Coimbra is my favorite city in Portugal. It was my love for old towns that led me there, combined with my fascination of extraordinary libraries. Yes, I’m a big nerd! I knew little about this city other than the renowned Joanina Library and its historical old town but when I started to do research and look up photos, I immediately fell in love with my other favorite – red rooftops!
Lying halfway between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra makes the perfect central base in Portugal. Its scenic old town is surrounded by the Mondego River which makes it all the more picturesque.
What I like most about exploring Coimbra is that you can easily walk to its top attractions. Having two days to spend, I knew I can easily check off every single thing on my list as the town was relatively compact. But as soon as I reached the main plaza where the old town begins, I didn’t want to just cross things off from my list. Instead, I took my time and allowed myself to take it all in. The great thing about solo travel is that you can do whatever you want. Walk slow, walk fast, spend an hour people watching, change your mind five times, the sky is the limit.
On the first day, I walked the cobbled streets and my eyes feasted on the countless pastry shops, cafes and stores that lined up the old town.
Walking around the historic old town was one of my favorite activities in Coimbra. Bright colored beautiful buildings dominated the streets and the smell of good food is never too far. The old town is perched on a hill so most of my leisurely walk was actually an enervating ascend but that was easily trampled by the town’s appeal.
In the heart of Old Coimbra, I found the historical Santa Cruz Church where the remains of the first king of Portugal, Afonso I, lie inside the church’s mausoleum. I spent some time people watching at the little plaza in front of the church. A group of people gathered around an old lady’s cart so of course I went to check it out. From the looks of it, I think she was selling hot chestnuts.
University of Coimbra
Getting to the famed university was an adventure itself. It is located on top of the hill and I opted to go with the flow and follow the signs. No map needed. Meandering the narrow and timeworn cobbled streets was fun and challenging. On my way up the hill, I passed by the university’s old cathedral and a band of singing students wearing their school uniform and black capes that reminded me of Hogwarts. It was awesome.
When I reached the front entrance, I was welcomed by another student dressed up in a black cape. I eventually found out from an alum I met in Aveiro that the students were wearing their traditional school dress.
It was easy to fall in love with the campus. To be able to walk where major historical events occurred and be surrounded by world-class archives that have been around since 1290 is priceless. I love the open feel of the school’s courtyard, Paço das Escolas or Palace of Schools. There you can find the University Tower, Joanina Library and the old Royal Palace.
The university’s main attraction, Joanina Library is one of the oldest and grandest libraries in the world. Its Baroque style design features gilded shelves, painted ceilings and wood-carved bookstands. I have never seen anything like it before so I could not help but be mesmerized in awe. I wish we were allowed to read the ancient books in the library, even just to touch the pages. The nerd in me was truly amazed.
More Points of Interests:
- Royal Palace
- University Tower
- Museum Machado de Casto
- Parque Verde do Mondego
- Se Velha
Though nearly most big cities in Europe have lost character and have been transformed into tourist traps, Coimbra has managed to remain distinctive and humble. Personally, I want to be selfish and keep visitors away from Coimbra so it won’t turn into just another tourist destination. But to not share this city’s charm is a crime for it deserves to be seen and explored.
Where to stay:
Hotel Oslo – Coimbra
Av. Fernão de Magalhães, 25
3000-175 Coimbra, Portugal
Tel. +351 239 829 071
Fax. +351 239 820 614