Coimbra's upper town is dominated by the world-famous Old University (Velha Universidade) and its associated faculties. In 1288 three Portuguese ecclesiastics requested Pope Nicholas IV's blessing for the creation of an educational institution. Along with the Dom Dinis, they had first planned to establish the University at Lisbon. The church was to finance the venture as all students were to graduate as clergymen. The location of the University switched from Lisbon to Coimbra and back several times and the subjects taught broadened over the centuries.
After playing second fiddle to the universities of Paris and Italy, Dom João III decreed to improve standards in 1534, in the spirit of Europe's renaissance. The King invited Erasmus to come and teach at Coimbra but the humanist politely declined on the grounds of ill health. By 1537 the University was firmly established at Coimbra, and the Royal College of Arts was established. A medley of international professors and intellectuals were recruited, some of whom aroused the attention of the inquisition by being "free-thinking".
At the core of the old university is the courtyard which contains buildings on three sides, opening to the south. A statue of Dom João III stands with his back to the vistas of the river Mondego and the Lousã hills. Since 1634 entrance to the university has been through the Porta Férrea (Iron Gate) which replaced an earlier fortified gate. Incorporated into the courtyard is the palace donated by Dom João III in 1537, much altered over time. On the right of the entrance is the Via Latina, the old university building which sports a façade designed by Claudio Laprade. Access to the is through the door marked "reitoria" and off to one side is the catwalk which offers breathtaking views over the city.
The dominating feature of the courtyard is undoubtedly the distinct 33m (110ft) high Clock Tower in the North East corner which has been calling students to their studies since 1733. It has the ungainly nickname "a cabra" (the goat). It's possible to visit and climb the narrow stairway to the top. The ticket is only an extra euro in addition to the entrance ticket you've already purchased. A small price to pay for the fantastic panoramic views from the top.
To the left of the clock tower lies the remains of the former royal palace, its fine Manueline style portal probably designed by the architect Marcos Pires, one of the stonemasons of Batalha. The chapel is accessed through a side entrance via a neoclassical door. Construction of the original Capela de São Miguel began in 1517 and has seen subsequent renovations during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Amongst the richly decorated interior one finds an imposing baroque organ dating from 1733, carved and decorated in the Chinoiserie style by Gabriel Ferreira da Cunha, a popular style during the reign of João V. The opulent interior is plastered with gems. The ceiling dates from the 17th-century and is emblazoned with the royal coat of arms. Here too is a magnificent altarpiece by Bernardo Coelho, with paintings by Simões Rodrigues and Dominic Serrao.
This sumptuous old library was built between 1716-23, the most famous of the university's buildings and is considered as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It consists of three large salons with beautiful wooden bookstands. The library's architect was Gaspar Ferreira and its design is based on the Court Library in Vienna – Maria Anna of Austria was the Queen of Portugal at the time.
The adjoining rooms were a typically magnificent gift from Dom João V and his portrait hangs at one end. The entryways between the salons are decorated with coats of arms of the faculties. The ceilings have murals painted by Antonio Simoes Ribeiro and Vicente Nunes, both artists coming from Lisbon. There are tables for reading that are made of precious tropical woods, inlaid with ebony and decorated with Taracea mosaics. The library has many antique books, amongst them are books on philosophy, biographies, civil rights, and canon law. In the basement of the library, there are more bookstands and a small prison.
The library is home to a colony of Common Pipistrelle bats who nest behind the bookshelves. They emerge during the night to consume flies, gnats and other paper-eating pests before darting out the library windows and across Coimbra in search of water. The service they provide is priceless. The pests they consume protect the library's collection of ancient books from irreversible insect damage.
Monday - Friday: 08h30 - 22h00, Saturday: 09h00 - 15h00, Sunday: CLOSED
University Only | Adult: €7.00, Concessionary: €5.50, Child: €3.50
University & Library | Adult: €12.50, Concessionary: €10.00, Child: €6.25
Universidade de Coimbra, Largo Porta Férrea, Coimbra, Portugal. | 40° 12′ 26.6″ N | 08° 25′ 33.5″ W
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The origins of Coimbra go back to the Roman occupation of Iberia. Then Coimbra was known as Aeminium, a satellite town to the larger settlement of Conimbriga 16 kilometres (10 miles) to the south. Later in the fifth century, the Suevi, after conquering the region, favoured Coimbra for its higher elevation. During the long struggle during the Reconquista, Coimbra passed between Christian and Moor ownership many times. The city finally succumbed to Christian armies led by Fernando the Great of Castile in 1064. When Dom Alphonso Henriques was crowned King of the newly formed country of Portugal in 1139, he transferred the nation's capital to Coimbra from Guimarães.
Close to the train station Largo da Portagem in the Baixa (lower town) makes a good starting point for your visit to Coimbra. The Monument to Joaquim António de Aguiar stands guard in the middle of the square and the cafés there make an ideal spot to plan your trip, leaflets and maps can be obtained from the tourist office also located here. The Rua Ferreira Borges/Rua Visconde da Luz streets lead off from the Largo da Portagem and are Coimbra's main shopping area and lead you into the Praça Oito de Maio.
The gate of Almedina is a remnant of the old city wall originally built by the Moors and was once one of the main entrances to the city. Now it is one way to ascend the upper town to the cathedral and university. The tower built over the gate originates from the 15th century and now houses the Museum of Ethnography. On the outside of the arch is a carving representing the oldest coat of arms of the city.
Located in the Praça Oito de Maio, the Church of Santa Cruz is a treasured national monument. When founded in 1131, it lay beyond the city walls. Nothing much remains from the 12th century following extensive restoration in 1502. The distinctive ornate portal was built between 1522 and 1525. It encompasses the Manueline style of the period. When the plague hit the city in the 15th century the church was the destination for processions of mutual flagellating penitents called the "Procession of the Nudes".
Inside underneath the ribbed ceiling lie the tombs of Dom Afonso Henriques, Portugal's first King, and his son Dom Sancho. Other highlights include the polygonal pulpit carved from Ançã stone with a hydra-headed dragon at its base attributed to João de Roupo. Stairs from the Cloister of Silence (Claustro do Silêncio) lead up to Coro Alto, where a line of reliefs at the top of the magnificent choir stalls depicts Portuguese ships in battle with the Turks.
Excellent azulejos, statues, stonework and glassware are found in abundance, complimenting the exquisite architecture. It is possible to visit free of charge but the small additional fee for a tour of the sacristy and other areas is well worth paying.
Monday - Friday: 09h00 - 17h00, Saturday: 09h00 - 12h00/14h00 - 17h00, Sunday: 16h00 - 17h30
Church Entry: FREE, Sacristy, the Chapter House, Cloister and Exhibition: Adult: €2.50, Consessionary: €1.50
Address: Igreja de Santa Cruz/Panteão Nacional, Praça 8 de Maio, 3000-300 Coimbra, Portugal.
40° 12′ 39.4″ N | 08° 25′ 43.4″ W | +351 239 822 941
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Walking uphill from the Baixa through ancient cobbled streets leads you to probably the finest example of Portuguese romanesque. The Old Cathedral was constructed in 1162 during the period Coimbra was the nation's capital. It takes on a fortress-like appearance with crenellated walls and a massive Romanesque west doorway. Topped by a square tower, a blue and white fish-scale cupola with an angel weathervane. Legend has it that the cathedral started life as a mosque, which is quite plausible considering the first governor of Coimbra, Dom Sisinando, was himself Muslim before converting to Christianity.
The grand Romanesque interior contains three aisles and feels massive. Inside is now devoid of its early 16th century azulejos adding to the auster ambience. Notable features are a number of fine tombs, including that of Bishop Almeida (16th century); the large Late Gothic high altar, with representations of the Assumption by two Flemish masters, Oliver of Ghent and John of Ypres; and the Renaissance font (16th century). From the south aisle, a flight of steps leads up to the beautiful early Gothic cloisters from 1218.
Daily: 10h00 - 18h00 | FREE
Sé Velha, 18 Largo Sé Velha, 3000-383 Coimbra, Portugal.
40° 12′ 31.6″ N | 08° 25′ 37.5″ W | +351 239 825 273
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On the south bank of the River Mondego are the partly sunken ruins of the Gothic Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha, founded in 1286, which has slowly fallen victim to successive flooding of the river. It was here where the pious Queen Isabel (1271-1336) spent the last ten years of her life and also the murdered Inés de Castro, Pedro I's secret bride. Their remains were moved elsewhere after the destruction of the convent.
A replacement was constructed between 1649-77. This church is dedicated to St Isabel, wife of King Dinis and Coimbra's patron saint, and contains her silver tomb (1614), originally housed in the old convent it was transferred to its current position by Pedro II at the end of the 17th century.
In 1995 restoration and archaeological works took place which unearthed new finds and is now on show in the interpretive centre.
Tuesday - Sunday: 10h00-19h00, Monday: CLOSED | FREE
Rua das Parreiras, 3040-242,Coimbra, Portugal.
40º 12' 03'' N | 08º 25' 53'' N | +351 239 801 160
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Coimbra's gardens are some of this old city's most enjoyed treasures:
Colloquially known as the "Jardim da Sereia" (mermaid garden), this park was once part of the Santa Cruz monastery and dates back to the 17th century. The entrance of the Garden is at the head of the Avenida Sá Bandeira through an ornate triple triumphal arch that sports three statues representing Faith, Hope and Charity. Near the arch, there are also two fortified towers in baroque style and a scenic cascade. The Fonte da Bandeira Nogueira fountain has a statue representing a Triton (usually taken to be a mermaid) opening a dolphin's mouth, and the probable source of the park's common name.
The Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico) belongs to the University and is located close by under the aqueduct (Aqueduto de São Sebastião). Covering an area of 13 hectares, they are the largest gardens in Coimbra and the oldest in Portugal. The land once belonged to Benedictine monks before being acquired by the Marquis de Pombal in 1772. A vast array of exotic species of trees and shrubs were planted for study by the faculties of medicine and natural history. The gardens are laid out on two levels with explanation plaques associated with the most interesting species.
Located on the left bank of the River Mondego, the Quinta das Lágrimas estate spans 18 hectares. The house itself is a former 19th-century palace, which is now a five-star hotel. The gardens that surround it are filled with over 50 species of exotic plants, some of which are over 200 years old. Here too is the recently created Mediaeval Garden, the first of its kind in Portugal, in homage to the love story between Pedro and Inês.
Nature, charm, history, elegance, experiences… this is the essence of Quinta das Lágrimas, a hotel with soul and character, a retreat of comfort that honours Portugal's rich traditions of hospitality and gastronomy. For centuries a private sanctuary that welcomed Kings and Emperors, the Quinta das Lágrimas Palace is now open to all those who appreciate the art of fine living and to those who want to discover the love legend of Prince Pedro and Inês de Castro. Quinta das Lágrimas is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, an association of hospitality establishments that includes beautiful hotels of charm and some of the finest restaurants in the world.
Rua António Augusto Gonçalves, Santa Clara, Apartado 5053, 3041-901 Coimbra, Portugal. | 40º 11' 54" N | 08º 26' 00" W
+351 239 802 380
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This picturesque Art Nouveau building is a real feature in the lower part of Coimbra. Close to the train station and the shopping area Hotel Astória is ideally located. A touch of 1920's glamour with modern comforts. The Astória has been family-run for three generations, providing an intimate and comfortable atmosphere delivered with a personal touch that's usually absent in non-top-class hotel chains.
21 Avenida Emídio Navarro, 3000-150 Coimbra, Portugal.
40º 12' 28" N | 08º 25' 51" W
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Hotel Dona Inês is a modern and comfortable hotel, situated in the city center and the commercial heart of Coimbra, beside the River Mondego and 200 meters from the famous Choupal. It has 122 rooms, completely renovated in 2011, including a premium area consisting of 2 suites and 4 superior rooms. All rooms have private bathroom, air conditioning, direct dial telephone, minibar, safe, radio and satellite TV.
12 Rua Abel Dias Urbano, 3000-001 Coimbra, Portugal.
40º 12' 53" N | 08º 26' 10" W
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Petiscos e Vinhos; Portuguese tapas and wine, exactly what this restaurant promises and exactly what it delivers. With an extensive and creative menu and wine list you can try a variety of different dishes for the price of a full meal. The staff are at hand to guide you through the extensive list. An ideal venue for foodies wanting to spend a few hours. With cuisine this good bells and whistles are not needed.
Weekdays: 12h30 - 00h00, Saturday: 19h30 - 02h00, Sunday: 19h30 - 00h00
Rua Dos Combatentes da Grande Guerra, 102, Coimbra 3030-181, Portugal. | 40º 12' 13.5" N | 08º 22' 02.3" W
+351 239 402 818 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Website
Ignore the semi-industrial location and think about sweet juicy spit roasted suckling piglet, Leitão á Bairrada is a local speciality and a must try when in Coimbra. The sparkling (Espumante) Bairrada wine, red or white, is the perfect accompaniment to this dish. Keep room for desert, their homemade cakes are fantastic.
Monday - Saturday: 12h30 - 16h00/19h30 - 00h00, Sunday: CLOSED
3 Rua do Arnado, 3000-060 Coimbra, Portugal.
40° 12' 49.38" N | 08° 26' 5.11" W
+351 239 829 020 | email@example.com | Website
This small hide-away restaurant in the lower town is always bustling with life as it's popular with locals and visitors alike. Serving authentic dishes is the jovial owner goes out of his way to make you feel welcome. Former dinners have left messages on napkins which have been taped to the wall. The food is excellent and regional, dishes on offer include pork, goat and offal, as well as fresh fish and seafood dishes such as octopus, sea bass, sea bream and sardines. The wild boar stew is particularly excellent.
Monday - Saturday: 12h30 - 15h00/19h30 - 22h00, Sunday: CLOSED
12 Beco do Forno, Coimbra 3000-192, Portugal.
40º 12' 28.8" N | 08º 25' 47.5" W
351 239 823 790
GET A GREAT DEAL ON FLIGHTS:
The A1 runs north/south from Lisbon to Porto and goes through Coimbra.
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Coimbra is on the mainline running North to South and has many services, Regional trains, intercities and Alfa to Coimbra B station, theres a central station at Coimbra, connections are quite regular between the two: