“Coimbra is the land of fado, love, and saudades, those who come here take Coimbra in their heart. Coimbra is a love for life, a lesson”, says Bia. Saudade represents a feeling of longing and nostalgia, one that is untranslatable and is often a recurring theme in fado.
Born and bred in Coimbra, Bia and Kikas are a couple in their 50s that started their Portuguese blog “Amar Viajar e Petiscar” 8 years ago on a summer day in August, after becoming empty nesters. Since then, they have shared their Portuguese travel experiences with their 50,000+ followers on Instagram.
Too often forgotten, Coimbra is located in Central Portugal but has been making waves as a city to look out for. It is no surprise that Bia and Kikas chose Coimbra as their chosen city for a perfect day off in Portugal.
To start the day off right, the couple heads to the historic Cafe Santa Cruz for breakfast in the center of the old town. Located next to a 12th-century monastery, the cafe has been around for over 500 years and was honored with Coimbra’s Gold Medal in 2013.
If the sun is shining, they enjoy a signature tosta mista with an orange juice on the terrace, offering views of Praça 8 de Maio, an emblematic square. They also order an espresso, calling the quality of the coffee “excellent”.
With full hearts and bellies, they decide to take a walk through the city. Bia and Kikas start their stroll at the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in the world, founded in 1537. Along with Alta (the uptown), the University of Coimbra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The couple visits the Joanine Library, which they deem the “crown of the university”. Built in the early 18th century at the orders of King John V to house the vast book collection of the University of Coimbra, the library feels like a page out of a Harry Potter book. Containing over 50,000 books, many dating back as far as the 16th century, the library is free to visit.
The exterior of the library features stone walls with gold accents and a roof covered by clay tiles. The interior was intricately ornamented by painters and craftsmen, decorating the stone floor with geometric motifs and the ceilings with trompe-l’oeil paintings.
Bia warns me that you are not allowed to take photographs inside Joanine Library. Instead, enjoy your surroundings without technology.
But if you are looking for Insta-worthy shots, their next stop doesn’t disappoint. Bia and Kikas walk up the 180 steps to the University Tower to enjoy “a majestic view of the Mondego River and the university”.
The University Tower holds a bell that has always played a central role in the daily life of university students. The daily activities of the university were once organized according to the bell and even today, the bell still marks specific hours of the daily life of students.
They then head to the Sala dos Capelos, the most important room in the university where major ceremonies are held. Multiple kings of the first Portuguese Dynasty stepped foot through these doors and celebrated marking events in this very same room.
Featuring classic paintings of Portuguese kings, glass-stained ceilings, and luxurious red carpets, this room is bound to leave a mark. A series of traditional azulejo tiles line the lower part of the walls, all produced in Lisbon.
Bia and Kikas’ next stop – the Botanical Garden. While the garden of the University of Coimbra was founded in 1772, it was developed mostly by botanist Luis Carrisso in the 20th century. Carrisso enriched the Botanical Garden with exotic African plans, many coming from Angola.
The Botanical Garden is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. Bia and Kikas spend time taking photographs at the site which occupies 13 hectares. Featuring greenhouses with tropical plants, an area for cultivation for botany students, and a valley with a small stream, this place feels like a breath of fresh air in nature.
A 10-minute walk away, Bia and Kikas head to Sé Nova, a 1600s cathedral that features statues of four Jesuit saints in the Baroque style. The cathedral is free to enter and features beautiful gold-covered altarpieces from the 18th century.
They then head down the Escadas do Quebra Costas, an “idyllic” stairway that is a “must-see”. Bia says that “you will find various little houses with memorabilia, bars, and restaurants” in a quaint environment.
The couple makes a stop at Chocolataria Equador, a chocolatier shop that features the best chocolate in Coimbra. They order the truffles like always and accompany the dessert with a Port wine or a Ginja, a Portuguese liquor.
After all that walking, it’s time for lunch. The couple walks a short distance to Italia, a restaurant in the Docks of Coimbra. The Italian restaurant brings the couple back to fond memories and the price tag is worth it. With the Mondego River at their feet, they feast on mouth-watering pizzas and pasta of all kinds.
Bia left us with other appetizing restaurant recommendations such as Cordel Maneirista near the S. Francisco Convent. This place services traditional Portuguese food such as cabrito no forno as well as brunch menus with vegetarian options.
Praxis is another restaurant with quality artisanal beer and a “good steak with fries”, a Portuguese staple.
After lunch at Italia, they enjoy an afternoon stroll to Parque Verde do Mondego. With the Mondego River as the main protagonist, this park is over 400,000 meters squared. The park features walking paths, a skate park, and a volleyball area.
Snap a photo with your loved one of the Mondego River and for an unusual one, find the large green bear sculpture, made of grass.
The couple then heads to Baixa, the historical center of Coimbra and where the student life comes alive. They walk through the Praça da República, a main square surrounded by restaurants, bars, and students rushing to class.
By now, it’s time for lanche. You read that right, not lunch! The Portuguese have four meals a day, and lanche is one of the most important. It’s more than just a snack in between lunch and dinner.
Bia and Kikas head to O Croissant in Praça 8 de Maio, a restaurant serving pancakes, bowls, and unique salted croissants such as the avocado croissant with cherry tomatoes and a fried egg.
For a more traditional Portuguese lanche, the couple recommends Moinho Velho, a bakery serving quality bread of all kinds, perfect for a torrada com manteiga (toast with butter), as well as delicious pastries.
Bia and Kikas then head to a bar called Passaporte. They order a cocktail on the terrace and enjoy the stunning view of the sun setting on the Mondego River.
After the sun has set, the couple heads to a new restaurant that has only recently opened up but has already become one of the most popular in the area. Santa Sede is located in Celas, serving appetizing cuisine in a sophisticated environment with live music.
They also recommend Solar do Bacalhau, a restaurant that serves codfish in various different ways, from bacalhau com natas to bacalhau à brás. As the Portuguese say, there are 1001 ways of cooking cod.
Alternatively, Refeitro da Baixa combines Mediterranean gastronomy with the art of pottery. This place serves elaborate dishes and has pottery displays that visitors can purchase. Pottery workshops are also available for those looking to get their hands dirty after lunch.
After dinner, Bia and Kikas meet up with friends for coffee on the terrace of Cafe S. Jose, a coffee shop that is open until midnight. Although the cafe might not have views of the river or a large cathedral, the laughter of friends marks the perfect ending for a perfect day.
Check out Bia and Kikas’ Instagram @amarviajarpetiscar to follow their travel and gastronomy experiences all over Portugal.
Bia and Kikas’ Top Hotel Picks in Coimbra
- Quinta das Lágrimas: “Full of history and refinement – where the love of Pedro and Ines flourished”
- Sapientia Boutique Hotel: “Very nice and simple”
- Hastens Sleep Spa: Known for having “the best beds in the world” with high-quality mattresses and pillows
- Casa de São Bento St Benedict House: Popular with tourists for affordable prices and comfortable stay
- Pharmacia Guesthouse: “An old pharmacy that is now a guesthouse” with lovely authentic decor