Is Living In Coimbra As An Expat Right For You?

Can Coimbra become your perfect home in Portugal? Read on to find out.

With Porto to the North and Lisbon to the south, the charming and historic Portuguese city of Coimbra is often overlooked by expats. However, Coimbra possesses a unique character that sets it apart from its larger peers.

Those living in Coimbra get to enjoy the vibrancy that comes with being immersed in a historic University town, alongside the slightly slower, more relaxed way of life that Portugal is so famed for.

If you are considering living in Coimbra, getting a true sense of the city’s various pockets of personality is a great place to start.

Whether you dream of steep cobbled streets overhung by balconies and bougainvillaea blossoms—with the lilt of a Fado singer in the distance—or an ultra-modern pad with every amenity and a water-front view, Coimbra is likely to tick every box.

As to whether the city’s broader energy is up your street, read on for our ultimate guide to living in Coimbra as an expat, and decide for yourself!

Is Coimbra a good place to live?

Yes, Coimbra is perfect if you are looking for the following perks:

  • a charming and tranquil city livened up by endless youthful energy that comes with a big student population;
  • a lower cost of living while having all the necessary amenities on the doorstep;
  • a slower pace of life;
  • an opportunity to immerse in Portuguese traditions;
  • easy travel connections with Porto and Lisbon.
Living in Coimbra
The old town streets at night

Coimbra is a compact and attractive city with a population of around 140,000, although that number tends to swell and shrink thanks to its student population.

The city’s aesthetic is defined by the majestic mount of the University district, which rises steeply from the banks of the River Mondego, a large waterway that winds right through the heart of the city.

As one of the oldest educational institutions in the world, Coimbra University is a great source of pride for city natives.

The University’s monumental structures blend with Roman relics, Moorish fortifications, and the historic houses of the Alta area, an uptown district, to form a stunning vertical scene enjoyed by much of the rest of the city.

Meanwhile, those who have made the climb up to visit the ancient Torre de Universidade or the Baroque Bibliotec Joanina, will be rewarded with a spectacular panorama over the river below, and beyond; while also standing within a UNESCO world heritage site!

A city synonymous with students

Unsurprisingly, Coimbra’s general vibe is shaped by the presence of youth. However, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the clichés one might imagine!

While Coimbra’s annual influx of young people means that it does offer some lively evening atmosphere, the students also provide residents with a regular dose of tradition and culture—particularly in the form of public student rituals, and romantic Fado singing.

Speaking of Portuguese Fado music, Coimbra is famed for its own distinct style. While many of the celebrated Fado singers of Lisbon are female, in Coimbra it is traditional for the guys to do the serenading.

The practice is very much tied to the university, with male singers taking on a troubadour-like role.

Coimbra’s Fado songs are often laced with tragedy and comedy in equal measure, with a fair few aiming to steal the heart of a girl. It’s not uncommon to see a singer poised below the window of his sweetheart!

Coimbra: something for everyone

With all of the above in mind, Coimbra has a great deal to offer for all manner of different expats.

Living in Coimbra
The famous bamboo grove in the Botanical Garden of Coimbra

Young families, professionals working from home, and retirees will likely all enjoy the laid-back attitude and friendly culture of Coimbra in equal measure.

Certain areas offer greater appeal for those with children, while those aiming to retire within the city may prefer to look for property in the city’s flatter river-side areas, so those steep cobbled streets don’t have to be tackled every day!

Entertainment and amenities

In terms of amenities and entertainment, there is much to take in. The choice between large modern grocery stores or bustling city markets with fresh meat, fish, fruit, veg, and flowers in abundance, makes the weekly shop more interesting!

Those wanting a retail fix can head to one of the major malls—the Forum and Alma Shopping—or hit the many boutiques in the Baixa.

Whenever the sun shines, it is customary to embrace café culture, take a seat at a shaded street-side table, and sip on espresso, a beer, or a glass of wine.

English speakers will be happy to know that the city’s cinemas mostly show films in English with subtitles. However, those hoping to head to the theatre might want to polish up their Portuguese first! 

Because Coimbra isn’t quite the international hub that Lisbon is the city rarely attracts big-name international bands or touring art exhibitions.

That said, there is still a range of live music venues to choose from. Do check out the Irish bar beside Praça de Republica for their energetic band nights and international drinks menu.

Alongside Coimbra University itself, the city is known for its educational options.

A range of high-calibre state, private, and international schools are on offer for those living in Coimbra with children.

For further learning, there is no shortage of historical museums providing a fascinating insight into the storied past of Portugal and Coimbra itself. The city also boasts a spectacular Botanical Garden, complete with a giant bamboo grove!

Is it expensive to live in Coimbra?

For many expats living in Portugal already means benefiting from a lower cost of living. Coimbra takes this benefit even further as it’s cheaper than other popular expat destinations in Portugal such as the Algarve, Porto or Lisbon.

Living in Coimbra
Figueira da Foz, located just 40 kilometres from Coimbra, is a perfect destination for a beach day out.

Property in Coimbra

Compared to such countries as the UK and the USA, property prices in Portugal can seem too good to be true. While not quite as cheap as some of the rural areas inland, Coimbra offers true steals at close to half the price of their Lisbon equivalents. 

In terms of real estate, Coimbra is an architectural patchwork; with old fixer-uppers, cheaper accommodation, and plush luxury options often mixed in together.

One gets a strong sense that the city has gradually grown around small villages, as high-rises teeter next to crumbling farmhouses!

Those looking to the desirable Alta, Baixa, and Santa Clara areas might well snap up a one-bedroom apartment in need of renovation for under 100,000€—or they might have their eye on one of the city’s more decadent historic homes or modern developments.

Those hoping to rent can anticipate anything upward of 500€ per month for a one-bedroom apartment, or 750€ per month for a two-bedroom property.

Of course, the scale does increase from there, but the city offers something for most budgets. Utilities are also affordable, with a couple likely to anticipate spending 60-70€ per month on their electricity and water bills.

Living expenses in Coimbra

Since much of the city is within walking distance and public transport is both cheap and reliable, many Coimbra residents skip keeping a car altogether.

While supermarket shopping is comparable to other countries price-wise, bars and restaurants are happily far cheaper.

Expect to enjoy a cold beer at the bar for around 1.50€, and a hearty meal for anywhere between 10€ and 30€ per person, depending on the eatery. Watch out for student haunts and restaurants that offer a “prato do dia” (plate of the day) to get an even better bargain.

Is Coimbra safe?

Portugal, on the whole, is a safe country and Coimbra enjoys low crime rates when compared to other European cities.

Living in Coimbra
An elegant, boutique-lined Rua Ferreira Borges in the Baixa (downtown) of Coimbra, a pedestrianized street that provides a pleasant stroll between the Praça 8 de Maio and another café-lined plaza, the riverside Largo da Portagem. 

While residents can be pretty confident in the safety of the streets and the low rates of theft, common sense habits such as locking your home and car while not leaving valuables in sight are prudent.

It’s also worth keeping your purse close and your back pocket empty when the tourists arrive in the summer, as pickpocketing can be an issue in crowds.

The pros and cons of living in Coimbra

While Coimbra’s many facets would likely each be considered a positive to the right person, every expat is inevitably on the hunt for something different. Here are some of the possible pros and cons of living in Coimbra.

The pros of living in Coimbra

1. Affordable accommodation

Coimbra offers fantastically cheap homes to rent and buy when compared to much of the USA and UK, Europe at large, or even nearby Lisbon.

2. Historic architecture

From the University’s regal buildings to the city’s many historic neighbourhoods, Coimbra is a feast for the eyes.

3. A temperate climate

Coimbra offers a lot of sunshine while being a little cooler than Lisbon or the Algarve. Temperatures range from around 5°C / 41°F on a cold January night to 28°C / 82°F on a sunny August afternoon.

4. Vibrant student culture

A thriving student culture means that the city’s bars, venues, and restaurants are lively and diverse while being relatively inexpensive.

5. Fantastic public transport connections

Coimbra is well networked, with cheap and plentiful inner-city bus routes, and top-notch national bus and train connections. There are almost 30 express trains a day to Porto and about 20 to Lisbon with the journeys taking under 2 hours to reach your destination.

6. A safe and friendly city

With low crime rates and a welcoming attitude to foreigners, Coimbra quickly feels like home. Grab your phrasebook and anticipate a mixed bag in terms of meeting locals who speak English!

The cons of living in Coimbra

1. Not quite the international hub

While Coimbra offers a great range of things to do, it doesn’t attract the array of international entertainment that Lisbon does.

2. A vibrant student culture (again)

They don’t call Coimbra “a cidade dos estudantes” for nothing. While student culture is reasonably respectful, Friday nights can still get a little rowdy!

3. Limited employment opportunities

Those hoping to find work in Coimbra will find themselves competing with students for a limited number of low-paid positions. Remote work may be a better option for expats living in Coimbra.

4. Coimbra is a siesta city

As with any destination in Portugal, don’t plan on getting things done on your lunch break. Everything closes for at least two hours!

The best areas to live in Coimbra

In Portugal, the different areas of a city are known as “barrios”.

Living in Coimbra
Bussaco forest and the palace.

We touched upon the quaint and charming historic Alta barrio earlier. Property hunters may also want to consider the mixed-heritage Baixa area for lower prices, but perhaps also louder students.

The cosmopolitan Santa Clara is just a bridge-stroll from the city’s centre and offers both culture and family-friendliness.

Meanwhile, Solum, Sousa Pinto, Vale de Flores, and the higher end of the Norton de Matos barrio also provide some great aspirational and kid-friendly neighbourhoods.

As with many pockets of the Baixa, the lower part of the Norton de Matos and Celas can become quite dominated by student nightlife.

If you fall in love with a particular location, it might be wise to book into a nearby hotel or Airbnb for a night or two and see how the locale transforms when night falls.

Living in Coimbra – summary

Coimbra is a uniquely charming and compact historic city with lots to offer anyone ready to embrace Portugal’s slower way of life.

Those who enjoy the contagious energy of a vibrant student culture with a side of Fado singing will love every minute of living in Coimbra.

Others who prefer a calmer setting will do well to research each area thoroughly during term time before deciding if it’s suitable for them.

Coimbra is an inexpensive place to live, with a fantastic array of fine dining options and cultural exhibits to explore. A steady influx of both students and tourists adds an air of multiculturalism, although the city isn’t as much of an international hub as Lisbon or Porto.

What the city does have in abundance is character, with endless cobbled streets and alleyways to explore; gardens, museums, and monuments; and a great deal more nearby.

The beach destination of Figueira da Foz, and Bussaco national park are both close enough for a day trip. What could be better than that?

You might find useful:

Share your passion
Default image
Jemima Michielsen
Jemima is a freelance English writer based in Central Portugal. She divides her time between keyboard-fuelled adventures into the realms of commercial copywriting and maintaining a traditional Portuguese smallholding with her Belgian partner. Together they are raising rare heritage cattle and striving to strike the perfect work-life balance. History, culture, travel, and fine wine are always on the agenda!
Articles: 2

Leave a Reply