Coimbra, located in the Center Region of Portugal, is a wonderful World Heritage City and an unmissable place while traveling throughout Portugal!
Classified by UNESCO in 2013, here you can find Roman Ruins such as a Cryptoporticus and a later restored aqueduct, remains of a Moorish Palace and Castle, Medieval Walls and its defensive Towers, churches and a cathedral built during the Portuguese Reconquest – in the 12th century when this city was the Capital of Portugal – where Kings were crowned and are now buried, and a unique student’s atmosphere – characteristic of a place with a centenary University.
In fact, the University of Coimbra is the oldest of Portugal and one of the most ancient in the World, dating from 1290.
Nowadays this institution occupies many 16th century religious colleges, the Old Royal Palace, and a beautiful Botanical Garden. Students have classes in these places but you may still visit them, therefore witnessing the true spirit of my hometown! When walking around Coimbra’s uptown, it is possible to admire the typical students houses –Repúblicas – and learn about different personalities that lived there while students at this University, and ended up influencing the course of Portuguese History and Art! Some of the most sonant names are Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Eça de Queirós, António Nobre, Artur Paredes and José Afonso.
Every year during the first and second weeks of May, the University students celebrate “Queima das Fitas” – the largest student festivity in the country. It is a week filled with funny parades, religious rituals and lots of music for all tastes. Speaking about music, have you ever heard about Fado?! Fado de Coimbra is a unique musical approach connected to the students' traditions, and the highlight of Queima das Fitas Festivity is a Monumental Serenade that takes place every first Thursday of May at midnight, in front of the Old Cathedral. Thousands of students attend this very special show, and only those who have witnessed it in person will truly understand its significance. But if you’re visiting Coimbra some other time, there are some good Fado Associations performing live shows every day… and if you’re passionate about music you shouldn’t miss this! The city hall of Coimbra made available a museum about this kind of musical approach called “Museu do Fado e da Guitarra de Coimbra”, installed in Torre de Anto. There you can learn about this type of music, the Portuguese Guitar (instrument used to perform such kind of art), the main artists that influenced the style and their impact in Portuguese Culture allowing progress and always fighting for freedom.
Also, there’s a special place in the city, out of the tourist track, connected with the academic life, called “Penedo da Saudade”. Take some time to visit it and enjoy fabulous views to the less known area of the city (the most modern area, hiding behind the University hill). Near it stays the “Seminário Maior” – another overlooked sight that I definitely recommend!
Obviously, Coimbra is much more than its University and surroundings, and there are plenty of things you should include in your visit such as a stroll around the narrow commercial streets of the downtown, a walk in our city parks: Mata do Choupal, Parque Manuel Braga and Parque Verde do Mondego with its incredible pedestrian bridge overlooking the city to which was given the name “Pedro & Inês” – an homage to the most romantic, yet tragic, love story of Portugal. Also connected with this 14th century “Romeo and Juliet”-like story are Quinta das Lágrimas Gardens and the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha.
The left bank of the river not only offers the best views over the Historic Center, it also unveils other attractions such as Portugal dos Pequenitos (a theme park representing Portugal in a small scale and the second most visited site in the city), the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova where the patron saint Queen Isabel is buried and Convent of St Francis, nowadays operating as a Congress and Conference center, surrounded by hype restaurants, cafeterias, ice-cream and handicraft shops!
You can learn more about my hometown by visiting my YouTube Channel “GO! Walks Portugal”. I will be uploading travel vlogs, virtual tours and other content about it, so stay tuned for more!