Portugal’s most famous and prestigious university, the University of Coimbra is one of Europe’s oldest colleges and has become a popular tourist attraction in its own right. First established in Lisbon in 1290, the university moved to its current location in 1537 and today stands proudly at the highest point of the town.
Touring the vast hilltop campus unveils an array of historic architecture, most notably the imposing 18th-century University Tower, an important landmark of the Old Town, and the renowned 18th-century Biblioteca Joanina (João V Library), an elaborately decorated National Monument. Around 300,000 ancient books grace the shelves of the famed library and the richly decorated interiors are a show-stopping display of Portuguese art and architectural design, featuring two-tiers of exotic wood shelves, gilded pillars and intricate ceiling paintings by Lisbon artists Simões Ribeiro and Vicente Nunes.
Visitors can also tour the ornate baroque Capela de São Miguel, the Sala dos Capelos (Graduates’ Hall) and the 16th-century University Church, home to a museum of sacred art. The university also runs the 18th-century Botanical Gardens, the largest in Portugal stretching over 13 hectares of the idyllic Ursulinas Valley and featuring over 1,200 exotic plant and flower varieties.