Coimbra is a city that has deep historical and cultural roots that date back to its founding in Roman times. It has played an important part in Portugal’s history over the centuries, and even served at the country’s first capital from 1131-1255. Six of Portugal’s kings were born here, and the country’s first two kings are buried here.
Portugal’s 4th largest city is a thriving and vibrant city. It is perhaps best known for its university, which is the oldest in the country and one of the oldest universities in the world. Established in 1290, the University of Coimbra continues to be a draw for both international students as well as tourists who come to visit the beautiful buildings of this esteemed institution.
The medieval city of Coimbra sits alongside the banks of the Mondego River, and is divided into the Lower Town (the Baixa) that is located by the river, and the Upper Town (Cidade Alta). The Lower Town is the commercial hub of the city, with shops, restaurants and cafes. The Upper Town is the old town that sits atop a hill and consists of narrow, winding cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to medieval times. You can enter the Upper Town through the Moorish town walls at the Arco de Almedina, which dates back to the 9th C. In the old town you will find the 12th C. Old Cathedral, the 17th C. New Cathedral, and the beautiful buildings of the university. If school is in session you will see students roaming through the courtyard and buildings in their traditional black gowns, which is a vision that will transport you back in time.
Coimbra is home to the legend of the tragic love story of Prince Pedro and Inés de Castro, Portugal’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Located just on the other side of the river, many visit the gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears) to see the place where Inés was murdered in 1355 by Pedro’s father, King Afonso IV, in order to end their forbidden love affair. Today the estate is operated as a luxury hotel.
The following is a list of the top things to see during your visit to Coimbra:
- The historic buildings of the university, including the courtyard and bell tower, the Chapel of São Miguel, and the incomparable Baroque library, Biblioteca Joanina, with over 200,000 volumes dating from the 15th to 18th centuries
- The 12th C. Sé Velha (Old Cathedral) and the 17th C. Sé Nova (New Cathedral)
- The Monastery of Santa Cruz, which houses the tombs of Portugal’s first two kings (Afonso I and his son, Sancho)
- The Botanical Gardens of the university, which were created in 1772 and are the largest in Portugal
- Praça do Comércio, the city’s main square, and the 12th C. Church of São Tiago, located on the corner of the square
- The ruins of the 13th C. Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha and the new convent, Santa Clara-a-Nova, built in 1649
- Quinta das Lágrimas Gardens
If you are visiting Coimbra with children you you may want to include a visit to Portugal dos Pequenitos (Portugal of the Little Ones), a popular theme park for children. Built in 1940, the park recreates in miniatures Portugal’s most important national monuments, along with typical houses and buildings from former colonies. There is a dress museum that features miniature outfits from Portuguese everyday life throughout the centuries, as well as a Barbie museum with over 300 dolls. The theme park is located just across the river near the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha.
One last site of interest that is located about 20 minutes south of Coimbra is the ancient Roman city of Conímbriga. The ruins at this archaeological site are the best preserved Roman ruins in Portugal, with city walls, mosaic floors and building foundations that are still intact.
Book a private tour! You may want to consider booking a private tour with an English-speaking guide. Your personal guide can provide you with information on the city and its historic sites. For more information, click here.
Photo Credit: © Christopher Pappas · All rights reserved. Photo of Coimbra.
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