Portugal City Travel Guide: Coimbra
Coimbra is famous above all for its ancient university: one of the world's first. Coimbra consists of an upper and lower town. The bridge, Ponte de Santa Clara, crosses the Mondego River and leads onto the main square, Largo da Portagem, at its north-east bank.
From here the lower town spreads out principally along the busy and happening Rua Ferreira Borges to the next main square, Praca do Comercio. A little further up Rua Visconde da Luz is Santa Cruz, a Gothic church housing the remains of Afonso Henriques, Portugal's first king, and worth a visit for its exquisite azulejos tiles.
The upper town leads up to the hilltop on which the university sits. Founded in 1290, Coimbra University boasts some of the city's main architectural treasures, especially its beautiful library full of priceless books. Below it are no less than two cathedrals: Se Velha, Portugal's supreme example of the Romanesque style, and Se Nova, a Jesuit church featuring an opulent altar.
Further west of the university is the center of the upper town, Praca da Republica, beside Santa Cruz Park (nowhere near the church of the same name) and with the Botanical Gardens a little to the south.
The first Thursday in May sees Coimbra host the Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons festival), when students celebrate the end of the school year with fado and other music concerts and a parade of floats and heavy beer drinking. The Festa das Latas (Festival of tin cans) occurs in November and is a welcoming party and rite of passage for new students.
Coimbra was Portugal's capital city for around 100 years from 1145-1255, when King Afonso III moved his court to Lisbon. Coimbra's highpoint, quite literally, is its magnificent and prestigious university, which though founded as a university in 1290 in Lisbon before being moved to Coimbra in 1537. Notable sights are the university's 18th century Clock Tower, the ornate Capela de São Miguel, the statue of the university's patron King João III and the ornate Biblioteca Joanina, all set in and around the Patio das Escolas Square. The Science Museum of the University of Coimbra (Tel: 239 854 350), housed in former in the 18th century chemistry laboratories building, has collated the historical scientific collections of the various faculties at the university. The Museu Nacional Machado de Castro was formerly a Bishop's Palace built over Roman remains and contains priceless collections of 14th-16th century sculpture, Roman antiquities and more contemporary works. The museum is closed for renovation work.
The Sé Velha (Old Cathedral; Tel 239 835 273) is a fortress-like Romanesque church dating from the late 12th century when the war with the Moors was still taking place. The Sé Nova (New Cathedral; Tel 239 823 138) is a mainly 17th century building built by the Jesuits in the university area. Coimbra's lovely Jardim Botanico (Botanical Gardens; Tel: 239 855 233) were laid out by the Marques de Pombal in 1772-74 and offer ornate fountains, terraced flowerbeds, glass houses and the small Museu Botanico (Tel: 239 855 210), all in a tranquil setting. The 16th century Aqueduto de São Sebastião, built on the course of a previous Roman acqueduct runs along the eastern edge of the gardens.
Across the Mondego River from the old city, Portugal dos Pequenitos (Tel: 239 801 170) is a popular theme park for families with young children, displaying scale models of Portuguese monuments, houses and buildings from Portugal's ex-colonies.
Ponte de Santa Clara across the Mondego River
A view of Coimbra
Regional Tourist Office
Municipal Tourist Office
Coimbra Station A is the main station for regional trains. Tel. 239 834
998 for local rail information.
From Lisbon take the A1 highway north. Takes about 2 hours.
Bus Station on Avenida Fernão de Magalhães.
Coimbra viewed across the Mondego River
Astoria, three star, 82 rooms, around EUR 80-90 for double room with
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Local football team
Associação Académica de Coimbra
The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade.