Travelers to the Mediterranean region shouldn’t miss the beautiful city of Coimbra. Located roughly halfway between Porto and Lisbon, this often overlooked destination has plenty to offer. Stopping here will take you away from Portugal’s gorgeous coastline towards its stunning untamed wilderness. But is Coimbra worth visiting?
With quaint old buildings piled up on a hill, this is a unique and picturesque city. It combines the benefits of living in a large place with easy access to parks, gardens, and surrounding countryside. It’s also a young and dynamic city with its own fun sense of identity.
If you’ve ever thought about visiting Coimbra but haven’t decided whether it’s worth the trip, then this guide is for you. We love Coimbra and would urge anyone to visit if they get the chance. Below are 7 reasons we think you’re going to love the wonderful city of Coimbra.
Big City Life, Without the Crowds
If you’re searching for a big city that has all the amenities, excitement, and energy you need, then Coimbra should meet your expectations. The city itself is home to around 150,000 people while the wider municipal area has close to half a million residents. This means that you won’t miss out on big city life – if that’s what you’re after.
At the same time, Coimbra doesn’t draw the massive crowds that you’ll find in other Portuguese cities like Lisbon and Porto. This means that you can enjoy a vacation free from mass tourism. Take a relaxed stroll around the ancient streets, city parks, and stunning surrounding countryside.
While not entirely off-the-beaten-track, Coimbra is certainly something of a hidden gem. Compared to cities like Paris, Rome, and Athens, you can explore the city at your leisure without worrying about crowds. Many of the tourists who come will arrive on a guided coach tour and leave within a couple of hours.
That leaves the city yours to discover. You’ll be able to interact more closely with locals and won’t have to worry about tourist traps. For anyone looking for a large and beautiful city that isn’t spoiled by crowds, Coimbra is a fantastic option.
Discover Unmatched Ancient Architecture
Archaeologists from around the world love Coimbra, particularly for the diversity of its ancient architecture. From Roman aqueducts to Medieval churches, the buildings in this city are simply stunning. Whether they’re in ruins or fully preserved, you’ll find incredible old buildings on every corner.
By keeping this rustic aesthetic in place, Coimbra has lost none of its charm. Many of its most beautiful and historically significant buildings are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This means that they won’t be knocked down or modernized any time soon.
Sé Velha is a rare cathedral dating back to the 12th Century – just one of many exquisitely preserved religious buildings you’ll find in Coimbra. Between the 1100s and the 1500s, many monarchs and other people of nobility called Coimbra their home. They used their wealth to build some of Portugal’s most beautiful architecture.
Don’t forget to check out Conímbriga: one of Portugal’s largest Roman settlements. In ruins but well-excavated, it’s one of the best places to get up close to what life was like between 2000 and 3000 years ago.
Revel in the Student Energy
A university town, Coimbra is home to a student population of over 20,000. If you’re young or just enjoy the energy and creativity of a youthful city, then Coimbra may be for you. This makes for a thriving nightlife and bar scene, where you can connect with locals and party the night away.
In particular, Coimbra is known for its student festivals. Try to visit during the festival season to watch the streets come alive. First, there’s the Festa das Latas or “tin can parade”. This began in the 19th Century as a way for students to celebrate the end of their studies. Every November, students march through the streets, making a ton of noise, before baptizing themselves in the Mondego river.
The other famous student festival is Queima das Fitas or “the burning of the ribbons”. Taking place across eight days in May, it’s one of Europe’s biggest student festivals and one not to be missed. It’s hosted by the University of Coimbra but anyone can take part.
Coimbra is an exciting and vibrant city. This is, in large part, due to its young student population. Soak in this excitement by adding Coimbra to your bucket list.
Listen to Unique Fado Music
The music of Portugal is like no other, having developed independently from outside influence. One perfect example of this is fado music. Conceived in the 1820s, fado is a uniquely Portuguese brand of music that incorporates guitar strings plucked in Waltz-style triple time. This traditional music is still worth watching live today.
Furthermore, Coimbra has its own unique style of fado that even diverges from what you’ll find in Lisbon. While both styles include mournful lyrics of working-class hardship, Coimbra fado it’s linked to the local university. The singers are always men, wearing academic robes, playing traditional medieval tunes.
Performances almost always take place in the dark streets after nightfall. This makes for an eerie but hauntingly beautiful experience. Nowhere else in the world will you encounter this special Coimbra fado music.
This music is also used to court single young women, being played to them through the window. So if you happen to be young and female, head to Coimbra for the chance to fall in love with a handsome Portuguese fado singer.
Explore the Natural Beauty
Although Coimbra is a large and bustling city, it hasn’t lost touch with nature. Within the city itself, you’ll find many protected parks and gardens. In the west, there’s the Arzila Swamp Natural Reserve, a wetland and wildlife conservation zone. This will never be built on and is a great place to explore if you’re itching to get away from urban areas.
The university is involved in protecting the parks within the city. For instance, the botanical garden is considered one of the oldest in the world. This offers an immediate escape from the crowds, taking you somewhere a little more tranquil.
If you have time to leave the city, then you won’t be disappointed by the incredible natural scenery that surrounds this area. The Mondego river passes through the center of the city and is lined with beaches to relax on. It then stretches out into the mountains, of which there are at least 174 in the Coimbra area.
Whether you want a long hike or a relaxing dip in the cool, refreshing rivers, Coimbra is an ideal place to stay. It’s a city that really cares about its wildlife and natural environment. You’ll find it easy to transition from urban to rural living and then back again.
Relax in the Natural Pools
Coimbra is a young and energetic city so you may feel yourself becoming quickly worn out. Fortunately, it’s also a city that allows for full rest and relaxation. Take advantage of the abundant natural pools where you can cool off, just as the Romans did 2000 years before you.
One of the most popular places for locals and travelers to relax is the Piscina Natural de Ançã. Escape the city and unwind in this tranquil paradise. During the summer, this is the most efficient way to stave off the Mediterranean heat. Alternatively, check out Louçainha, which has an amazing view of a nearby castle.
These natural pools have been used for many centuries as a dedicated place to cool off and socialize. However, if you want to be alone, you can always head to one of the nearby lakes and rivers that flow throughout the Coimbra mountains. Wild swimming is a common past-time for residents and is a great way to get in touch with nature.
Coimbra isn’t by the sea but there are plenty of natural water sources around. That’s just one of the many reasons this Portuguese city is well worth a visit.
Ideal Weather Conditions
Many from colder climates will head to Portugal to soak in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. However, for some, it can get a little too hot. That’s why they often opt for coastal towns where there’s a bit more of a breeze and the chance to cool off in the sea. You may be worried that Coimbra is too far inland.
Don’t worry! The huge Mondego River that slices in the city in half brings the Atlantic with it. This helps to keep the whole city cool and stops you from overheating during your travels. It also lets you enjoy the more rugged mountainous terrain that exists inland without suffering in the scorching continental heat.
Is Coimbra worth visiting year-round? Well, temperatures from June to August do regularly top 100°F but for the rest of the year, it lies between a pleasant 70°F and a bearable 90°F. If you can visit during these months, the weather should be just about perfect.