To be honest, we hadn’t even heard of Coimbra prior to researching destinations for our Portuguese road trip, which is probably why it was the most surprising destination of our trip. We had no expectations and absolutely loved the 24 hours we spent here and can’t recommend it enough! To skip ahead to our top 5 tips on how to spend a day in Coimbra, click here.
A Day in Coimbra: Getting There and Around
We arrived in Coimbra after a weekend in Porto (read about it here) during rush hour, and since we didn’t know much about the city, we were just following the directions of our GPS to get to the hotel. However, the closer we got, the steeper and narrower the streets became.
Tight narrow roads do not phase us after all of our European road trips, but these were some of the tightest and steepest we ever drove within a city. Our rental car was relatively small, but we took a different route to our hotel as we were not confident that we could make the tight turn without scratching our car.
A Day in Coimbra: Where to Stay
We spent our one night in Coimbra at the Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra which has very luxuriously designed hotel rooms.
Our room was on the first floor but because the hotel is on a hill, there is an amazing view of the city. The room is small but very unique and they even included free of charge champagne and cake in the evenings! Not to mention breakfast in bed in the mornings.
We didn’t spend much time in the hotel though as we hit the streets as fast as we could due to the rapidly setting sun.
A Day in Coimbra: What to See
Coimbra is a very old city, dating back to the Roman era and is anchored by the University of Coimbra, established in 1290, and perched on top of the hill. The university buildings include the jaw-dropping Pátio das Escolas. This historic square alone is worth the visit to Coimbra as there just isn’t a bad angle to take a picture.
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It was particularly beautiful at dusk and includes a view of the surrounding valley.
The next morning we headed back to the University of Coimbra area to see the Biblioteca Joanina, a famous historic library. The next scheduled visiting time was in one hour, so we took pictures in the beautiful Pátio das Escolas square. The nearby chapel and palace are also worth visiting.
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The palace tour had an outdoor terrace, which provided great views over the city.
We eventually made it into the library, the Biblioteca Joanina, and it was definitely worth the wait! This is one of the most impressive libraries that we have ever been to, and a definite must-see if you are in Coimbra. You’re not allowed to take photos inside, so check out their website to get an idea of what it looks like inside here.
Heading back down the hill, we explored the streets of the old town more and fell even further for this quaint city.
Because we only had one day in Coimbra, we did not have enough time to see the aqueduct, botanical gardens, and waterfront. From the quick views we saw from afar, they definitely are worth a visit as well!
A Day in Coimbra: Where to Eat
While in Portugal, we were on a mission to try natas in each city. Pastel de nata’s are custard filled tarts, and are worth eating at any time of day. A few locals recommended we stop by this café for a coffee and some natas. The natas here are some of the best we tried, with incredibly flaky pastry. They were only surpassed by the slightly more lemony natas we had at the Largo da Portagem square.
We both truly believe that calories don’t count when you are traveling!
For dinner, we can highly recommend Zé Manel dos Ossos. This restaurant was recommended to us by some locals we met the day before. They advised arriving half an hour before the restaurant even opened at 7:30pm! We arrived on time, and were second in line, with a few other groups arriving only a few minutes later. This restaurant is one of the best in Coimbra for traditional Portuguese food. As there are only seven tables inside it pays to arrive early, so there is no need to wait.
Time passed by quickly, and soon enough the friendly staff seated us inside the eclectically designed restaurant. The owner is super friendly and since we didn’t know what to order (nor could we read the menu) he chose for us. We shared a starter of mushrooms and pork; it was absolutely delicious, with a nice rich flavor.
The main course: seared pork with rice and beans.
Portuguese food is hearty and filling! This was the best meal from our Portugal trip, although the pitcher of wine definitely helped wash it all down. There is nothing like a relaxing digestive evening stroll around the city after a heavy meal.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips on How to Spend a Day in Coimbra
- Pick a hotel in the historic old town. There are numerous small hotels in the historic old town with reasonable rates. The location allows you to easily reach all sights by foot, and be close enough to rest your feet in the middle of the day if you need it. We stayed at the Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra and can highly recommend it!
- The first stop when you arrive should be to get tickets to see the Joanina Library. They only allow 60 people in the library at any given time and reservations are mandatory. Get your tickets early so that you don’t miss out! There are so many beautiful photo opportunities all around the University of Coimbra and the square, that even if you have to wait a bit, it is no problem.
- Bring your best walking shoes, i.e. comfortable and preferably closed flats. While flip flops might be comfortable, they will hurt your feet after walking up and down these steep cobble stone streets for hours. Walking is absolutely the best/only way to explore Coimbra. This seems to be a common tip in Portugal!
- Try the natas – all of them! We indulged in natas almost every day of our trip in Portugal. The best ones that we had on our whole trip were in Coimbra. We can highly recommend these two cafes, here and here. We also had The World Needs Nata recommended to us, but it was closed when we were visiting.
- Eat at Zé Manel dos Ossos. This is not your typical restaurant and already seems to be gaining a lot of popularity through word of mouth only. Prepare yourself for a hearty meal of traditional Portuguese food and entertainment written all over the walls. If you decide to stop by, make sure you get there a 10-15 minutes before they open for dinner. The place has only a few tables and often lines up out the door.
Have you been to Portugal? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
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