Once the capital of Portugal all the way back in the 13th century, Coimbra has many impressive edifices, churches, and monasteries dating back to those days. As such, there is so many things to see and do in Coimbra. Famed for its university, which is one of the oldest in Europe, the city is a laidback place to visit, with lots of great bars and restaurants for you to enjoy. While it may not have the wealth of tourist attractions that Porto and Lisbon have, Coimbra offers an authentic Portuguese experience away from all the crowds and is well worth a visit. A captivating city with much to offer, it’s intoxicating mix of history, culture, and art makes for an irresistible and unforgettable trip.
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Founded in 1598, Se Nova is anything but new, although it is admittedly 400 years younger than Coimbra’s old cathedral. With a lovely Baroque facade, the statues of four Jesuit saints adorn its upper reaches, and two bell towers and a dome complete its splendid features. The interior is just as spectacular, with the high altar one of its many highlights. Se Nova contains several ornaments that were taken from the old cathedral. Located near the University of Coimbra, Se Nova is certainly worth stopping by on your way to see the main tourist attractions in Coimbra.
The largest botanical garden in Portugal, this beautiful site dates to 1773; its landscaped pathways, flowerbeds, plants, and trees are delightful to explore and it really is one of the most attractive gardens in Europe. Home to over 1200 different species of plants and trees, you can find eucalyptus growing next to bamboo and coral trees, among others. Well worth visiting, it is beautifully laid out and provides a relaxing, peaceful alternative if you have had enough of sightseeing for a bit.
Formerly ruled by the Moors, Almedina Gate was one of the entrance points to the old city and used to be part of the fortified walls that surrounded Coimbra. While most of the walls no longer remain, Almedina Gate is an interesting place to stop by; it now houses the Centre of the Walled City. Here, you can find an interesting exhibition on the history of the walls and the gate itself, and you are sure to learn a lot. In addition to this, temporary exhibitions and events are often held here, so keep an eye out for anything you may be interested in.
A fun place for all the family, the Portugal dos Pequenitos is an entertaining and educational theme park that houses miniature models of all of Portugal’s most famous landmarks, monuments, and buildings. In addition to the wealth of mini-monuments from Portugal, the rest of the world is also represented through landmarks from former Portuguese colonies due to the fact that the park was established in 1938. With a small train also running through its premises, the Portugal dos Pequenitos is a great place to check out if you have young ones with you.
A lovely green space that is the perfect place to relax after rushing about Coimbra’s beautiful sights, the Parque Verde do Mondedo lies alongside the Mondego River, a stone’s throw away from many of the city’s main tourist attractions. A popular place with families, you can cycle along the riverbanks or even take to the water in some of the pedaloes available for rent. A secluded and peaceful spot, the park also offers fantastic views of the river and of Coimbra itself – just head to the center of the colorful Pedro and Ines bridge which joins one bank to the other.
The Monastery of Santa Cruz was founded in 1131 and its history is inextricably linked to that of the Portuguese monarchy; the first two kings of the country are entombed within it. Its towering facade is bewitching and manages to look both strong and elegant at the same time, with fine sculptures and carvings lining the entrance. Contained within are a number of fine tombs, and the cloisters are particularly lovely to wander around – a delightful Renaissance fountain lies at their center. A must-see when visiting the monastery are the tombs of Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, which are both marvelously designed and carved.
Located in the university, the Chapel of Sao Miguel dates to the early 16th century and is well worth visiting, despite its plain and unremarkable exterior. While the main portal of the building is beautiful, the chapel’s true riches lie within, as colorful 17th century azulejos coat the walls and ceiling. Dripping with history, there are some fantastic religious paintings on show and also a delightful Baroque organ which is still functioning. A number of weddings and events are held within the chapel each year. The altarpiece is delightfully decorated and, coupled with the eclectic colors and patterns on the walls, it makes the Chapel of Sao Miguel an important site to visit when you’re wandering around the university.
The hulking remains of the monastery are wonderful to walk around and are remarkably well preserved, considering the fact that they were abandoned and neglected for over 300 years. Located right next to the Mondego River, frequent floods meant that the nuns were forced to leave the monastery, and it now appears partially submerged and sunken into the ground. The Gothic ruins with its crumbling cloisters and dilapidated bell tower now host music concerts and events and a short film tells you all about the history of this interesting and indeed beautiful monastery. Named Santa Clara-a-Velha, in the 17th century, the nuns relocated to a new monastery, which is now home to some of the tombs that used to be located in the sunken ruins.
Appearing very much like a castle, Se Velha’s towering walls are lined with crenellations and its narrow window-slits only add to its fort-like features. Coimbra used to be at the border where Christianity and Islam met. Notwithstanding the solid look, it is a fine Romanesque building. The cathedral was consecrated in 1184 when Coimbra was the capital of the nation. While the exterior appears appropriately forbidding, the interior is covered in ostentatious decorations and designs and the Gothic high altar really is special to behold. The barrel vault nave adds to the magnificence of the place and lovely geometric designs and animal motifs decorate the cathedral, while the elegant cloisters are a delightful mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles.
A captivating place to visit in Coimbra, the Machado de Castro National Museum houses an extraordinary collection of sculptures, altarpieces, paintings and more, and is a must visit when in Coimbra. Curated from various churches and religious institutions from around the country, the art museum’s extensive collection includes the largest number of sculptures in Portugal. With lots of gold jewelry, religious relics, ceramics, and textiles on display, there are plenty of interesting things to see; some of the artworks date back to the 10th century. Named after the famous sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro, the museum is located on top of a site which used to be a Roman Forum; you can actually visit the 2000-year-old remains of the cryptoporticus beneath the building.
A beautiful Baroque library, the Biblioteca Joanina dates to the 18th century and is named after its benefactor – the Portuguese King John V – who commissioned its construction. Located on the Paco das Escolas, where the Portuguese kings once lived, the library lies at the heart of the University of Coimbra in a lovely old building. The interior is absolutely stunning; it is dripping in exotic wood, tasteful decorations, and beautiful bookcases. With nearly 300,000 ancient books and manuscripts dating to the 1500’s in its extensive collection, the Biblioteca Joanina is wonderful to walk around and its fine furnishings only add to the refined feel.
One of the oldest universities in Europe – and indeed the world – the University of Coimbra was actually founded in Lisbon before being transferred to Coimbra in 1537. Located on a hill in the center of the city, it is a very popular tourist attraction, and rightfully so; the buildings in which it is housed are marvelous to behold. Originally a medieval palace, over the centuries, Baroque and neo-classical features have been added to the university. It really does look special, with the fine old buildings lining the expansive courtyard at its center. Among the many highlights are the 17th century ceremonial hall and the 16th century tower, which provides breathtaking views over the city below.