After some incredible days exploring Lisbon and Cascais, the beautiful city of Coimbra was the next big stop on our trip around Portugal. Located halfway between the Portuguese capital and Porto, our final destination, Coimbra seemed like the perfect location for the quick stopover we were looking for.
With backpacks full of pasteis de nata, we hopped on the first train from Lisbon to Coimbra. The former capital of Portugal from 1139 to 1250 is famous for its notable University and historical library. It was now ours for just over 24h. Here’s what to see in Coimbra in a day.
1. Rua Visconde da Luz
With the purpose of uncovering as much of the city’s hidden gems as possible, we started our day walking down Rua Visconde da Luz, Coimbra’s main pedestrian and shopping street. We soon realised that Lisbon’s uneven layout, with cobbled streets and hilly alleys, seemed to be transported north to this city. The old charming stone architecture has survived throughout the years, as if untouched by time. Although mixed with more modern contemporary buildings around it, there’s no doubt the old builds are the true essence of the iconic University City.
2. Igreja de Santa Cruz and Sé Velha de Coimbra
A clear example is the splendid Igreja de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Church). You can find it by Praça 8 de Maio, at one end of Rua Visconde da Luz. The high vaulted ceilings and impressive stone columns create a peaceful environment with excellent acoustics. The same pattern is present in the two cathedrals of Coimbra (Sé Velha and Sé Nova).
3. Café Santa Cruz
Next to Igreja de Santa Cruz is Café Santa Cruz, an emblematic and perhaps the most famous coffeehouse in Coimbra. Opened on May 8th 1923, it displays a medieval style interior with stone arches, marble table tops and leather chairs. It was formerly the meeting point of choice for intellectuals and students from the University of Coimbra. It now welcomes locals and tourists from all over the world regularly throughout the day.
This is also the best place to enjoy Coimbra Fado concerts and poetry readings. Coimbra Fado is slightly different to other types of Fado as it’s only sung by men. They usually dress in the cap and gown style of students, who used to sing their goodbyes when graduating from the University of Coimbra.
4. University of Coimbra
The University of Coimbra is the most magnificent building in the city. Although established in Lisbon back in 1290, the splendid institution relocated to various places until finally settling down in Coimbra in 1537, under the reign of King João III. Located in the former Royal Palace of Coimbra, it’s the oldest and most distinguished University and Research Centre in Portugal. Although the University of Oxford was founded first, the University of Coimbra is also one of the fifteen higher education institutions that emerged in Europe before the end of the 13th century.
A national symbol and a pioneer of cultural splendour, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. With stunning views overlooking the Mondego River, the main building is set around an open courtyard dominated by the emblematic University Tower and the statue of King João III.
Inside the University, the Biblioteca Joanina protects a range of book collections from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – its grandeur is unlike anywhere else I have ever seen, a true symbol of magnificence! The remaining structure of the last existent medieval prison in Portugal, which goes back to the former use of the building as a Royal Palace and Academic Prison, is located under the Baroque Library.
5. Aqueduto de São Sebastião
Our next stop was the Aqueduto de São Sebastião, a reconstruction of the former Roman aquaduct that was carried out under the reign of King Sebastião, in the 16th century. A National Monument since 1910, it’s 1 km long and has 21 “Garden Arches”. Close by, the statue of John Paul II commemorates the Pope’s visit to Coimbra on 15th May 1982. Funnily enough, he travelled through Portugal from Lisbon, to Coimbra and Porto, just like us!
6. Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra
The Aqueduct of São Sebastião runs parallel to the beautiful Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra. It’s safe to say we love visiting gardens (just check out our posts on Sky Garden and Barbican Conservatory to find out how much) and the lovely Jardim Botânico de Coimbra did not disappoint! With a free entrance (bonus!), its 13 hectares collect a variety of medicinal and exotic plants that were used for the study of medicine and natural history at the University of Coimbra.
7. Where to eat and drink in Coimbra
Apart from Café Santa Cruz, here are a couple of places we also loved:
- Fangas Mercearia Bar. A cosy, colourful and quirky place is the best place to eat in the old town. With delicious petiscos (tapas), vinho verde and an obligatory selection of cheese, sausages, stuffed vegetables and honey. Fangas also has a sister restaurant nearby, Fangas Maior.
Top tip: you don’t need the cheese board AND extra cheese…there’s more than enough on the board already!
- Passaporte. It offers stunning views of the river and city, coupled with the fresh menu options!
Passaporte | R. da Couraça Estrela 13, 3000-150 Coimbra, Portugal
Fangas Mercearia Bar | Rua de Fernandes Thomas 45-49, 3000-168 Coimbra, Portugal
I am really excited to plan another trip around Portugal soon! There is still so much to see and this beautiful country never ceases to surprise me. Have you ever been to Coimbra? If you really loved our post please leave us a comment and show us some love on social media using the buttons below 🙂
Do you love Portugal as much as we do? Then check:
- Top 10 things to do in Madeira, Portugal | TRAVEL GUIDE
- The 10 best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal | TRAVEL GUIDE
- The 10 best things to do in Porto | TRAVE GUIDE
What a beautiful place – some incredible views judging by your photos. The Botanical Gardens looks like my type of place too. Great blog for anyone visiting Coimbra!
Thank you for the lovely comment, Jane! 🙂 x
Beautiful city and post! I love all your photos too. ♥️
Thank you 🙂
One of the best travel posts I’ve read in a while!! Really makes me want to visit Coimbra!
Thank you so much for the lovely comment! Coimbra is an incredible place, there’s so much history behind it!
I have been to both Lisbon and Porto but never made it to Coimbra – but I now have another reason to head back to Portugal! It is such a beautiful country and you have captured Coimbra beautifully. Thankyou for sharing x
Awe thank you! I would definitely recommend Coimbra for a short trip, especially if you’re travelling between Porto and Lisbon! Portugal is amazing, I’ve been to five different parts and I still can’t get enough of it! x
It looks stunning there! I’ve not been in years but I need to go back and actually explore the place more!
Beth x | https://bethrebecca.com/
It really is stunning! Such a great place to explore 🙂 x
Love how informative this is. I loved Portugal and visited the country once and it was one of my favourite place to go back to. We visited the Algarve ‘highly recommend’ and it was the most relaxing holiday I ever had. 👍 you should visit the Algarve soon. ❤️k
Thank you! The Algarve is definitely on my list! x
Such a beautiful place! I haven’t heard a lot about it before. Portugal is definitely on the top of my travel bucket list. x
Antonia || Sweet Passions
Portugal is unbelievably beautiful – it’s one of my favourite countries to wander around! I would definitely recommend visiting at least once 🙂 x
Wow! Coimbra looks amazing, I’d never heard of it before reading your travel post 🙂
Emma – http://www.lifeofemmax.co.uk
It is a hidden gem, trust me! x
Wow, it looks absolutely stunning. I’m glad you weren’t there during their recent historical temperatures! I’m also quite jealous of your backpacks full of pasteis de nata.. delish!
Thank you! It really is an incredible place, do visit if you have the chance! x
The whole history of my family is in Portugal before arriving in Brazil, beautiful blog and hope you have enjoyed your trip
Thank you! Portugal is awesome, I love it x
Such a gorgeous looking place! I hope to visit Portugal one day.
Coimbra is definitely worth stopping by on a quick day trip! x
Wow, looks so charming. I love the portuguese
architecture and the golden tones. Amazing
It’s really cute! I’d definitely recommend visiting if you’re around x
Such a great list. Beautiful pictures and lovely looking blog. Thanks for sharing!
MagicandBliss | https://magicandbliss.com/
Thank you so much!
Wow, these photos are stunning. Thank you for sharing! The botanical garden looks beautiful!
Thanks Jenny! It’s really peaceful over there. We had a nice time just walking around and learning about all the different plants x
Wow! Coimbra looks utterly beautiful! Especially the Igreja de Santa Cruz and Sé Velha de Coimbra! I have never visited Portugal before but I will need to go after reading this post.
That’s so cool to read Sarah! Portugal is an incredible country – the food, the architecture, the people and the weather! Unbeatable x
Coimbra looks absolutely beautiful! It’s lovely to see some of the lesser known cities of Portugal highlighted in this way. Would love to check it out one day. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Matt! Coimbra is definitely worth stopping by if you’re travelling between Porto and Lisbon. I couldn’t recommend it enough!
An excellent read. The place sounds well worth a visit, even just for the coffee house, which sounded fantastic.
Thanks so much Graham! Glad you liked learning more about Coimbra – it’s such a glorious city!
We visited Porto and the Douro Valley in Portugal. I would love to go back! Now I want to go to Coimbra, too! Especially to the botanical garden, that place must have been amazing!
Sounds like a lovely holiday! If you loved Porto (it’s so cool over there), then you definitely need to visit Coimbra! You won’t be disappointed x
I’ve never heard of Coimbra but it looks stunning and so full of history!
Serena / http://www.ramblingsofanotherunigraduate.com
It is! Thanks for the comment Serena x
Wow! What a beautiful place to visit. Your photos are stunning, and makes me want to be there exploring now! I loved Lisbon, so this place has to go on my list!
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Aimsy! Definitely add Coimbra to your list – it’s great if you want to visit Porto too, the train goes right through it! x
Oooh I’ve not made it to this part of Portugal before but it looks so lovely! I’m especially partial to a botanical garden so that looks right up my street!
Yay! I love it when people are big fans of botanical gardens! It’s such a peaceful place to spend the day too x
I love Coimbra!
My sister did her Erasmus program there. Your post took me back to all those great places.
Can’t wait to go back there !!
That’s amazing! I bet she loved it there. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Fabiana x
I’m so excited to visit Portugal – I’ve always wanted to go but not yet managed to. I hadn’t heard of this particular city but it looks beautiful! I’d just have to visit the Botanical Gardens, as it looks stunning (big fan of gardens, too!)
Hi Hannah, thanks for the comment! Portugal is a stunning country – I’ve been a few times and I can’t wait to be back myself! I couldn’t recommend it enough x
I am absolutely blown away by the grand architecture – We don’t have anything quite like that here. It’s incredible! I would love to make a trip over and see it for myself someday in the near future.
Thanks for the comment, Britt! I agree, Portugal’s architecture is stunning – definitely worth checking out! x
I’m a pasteis de nata lover! So I can’t wait to go to Portugal and try the “real deal” 🙂 Seems like a very nice city and I like the idea of visiting it for 24 hours. Thank you for this post!
Yay, a fellow pasteis de nana enthusiast! You’re right, they taste better in Portugal! Hopefully you get to visit soon x
I can’t wait to spend more time in Portugal soon! Coimbra looks very pretty. Definitely would love to see those views from Passaporte and check out the aquaducts and churches.
Hi Riana, thanks for the comment! Definitely, Coimbra is a lovely place to explore!
Stunning! I had never seen Portugal before, and your pictures made it very real. I also learned something new so thanks for the info. Great job!
Thanks! Portugal is an amazing country. If you love good food, beautiful architecture and nice weather, you’ll definitely love it. I couldn’t recommend it enough x