Coimbra is often termed the old university town of Portugal, with a history predating the Romans. Situated on the hills sloping down to the river Mondego, it is divided between Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa; the High and Low City. The presence of the university makes Coimbra a hotspot for cutlure, reflected in its many bars, restaurants and cafés. We take a look at the top ten restaurants in Coimbra.
One the most captivating venues in Coimbra is àCapella, a cultural center that doubles up as a bar and restaurant. What gives this venue its extra special edge is the location within a former church, benefiting from a stunning interior and conspicuous presence in the middle of the small square. Built in the 14th century, àCapella was part of a complex designed to support pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The restaurant opens in the early evenings and stays open till late at night, serving petiscos and traditional Portuguese food to the sound of lively fadotrios.
Enjoy exquisite jazz at Bar do Quebra Costas, located halfway down the Quebra Costas stairway, in the center of the Old City’s nightlife district. In good weather, concerts take place outdoors on a platform between the flights of steps, and these events set Bar do Quebra Costas apart from the competition, drawing in hundreds of people who arrange themselves up and down the steps to enjoy the show. The perfect spot in which to have a cold drink and enjoy a variety of small plates, Bar Do Quebra has an unrivalled atmosphere promising fun and relaxation.
Grab a beer and relax in Coimbra’s premier tapas establishment, La Botiga Bistro. The minimalist interior with its monochrome fittings and chic, linear design creates the perfect neutral atmosphere in which the food does the talking. Enjoy the local Portuguese sausage with a punchy glass of full-bodied red wine or try the lighter flavors of the chickpea salad and creamy goat’s cheese bruschetta. Particularly celebrated is the bistro’s famously moist chocolate cake, covered with rich cream and perfect alongside a steaming cup of Portuguese espresso.
Despite being tucked away within one of Coimbra’s main attractions, the cafeteria in the Science Museum is one of Portugal’s best kept secrets. Not only does the café serve an incredible brunch with all the usual favorites but it does so within an 18th century chemistry lab, evoking a true sense of magical culinary alchemy. Additionally, the view over Coimbra from the back terrace is absolutely stunning. The museum café is the perfect cultural hotspot for any season, the open log fire warms cold wintry nights and the balmy summer days convert the terrace into a true European piazza.
Café Santa Cruz is an ever popular institution in Coimbra, having provided a meeting point for generations of locals. Located next door to Coimbra’s town hall, in the Cidade Baixa, the chief attraction is undoubtedly its astounding architecture, nestled in the former hall of the Monastery of Santa Cruz, founded in 1530. The stunning Portuguese renaissance architecture( in the style known as Manuelino) features seafaring motifs such as ropes, seashells and anchors. Café Santa Cruz opened for business in 1923, at the height of the coffee house renaissance, and is, without a doubt, one the most charismatic spots to enjoy espresso in the whole of Europe.
DUX Taberna Urbana bucks the trend for traditional restaurants in the area, offering contemporary, modern dishes. Choose from whole baked camembert with crusty bread, plump prawns in garlic, black pudding with pineapple or boards of rocket with succulently cured meats. The deep red, stylish décor complements the dynamic, innovative cooking, creating a convivial atmosphere with wine-crammed shelves and artistically arranged bric-a-brac. Offering elegant dining in the centre of Coimbra, DUX is not to be missed.
In the heart of Coimbra’s old town, next to the Almedina Door, Fangas is the go-to destination for petiscos (Portuguese tapas) and a great spot in which to try wines hailing from all over the country, with a deservedly special note of commendation going to their famous sangria. The restaurant is embedded in the old medieval walls of the city and named after the location in which farmers traded grain seeds until the late 18th century. Enjoy mussels cooked in a spicy marinade or a selection of baked field mushrooms with coriander and cream cheese.
Whilst first and foremost an art gallery, Santa Clara, located in the eponymous Coimbra district, boasts a central bar and restaurant where visitors can try an assortment of teas and cocktails. Pop in for a glass of sangria or a pot of loose leaf tea and enjoy one of the gallery’s major selling points: the homemade cakes and biscuits. An inside area functioning as a romantic winter garden caters for customers during the colder months but in the summer, tables and chairs pepper the large outdoor terrace. The gallery area is spread across two floors, regularly displaying works by new and established artists, most of whom work with the mediums of painting, sculpture and photography.
The center of jazz in Coimbra is Salão Brazil, an Art-Nouveau influenced former billiards saloon, converted into a music and exhibitions venue as well as a bar and restaurant space. Live music can be enjoyed almost every night and the major names of the national and international Jazz scene frequently put in an appearance at well-attended concerts. Meals tend to be light, chiefly featuring classic, expertly-prepared tapas including tangy olives, chouriço, mushroom stew or fried shrimp.
Portugal is renowned for its tascas and Zé Manel is as authentic a tasca as you can get. Particular specialties include the goat and wild boar dishes, particularly the feijoada, best served alongside a fruity, full-bodied wine from the hills surrounding Coimbra. Not only is their food and drink famous throughout Portugal, but this tasca has a unique feature rendering it truly special: the walls are lined with poems written by satisfied customers. Most of the verses appear in Portuguese but since Zé Manel started garnering international acclaim, English epigrams and limericks have also started appearing.