Coimbra Day Trip – A Perfect 1 Day Itinerary
Are you looking for an amazing day trip that is packed with culture and history? Take a Coimbra day trip where it has it all! From the fascinating Old University to its quaint cobbled streets, this charming city is sure to captivate your imagination.
Coimbra is often referred to as the “Athens of Portugal” for its long interesting heritage. It was even once the capital of Portugal and the birthplace of six Portuguese monarchs. Combine that old-world charm with today’s youthful atmosphere and you have one interesting city worth visiting! Spend one day in Coimbra exploring the colourful streets and you’re guaranteed to find something special around every corner.
In this blog post, I’ll be providing a guide on what to do in Coimbra in one day. From either Lisbon or Porto, a day trip to Coimbra is worth it! So grab your camera and get ready for a memorable experience in this beautiful Portuguese city!
Table of Contents
Coimbra Day Trip
From either Lisbon or Porto, Coimbra makes for an amazing day trip! Any city that has a long, rich history as Coimbra does, is worth visiting. As a small, compact city, consider this your very own Coimbra walking tour. That said, it’s very hilly, maybe not to the degree as Porto or Lisbon, but still very hilly.
Coimbra in a day will bring you to all of these amazing sights:
- Cafe Santa Cruz
- Coimbra University
- Botanical Garden
- Se Novo
- Machado Museum
- Old Town and its historic centre
- Se Velha
- Manga Cloister
- Santa Cruz Church
- Fado performance
So, let’s explore Coimbra?!
Itinerary for Your One Day in Coimbra
This 1 day Coimbra itinerary will give you a taste of the history, culture, and cuisine of Coimbra.
1. Grab a coffee at Cafe Santa Cruz
Start your day with a typical Portuguese breakfast of pastries and coffee at one of Coimbra’s most famous coffee houses – Café Santa Cruz. It opened on May 8th, 1923 in honour of its location on the Praça 8 de Maio (8th May Square).
It’s located in a building dating back to the 16th century. With high vaulted ceilings and an opulent design, one might think you’re inside a church rather than a coffee house. And that’s because this building was formally the auxiliary chapel to the next door Santa Cruz Cathedral. Sip on your coffee and admire the history and grandeur of the building.
We will start and end our 1 day in Coimbra here. So let’s get moving…
2. Visit the University of Coimbra
Located on top of a hill in the heart of the old city, Coimbra University has been one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe since its founding in 1290. The university has a long history and tradition that includes over seven centuries of research, teaching and learning. It’s also one of only five universities in the world listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Visiting Coimbra University is like taking a step back into history as you explore its impressive architecture and stunning courtyards. It’s a complex of beautiful buildings arranged around the large courtyard called Paço das Escolas. It doesn’t really resemble a university at all. Students in their black cape uniforms (very Harry Potter-esque) have their separate pathways away from the clearly defined tourist area.
From its majestic bell tower to its grandiose Baroque library, there is no shortage of things to see here. You can explore a good portion of the University grounds yourself but you’ll need to buy an entrance ticket to admire the most beautiful sights – the Royal Palace and Tower, St. Michael’s Chapel, and Joanina Library.
- The Royal Palace and Tower – the highlight is being able to climb the Palace Tower – 184 steps! It’s not for the claustrophobic, as those exceedingly narrow stone steps lead you to incredible views over the city of Coimbra. Definitely worth it!
- The St. Michael’s Chapel -the highlight is seeing the chapel’s vaulted ceilings covered in intricate frescos. So beautiful!
- The Biblioteca Joanina – the highlight of this 18th-century Baroque library is that it’s considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. It houses a collection of over 300,000 books, some of which date back to the 16th century. It’s a must-visit for book lovers and architecture enthusiasts!
- Address: Paço das Escolas
- Opening hours: open daily between March and October from 9am to 7pm and November to February from 9am to 5pm (closed 1pm to 2pm)
- Entrance cost: €12.50 (plus an extra €2.00 to climb the Tower)
- Ticket info: when you buy your ticket, it’s timed and will be guided (they are very strict on times, so don’t be late)
- Visitor’s tip: sadly, no photos are allowed in the Joanina library
- Recommended guided tour: being the top attraction in Coimbra, I strongly recommend a guided tour of Coimbra University without a queue. There’s no better way to learn about all of the past and present secrets and fun facts about this must-see landmark than from past students of the university.
Grab your University of Coimbra Guided Tour ticket – check prices and book your dates.
3. Walk through the Botanical Garden
The 18th-century Botanical Garden is located near the University of Coimbra making this your ideal second activity for your day in Coimbra!
You enter this peaceful garden through a towering 16th-century aqueduct. This gorgeous green space is full of beautiful plants and trees from all over the world, making it a truly unique place to explore. In fact, it’s considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe.
It’s the perfect place for a stroll, from the exotic cacti to the traditional roses. Benches are scattered around the garden where you can relax while taking in the views and fragrances around them.
The Museum of Natural History is also located here, as is the Medicinal Plants Nursery, which is used by Botany university students.
Sadly, it’s impossible to see all of this peaceful garden on your one day in Coimbra. If you decide to turn your one day into two – you’ll be fortunate to explore this garden in more detail than I was able to cover.
4. Explore the Machado de Castro National Museum
Next on the Coimbra itinerary is a unique, educational experience at the Machado Museum. On your way past the Coimbra University to the Museum take a slight detour to the nearby 17th-century Sé Nova de Coimbra or New Cathedral blending Baroque and Neoclassical styles. Take a quick peek inside (for free) to see the interior.
Now depending on your timing this might be a before or after lunch activity. Either way, this is your 4th stop where you can enjoy both!
Explore the Machado museum for its impressive collection of artifacts from Portugal’s past. From ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to medieval Portuguese art pieces, there’s something for everyone here.
The Machado de Castro National Museum is housed in a stunning Baroque-style building built in 1772 as a Bishop’s palace. It actually stands on the site of one of the largest Roman settlements, whose 1st-century cryptoporticus can be still visited today. The very cool subterranean gallery is part of the museum allowing you to see some of its vaulted passageways.
Inside the walls of the palace are more than 30 rooms full of artwork and historical objects that have been collected over centuries of Portuguese history. Among these are 13th-century Islamic ceramics, 16th-century paintings and 18th-century furniture from Portugal’s golden age of exploration.
Even if you’re not a big museum-goer this is a pretty impressive site for its architecture and views! And, now it’s time for lunch!
- Address: Largo Dr. José Rodrigues
- Opening hours: open Tuesday 2pm to 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm, closed Monday
- Entrance cost: €6, or just the cryptoporticus €3
- Recommended lunch spot: Loggia – the museum’s restaurant – which offers the best dining view in Coimbra
5. Lunch at a traditional restaurant
Head to a traditional Portuguese restaurant for a hearty lunch. Try Cozido à Portuguesa, a stew made with various meats and vegetables, or Bacalhau à Lagareiro, a dish made with codfish and potatoes.
For the best location, food and view, stay at the museum’s restaurant Loggia. If not, try O Trovador which is nearby offering a modern take on a Portuguese menu. Two more nearby options are Cafe Sé Velha and Maria Portuguesa, which are traditional tascas (small-budget eateries in Portugal).
6. Wander Old Town
Now it’s time to walk off your lunch and discover the wonderfully beautiful historic old town of Coimbra. Wander through its maze of narrow streets and alleys. Taking in the colourful houses, local shops, and cafés.
I don’t know about you, but I just love getting lost a little in historic old town centres. And, Coimbra’s old town is just that! It’s small in size, but don’t rush your time here as it’s incredibly scenic and atmospheric. I researched Coimbra free walking tours but didn’t seem to find any.
As you admire the Moorish influences of Old Town, there are a few sights you’ll want to seek out. Here are some of the best things to see in Old Town.
- Sé Velha, or Old Cathedral – is famous for being the only Romanesque church in Portugal that remains intact today. This early 12th-century cathedral looks more like a fortress than a church. The real highlight here is the beautiful Cloisters, built in the early 13th century.
- Porta e Torre de Almedina, a tall medieval stone tower that was once part of the city’s defences
- Porta de Barbacã, or a Barbian gate your entry point from the bustling street, rua Ferreira Borges to Old Town
- Tricana of Coimbra – a bronze statue depicting the mythical image of a woman from Portuguese Fado songs (can be found along rua Quebra Costas)
7. Admire the Jardim de Manga
We’re nearing the end of your one day in Coimbra, but it’s well worth making time to visit the Jardim de Manga, also known as the Manga Cloister.
The cloister is part of the ancient Santa Cruz monastery that dates back to the 14th century. This hidden gem features a stunning courtyard with intricate stonework and two rows of arches leading to a central fountain. It’s a quiet oasis in the middle of a busy city. If you are enamoured as I was, stroll along the grounds and gaze upon the amazing frescos. If you’re making it just a quick stop then it’s a great instagrammable spot in Coimbra. You can’t miss its bright yellow colour and impressive size.
- Address: R. Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes 182
- Opening hours: open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 5:30pm
- Entrance cost: Free (Jardim de Manga) €3 (to the monastery and cloister)
- Nearby sights: the town hall (or Camara Municipal de Coimbra), Igreja de Santa Cruz – a beautiful 12th-century Gothic church with an impressive collection of Renaissance and Baroque art and Praça 8 de maio (May 8th Square) a busy square where the Santa Cruz and Cafe Santa Cruz sit
8. Drinks and a Fado performance
End your fabulous sightseeing day with a typical Portuguese Fado performance. Coimbra is the birthplace of Fado music. Fado is a traditional Portuguese kind of music whose roots go back 200 years, but the whole genre is thought to be much older and to have originated in Coimbra.
There are tiny Fado bars dotted throughout the city, but there are two that offer the best authentic experience. Booking in advance is recommended to save your spot.
Daily performances at 6pm and 8pm (50-minute concert)
- Cafe da Santa Cruz at Praça 8 de Maio
- Fado ao Centro at rua Quebra Costas 7 (see booking info below)
After the performance, extend your time in Coimbra with a late dinner. Check out the recommended restaurants below.
Pre-book the live Fado show with Port Wine Tasting. Check prices and book your dates.
Restaurants in Coimbra
Coimbra is known for its delicious traditional cuisine. There are many quaint little tascas, budget-friendly restaurants, that ooze charm and offer good-tasting authentic food.
Here are some of the best restaurants in Coimbra to enjoy during your visit:
- Ze Manel dos Ossos – a cozy, casual restaurant known for its traditional Portuguese dishes and friendly service. Try the Cozido à Portuguesa, a hearty meat and vegetable stew, or the Rojões, small chunks of pork seasoned with garlic and spices as a couple of their specialties.
- Arcadas – located in the courtyard of the historic Paço das Escolas, this elegant restaurant features a fine dining menu with a great wine selection and modern Portuguese cuisine.
- Solar do Bacalhau – this restaurant specializes in dishes made with codfish, one of Portugal’s most famous ingredients. Try the Bacalhau à Lagareiro, a dish made with codfish and potatoes, or the Bacalhau com Natas, a casserole made with cod, cream, and onions.
- Cozinha da Maria – this charming restaurant offers a cozy atmosphere and homemade Portuguese dishes, such as the Bife à Portuguesa, a steak cooked in a tomato and onion sauce, or the Arroz de Pato, a rice and duck casserole.
- No Tacho – one of the city’s most popular tascas with the locals is this family-run restaurant cooking their traditional family recipes in a warm, friendly atmosphere.
These are just a few of the many excellent restaurants in Coimbra that offer delicious food and a great atmosphere. No matter which one you choose, you’re sure to enjoy the traditional Portuguese cuisine and warm hospitality of this beautiful city.
Coimbra in One Day and What You’ll Miss
Spending one day in Coimbra means you’ll have to make some tough decisions on what to see and what to skip, or better yet save for a return trip.
The key to planning the ideal 1-day itinerary is to minimize your travelling time from one site to the next. Time is precious, you want to see as much as you can, so this itinerary does not have you crisscrossing all over the city.
One of the most popular, and highly rated sightseeing attractions in Coimbra is visiting the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha. I didn’t include it, simply because it is located on the left bank of the Mondego river. It requires a walk across the bridge to the other side of Coimbra, taking a significant portion of your time.
The Monastery of Santa Clara a Velha is a medieval roman ruin from the 14th century that was left abandoned due to frequent floods in the 17th century. It was only excavated and restored in the late 20th century and opened as a visitor center to learn about its history and restoration.
Nearby sightseeing sites also include: St Francis convent from the 16th century and the 12 hectare Jardins da Quinta das Lágrimas garden known for its romantic history and site of the luxuious hotel Quinta in a former palace.
Coimbra has several museums that showcase the city’s rich history and heritage. I did include the most popular as part of the 1-day Coimbra itinerary, but which Coimbra museum interests you more?
- Science Museum of the University of Coimbra: this museum is located on the University of Coimbra campus and features exhibits on science, technology, and engineering, with a focus on the history of the university and its research.
- Coimbra Museum: this museum is located in the Almedina Arch and features exhibits on the history and culture of Coimbra, including ceramics, textiles, and other decorative arts.
- Museu da Água de Coimbra: this museum is located in the former Santa Clara Convent and showcases the history of water in Coimbra, including the city’s water supply system and its importance to the local economy and culture.
Parks and Gardens in Coimbra
Although the Botanical Garden in Coimbra is on your itinerary, it’s impossible to see all of the 13 hectares (32 acres). You’ll get a sense of how beautiful it is, but it really does need more time to appreciate everything it has to offer.
Another park of that didn’t make it on the one day itinerary that is considered one of the fun things to do in Coimbra is Portugal dos Pequenitos. This theme park features miniature replicas of traditional Portuguese buildings, landmarks, and monuments. It’s a popular activity for children and adults alike, and a great way to learn about the country’s history and culture.
Two more scenic parks in Coimbra are Parque da Cidade Manuel Braga and Sereia Garden. The Cidade Manuel Braga is a pretty riverside park, a romantic place for a stroll day or night to admire the Mondego river. As is the Sereia Garden, a local’s favourite garden dotted with ornate statues and a large fountain, all to be enjoyed on the easy footpaths under the shady tree canopy.
Planning a Day Trip to Coimbra
Coimbra sits almost right in the middle of the two popular cities in Portugal – Porto and Lisbon. Coimbra is about 200 km (125 miles) north of Lisbon and about 120 km (75 miles) south of Porto. This makes a day trip to Coimbra super easy from either city.
Coimbra to Lisbon
- Coimbra from Lisbon by train: the most convenient way to travel from Coimbra to Lisbon is by train. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, and there are several trains departing from Lisbon’s Santa Apolonia or Oriente train stations each day. The train stops at Coimbra B, where you’ll have to catch another local train to the central station, close to the center.
- By car: rent a car and drive from Lisbon to Coimbra. The journey takes around 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on traffic and the route you take. The most direct route is to follow the A1 highway north and exit at Coimbra Norte, be ready for the tolls on the A1 highway.
- By Bus: there are several bus companies that operate regular services from Lisbon to Coimbra, such as Rede Expressos and FlixBus. The journey takes around 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on traffic, and there are several departures each day.
Coimbra to Porto
- Travel from Porto to Coimbra by train: the most convenient way to travel from Coimbra to Porto is by train. The journey takes around 1 to 1.5 hours, and there are several trains departing from Porto’s Campanhã or São Bento train stations each day. The train stops at Coimbra B, where you’ll have to catch another local train to the central station, close to the center.
- By Group tour: join a group tour that brings you to Coimbra for the day giving you a tour of the University of Coimbra campus and free time to explore the city centre, check prices and book your dates.
- By car: rent a car and drive from Porto to Coimbra. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic and the route you take. The most direct route is to follow the A1 highway south and exit at Coimbra Sul. Be prepared for tolls on A1 highway.
- By bus: there are several bus companies that operate regular services from Porto to Coimbra, such as Rede Expressos and FlixBus. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic, and there are several departures each day.
FAQ: Coimbra in a day
Is Coimbra worth a day trip?
Coimbra is worth a day trip to Portugal’s oldest university city! With museums, cobblestone streets, a vibrant culture, and traditional tasacs restaurants, Coimbra makes an amazing day trip from Lisbon or Porto.
Is one day enough for Coimbra?
One day in Coimbra is enough to experience its ancient churches, tour Portugal’s oldest university and wander the maze of cobbled streets in Old Town.
How many days in Coimbra?
Although Coimbra can be experienced in one day, it’s ideal to spend at least one night in Coimbra allowing you to see more of the sites like Old Santa Clara and gardens.
Portugal Travel Resources
Coimbra is worth visiting, but beyond this university city, here are other resources to help with your Portugal trip inspiration and planning.
- Is Porto Worth Visiting? 17 reasons why I say YES it is
- Spending 3 days in Porto with the ultimate itinerary
- A Douro Valley Wine Tour from Porto
- The Best Neighbourhoods in Lisbon
- Your amazing 4 Days in Lisbon with this itinerary
- Visit the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon
- A day trip from Pena Palace in Sintra
- Baixa House, the place to stay in Lisbon
- The historic city of Evora, a day trip from Lisbon
- Visiting the Alentejo region in Portugal
- Tavira, the beautiful city in the Algarve
- Top beaches in the Algarve in Portugal
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As a holidaymaker
Spending a day in Coimbra is an amazing way to explore the city and its unique attractions. From its beautiful gardens and ancient landmarks to its incredible cuisine and youth atmosphere, Coimbra has something for everyone. Plus, its friendly locals are always willing to help make your experience even better making a day trip to Coimbra well worth it!
Feel free to email me if you have any further questions about Coimbra at firstname.lastname@example.org.