Last Updated on April 2, 2020
Coimbra is one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in Portugal.
It is not only known as the City of Students due to its immense History with some of the most ancient Universities in Portugal, it is also home of its melancholic Fado music.
Fado is perhaps one of the most unique and expressive manifests of the Portuguese soul. It often sings about a melancholic feeling known to all Nationals about a time, something or a love that never was. “Saudade”, which lightly put means “to miss something or someone so deeply that it hurts the soul” is the definition of the Portuguese essence.
Coimbra lives up to this and expresses it in its streets, its many cafes and architecture.
We will also express here why Coimbra is a great place to visit and what are the best things to do.
1. Sé Velha (Old Cathedral)
The Sé Velha slowly started being built in 1142 and was object of many works and expansion for the following Centuries.
It is one of the very few examples of Romanesque in Portugal with its castle-like style very much due to the Reconquer battles when Christians faced Moorish armies to cease control of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Sé Velha tells the story of a very ancient Portugal and is one of the Countrie’s best expressions of its most important battles through times as it provides its visitors with hundreds of marvelous carved capitals to wonder.
2. University of Coimbra
One of the oldest Universities in the World and still teaching. Founded in 1290, that makes it 729 years of tradition and forming some of the greatest names in Portuguese History.
The site itself is a big draw of tourist attraction as it sits on top of a hill that overlooks the City of Coimbra. You can actually gaze a fantastic view from the top of its tower and enjoy a fantastic view.
Being so rich in History, the University also has some pretty fantastic sites within such as the São Miguel Chapel, the incredibly ornamented Sala dos Capelos or its courtyard to imagine what would have been like to be a student throughout the Centuries.
3. Joanina Library
Built in the XVIII Century, the library is a wonderful example of Baroque style and was awarded in 2013 the most incredible library in the World by the British “The Telegraph” newspaper.
The library holds over 70.000 volumes of various subjects that were used throughout the ages to be lectured in the University.
As with other Portuguese ancient libraries, a colony of bats is a permanent resident – and a protected one – to ensure its valuable books are not eaten away by insects.
4. Santa Cruz Church
Santa Cruz Church or Santa Cruz Monastery was founded in 1131 and is actually the burial ground of D. Sancho I, King of Portugal from 1185 until 1211.
It was at the time one of the most important – if not the most important – religious sites in the Kingdom, also considered as one of the best schools in Medieval times.
Its interior is absolutely wonderful with many works of art to appreciate as well as its architecture and, naturally, the King’s tomb, an incredibly detailed work of art.
5. Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
Also known as Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha, the site is a representation of Gothic architecture that originated in the XIII Century.
The Monastery sits next to its own previous ruins as it was founded twice in the same area due to Political and Financial differences between their founding patrons.
Sitting on the riverside meant that floods were a recurrent issue throughout the Centuries and forced the nuns that inhabited it the building of a second floor over its structure. Having lost the fight against the elements so many times, the Monastery was finally abandoned in in 1667.
Restoration works in the XX Century brought to light the already buried and almost forgotten lower floor as well as the adjacent ruins of the first Monastery, shedding a light to a fantastic piece of History.
The Monastery and its surroundings are still victims of occasional flood but remain as a unique example of its kind in Portugal.
6. National Museum Machado de Castro
One of Portugal’s best fine arts museum, the Machado de Castro Museum hosts a wide collection of sculptures, painting and decorative arts.
It’s catalogued as UNESCO World Heritage and was founded in 1913.
In its unique collection the visitors will find Coimbra’s Roman heritage, dated from the I Century with its main attraction being the entry gate to the local Roman Forum when the City was known by Aeminium, still preserved in its lower grounds.
The collection hosts many treasures from ancient religious orders and is without a doubt one of Portugal’s finest museums and representations of its History since Roman times.
7. Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra
Coimbra’s Botanical Garden covers a wide area and is home to a wide range of plants and trees. Its magic lies in the fact that it was built in the XVIII Century and its layout is a romantic mixture of green areas and ancient sculptures and ornaments.
It hosts a library with over 125.000 volumes and an Herbarium where over 1 million species from around the World, with a separate area where you can find focus on scientific explorations to Tropical Africa.
The Garden also keeps seeds of over 2000 different species as a part of an International exchange of botanical material and biodiversity preservation.
It hosts permanent exhibitions and events throughout the year whilst maintaining a key role in the Botanical studies developed by the University of Coimbra.
To its visitor it poses as a great change from the usual cultural offer that Coimbra has and will provide a relaxed time whilst enjoying this garden’s beauty and diversity.
8. Coimbra’s Museum of Science
From a much more recent time, founded in 2006, the Museum of Science was considered as one of the top scientific museums in the World.
It hosts a permanent exhibition focused on the behavior of light and matter. It occasionally hosts exhibitions in different areas of interest that keep a focus on science.
The Museum is an interesting stop for a couple of hours for those fascinated by science as well as Coimbra’s History from a different perspective – one that is more related to its breakthroughs as home to one of the Country’s most ancient and important Universities.
9. Coimbra’s Fado Houses
We’ve talked about Fado Music before but when you’re in Coimbra you’re better off experiencing it yourself.
There are a couple of Fado Houses such as the “Fado Hilário” or “Fado ao Centro” where you can sit and enjoy an evening with the unique beauty of Fado over a glass of wine and have the actual people that sing it and live it explain its roots and its meaning.
It really doesn’t matter if you don’t get the words as you will very likely get the feeling they suggest. A beautiful experience to enjoy and take with you for the rest of your life.
10. Coimbra’s Nightlife
You already know Coimbra is home to the most ancient and one of the best Universities in Portugal. That also means that its population is mostly made of young and highly educated people that make for a great night out in the many cafes and bars of the city.
You’ll be happy to know that the majority of them will have no problem in maintaining a conversation in English and very likely other languages as well, making them the perfect company to get to know more about Coimbra, its traditions, its life and, of course, where to go out next.
11. Pedro and Inês Bridge
Pedro and Inês are Portugal’s version of Romeo and Juliet. The beautiful piece of engineering is perfect for a walk along the riverbank with romantic views to the University that sits on the right side.
The legend says that D. Pedro, Prince of Portugal fell deeply in love with his wife’s Maid, Inês de Castro maintaining a side relationship with her. After the death of his wife, D. Constança in 1345, D. Pedro started living maritally with Inês de Castro.
The relationship caused anger and shame on the Court and King D. Afonso IV stood strongly against it to the point where he order her assassination in 1355.
D. Pedro instigated a rebellion against the King and took the Throne for himself in 1357, violently punishing the offenders. His actions granted him the name of Pedro – The Cruel.
Later, swearing he had secretly married Inês de Castro, he imposed her recognition as posthumous Queen of Portugal.
Two sublime tombs were carved and are now in the Monastery of Alcobaça where Pedro and Inês lie forever side by side.
The bridge is allusive of this love story where two ends meet in the middle and make up for a great romantic stop to gaze at Coimbra.