Destination | Coimbra: a local perspective

Right in the centre of Portugal there’s a medium size enchanted city, called Coimbra. I’m suspicious to talked about it since it’s my hometown, but in this post I intend to talk about some off the beat places and activities and, hopefully, show that Coimbra deserves to be more than a pass by destination! 


Coimbra is a city filled with history and an ancient charm. Here the university always have had and still has a huge importance. This year, 2016, the university celebrated 725 years of history and the students make sure to keep its tradition alive. In fact, as students in Coimbra we breath academic traditions. Many may say it is only an excuse to party and drink, but, trust me, it means much more than that. So, if you come here make sure you talk to some students and ask them to explain you why we use our academic garment, why we have initiation “rituals” for freshmen or why we cry when we listen to students fado. Anyone of us will be pleased to tell you all about what being a university student in Coimbra means! And tourists can easily identify us when we are wearing our academic garment. 

Still about the university it can also be interesting to try to visit a students republic. It may not sound fascinating, but that’s because I believe there are no student republic like ours! I may be wrong, but at least, I have never seen, or heard about, traditions anything close to Coimbra’s (similar is not the same!). One year ago I developed an itinerary, with two friends of mine, about the academic traditions, for which we had to visit some republics, and let me tell you, they are very receptive to visitors, to show them around the house and to tell them all about their history and traditions! Therefore, I have reasons to believe they will be more than ok to receive tourists as well. 

To finish the academic traditions topic I just want to give you a sneak peek on Queima das Fitas and show you why visiting the city in the beginning of May is a good idea. Literally translated Queima das Fitas means Burning of the ribbons, which has a symbolic meaning for the students who are one year from finishing their courses. Those are the ones who actually burn ribbons with their course colours as a “passage ritual” to become finalists. This week is also very important for 1st year students since it’s the time when they are allowed to wear their academic garment for the first time, during the monumental serenade on the first night of Queima das Fitas. I could keep on writing and writing about all this week’s meaningful moments, but it’s better to come to Coimbra and see with your own eyes! One of the high points of this week is the student’s parade, which occurs always on a Sunday and that completely stops the city. 

The student’s that build the car and ride it during all the parade are one year from finishing their course and are the soul of the parade! 
Finalists go on foot in front of the car and use a top hat and a cane with their course colours.
Our friends and family write messages on our ribbons about this academic journey or more personal memories. It stays as a beautiful memory from this period! This photo is from the last ceremony, which is in fact religious and preached by Coimbra’s bishop, called blessing of the “folder”.

Maybe I got to enthusiastic talking about our academic traditions, but it’s something I’m truly passionate about! Now, another suggestion of of the beaten places to go:


For sure you’ll visit the botanical garden, Jardim da Sereia and the City Park (Parque Verde) and these are all beautiful places. But Coimbra has more to offer. Therefore I would like to show you other parks, in very different parts of the city, where you can spend a very pleasant time and get away from the city confusing for a while. 

It’s very nice to go for a walk in Choupal. It is a national forest, about a 15/20 minute walk from the downtown. You can easily spend 1 to 2 hours walking the trails, playing a game on one of the courts or doing a picnic. Getting lost in this woods allows you to totally forget you are so close to the city and clean your lungs with some pure, refreshing air. 




Another nice place to visit is Penedo da Saudade. This small park is close to the modern part of the city. From the university or the botanical garden it will take you around 10/15 minutes to walk here. It is a good viewpoint of the newer part of the city and also a good way to get there, always through the woods. The name has the Portuguese word that only exists in our language, Saudade, which means missing something. I would dare to say that in Coimbra this is one of the strongest and most common words among university students. This park is quite famous for it’s stones where you can find engraved poems written by students from different courses and years about their love for Coimbra and their university years.  

The stools built from the rocks give this little park a nice mystic vibe and invite you to relax for a while and enjoy the view.  


This stones are related to the university and have engraved poems written by former students, normally about “saudade” the powerful Portuguese word that means missing something.
If you get a day as clear as this you can see all the way to Lousã mountain 



If you are into sports there are some activities you can do both in the city and in the surroundings! While walking at Parque Verde it is possible to rent stand up paddle boards and see Coimbra from a different perspective. I find it very relaxing to just rent the board and paddle for a while up and down Mondego river. Also, the people who are running this business are very friendly!


Coimbra is also very close to some beaches, the closest one is Figueira da Foz, with great conditions for surf, windsurf, kit-surf and body board. Therefore there are many school to try these water sports

Another good great activity is to travel from Penacova to Coimbra by kayak in the Mondego river. There are many company doing this route. I would advice Capitão Dureza since I already did it twice with them and I really enjoyed it! 

For nature lovers Lousã ou Bussaco are both quite close (by car) and are really good places to go hiking! Lousã mountain is particularly famous for the schist villages.

Resultado de imagem para aldeias de xisto lousã talasnal


Resultado de imagem para aldeias de xisto lousã talasnal



Galerias de Santa Clara is a funky cafe located on the left side of Mondego River, close to Portugal dos Pequenitos, the convention bureau and Quinta das Lágrimas hotel. It is quite popular among residents for its good  vibe. You can choose from three different rooms inside (one of them for smokers) or choose to go outside. From time to time they held concerts and art exhibitions. 




After a walk in the old city Casa de Chá (Tea house) is a very nice place for a break. This little cafe is located in the heart of Jardim da Sereia, an inviting garden adjacent to Praça da República (one of Coimbra’s main squares and where everyone gets together at night). It has a very relaxed atmosphere and it’s emerged in a perfect setting. 


Aqui Base Tango stands out for being quite trendy with it’s “weird” and vintage decor. The building has three floors and multiple rooms you can choose from, all with a different vibe. It is a nice place, in the centre of the city, not far from Casa de Chá, to stop for a drink or a snack. Regularly they organise thematic parties and live music concerts! 

Resultado de imagem para aqui base tango

Resultado de imagem para aqui base tango

Resultado de imagem para aqui base tango

Resultado de imagem para aqui base tango

Resultado de imagem para aqui base tango


Whenever I travel to a new destination I love to get lost! I normally end up in residential neighbourhoods or business districts without even knowing how I got there. For me there’s something very special and beautiful about seeing the true life and rhythm of a city, town or village. So I created this category to show you some random places I find quite neat in Coimbra, but that I couldn’t insert in any of the categories above. 

Vale do Inferno viewpoint. From here you can have really good notion of the city size. 


Very close to Penedo da Saudade you have one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods! If you are one of those people, like me, that walks around the whole city, not only the tourist points, I strongly advice you to go to Olivais neighbourhood. 



One of the streets will lead you to Quinta de São Jerónimos. This is a high end neighbourhood with a really nice park and where you can have some good views of the city and the surrounding mountains! 


Exploratório is a great place to go to if you have kids. This dedicated to science centre is located in Parque Verde, also known as the city park, and will delight every children imaginary.


Resultado de imagem para museu machado de castro

In the heart of Coimbra’s uptown, next to the University and the Old Cathedral, you can find Machado de Castro museum. This is a really good fine arts museum with an amazing roman cryptoportico behind it that can be visited! Ticket price: 6€, free for kids util 12 years old.
Resultado de imagem para museu machado de castro
Resultado de imagem para museu machado de castro
Resultado de imagem para museu machado de castro

URL After visiting the museum enjoy the esplanade which has a splendid view over the Mondego river.
Resultado de imagem para nucleo da cidade muralhada coimbra

In Quebra Costas, one of the most famous streets in Coimbra, you will find a little museum, a little bit hidden, but that it’s worth visiting because it gives a really nice overview of the city history. It is called Núcleo da Cidade Muralhada, and the ticket only costs 1,70€.


Resultado de imagem para núcleo do fado e da guitarra, coimbra

Close by, in a street that links Quebra Costas to the Psychology Faculty there’s the Guitar and Fado Museum inserted in the recently restored Anto Tower.
Resultado de imagem para núcleo do fado e da guitarra, coimbra

These displays have not only information about the exhibition, but also allows the tourist to listen to some Fado. It is also possible to rent an audio guide and sit next to one of the windows, enjoying the fado music while looking out to the Mondego River. 
Resultado de imagem para núcleo do fado e da guitarra, coimbra

In the top floor there’s a Portuguese guitar and a student’s cape for visitors to take some photos and now how is it to feel the cape on our shoulders! 

When to visit: I strongly advice you not to come on July or August, Coimbra still lives a lot from the University and during those months the students go back home. So, to see the city with its normal life it’s better to come from September until June, being September, October and May the months when there’s more student activity! 

How long should you stay?  I would say there are different scenarios. If you just want to do cultural tourism and sightseeing one night is enough. If you will use the opportunity to visit the surrounding than you can easily spent 2 to 3 nights in Coimbra.

Must Do & See: All the places mentioned above, plus: The University, Joanina Library, Climb the University Tower, the New and the Old Cathedral, the Botanical Garden, Quebra Costas, Go see a Fado concert (you can see it in many places, but Café Santa Cruz, which is within a church, is nice place to see it for free), walk around the downtown and the uptwon, Quinta das Lágrimas (the gardens are quite famous because of a love story), Santa Clara-a-Velha convent (this is super worth it!), Conímbriga (this is a roman site in the outskirts of Coimbra of an enormous importance and totally worthy of a visit).

Information: In Portugal all the museums close on Mondays and are free on the first Sunday of every month; when travelling by train, if you are under 25 years old, ask for the youth discount! It only applies to the IC and AP, the fastest trains, but sometimes the cashier “forgets” to ask if we want to use the discount.

Curiosity: Some Portuguese newspapers reported that Coimbra is still the official capital of Portugal. It was the capital and the main city for many years, until 1255 when Lisbon started to grew due to commerce and the Portuguese king and its court moved to Lisbon, which turned into the capital of Portugal because the king lived there. But, apparently, no one remembered to write a document to formalise this change. To sum it up, on paper Coimbra is still the capital!


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