Explore the Medieval University Town of Coimbra - "The Oxford of Portugal"

By Tricia Pimental

Two hours north of Lisbon lies Portugal’s former capital, Coimbra, home to one of the oldest continually operating universities in Europe. Located in the building that housed Portuguese monarchs from the 12th to the 15th centuries, Coimbra University is the heartbeat of this vibrant city of culture.

With a population of 144,000 spread over 123 square miles, Coimbra is a busy metropolis, yet it retains the mellow undertone that Portugal is famous for. The university is situated high on a hill, in what is aptly named the Alta, or high, district. Descend the steep and narrow streets to the lower area of the Baixa and you’ll discover a maze of serpentine alleys where shops are packed tightly side by side, outdoor tables display linens, pottery and scarves, and flowers stalls add bright splashes of color amid the neutral tones of the stone of the medieval city.

Retire in Coimbra


The climate in Coimbra is temperate. August is the hottest month, with an average of 73 F, and January the coldest, averaging 51 F. January is also the wettest month, delivering about six inches of rain. If you’re interested in beach time in the summer months, just head west to Figueira da Foz, which has an active expat community.

Without a doubt, this is a city in which you can get by in English only. Between tourism and the youthful student population, being able to speak Portuguese is not a requisite to enjoying all Coimbra has to offer.

Home improvement centers like Leroy Merlin offer everything you need for your new lodging should you decide to move here, and malls like Coimbrashopping, Forum Coimbra, and Alta Shopping await. For groceries, in addition to the usual supermarkets (hipermercados) such as Continente, InterMarché and Pingo Doce, a bonus in Coimbra is the existence of SuperCor, El Corte Inglés’s gourmet market.

Getting around by car is simple. Roads and streets are well-marked, and parking is generally ample, wherever you’re going in town. But you don’t need a car. Travel by bus, train, or taxi, and of course, Uber as always is a great option. You can travel to Lisbon, Porto and other destinations by train or bus as well.

Lifestyle in Coimbra

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As mentioned above, Coimbra is a city brimming with history and culture. Your day might bring you to the National Museum of Machado de Castro on Largo Doutor José Rodrigues in the Alta, a block from the University. The building is a former bishop’s palace, built in the Middle Ages over the Roman forum of Aeminium, which in fact is the Roman name for Coimbra. Subterranean galleries below and art collections above will fill your senses.

Or perhaps your morning may begin with a simple walk in Parque Verde. Stroll along the ribbon of the River Mondego that runs through the city, stop for lunch at a riverfront café and consider a shopping expedition to one of those malls. Or go to the Baixa where you can cruise the pedestrian walkway at Rua Ferreira Borges and Rua Visconde da Luz. Pause and enjoy traditional Portuguese pasteis de bacalhau—little cod cake pillows stuffed with mashed potatoes and parsley—or a creamy cup of gelato.

Fado is the traditional music form of Portugal, and other than Lisbon, there’s no place better to hear it than here in Coimbra, where it is only sung by men, and which plays a big part in University life. At Fado ao Centro you can visit during the day, catch a rehearsal in late afternoon, or see a performance at 6:00 p.m. That’s one of the nice parts about living in the center of the country, as opposed to Lisbon or Porto: you won’t have to wait until 9 p.m. or 10p.m. at night to enjoy entertainment.

Cost of Living in Coimbra


Real estate prices in Coimbra are surprisingly affordable, given all that this magical place has to offer. For example, 10 minutes from the city center you can find a three-bedroom, fully furnished apartment on a one-year lease for as little as $1,000 a month.

As everywhere in Portugal, you can find breakfast at a café for a couple of dollars, lunch (soup, main dish, dessert, drink, and coffee) for about $11, and a range of dinner prices. At the highly rated (and hard to get into) Zé Manel dos Ossos on Beco do Forno 12, for instance, menu items run from $8 to $24. At the equally popular Dux Taberna Urbana, where tapas, suckling pig, and chocolate mousse are on the menu, items range from $11 to $28.

Here’s a sample monthly budget for two, bearing in mind a single can expect to cut a third off this sum.

Cost of Living in Coimbra Portugal
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