Portugal is an incredible country to visit. Its rich history, magnificent culture, lovely gastronomy, and enchanting coast create a cocktail of experiences that will always have you wanting more. And you don’t have to go to Lisbon or Porto to see all of that – Coimbra is a perfect place to visit if you want to feel the essence of this amazing country, and you won’t have to fight for your place in the sun with loads of other tourists. One day in Coimbra will undoubtedly be unforgettable, and with this itinerary, you will make the most of it. Check out the best things to see in this city!
What’s the best time to visit Coimbra, Portugal?
Coimbra is a great place to visit all year round, primarily thanks to its climate. Although the city is closer to the Atlantic Ocean than the Mediterranean, the climate here is still Mediterranean, which has loads of benefits.
Winters, for example, are exceptionally warm and pleasant. So, if you want to enjoy your holidays far from freezing temperatures, a trip to Coimbra would certainly be a great choice. Spring and autumn have very warm but not too hot temperatures and can be considered the best time to visit Coimbra, whereas summer can be quite hot, with temperatures sometimes going above 40 degrees Celsius (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Add to that the number of tourists that swells significantly, and will see why September or early June might be a better choice.
As for festivals and events, you may want to check out Queima das Fitas (i.e. Burning of the Ribbons), a big student festival that takes place in May. Festa das Latas is another big student party, but this one takes place in September, while in summer, you can enjoy the International Jazz Festival, Coimbra Arts Festival, and more. Naturally, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are also big around here.
A few facts about Coimbra
Although the city proper has only just under 150,000 people, only Lisbon, Porto, and Braga are bigger urban centers than Coimbra. In the larger Coimbra area, there are approximately 450,000 people.
The University of Coimbra is the oldest in the Portuguese-speaking world and one of the oldest in the world in general. This institution has had quite a tumultuous history and is today one of the city’s main sights, as you will see in the itinerary in just a moment. Today, the university numbers around 25,000 students.
Coimbra was actually declared to be Portugal’s capital city by the country’s first king Alfonso I, and would remain in that role for well over a century until, in the mid-13th century, the seat of power was moved to Lisbon. Still, even after that, Coimbra would continue to serve as a residence to the country’s rulers.
The city was captured by Moorish invaders on several occasions, first in 714, and in the period from the 8th to the middle of the 11th century it was mostly under Muslim rule.
One day in Coimbra Itinerary
It’s time to explore Coimbra! And to do that, follow this helpful itinerary of ours that will take you to the most important sights in the city during your one day here. There’s a lot to see and experience, so let’s get going!
Start your day surrounded by greenery
Coimbra’s Botanical Garden (also known as Jardim Botanico) has been around for exactly 250 years. It is the biggest botanical garden in the whole country, so it really is a great way to start your exploration of the city. The lush greenery of this amazing place will energize you for the sightseeing that is to come.
The garden is actually a part of the illustrious University of Coimbra and is home to more than 1200 different types of plants, with some trees being more than two centuries old. Oh, and the Museum of Natural History is also located here.
Prepare to be stunned by Biblioteca Joanina
Just a few minutes west (on foot) from the botanical garden is the spectacular Biblioteca Joanina. This incredibly beautiful place was built in 1720 and is a perfect example of Baroque architecture. Painted ceilings, lavish decorations, beautiful bookcases, and many other details will make your jaw drop. There are more than 250,000 volumes here, some going back to the 16th century, which only adds to the whole experience. It just feels like you’ve entered a whole other world.
Explore the University of Coimbra
The things you’ve seen so far all belong to the University of Coimbra, which is your next stop in this one-day itinerary (you can check out Porta Ferrea on the way here, a place that in medieval times served as the citadel’s entrance). The University was actually founded in Lisbon, way back in 1290, but was moved to Coimbra in 1537. Nevertheless, it is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in Europe (you can book a tour with guides who studied there).
The whole place is located on a hill overlooking the city, which says a lot about its exalted status, and it has a tower dating back to the 16th century from which you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city. Originally housed in a medieval palace (!), the university saw new buildings added to it through the centuries, and today the whole complex looks spectacular.
Make sure to see Sala dos Capelos, a ceremony hall from the 17th century. There is a lot more to enjoy, however, so try and set aside a fair amount of time of your one day in Coimbra for this. It is THE sight to visit in the city.
Grab a nice lunch
You will find plenty of restaurants near the University and close to the Mondego River. Solar do Bacalhau is a great choice if you want to try bacalao, i.e. salted cod, a Portuguese specialty. And it looks really awesome, too. Then there’s Il Tartufo, if you’re in the mood for some Italian dishes, or you can opt for Tapas nas Costas if you’d like to try some good wine along with delicious tapas.
Apart from these, however, there are many great options around, so a bit of exploring can go a long way in providing you with a memorable meal.
Check out the National Museum Machado de Castro
Staying in Coimbra city center, your next stop is the National Museum Machado de Castro. Now, this place is amazing for several reasons, one of which is the fact that it has its own restaurant, so you can enjoy quite a special meal, ideal for lunch if none of the places from the previous entry in this itinerary attracted you enough.
But this museum is so much more than that. A blend of architectural styles from the Roman times onwards, with the largest collection of sculptures of any national museum in this country and loads of other impressive pieces of art, this fascinating edifice will provide you with quite an experience. Especially because you can go down into the 2000-year-old Roman crypt!
Don’t forget about the Old Cathedral…
Another thing that’s hard to miss around here is the Old Cathedral (Se Velha in Portuguese). It’s very close to the museum, so it would really be a shame to miss it, especially because of its unique look that reminds you more of a powerful fortress.
Built in the 12th century, its somewhat modest outside hides an amazing altar inside, along with numerous incredible decorations. Constructed at a time when this was the capital of Portugal, the cathedral is one of the symbols of this city, and a very much recommended stop on your one day in Coimbra.
…and compare it to the new one
But that’s not the only cathedral around! The New Cathedral (or Se Nova) is just around the corner, and it too is quite a magnificent piece of architecture. True, it is a lot younger than its older counterpart, but the New Cathedral is still quite old since it was constructed in the 16th century.
The interior is simply gorgeous, with loads of art and a mesmerizing altar, plus the place has an interesting history given that it started out as a Jesuit church but was later taken away from the Jesuits. It’s also very close to the University, so you can maybe squeeze it in in the morning part of the itinerary, too.
Relax with some fado
Your day of sightseeing should end with a visit to Fado ao Centro. Why? Because every day at 6 PM you can enjoy a 50-minute concert by some incredibly talented musicians. Now, fado is a traditional Portuguese kind of music whose roots go back 200 years, but the whole genre is likely much older. Only the very best musicians are chosen to play here, and the tradition of fado concerts at this place extends for more than a century and a half. So, booking a place in advance is very much recommended.
The place is usually open from 10 AM to 7 PM (except on Sundays), so you can pop in and check out the exhibits for free, but if you can listen to the concert, you really should. It’s one of the hallmarks of Portuguese culture.
Discover Coimbra nightlife
Coimbra is a university city, so there are bound to be a lot of great options if you want to paint the town red. Or just have a nice drink somewhere. What’s Up Doc Bar, for example, not only has a great name, but also great prices. No wonder it’s very popular among students. Then there’s the Tutti Club if you’re looking to dance the night away, Bigorna Bar for some beer and shots, LOOK Coimbra for more dancing, and many, many other great places. If you have any energy left after a day of sightseeing in Coimbra, you’ll love what the city has to offer at night.
Where to stay in Coimbra?
Quinta das Lagrimas
Rua António Augusto Gonçalves, 3041-901 Coimbra
Want a luxury stay in Coimbra? Hotel Quinta das Lagrimas is without any doubt the most luxurious place in the city! It is located in a beautiful, recently-renovated medieval palace surrounded by a lush forest, and you can even enjoy the hotel’s own botanical garden! There’s also a 9-hole golf course, the hotel’s own wine cellar, a wonderful pool, an incredible spa center, and the two restaurants here serve dishes made with food grown on the estate. You really can’t go any more luxurious than this!
Sapientia Boutique Hotel
Rua José Falcão nº4, 3000-062 Coimbra
Sapientia Boutique Hotel is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a hotel close to the very center of Coimbra – you can get there in just a few minutes on foot. Apart from that, however, the hotel has a lovely bar and a terrace, as well as a great restaurant. The rooms are all very well equipped because they all come with a kettle, a minibar, and even a safety deposit box, whereas some even have a complete kitchenette. The breakfast is also on a very high level, and the hotel even organizes things like wine tasting. Everything a hotel should have and more!
Av. Fernao de Magalhaes, 25, 3000-175 Coimbra
Hotel Oslo is a family-run hotel in Coimbra that offers terrific value and is widely praised by its guests. It is located right in the city center, has a nice bar, serves a delicious breakfast, and even allows pets. A big plus is the rooftop terrace because from there you will get a fantastic view of the famous university and the city in general, and you can also count on the rooms and the rest of the interior to be very pleasant and comfortable. Definitely a hotel worthy of your consideration!
Change The World Hostels – Coimbra – Almedina
Rua de Fernandes Thomas n.º 1-11 e Rua Quebra Costas, n. º2, 3000-168 Coimbra
As any great university city, Coimbra has a lot of nice hostels to offer, but Change The World Hostels Coimbra stands out thanks to its impeccable service and location. The place is right in the city center, a few steps from the Old Cathedral, and offers perfectly clean rooms, comfortable beds and a welcoming atmosphere. Naturally, free Wi-Fi is also a part of the package, so everything you need for a pleasant stay is readily available. Enjoy!
Day trips from Coimbra
Should you be so lucky to be able to spend more than just one day in Coimbra, you should consider organizing a day trip to some other amazing place or city in Portugal. Thanks to the city’s location, you will have plenty of options to choose from, and we are here to point you in the right direction. Here are a few suggestions!
By car or by high-speed train, you can reach the capital of Portugal from Coimbra in about two hours. If you get an early enough start, you will have plenty of time to explore this amazing city. Once there, you will be able to cruise the river Tejo, marvel at the amazing castles and palaces, ride the famous tram 28, and generally have an amazing time. Lisbon really is a great city – set a day aside to see that for yourself.
Figueira da Foz
While Coimbra itself is not a coastal city, you can get to a beach in less than an hour by car (or a bit more than an hour by train). Figueira da Foz is a city with one of the biggest beaches in Portugal and plenty of places to enjoy surfing, sailing, swimming or just soaking in the sun. The beautiful white sand that covers the beaches is just an added bonus. A perfect summer day trip from Coimbra.
Another great day trip from Coimbra is the city of Porto. This fascinating place in the north of the country can be reached in less than an hour and a half, and its whole center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture here is simply jaw-dropping, but this is also a perfect destination for foodies, especially those of you who want to try the famous Port Wine. Yes, your one day in Porto is going to be VERY special.
This amazing place truly looks like a fairy-tale that’s come to life. A lush forest that’s populated by trees from all over the world, courtesy of Portuguese explorers, an amazing palace that has been turned into a luxurious hotel with an incredible garden, chapels, sculptures and so much more make Portugal’s only national forest an excellent destination for a day trip away from the bustle and the heat of the city.
Extra tips for visiting Coimbra
- Buses in Coimbra are very punctual and well organized. Buying a day ticket will therefore be well worth it if you’re looking to get around the city a lot. Attractions in the city center, however, can easily be explored on foot.
- Foodies will want to try the specialties of the Coimbra region – roasted suckling pig and the local wine. Coimbra belongs to the Bairrada wine region, so do go ahead and try some of the local products. You won’t be disappointed.
- If you’re coming to Coimbra from another Portuguese city or town, consider coming by train. Trains in Portugal are excellent, and the public transport in Coimbra is very good, so a car is not necessary. As a matter of fact, finding a parking spot can be quite a challenge.
- If you have an American Express card, make sure you have enough cash or at least another credit card – many shops and businesses in Portugal in general will not accept this credit card brand.
- Outside of peak season, prices in Coimbra drop significantly, up to 40%! Definitely, something to consider when planning your trip.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.