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10 reasons to (re)visit Coimbra

For those who have never been to Coimbra and for those who are planning to come (again) we give you 10 reasons to visit Coimbra.

You will find yourself excited by a rich historical past, intense academic experiences, breathtaking architecture, delicious gastronomy &pastry and even, stories of love and longing.

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One of the world’s oldest, the university of Coimbra hides what is recognized as one of the world’s finest libraries. A gift of king João V in the early 1700s, it is filled with 300,000 ancient books displayed around an extravagant display of gilt. Also golden is much of Capela de São Miguel, an ornate chapel with a brightly painted ceiling, while another room that may be visited is the Sala dos Capelos (Graduates’ Hall), once used as an examination room and decorated with portraits of Portugal’s kings.


In ancient times, Coimbra had a roughly rounded Wall which was probably erected in the roman period. This Wall was alternated by doors and defensive towers throughout its length. Even though it didn’t come down to us today, there are still traces of it, which help us to imagine how it used to be. The most well-known trace is the Tower and Door of Almedina, the main point of entrance in the Wall, and just before, the Door of Barbacã, that strengthened the defense of the first one. There is also the Tower of Anto – since the famous poet António Nobre lived there – and which today hosts the Centre of the Fado and Guitar of Coimbra; and the Tower of Belcouce, embedded by the old building of the Civil Governement. Recently, the City Hall recovered a part of the Wall (at Couraça de Lisboa) which is lit up at night to remember us about our history..


The Quinta das Lágrimas was the scene of the tragic love story between D. Pedro and D. Inês de Castro – the most famous lovers of Portugal that lived a real-life “Romeo and Juliet” story. King Afonso IV forbade his son from marrying Inês because of her Spanish origins, but they married in secret and the king had her murdered in 1355. The Fonte dos Amores (Love Fountain) is a very romantic place, the favourite spot for lovers. In Fonte das Lágrimas (Tears’ Fountain) flow the tears and blood of Inês, – a story supported by a reddish algae on the bottom of the fountain. The gardens of the Quinta das Lágrimas are rich in species from all over the world, like sequoias, Himalayan cedars, Ficus macrophylla, bamboos, among others.


This is the name given to the street that connects the Almedina Arch with the Old Cathedral. Historically, it was the main route for goods’ transportation and for people that came from the Downtown / Mondego River to the Uptown. Nowadays, the old bumpy path was softened by the construction of stairs.

The Quebra-Costas encloses two important statues: the “Tricana of Coimbra”, a praise to the women of the city (“tricana” is the name given to the typical women of Coimbra), and the monument that pays tribute to the Fado and Guitar of Coimbra.


On the left bank of the Mondego we can find both religious houses - the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha and the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova - famous for their connection to the Holy Queen Elizabeth, for the production of confectionery (one of its famous creations is the Santa Clara’s Pastries), and for the “Abadessadas”, the afternoons of serenades that the university students offered to the nuns in exchange for sweets.

The Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha was founded by D. Mor Dias in the 13th century, and later, it became administrated by the Holy Queen Elizabeth of Aragon, who decided to build the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova in 1649, after repeated river floods in the first one. The original tomb of the queen, chosen by herself, is still maintained here.


Coimbra has a strong academic tradition, thus being often called the “City of Students”. The presence of the university in the city allowed for the construction of dynamics and idiosyncrasies that rooted in the college community, and make the academic years an intense and remarkable experience.

The university students follow the “Praxe”, a code of traditions and practices followed by the students, and it’s characterized by the latin term “Dura Praxis Sed Praxis” (“the praxis is hard, but it’s the praxis”). In May, there’s the Queima das Fitas, the farewell of the academic year. By then, there’s the Monumental Serenade on the stairway of the Old Cathedral, and the Parade of Queima, where the students march in floats and the finalists wear top hats and canes.

Ths is one of the best oportunities to listen to Fado, here called Balada or Canção de Coimbra in representation of the music of the city and students, a quite different style from the Fado of Lisbon. The Fado from Coimbra was born in the college community, receiving influences from the places where the students came from and addressing topics like love, longing and the academic life. It was also used as a song against the government during the dictatorship of Estado Novo. The leading singers of Fado were Adriano Correia de Oliveira, José Afonso, Luís Goes, António de Portugal and Edmundo Bettencourt.

There are many places where we can listen to Fado in the city centre at night, and if you’re lucky, you might find a group of students performing a serenade.


Located 15km far from Coimbra, Conimbriga is the most well-preserved Roman archaeological site in Portugal and one of the ten best and less well-known ancient ruins in the world.

The Romans might have established themselves here in 138 B.C., during the period of government of the Emperor Augustus, and stayed until the ruthless Suevi invasion in the 5th century.

They built a city over time with all the necessary infrastructures: residential buildings, hot springs, swimming pool, forum, wall, cemetery, and a basilica. The manor houses like the House of Fountains, the House of Cantaber or the House of the Swastika, draw our attention with mosaics with various motifs: geometrical, mythological (as the famous Minotaur in Labyrinth), or daily-life scenes. In the impressive House of Fountains there’s a wonderful peristyle with garden and, with a 0,50€ coin, it’s possible to make it come alive with a set of 500 working fountains that keep the original hydraulic structure.


A vast golden sand beach, less than 30 minutes away from Coimbra, Figueira da Foz is known by its importance as a port town (the regional products used to be transported from here, and during the French Invasions, the Wellington troops disembarked in Figueira), and by the casino that attracted the finest bourgeoisie, Figueira da Foz holds some of the most popular beaches: Buarcos, Gala, Claridade, Costa de Lavos e Cabedelo.On your way there don't fail to stop in Tentugal, a village known by their unique conventual cakes.Heading north through the coastline, we reach Quiaios, Tocha and Mira Beaches – fishermen lands, where you can expect to taste excellent fish and seafood.


Start with the beauty of the landscape, whose main feature is the Buçaco Mountain, a magical place that was transformed into a monastic retreat isolated from the rest of the world. You can still see today, dotted around the mountain, the chapels and sanctuaries which form the Stations of the Cross and can be visited by following one of the trails of the National Forest. There are also great number of lakes and stone crosses to visitors, where you can find memorable places such as Vale dos Fetos (Fern Valley) and the Fonte Fria (Cold Spring). Another unforgettable picture will certainly be that of the Palace Hotel, emerging from amongst the leafy vegetation. Built in the late 19th century in the Neo-Manueline style for the last Portuguese Kings, the palace occupies part of the Santa Cruz Convent, of which the cloisters and a few cells still survive.

On the western slope of the Buçaco Mountain, are the Luso Thermal Baths, whose spring supplies one of the most popular table mineral waters. The spa dates back to the late 19th century, although the therapeutic properties of the water had already been known a century earlier, and it preserves the original buildings which, together with innovative spa facilities, make it an exceptional space of well-being.

The wines and the gastronomy also contribute to the reputation of this region called “Bairrada”. Roast suckling pig is the most famous speciality and attracts many people who come just to taste it. It ideally goes with the white, red or sparkling wines that are produced here.


Not too far from Coimbra, there are several villages worth a road trip, even a troubled one. In common, these villages keep their traditions, gastronomy and crafts from ancient times. Their nested houses – made of shale, quartzite and slate – as well as their narrow and winding streets, configure a whole fitted into the mountain – an architecture that mirrors the community philosophy underlying this way of living. Be sure to try typical dishes like chanfana (goat stew).

Scattered all over the Açor and Lousã Mountains, surrounded by nature in pure condition, these small cosmos have a very particular mystique. Don’t hold back and take a break from the city in one of the villages of the Açor Mountain (e.g. Piódão, Fajão, Benfeita) or in Lousã Mountain (e.g. Talasnal, Candal, Cerdeira).


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