A real education in Coimbra, Portugal

A real education in Coimbra, Portugal

Planning a trip to Coimbra, Portugal? David Whitley shares his insights into the the magical place and where and what to do when you there.

Why Coimbra some people might be asking, well according to David it is Portugals version of Oxford or Cambridge, Coimbra is home to the country’s oldest and arguably most-prestigious university.

From the banks of the Mondego River, the old town seems to clamber up the river in a disjointed mess, with houses on top of each other, all facing at different angles. But once there, handsome yet weather-worn buildings take over, laced together by slippery, narrow streets made of tiny cobbles.

The air is of a venerable place of learning rather than rowdy student town, but among the photogenic department buildings and cathedrals are some fascinatingly compelling oddities.

Places to stay:
He suggests three places to stay, the first being Quinta das Lagrimas. Historically, it was the setting for Portugal’s version of the Romeo and Juliet story, and all the heritage detail inside gives it a strong romantic retreat vibe.

Distinctly contemporary rather than old-school swoony, VilaGalé plays it safely neutral in the rooms, but the outdoor pool is a massive bonus.

At the budget end of the scale, the Moderna has recently modernised, adding a lift and 24-hour reception to its modest but hard-to-pick-holes-in rooms. It’s closer to the heart of Coimbra than most of the four-star joints, has the requisite heating/air con/Wi-Fi combo.


Where to eat:
Calado & Calado (Rua da Sota) is a pleasant local joint, but with few frills, specialising in grilled meats and fish.

On the other side of the old town, A Taberna is a classier affair, with dark-wood panels on one side, and decoratively tiled walls on the other. It offers hearty, proudly traditional fare with an emphasis on quality, something that shines through in the deliciously meaty cod

Coimbra isn’t really a shopping town but there are a few gems here there for you to find. De Amador sells an enterprisingly large variety of things made from cork – including shoes and bags.

There are two main train stations – Coimbra A by the river in the city centre, and Coimbra B, which is a couple of kilometres to the north-west. Most – but not all – longer-distance services arrive at Coimbra B. Make sure you know which station you’ve pulled into, or else you’re likely to get horribly lost and confused.

Check out: thenational.ae for more information