Located in central Portugal, Coimbra is the perfect city to stop for a day, and slow down on your way from the south to the north (or vice versa). Coimbra is located about two hours north of Lisbon, and an hour and a half south of Porto. It’s a riverfront city, the former capital of Portugal, the fourth-largest city in Portugal, and it’s well known for its university, which attracts visitors from all over the world.
Coimbra can easily be seen in a day, and I think the stop is well worth it whether you’re planning a day trip to Coimbra from Lisbon or Porto, or want to break up the time driving from one end of the country to the other.
If you’re planning on renting a car in Portugal, don’t miss Everything You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Portugal; and if you’re planning a more extensive Portugal road trip, don’t miss The Best 8 Day Northern Portugal Road Trip Itinerary
One Day in Coimbra, Portugal
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Spending the Morning in Coimbra
Once you arrive to Coimbra, see some of the main tourists attractions like the Monastery of Santa Cruz (Igreja de Santa Cruz), a church built in 1131 and where the first two kings of Portugal are buried. After visiting the church, make your way to the very impressive Coimbra Botanical Garden. The garden was founded in 1772 and is considered one the most beautiful gardens in all of Europe. You can find plants from all over the world and there are even interactive gardens you can tour.
If you’re on a time crunch and you’re looking to see the entire city in a short amount of time, I highly recommend taking the free walking tour with João as he’s very knowledgeable and will take you through the city in about three hours. There is one tour that starts at 10am, just make sure to book ahead of time.
Spending the Afternoon in Coimbra
Once the afternoon arrives, head to lunch at the delicious Fangas Maior located in the heart of the medieval part of town. (There’s also a Fangas Veg if you’re vegetarian). This restaurant is an incredible tapas restaurant with a few tables available outside. Once you’ve eaten, walk down the street to one of the main squares in town where you can grab an ice cream cone from Gelataria COSI, or a drink from one of the many bars, and listen to live music which often adorns the square. Nearby you’ll also notice a statue – Tricana de Coimbra, a bronze statue representing a woman who would have been serenaded by fado music.
Spending the Night in Coimbra
Before night falls, make your way up one of the tallest hills in the city to see the impressive University of Coimbra – founded in 1290 – and library. (It’s rumored that parts of Harry Potter were inspired by Coimbra’s university and library). If you’re lucky, you might see students walking around in traditional dress – black clothing and long black robes.
For dinner, head off the beaten path to Refeitro da Baixa, hands down one of the very best restaurants I dined at in my two weeks in Portugal. The restaurant not only has an impressive wine list, but the interior is impeccably designed, and the food is more than memorable serving modern Portuguese dishes. (If you eat meat, don’t miss the steak tartare).
Where to Stay in Coimbra
If you decide to spend the night in Coimbra, I recommend staying at Pharmacia Guest House. A great, central location in Coimbra.
Coimbra is the perfect Portuguese town to slow down and spend a day in on your way through the country. With memorable streets, history, and food, you don’t want to miss it.
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal, don’t miss The Ultimate Portugal Travel Guide
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