Coimbra - Historic University City

Knowing that we needed to eventually make our way from Porto to Lisbon for our flight home, we looked at many options of places to stop along the way. We had already briefly explored Aveiro during our sparkling wine tour (click here for our related blog post), and places like Nazare and Peniche or inland to the mountains would be best explored with a car. Given that we wanted to stick with public transportation and avoid having to rent a car, and based on popular suggestion, we chose to make a several day stop in the small historic city of Coimbra.

One of the World’s Oldest Universities

Coimbra is the fourth largest city in Portugal with a population of just under 144,000 within the city limits. It is most known for the University of Coimbra, which was established in 1290 in Lisbon, but eventually found its way back to Coimbra (after several moves back and forth) permanently in 1537. Impressively, this university boasts the title of one of the world’s oldest universities in continuous operation, and in 2013 was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. 

This video is of the main square of the University of Coimbra.

Our college campus certainly didn't look like this one!
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The tower was erected around 1730.
One of the places we visited was the University of Coimbra Joanine Library. It is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Photos are not permitted, so the above is a photo from the universty web site -

University of Coimbra Botanical Garden

This was one of the most peaceful gardens that we have visited. We understand why it is a common place for students to relax and go on dates.

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In the background you can see a portion of a 16th century Sao Sebastiao Aqueduct.
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Beautiful even in winter.

Free Walking Tour – Recommended!

To get a better understanding of the history of Coimbra we opted to take a free walking tour through Our guide, Thibault, was terrific and pointed out many things we would have missed just walking around ourselves. 

“Free” walking tour is a bit of a misnomer. The idea with most free walking tours is that at the end you tip the guide an amount that you deem appropriate.

An original gate from the wall that surrounded the city.
12th Century Cathedral of Coimba (the "Old Cathedral")
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13th Century Cloister at the "Old Cathedral"
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Behind the Old Cathedral is a 1,000-year-old olive tree.
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This statue represents the women who used to carry water from the lower part of Coimbra to the upper.
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Such beautiful tile throughout Portugal. Quick fact: Much of the tile was originally manufactured in Italy when Portugal was a wealthier nation.

Fado de Coimbra

One evening we went to the Fado ao Centro ( to see a live performance and learn some history behind this Portuguese music (Video/audio recording was prohibited – sorry!). Fado is different depending on where you hear it. In Coimbra it is more melancholy and somber centering around student life, political matters or trying to serenade a special someone. Unlike other areas of Portugal, such as Lisbon, Fado in Coimbra is strictly sung by men.

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The singer is a current University of Coimbra student. The two string players are former students. Fado ao Centro is a cultural center committed to promoting Fado from Coimbra.
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This gentleman is playing a Portuguese guitar.

Some people only see Coimbra as a day trip, but we feel there is much too much to see in just a day. We ended up staying three nights, which we felt was perfect.

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