Coimbra – Relax and Explore

Leaving Porto, we hopped on the Alfa Pendular train for a comfortable journey of just over an hour to the city of Coimbra. The AP trains are great and an easy way to travel. The train arrives at the Coimbra-A station, where you can hop on another free train for the 5 minute ride to the Coimbra-B station.

Coimbra is located on the route between Porto and Lisbon. It is about 50 km inland from the Atlantic and sits on the banks of the Rio Mondego. It has a population of ~140,000, but the historic centre has the feel of a small town.

Our hotel, Hotel Mondego , was located right across the street from the Coimbra-B train station. It was an excellent hotel – great location, lovely rooms (premium room), great breakfast and super-friendly and helpful staff.

We found Coimbra to be a great place to just wander, taking in the architecture, the grand pedestrian only avenues and the small, windy lanes.

The University of Coimbra was first established in Lisbon in 1290, moved a number of times and finally returned permanently to Coimbra in 1537. The university is among the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and the oldest in Portugal. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, citing its architecture, unique culture and traditions, and historical role.

The main attractions are situated around the Patio das Escolas, which is presided over by a statue of King João III.

The most famous building is the Biblioteca Joanna, a baroque library named after after King João V. Constructed between 1717 and 1728, the remarkable central hall is decorated with elaborate ceiling frescoes and huge rosewood, ebony and jacaranda tables. The library holds more than 40,000 books, which can be borrowed under strict conditions. This room is strictly controlled – you must purchase a timed entry ticket and are allowed only 20 minutes in the room. No pictures are allowed – the pictures below are of the anterooms. Interestingly, the library has a colony of bats to protect the books – they eat potentially harmful insects.

The Capelo de São Miguel (Saint Michael’s Chapel) was built in the 1500’s with small renovations and additions in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Royal Palace sits below the crenelated clock tower which stands 112 feet high and is the most notable item in all Coimbra landscapes. The palace was built in the tenth century and for many years served as a royal residence.

The views from the Palace catwalk are wonderful!

On the hill in Coimbra are the old and new cathedrals. The old Cathedral dates from 1117 and is currently undergoing restoration work.

The new Cathedral was built slowly between 1598 and 1698 and took over the role of Coimbra’s main church from the old Cathedral in 1772.

Fado is considered the song of the Portuguese soul, traditionally performed by women. In Coimbra, fado is closely connected with academic traditions. A major difference in Coimbra is that fado is performed by men.

Groups of university students sing fado on the streets, dressed in their traditional attire.

One evening, we took in an early evening fado presentation at the Cafe Santa Cruz. While we sipped a beverage, we listened to an entertaining half hour of music. The acoustics are great in this church turned cafe.

Coimbra is doing a good job of developing its river valley. There are great walking paths, a fun pedestrian bridge and an awesome evening lighted fountain display.

The Pedro e Inês bridge – Pedro and Inês had a great love story. You can read about it here if you are interested.

Once again, those wonderful Portuguese pastries!

We wondered what they do with all the egg whites leftover from the egg yolk pastries – how’s this for a giant meringue?

Salt cod and sardines are Portuguese staples.

Salt cod at the market
The canned sardine store – quite elegant!
Grilled sardines on a boat and cheesy bruschetta for lunch

Some other great meals in Coimbra – definitely recommend these restaurants.

Coimbra was magical at night!

If you have some time listen to Debbie’s Podcast that we recorded from the River Bar. Once there, you can access a number of podcasts about our trip and other interesting topics!

We hope you enjoyed our memories of Coimbra. If you travel to Portugal, Coimbra is an awesome place to visit and to recharge yourself between the busy cities.


Bev & Harvey

3 thoughts on “Coimbra – Relax and Explore

  1. These are fantastic photos. One can almost feel the ambience. I particularly liked the photos of the soaked cobblestone streets; almost appeared to have coats of lacquer on them.


    • The evening that the wet cobblestone street was taken was my favourite night in Coimbra. We had listened to fado, had a fabulous dinner at Sete and then wandered down the almost deserted shimmering streets. It was quite magical!


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