Coimbra is located between Porto and Lisbon and is a popular place to visit while traveling between these cities. The historic center of Coimbra is still as it was during the Middle Ages, you will find many old buildings here. The main reason travelers visit Coimbra is because of the university. This is the oldest university in Portugal where you can find the most beautiful library in Portugal. The nice thing about Coimbra is that it is not touristy like other popular cities, so the atmosphere is completely different.
Coimbra is perfect to explore as a day trip, but you have more options. In this article, you will discover things to do in Coimbra, what the best way is to visit Coimbra and many more tips.
Things to do in Coimbra
Coimbra is less visited than the cities of Porto and Lisbon but certainly has some interesting things to visit. In this article, you can read about the 10 best things to do.
Tip: use the map of Coimbra below to see where the best things in Coimbra can be found. Click on the top right corner to enlarge the map. If you click on the star symbol next to the title you can save this map in your Google Maps account. In the folder, you can show or hide different categories. You can then use this map to navigate when you reach your destination.
#1 University of Coimbra
Coimbra University is the most important thing to see. If you have little time in Coimbra and you have to make choices about what you want to see, you should at least visit the university. The university was built in 1290 and can be visited daily from 09:00 am to 05:00 pm. For a visit, you can choose from a combination ticket to visit the university with the library. You can extend this with a visit to the Municipal Museum.
We had 1 day in Coimbra, so given the time, we chose to go for the combination ticket and only visit the university and the library. A visit to the university is fun, you walk through different rooms and see works of art hanging here. The special thing about the university is that it was built in a royal palace on the remains of a Moorish fortress, making it the only university in the world built in a royal palace. For us, the university was surprisingly nice to visit, but the library leaves us even more amazed.
#2 Library of Coimbra
The university library called Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra was built in the 16th century and is therefore one of the oldest in the world and is beautiful to see. When you enter you see that the bookcases are very high, everything is decorated in detail and it looks like you are in a movie set. This is not surprising, because this library has often been used during well-known films.
You can visit the library daily by purchasing a combination ticket. It is also possible to take a tour if you would like to learn everything about the university and library with a guide. If you are interested in this, it is best to book a university walking tour here.
#3 The new cathedral of Coimbra
The New Cathedral (Sé Nova de Coimbra) is a unique example of baroque decoration. If you love to see baroque architecture, a visit is highly recommended. The cathedral is on the route from the university to the historic center. The cathedral was built in 1596 and completed in 1759, so it took 163 years to complete.
The cathedral is huge, several chapels are richly decorated in gold. The most beautiful part is the altar with its many details. You can visit the cathedral for free. It is open daily except during services it is not possible to walk around.
#4 Botanical Garden
In Coimbra you can find the largest botanical garden in Portugal, this botanical garden consists of no less than 13 hectares. You can find 1200 different plant species here. This is an important place for the university because they can follow how these plants grow for all these species and how they can be protected against the current impact of humans.
The botanical garden is a 7-minute walk from the university and is nice to visit if you are a lover of plants. The benefit is that this gives a variety of the things you see next to all the buildings.
Entrance is free and you can visit daily from 09:00 to 17:30 in winter and 20:00 in summer. A nice tip is that when you are in Coimbra on a Tuesday or Saturday there is a market during the day where you can buy local products.
#5 Historic Center
Walking through the historic center should not be missed if you are in Coimbra. As you walk through the historic center you will pass some of the most important sights in Coimbra that are also on this list.
The nice thing is to walk through the streets next to all these sights and walk into the various shops or sit on a terrace. It is recommended, for example, to get an ice cream at Gelataria COSÌ and to walk in this area.
The squares Praça do Comércio and Largo da Praça are worth a visit as they are surrounded by beautiful buildings. At Largo da Praça you can have a good lunch at O Croisant.
#6 Live Fado show
During our trip through Portugal, we received tips to attend a Fado music show in Coimbra. We liked it so share it with you!
Fado is Portuguese life music, which is traditionally a singing art that was only sung in seedy bars. Fortunately, this style of music is very popular to listen to nowadays, because you can hear the soul of the Portuguese. Coimbra is one of the oldest cities where Fado music was made. The best thing is to attend a Fado show in the evening. A nice place to do this is at À Capella Casa de Fados. It is best to walk by in the afternoon to reserve a spot for the evening. The nice thing about this place is that it is not too big, which makes the atmosphere great.
You can also book a Fado show with a port and wine tasting. Then you combine the two best worlds, music and wine. You can buy a ticket for a Fado show here if you are interested.
#7 Se Velha de Coimbra
In terms of ecclesiastical buildings, this is the most beautiful building you can find in Coimbra. Sé Velha de Coimbra is the old cathedral of Coimbra and is nice to visit because the Romanesque church was built in 1184 and you can admire a lot of antiquity. This church is inspired by the churches you encounter when you make the walk to Santiago de Compostela.
The church is located in a small square that resembles a fortress due to its walls and castle elements. Inside the church, you can walk through cloistered corridors, and see tombs and iconic Romanesque furnishings. The church can be visited daily for €2.50 / $2.50 per person.
#8 Monastery of Coimbra
The Monastery of Santa Cruz is notable for the facade of the building. This beautiful structure was built in the 11th century by King Alfonso Henriques. The monastery is located on Largo da Praça and is worth a visit with the ancient fountain on the square.
This building has been very important for Christianity in Portugal because from here the faith was spread to other parts of Portugal. The great thing about the monastery is that it is located in the Santa Cruz district, which is the historic center of the city. If you walk through the city you are guaranteed to pass this building. The church is free to visit, only for the monastery you have to pay €3 / $3 per person. Here you can admire the inner gardens with the ancient corridors and treasures.
#9 Museums in Coimbra
If you like to better understand the history of Coimbra, visiting a museum is something for you. Because of the rich history of Coimbra, there are no less than 18 museums. We recommend visiting Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro and Museu da Ciencia.
Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro is housed in the Episcopal Palace, which houses a collection by Joaquim Machado de Castro, one of the most important Portuguese sculptors of the 18th century. For Portugal, one of the most complete art collections can be found here. You can mainly see sculptures that have to do with the Christian faith. A ticket costs €6 / $6 per person.
Museu da Ciencia is the city’s science museum and is a great way to get an idea of what university classes were like in the 17th and 18th centuries. In this museum, there is also a laboratory where chemistry was taught in the past. This is fun for young and old to do some experiments themselves. You can combine a combination ticket for the museum with a visit to the university and the library.
#10 Day trip from Coimbra
Coimbra is centrally located, so other nice places are close by. This makes Coimbra perfect for a day trip to Aveiro, Nazare, Obidos, and Fatima. The travel distances are between 60 and 90 minutes.
Aveiro is the little Venice of Portugal. Here you have similar boats that sail through the canals in the center and show you the old center. Nazare is a great place along the coast because this is where the high waves occur in Portugal. You also have a mountain along the beach that you can climb from where you have a magnificent view of the region. Obidos is recommended if you like to learn more about the history of Portugal because here you will find many medieval buildings. Everything is well preserved because walls surround it. Fatima is a place of pilgrimage mainly visited by believers. We have visited all places except Fatima, if you want to visit pilgrimage sites, Fatima is worth it.
The easiest way to reach all places is by car. Public transport is possible, but this takes a very long time, for this reason, it is better to have a car.
How many days do you need for Coimbra
You can easily spend 1 whole day in Coimbra. It is best to discover the city after you have checked in. You then have the whole day to visit the main sights of Coimbra. In the evening it is nice to attend a faro music show and because it gets late you better stay in Coimbra. Therefore 1 day with 1 night is enough.
Where to stay in Coimbra?
Because Coimbra is popular among the locals to visit, there are plenty of accommodations to be found. We recommend staying in the historic center, here you are close to the sights.
We have selected the two accommodations that we recommend because of the good price-quality ratio. Our tip is not to wait too long to make a reservation, because accommodations are quickly fully booked.
Location and luxury
Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra
Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra is a top place to stay because you are 300 meters from the university and have a magnificent city view. Rooms are lovely because it combines old and new trends. You can also enjoy a good breakfast in the morning.
Zero Box Lodge Coimbra
Zero Box Lodge Coimbra is recommended if you want to stay at something other than standard accommodation. The check-in, the breakfast, the decor, and the service have been put into another dimension which is cool to see. It is essential to know that the rooms are fully equipped.
Where to eat in Coimbra
Coimbra is a nice place to eat, mainly local tourists visit Coimbra and therefore the kitchen is mainly Portuguese-oriented. We enjoy the places O Croisant, Gelataria COSÌ, Visconde, and À Capella Casa de Fados.
O Croisant is a good place to go for lunch. In the evening it is nice to eat at À Capella Casa de Fados. You can enjoy a Fado show here after dinner. You can get a good ice cream at Gelataria COSÌ and if you want to grab something tasty in between, the Visconde bakery is a nice place to sit down.
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The main sights are located in and around the historic center. In the historic center, you cannot use public transport and you have to do everything on foot. Outside the center, there are buses and trains that you can use to reach Coimbra.
How to get to Coimbra
Coimbra is easy to reach by plane, public transport, or car. This is because it is one of the most important cities that lies between Porto and Lisbon.
When you travel by plane to Coimbra, it is easiest to fly to Porto and take a rental car with you at the airport. If you want to travel to Coimbra by public transport, it is best to take train number 720. From Campanha station, you can take a direct connection to Coimbra. This journey takes 1 hour and 22 minutes, you can buy a ticket for public transport to Coimbra here.
The easiest way to visit Coimbra is by car. You can park your car at the two accommodations we recommend. For your convenience, you can see in the overview below how long it takes from the obvious places to reach Coimbra.
- Braga to Coimbra: 1 hour and 50 minutes | 175km / 108 miles
- Porto to Coimbra: 1 hour and 20 minutes | 125km / 77 miles
- Douro valley to Coimbra: 1 hour and 50 minutes | 157km / 97 miles
- Aveiro to Coimbra: 50 minutes | 68km / 42 miles
- Obidos to Coimbra: 1 hour 20 minutes | 133km / 82 miles
- Nazare to Coimbra: 1 hour and 10 minutes | 108km / 67 miles
- Lisbon to Coimbra: 2 hours and 5 minutes | 200km / 124 miles
If you travel to Portugal by plane and you are looking for a car to rent, you can rent it through Rentalcars. We use Rentalcars when we want to travel by car to discover new destinations. They’re easy to use and book with.
When is the best time to visit Coimbra
Coimbra is located inland, so the weather here is often better compared to the places along the coast. This makes Coimbra great to visit all year round. The best period is from spring to autumn (March to November). The winter period is fine, but temperatures are lower.
On average it is 20°C / 68°F in spring, 28°C / 84°F in summer, 23°C / 73°F in autumn, and 16°C / 60°F in winter. When you travel during July and August it is busy because of the school holiday period in Europe.
See more in Portugal
After reading our article about what to do in Coimbra, we hope that you have a clear picture of what you can do there. If you have more time to discover Portugal, you have several options. We have written an itinerary about Portugal where you can read about our highlights during our 3-week trip. You can use our Portugal itinerary as inspiration to build your actual route.
Because Coimbra is located between Porto and Lisbon, it makes sense to continue your journey to one of these two cities. You can also see other nice places that are located between the two cities. We, therefore, recommend traveling from Coimbra to Obidos, Nazare, Aveiro, Porto, and Lisbon.
Obidos is a small fortified town surrounded by walls that guards an ancient village within the walls. If you like seeing medieval buildings this is a nice place to visit for you. Nazare is located along the coast and is world-famous because it has the highest waves in the world. A top place to spend a day at the beach and enjoy the Portuguese beaches. In Aveiro you can discover little Venice, here you have canals where gondolas sail through the village. Porto is the most beautiful city in Portugal in our opinion because here you will find the most beautiful historic center of Portugal. Lisbon has a nice mix between old architectural styles and new influences. Click on one of the links to open the article about the place in question to find out everything you need to prepare yourself well for the trip.
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