Now I’m not sure that Coimbra would be an obvious choice for most travellers when planning a trip to Portugal, it certainly wasn’t for me, but you’ll consistently find it on “top 10 places to see in Portugal” lists all over the internet, and therefore for me it seemed like a good mid-way stop back up from the Algarve before my last stop in Portugal which was Porto.
This Central Portugal riverfront city (and former capital of Portugal) is known for its well preserved medieval old town & impressive array of historical sights, of which the University of Coimbra and its baroque library, the Biblioteca Joanina, are the most noteworthy. But being a bit of a “University town”, I also found that it had a pretty cool food scene.
Now one of the first things you’ll quickly come to realise upon arriving in Coimbra is that you’re going to be climbing a lot of steep hills…
My hotel, which was about 1000 steep stairs up (top tip – definitely rather splurge on a taxi), was the oh-so-pretty NJOY Coimbra. Location-wise it was only 400m away from the University of Coimbra, my reception upon arrival was super warm & welcoming, and I had a really sexy room which even came with some pretty city views. Can 100% recommend!
Unfortunately it was pretty rainy throughout my 2-day stay, which if you were wondering is the perfect amount of time to see everything there is to see in Coimbra, but I still managed to do some really good exploring by foot.
This was all just a few blocks away from my hotel..
On my first night I decided to try out a slightly more upmarket tapas restaurant called Terraço Da Alta. I really loved that they offered half bottles of wine – perfect for a solo traveller. On the food side, the light & fluffy savoury pastries I had as a pre-meal snack were delicious. Same goes for the pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce… mmmm…
The following day I made it my mission to see the old town, the Coimbra University (as well as that famous library of theirs), and a few other sights along the way.
The old town is really beautiful with lots of interesting buildings, some of which are super skinny & tall, unlike anything I had seen before.
To take cover from the rain, I quickly popped into what I guess you can call a Portuguese fast-food spot, Nata Lisboa – here I got a beer, 2 mini savoury pies of my choice, a side salad & a pastel de nata for only 4.90 euros. #score
Now some quick facts about the University of Coimbra: Did you know… it’s one of the oldest continually-operating, degree-seeking institutions in the world? And then on top of that, did you know that its Biblioteca Joanina is regarded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world? Well now you do. 😉
When you purchase your University pass, they’ll also give you a map of a few other things to see which includes the University Palace, a Botanical Garden, a Science Museum and more.
I really liked the Botanical Garden…
The palace was pretty cool to see too…
And then St Michael’s Chapel is definitely worth a quick stop en route to the main show, which happens to be that famous library of course…
There are two important things you need to know about the library:
- They only let 60 ppl in at a time with 20min intervals. So when you purchase your University Pass they’ll automatically allocate you to a library group & tell you what time you will be allowed in. As an example – I arrived at the University at 1pm, but could only enter the Library at 15:40. So be prepared for a bit of a wait.
- You are not allowed to take photos… like none.
Was the wait worth it though? Most definitely yes. That library really is incredible to see. Think a magical scene from Harry Potter, but with waaaaay more golden trim.
As a final roam about, I also checked out the riverside. There’s not too much to see here apart from a intriguing giant bear & a multi-coloured bridge they seem to be quite proud of. I do think on a sunnier day this park area would have been much nicer to see though.
With all the site-seeing out of the way, there was only one more thing to do… work my way through a menu of 100 mini sandwiches baby!
Yup, 100 Montaditos is a casual dining spot, very popular with the students, which offers 100 different mini sandwiches ranging from 1 to 2 euros each, a few tapas options & pretty decent wine at only 2 euros a glass.
So yeah, in summary, Coimbra is good for:
- Historical sights – including a beautifully preserved old town, the University of Coimbra & the prettiest library in the world.
- Eating very well, student style.
As mentioned above – a 2 day visit will be the perfect amount of time, but do be prepared to build those calves with lots of steep walking.
To see lots more photos & videos of Coimbra, check out my Instagram account – ctmylove. I created story highlights for each city that I visited during my trip last year which you’ll find on my profile. Scroll through these and select the one called “Coimbra”.
Next stop: Porto!