Ask anyone to name a Portuguese city and you can almost guarantee they will say Lisbon or Porto. One city that everyone forgets, but shouldn’t, is Coimbra.
This little-known gem is half way between Lisbon and Porto. It was actually the capital for over a hundred years in medieval times, and is oozing with history as a result.
During term time you’ll notice that the city is home to the country’s oldest and most distinguished university, Universidade de Coimbra which was founded in 1290. With 25,000 of the city’s 150,000 population made up of students, you’re guaranteed busy bars and cafes full of style-savvy youth. Portuguese students are pretty cool and well behaved though – you’ll enjoy their company.
One interesting quirk of Coimbra is the accommodation students live in, known as República. These communal living spaces aren’t your average scruffy student digs, however, with some Repúblicas even employing cooks and housekeepers.
Much like Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, the university is as much a tourist magnet as a place of learning. Since 2013, the university buildings have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These include the former royal palace which sits on a hill overlooking the city and St. Michael’s Chapel, where to this day PhD students are grilled on their theses in the former throne room. Elsewhere you’ll also find the 12th-century cathedral (the new cathedral was consecrated in 1640) and the ruins of the Santa Clara convent, which was abandoned in 1677.
The city also has a modern side which combines perfectly with its historic roots.
Historic and new
Coimbra’s historic centre, with its brightly coloured buildings, sits on the steep east bank of the Rio Mondego. Here you’ll find pretty squares and winding alleyways adorned with an overflowing display of flowers. As you stroll around these attractive surroundings you’re likely to hear traditional guitarra (Portuguese guitar) played and fado sung.
The city also has a modern side which combines perfectly with its historic roots. Wander around the riverfront park and relax in its contemporary bars and restaurants. Or take a trip to the vast shopping malls on the edge of town for some retail therapy.
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Coimbra is well-connected, with a choice of motorway links to and from Lisbon and Porto. The latter is a little over an hour’s drive away. It’s also on the Alfapendular train line, with frequent direct services to and from both cities. If traveling by train from the UK, Coimbra is on the route of the Sud Express sleeper train between Paris and Lisbon. Good news for people travelling from the UK, as the city doesn’t have its own airport. Once there the stunning beaches of the Silver Coast are just a short drive away and great spot for surfers.
Despite being so accessible, this is not an expensive part of Portugal. Although the beaches of the Silver Coast are close, you can buy a farmhouse for the price of installing a pool in the Algarve. It will probably come with land too. You can pay a lot more to live in the city, but even here there are bargains.
On the market for just €210,000 (£187,300) this attractive four-bed house comes complete with a private garden, workshop, wine cellar and hot-tub. Its location just 15 minutes’ drive outside of Coimbra means you can combine peaceful village life with the conveniences of the city.
This traditional two-bed stone cottage on the edge of town could be yours for just €65,000 (£58,000). The property has retained many of its original features. These include heavy wood flooring and wooden shutters, which when opened reveal views of the surrounding countryside.