Taking a day trip to Coimbra from Porto is another option to see more from the region without spending a lot on accommodation. Coimbra is a somehow large city, however it is possible to visit the old town and some attractions in a short time.
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How to reach Coimbra from Porto
It’s easy to get to Coimbra by train from Porto. There are several express train routes available. These take just over an hour. There are two classes of express trains, the Alfa Pendular and the Intercidades. The Alfa Pendular is slightly more expensive, but it has more modern trains and takes 10 minutes less.
The con about these trains is that they leave from the Campanha station in Porto and arrive at Coimbra station B, both stations away from the center. In Porto, you can buy the ticket at the Sao Bento station together with the ticket to go to Campanha. You can also get to this station using the subway.
The train stations in Coimbra are, Coimbra A and Coimbra B. The first stop traveling from Porto will be Coimbra B. You will have to ride another train to get to Station A. In our case, the ticket included the route between the two stations to get to the station in the center.
Ask when buying if it’s included in the price. The person who attended us in Porto explained everything very well even when we didn’t ask him (because we didn’t know). If they don’t give you the info, better ask what’s included in the ticket. Or you tell them that you are going to do the round trip. On this page you can check the schedules and prices.
To get to Coimbra from Porto you can also take the bus. The Rede Expressos company have regular departures. However, it’s a bit slower. As for prices it is more or less the same as the train
It might interest you: One week in Porto, what to see and do.
History of Coimbra
Coimbra has existed since Roman times, of which some vestiges such as the aqueduct are preserved. It was under the administration of the neighboring city Conímbriga, from which it would take its name. Later it would be called Colimbria and finally Coimbra.
It was under Visigothic rule in the 8th century and later it was conquered by the Muslims becoming part of Al-Andalus. Some traces in some buildings are also preserved from this time. In 1064, it was conquered by Ferdinand I.
Coimbra became the most important city in the region. Under the government of Henry of Burgundy, the county of Coimbra is united with the county of Portucale. The first king Afonso I of Portugal would appoint it as capital of the county, taking away this privilege from Guimaraes. It would remain that way until 1255 when Lisbon was appointed as the new Portuguese capital.
Between the XV and XVI centuries an artistic flourishing took place in Coimbra thanks to both Royal and local sponsorship. Many artists shape their works in the city in Renaissance and Manueline styles.
The university was founded in Lisbon in 1290 by King Denis I. In 1308 it was transferred to Coimbra but King Afonso IV returned it to Lisbon in 1338. It was definitively transferred to Coimbra in 1537, settling in the Royal Palace. This is the oldest university in the country and it is a must-see if you travel to Coimbra from Porto.
Since the 12th century the city already had an urban division between the upper and lower parts. The Upper or Almedina city was where the aristocrats and the nobility lived. In the Lower part resided the artisans and merchants.
Coimbra is a relatively large city with many attractions, so it is a good idea to spend at least one night here. But if you don’t have time it is well worth the day trip from Porto or even from Lisbon. It is almost the same distance so you can come from Lisbon too.
If you decide to stay one night in Coimbra, check out this map with the best accommodation options near the center.
Some of the most popular attractions are:
Sé Velha or Old Cathedral
In the 16th century some works like the tiles on the walls were added. Yet, the Romanesque style was preserved making it one of the best examples of this style in Portugal.
This cathedral has a fortress look and some details of Arab influence in the windows. The cloister was built in a period of transition to the Gothic so it has arches in this style.
The Old Cathedral is very interesting and beautiful. If you like history and architecture you should see it when you visit Coimbra from Porto. Of course, you must climb a steep alley to reach it. We no longer had time to see it inside, so we had to be content with the facade.
University of Coimbra
The University of Coimbra, as I already mentioned, was founded by Denis I and permanently installed in 1535 in Coimbra. It is divided into 3 areas. One area includes the monumental ancient university center, the main library and administration services, as well as the faculty of law. Another area the engineering, sciences & technology and a third area the Health Sciences. The faculty of economics is separate in a building on Av. Díaz da Silva.
The University of Coimbra is very prestigious and old. It attracted my attention that it’s a tradition in this university to use black Harry Potter-style robes. Some of you may know that JK Rowling lived many years in Porto.
The most remarkable area is where the rectory is located. It is a large courtyard surrounded by the old palace’s buildings. There’s also a statue of King Joao III.
A monument that stands out is the Porta Férrea, a gate to access the university. It dates from 1634 and it presents the 2 main figures in the creation and installation of the university: Denis I and Joao III. The tower is another of the prominent monuments and can be seen almost everywhere in the city. It was built between 1728 and 1733. It’s possible for visitors to climb to the top.
The main facade of the palace is embellished with the so-called Vía Latina, which is a long balcony framed by a series of columns in neoclassical style. In the center is a portico designed by Claude Laprade built between 1700 and 1702.
Visiting the university
You can visit the interior of the university when you travel to Coimbra from Porto. One of the most popular buildings is the Joanina Library named after Don Joao V, its founder. It contains over 70,000 books, some truly ancient. The style of this building is Baroque-Rococo and inside it is lavishly decorated. Access is in small groups every 20 minutes.
Other spaces that can be seen are the St Michael’s chapel, the Arms room and the Sala dos Capelos. The latter was where the king’s throne was located in the old palace. Currently, it’s used for the official acts and ceremonies of the university.
There are 2 types of tickets. One costs 12.50 euros and includes the Royal Palace and the college (the chapel, Joanina library, the chemistry laboratory and the science museum). The visit lasts about 2 and a half hours.
The other ticket costs 7 euros and includes the Royal Palace, and the science museum. The entrance to the tower is another fee. That costs 2 euros or if you’ve already paid for any of the previous tickets it only costs 1 euro. On the official website you can see the schedules and more information to plan your visit.
We didn’t have enough time to see it inside, but from the photos I’ve seen I think it is highly recommended.
Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha
The Santa Clara Monastery dates from the 13th century as a convent for the order of the Poor Clares. In 1314 Queen Elizabeth of Aragon made it into a hospital for the poor and a palace where she moved after becoming a widow.
In the 7th century the nuns moved to the New Convent of Santa Clara because of the constant flooding of the monastery as it was close to the river. It fell into disrepair for a long time. They restored it and declared it a national monument in 1910.
Inside you’ll find an archaeological and historical exhibition of the place that you can see for 4 euros.
Portugal dos Pequenitos
Unfortunately we couldn’t visit this park, and the truth was one of the reasons that brought me to Coimbra. It’s actually a playground for kids 😅 but I’m sure I’m not the only adult who will like it.
It is a park in which there are several Portuguese palaces and tourist sites but on a small scale. In other words, it will be like taking a tour of the most important sites in Portugal
Monastery of the Holy Cross
Another attraction that you can see if you make the day trip to Coimbra from Porto is the Santa Cruz Monastery. It was founded in 1131 by the Order of Saint Augustine.
The first kings of Portugal, Afonso I and Sancho I are buried here. It was built in a Romanesque style but during the Manueline period they carried out several additions and transformations.
The access to the church is free but to visit the sacristy, chapter house, cloister and exhibitions you have to pay a fee of 2.5 euros.
St Sebastian Aqueduct
The aqueduct was built in 1570, probably on the remains of an ancient Roman aqueduct. It transportehid water to the upper part of the city. It is also known as the garden arches, since it is located very close to the university’s botanical garden.
It’s close to the university as well, but we didn’t get there to see it.
Explore the Center and Rua Ferreira Borges
Since our time was limited, we spent it wandering the center and shops of Rua Ferreira Borges, one of the main streets of the city.
In the surroundings of this street there are other picturesque alleys that look old. There are also some churches that you can admire if you are interested in architecture.
If you are looking for souvenirs and gifts you can take a look around this area as well.
Our experience visiting Coimbra from Porto
I honestly was eager to visit Coimbra from Porto. I had seen several photos and it caught my attention because I knew that it has many attractions.
Unfortunately we had a bittersweet experience, more bitter than sweet. But we must accept that it was partly our fault and partly it were the stars that aligned against us.
First, since we arrived to Station-A, we started walking to find a McDonald’s that was nearby, but we never found it. Then we wanted to find the center, and we were a little lost despite helping us with the maps.
We went through streets that didn’t look like being downtown, but later we found out it was. Then we went up until we reached the university. Then… climbing was exhausting, and we had already walked quite a bit before arriving.
The first glance to the university didn’t impress me much because they were modern buildings. We went back because we were already leaving the downtown area. We explored the university (then we did see some very cool buildings) and decided to go get something to eat.
Near there was a Burger King, in the low part next to the river. After eating, I was feeling tired, we took some photos near the river, but we didn’t have time to cross to the other side.
We had to be content to explore this side. We strolled through some streets, snooped around some shops and saw some religious buildings such as the Cathedral and the Sao Thiago church. For some attractions you need to climb steep sections that can be exhausting. For me they were.
Besides, if you’ve read my other posts, you know that I visited Portugal in winter, so we had few hours of light, and it was freezing. I was already tired and cold, so we decided to go to shelter at the train station. Well, we were waiting for the departure time of our train and oh surprise: the train was late!
I was going to tell you all about our adventure but the post got very long. So next post will be about how we missed our bus in Porto.
Anyway, I hope you don’t have as many problems as we did if you decide to visit Coimbra from Porto. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of history that definitely deserves to spend enough time here. Yet, sometimes it’s not possible and that is why I do believe that you can do the day trip and still enjoy it.
If you want to visit Coimbra from Porto but you don’t want to organize the trip on your own, check out these tours which includes other interesting cities in Portugal.
Have you visited Coimbra? Tell us in the comments section what did you like the best and what would you recommend seeing in one day.
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