As the third biggest city in Portugal, Coimbra is a medieval city that 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. And the city is famous for its university, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2013.
Best of all, you can see all the best attractions in Coimbra within a day. Coimbra is a compact city and you can either visit the city on a day trip or stay overnight. Keep reading and learn how you can see all the best attractions when you spend one day in Coimbra.
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Before you spend one day in Coimbra
Before you start your solo Coimbra itinerary, take a look at my travel tips that you may find useful for spending a day in Coimbra:
- Starting your Coimbra day trip early. Try to arrive in Coimbra by 9am so you can comfortably follow my itinerary below.
- Things to bring for your Coimbra day trip: cash, water, mobile phone (with data), beach towel and sunscreen.
- Coimbra is a safe city for solo female travellers.
- Plan your visit to Coimbra with the following festivals and events:
- Queima das Fitas or Burning of the Ribbons (first Friday of May for 8 days) – one of the oldest and most famous students festivals which includes fado singing and parties
- Semana Santa or Holy Week (Easter) – ceremonies and processions
- International Jazz Festival (June) – weekend of live music and partying all over the city
- Coimbra Arts Festival (Summer) – art exhibitions, cinema screenings, plays, and fado concerts
How to get to Coimbra Portugal
The easiest and cheapest way to travel to Coimbra is by taking the urban train. You could be coming from Porto, Aveiro or other places in Northern or Central Portugal. Check the Comboios de Portugal website for train schedules and pricing.
FYI – Coimbra has are two stations: Coimbra and Coimbra-B. Coimbra Station is closer to the town centre.
Coimbra Day Trip Itinerary: Summary and Map
Coimbra is a compact city where you can see everything in the city in one day. Here is a quick summary of all the Coimbra attractions on your day trip to Coimbra:
- Monastery of Santa Cruz
- Manga Cloister
- Mercado Municipal D. Pedro V
- Porta e Torre de Almedina
- Old Cathedral of Coimbra
- University of Coimbra
- Aqueduto de São Sebastião
- Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra
- Ponte de Santa Clara
Below are all the attractions mentioned in the Coimbra itinerary. Red pins are all the must-see attractions in Coimbra and are part of the one-day itinerary. I organized all these attractions into an efficient itinerary. All you have to do is follow the numbered pins and read the description for each attraction.
Coimbra itinerary: What to do in Coimbra for a day
1. Santa Cruz Church
When you walk through baixa (downtown), 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 Church).
Founded in 1131, the monastery is the resting place for two historical figures, the first two kings of Portugal, Afonso Henriques and Sancho I. Not much of the original early Romanques monastery remained. The current church is part of many restorations which followed the Portuguese Gothic style.
But what is impressive is the interior of the monastery. There are Baroque tile panels which is made with azulejo, the blue and white glazed tiles, lining both sides of the church telling the story of Portugal’s history. Also take note of the complex organ and the Manueline architectural-style cloister.
Address: Praça 8 de Maio, Coimbra | Hours: 9:30am-4:30pm | Admission: €4
2. Manga Cloister
The Manga Cloister is an unusual yellow fountain next to the Santa Cruz Church. The structure consists of a center dome sitting on eight columns and four tower chapels at each four corners and are surrounded by rectangular pools.
The fountain is the first fully Renaissance structure in Portugal and it has been classified as a National Monument since 1934.
Wander around Jardim da Manga, which is the small green garden, or enjoy a coffee at the restaurant next door.
Address: R. Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes, Coimbra | Hours: 24 hours | Admission: free
3. Mercado Municipal D. Pedro V
Mercado Municipal D. Pedro V is a large three-storey indoor market where locals buy fresh vegetables, fruits, charcuterie, seafood, bread and pastries. There are also other things to buy like flowers, clothing and other knick knacks. And there are cooked food places and a bar.
The traditional market has been around for 150+ years. It was first built when Coimbra didn’t have a central place for its residents to buy food and other goods. The marketplace was built on the land that was once a vegetable garden for the Santa Cruz Church.
Today, you can get cheap groceries and good Portuguese food. It’s a good place to support local businesses.
Address: R. Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes 208, Coimbra | Hours: 6-12am Monday to Wednesday; 6-2am Thursday to Saturday | Admission: free
4. Porta e Torre de Almedina
When you walk towards the Mondego River on the main street, you will find Porta e Torre de Almedina (Almedina Gate and Tower) on the left, through the narrow cobblestone alleys.
The gate is the remaining entrance gate to the original city of Coimbra that was built in the 11th century and one of the last examples of Moorish architecture in the city. It is the only surviving door of the three doors that open towards the citadel.
Many people mistaken the Almedina Gate with the Barbican Gate (which I did, which is why I only have a photo of the Barbican Gate). But look for a tower with a gate – that’s the Almedina Gate.
Address: R. do Arco Almedina 7, Coimbra | Hours: 24 hours | Admission: free
5. Old Cathedral of Coimbra
On the way to the university, you will first see Sé Velha de Coimbra (Old Cathedral of Coimbra), one of the most well-known churches in the city.
The 12th-century Portuguese Romanesque cathedral has fortress-like crenellated walls, traces of Renaissance style on the northern facade, and a Gothic cloister.
You can see many original structures when you go inside, but the Spanish tiles, paintings and gilded altarpieces were added over time.
Address: Largo da Sé Velha, Coimbra | Hours: 10am-5:30pm | Admission: €2.50
6. University of Coimbra
The University of Coimbra was founded on March 1, 1290, by King D. Dinis. The university is one of the oldest in Europe, and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013.
It was formerly a royal residence. But today, it is a university campus with over 20,000 students with 80 different nationalities studying at the university.
You can wander around Coimbra University and see many historical buildings, churches, museums and a botanical garden for free. Only the library requires a fee, but it is worth it. Here are some highlights:
- Biblioteca Joanina (Joanine Library) – the famed Baroque library has over 40,000 books and was first commissioned in 1717 by King João V (hence “Joanine”). Look for the three painted ceilings with optical illusion and the portrait of King João V. Only 60 people are allowed at a time. A ticket is required.
- Via Latina – a gallery space with sculptures from the 18th century.
- Sala Capelos (The Ceremonial Hall) – originally the Throne Hall with portraits of Portugal’s Kings. Currently used for official ceremonies and academic events.
- Capela of São Miguel (Michael’s Chapel) – the 16th-century ornate chapel is covered with tiles and has a Baroque pipe organ and a Mannerist altarpiece.
- Clock Tower – an early 1700s 34m tower used for astronomical observations. Visitors are allowed to the top floor to view Coimbra for €2.
- Traditional Portuguese cobblestone pavement – a portrait of the Roman Goddess Minerva in black and white limestone in the courtyard accessed through the Iron Gate.
Address: 3004-531 Coimbra | Hours: 24 hours | Admission: free & €13.50 for Joanine Library
7 & 8. Sao Sebastiao Aqueduct and Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra
Sao Sebastiao Aqueduct, also known as Arcos do Jardim, is next to the Martim de Freitas sidewalk in front of the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra. Part of the aqueduct was from ancient Roman times, and the new part was added in the 16th century so water could be supplied to the upper town. The entire structure stretches over 1km, has 21 arches, and has been listed as a National Monument since 1910.
While you are there, roam around the botanical garden. The garden has more than 13 hectares of green spaces, including a unique floral collection to educate and promote biodiversity conservation. And there are fountains, greenhouses for tropical plants and even a bamboo forest!
Address: CC Martim de Freitas, Coimbra | Hours: 9am-5:30pm | Admission: free
9. Santa Clara Bridge
When you keep walking further on the main street, cross Ponte de Santa Clara (Santa Clara Bridge), turn around enjoy the view of city. This is one of the best spots to see Coimbra and the perfect place to end the Coimbra itinerary.
Address: Rio Mondego, Coimbra | Hours: 24 hours | Admission: free
Other things to do in Coimbra Portugal
There are other things to do in Coimbra besides the attractions mentioned in the itinerary. If you are staying longer than a day in Coimbra or want to switch up the itinerary, here are a few more things to see (see blue pins on the map):
- Miradouro do Penedo da Saudade – see poems inscribed on many sculptural stones and a panoramic view of Coimbra.
- Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha – an old monastery with a museum and the ruins of a cloister from the 13th century.
- Portugal dos Pequenitos – the first miniature theme park in Portugal that is suitable for all ages.
- Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova – a beautiful monastery where you can visit the tomb of Queen Isabel of Aragon, the patron saint of Coimbra.
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, and cleanliness. And the type of accommodation can vary between budget hostels to luxury hotels. Here are some hotel options in Coimbra to consider:
- JR Studios & Suites | Ruis I ($) – the best budget hotel in Coimbra with clean and modern rooms.
- Hotel Oslo Coimbra ($$) – a mid-range hotel with clean rooms and a fantastic rooftop view of Coimbra.
- Sapientia Boutique Hotel ($$) – get a double room at this modern boutique hotel close to the city centre.
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.
- Cruzio 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 Tentugal – 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. Admire the high-vaulted ceilings while listening to live music on Friday evenings.
- 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 tentugal and coffee with milk.
Is Coimbra worth visiting?
I think so! Coimbra is such a charming town – there are many little cobblestone streets, many pockets in the city where you can see views of Coimbra and the people are super friendly and nice. Even though it is known as a university town, there are still so many things to see in Coimbra that you shouldn’t miss.
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 solo Coimbra 1 day itinerary
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