If you’re planning on visiting Coimbra then you’ll also undoubtedly be looking at visiting its famous university grounds.
I actually recently visited the university for myself and boy was I blown away! This historic campus was everything I’d dreamed of and more.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the University of Coimbra…
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Is The University Of Coimbra Worth Visiting?
The University of Coimbra is the main attraction in the city of Coimbra which you’ll find in the central region of Portugal.
The university is absolutely worth visiting as it’s the oldest university in Portugal and the 7th oldest university in continuous operation in the world!
It was founded back in the year 1290 by the then King of Portugal, King Dinis, making it over 700 years old.
It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique architecture, history and traditions.
I mean, the students have even developed their own genre of fado music that you can hear in various spots around town.
Today tourists can explore the university grounds for themselves and take a peek inside some of its most famous rooms.
This includes the impressive Joanina Library which is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
I’d really recommend booking this guided tour of the university as it features super small group sizes and all of the guides are former students of the university so they really know their stuff.
What To Visit At The University Of Coimbra
The University of Coimbra is split up into various areas so it can be difficult to know exactly what to see and do.
Here are all of the most important spots on campus that you should add to your itinerary.
Palace of Schools
The Palace of Schools is essentially a large courtyard surrounded by some of the university’s most impressive buildings.
From here you’ll be able to see the Royal Palace, the Chapel of São Miguel, the Tower and the Joanina Library from the outside.
I found that the outside of the buildings were just as impressive as the insides – they look like something straight out of Harry Potter.
You’ll also find a huge statue of King Dinis in the courtyard – he’s the guy that founded the university over 700 years ago.
This guided university tour includes access to all of the buildings within the Palace of Schools. You’ll be guided around by a former student of the university.
Tower of the University
One of the main buildings that you’ll notice whilst in the university courtyard is the huge tower, known locally as ‘cabra’ which actually means ‘goat’ in English.
This tower was built in 1537 when the University of Coimbra was being moved back from Lisbon to Coimbra.
The King at the time suggested that ‘there could be no order without a clock’ and so it was built upon his request.
The bells of the clocktower were used to mark the start/end of study time. Apparently, first year students weren’t allowed to be out on the streets after the final ring of the day.
As you can imagine, back when the tower was built, nobody had a watch or a smartphone so a clocktower like this was essential for students to know what time it was.
How else would they get to class on time?
It is actually possible to climb to the top of the tower where you’ll be rewarded with an epic view of Coimbra from above. It’s the highest point in the city.
Chapel of São Miguel
Unfortunately when I visited the University of Coimbra recently, the Chapel of São Miguel was closed for a funeral so I didn’t get the chance to see it for myself.
It looks really stunning though so if it’s open, I’d recommend heading inside.
The inside is filled with those classic Portuguese blue and white ‘azulejo’ tiles which run alongside intricate carvings and delicately painted ceilings.
The chapel was actually originally part of the Royal Palace but became part of the university in the late 16th century.
No Coimbra University visit is complete without seeing the iconic Joanina Library.
The Joanina Library, also known as the Baroque Library, is often considered to be the most beautiful library in the world so it’s well worth a visit.
The library is home to around 60,000 books from the 16th to 18th century, many of which are still used by students today.
Unfortunately, you’re not able to take photos inside the library so you’ll just have to admire it instead.
Here’s what it looks like inside:
Look out for the giant portrait of King John V on the Noble Floor of the library. He was the guy that ordered this impressive library to be built so we can thank him for that.
The whole place is truly divine as it’s filled with intricate wooden carvings, golden paintings and thousands of well preserved old books. I was genuinely in awe of this library.
When I was there, I learned from my guide that the library is actually home to 2 colonies of bats who have lived there for over 250 years! They’re actually super important for pest control.
At night, staff have to cover all the books and tables with towels to protect them from the bat’s poop.
You can see the old Royal Palace from the courtyard but you’re also able to view the inside too.
The palace was built all the way back in the 10th century, way before the founding of the university. It was originally a fortress that was used by the governor of the city.
Then in 1131, it became the home of the first ever King of Portugal, Afonso I.
A few centuries later, the university bought it from the royal family and began using it for things like exams. Can you imagine taking your exam in a royal palace!?
Inside the palace you’ll be able to see the armory, the old throne room and the king’s quarters which were later used as exam halls.
The whole place is super fancy and definitely worthy of a visit.
The Science Museum was actually one of my favorite parts of the university.
Firstly, the building looks super grand and fancy. When I first saw it, I just assumed it must be some sort of palace but nope, just the science museum.
They have a really interesting collection to look at including scientific instruments, astronomical charts, skulls and even the skeleton of a 20m long whale!
The university’s impressive botanical garden was originally opened back in 1772 for the students to study botany, natural history and medicine.
At the time, it was considered to be one of the best of its kind in the whole world. It features a wide range of rare and exotic plants that you’ve probably never heard of.
I loved just wandering around the garden as it felt super peaceful and tranquil. I genuinely could have sat there all day just listening to the birds and soaking up the atmosphere.
Look out for the huge greenhouses, several fountains and the terraces.
You can buy your ticket online on the university website or in person at the ticket office. The ticket office is located right by the Science Museum and is open from 9AM until 7.15PM.
There are various different tickets available depending on which parts of the university you want to see.
You can also book onto a guided tour of the university if you prefer.
The standard university ticket costs €13.50. This ticket includes access to the Joanina Library, the Royal Palace, the Chapel of São Miguel, the Science Museum and the Botanical Garden.
Here’s an overview of all the ticket types available:
- €13.50 – standard ticket
- Joanina Library, Royal Palace, Chapel of São Miguel, Science Museum, Botanical Garden
- €17.50 – extended ticket
- Joanina Library, Royal Palace, Chapel of São Miguel, Science Museum, Botanical Garden, Cabinet of Curiosities, Academic Museum
- €11 – without Joanina Library
- Royal Palace, Chapel of São Miguel, Science Museum, Botanical Garden, Cabinet of Curiosities, Academic Museum
- €8 – just museums and gardens
- Science Museum, Botanical Garden, Cabinet of Curiosities, Academic Museum
- €15.50 – just university grounds
- Joanina Library, Royal Palace, Chapel of São Miguel
The above prices are for an adult ticket (ages 19-64). Children under 7 go free. Young people aged between 7 and 18 get a discount. Seniors aged 65 or more also get a discount.
You can also purchase a guided tour of the university and grounds if you want to learn more about it.
I’d personally recommend booking this University of Coimbra guided tour as it includes a queue jump so you don’t have to spend ages waiting in line.
The groups are limited to a maximum of 8 people which is great and all of the tour guides are former students of the University of Coimbra so they know a lot about it.
The guides are literal experts and know so much about the history. Everybody comments on how knowledgeable and enthusiastic they are. Take a look at the reviews below.
The same company also runs an extended tour which includes a tour of the university and of the city of Coimbra so it’s a great way to see all that the city has to offer.
Both tours are really highly rated and great value for money.
- Guided Tour of the University of Coimbra (with queue jump)
- Guided Tour of the University & City of Coimbra (extended tour)
Being over 700 years old, the university has a long and interesting history.
The university was actually originally founded in Lisbon in the year 1290 by the then King Dinis. At the time, it was founded under the name Studium Generale.
The university started off with just 4 faculties: Art, Law, Canon Law and Medicine but has since expanded to 8 faculties.
Just 18 years later in 1308, the university moved to Coimbra due to problems with the church and conflict between the students and the locals in Lisbon.
The university was then transferred to and from Lisbon and Coimbra several times over the years.
Finally in 1597, it moved back to Coimbra for the last time when King John III decided to move the university into the Royal Palace.
In the 18th century, the university experienced a remarkable transformation.
Marquis of Pombal, a powerful statesman, implemented sweeping reforms that modernized the university.
He introduced new subjects of study, improved teaching methods and even created a botanical garden for scientific research.
These changes propelled the University of Coimbra into the forefront of European education.
Interestingly, for most of its history, the University of Coimbra was the only university in Portugal. The universities in Porto and Lisbon weren’t opened until 1911.
How To Get To The University of Coimbra
The easiest way to get to Coimbra is by taking either a bus or a train from Porto or Lisbon.
You can also easily get a bus/train from other cities in Portugal including Braga, Aveiro or Evora.
I personally got to Coimbra by taking a bus from Porto.
I booked my bus ticket using the website Omio (my fave website for booking transport in Europe) and it cost just €4 which I thought was a bargain.
Once you get to Coimbra, you’ll arrive at either the bus or train station. Coimbra is extremely walkable so you can easily walk into the city from the stations – this is what I did.
The university itself is located on the top of a steep hill in the center of the city. You can walk up the hill if you want or you can take a taxi/tuk tuk if you’d prefer.
I personally walked up the hill and found it to be a bit tiring but doable. You will need to climb several stone staircases and walk up lots of steep, winding alleys.
The campus itself isn’t super huge so you’ll find it pretty easy to navigate once you get to the top of the hill.
I’d personally plan to see the Botanical Garden at the end as it’s the only part of the university that isn’t on the top of the hill.
Visiting the university was actually one of the main reasons why I decided to visit Coimbra.
I was lucky enough to visit the University of Oxford a few years ago and fell in love with the old but elegant buildings and its iconic history.
I just knew that I’d get the same feeling in Coimbra and I wasn’t wrong.
It was such a joy to see this university in real life and imagine how life must have been for the students of centuries ago.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the university grounds were actually pretty quiet and not overrun with tourists at all. It was a complete contrast to Lisbon and Porto.
It’s worth noting that I did visit in February which is the low season but I was still surprised at how quiet it was. I regularly had certain parts of the campus to myself!
And that’s it!
Thanks for reading this complete guide on visiting Coimbra University.
I hope you have the absolute best time as the university really is one of the best things to do in Coimbra.