The central Beiras region of Portugal is dominated by its provincial capital, Coimbra, situated about 73 miles (118km) south of Oporto.
Coimbra Old Town © Bernt Rostad
Coimbra was the birthplace of six of Portugal's kings, with the country's first, Afonso Henriques, lying in a carved Gothic sarcophagus in the Monastery of Santa Cruz. Other sights in and around the city include several beautiful medieval churches, the Machado de Castro museum, and Conimbriga, southwest of the city, which is a fascinating Roman archaeological site. There are also a number of pretty parks and gardens, including the Jardim da Sereia (Mermaid's Garden), Parque Manuel Braga, Penedo da Saudade, and Parque Verde do Mondego.
Coimbra is one of Europe's oldest university towns, and its students swarm the streets in traditional black capes with coloured ribbons indicating which faculty they belong to. The majestic university building, founded in the 12th century, overlooks the city, which is a medieval wonderland of cobbled alleys, archways and stairways. You'll find restaurants, museums, galleries, bookstores and boutiques along the winding roads.
The student population of Coimbra guarantees a lively atmosphere at all times of the day. Strolling through the medieval centre of town, you are likely to hear the nostalgic strains of traditional Fado music, as well as the buzz of activity at the numerous restaurants, cafes and bars that spill out onto the streets. Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular party nights, as many students go home to their families on the weekends and the town is relatively quiet.