Coimbra: Portugal’s student hive
When good friends recommend you new destinations to visit, your only choice is to comply! Therefore, on our way back to Porto from Nazaré, we took the bus to Coimbra for a short city break to convince ourselves whether it’s as beautiful as they say.
Seated by the River Mondego, the city welcomed us glowing in the warm sunset light, with an animated street scene, plenty of tourists and so, so many students everywhere! Coimbra is very famous for its old university (one of the oldest in Europe!) and is also quite a popular Erasmus scholarship destination, therefore attracting lots of international students every year. No wonder they were everywhere!
We quickly dropped our bags at the hotel (we stayed at lovely Casa de Sao Bento) and headed right into the town’s core.
Drinking bars, print shops, souvenir shops, ice cream parlours, restaurants, luxury shops and kebab eateries were both contrasting and blending in with the beautiful architecture of the old center.
Walking up and down the cobbled streets, we went from loud crowded streets to silent alleys where you could slightly hear a piano play from a distant apartment.
In our first evening, Coimbra was an unexpected chaos that seemed to be right at home.
Second day started out a bit gloomy, heavy clouds were moving fast above us and rain was menacing to ruin our day, but somehow eventually decided to avoid us. We walked around the streets freely, with no particular scope in mind other than slowly peeling Coimbra’s layer after layer.
Our favourite 3 must-do things in Coimbra
We soon realised that 24 hours might not be enough to experience everything that was recommended to us! Nonetheless, we managed to hit a few spots and I find three of them to be the most memorable and representative, a must if you decide to check out this city.
All of them are within walking distance from each other, but bear in mind you might have to do some stair climbing, as the area spreads over a hill.
#1. The old center
You’ll most probably hear me mention this every time I visit a city that has an old historic center. What can I say, I am a sucker for narrow cobbled streets and architecture dating centuries old. I find those places pedestrian friendly, catching your attention with their colors and liveliness, with their cute little shops and enchanting restaurants.
Coimbra has a vibrant such center, with the streets going up and downhill, a decorated alley surprising you from a corner, an impressive church hidden between buildings (my favourite was Igreja de Santa Cruz, with its laden Manueline portal on the main façade), medieval walls, arches and tower remnants, or a restaurant luring you inside with their yummy smells (true story).
If I were to do just one thing in Coimbra, it would be to tear my shoes by walking around the old town.
#2. University of Coimbra
An impressive edifice that made the university I went to pale in comparison. Actually, not even pale, because you absolutely cannot compare the two.
My only regret here is we didn’t get to visit the interior as well, especially the spectacular and opulent Joanina Library that everyone praises.
#3. Botanical Garden (of the University of Coimbra)
We bumped into it by accident and at first thought it was just a park with beautiful fountains and well-kept lawns and bushes. Such ignorants!
But we soon found out it was a Botanical Garden and it all made sense why they had so many lovely species of trees and plants. The weather was cloudy at the time and the garden almost empty, so it had a heavy melancholic vibe, yet it felt like being in an oasis, a pleasant escape from the noise of the city.
I can only imagine how truly gorgeous and refreshing this place is in a plain hot summer day!
These being said, hope you will enjoy your time in Coimbra, no matter how short!