Coimbra is definitely a city not to miss on any Portugal itinerary. It was Portugal’s leading city while the Moors controlled Lisbon and used to be the country’s capital for over 100 years. Today, Coimbra is home to Portugal’s oldest university which is one of the main attractions in Coimbra. This post covers how to visit Coimbra in one day.
How Long to Stay in Coimbra
Coimbra deserves at least one full day with an overnight stay. However, if you are pressed for time, Coimbra is also an easy day trip from either Porto or Lisbon. Coimbra also makes for a great overnight or all day stop over to break journey if you are driving from Lisbon to Porto.
How to Get to Coimbra
Coimbra is about 1.25 hours from Porto and 2 hour from Lisbon. You can get to Coimbra either by car or by train. Trains are frequent to/from both directions.
You can check out the official website for trains in Portugal HERE
If you are driving, there is parking right outside the old town, next to the bridge.
Getting Around Coimbra
Coimbra is very walkable, especially to see the sites within the old town. However, Coimbra is also hilly, so if walking up hills is not an option, then there is a minibus that runs through lower and upper old town.
Things to Do with One Day in Coimbra
These attractions below are listed in order as they appear along the old town so that you won’t have to go back and forth. However, if you are looking to prioritize certain attractions over others then the University and the Old Cathedral would be my top picks.
Santa Clara Bridge
This bridge has been an important access point since Roman times. Today, it offers stunning views of Coimbra and the colorful buildings in this city.
Stroll Through the Main Drag and Town
The pedestrian only main drag, called Rua de Ferreira Borges is a delight to stroll along. Here you will see lots of cafes, tiled facades, wrought iron balconies and various shops. The walk from lower town to upper town is also really nice if you are up for some exercise.
Church of Santa Cruz
This church was founded in the 1100s. The inside of this church is decorated with blue and white azulejo tiles from the 18th century that portray the stories of the discovery of the Holy Cross by Saint Helen and the life of St. Augustine.
The Manueline style tombs belong to the first two kings of Portugal, Afonso Henriques and his son Sancho I. For a small donation you can also visit the cloister and sacristy.
Manga Cloister Fountains
Inspired by Arabic architecture, these renaissance fountains date back to the 15th century. It’s definitely one of the prettiest sites for photographs in Coimbra.
I do love a good local market anywhere and enjoyed walking through this covered market.
There’s an elevator as you exit this market that takes you to upper town. It was not in operation the day I went so I ended up walking to upper town.
Coimbra’s new cathedral was originally the church of the Jesuits in Coimbra. However, the Jesuit order was banned in Portugal, leaving this church empty. Thus, the seat of the Bishop was moved from the old cathedral to this newer, much larger one.
Perched on top of the city is the University of Coimbra. It was established in 1290 and is one of the oldest universities in the world! Even older than Oxford University. It’s a fully functioning university even today so you will see plenty of students going about their business. The university and all it’s attractions are easily the best things to see and do in Coimbra.
You need to purchase a ticket to visit some of the best parts of the university. HERE are the different options. Pick one with the library. Trust me as you don’t want to miss this. The library visit is timed and limited to 60 people at a time. You could buy tickets in advance online but I bought mine in person on that day. Keep in mind that if you buy on that day that you may not get the time slot you want to visit the library.
The ticket office is not near the library and is a little hard to find. Not sure if it also has changed locations in the recent past. Best is to ask someone for directions.
What to See
I purchased the ticket that included the science museum, library, royal palace and Saint Michael’s chapel. Only the library is a timed tour, so as long as you get to that line a few minutes earlier than what’s on your ticket, you can explore the rest of the sites at your leisure.
This museum was pretty amazing! Some of the specimens here date back 300 years or more. It’s definitely a cool place to bring school aged kids to.
St. Michael’s Chapel
The doors to this chapel are always closed so you have to knock to enter. The chapel was started in the early 1500s and is in the Manueline style which is pretty typical of lots of churches in Portugal.
Biblioteca Joanina (the Library)
This library is one of Europe’s best surviving Baroque libraries and a library lover’s paradise. It houses over 55,000 books! The doors to the library are always shut to keep the humidity out. From the beautiful shelves to the exquisite reading tables, this library is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
No pictures inside so I didn’t take any but here’s what it looks like.
Inside the old royal palace lies the grand room. This very regal looking room used to be the throne room of the royal palace but is now where the university holds its academic ceremonies.
This fortress like Romanesque church was built in the 1100s after the mosque belonging to the Moors which was at this site was torn down.
The tiles inside this cathedral were imported from Seville and are some of the oldest tiles found in the country. The alter is also really lavish and beautiful. The cloister at the side of the church is worth a visit. It’s the oldest Gothic cloister in Portugal.
Sites Outside the Old Town
If you have time, visit the monastery of Santa Clare-a-Nova (new monastery) and monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha (old monastery). They are 7 minutes walk from each other and a 10 minute walk from the old town in the other direction. They are both supposed to be beautiful in their own way. I unfortunately did not get to visit but perhaps you may want to consider adding these two to the itinerary.
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Read my post on Porto HERE or below!
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Wow, what a beautiful place. The architecture here is so beautiful. 😍
Thank you! Yes, I love all the colors and the stone façades!