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- 25 Jan 2020, 3 nights
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Beautiful, historic and alive with the sounds of Fado music, Coimbra is one of Portugal's most romantic cities. Its ancient buildings appear to sit stacked on top of one another, with steep cobbled streets running from the Mondego River all the way to the hilltop Coimbra University. Complementing its historical atmosphere, the city has a lively and modern feel thanks to a large student population. Quirky shops, cafés and restaurants are dotted around the old town's winding alleyways and the nightlife buzzes all year round.
Coimbra hostels can be found inside historic restored palaces as well as modern homes with roof terraces overlooking the river. Most have outdoor spaces where you can sip your morning coffee while watching the Portuguese street life, and a lot offer free breakfast – usually with cake and coffee. Choose a Coimbra hostel with an on-site bar or shared kitchen to meet other travellers easily. Most have air con and free Wi-Fi.
It's worth climbing to Alta de Coimbra (upper Coimbra), the area at the top of the hill. This is where you'll find the ancient buildings that make up the university, as well as the 12th-century Sé Velha (old cathedral). Baixa de Coimbra (downtown Coimbra) sits between the hill and the Mondego River, and this is the city's main shopping street. The Santa Clara neighbourhood across the river is quieter, and has a few attractions like the Santa Clara-a-Velha monastery and impressive views of Coimbra's hillside cityscape.
Take in a show and discover Coimbra's unique spin on Fado – Portugal's folk music. Usually sung by women, in Coimbra men take the lead. As well as having Portugal's oldest university, Coimbra is also home to its oldest theme park – Portugal dos Pequenitos (little Portugal), with miniature versions of some of the country's most famous buildings. If you fancy a day trip, take the 20-minute taxi journey to Conímbriga, a huge Roman-era excavation on the outskirts of the city.
Coimbra-B train station – Estação Velha (old station) – is the main stop for high-speed trains coming from Porto and Lisbon. The easiest way to reach the city centre from here is to jump on the connecting train to Coimbra-A – Estação Nova (new station) – which takes about five minutes. Coimbra is a small city so it's easy to get around on foot, or you can use the hop on-hop off Yellow Bus tour.