What I Love about Coimbra
The former capital of Portugal in the 12th and 13th century, Coimbra is nowadays the most notorious university city in Portugal and a perfect weekend destination if you find yourself either in Lisbon or Porto. The city has an intriguing and tragic love story behind it, that of Infante Pedro and Inês de Castro (a Spanish lady in waiting to Pedro´s wife, Constança). You see, Pedro and Inês were in love, so after Pedro´s wife died, they stopped hiding their love affair, a thing that enraged Pedro´s father, the king. He was so angry, that he had Inês killed, a thing that in return turned Pedro incredibly angry. One thing led to another, an uprising against the king started, and Inês´ killers basically ended up with their hearts ripped out, earning Pedro the name of "the Cruel".
Had Shakespeare known about Coimbra, Romeo and Julia would have been an entirely different story.
But Coimbra´s streets are full of so much more history. Its university dates back to the 13th century and the whole city´s architecture is breathtaking at every waking step. You won´t need to use public transportation but we do recommend good walking shoes as it can be quite hilly.
So what did we love about the city so much, you ask? Well here goes...
1. The Joanina Library
The main reason I wanted to visit Coimbra is the magical Joanina library. Called one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, the Joanina library inspired the latest Beauty and the Beast movie´s library and many many other stories, since it has a rather unique peculiarity: it houses a colony of bats that get out at night and clean the books of insects. The bats are kept in the walls of the library and if that isn´t amazing, I don´t know what is! The only other library in the world that has such an odd modus operandi is the library of Mafra (also amongst my top five favourite libraries in the world), a bit more to the south of Coimbra. You cannot take pictures inside the library and only have ten minutes to marvel at its three rooms. The ticket will give you access to several other buildings such as the Royal Palace, the Chapel and even some museums and it costs 12,50€.
2. The Zoology Museum
Step right into "Night at the Museum" as you walk up the stairs of the Zoology museum, walk through its auditorium and reach a series of rooms with wonderfully weird animals. There´s an absolutely enormous common whale, some gorgeous and yet terrifying ostriches in glass cages, a lion family that came out slightly wrong and looks more funny than it does scary. You can see plenty of monkeys, zebras, a huge crocodile and even penguins! I admit it´s been a while since I´ve been in a natural history museum, but I seriously didn´t remember how fun this could be! Plus, the entrance is free if you choose to visit the Joanina library.
3. The Botanical Garden
When you have two dogs, like we do, you go to parks a lot. Botanical gardens are usually off-limits since they´re pretty much never dog friendly. Except for the one in Coimbra. With a gorgeous view over the river and tall standing trees of all kind, we absolutely loved walking through the garden all the way to the river. Best to be visited on a warm sunny day, with a furry friend. You can easily spend a couple of hours easily inside the garden. Bring a picnic basket and make it a day!
An alternative to all the touristy things you´ll find listed in your little pocket guide, this escape room is a great way to get to know the history of the city! The puzzle you´ll need to solve has to do with the story of Infante Pedro and Inês and as per usual, you have 60 minutes at your disposal. The room has a 30% escape rate, 100% of difficulty and 100% suspense. We were four people, escaping in 54:00 and loved the out of the box riddles the game introduced us to.
5. The Coimbra Fado
Aso known as Student Fado, the Coimbra fado is unlike any fado you might have heard in Lisbon´s fado houses. It has a rich tradition amongst the students in the city and is up to the this day being taught at the Coimbra Academic Association. One of the best known Coimbra fado singers is Zeca Afonso, a major figure of resistence against Salazar´s dictatorial regime. Music is a big part of Coimbra´s heritage so make sure you listen to it while there!
If you do follow our recommendations and decide to spend your weekend in Coimbra, do let us know and tag #choiceofmagic in your posts!
Some cool places for food and drinks:
An simple, delicious and cheap lunch at: Restaurante Rio Mondego II
A afternoon snack and a sunset glass of wine with a gorgeous view at Passaporte
(full disclosure: Passaporte is a medium expensive place and I mostly recommend it for the view, I wouldn´t necessarily eat there)
Another gorgeous view for dinner at Loggia
(also a bit expensive - dinner per person was around 25€ which is quite a lot for Coimbra standards - but excellent food and a magnificent view if you sit outside)
The best accommodation we could hope for: