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.
Want to read this post later? Pin it on your Pinterest board!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through them, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this website. For more information, please read the disclosure for more info.
Related Post – My Ultimate 2 week itinerary in Portugal
Why Coimbra is great for a solo female traveller
Coimbra is a very welcoming city since the city has a mix population of locals and students from all over the world. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful. And it is not an intimidating place for solo female travellers. I felt completely safe even when I have my headphones on while walking around the city.
The city is compact enough that you can either visit the city on a day trip or stay overnight. I was making my way south from Porto and stopped in Aveiro for the day and continued on my way to Coimbra. It is a very common route, and there are many direct trains from Porto to Aveiro and Aveiro to Coimbra. I love how efficient the train system is in Portugal! And both train rides only cost about 4-5 EUR each trip. A super reasonable price for efficient transportation!
And because of the young population in Coimbra, there are many establishments catered to students and anyone who enjoys the nightlife. If you enjoy a night out in the town, you have to visit Coimbra!
Best things to do in Coimbra: 1-day in Coimbra itinerary
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 spending more than one day in Coimbra
If you are staying overnight in Coimbra and want to see other towns in the vicinity, here are a few options:
- Aveiro – 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.
- Covilhã – drive to this town full of street art which takes about 2 hours. Taking the train is possible too but it will take longer.
Where to stay in Coimbra as a solo traveller
As a solo traveller, I always pick an accommodation base on a few things: location, price, cleanliness of the room and the 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 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 sweet desserts as Coimbra’s heritage is full of in 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:
Typical food in Coimbra
- Barrigas de Freira (“nuns’ bellies”) – a regional pastry with half-moon shape where it has egg filling with almond
- Castanhas de Ovos (“egg chestnuts”) – made from a 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 leftover. 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, with 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
- Ovos Moles (“soft eggs”) – originally came from the Convent of Jesus in Aveiro. It is made with raw egg yolks and refined white cane sugar syrup. The ingredients are gently boiled and folded then wrapped in rice paper in the shape of seashells (because Aveiro is a coastal city)
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 consider 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.