum called Casa Museu Bissaya-Barreto. This was originally a house where the surgeon, physician, humanist, philanthropist and all round mega guy, Fernando Baeta Bissaya Barreto Rosa lived. His work and foundation aimed at improving the conditions of education, health and welfare of the most disadvantaged population in the central region of the country. But here in Coimbra, the house built in 1925 is testament to his style and taste.
The house is full of Portuguese sculptures and paintings, Chinese porcelain, old azulejos (hand-painted tiles), period furniture and other fine art objects.
The garden has many statues and is a small oasis of calm. There are larger museums to visit, but we feel that this little place is a real gem. It gives you a fascinating insight into one of the great historical figures in this area.
The gardens at Casa Museu Bissaya Barreto em Coimbra
Jardins Botânicos, Coimbra
The Jardins Botânicos in the centre of the city, were originally built for the university, with the purpose of complementing the studies of Natural History and Medicine, but is open to the public.
The gardens are beautiful areas to wander around and admire the diversity of plants and trees. But you will also find statues, monuments, greenhouses and a small lake.
If you are looking for peace and relaxation, this is the place to be.
Santa Cruz Church, Coimbra
The Santa Cruz Church or Igreja de Santa Cruz is located in the main area of Coimbra. You can sit and admire the architecture from outside, either relaxing at a café or by sitting at the water feature in front of the church.
Igreja de Santa Cruz, was considered one of the most important churches in Portugal and building commenced in the 12th Century. However improvement works were carried out in the 16th Century as King Manuel, was concerned about the stateliness of the burial site of the first two Kings of Portugal. This helps us better understand the importance of this church. The first two kings of Portugal, Afonso Henriques and Sancho have their tombs either side of the altar.
Santa Cruz Church or Igreja de Santa Cruz
Portugal is famous for its sardines, but did you know there is a shop dedicated to timed fish? Comur is a tinned fish factory that has been in operation since 1942 and has now changed tinned fish into a tourist attraction, with shops in the major cities of Portugal.
Each shop is bright and colourful and the one in Coimbra is styled on the baroque library, Biblioteca Joanina from the university.
You can buy a tin of fish marked with a specific year such as the year of your birth and they include some amazing facts about that year. These really do make the best souvenirs or gifts from your trip to Coimbra and Portugal.
The ornate tinned fish shop at Coimbra
Selection of tinned fished
Shopping and the streets
There are so many sites and places to visit in Coimbra, that you could quite easily spend your entire time visiting a list you have made, and really there would be no problem with that, as you will not be disappointed. But we do recommend that you take the time to just wander around the city centre. If you are feeling energetic you could walk from the river to the university, though this involves climbing quite a steep hill.
The city centre is beautiful, with cobbled streets, and fantastic architecture, a great selection of shops and cafes.
Sit back and enjoy a coffee with a pastry and just watch the world go by, maybe you won’t tick off the list of must see sites, but your afternoon will not be wasted in this stunning city.
Coimbra centre. Photo credit: @portogal
Where to eat
Choosing somewhere to eat can be very difficult as the choice is so extensive. You can eat at a 1 euro tapas restaurant, which we highly recommend, the food is fantastic, but there can be queues waiting for a table in the evening. Or you can sit at a restaurant and have a 3 course meal with wine for 10 euros. These places tend to be off the main street and often in squares or terraces. Or you can really push the boat out and enjoy a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant.
As we said the choice is extensive and whatever you choose, you are unlikely to be disappointed.
Enjoying dinner at 100 Montaditos Coimbra
Where to stay
As with the choice of food, there are accommodations to suit every budget from inexpensive hostels, hotels or apartments in the city centre through to private villas and luxury spa resorts on the outskirts. The main thing to.Consider when choosing, is what you want from your holiday and how long you are planning to stay. For a weekend booking a city centre accommodation is ideal, as you can enjoy a meal and stroll home for the evening, but if you are looking at using the area as a base, a private villa may be more relaxing.
Whenever you come to visit Coimbra and whatever you decide to do and see, we are sure that you will have a fantastic time there.
If you enjoyed this article, the following may be of interest to you:
UNESCO World Heritage Sites you wont want to miss on your visit to Central Portugal
Top 10 reasons to visit Central Portugal
Top 10 foods you must try on a visit to Portugal
Why not visit the Portugalholidays4u.com social media pages to be kept up to date on all things Portugal or sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page
Portugal Holidays Facebook page
Portugalholidays4u.com Instagram page
Portugalholidays4u.com Twitter page