Coimbra is the great hidden gem of Portugal. In the shadow of the other two great Portuguese cities, such as Porto or Lisbon, the city of Coimbra deserves a visit that you will not forget. Its steep streets are reminiscent of those two cities but it has its own special charm.
Coimbra was formerly the capital of Portugal, before Lisbon, and today it is a city with a great atmosphere and many tourists, where the first University of Portugal is located and one of the oldest in Europe.
As a curiosity, we also highlight that the Mondego River, the one that crosses the city, is the longest river that runs entirely through Portugal.
What to see in Coimbra in one day
The University of Coimbra
The tour of Coimbra can begin at its highest point, which will surely cost you to reach and where the old headquarters of the University of Coimbra is located, which is also a World Heritage Site.
In the fantastic University of Coimbra you have different points of interest that you will have to visit and enjoy. The most impressive is the Biblioteca Joanina, from the 18th century and in Baroque style.
It is made up of three rooms where you must direct your eyes to all corners, both to the shelves full of old books and to the ceiling to admire its ceiling.
As a curiosity, say that bats live in the Joanina Library that act as guardians of the books, keeping them safe from insects that could destroy them.
The Chapel of San Miguel, of which we can highlight its organ, and the Tower are other points of interest that you will find in the University. You can go up to the Tower and have great views of the city of Coimbra. You will find these two points in the Patio de las Escuelas.
In that same place is the entrance to the old Royal Palace, where you can admire the Assembly Hall or the Private Examination Room, among others. There is also a terrace from where you have views that almost resemble those of the tower in case you want to avoid climbing its 200 steps.
Don’t miss the Botanical Garden that is very close and that belongs to the university. It is the best botanical garden in Portugal and you should not miss it.
New Cathedral of Coimbra
In Coimbra we have two cathedrals. The newest is located in the upper part next to the University. La Se Nova, as it is known in Portuguese, was initially the church of the Jesuit College, which had been installed in Coimbra in the 16th century.
The main façade of the New Cathedral is typical of Jesuit churches, in a Baroque and Mannerist style. Going up some stairs you can access its interior and discover its altarpieces, its chapels, its choir and the spectacular baptismal font in the Manueline Gothic style.
Next to the New Cathedral is the Science Museum, a very interesting museum where you will discover the best secrets of science. You can also visit the Machado de Castro National Museum, with one of the best art collections in the country.
Old Cathedral of Coimbra
If you begin to descend the steep streets of Coimbra, cobbled and with a special charm, you will arrive at the Old Cathedral, Se Velha, which was the episcopal seat from the 5th century until the Marquis of Pombal moved it to the New Cathedral in 1772 after the expulsion of the Jesuits.
The Old Cathedral is a jewel of Portuguese Romanesque, the only one from the time of the reconquest that has survived the passing of the centuries. Its main facade has the appearance of a fortress, as if it were a castle and there are some steep stairs that take you to its interior.
The main point of interest inside the cathedral is the Romanesque-style cloister with a transition to Gothic. Without a doubt, a masterpiece.
The Church of Santa Cruz and the Baixa
If you continue descending you will reach the Torre de Almedina, leaving aside picturesque shops and restaurants, and you will finally reach the lower area, the Baixa. There is the spectacular Church of Santa Cruz, located in the Plaza del 8 de Mayo and next to the Coimbra Town Hall.
The Church of Santa Cruz is the most beautiful in Coimbra and its façade is simply impressive. It is part of the monastery of the same name, it was built in the 12th century and inside, in addition to the walls with the typical Portuguese tiles, we can find the tomb of Alfonso I, the first King of Portugal.
From there starts Ferreira Borges Street, the main commercial street of Coimbra. The surrounding streets are also full of shops and restaurants. The Plaza del Comercio is another of the highlights of the Baixa, which you must visit before reaching the Mondego River and crossing its bridge.
The left bank of the Mondego River
After crossing the Santa Clara Bridge you can have one of the best views of the city center, with the University in the upper part.
On the left bank of the Mondego River we have some of the essential places to see in Coimbra in one day. The first you come across is Portugal dos Pequenitos, a very special place made up of the main monuments of Portugal in miniature. If you know the country, it is a place you should not miss. If you don’t know it well, you won’t be so surprised because you won’t recognize the buildings.
Next to it is the Santa Clara a Nova Monastery, another interesting place you should visit, especially its cloister.
If you want, you can continue walking to Quinta das Lágrimas, whose gardens can be visited.