Coimbra is a perfect half-way point between Porto and Lisbon. Spend a couple days here and enjoy this university town. Here’s what to do in Coimbra.
Coimbra seemed like as good a place as any for me to hang out for a few days. The city is most known for its university, one of the oldest in Europe. It was founded in…1290. Now that’s pretty old.
University of Coimbra
The campus is chock full of wonderful gothic architecture, but one building that I highly recommend going inside of is the library. The Biblioteca Joanina sits on the school’s main courtyard and only allows people in at certain times. This full-on baroque stunner was built in the 18th century. Inside, there are three great rooms divided by decorated arches, and every inch from floor and including the ceiling is covered in gilded or painted exotic wood. The national monument houses about 250 thousand volumes here, mostly works of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology, many of which are in Latin.
If you happen to be visiting in May, don’t miss Coimbra’s Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons). This student festival is the oldest and most famous in Portugal and one of the biggest in Europe. It’s organized by a students’ commission formed by members of the students’ union. Celebrating the end of graduation courses, symbolized by the ritual burning of the ribbons representing each school of study, it lasts for 8 days. During the whole week, Coimbra is alive with concerts and performances.
Also worth a visit is the Chapel of São Miguel. The 16th century university’s chapel is a walk back in history. Filled with carvings azulejos (Portuguese tile), it’s extraordinary.
University hill is on top of the entire town so be prepared for lots of steps and steep inclines if you are going to walk around. There is an ‘elevator’ that literally takes people from the lower town to the upper without having to huff it up all the hills and steps.
Founded in 1772, the University’s Botanic Garden was originally created for the medical and natural history schools. The lovely garden spans 13 hectares, with various trees, a bamboo plantation and a forest with 51 eucalyptus species.It’s a great place for a quiet respite.
Old Cathedral of Coimbra
This Romanesque cathedral was built in 1139, during times when this area was a dividing line between Islam and Christianity. Having just defeated the Moors in the battle of Ourique the King had this built. It still retains its Romanesque character today.
Pedro e Inês Bridge
When you are a tourist just wandering around, there’s something special about finding these wonderful and unique pedestrian bridges. The Pedro e Inês Bridge is a footbridge that opened in 2007. It gives you a great view of the city including the university on the right bank. Its unique design is very photogenic. The ornamental railing is made from sheets of yellow, pink, blue and green glass in irregular geometric patterns.
Once a walled in city, this site is one of the largest Roman ruins in Portugal and the best preserved. It’s about 10 miles outside of Coimbra. Archaeologists say that only 10 percent of the city has been excavated. Don’t miss the House of the Fountains from the 1st and 2nd centuries with its elaborate fountain, faded murals, and stunningly intact mosaic floors.
The best part is walking around all the tiny lanes and alleys and discovering Coimbra on your own. And a walk along and across the river shows you a completely different side to this charming town.
Click over to Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal for ideas on where to stay in Coimbra.