How to see Coimbra in one Day

one day in Coimbra Porta e Torre de Almedina

So, you’ve got just one day in Coimbra and you’re wondering how to spend it? You’ve come to the right place! I’ve been here in Coimbra for three months now as I am studying Portuguese at the University. I can tell you that this city has so much going for it including Churches, Monasteries, an aqueduct and the Oldest University in Portugal. It’s very authentically Portuguese and has tone of the most famous Universities in Europe. In short, I cannot stop raving about this place!

Before we head into your one day Coimbra itinerary, let’s take a look at the history and background of the city.

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A Introduction to Coimbra and a brief History

There are many archaeological structures in Coimbra dating back to the Roman era, when Coimbra was the settlement of Aeminium, including Conimbriga, a site around 8km from Coimbra city centre. The city of Coimbra grew along the banks of the Mondego River.

You might also be surprised to find out that Coimbra was the capital of Portugal from 1139 to 1260, when it transferred to Lisbon. The University is the oldest university in Portugal and as founded in 1290, and so student life is central to the ambiance of the city. You will often see students wearing traditional capes and singing in the streets! The university of Coimbra is one of the more recent additions to the Portuguese world heritage list.

Chapels near the university

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When to visit Coimbra

Coimbra is located inland, approximately half way between Porto and Lisbon. One thing to note about Coimbra is that being relatively far North in Portugal, it doesn’t have the best weather. Basically, don’t expect Coimbra to be like the Algarve! Due to the dismal winter weather (although it’s certainly not as bad as the UK!) it is a good idea to visit in spring or summer. May and September are great times to visit because the weather is warm, but the streets are not too crowded with tourists. I would avoid August as it can be very busy and hot.

There are a few other things to consider when planning your trip to Coimbra. If you want to see the students wearing their capes then make sure of course that you book during term time. If you want to see the graduation festivities including the burning of the ribbons, this takes place during the second semester and starts on the first Friday of May.

Another great time to visit is ‘O Carnaval de Coimbra’ which takes place in February – bring your tutu, head gear, glitter and colourful tights! You might also enjoy the festival of the city and the celebration of the ‘da Rainha Santa Isabel’ (Coimbra’s patron saint) which is usually the 1st-10th July (Julio).

Carnival of Coimbra 2024

How to get to Coimbra

Most international visitors fly into Porto airport and then take a train or Flixbus from Porto. The Flixbus is very cheap and goes direct from Porto airport to Coimbra and takes around an hour and a half. Some people take a few days in Porto and then travel to Coimbra B by train – you can buy your train tickets through the app (you will need to enter your passport number on the booking and carry your passport with you when you travel by train in Portugal).

From Coimbra B where most intercity trains come in, and also where the Rodoviario (bus station) is located, you can walk to downtown Coimbra in around 20 minutes. However, if you prefer (or if you have a lot of luggage) then take a BOLT or an Uber, which are the two reliable taxi apps used in Coimbra.

Manga Cloister Fountains
Manga Cloister Fountains

Where to stay in Coimbra

There are several good mid-range hotel options in Coimbra including the IBIS, Hotel Oslo and Tivoli Coimbra hotel. These all have great WIFI and are well located to explore the city on foot. If you are on a limited budget then I recommend Coimbra Portagem hostel – it’s very basic but great for students and travellers who don’t mind dorms. The location of this hostel is great – just off Largo de Portagem, and it’s a self check in hostel with a luggage store. If you are looking to splash out on something more luxurious then you have to stay at Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra.

How to see Coimbra in one Day – is it enough time?

You will be pleased to know that one day is enough time to see Coimbra as the central city and university areas are walkable. As is the case with many Portuguese cities, prepare yourself for a lot of uphill walking and be sure to wear decent walking boots! Some people even do Coimbra as a day trip from Porto, but I would recommend that you stay over one night there to take the pressure off and also to enjoy some of Coimbra’s nightlife if you fancy it.

If you spend just one day in Coimbra, you is enough time to see:

  • Santa Cruz Church
  • Porta e Torre de Almedina
  • Igreja de S. Bartolomeu
  • Lago de Portagem and the Monument of Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar
  • Quebras Costas
  • Se Cathedral
  • Coimbra University and the Joanina Library
  • Praça de Republica
  • Roman Aqueduct
  • Jardim Botânico
Coimbra Portugal

Coimbra in one day – Itinerary

This one day itinerary is walkable and easy to do in one day. There are just a few considerations to make when planning your timings. First of all, decide if you would like to book a walking tour or do this in your own time and at your own pace. Walking tours go from Lago de Portagem at 10am most days (get there around 10 mins before and they might ask you to do an online booking). There is also a self guided walking tour and a University of Coimbra walking tour available here. Remember that if you want to go inside the Joanina Library, you should definitely book that in advance as it may sell out – they only allow a limited number of visitors in at a time and it is tickets only (book it here).

Santa Cruz Church

Start your journey at Santa Cruz Church, but before you commence your sightseeing, why not grab yourself a traditional sweet Portuguese breakfast with a coffee? I highly recommend cafe Viscode and you can see my video of the sweets and cakes here on my YouTube. A pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart) and ‘um galao’ (milky coffee pronounced gal-ow) is a great way to start the day! There is also the Santa Cruz cafe next door to Santa Cruz Church, which is a lovely little cafe that was actually built in one of the chapels.

Pastelarias – Cafe Visconde, Cafe Santa Cruz and Pastelaria Briosa are my favourite cafes to grab a coffee and enjoy some of the local sweet delicacies of Coimbra!

Don’t just admire Santa Cruz Church from the outside, make sure that you go inside. The Church is free, and there is an additional charge to go into the monastery and cloisters, which is well worth it – this is something important in Coimbra and shouldn’t be missed. The Church dates back to 1131, but most of what you see now is from a major restoration in the 1500s, which followed the Manueline (Portuguese Gothic) style of the time (hence the beautiful facade).

Santa Cruz Church Coimbra
Santa Cruz Church, Coimbra

Inside you will find the walls decorated with beatiful azulejos (blue and white Portuguese tiles), although some have faded over time and due to flooding.

The monastery is important to Coimbra as it is the reason why the University was founded here – because Coimbra belonged to the order of Saint Augustine and it was an important medieval school. Also don’t miss the baroque organ and the 17th century sacristy, which includes paintings by Grão Vasco and Cristóvão de Figueiredo.

Porta e Torre de Almedina and Igreja de S. Tiago

Walking down the main street from Santa Cruz in the direction of the river, you will pass two important buildings – Porta e Torre de Almedina (the Roman Arch) and Igreja de S. Bartolomeu (Bartholomeu’s Church).

Tiago Church

Porta e Torre de Almedina is the ‘city gate’ that was built in the 12th century. But, don’t go through the arch just yet, that will come later as there are one or two more things to see before you head up to the Cathedral and University!

one day in Coimbra Porta e Torre de Almedina

Igreja de São Tiago is found just off the main street. It was built in the Romanesque period during the reign of King D. Sancho I at the end of the 12th Century. What is interesting about this Church is the way the back of the Church was amended or slightly ‘cut off’ to allow for the main pedestrian street to be expanded.

Lago de Portagem and the Monument of Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar

Lago de Portagem is one of the main squares in Coimbra. The central monument is of Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar (1792-1884), who a doctor of science from thee University of Coimbra and also a former Prime Minister of Portugal. This monument is the starting point of most tourist walking tours in Coimbra. Surrounding the square are numerous bars, shops and restaurants – it’s a very vibrant place to be!

Lago de Portagem
Lago de Portagem and the Monument of Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar

Quebras Costas

Now, it’s time to head uphill towards the university area, and stop to admire a few things on the way! You should go back to the Roman Gate, go through it and start to walk uphill, up the stairs known as ‘Quebras Costas’. You will see a few interesting statues on the way up, dedicated to ‘Fado’, the traditional Portuguese music.

Fado Statue Coimbra

Lunch: There are a few great lunch spots on Quebra Costas, including Tapas Nas Costas (if you like tapas – I recommend the Croquetas de Pato), Quebra o Galho and Medina Bar (Traditional Portuguese menu del dia for around €12). Oh, and don’t forget to stop for an ice cream at Gelataria COSÌ.

Se Cathedral

Walking up towards the University, as you come to the top of Quebras Costas steps, you will be greeted with the stunning Sé Cathedral of Coimbra (Sé Velha because it is the old Cathedral). It is a fantastic example of Romanesque architecture. They started to build Sé Cathedral in the late 12th century, shortly after Afonso Henriques declared himself the King of Portugal, following his victory over the Moors at the Battle of Ourique in 1139. It took several decades to build and the cloister was added at a later date in the 13th Century (see: The Cathedral’s highlights include several gothic tombs and the 16th century altar piece by Olivier de Gand and Jean d’Ypres, so make sure that you go inside!

Coimbra Se Cathedral

Coimbra University and the Joanina Library

You simply cannot visit Coimbra and not see the University – it’s a bit like missing Oxford University buildings when visiting Oxford! Remember that there will be a bit of an uphill walk, so take it slowly and pace yourself! Please be sure to check out the statues representing language, Philosophy, History and Poetry outside my building – Faculdade de Letras.

Faculdade de letras
Statues outside the Faculdade de Letras, University of Coimbra

Also, here are the other things that you should not miss while visiting Coimbra University…

  • Statue of the goddess Athena outside the Faculdade de Medicina.
  • The ‘iron gate’ – students tie their ties and robes to this as part of their graduation!
  • The famous Escadas Monumentais – monumental staircase (imagine doing this every morning!)
  • Tower of the University of Coimbra – with it’s clock and bells that signify the schedule of University life.
  • Sala dos Capelos, the main room of the University of Coimbra,
  • St. Michael’s Chapel – a stunning example of Manueline style.
  • Machado de Castro National Museum – a Bishop’s Palace since the second half of the 12th century and a Museum since 1911 (
  • The 18th century Botanical Garden.
  • The famous Joanine Library – the highlight of Coimbra with its elegant columns, Baroque style and its extensive book collection.
University of Coimbra Portugal
University of Coimbra, Portugal

One of my top tips is to book the Joanine library in advance. They only let a limited number of visitors in, and you don’t want to miss out because it is fully booked, especially in peak season (summertime). If you want to be sure to get in the Joanine library, and also combine it with a University of Coimbra guided tour, then you can book it here on Get your Guide.

Praça de Republica

Praça de Republica, or just simply ‘Praça’ to the locals, is central to university life and the nightlife of Coimbra. There is a main roundabout surrounded by cobble stones streets (Calçadas) and plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants. You will also find here the famous Jardim da Sereia, the garden of the mermaid, which was built in 1723. There’s even a theatre, a cinema and an American style Diner!

Acueducto de San Sebastián

Don’t miss the aqueduct of Coimbra (Acueducto de San Sebastián), which can be seen from near the bottom of the Monumental Staircase (Escadas Monumentais). This stone built aqueduct was built between 1568-1570 on the site of the old Roman aqueduct, and what visitors see is known as Acos do Jardim.

Coimbra Aquaduct

Jardim Botânico

When you are in the area of the Aqueduct, make sure that you don’t miss the Botanic Garden of the University of Coimbra. It was created in 1772, and has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2013.

Where to eat and drink in Coimbra

After all that, you are really ready for a proper Portuguese meal, and here are some of my top recommendations…

  • Toca do Gato – Traditional Portuguese home cooked food including the specialisty Octopus caserole served potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.
  • Solar de Bacalhau – If you want to try the Portuguese codfish and like bechemel sauce, then order the gorgeous Bacalau a bras.
  • Ze Manel dos Ossos – One of the best restaurants in Coimbra offering the delicacy of wild boar and beans!
Solar de Bacalhau
Eating fish at Solar de Bacalhau

And now for the bars….

  • Bodega Brasileiro – Brasilian Karaoke bar down the side of Santa Cruz Church.
  • Beers – Riverside bar with great views of the Mondego.
  • Bar Quebra – Lively bar on Quebra Costas with a DJ on weekends.
  • Pinga Amor – A ROCK’N’ROLL “den” in Coimbra and number #1 on Tripadvisor for bars in Coimbra
  • Whats up Doc? – Hardcore student nights if you want to embrace the University atmosphere!
  • A Tasquinha – Stop off at this cute traditional bar on Quebra Costas for your shot of Ginjinha!

Further Reading on Portugal

I hope that you enjoyed this article on how to see Coimbra in one day. If you are interested in learning more about travel in Portugal, then you might also like the following articles….