As the third biggest city in Portugal, Coimbra is a medieval city has so much warmth and charm. Situated about an hour and a half south of Porto and just an hour inland from the coast, the hilly town of Coimbra is a welcoming place for travellers.
While the city has young vibrant energy due to the student population, you can also feel the old world charm. Coimbra is one of the oldest cities in Europe where you can still see many old churches and cobblestoned streets in the old town.
Best of all, you can see all the best attractions in Coimbra within a day. Keep reading and learn what you will see when you visit Coimbra.
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What you need to know before going to Coimbra
Before you start your solo Coimbra itinerary, take a look at my travel tips that you may find useful for Coimbra:
- Coimbra is a compact city and you can either visit the city on a day trip or stay overnight.
- I recommend starting your Coimbra day trip early. Try to arrive in Coimbra by 9:00 am so you can comfortably follow my itinerary below.
- Coimbra is a safe city for solo female travellers.
- The city is hilly, but walking is the best way to see Coimbra.
How to get to Coimbra Portugal
The easiest and cheapest way to travel from Porto to Coimbra is by taking the urban train. You can start the journey from either São Bento Station or Campanhã Station in Porto.
If you start the journey from São Bento Station, switch trains at Campanhã Station in Porto and then again at Aveiro Station.
FYI – Coimbra has are two stations: Coimbra and Coimbra-B. Coimbra Station is closer to the town centre.
Porto to Coimbra by train
- Urban train: from Porto São Bento Station to Aveiro Station
- Time: 2 hour 17 minutes (about 1 train per hour)
- Cost: €8.95 (plus €0.50 for the Siga reusable card)
- Check: Comboios de Portugal website for train schedules
Coimbra itinerary: things to do alone in Coimbra in 1 day
When you walk through baixa, you will most likely come across Rua Ferreira Borges, the main pedestrian street in Coimbra city centre. Just north of the main street, you will find Igreja de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Monastery). The interior of the monastery has azulejo, the blue and white glazed tiles, lining both sides of the church telling the story of Portugal’s history. The monastery is also the resting place for two historical figures, the first two kings of Portugal, Afonso Henriques and Sancho I.
When you walk towards the Mondego River, you will find Arco de Almedina, which will lead you to the University of Coimbra. The arc is the remaining entrance gate to the original city of Coimbra and one of the last examples of Moorish architecture in the city.
When you keep walking further on the main street, cross Ponte de Santa Clara bridge, and find Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova, a beautiful monastery where you can visit the tomb of Queen Isabel of Aragon, the Patroness Saint of Coimbra.
Cidade Alta (Old Town)
The University of Coimbra was founded on March 1, 1290, by King D. Dinis. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013, the campus has many historical buildings, churches and a botanical garden that has more than 13 hectares of garden containing unique floral collection to educate and promote conservation of biodiversity.
As mentioned, there are many churches on the university campus, but the most well-known church is Sé Velha de Coimbra (Old Cathedral). The famous 12th-century cathedral has traces of Renaissance style on the northern facade, Gothic cloisters and remnants of the previously destoryed church as well.
Touring the university is one of the highlights when you visit Coimbra. For 12 EUR, you can visit:
- Via Latina – a gallery space with sculptures erected in the 18th century
- Sala Capelos (The Ceremonial Hall) – originally the Throne Hall but currently used as official ceremonies
- Michael’s Chapel – completed in the 16th century, the chapel is covered with tiles, has a chapel organ in Baroque style and an altarpiece in Mannerist style
- Science Museum – displays of scientific collections with interactive modules
- Biblioteca Joanina – the famed Baroque library has over 60,000 books where most were written in Latin before the 18th century. First known as the “Book House” commissioned in 1717 by King João V (hence “Joanine”). One of the highlights of the space is the three painted ceilings in an illusionist technique which creates an optical illusion. And there’s even a portrait of King João V inside the library.
If you are have more than one day in Coimbra
If you are staying overnight in Coimbra and want to see other towns in the vicinity, then you’ll have to visit Aveiro.
Aveiro is considered as the Venice of Portugal, is a small port and fishing town where it has three canals with gondola-type boats called barcos moliceiros. The small town is not super touristy but it definitely has its charm. Visit Aveiro Cathedral and Capela de São Gonçalinho while you are in there or simply stroll through the small streets and along the canals. And try some traditional Aveiro desserts called Ovos Moles at Confeitaria Peixinho.
Where to stay in Coimbra as a solo traveller
As a solo traveller, I always pick an accommodation based on a few things: location, price, room cleanliness and bathroom. And the type of accommodation can vary between budget hostels to luxury hotels. Here are some hotel options in Coimbra:
- JR Studios & Suites | Ruis | ($) – the best budget hotel in Coimbra with clean and modern rooms.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Hotel Oslo Coimbra ($$) – a mid-range hotel with clean rooms and a fantastic rooftop view of Coimbra.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
- Sapientia Boutique Hotel ($$) – get a double room at this modern boutique hotel close to the city centre.
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
What to eat in Coimbra
As much as I love pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tart), Coimbra is known for its conventual sweets.
When sugar appeared in the 15th century, it was used in ancient recipes in convents. Nuns would make sweets to welcome guests. These conventual desserts are made with large amounts of sugar and egg yolks. Some of them include:
Dessert in Coimbra
- Barrigas de Freira (“nuns’ bellies”) – a regional pastry with a half-moon shape with egg filling with almonds.
- Castanhas de Ovos (“egg chestnuts”) – made from soft egg dough.
- Suspiros (meringue) – made with beaten egg whites and sugar. While the yolks are used for other regional desserts, there were a lot of egg whites left over. So the nuns in the convents made meringues.
- Crúzio of Santa Cruz – flour, butter, egg cream and almond serve at Cafe Santa Cruz, a Coimbra trademark.
- Pastél de Santa Clara – thin dough made with flour, sugar and butter, eggs, sugar and almond filling.
- Pastéis de Tentúgal – created by the Carmelitas nuns of the “Carmelo de Tentúgal”. It is an egg yolk and sugar filling inside a thin and crispy puff pastry.
Where to eat in Coimbra
While I wasn’t sampling all the conventual sweets in Coimbra, I managed to get few good meals too. When you are in Coimbra, try these places:
- Sandes de Leitão – they only serve one thing: leitão (suckling pig)! The pork sandwich has to be one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had!! And I got a mini Sagres (beer) too!
- Café Santa Cruz – built as part of the church and they are known for their pastél de santa clara. And check out the unique interior while you are there.
- Pastelaria Briosa Coimbra – this pastelerias is very popular, and there’s always a lineup for tourists to buy pastries. I snuck in and ordered a pastéis de tentúgal and coffee with milk.
Are you ready to take a day trip to Coimbra?
Coimbra is such a charming town and an excellent destination for a day trip.
I hope you enjoyed this post and are considering taking a day trip to Coimbra. Let me know in the comments if this itinerary is helpful to you or if you have any questions.
Thank you for reading my Coimbra Portugal post
You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Portugal:
Lisbon region posts
- Lisbon solo travel guide for first-timers
- Is the Lisboa Card worth it?
- Best day trips from Lisbon Portugal
Northern Portugal posts
- 2 days in Porto: things to do alone in Porto
- 17 best Porto food: what and where to eat in Porto
- 7 excellent day trips from Porto
- Day trip to Guimarães from Porto: 1-day itinerary
- Day trip from Porto to Espinho: 1-day itinerary
Central Portugal posts
- Algarve solo travel guide: 7 best places
- 20 best things to do in Albufeira for solo travellers
- Loule itinerary: best things to do in one day
- Vilamoura and Quarteira: 1-day itinerary
Velysia ZhangJune 14, 2018 at 4:36 pm
Thank you for the tips! I’m happy to find out the foods you recommend, would definitely try it 🙂
queenie makJune 14, 2018 at 6:36 pm
The food in Coimbra is really good! Well, there’s good food everywhere in Portugal! Enjoy your time there! 🙂
nailahhaywardJune 16, 2018 at 5:23 pm
I am planning a group trip to Portugal later this year. Glad I read your post on Coimbra – now I can recommend it as a side trip for our group to check out. Thank you!
CeliaJune 16, 2018 at 5:58 pm
I hadn’t heard of Coimbra before, but would love to explore Portugal one day… people have told me it’s a better version of Spain haha. All of those desserts sound amazing!
NehaJune 16, 2018 at 7:13 pm
Coimbra sounds lovely! I’m pinning this for future reference 🙂