Lovely, Lively Coimbra
Best Western Hotel D. Luis, 2 nights in a room with a view – Basic, Comfortable, and Quiet.
An easy drive up the empty toll road from Évora and in 2.5 hours we were in Coimbra. The Best Western hotel on the opposite side of the river fit the bill, just a basic room with a window to look out to see the Coimbra University, but easy to drive in and out.
Roman Ruins in Conimbriga
I love Roman Ruins and the best site in Portugal is Conimbriga, just 15 minutes south of Coimbra.
The site is big and spread out but 2 hours was plenty of time to see everything plus the very interesting museum.
Why do tourists go to Coimbra? To see the magnificent 18th century Baroque Joanina Library at the University! Coimbra is an interesting city and the University itself is one of the oldest in Europe. In 2013 the University buildings were classified as UNESCO World Heritage.
The Coimbra day HAD to start with a pastry from Pastelaria Briosa, the most famous pastry shop in Coimbra. We took a couple to go. The self guided University tour with audioguide was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, including a climb up the bell tower for the views.
The library entry worked very efficiently, when you buy your ticket you get a timed entry. We got the tickets and audioguides at 11:00 and our entry time was for 11:20am, enough time to see Saint Michael’s Chapel first. We went to the Chapel and – what? The doors are closed and everyone’s walking right by, taking pictures of the poster outside. It can’t be closed or the ticket agent wouldn’t have said to come here first! How do you get in? Turns out, you have to knock on the door and an attendant will open and let you in.
Tip: The University Library has a doorbell at the left of the massive doors to ring to get in. If it’s your entry time, just ring the bell.
Tip: If you have any questions or don’t know where to go just ask one of the students that are standing around, many of them in the traditional black capes. They are in a work program and are paid to help the tourists.
The Old Cathedral of Coimbra (Se Velha de Coimbra) was interesting, there’s an audioguide and also descriptions in English inside. We took a look at the tiled interior of the Monastery of Santa Cruz before ending Coimbra day where we started – Pastelaria Briosa.
Tip: When you park at the “free” public parking lot across the river from Coimbra, you’ll get help finding a space from one of several men showing you where to park. Just accept the help, thank the guy and give him a €1. They really manage to pack the cars in there.
Coimbra has their own style of Fado, sung only by men. After a performance the audience doesn’t clap to show appreciation, they do a little cough-cough. Clapping would be too exuberant for such a sad sad song! So we were told by a professor who lived in Coimbra for many years and gave us a few tips on what to see, but our time was too short to see a Fado performance. Like every one of our 2 night stops on this trip, 3 nights here would have been far better to relax and see more of Coimbra.
Harry Potter connection: J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter books, lived in Portugal for a few years. The capes the Hogswarts students wore were likely inspired by the Coimbra University tradtional capes.
Great Eats: Two words: Suckling Pig. We went to Bairradino dos Leitoes for delicious suckling pig both nights of our stay in Coimbra. The restaurant is in Condeixa-a-Nova, about 15 minutes south on NH1 from the Best Western.
Travel: Drive from Coimbra to Pinhão – 2 hours.