Coimbra or Guimarães in Portugal – Which One is Best?
-> Where to stay in Coimbra
-> Where to stay in Guimarães
Guimarães or Coimbra, Portugal? If you are fascinated by the history of the first universities and scholars in Europe and want to explore a World Heritage listed university that has gained world recognition for its library collection and now draws thousands of students and visitors from near and far every year, then you should consider visiting Coimbra, located approximately half-way between Lisbon and Porto.
If you, on the other hand, are more interested in medieval history and want to gain insight into one of the impressive castles that ‘gathered’ the country – in some way considered Portugal’s birthplace, maybe you should rather drive up to Guimarães north of Porto.
When setting out from Lisbon, going north, the first city you will come to is Coimbra. It is a lovely city with a charming old city centre, a picturesque river, and a world-famous, old university.
República Guest House The guest house is centrally located in Coimbra and features seating area, lounge, kitchen, patio and breakfast.
Solar Antigo Luxury Coimbra This hotel has a top location near the University of Coimbra and offers family rooms and city views.
Coimbra is known for its university founded towards the end of the 13th century, more precisely in 1290. The University of Coimbra is among the oldest in Europe – and is the oldest university in Portugal, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Moreover, it is also considered the best university in Portugal today, and students flock here from all over the world to get a degree from one of the historic top universities in Europe.
At the time when the University of Coimbra was established as a medieval university, the location was not Coimbra, but Lisbon. Nevertheless, after some years, in 1537, it moved to Coimbra where it has admitted students ever since. With time it has been renovated in both baroque and neoclassical styles. Noteworthy parts are the 17th-century ceremonial hall, and the 16th-century tower, which provides visitors with panoramic views of Lisbon from the top.
The University of Coimbra is particularly renowned for its beautiful library, the Joanine Library, which possesses over 300,000 books dating back to the 16th – 18th centuries. It is named after King John V who commissioned it. The magnificent collection is housed in the palace that used to be the residence of the former Kings of Portugal, at the time when Coimbra was the medieval capital of the Iberian kingdom.
Coimbra is today a vibrant Portuguese city crowded with university students. There is a lively nightlife in the streets, bars and restaurants and an interesting cultural scene rooted in the city’s fascinating history. Something not to miss is an authentic Fado experience!
A beautiful (new) cathedral from 1598, Sé Nova, is located near the University. It is considered ‘new’ since it is centuries younger than its older brother, the first Coimbra Cathedral, the Romanesque Sé Velha with a fortress-like look, initiated in the 12th century under Afonso Henriques who declared himself King of Portugal.
Coimbra is full of old churches, cloisters, and monasteries: Chapel of São Miguel, Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha… all amazing places that are part of Coimbra’s cultural heritage. As a curiosity you will in central Coimbra, set inside a chapel of the Monastery of Santa Cruz, find an amazing classic café with an ecclesiastical appearance. The high-vaulted room with stained-glass window is a popular place, appealing to both visitors, students, and locals alike.
Hotel Toural This hotel has an excellent location in the historic city centre of Guimarães. Rooms are modern and guests can enjoy breakfast in their rooms.
Largo da Oliveira This aparthotel is situated close to Palace Duques de Bragança. The units have air conditioning, washing machine and a kitchenette.
Guimarães Castle is a military fortification that was founded in the Middle Ages. The iconic castle has an exciting and comprehensive history and has served as a defensive construction to protect the town against both the Vikings and the Moors! At some point in time, it was also used as a prison! Today, the history almost comes alive through the banners and flags swaying and hanging down from the thick walls.
Guimarães is considered the ‘birth of Portugal’ since Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques (1106-1185), was born here. However, there are indications that the castle existed a long time before that. According to some sources, the castle was a count’s construction towards the end of the 10th century, erected as a donation to Guimarães Monastery.
The Castle has likely been remodelled several times and traces indicate that its structure once was round! Over the centuries it was restructured, first with turrets, and later, in the 13th century, with its eight rectangular towers, converting the defensive construction to the current fortress.
The city centre of Guimarães is a very authentic, medieval town with many buildings preserved. It is one of the finest examples existing of how a medieval town has developed into a modern city.
When you take a look at the old olive tree in the cobbled square Largo da Oliveira and soak up the impressions from all the buildings worthy of preservation on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, you feel like you are in a time warp. Surrounding the square, the finest traditional Portuguese houses stand in a row, built under the reign of Alfonso IV.
Today the city is a lovely blend of medieval architecture and art, cosy little restaurants serving local specialities, and important landmarks telling the story of the past such as, besides Guimarães Castle, the Church of Sao Francisco that was erected by Franciscan monks a long time ago.
So… university history or Portugal’s birthplace – Coimbra or Guimarães – which one appeals most to you? … or will you have time to do both during your trip!?!
Read next: Visit the Knights Templar in Tomar and What are the Best Things to Do in Lisbon
Coimbra or Guimarães in Portugal – Which One is Best
Featured image of
Coimbra or Guimarães in Portugal – Which One is Best:
Travel In Culture