Coimbra deserves more of your time. Seriously. For many visitors to Portugal, it’s a day trip destination, or worse, a mere half-day stop.
That’s a mistake.
The city itself can easily keep you entertained for a couple of days, especially if the weather’s good. Factor in the range of possible day trips from Coimbra and you could justify using it as your base for a week or more of exploring central Portugal.
Here are just a few of the places within an hour’s drive of Coimbra that you could visit as a day trip. Take your pick from beaches, forests, palaces, convents, mountain villages, Roman ruins, canals, Templar Knights headquarters and medieval castles.
Buçaco forest, palace and convent
If walking through lush green forests and discovering hidden chapels, terracotta sculptures, fountains, ponds and spectacular views appeals to you, Buçaco might be the place to head to.
As well as being home to Portugal’s only national forest, it’s also the site of a beautiful Carmelite convent decorated with coloured stones, cork and azulejos.
Austerity and simplicity adjoin fanciful opulence in the form of the Neo-Manueline palace, formerly a royal residence and now a luxury hotel.
Lunch in the exquisite dining room or the balcony overlooking the gardens is worth a splurge even if you don’t stay overnight.
Find out more about Buçaco and its charms in this article: Something for everyone at Buçaco national forest.
Explore the palace, gardens and nearby Luso (with its famous waters) on this half-day tour from Coimbra.
Or book a 1 or 2 Week Portugal Itinerary which includes time in Bussaco.
Conimbriga Roman ruins
Conimbriga has arguably Portugal’s finest collection of Roman architecture, mosaics and artefacts.
Just a few kilometres outside the city, Conimbriga was a thriving city between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Imminent invasion by Swabian forces led to the hasty construction of a defensive wall, part of which remains intact, using whatever materials they had. This included the very stones used to build their villas.
Remarkably, despite centuries of exposure to the elements, the intricately patterned mosaic floors of some of the finer homes are still striking.
More details in: Why the Roman ruins of Conimbriga are worth visiting.
Discover one of Portugal’s largest Roman settlements and include a museum visit on this half day tour. Choose between morning and afternoon slots.
Figueira da Foz
Despite its enormous sandy beach, Figueira da Foz won its place in my heart through ice cream sundaes.
Delicious though they are, these sweet treats aren’t the only good thing about Figueira. The fish market is said to be one of the best in the country and the renovated market hall is definitely worth a visit.
The old part of town has some interesting buildings and surprising street art and if you keep heading north to Buarcos, you can find traces of the medieval fortifications put in place to defend Portugal after its reconquest from the Moors.
On the way to or from Figueira da Foz, stop off at Montemor-o-Velho to explore the walls of the ruined castle that was a strategic part of the Mondego defence line.
If you’re interested in learning more about this period of history, check out this Castles and Town Walls Tour (Get 5% discount with this code. JULIE5)
Up in the Serra da Boa Viagem, you can admire the coastal views, have a walk or picnic in the pine forest or, if you’re feeling adventurous, tackle the treetop adventure course. Be warned, the black section is for serious thrill-seekers only.
Alternatively, head south to explore the salt pans and nature reserve where you’ll find a small museum and walking trails.
Try this half day tour from Coimbra which includes a visit to the salt pans and the castle.
More information here: Figueira da Foz, Beyond its Massive Beach
The completion of the A13 south of Coimbra makes Tomar an easy day trip. I’ve visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Convent of Christ several times and would do so again.
Established as a defensive castle by the Templar Knights during the reconquest of Portugal in the 12th century, it has a spectacularly decorated circular chapel with high arched doorways. Apparently the knights would ride into it and meet without dismounting.
Since medieval times, the building has undergone various changes including those in the 16th century which gave it the magnificent Manueline window.
Tip: If you decide to walk up to the convent on the old cobbled path, wear sensible shoes as it is quite uneven in places.
Aside from this monument, Tomar has other appealing features including a riverside park with ducks on a dam and a waterwheel half-hidden behind weeping willows.
Another of my favourite spots is the matchbox museum where you’ll find more than 43,000 colourful designs.
Before you leave, take a wander through the old streets around Rua Serpa Pinto, making sure to call in at Praça da Republica to the the marvellous Manueline doorway of the parish church.
Be sure to look upwards as you explore to see some fabulous Art Nouveau azulejos and medieval architecture.
Note: Every 4 years, Tomar holds a uniquely colourful festival called Festa dos Tabuleiros, in July.
If it’s UNESCO Sites you’re after, you can see 3 in one day on this UNESCO World Heritage Tour of Central Portugal. Get 5% off with my code: JULIE5
Drive 45 minutes north from Coimbra to get to Aveiro. Or take one of the many daily trains.
Either way, you’ll end up in Art Nouveau heaven.
Aveiro is blessed with a pretty historical centre with beautiful calçada (patterned pavements), a network of canals and brightly painted moliceiro boats and an impressive array of azulejos.
And that’s just for starters.
If you have the flexibility of a car, you can visit the colourful fishing village of Costa Nova with picturesque striped cottages and a plethora of seafood restaurants.
To discover more reasons to visit Aveiro, see this article: 12 Cool Things To Do In Aveiro
Talasnal and other mountain schist villages
I singled out Talasnal because it’s the first schist village I went to, and because there’s a great hike that starts from the centre of Lousã and leads up through the mountains to the village.
Along the route, you pass Lousã’s small medieval castle, a hermitage and a restaurant overlooking the river beach (in the summer) and chestnut trees.
It’s quite a steep climb so not for the fainthearted or really unfit. I had to stop frequently last time I walked up there but it was worth it in the end for the views, the village, and the sense of achievement. If you can’t face the walk, it is possible to drive.
There are several other schist villages in the area around Lousã, including Gondramaz, Cerdeira and Candal.
Explore these schist villages on this tour with pick up from Coimbra.
Getting around in Central Portugal
You’ll need transport get to some of these places, although others are accessible by train or bus. You’ll find more information about renting a car in Portugal here.
Otherwise, GoWalks Portugal specialise in cultural tours in and around Coimbra so I’ve negotiated a 5% discount for my readers if you use this code: JULIE5 when you book.
Where to stay in Coimbra
This article describes different neighbourhoods in Coimbra and I’ve picked a few great places to stay in each of them.
Here’s a selection of places to stay in or around Coimbra that have parking facilities:
Stay in an elegant medieval palace with a real romantic history and botanical gardens at Quinta das Lágrimas.
If you prefer modern luxury, the 4-star Vila Galé might suit you better.
Hotel Oslo is in the heart of the city and has a valet parking service.
Don’t be put off by the word hostel. As well as dorm rooms with bunk beds, The Luggage Hostel and Suites has private rooms, although only one has an en suite bathroom so check you’re happy with what you’re getting before booking.
If you’d rather be based in the countryside, try Casa de Campo de Soutelo, which has a lovely owner and fabulous views.
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