College Visit: University of Coimbra

The University of Coimbra is the oldest and most prestigious university in Portugal. There are 30,000 students studying everything from Literature to Law. Medicine and Law are two of its most competitive and revered areas of study.

university of coimbra

The students wear white shirts, ties, and black skirts and capes, which is surprisingly similar to what the students wore at Hogwarts. It’s no surprise that J.K. Rowling spent time here when she lived in Porto, Portugal.

Students choose their majors before they enter and are accepted based on their scores on standardized tests. Fifty percent is also based on a subject-specific exam. Students put in a ranking of schools and based on their scores, they get accepted. Each school has a different cut-off point.  

The University owns the botanical garden at the entrance of campus, which is a fabulous place for students to study biology and botany. They also use portions of the gardens for pharmacy students and medicinal purposes

There is a beautiful old library with a collection of antique books that librarians present to students upon request. But it’s not much for studying since it relies on natural light in a very dark but beautiful setting.

In ancient times, under the Jesuits, students who cheated, drank too much or carried arms (hunting was a popular pastime) would be sent to the school prison for misconduct.  Students would have to live in small cells, without windows for up to six months. They were allowed to go out to attend class but otherwise this prison was meant to bring them back to focusing on their studies. Thankfully that custom is no longer in place!

Surrounding Area

The University is interwoven into the surrounding town. It extends across the river and down to the center of town. A narrow, steep pathway outside campus leads to a charming town studded with shops and eateries. The pastries are particularly delicious!

university of coimbra

Social Life 

One tradition that students uphold is to serenade students with the Coimbran guitar and song. Every year on the first Friday of May, mobs of students surround the chapel and listen to a concert of last year’s students (seniors) singing. Last year students get the privilege of sitting right up front to enjoy the concert.

Several exchange students come to study for a semester but mostly from other European countries and South America. All exchange students take classes in English.

They also have 32 Republica houses, which are similar to eating houses. Students eat together every night and each one has a different personality. Prospective members attend monthly dinners to see if they fit in before they are offered a membership.


The University of Coimbra seems like a charming place to study abroad with a thriving, ancient town steeped in tradition.  

University of Coimbra

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