Why You Should Visit Coimbra, Portugal

The 6th largest city in Portugal, half way between Lisbon and Porto has one of the world’s oldest universities, a UNESCO World Heritage University, established in 1290. It’s a colorful, hilly, riverside city that was the first capital of Portugal.

I toured the university which has many historical buildings, churches and a beautiful garden. Many rooms of the university were converted from a royal palace to a university in the 16th century. I visited the Biblioteca Joanina, built in the 18th century, which was just stunning! The Baroque library has over 60,000 books, most written in Latin before the 18th century. The ceiling is painted with a technique that creates an optical illusion. They use small bats for pest control that eat the insects that would eat their irreplaceable collection of ancient books. There are several churches on the university campus, but my favorite was Michael’s Chapel. It was built in the 16th century and covered with colorful tiles, a Baroque style organ which I got to hear someone play and a beautiful altarpiece.


It feels like you’re visiting Harry Potter as you stroll across campus as all the students wear black wool capes year round. The capes come from the Jesuit influence on the university. They wear black ties, not colorful ones like in Harry Potter. Did you know JK Rowling lived in Portugal? She taught English for 2 years in Porto and thus a lot of Portuguese locations have inspired her books which she started writing during that time.

After the morning tour of the University, I spent the rest of the day wandering the city by myself and felt completely safe. I loved having no direction and just walking for hours, up steep hills, and stumbling upon the lovely Sao Sebastiao Aqueduct! The 21 arches were built to provide water to the city, built in the 16th century and still well preserved located in the middle of the city. 

I walked through Rua Ferreira Borges, the main pedestrian street in the city center which was lined with shops.  Coimbra is full of colorful buildings and ancient buildings sprinkled in-between. 

an Italian restaurant I enjoyed

The windows are amazing!

Santa Cruz Monastery

close up of the tile on a building

If you have plans to visit Portugal, I recommend not spending it all in one city, as there are lots of other beautiful places to see. Coimbra has a young vibrant energy due to the university as well as old world charm.

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