Centro de Portugal, with its mountains and villages and the seaside and its beaches, is where we find Coimbra, also known as the University City, which sits on the banks of the River Mondego. One of the oldest universities in all of Europe, and the oldest in Portugal, is found in Coimbra, and is certainly worth a visit. The University of Coimbra is a World Heritage site, founded in 1290, and its campus is filled with sites to see, not to mention its buildings, where the first kings of Portugal lived. Stop by the Joanine Library, which houses more than 300,000 works of art dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries; be amazed by the Baroque organ in the Chapel of São Miguel; and climb the tower for 360-degree views of the city.
Back on ground level, the tomb of Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, is found within the Monastery of Santa Cruz, and the Machado de Castro National Museum is a terrific place to be introduced to Coimbra’s history, not to mention its Roman Cryptoporticus. The Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha was completed in 1330 for a small convent of nuns, but its close proximity to the River Mondego made it susceptible to frequent flooding. Over the centuries, a new convent was built in 1677 and the flooded covent left behind. Fast forward a few hundred years and the original convent has been restored and is open to the public, with all its treasures on display.
Spend more time outside at any of the city’s gardens, including Choupal, Quinta das Lágrimas and the Botanical Gardens. And for kids and kids at heart, a visit to Portugal dos Pequenitos, or Portugal for the Little Ones, will delight everyone with its reproductions of main Portuguese monuments in miniature.
Another way to explore Coimbra is from the water; hop aboard a boat trip along the River Mondego for a different perspective. You will also want to make time to cross the river on the Pedro and Ines Footbridge, named for one of the country’s greatest love stories; it’s known locally as the “bridge that doesn’t meet.”
In May, when university students finished their courses and recently graduated, the Queima das Fitas ritual (Burning of the Ribbons) is held. As part of the festivities, students dressed in black capes gather on the steps of the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral) and sing the Coimbra Fado, part of which goes, “Coimbra has more charm in the hour of parting.”
We are fairly certain you won’t have to wait until you leave Coimbra to enjoy the city’s charms, but rather will begin enjoying them as soon as you arrive.