5 things to do in Coimbra, Portugal

As Coronavirus rages across the world, I’m going to continue my armchair travel by recapping on past trips and sharing them all with you. Of course, travel isn’t a priority right now, but it’s also nice to take a few minutes to transport to another place and brighten the spirits.

So, today we head to Portugal. I’ve already posted about trips to the much more visited Lisbon and Sintra, but Coimbra is also a great option if you’re visiting the country. Coimbra is an ancient university town, situated right on the Mondego river and was once Portugal’s capital city. Coimbra is about a 2 hour drive, or 1.5hr train journey, from Lisbon so is really easy to combine with a trip to the current capital.

So, why should you visit? Well, here’s my top 5 reasons….

ONE. The University

Coimbra university was founded in 1290. 1290?! That’s a whole 400 years older than Harvard, older than the discovery of gravity, older than clocks and wayyy older than vodka (what did all those students even drink on their nights out?!)

The university is amazing, with lots of beautiful colonnaded courtyards with mosaics and lovely views out to the town and the river.

View to Coimbra university on the hill
Courtyard at the university
Entrance to the university’s archaeological department

TWO. The Monastery of Santa Clara

This is a 13th Century convent which was abandoned in 1677 due to recurrent flooding and eventually covered in silt. It’s now a beautifully excavated site, and has a nice museum and a lovely patio outside with an on-site restaurant which makes a lovely spot to watch the world go by. From the Monastery, you can also walk to the gardens of Quinta das Lagrimas.

Monastery ruins
Gardens of Quinta das Lagrimas

THREE. The churches

There are a number of interesting and picturesque churches in Coimbra including Igreja de Santiago which was consecrated in 1206, and Igreja de Santa Cruz which is home to royal tombs (including the first two Kings of Portugal!).

Igreja de Santiago 
Igreja de Santa Cruz

FOUR. River cruise

To see Coimbra from another perspective, I recommend doing it from a boat. O Basofias run boat trips on the Mondego river and let you see the lovely sites of Coimbra from the water. It’s also a perfect, peaceful way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Views of Coimbra from the water

FIVE. A trip to the Roman ruins of Conimbriga

The above can all be done at a leisurely pace in 2 days. If you have another day, and are interested in history, then you can take a day trip from Coimbra by a really easy public bus (or taxi) in about 20 minutes to the Roman ruins at Conimbriga.

The Roman houses here are spectacular with beautiful mosaics that look like carpets! The site was classified a National Monument in 1910 and is one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portgual.

Beautiful mosaics
And more!

And that finishes up the top 5! Coimbra is definitely well worth a visit if you’re in Portugal. We spent 3 days there at a nice, relaxed place, though you could see the main sites in a day if you wanted to. I also really recommend the restaurant Passaporte-Lounge Terrace if you’re looking for somewhere to eat – this was by far and away our favourite.

Thank you for reading and fingers crossed we’re all out of quarantine/social distancing/isolation soon. I can’t wait to start planning a trip again!

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