Coimbra is a riverfront city in Portugal about halfway between Porto and Lisbon, making it a favorite stop when traveling between the two cities. As the once-capital of medieval Portugal, the city has a rich history. The main attraction is the University of Coimbra, which is not only the oldest university in Portugal but also one of the oldest in the world.
Since Coimbra houses Portugal's biggest university and the closest airports are in Lisbon and Porto, the options on public transit are quick and affordable. Trains and buses take almost the same amount of time, and the prices are comparable. If you have a vehicle, you can explore even more of the Portuguese countryside—just be clear about how tolls work.
How to Get from Lisbon to Coimbra
- Train: 2 hours, from $5
- Bus: 2 hours, 20 minutes, from $15
- Car: 2 hours, 5 minutes, 125 miles (200 kilometers)
When booked in advance, the train is the cheapest and fastest way to get from Lisbon to Coimbra. The Portuguese National Railway offers two types of trains: the premier Alfa Pendular train (AP) and the slightly slower InterCity train (IC). Both are air-conditioned and comfortable, but the AP train gets you to Coimbra about 20 minutes faster than the IC. When you book at least five days in advance, special promotion pricing is available for discounted tickets, with rides on the IC train for as little as $5 when bought early enough and tickets for the AP train starting at $16. Last-minute tickets or trains during high-demand times are priced higher, so be sure to plan ahead. Travelers who are 25 years or younger can also get discounts up to 25 percent on their tickets.
There are multiple train stations in Lisbon and Coimbra, and you need to specify the exact station in order to purchase tickets on the Portugal Railways webpage. In Lisbon, all trains to Coimbra pass through the Lisboa Oriente station, which is located near the airport. If you want to leave from a more centrally located station, choose Lisboa Santa Apolonia.
For your destination, your station options are Coimbra or Coimbra-B. Trains from Lisbon stop at Coimbra-B, which is located about a mile outside of the city center. From there, you can transfer to another train to the main Coimbra station or just grab a taxi to the city center. Taxis are inexpensive and the trip should only be five minutes, also saving you from walking up the steep hill to the city center.
Buses leave from Lisbon all throughout the day toward Coimbra, and you can buy tickets in advance or right from the bus station. Tickets purchased from Rede Expressos have a fixed price of 13.80 euros, or about $15, and leave from the Lisboa Oriente or Lisboa Sete Rios stations. The bus trip takes about 30 minutes longer than the train, but if you're buying same-day tickets, the bus is usually cheaper—although usually only by a few euros.
The bus station in Coimbra is only a 10-minute walk outside of the city center, but taxis are available and inexpensive.
The journey from Lisbon to Coimbra takes two hours and is about 200 kilometers (125 miles). To get a good deal, make sure to book your rental car as far in advance as possible. Also, keep in mind that most rental cars in Portugal have manual transmissions. If you can only drive automatic, prepare to pay more.
It's not recommended to drive in the cities, as public transportation is cheap and easy while parking can be a challenge. However, the countryside drive between the cities is relaxed and beautiful. All the main routes between Lisbon and Coimbra have tolls, so it's best to get the electronic transponder (Portugal's version of an EZ Pass) from the rental car company so you can go through the express lane and have your credit card automatically charged.
What to See in Coimbra
Coimbra has a small city center that you can explore in a day, including the university campus, the Monastery of Santa Cruz, and the exquisite Moorish architecture that remains. While Coimbra can feel sleepy during the summer and Christmas months, this university town is most alive when school is in session. Stay for a weekend if you can and experience nightlife in a Portuguese bar with the local students. Young people flock to plazas with their guitars and other instruments and play music through the evening while drinking on the street. For travelers who love to meet locals, socialize, and immerse themselves in the culture, Coimbra is a stop that you won't regret.