Coimbra is famous for its University and its Fado. Until the late 1200’s this city by the Mondego river was the capital city of Portugal. Easily reached by car (taking the A1 highway, it’s a 2-hour-drive if your starting point is Lisbon or a 1-hour-drive if your starting Point is Porto) or by train, we visited Coimbra briefly for one day and these were some of the places we had the time to explore. Quite the tour and definitely a destination to put on your day trips from Lisbon list.
Church of Santa Cruz
The construction of this church began in 1131 and you can see all the additions that were made in the decor: it beautifully mixes elements of Romanesque, and of “Manueline”, and of the renaissance, and of baroque. It’s where the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, and his son the second king of Portugal, Sancho the first, are buried.
Praça 8 de Maio
+351 239 822 941
Website (Portuguese only)
Coimbra’s old cathedral was built in the second half of the 12th century and, although its main bones are clearly Romanesque, it is a mix of several art periods too when it comes to the decor. On its steps concerts are often held where the former students of the University of Coimbra, dressed in their black suits and black long cloaks (which is the typical uniform for the students), gather to sing Fado and serenade the city.
Largo Sé Velha
+351 239 825 273
Website (Portuguese only)
Universidade de Coimbra
The University is a big part of the city life and history: it’s one of the oldest in Europe and it was founded by king Dinis in 1290 (first in Lisbon and then permanently transferred to Coimbra in 1537). It is also where you will likely spend most of your time, not only for the History but for the breathtaking views of the city.
Climbing the legendary 125 steps of the Monumental Stairs leads you to a campus that oozes the energy of the fighting spirit of the students, mostly famous for the 1969 “academic crisis” when they manifested against conservative dictatorship and in favor of more rights, democracy, and better education.
We visited the historical buildings around campus for 12.50€. At every location, they had a laminated sheet of paper that summed up what we were visiting. It included visiting the Biblioteca Joanina (beautiful gilded chinoiserie decoration), the Academic Prison (a prison for the convicted students and scholars), the St. Michael’s Chapel (with a beautiful 1733 Baroque organ), and the University Tower.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside these sites, but the views of the city and the river from the campus really made up for it. We asked the employees to access the small terrace just at the end of the long corridor opposite Sala das Armas (Weapons Room) for a better and clearer view of Coimbra, Mondego, and the surrounding mountains. Slightly windy (me and my fear of heights…) but very worth it.
Largo da Porta Férrea
+351 239 242 745
+351 239 242 744
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