Day 6. A day in Coimbra, Portugal

We were interested to visit Coimbra as it was the medieval capital of Portugal for just over 100 years from 1145-1255 when King Afonso moved his court to Lisbon.  The city is also home to one of Europe’s oldest universities.

Campanhã station, Porto
Campanhã station

Trains from Porto to Coimbra depart from Campanhã station which is on the main north-south Lisbon to Porto line.  Discounted mobile tickets can be purchased a minimum of five days in advance with confirmed seat reservations on specific trains and these were €17 each.  We chose to take the 10.38 service from Porto which arrived into Coimbra B at 12.00.  This station only handles long distance trains and so we then needed to board a shuttle service into Coimbra A taking a further five minutes.

Coimbra Station
Coimbra Station

Coimbra station has an attractive façade and is located in the city centre close to the river and the pretty Largo da Portagem with its pavement cafes, banks and other businesses.  This small square was once the gateway to Coimbra for those arriving into the city by boat.

Largo da Portagem, Coimbra
Largo do Portagem, Coimbra

The square leads onto the Rua Ferreira Borges, Coimbra’s main pedestrianised street with its diamond patterned mosaic paving.  It’s a pleasant place for a spot of window shopping and leads gently upwards to the Torre de Almedina archway which marks the entrance to the old town and is a lasting reminder of the old city walls.

Rua Ferreira Borges, Coimbra
Rua Ferreira Borges, Coimbra

Coimbra is full of steep hills so come prepared with a pair of sensible shoes.  Continuing through the archway the slope becomes increasingly steep as it winds its way along cobblestone lanes to the Cidade Alta.  We did notice a small bus pass by, so this might be an option on a hot day or for the less energetic.

Torre de Almedina archway, Coimbra
The Torre de Almedina archway to the high town

The city is divided into two distinct sections, the Cidade Alta (high town) and Baixa (lower town). The medieval city of Coimbra was divided between the classes with the nobility and clergy residing at the highest part of the city whilst the poorest inhabited districts close to the river which was subject to frequent flooding.

Views of the Mondego River in Coimbra
Views of the Mondego river from the clifftop

The path eventually brought us to the gates of the University Botanical Garden but before entering we gazed over the stone wall at the panoramic views spread out below along the Mondego river.

Bamboo forest, Coimbra University Botanical Gardens
Bamboo forest, Coimbra University Botanical Gardens

We then wandered into the Botanical Gardens which offer free admission and was founded in 1772 for the medical and history faculties of the university.  The gardens cover 13 hectares and are divided into two sections.

Coimbra University Botanical Gardens
Terraced sections in the botanical gardens

We decided to start with a stroll through the woodland gardens and the spectacular bamboo forest.  The path led steeply downwards and although we had expected to loop back up along another trail we had to retrace our steps as some work was being carried out ahead blocking our way.

Coimbra University Botanical Gardens
The formal gardens

Having returned to the main entrance gates we turned in the opposite direction to view the formal gardens which are of a neo-classical design with stone fountains and sculptures. Flowerbeds are laid out in a geometric design and it’s a delightful place to sit and relax on one of the park benches.

Coimbra University Botanical Gardens
Ornate stonework terraces in the gardens

We had hoped to go inside the tropical greenhouse which was constructed in 1856 and is one of the oldest iron buildings in the country.  It contains both tropical and sub-tropical plants but we could only peer through the windows as it was closed for renovation.

Aqueduto de Saö Sebastian, Coimbra
Aqueduto de Saö Sebastian running alongside the gardens

The Aqueduto de Saö Sebastian runs along the edge of the gardens and we passed this on our way up yet more steep slopes and 125 further steps to reach the University of Coimbra.

University of Coimbra entrance gate
University of Coimbra entrance gate

The university stands high on a hill and is set around a former royal palace where Portugal’s first kings once resided.  The Alcaçova Palace was donated to the university by King Joāo III in 1537.  This historic part of the university has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013.

University of Coimbra
University of Coimbra

We entered through the main gateway which was the former entrance to the palace.  Its vast courtyard is an absolute delight and is surrounded on three sides with magnificent buildings with a viewing terrace on the other overlooking the city below.

University of Coimbra Faculty of Law
University of Coimbra Faculty of Law

Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds but tickets are required for tours of its stunning library, grand ceremonial hall and to climb the 180 steps up its exquisite clock tower.  If these had been open, it would have certainly been a marvellous experience but it wasn’t to be on this occasion and we happily settled for viewing the exterior instead.

Clock tower, University of Coimbra
Clock tower, University of Coimbra

The Biblioteca Joanina is a magnificent Baroque library containing over 200,000 books.  It’s also home to a colony of bats who are welcome to call the library home as they help to protect the books from insects.

Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra
Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra

We took a different but equally steep route back downhill following some steps to one side of the library.  All this walking called for a late lunch and we soon found a table near the cathedral for a refreshing glass of beer and a sandwich.  The Sé Nova (new cathedral) of Baroque design is 500 years old and was formerly a Jesuit temple.

Coimbra Cathedral
Coimbra Cathedral

Following our short rest we returned to the Mondego riverside for a stroll across the Pedro e Inês bridge.  Whilst sitting at the pavement cafe we’d noticed dark clouds gathering but as we crossed the bridge we heard loud claps of thunder and the sky became inky black.  Thankfully, it hadn’t started raining so we continued on our way.

Pedro e Inês bridge, Coimbra
On the Pedro e Inês bridge

The footbridge was constructed in 2007 and is formed of two cantilevered halves which are slightly offset in the middle to form a zigzag shape.  The brightly coloured balustrade is made from sheets of yellow, pink, blue and green glass designed in an irregular pattern.

Views across the river to Coimbra
Views across the river to Coimbra

On reaching the south bank we hurried along through the riverside park as it was just starting to rain.  There were excellent views looking back across the river to Coimbra’s old town with its buildings seemingly clinging to the hillside and reminiscent of Porto where we were staying.

Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha, Coimbra
The Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha

There was insufficient time to visit the Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha which sits on the south bank of the river.  It was abandoned in 1647 after the building suffered from repeated flooding by winter rains.  The nuns moved to a new building on higher ground where they founded the Santa Clara-a-Nova convent.  In 1995 the submerged level of the old convent was excavated and restored as a museum.

Santa Clara bridge, Coimbra
Santa Clara bridge, Coimbra

We returned to the station across the older Santa Clara bridge and as we were a little early for our 17.21 train we took refuge in a nearby bar as the rain had become torrential.

Sign for the Caminho de Santiago in Coimbra
Sign for the Caminho de Santiago

Back on the train to Porto we were serenaded by music as some girls sitting behind us were playing karaoke music loudly on their phones and singing along to it to a mixed reception of fellow passengers, so there was little chance of a short nap.  Fortunately the rain storm had passed by the time we returned to Porto’s Campanhã station from where we took the metro back to Bolhão less than five minutes from our hotel.  It had been a lovely day out and if time allows on a visit to Porto I would definitely recommend adding Coimbra to your itinerary.

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43 thoughts on “Day 6. A day in Coimbra, Portugal

  1. We rested for a couple of days in Coimbra while walking the Camino. It is an adorable little city and I prefer the Coimbra fado which is more lilting. Incredible food when you are adventurous and pop into neighborhood hole in the wall places where only locals eat.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favo Portuguese cities. Been there few years ago, and returned in September. Good vibes, narrow streets, huge students population, beautiful architecture… . Coimbra has it all. And too many steep hills indeed, too many. lol.Greetz Stef

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow! Pity that we didn’t know that, the fact that we are traveling in the same area. I traveled 23 days through central /north Portugal, from braganca to Caldas da Rainha. Looking forward to ur next blogposts :). Gr Stef

        Liked by 1 person

  3. If you ever return, Marion, be sure to make it a time when the University buildings are open. They are a fabulous experience, as is the Cathedral, which you pass on your way up the hill. It was a bit grey and damp on our visit to the Botanic gardens so we didn’t linger long, but there is certainly lots of potential in the city. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment Jo. I’d love to return sometime in the future to tour the university buildings but it was still nice to be able to appreciate them from the exterior on this occasion. Hope you are doing well and looking forward to seeing your family at Christmas.

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  4. Coimbra is a wonderful town. We had two nights and nearly three full days there last year. We could have spent more time. The university is special wth the university exhibits fabulous. The food is great and incredibly reasonably priced. What a wonderful place – once again thanks for the memories

    Liked by 3 people

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