Coimbra, a city in the center of Portugal, is becoming a hotspot for tourism, although it had prior been ignored by most tourists. The city is home to one of the oldest universities in the World, the University of Coimbra which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the uptown.
There is so much to explore in Coimbra. From the magical Jardim das Lágrimas to Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha, this city is filled with beauty and culture. However, what makes Coimbra special is that, unlike a few other cities, it features many activities that can be enjoyed without spending a single dollar.
1. Explore Coimbra’s Botanical Garden
The heart of the city since 1772, Coimbra’s Botanical garden is open to the public and you guessed it – is free to enter! The garden occupies 13 hectares of beautiful greenery, including unique tropical plants. It was primarily developed in the 20th century by botanist Luis Carrisso. Carrisso enriched the Botanical Garden with exotic African plans, many coming from Angola.
When walking through these gardens, you will feel like you entered a magical world in nature, particularly on a gloomy day. The gardens feature greenhouses, an area for cultivation for botany students, and a valley with a small stream.
2. Walk up the “Quebra Costas” stairs
Ready for a bit of a workout? The “Quebra Costas” stairs, translating to “breaking backs” is a picturesque stairway in a narrow street going up to the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral), the headquarters of the Diocese of Coimbra.
Throughout the street you will find cute little shops to stop at with Portuguese products, as well as a delicious chocolate shop that might be offering free samples.
Once you get to the top (less than 5 minutes), you will have a beautiful view of the Sé Velha, a Romanesque Roman Catholic building that was built after the Battle of Ourique in 1139 when Afonso Henriques declared himself King of Portugal and Coimbra was selected as the capital.
3. Praça da Republica
The stop in Coimbra where student life comes alive is the Praça da Republica. This is the main square of Coimbra, only a few minutes away from the university that has naturally become the meeting point for students.
The square is filled with the best bars and restaurants, such as Steel, Murphy’s Irish Pub, Cafe Tropical, and even a theater. We recommend sitting at a cafe and partaking in some good old-fashioned people-watching to get a sense of the square’s atmosphere. You will witness students coming from classes, socializing with friends, and grabbing a cold beer or espresso.
4. Explore the outside of the University of Coimbra
Founded in 1537, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in the whole and some say, JK Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts. While you will get the most out of the experience by paying to tour the inside of the university (around 15 euros), you can still enjoy the outside for free.
There are multiple astonishing buildings throughout the university, particularly the Royal Palace, St. Michel’s Chapel, and Joanine Library. Standing in front of the Royal Palace, you get one of the best views of Coimbra, in our opinion.
5. Take a stroll in Parque Verde do Mondego
A great way to spend an afternoon in Coimbra without spending a penny is to enjoy an afternoon stroll in Parque Verde do Mondego. With the Mondego River as the main protagonist, this park is over 400,000 meters squared of nature’s beauty. The park features walking paths, a skate park, and a volleyball area if you are up for a game.
Snap a photo with your loved one of the Mondego River, and for an unusual shot find the large green bear sculpture, made of grass.