This is an article for people who like to climb to tops of the hills. That’s the experience no one can escape while visiting Coimbra.
Located in the heart of Portugal, Coimbra is a middle sized city, of dimensions similar to those of Rijeka (Croatia) and Verona (Italy), for instance. At a glance, it looks like a hilltop city. There is indeed an entire medieval historical center. But the most well-known thing about this city is the University. It’s Portugal’s oldest university. Coimbra has also one of the oldest universities in Europe, alongside the likes of Bologna, Cambridge, Oxford, Salamanca, or Utrecht.
I studied at that University. I spent a few beautiful years there, between 2010 and 2012. In November last year (2017), I made a visit to the city, to enjoy the feeling again. Now I finally took a nice collection of pictures of the museum.
Most travelers come to Coimbra for a day trip, and there are some “must-visit” lists. You’ll generally find the old University and the Botanical Garden on the top of these lists. These are the highlights of the city and definitely places to visit to understand that academic spirit. So I will not be saying much about it – here comes just a little picture of one of the University’s buildings.
There is a beautiful library. People who love sciences might want to visit the science museum. The Botanical Garden is very beautiful, but people who have limited time should be careful about spending time there because it’s large and exciting. All these places are located near each other. Including the National Machado de Castro Museum. Its original name is Museu Nacional Machado de Castro.
To be honest, I’d like to say that this is one of the most unusual museums I have ever visited in terms of architecture. The core building is historical and it has a nice loggia and some authentic elements, but it once underwent deep works of interpolations so the new museum has a quite contemporary design.
If you want to visit this museum, I warn you’ll need at least an hour, while it’s easy to spend as much as three hours inside. The exhibition area is large and diverse, and each part provokes curiosity and attention.
The Ancient Roman City
The main highlight of the visit is definitely the underground area, where you can find archaeological remains of the Roman city. It’s actually the basement of a whole ancient city. Coimbra was called Aeminium in the Roman times. There is a nearby location called Conimbriga, outside Coimbra. Even though the name suggests that it was the Roman city before the contemporary Coimbra, in reality, it wasn’t. The ancient Conimbriga was abandoned due to some conflict, and the whole population escaped to Aeminium, that somehow became Coimbra.
So, first of all, this is a museum of archaeology!
On the picture: Roman Cryptoporticus
See also: How to visit a museum?
Collections of architectures
Coimbra has an exciting history – the city’s urban patterns changed a lot throughout the history. These stories are complicated – I don’t know them all. A part of my studies in Coimbra was a development of a masters thesis that included a part related to the medieval walls, but that’s all. Curious people may always find information. But, to get an immersive experience, a big idea, or just an immersive feeling of that history, this museum will provide you with all.
It’s all because – there are so many little elements of architecture. Things that were lost in the past time. Coimbra has a heartbreaking history of demolitions of buildings. Simply, at some moments there was a need for improvement in terms of housing or university facilities, and at the time, it used to mean big demolitions.
The rests of that medieval pattern can be seen in the museum, and even an entire church was moved from elsewhere to the place. Impressive, isn’t it?
Visit the Museum’s website (it’s not very mobile-friendly, but at least has all the information in English)
Pieces of Arts and Crafts
Throughout the big rooms and corridors, there are many curiosities. This is by no means a classical museum. Pieces may be historical, the concept may be primarily to keeping and preserving rather than telling many stories directly to visitors. However, the interiors have some magic that is unmatched in most of the big classical museums. This museum is a kind of big for the dimensions of this city. This is one of Portugal’s most important national museums.
Dreamy views of Coimbra
On my blog, I write about a lot of things that are “dreamy”. There are many things like that to visit in Lisbon. People should not feel obliged to visit museums neither any museum should appear on must-visit lists. Visits to museums are to be enjoyable. The Machado de Castro National Museum has it all. This picture already made success on my social media pages, due to its magic.
There is a nice cafeteria in the museum. Unfortunately, I did not have to consume anything there, because I had other lunch plans that day, but I believe it has a nice offer. As I always say, museum restaurants are likely to be the nicest places to have lunch in any city.
What else to say? This museum is full of surprises inside. Incredible exhibition designs, galleries, balconies, views, everything you cannot imagine. To embrace museums, visit the best ones first.
Getting to Coimbra
Most people go to Coimbra from Porto or Lisbon. In my opinion, the best way to get to Coimbra is by train, and tickets for Intercity or Alfa trains might be quite cheap if booked earlier. Not that the main train station is located outside the city, and after arriving there, you can wait for the first local/regional train that goes to the old station in the city center.
Going by bus can be even cheaper, but the trip lasts longer. By train, it takes about two hours (or a bit less) to get from Lisbon to Coimbra, while by bus the trip may take up to 3 hours. People who prefer to rent a car should be aware that parking is not very easy, even though there is quite a lot of parking places – there are simply no free places during the day.
Coimbra has a number of affordable hotels and hostels, so it can be a nice choice for an overnight stay during your Portuguese tour.