Coimbra is the studious heart of Portugal; its magnificent university spread across several sections dominating the old centre of the city. It was the original capital city of Portugal between 1143 and 1255 until it was finally decided that particular honour should go to Lisbon.
Coimbra boasts two cathedrals, the afore mentioned universities, a staggering amount of churches and sits upon a hill beside the beautiful Rio Mondego which is crossed by several bridges; the most recent addition being the least impressive in terms of sympathising with the old feel of the city.
What to do in Coimbra
With a huge religious and studious centre Coimbra’s old quarter is the first destination to explore. The students here are vocal in their protests at the state of the country and its shocking financial state; their graffiti evident at every turn, most of it aggressive, some intelligently put, all disrespecting the aged walls it is sprayed upon.
- Velha Universidade – The many faculties of the university which sit atop the summit of the old quarter’s hilly centre should be seen during your visit. The antique and beautifully adorned buildings are a spectacle in themselves, casting views across the river to the south and out in the countryside beyond.
- Sé Velha – The medieval cathedral sits at the centre of the writhing alleys and streets of the old quarter. Its Romanesque walls have changed little since it was built in 1162 and it’s a commanding presence sat in the centre of a steep square. The cloisters and Gothic chambers containing the tombs of early bishops within can be viewed for 2 euros. The cathedral is open Monday to Thursday and Saturday between 10am and 6pm, Fridays 10am to 1pm and entry is free.
- Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro – This stunning museum can be found on Rua do Carbido and is open Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 6pm. Entry costs 4 euros and once inside you are treated to an incredible collection of Renaissance and medieval art and sculptures.
- Boat trips on the Rio Mondego – From the little office on Avenida Emidio Navarro, where it meets Ponte de Santa Clara you can book yourself a boat ride along the impressive Rio Mondego and see the city from a unique perspective. Tickets cost 6 euros for a one hour trip.
- Kayaking the Rio Mondego – Coimbra is often the destination for many canoe and kayak treks. Trans Serrano in Gois are one such group who offer very reasonably priced trips. Read more about them here.
Visit www.turismodecoimbra.pt for more information about things to see and do in Coimbra.
Read part two of our overview here for information on getting to and from the city and Part three for places to eat.
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