Coimbra Day Trip Delights: Your 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! Whether you’re coming from Lisbon or Porto, a day trip to Coimbra Portugal is worthwhile!

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!

I went on a day trip to Coimbra from Porto, and it was amazing!
If you’re thinking about what to do in Coimbra for a day, I’ll share what I did on my trip.
I’ll give you a guide on what to do in Coimbra in one day that includes the top attractions like Coimbra University, but also hidden gems like Manga Cloister.

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Coimbra Day Trip: Coimbra 1-Day Itinerary Summary

cobbled street with cafe table and chairs with umbrellas, people walking with tall buildings from a coimbra itinerary

If you only have one day in Coimbra and are asking yourself “Is Coimbra worth visiting” – yes, do it!

If you are planning a vacation in Portugal, you can definitely consider taking a Porto or Lisbon to Coimbra day trip. How long to spend in Coimbra depends on your overall trip plans. I had just one day, which made deciding what to see in Coimbra Portugal a bit challenging.

Here is your summary of Coimbra Portugal things to do in a day:

  • 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

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.

Opened on May 8th, 1923, in tribute to its location at Praça 8 de Maio (8th May Square), this café occupies a 16th-century building. Featuring lofty ceilings and lavish design, it gives the impression of a church rather than a coffee house. For me, it’s a must see in Coimbra.

Formerly an auxiliary chapel to the nearby Santa Cruz Cathedral, take a moment to enjoy your coffee while appreciating the building’s rich history and grandeur.

We will start and end our 1 day in Coimbra here. So let’s get moving and do some Coimbra sightseeing!

2. Visit the University of Coimbra

pillars, door and crest for a library a must see in one day in coimbra

Perched atop a hill in the old city center, Coimbra University, founded in 1290, stands as one of Europe’s oldest and most esteemed universities. With a rich history spanning over seven centuries of research and education, it holds the distinction of being one of just five universities globally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A visit to Coimbra University feels like a journey into the past, with its striking architecture and picturesque courtyards. Centered around the expansive Paço das Escolas courtyard, the beautiful buildings create an atmosphere quite different from the typical university setting.

You’ll notice students in distinctive black capes, resembling something out of Harry Potter, following their own paths away from the designated tourist areas.

Regardless of your time in Coimbra, exploring the university is a must for a complete experience of the city.

stone building with stairs and view of river on a Coimbra day trip

From the impressive bell tower to the lavish Baroque library, Coimbra University offers a wealth of sights. While you can freely wander through much of the university grounds, an entrance ticket is necessary to fully appreciate the most stunning attractions, including the Royal Palace and Tower, St. Michael’s Chapel, and Joanina Library.

  • The Royal Palace and Tower offer a thrilling highlight – the chance to climb the Palace Tower with its 184 steps. Not suitable for the claustrophobic, the narrow stone steps lead to breathtaking views of Coimbra. It’s truly worth the climb!
  • St. Michael’s Chapel stands out for its vaulted ceilings adorned with intricate frescoes, creating a stunning sight.
  • As for the Biblioteca Joanina, this 18th-century Baroque library is a European gem. Housing over 300,000 books, some dating back to the 16th century, it’s a must-visit for both book lovers and architecture enthusiasts alike.
building with red roof and statue on square at university coimbra
  • 📍Paço das Escolas
  • 🕥 Open daily between March and October from 9 am to 7 pm and November to February from 9 am to 5 pm (closed from 1 pm to 2 pm)
  • €12.50 (plus an extra €2.00 to climb the Tower)
  • Visiting tips:
    • entrance tickets are timed and guided
    • no photos are allowed in the Joanina library
    • for the best experience at Coimbra University, take a guided Coimbra University tour to skip the lines. Former students (as guides) share interesting facts and secrets about this top attraction, giving you a deeper understanding of its rich history

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!

Enter this serene garden through a towering 16th-century aqueduct. Filled with diverse plants and trees from around the world, it’s a truly unique and beautiful space. Widely regarded as one of Europe’s most stunning gardens.

Ideal for a leisurely walk, the garden offers a mix of exotic cacti and classic roses. Scattered benches provide perfect spots to relax, taking in the views and fragrant surroundings.

The Museum of Natural History is also located here, as is the Medicinal Plants Nursery, which is used by Botany University students.

Unfortunately, with just one day in Coimbra, you won’t be able to explore the entire peaceful garden. If you extend your visit to two days, you’ll have the opportunity to delve deeper into the garden than I could cover. And, for me this is one of the best Coimbra must see places I visited.

4. Explore the Machado de Castro National Museum

white church on coimbra in one day
Se Nova

The next stop on your Coimbra what to do itinerary is the Machado Museum, offering a distinctive educational experience. En route from Coimbra University to the museum, make a brief detour to the nearby 17th-century Sé Nova de Coimbra, a New Cathedral blending Baroque and Neoclassical styles. Take a quick, free look inside to admire its interior.

Discover the Machado Museum, home to a remarkable collection of artifacts from Portugal’s history. Featuring ancient Greek and Roman sculptures alongside medieval Portuguese art pieces.

The Machado de Castro National Museum is housed in a stunning Baroque-style building built in 1772 as a Bishop’s palace. Situated on the grounds of one of the largest Roman settlements, you can still explore the 1st-century cryptoporticus today. The museum includes a very cool subterranean gallery where you can 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!

view of city with red roofs and river as coimbra in one day
  • 📍Largo Dr. José Rodrigues
  • 🕥 Open Tuesday 2 pm to 6 pm, Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm, closed Monday
  • €6, or €3 for the cryptoporticus only
  • Visiting tip:
    • Recommended lunch spot of 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 Coimbra 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 enjoy wandering through historic old town centers, and Coimbra’s is a gem! Though small, take your time exploring because it’s incredibly scenic and atmospheric. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t find any free walking tours for Coimbra during my research.

traditional portuguese pottery with white and green accents found in 1-day in coimbra

As you admire the Moorish influences of Old Town, there are a few places to visit in Coimbra you’ll want to seek out. Here are some of the best things to see in Old Town.

  • Sé Velha, or Old Cathedral, stands out as the only remaining intact Romanesque church in Portugal. Dating back to the early 12th century, this cathedral resembles a fortress more than a traditional church. The true highlight is the stunning Cloisters, constructed in the early 13th century, making this one of my favourite Coimbra highlights
  • Porta e Torre de Almedina is 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 is 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

yellow cloister in coimbra is worth visiting

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’re as enamoured as I was, stroll through the grounds and gaze upon the amazing frescos. Even for a quick visit, it’s a fantastic Instagrammable spot in Coimbra. You can’t miss its bright yellow colour and impressive size and hope you’ll add it to your things to see in Coimbra too!

  • 📍Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes 182
  • 🕥 Open Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 5:30 pm
  • Free for Jardim de Manga and €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
    • Praça 8 de Maio (May 8th Square) is a busy square where the Santa Cruz Church and Cafe Santa Cruz lie

8. Drinks, Dinner and a Fado Performance

Wrap up your wonderful day of sightseeing with a traditional Portuguese Fado performance. It’s one of the best things to do in Coimbra at night.

Coimbra, the birthplace of Fado music, holds a special significance. Fado, a traditional Portuguese musical style with roots dating back 200 years, is believed to have originated in Coimbra and has deep historical roots in the city.

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.

Tiny Fado bars are scattered throughout the city, but for the most authentic experience, two particular ones stand out. Book in advance to secure your spot and ensure an enjoyable Fado experience.

Daily performances at 6 pm and 8 pm (50-minute concert)

  1. Cafe da Santa Cruz at Praça 8 de Maio
  2. Fado ao Centro at rua Quebra Costas 7 (see booking info below)

After the performance, extend your time in Coimbra with a late dinner. There are many quaint little tascas, budget-friendly restaurants, that ooze charm and offer good-tasting authentic food.

cobbled street with narrow laneway with sails over head coimbra in one day

Here are some that I recommend:

  • Ze Manel dos Ossos – a cozy, casual restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese dishes like Cozido à Portuguesa, a hearty meat and vegetable stew, or the Rojões, small chunks of pork seasoned with garlic and spices
  • 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 – specializing in dishes made with codfish, one of Portugal’s most popular foods. 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, this family-run restaurant cooks their traditional family recipes

What You’ll Miss on Your Coimbra in One Day Itinerary

gate with trees on free walking tour in coimbra day trip

Spending one day in Coimbra requires making tough decisions on what to see and what to skip—perhaps saving some sights for a future visit.

To create the perfect one-day itinerary, focus on minimizing travel time between sites. Since time is precious and the goal is to see as much as possible, this itinerary avoids unnecessary crisscrossing throughout the city. I’ve chosen Coimbra things to do that are close to each other, maximizing your time efficiency.

Here’s what got missed from your Coimbra what to see in a day list.

Santa Clara-a-Velha

One of the top-rated attractions in Coimbra is the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, but I haven’t included it in the itinerary. The monastery is situated on the left bank of the Mondego River, necessitating a walk across the bridge to the other side of Coimbra, which would consume a significant portion of your time.

The Monastery of Santa Clara a Velha, dating back to the 14th century, is a medieval Roman ruin that was abandoned in the 17th century due to frequent floods. In the late 20th century, it underwent excavation and restoration, opening as a visitor center where you can learn about its history and the restoration process.

Nearby sightseeing sites also include the 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 luxurious hotel Quinta in a former palace.

Coimbra Museums

old church that looks like a fortress on coimbra itinerary

Coimbra has various museums highlighting the city’s history and heritage. While I’ve included the most popular ones in the 1-day itinerary, which museum in Coimbra are you most interested in?

  • The Science Museum of the University of Coimbra, situated on the university campus, showcases exhibits on science, technology, and engineering, emphasizing the university’s history and research.
  • Coimbra Museum, situated in the Almedina Arch, exhibits the history and culture of Coimbra, featuring ceramics, textiles, and decorative arts.
  • Museu da Água de Coimbra, located in the former Santa Clara Convent, highlights the history of water in Coimbra, including the city’s water supply system and its significance to the local economy and culture.

Parks and Gardens in Coimbra

trees in garden in found in coimbra itinerary

While the Botanical Garden in Coimbra is on the itinerary, exploring all of its 13 hectares (32 acres) is impractical. You’ll get a glimpse of its beauty, but it requires more time to fully appreciate.

Another noteworthy park not included in the one-day itinerary is Portugal dos Pequenitos. This theme park showcases miniature replicas of traditional Portuguese buildings, landmarks, and monuments, making it an enjoyable activity for both children and adults to learn about the country’s history and culture.

Two additional scenic parks in Coimbra are Parque da Cidade Manuel Braga and Sereia Garden. Cidade Manuel Braga is a charming riverside park, perfect for a romantic stroll day or night to appreciate the Mondego River. Sereia Garden, a local favourite, is adorned with ornate statues and a large fountain, offering a pleasant experience on easy footpaths beneath the shady tree canopy.

If you are now wondering how long in Coimbra to stay, I would recommend at least one overnight, giving you 1.5 days to explore the city.

Planning a Day Trip to Coimbra

train at coimbra to lisbon train

Where is Coimbra Portugal?

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.

Day trip from Lisbon to Coimbra

  • The Lisbon to Coimbra train is the most convenient way to travel taking around 1.5 to 2 hours. 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.
  • Rent a car and drive from Lisbon to Coimbra taking about 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.
  • While several bus companies offer regular services, I don’t recommend using them for your day trip to Coimbra from Lisbon due to the extended travel time.

Day trip to Coimbra from Porto

I took a Coimbra day trip from Porto and recommend the Porto to Coimbra train option.

  • Train from Porto to Coimbra: 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 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.
  • Group tour: take a Porto to Coimbra day trip tour which includes a guided tour of the University of Coimbra campus and free time to explore the city centre.
  • While several bus companies offer regular services, I don’t recommend using them for your day trip to Coimbra from Porto due to the extended travel time.

As a Holidaymaker

Spending a day in Coimbra is an amazing way to explore the city and its unique attractions. As you can see the list of what to do in Coimbra Portugal is endless!

If you are looking for more inspiring places like Coimbra, check out the most beautiful villages in Portugal. You can find my full list of articles about Portugal, along with travel planning information and resources in my Travel Guide to Portugal.

Be sure to start with these two itinerary articles: