Self Guided Walking tour of Coimbra (With Maps)
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Coimbra, located in central Portugal, is steeped in living history and is a natural stopping point for those travelling between Porto and Lisbon. While not as vast as its neighbouring cities, Coimbra is brimming with character. Its grand old university is at the centre of much of its story, but its history and location are equally alluring.
Although Coimbra may not be a recognized highlight of Portugal, for travellers seeking a more authentic experience of Portugal, Coimbra is a smart choice.
Arriving by Car: At the south side of the river is a great car park, close to the old town. https://goo.gl/maps/sY6dfuTBU6Jq8wjw5. If that is full there is a free underground car park at the Convent San Francisco
Largo da Portagem (Toll Square)
Cross over the Mondego River on the Ponte de Santa Clara. The bridge gives you a great view of the city, often strewn with flags of the city and the country.
Largo da Portagem is a small square with lots of little cafes, restaurants and gelaterias. There is always a buzz of energy here. Make sure to come back after dark and see all the beautiful lights. It is open to the Mondego river which was used to bring goods to town and collect customs duties here, hence the name – Toll Sqaure.
Location: Largo da Portagem, Coimbra, Portugal
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Igreja São Bartolomeu
From the square leave by walking down the steps to the north.
The Church of St. Bartholomew is one of the oldest religious sites in Coimbra, with its initial construction predating the year 957, when it was donated to the Lorvão Monastery. Over the centuries, the church has undergone significant architectural interventions. The current Baroque style is a result of a complete reconstruction during the second half of the 18th century.
Inside the church, two notable paintings depicting the death and resurrection of Christ can be found on the left side of the nave chapel. The main gold altarpiece, featuring a painting by Italian artist Pascoal Parente, depicts the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew and is a fine example of Baroque style. Despite its modest appearance, the Church of St. Bartholomew holds significant historical and artistic value.
Location: Igreja de São Bartolomeu, Adro de Cima, Coimbra, Portugal
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Arco de Barbacã & Torre de Almedina
From Igreja São Bartolomeu walk up the steps to join pedestrianized Rua Ferreira Borges.
The street was named after Jose Ferreira Borges (1786-1838), a graduate of Coimbra University, was an attorney and the leading author of the Portuguese Commercial Code of 1833, also called the Ferreira Borges Code. He wrote many books concerning economic and political topics.
As you join the street on the opposite side of the road is the Arco de Almedina or Almedina Arch.
Arco de Barbacã, a gothic arch erected in the 16th century, topped with a shield of King Manuel I. This arch is the best kept structure of the ancient Coimbra’s wall, which corresponded to the main entrance in the city during the Islamic period. On the arch is the sculpture of our Lady, the national arms and the symbol of the city foundation.
Just beyond the Arco de Barbacã is the Arco e Torre de Almedina, is a gothic arch and old medieval gateway into the old city of Coimbra. It is surmounted by a tower that has had various functions. In the 14th and 15th centuries, this was the seat of municipal power, the Casa da Câmara, and later the Casa de Audiência, where council meetings were held.
Location: Porta de Barbacã, Coimbra, Portugal | Hours: 24 Hours | Price: Free
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Sé Velha de Coimbra
Pass under to Torre and walk up the R. Quebra Costas (Backbreak Street) – a narrow whitewashed street that winds steeply upward. At the top bear right and walk up the steps. At the top turn left and you should see the Cathedral.
The initial cathedral of Coimbra is known as the “Old” (“Velha”) Cathedral because a newer cathedral became the city’s second cathedral in the 18th century. Constructed in 1117 by Portuguese and French architects, it maintains much of its original Romanesque architecture, which is quite unusual for major churches of that period throughout Portugal and Europe.
Externally, it appears like a fortress, but the Renaissance-style side portal serves as a reminder that it is a church. The delicately adorned front portal, influenced by Islamic architecture, is the venue for one of the city’s major cultural events, the May “serenade,” in which male graduates perform fado music to bid farewell to student life.
Inside, very little has altered over time. Over time, only tiles imported from Seville in 1503, Gothic altarpieces, and baroque paintings have been added, with the highlight being the chancel’s exceptional gilded Gothic altarpiece, created by Flemish sculptors in the early 1500s. The cloisters, which were built in 1218, were Portugal’s first to follow the Gothic style.
Location: Sé Velha de Coimbra, Largo da Sé Velha, Coimbra, Portugal | Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Sat, 1-6pm Sun | Price: €2.50 | Website
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Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro
Leave the old cathedral and turn right and left onto R. do Norte. National Museum Machado de Castro is on your left.
The impressive 16th century loggia dominates the large patio, making it a must-see attraction for anyone visiting this part of the city. This space has a rich history, serving as an administrative, political, and religious center in Roman times, a Christian temple since at least the 11th century, an episcopal palace from the second half of the 12th century, and a museum since 1911. As a result, it is one of the most complex and captivating places in the city.
After being classified as a National Monument, the former episcopal palace of Coimbra was given to the Portuguese State to house the Machado de Castro Museum. Successive adaptations allowed for the discovery of the building’s history and archaeological value. However, it was only with the recent refurbishment and expansion project that a comprehensive intervention program encompassing archaeology, architecture, and museography could give greater visibility to the scientific study of the complex.
With brand new, spacious, and well-lit areas, the Museum can now better showcase its collections and offer greater comfort and accessibility to diverse audiences. It aims to solidify its identity as a space for sharing knowledge and creating meaningful connections with visitors. Following its recent reopening, the Museum is ready to welcome visitors and continue its legacy as a cultural landmark in the city.
Location: Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, Largo Doutor José Rodrigues, Coimbra, Portugal | Hours: 2pm-6pm Tue, 10am-6pm Wed-Sun | Price: adult/child €6/3, cryptoportico only €3
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Sé Nova de Coimbra (New Cathedral of Coimbra)
The National Sé Nova de Coimbra is directly opposite the Museum Machado de Castro.
Sé Nova was built in the late 16th century by the Jesuit Order and became the new cathedral in 1772 when the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal. The church has a mix of Jesuit and Baroque architecture and inside, there is a barrel vaulted ceiling and ornate choir stalls and altarpiece. The stone baptismal font is also a beautifully carved feature that was transferred from the older cathedral.
Location: New Cathedral, Largo Feira dos Estudantes, Coimbra, Portugal
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Museu da Ciência de Coimbra
As you leave the cathedral turn left from the steps, and left again when you reach the road (R. Estudos). The science museum is on your right.
Museu da Ciência de Coimbra, or the Science Museum of Coimbra showcases scientific instruments and objects from various fields of science. The museum is housed in the former Royal Palace of Coimbra, which was built in the 18th century. The exhibits cover topics such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, and medicine, among others. The museum also hosts events and educational activities for visitors of all ages. The Science Museum of Coimbra is one of the oldest science museums in Europe and is considered a national monument of Portugal.
Location: Museu da Ciência da Universidade de Coimbra, Largo Marquês de Pombal, Coimbra, Portugal | Hours: 10am-7pm Tue-Sun Mar-Oct, to 6pm Nov-Feb | Price: adult/child incl Paço das Escolas, Biblioteca Joanina & Capela de São Miguel €12.50/free, without Biblioteca €7/free | Website
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Paço das Escolas
Make your way back to the new Cathedral and walk south along R. São João. Tunr right again to reach the Porta Férrea or Iron Gate and the entrance to the Paço das Escolas.
Paço das Escolas is a historic complex of buildings located in the heart of Coimbra, Portugal. It was originally built in the 16th century as the Royal Palace of King John III and was later donated to the University of Coimbra. The complex includes several buildings such as the Joanina Library, the Royal Palace, the Academic Prison, and the Chapel of São Miguel.
The Joanina Library is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world with its ornate Baroque design and collection of rare books and manuscripts. The Royal Palace is now used as the university’s administrative headquarters and contains impressive rooms such as the Throne Room, the Coat of Arms Room, and the Room of the Capelos.
The Academic Prison is a unique building that was used to imprison students who broke the university’s rules. It is now a museum displaying the harsh conditions and punishments that students endured. The Chapel of São Miguel is a small but beautiful Baroque chapel that served as the university’s chapel until the construction of the larger and more grandiose chapel in the 16th century.
Overall, Paço das Escolas is a must-see attraction in Coimbra for those interested in history, architecture, and academia.
Location: Paço das Escolas, Coimbra, Portugal | Hours: 9am-7.30pm Mar-Oct, 9am-1pm & 2pm-5pm Nov-Feb | Price: adult/child incl Biblioteca Joanina, Capela de São Miguel & Museu da Ciência €12.50/free, without Biblioteca €7/free
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Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden)
Leave the square down the steps in the south west corner. These are the Escadas de Minerva or Minerva Stairs, double back on yourself with the Paço das Escolas
on your left. At the end of the road turn right and you will see the Botanical Gardens.
The Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden) in Coimbra is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in Europe. It was founded in 1772 by the Marquis of Pombal, the same prime minister who transferred the episcopal seat to Sé Nova.
The garden covers an area of about 13 hectares and is located on the hillside behind the University of Coimbra. It is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, including many rare and exotic species from all over the world.
The garden is divided into several areas, each with its own particular theme. These include the systematic beds, where plants are arranged according to their scientific classification, the medicinal garden, the aromatic and dye plants section, and the succulent plants area.
One of the highlights of the garden is the beautiful Baroque-style fountain, known as the Fonte dos Amores (Fountain of Love), which is located in the central area. There are also several greenhouses containing tropical and subtropical plants, as well as a small museum displaying scientific instruments and botanical specimens.
The Jardim Botânico is not only a beautiful place to visit but also an important scientific and educational institution. It is actively involved in the conservation and research of plant species, and it also offers educational programs and guided tours for visitors.
Location: Jardim Botânico, Coimbra, Portugal | Hours: 9am-8pm Apr-Sep, 9am-5.30pm Oct-Mar | Website
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Aqueduto de São Sebastião
Nestled behind the Botanical Gardens is the Aqueduct of São Sebastião in Coimbra is a reconstruction, produced during the reign of D. Sebastião, from 1570 onwards. It is also known as the Arcos do Jardim or Arches of the Garden.
In accordance with the project attributed to the Royal architect, Filipe Terzi, it measures 1 km in length and is constituted by 21 arches.
Location: Aqueduto de São Sebastião, Alameda Júlio Henriques, Coimbra, Portugal
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From the Gardens make your way to the river and walk back through the Parque da Cidade Manuel Braga. You will pass by the Water Museum located in the Coimbra old Water Collection Station, built in 1922. This space houses art exhibitions and cultural activities.
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