In the heart of Portugal looking over the Mondego river is the beautiful yet often overlooked city of Coimbra. The University city of Coimbra is often neglected in favour of the bigger cities such as Porto and Lisbon. But did you know that you can easily spend one day in Coimbra as a day trip from either of these destinations? Here’s how…
Introduction to Coimbra
Coimbra is a historical city and home to one of the most famous universities in Portugal. I guess it’s the Portuguese equivalent to Oxford, right?!? The city is located in central Portugal and away from the coast, meaning that it can get a lot hotter than Lisbon in the summer and also a lot colder during the winter. It’s a hilly city, but very walkable and you can see the main sites in just one day. You will probably find it better value for money than Lisbon and Porto – you can easily pick up a three course set meal for just €10!
How to get there
It is easy to get to Coimbra from both Porto and Lisbon by train and you can book on the cp.pt website. The trains to Coimbra from Lisbon go from ‘Lisboa Oriente’ and from Porto they go from ‘Porto Campanha’. You will arrive at ‘Coimbra B’ which is walkable to the centre of Coimbra in around 20-25 mins.
When you book your train on the website or app you will need to put your passport ID number in when you book and make sure that you carry your passport with you for the journey.
- Lisboa Oriente > Coimbra B – approx 1 hour 45 mins and €25-30
- Porto Campanha > Coimbra B – approx 1 hour 20 mins and €17-25 (see Coimbra to Porto blog)
You can also opt for the bus – there is a bus station serviced by Rede Expresso. The bus station is a little closer to the city centre than Coimbra B train station, but it is still only around a 15 minute walk. Taxis are available outside the train and bus station if you have heavy bags or want to save some time.
What to Pack
It can be very hot in Coimbra during the summer, so pack lots of water or a refillable water bottle. Also remember to pack suncream and a sun hat or sun umbrella.
Expect to do a lot of walking and tackle a lot of steps in Coimbra – wear comfortable shorts or walking trousers. You will need comfortable walking boots or trainers. Consider a top that covers your shoulders as you are likely to be visiting a few Churches. Weather can be changeable so bring a rain jacket or walking jacket in your day pack.
If you are travelling by train then you should pack your passport because they ask for your passport number on booking a train ticket and then check it against your passport on board.
Depending on current Covid regulations you may need to take proof of a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination status. Many hotels in Portugal are currently asking for proof of this at check in.
You should also pack cash money (EUROS) as some attractions and restaurants do not accept credit/debit card or Multibanco.
In summary, you should take…
- Comfortable clothes
- Walking boots or trainers
- Sun hat or sun umbrella
- Waterproof jacket
- Water bottle
- Cash money
- Passport ID
- Smartphone with GPS
Where to Stay
You don’t need to stay overnight in Coimbra because it is easy to do as a day trip, but if you would like to stay overnight you will get a feel for the city in the evening. This will also give you the chance to explore more in the local area should you wish to do a day trip to the Schist villages for example.
There is a wealth of Air BnBs, hostels and hotels in Coimbra (although not as much choice of hotel as you get in Lisbon and Porto). Some good 3* hotels in Coimbra include the Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra and the Hotel Oslo Coimbra. If you like Ibis Hotels there is the Ibis Coimbra Centro.
If you have a more limited budget but don’t mind sharing a dorm room then consider the ‘Change the World Hostel’ in the city centre. It’s clean and centrally located with all the basics that you might need including WIFI.
Itinerary – Coimbra in One Day
I would recommend taking a private walking tour to get the most out of the city. A local guide will help you to find the best places to eat and take you to the locations via the fastest (and easiest routes!). You will also get a better insight into the history and culture of the city. I booked my guide ‘Samantha’ on Air BnB for just €25 and it was worth every penny!
Lago de Portagem
Start your site seeing at Lago da Portagem. You will see the monument to the Portuguese politician Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar. It’s a good destination to start exploring the history and from this point you can see several convents and monasteries on the other side of the river Mondego.
Porta Férrea gate or Porta da Barbaca
As you head up towards the higher end of the city you should stop to see the Porta Férrea gate (Porta da Barbaca Gate) which is often referred to as the Moorish Gate or Iron Gate. It was built to reinforce the most vulnerable part of the city – as a second line of defence.
Igreja de Sao Tiago
Next is a stop at the Tiago Church, which actually lost the back of the building when they built the main pedestrianised shopping street of Coimbra. Thankfully, they preserved the beautiful front facade. It’s a classic Romanesque monument that was built in the 12th and 13th Century.
Rua Visconde da Luz
Take a walk down Rua Visconde da Luz (a great place to stop and eat and shop) to enjoy the sights and sounds of a traditional pedestrianised street in Portugal. You will find musicians and hawkers all along this popular street. Look our for University students in their ‘Harry Potter-like’ capes and robes.
Igreja de Santa Cruz
My favourite (and probably the most beautiful) Church in Coimbra is the next stop on the list. Igreja de Santa Cruz has a stunning gothic facade and bell tower. The Church was actually founded in 1131 as a monastery, but there is very little left in the was of the Monastic remains.
Inside you will find a stunning 15th Century Baroque organ and beautiful walls tiled with the famous Portuguese Azulejos. They show key events in Portuguese history. This Church is of great historical importance because the first two Kings of Portugal are buried there. These tombs are located either side of the altar.
Buy a ticket to go through to the treasury inside including the sacristy and cloister – it’s just €3 and you won’t be disappointed.
Walk uphill past the University Uniform Shop!
Walk uphill towards the Jardim da Sereia. You will pass a first World War Monument and also the university uniform shop where they buy their ‘Harry Potter’ style uniforms from! There are lots of rules about wearing the uniform – for example you have to wear the full uniform all together – you cannot wear bits of it separately, and you cannot use the leather briefcase without wearing the uniform!
Jardim da Sereia
Now it’s time to enjoy some of the beautiful gardens of Coimbra, starting with the Jardim da Sereia. You may recognise the beautiful gate from many pictures of Coimbra. It is a relaxing leafy park that contains statues, a fountain and a lovely tea shop (with many different types of tea to try – I really recommend it!)
Jardim Botanico da Universidade de Coimbra
Next you can visit the beautiful botanical gardens which belong to the University of Coimbra. It’s home to many species from around the world including palm trees and an impressive Banyan tree. the botanical garden also has a palm house, but you will need to arrange with the university in advance to enter.
Head towards the Coimbra university where anyone can eat in the University canteen for just €2,40! It’s nice to see the different departments and hear stories about students tying strips of their uniforms to the main gate on graduation (many of them ending up naked!!!)! Walk through the main historical gate to come to the white washed main university building with symmetrical stairs that you will recognise from many of the photographs. Unfortunately you will not be allowed into the university building itself without a student card or pre-arrangement.
The Famous Joanine Library
Many tourists flock to the Joanine Library – this beautiful Baroque library is one of the most famous attractions of Coimbra and said to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It was built in the 18th Century and is a Portuguese national monument. Book in advance to enter and don’t miss your time slot!
Se Velha Cathedral
You can walk down from the Joanine library to the Se Velha Cathedral. Coimbra’s Catheral is built in a Romanesque style. Construction of this Cathedral began some time after the Battle of Ourique, when Prince Afonso Henriques declared himself King of Portugal and chose Coimbra as capital. This highlights the cities historical significance. There is a small fee for tourists to enter.
Break your Back Street!
Finish your tour with a walk along ‘Escadas do Quebra Costas’ which literally translates as ‘break your back street!’ It’s not hard to see why this street is so called – it’s many steps and slippery stone surface makes it obvious that many bones have been broken on this street especially during harsh rainy winters! Despite the steep and slippery steps, this is a great place for stopping to eat and having a drink (I recommend a ginjinha!) as well as doing a bit of shopping for souvenirs to take home.
Where to Eat and Drink
If you are elooking for traditional Portuguese food then head to the famous Sete Restaurant which often includes a Fado show while you eat. If you are adventurous to try Octopus (Pulpo) then you should definitely ‘No Tacho’ where it is their special dish!
Looking for a good place to drink with the locals and students? Head to Bigorna bar for cocktails or O Reitor for some pop, glam and dance!
Other Things to Do
If you are staying in Coimbra longer than just one day then it’s worth heading to the other side of the river Modego especially if you are interested in Monasteries. you can visit the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Santa Clara-a-Nova Monastery.
If you are interested in day trips from Coimbra then the Schist villages are a popular choice. These 27 villages spread across the Lousã and Açor ranges are called schist villages because this is the stone from the region used to construct the houses. The villages are very beautiful and perfect for hiking and cycling.
Have you ever visited Coimbra? Do you have any recommendations? if so, I’d love to hear about them – please comment on my blog below!
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more ideas for Portugal then you might like to read about how to spend one day in Evora.