Is Coimbra worth visiting?

Is Coimbra worth visiting

I’ve been here in Coimbra for three months now, enjoying the city and studying Portuguese at the University. A lot of people wanting to come to Portugal ask me ‘Is Coimbra worth visiting?’ I think that you can tell from my face in the featured photo that it absolutely is! OK, I am biased! I am here as a student and living a fantastic life of eating, drinking and taking part in the celebrations. But, in all seriousness, Coimbra is a brilliant city to visit if you have time to add on an additional destination as well as Porto and Lisbon. That being said, if you are a first time visitor to Portugal and have limited time, prioritise Porto and Lisbon first. But I would really recommend a two week trip to Portugal, which would allow you to see all three of these destinations and more!

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Welcome to Coimbra!

Coimbra is located further inland away from the coast and it takes around an hour and a half to get to by bus from Porto. Coimbra is home to the oldest University in Portugal, and the students can often be seen in the streets celebrating and embracing their traditions, particularly around graduation time in May. They city grew up around the Mondego river, and this is glorious to walk along in the summer months.

Historically – and this might surprise you – it was actually once the capital city of Portugal in medieval times. The patron Saint of Coimbra is Queen Isabel, the wife of Afonso V, who was an advocate for the poor and repressed.

Is Coimbra worth visiting? Absolutely!

Coimbra feels much more authentically Portuguese to me than Lisbon and Porto, which are very international cities. Coimbra is the fourth largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto, and Braga. As it is a little smaller, it is manageable and easy to get around on foot. The city feels safe to me and I would recommend it to any solo traveller. There is a great deal to see and do in Coimbra including the Church of Santa Cruz, Lago de Portagem (main square), Coimbra University buildings (including the Joanine library) and Se Velha Cathedral. If you have time to cross the bridge to the other side of the Mondego river, you will find two very interesting Monasteries – Santa Clara e Velha and Santa Clara e Nova.

Coimbra Portugal
Is Coimbra worth visiting? Absolutely!

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At night, the small quaint streets come to life with student and family bars and restaurants. Coimbra is a great place to try local cuisine including the Portuguese codfish – Bacalhau! You can also stop at one of the local ‘Ginjinha bars’ for a quick cherry tipple!

Hopefully, you can tell from this that Coimbra is absolutely worth visiting. So, what is the best way to get there?

How to get to Coimbra

Most people take the bus or train from Porto to Coimbra which takes around an hour and a half. The train is slightly quicker (1 hour and 10 mins) and more comfortable, but it is a bit more expensive. Trains go from Porto Campanha to Coimbra B (around 15-20 mins walk from Coimbra city centre). You can book trains via the website or the app ( If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can book your Flixbus here. It works out cheaper if you can book slightly in advance.

Is Coimbra worth visiting? Lago de Portagem
Is Coimbra worth visiting? Lago de Portagem

How long to spend in Coimbra?

Although it is possible to see Coimbra in one day, I would really encourage you to spend two to three days there to truly enjoy the city, and see all the sites as well as soaking up the atmosphere. Two days would give you time to explore both sides of the river and also to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife of Coimbra, which you would miss out on if you came for a day trip from Porto. Saying that, if you are pushed for time and only have a day to spend here, it’s a good idea to join a Coimbra walking tour. This way, a local will show you the main sites quickly and efficiently.

Pros of Coimbra

There are so many pros of visiting Coimbra that it is hard to list them! The student atmosphere, river Mondego, Churches, Monasteries and amazing food and drink are all good places to start!

Great University and Student Life which adds Vibrancy to the city

Coimbra is home to the oldest university in Portugal and is a great place to study. With Coimbra being the oldest University in Portugal, you will see many university traditions being observed – students often wear ‘Harry Potter’ like capes, and sing in the streets, particularly around graduation. And what comes with students? Cheap bars of course! Yes, you will be pleased to know that there are plenty of those!

University of Coimbra Portugal

The River Mondego and surrounding park areas

The city of Coimbra grew up around the river Mondego, which gives the city a relaxing feel and lovely views. Parque Verde do Mondego surrounds the river banks and is great for dog walking, cycling and riding the scooters (trotinetas!) Also, there is a grass beach on the other side of the river and a sandy fluvial beach a bit further down the river (take an Uber or Bolt taxi).

Mondego River
Views of the Mondego River

Great food including Fresh Fish and Cakes/Sweets

Coimbra is a great place for eating out. Some of my favourite restaurants include Solar de Bacalhau (speciality codfish dishes), Toca do Gato (Traditional Portuguese home cooked food) and Ze Manel dos Ossos (including the delicacy of wild boar!) There are also plenty of pastelarias where you can try local pastries such as the ‘Pastel de Santa Clara’. My favourite pastelarias include Briosa, Cafe Visconde and Pastelaria Venus (in Celas).

Solar de Bacalhau

Good and cheap drinks

As I’ve mentioned, Coimbra is a great student town, and the prices of beers are really reasonable. In fact, in most places that I go to, beer is cheaper than water! You can buy a finho (small beer) for just €1-€1,50 in Coimbra. On a Monday, we saw a promotion of 10 small beers for €7,50, would you believe?!?! You can get a nice glass of wine for €2-4.

Some of my favourite bars in Coimbra are Beers (along the riverfront), Bar Quebra (on Quebra Costas) and Bodega Brasileira (a Brasilian Karaoke bar down the side of Santa Cruz church).

Here are my top recommendations for local drinks that you must try when you are in Coimbra…

  • Beer – Sagres and Superbock. I really like the Superbock tango (fruit beer!)
  • Douro Valley wine – Vinho Tinto (any of these will be good but I usually just go for the house red, which is cheap and never disappoints!)
  • Ginjinha – The cherry flavoured shot that is popular in Coimbra (old ladies sometimes have it with their breakfast!!!)
  • Beirao Licor – Originally from Beira region but available in Coimbra, it is made from a double distillation of seeds and herbs. Beirao is the most consumed alcoholic spirit in Portugal!

Amazing Churches and Monasteries

If you are a templeseeker and history buff like me, then you will LOVE Coimbra! The city is full of really interesting Churches and monasteries. Don’t miss Santa Cruz Church and Se Cathedral. Both of these are worth paying to go inside. Here’s a brief outline of the best religious buildings to visit in Coimbra…

  • Santa Cruz Church and Monastery
  • Church of Tiago
  • Se Cathedral
  • Mosterio Santa Clara e Velha
  • Mosterio Santa Clara e Nova
Santa Cruz Church Coimbra
Santa Cruz Church, Coimbra

Safe for Solo travellers

I think that I may have already mentioned this, but Coimbra is a safe place for solo travellers. I have been here for three months so far and nothing bad or untoward has happened. the locals are very friendly and always look out for you. A friend of mine left her mobile phone on the bus, and a local called her daughter and got it back to her the next day! I feel very safe walking around the city alone, even at night.

That being said, don’t do anything silly like flash your cash in the streets or walk home alone completely drunk! This goes for anywhere that you travel!

Cons of Coimbra

Although I totally love Coimbra, there are one or two downsides that I should mention. If you have limited time in your schedule and it’s your first Portugal trip, you probably want to forego Coimbra in favour of Lisbon and Porto. Also consider that a bit of basic Portuguese will help you in the smaller Portuguese cities. Remember that Coimbra can be cold in the winter and the roads can get slippy when wet.

Your Schedule may not allow time for Coimbra

Coimbra is a smaller city and slightly more inland. If you have a limited number of days in Portugal, such as 3-5 days, then you will probably need to prioritize Lisbon and Porto. These main cities are massive, and so you don’t want to rush them and miss things, or exhaust yourself. If you have limited time this trip then stick to the main cities, and add Coimbra to your Portugal itinerary next time!

Occasionally you may experience the Language Barrier

Although rare, you may find the language barrier more of an issue here in Coimbra than you would say in Porto or Lisbon. However, there are enough people speaking English here for someone to usually help you out. Also, this is a good thing if you want to learn Portuguese. Duolingo is a great place to start – it’s an app for your phone that helps you to practice phrases. Just remember that this is Brasilian Portuguese rather than European, so you might find some subtle differences. Practice Portuguese is another great website for learning Portuguese online.

Poor weather in the winter months

Don’t go to Coimbra in February expecting it to be like the Algarve in summer! Sadly, the weather isn’t fantastic in Coimbra all year round – remember that it is quite far North. Between November and February, expect cool temperatures, rain and possibly cold nights. It starts to warm up pretty quickly by early April and the weather in summer is fantastic.

Lack of Central Heating in some accommodation

This really follows on from my last point. There is rarely central heating in Coimbra apartments and so you should pack pyjamas and request an extra blanket for cold nights. Many apartments and Air BnB’s have electric heaters available, but they only give you them if you ask – if you’re cold, make sure that you do! Also, some Air BnB’s in Coimbra ask you to pay your own electric bill (metered) particularly if you use a heater, so allow an additional €30-50 for this just in case and check with your host about these things on check in.

Electricity that is outdated or trips

Twice now in Coimbra I’ve experienced staying in an apartment where the electricity trips out seemingly easily! One was when I used a fan as well as charging my laptop and the other time was when I used the kettle while the dishwasher was on in a shared kitchen! Technically, you SHOULD be able to do those things, but not everywhere in Coimbra has upgraded their electrics yet. I’ve also had a couple of friends report similar situations in their rented apartments. Make sure that you take a good power adapter and don’t overload switches. Where possible, if you can, use one appliance and then wait for it to finish before using another!

The slippy Calcadas and many steps!

You truly need some stamina to walk around Coimbra! Expect a lot of uphill walking (especially on the way up the University) and a lot of steps. Escadas Monumentais go up to the University has 125 steps! Also you will find many steps on Quebra Costas. Wear good walking boots and taking it very easy. Go slowly and avoid shiny steps in the rain – they can become slippy and dangerous (although I found this to be way worse in Lisbon as their calcadas are more ‘polished’).

one day in Coimbra Porta e Torre de Almedina

Noise in some areas such as Quebra Costas

If you stay on Quebra Costas this can be particularly noisy – especially on Friday and Saturday nights – as it is a bar area. Unless, of course, you want to be in the heart of the action, in which case Quebra Costas is a great place to be!

Further Reading on Portugal

I hope that you have enjoyed my article on ‘Is Coimbra worth visiting?’ If you have limited time, then you will be pleased to know that it is totally possible to visit Coimbra in one day. You might also want to read about some other great Portuguese cities to visit….