While Coimbra is known for its historical buildings, university complex and ecclesiastical monuments, like many cities in Portugal it also offers plenty of greenery interspersed with its bricks and mortar attractions.
Take your time studying your map or tourist itinerary and choose carefully, as you will definitely need more than one day to visit and discover all of Coimbra’s beautiful sites and lush gardens scattered around the city and the towns surrounding it.
Here you will find a few go-to places that will certainly make you want to come back and explore even more, whether you come with your family or your better-half.
Right at the edge of the city is a lovely park known as the Parque Verde do Mondego, or Green Park of the Mondego River. The Parque Verde do Mondego is a fine area of greenery that runs along the banks of the river, offering space to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and transport yourself to a place where you are enveloped by nature rather than history.
There are of course many other opportunities in and around Coimbra to get a taste for the natural landscape, flora and fauna of the region. A great place to start is the Choupal National Forest, which lies just a few kilometres further from the city centre.
Known as the Mata National do Choupal, the Choupal Forest was born off the need to break the high water route of the Mondego back in 1791.
The project involved planting a mix of trees and heavy foliage in order to lead the waters of the river in the desired direction and many of these have continued to grow over the course of some 200 years to provide a mature, attractive natural park area. Banana palms, laurel trees, eucalyptus trees and many others cover an area of 79 hectares, which reaches into the edges of the city of Coimbra.
The Choupal National Forest is now a major leisure area for the city’s residents, many of whom use it for jogging, cycling and walking as part of their fitness regimes, and for picnics with friends, families or partner during holidays and weekends.
For those who come prepared, there is also a barbecue area with tables and bench seating where drinking water is available and a rest room block is situated.
There are many species of birds, insects, animals and, of course, flora in the park, making it a great destination for anyone with an interest in nature, horticulture or ornithology. Many of the plants are identified by information panels dotted throughout the park to give visitors plenty of background on the area. There are many semi-landscaped, flower-lined paths that weave their way through the forest, plus a large open garden area, again semi landscaped, which is worth taking a look at.
One of the biggest draws of the Choupal National Forest is the opportunity to see the biggest eucalyptus tree in Europe. At some 70 metres tall, it makes for an impressive sight and is worth making the trip down to the lower section of the park, close to Vale de Canas, for a photo opportunity.
Further out of Coimbra, the Roman settlement of Conimbriga offers the perfect combination of sightseeing and nature. One of the largest Roman settlements in Portugal and arguably its most important, Conimbriga has long been abandoned by the human population — but not by the flora and fauna that now inhabit the site.
The settlement is surrounded by fields of wild flowers and also boasts tamed, planted areas within the footprint of the site, which not just enhance it but add a feeling of tranquillity. It is worth taking at least a half day to explore the site, with its Roman bath complex, Forum, semi-preserved amphitheatre, city walls and beautiful mosaic floors, some of which remain in extraordinarily good condition having survived more than 2000 years.
Take the time to wander amongst the remains, explore the visitor centre and museum and simply relax in the sun and allow yourself to be transported 2000 years back into history, to a time when the world looked different, but the sounds of the crickets chirping and the birds singing was undoubtedly exactly the same.
As you can see, there are many places to which you should definitely go and explore in Coimbra, Portugal, and its lovely surroundings, providing, of course, you are ready to take on a wonderful, overwhelming journey through one of Portugal’s oldest and most beautiful cities.