This Northern Portuguese city predates the Romans and was the first capital of the country. Its 13th-century university is one of the oldest in Europe, and Coimbra still maintains a reputation as a city of learning. While its population approaches 150,000, twice as many again live in the immediate surrounding region.
Lovers of history are sure to love Coimbra. Archaeological gems in the city include an aqueduct from Roman times that is well-preserved, as well as a cryptoporticus (covered gallery). Moving ahead many centuries, visitors are sure to enjoy features from the 12th and 13th centuries when Coimbra was the national capital. Portugal’s first university was opened at the end of the 13th century and moved to Coimbra early in the 14th. UNESCO recognised the importance of its buildings a decade ago.
Coimbra is between Lisbon to the south, under two hours away, and Porto to the north, about an hour via the AI. It means that Porto, in particular, is accessible if you make your base in Coimbra. An added attraction is the natural environment in which it sits, particularly to the west, where migratory birds visit the wetlands. Feeling inspired? Here are some ideas of things to do in Coimbra and places you can visit in a day.
- Coimbra, Portugal
- Top Tours
- 20 Things To Do In Coimbra
- 1- Walk Within the University
- 2- Get An Audio Guide To Appreciate Coimbra’s History
- 3- Answer Questions To Find Your Way Around
- 4- Kayak On The Mondego River
- 5- See The Sanctuary Of Fatima
- 6- Drink Coimbra’s Craft Beers
- 7- Ride In A Classic Car
- 8- Take In A Fado Show
- 9- Sample Local Wine At A Family-Run Winery
- 10- Cycle Around The Vineyards
- 11- Hike The Mouros River Valley
- 12- Learn About Coimbra’s Jewish History
- 13- Explore Schist Villages At Lousa Mountain
- 14- Absorb The City’s Charms
- 15- Sample Portugal’s Most Famous Export
- 16- Taste Traditional Cuisine
- 17- Spend A Day In Nearby Aveiro
- 18- Take A Boat Trip In Aveiro
- 19- Enjoy A Day At The Beach
- Coimbra: Live Fado Show – enjoy the culture of Portugal through its music with port wine tasting.
- University of Coimbra Walking Tour – a UNESCO World Heritage gem not to be missed!
- Chanfana: Cooking Traditional Portuguese Cuisine Experience – learn to cook a local dish.
20 Things To Do In Coimbra
1- Walk Within the University
Few universities anywhere have a richer history than the one in Coimbra.
It was founded in 1290, with Coimbra becoming its home two decades later, and the present site was first occupied in 1537.
There are several elements to explore on a walking tour, including the Royal Palace, Chapel of St. Michael, the Academic Prison and Joanina Library.
Onwards, you will see the Upper Town, the new Cathedral and typical student accommodation, the “Republicas”.
An experienced guide will deliver plenty of information and answer all your questions.
Recommended tour: University of Coimbra Walking Tour
2- Get An Audio Guide To Appreciate Coimbra’s History
If you prefer to explore Coimbra independently yet get some guidance and information as you walk, you can use an audio guide as you walk through Baixa downtown, with its squares and narrow streets.
The old and new cathedrals are on the route, with this part of the city now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tradition of Fado is explained while you will see significant Roman ruins, and learn most elements of the city’s origins, the general history and of course the famous university.
The tour ends with lovely views of the city and the Mondego River.
Recommended tour: Coimbra: Self-Guided Audio Tour of Historical Highlights
3- Answer Questions To Find Your Way Around
An increasingly popular way for tourists to explore new cities is to download an app to their smartphone and do a scavenger hunt, answering questions along the way.
Once you solve a clue, you will be able to get to the next landmark on the route.
There are plenty of clues around and if you want to race around, you will finish the challenge in little more than an hour if you are alert.
However, why would you want to rush unless you are competing against others and want to win?
Among the places you will see as you solve the questions are the “Mango Garden”, “Monastery of Santa Cruz” as well as “School Palace” The starting point is the “Jardim da Manga” and you will end at the “Jardim da Sereia”.
Recommended tour: Coimbra: Scavenger Hunt and City Highlights Walking Tour
4- Kayak On The Mondego River
If you want a day of exercise, something different but not too energetic, how about kayaking on the Mondego River?
You will be taken to Penacova to get all the necessary equipment and safety instructions.
The river’s flow is relatively gentle, so even novices will find few problems if they follow those instructions.
The tour covers 18 kilometres (11 miles) through the natural river valley.
You kayak past several small villages while you can stop at any of the small beaches whenever you wish: perhaps for a picnic or a swim?
The finish line is at Torres do Mondego, with your kayaking time up to four hours.
Recommended tour: Coimbra: Mondego River Kayaking Tour
5- See The Sanctuary Of Fatima
Religion is extremely important to the Portuguese and one of the places of significant religious importance in the country is the Sanctuary of Fátima in Cova da Iria.
There is a full-day tour, which includes going to the Sanctuary, where you will hear about the story of Marian appearing there over a century ago.
You will be impressed by the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary before you head to the Chapel of the Apparitions.
Over five million visitors go to Fátima annually, with pilgrimages both in October and May, the latter on the anniversary of the Marian apparition the most popular.
The tour then takes in the highlights of Coimbra to complete a lovely day.
Recommended tour: Sanctuary of Fátima and Coimbra City Tour
6- Drink Coimbra’s Craft Beers
Most countries brew beer, and increasingly, craft beers are emerging, often in competition with national or international brands.
Enjoy Coimbra’s craft beers, paired with traditional local tapas as an accompaniment.
A guide will go through the history of Coola Boola and will happily answer all your questions.
You will enjoy the surroundings in which you are trying the craft beers and you may even want to hang around for more.
Recommended tour: Coimbra Craft Beer Tasting
7- Ride In A Classic Car
A unique way to enjoy Coimbra is sitting back in a classic car while you ride around, seeing the major landmarks and hearing more of the city’s history.
There’s something romantic about riding a 1931 Ford Model A to visit all the notable landmarks throughout the city.
UNESCO has recognised the importance of Coimbra with its old university, which is obviously on the route that the classic car will take.
You will see both the upper and lower parts of the city in the style that the wealthy of Coimbra would have done nearly a century ago.
Recommended tour: Classic Car City Tour
8- Take In A Fado Show
The Fado is one of Portugal’s cultural gems and you can watch a show in Coimbra at the Casa Fado ao Centro.
The performers are either university students or alumni of the university.
The walls of the building are beautifully decorated with plenty of colour and history.
The music is beautiful, and the words tell the story of Coimbra from its early days.
At the end of the entertainment, guests can taste port and interact with the performers.
Recommended tour: Coimbra: Live Fado Show with Port Wine Tasting
9- Sample Local Wine At A Family-Run Winery
The Bairrada wine region in the centre of Portugal is known for its robust, full-bodied reds made from the Baga grape.
Its diverse terroir, with maritime influences and limestone-rich soils, produces exceptional sparkling wines and aromatic whites.
The region is home to hundreds of wine producers, both large-scale and boutique, and you can’t go wrong on a winery tour.
One such winery is the Prior Lucas Winery, where the family has been producing wine for generations, using grapes from the lovely old vineyards.
You will enjoy seeing the cellars where the wines mature and learn about the process of creating red, rose and white sparkling wines.
Tools used in the process, typically crushers and stemmers, are there and the importance of temperature control will be explained.
Full meals with wine are available.
- Coimbra: Prior Lucas Winery and Vineyard Visit with Tastings
- Best Flavors of Bairrada Winery Route, half day from Coimbra
10- Cycle Around The Vineyards
Any tour that takes in a vineyard is sure to involve sampling but the good news is you will not be cycling back after you have had a drink because this tour involves being driven there and back.
The Rota da Bairrada sparking wine trail is a leisurely circular route, passing acres of vines as you cycle.
There are two stops along the way, the first to sample the lovely local wine and a second at a restaurant where you will eat a local favourite, roast piglet.
Afterwards, it is just a matter of storing your bike on the transport and being driven back to Coimbra.
Recommended tour: Cycling Vineyards of Bairrada Route, full day from Coimbra
11- Hike The Mouros River Valley
Coimbra sits in a beautiful region, and you can see more of the countryside if you book a tour that involves hiking through the Mouros River Valley.
The day begins with a guide who will show you the ancient Roman ruins of Conimbriga.
It is then on to the valley, where you will see a waterfall, followed by visiting a small mountain village below Sico Mountain.
The local fauna and flora are fascinating as you walk.
There is the option of stopping for a picnic, and if you book as a group, the whole experience can be personalised to your wishes.
Recommended tour: Hiking in Conimbriga and Mouros River Valley
12- Learn About Coimbra’s Jewish History
While Catholicism is predominant in Portugal, other religions and peoples have been in the land over the years.
In the case of Coimbra, there was a significant Jewish presence as far back as the 10th century, and of course, the Islamic Moors were in the country until their expulsion in the 12th century.
There was a Jewish community during the times of D. Afonso Henriques, and the history of that community in the following centuries is fascinating.
The 16th-century Portuguese Inquisition saw many Jews fleeing the country and others converting to Catholicism.
Recommended tour: Jewish History of Coimbra
13- Explore Schist Villages At Lousa Mountain
One excellent way to explore outside the city is in a 4×4 vehicle which is ideal for heading off-road.
Several small villages within the mountains are described as “schist” because this is the stone predominant in the region used to build houses and construct walkways.
Sometimes you’ll need to park and hike to particular locations that even the 4×4 cannot access.
You can do a half-day tour or a full day, whichever you want.
Recommended tour: Schist Villages at Lousa Mountain
14- Absorb The City’s Charms
Coimbra is a city full of students, a place of charm and culture.
It helps to have a guide who can show you where the locals hang out, and this tour starting by the pedestrian bridge crossing the Mondego River, follows a route that will reveal the city’s charms.
There are many photo opportunities with panoramic city and mountain views.
All the city’s famous landmarks are on the route, and your guide will fill in the details of the old walled city, its famous university and why Coimbra is full of students.
Recommended tour: Discovering the charms and places of Coimbra
15- Sample Portugal’s Most Famous Export
While ruby and tawny ports are the two most popular, you can sample a broader range when you visit a traditional shop that has been serving port since before the First World War.
Try the standard ruby and tawny ports and White and Dry White, Rosé, a 6 to 10 Year Old Tawny and LBV (Late bottled vintage).
Naturally, you’ll want to buy a bottle or two at the end of your visit.
Recommended tour: Port Wine Tasting in Coimbra
16- Taste Traditional Cuisine
One of the favourite local dishes in Coimbra is Chanfana, a dish that is regular on any dining table.
It was first mentioned in 17th-century writings.
You can learn about its preparation in Cerdeira, a local village, and its importance to the local culture.
Learning to cook Chanfana in a wood-fired kiln is an experience to remember.
Old goat meat is the main ingredient and is an economical dish using a goat that is too old to provide milk or offspring.
The goat is seasoned with laurel, garlic and a liberal amount of red wine, and roasted in clay pots put into the kiln.
Once you sit down to eat, you may have even more wine.
Recommended tour: Chanfana: Cooking Traditional Portuguese Cuisine Experience
17- Spend A Day In Nearby Aveiro
Aveiro is less than an hour away from Coimbra and it provides a contrast to the city.
It is an easy journey and will also give you an insight into the countryside.
From the centre of Aveiro, you head out while learning about the lagoon formed in the 10th century when the community was involved in salt excavation, seaweed collection and fishing.
Portugal’s tallest lighthouse is at Barra Beach.
Years of hard work produced the canal that links the lagoon to the ocean.
Costa Nova is a small village with striped houses where fishermen used to live, and you will learn about the cod industry linked to the village.
Recommended tour: From Aveiro: Barra Beach Lighthouse & Costa Nova Guided Tour
18- Take A Boat Trip In Aveiro
The traditional Moliceiro boat was how locals were able to transport things when salt and seaweed were so crucial to the economy.
These days the boats transport tourists in Aveiro, and you can take a short cruise in one, starting along the Central Canal, the Ria de Aveiro.
Along the way, you will pass the Garden of Rossio on the way to the Capitania of the Port.
Another canal follows, formerly the route to the Antonio Maria Campos Brick Factory.
The Canal das Pirâmides (the pyramids canal) is next, a 19th-century construction stretching from the fish market back to the central canal.
During the summer, the hundreds of small white salt pyramids make a great photo.
Recommended tour: Aveiro: Traditional Moliceiro Boat Tour
19- Enjoy A Day At The Beach
You would probably think about a day at the beach if you are holidaying as a family with small children.
The closest beach is in Figueira da Foz, about an hour away, by road or rail, with direct trains only taking 40 minutes.
This is a famous resort town with plenty of sand and good facilities but don’t expect the Atlantic to be like the Mediterranean, although it’s certainly warm enough to swim in the summer months.
This coastline has become increasingly popular with experienced surfers.
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