View of Coimbra from the Forum Coimbra shopping mall
Most of Coimbra’s attractions are located on steep hills and narrow, winding cobblestone lanes on both sides of the Mondego River. The charming medieval center is home to a number of fine churches, and is topped by one of Europe’s oldest universities, which houses one of the world’s grandest libraries. The university and surroundings were classified as a World Heritage Site in 2013.
View of the New Cathedral and the Machado de Castro Museum from the university
The other side of the river is more recent, and can be reached by walking across Santa Clara Bridge, which offers a panoramic view of the old city.
This “newer town” also has some noteworthy and historic attractions, like the Portugal dos Pequenitos Park, and two architecturally significant monasteries -- the ruined Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, and the baroque Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova, which offers a great view over the city. Another wonderful view can be enjoyed from a shopping mall, the Forum Coimbra, which is an inexpensive taxi ride away, or reached by buses 38, 14, and 14T from Largo da Portagem.
Rua Ferreira Borges, Coimbra’s main pedestrian shopping street
Largo da Portagem is a small riverfront square that was once the gateway to Coimbra to those arriving by boat. It’s home to the main tourist office, and leads to Rua Ferreira Borges, the city’s main pedestrian shopping street. From this street you can go down a series of steps to the right, to the largest square in town (Praça do Comércio), and turn to the left to Arco de Almedina, the gateway to the medieval city. Before you turn, however, continue down the pedestrian street, which becomes Rua Visconde da Luz and ends at Praça 8 de Maio, the square faced by the beautiful Santa Cruz Monastery and the historic Santa Cruz Café. After your visit to the monastery, walk back to Rua Ferreira Borges, and go under the arch. Once past it, go up the steps and turn left to Rua Sobre Ripas, where you’ll see a couple of Coimbra’s oldest buildings (the 16th-century Sub-Ripas Palace and Torre de Anto, a 16th-century tower now housing an exhibition about fado music in Coimbra). Then there’s the church and museum of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia charity, and from here you should continue up the hill and turn right to Rua dos Coutinhos, which leads to the Old Cathedral.
The main building of Coimbra University
Continue up the hill from behind the Old Cathedral, and you’ll reach the university, the New Cathedral, and the Machado de Castro National Museum -- the highlights of any visit to Coimbra.
Three of several tile panels illustrating the city's main landmarks on Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes
After visiting these attractions, walk down Rua Larga (directly across from the entrance to the university), and continue down the hill, where you’ll see the arches of the aqueduct and the Botanical Garden. The Bissaya Barreto Museum is across the road, and if you continue down Rua Alexandre Herculano (faced by a statue of Pope John Paul II, which stands next to the aqueduct), you’ll reach Praça da República, a square frequented by university students, and home to Jardim da Sereia, one of the city’s favorite green spaces. Going down the landscaped Avenida Sá da Bandeira, you reach the market on Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes, faced by a series of tile panels illustrating Coimbra’s main landmarks. At the end of the road, you’re back by the Santa Cruz Monastery if you turn left, and reach Rua da Sofia if you turn right, which is home to a number of former colleges and churches, most of which are not usually open to the public. Alternatively, after your visit to the Botanical Garden, go down Rua Arco da Traição instead, continue down the narrow Couraça de Lisboa, and turn to Rua da Couraça Estrela, which zigzags back down to Largo da Portagem on the riverfront.
Rua da Sofia, home to former colleges and churches
By the river, you may rest at the park (Parque Verde do Mondego), from where you can also take a river trip in the summer months.
All or most of this can be done in one day, if you start early. On a second day, don’t miss the Roman ruins of Conimbriga. Staying overnight in Coimbra is necessary if you want to visit the ruins and experience a night of fado.
Santa Clara Bridge, which links old and new(er) Coimbra
In summary, the suggested itinerary is the following:
1. Largo da Portagem (stop at the tourist office)
2. Rua Ferreira Borges and Praça do Comércio
3. Santa Cruz Monastery (and Santa Cruz Café)
4. Arco de Almedina (and Sub-Ripas Palace)
5. Old Cathedral
6. Coimbra University
7. New Cathedral
8. Machado de Castro National Museum
9. Botanical Garden (and Bissaya Barreto Museum and Jardim da Sereia, if time allows)
10. Walk across Santa Clara Bridge (back at Largo da Portagem)
11. Portugal dos Pequenitos
12. Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
13. Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova
14. Night of fado
15. Roman ruins of Conímbriga