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7 Unmissable Traditions of Coimbra

Get to know the most unmissable traditions of Coimbra:

1- University parades

Where? Town center 
When? Academic weeks in May and October 

The traditional academic processions that take place in Coimbra every year are an essential part of the city’s university rituals, a set of customs that still makes Coimbra unique after all these years. Throughout the academic year, there are two big parades that completely transform the city: the procession of the ‘Queima das Fitas’ in May and the procession of the ‘Festa das Latas’ in October. 

The parade of the ‘Festa das Latas’ is celebrated shortly after the beginning of the academic year, when the freshmen arrive in the city and are first faced with the local academic traditions. During the procession, the doctors wear the black suit and cape, while the freshmen wear disguises created by their “godfathers” and “godmothers”, as well as noisy cans tied to their feet. 

However, the parade of the  “Queima das Fitas” (Burning of the Ribbons) is undoubtedly the most important and symbolic for the students. It is during this procession that freshmen wear the black suit and cape for the first time and officially become “doctors”. The finalists wear the same academic attire complete with a top hat and a cane with the colors of each faculty, while parading along towards the city historic center alongside dozens of floats. 

If you’re ever in town in May or October, these are in fact two major moments of Coimbra’s tradition you don’t want to miss!

2- Rainha Santa Isabel (Holy Queen)

Where? Town center 
When? Every two years (in even numbered years) 

If you’ve visited Coimbra before, you probably already know that every two years in July the city stops to honor its patron, Queen Isabel.

However, if this is your first adventure in the city, then get ready to witness one of the country’s most beautiful religious festivals and the dedication of the locals, who have been worshiping the Holy Queen for hundreds of years.

 The procession that honors the Holy Queen happens every two years and you can mingle with the locals and visitors in the center of the city or see part of the parade from a privileged location: Hotel Oslo’s terrace.

This space on the sixth floor was recently renovated and provides an unparalleled view of the city of Coimbra.

3- Fado (Typical Portuguese music)

Where? Acapella bar and other typical places 
When? Whenever you feel like listening to this beautiful type of music 

If you think you know Coimbra’s Fado because you’ve heard Fado before, do not be fooled. Coimbra’s Song is special and different from other types of Fado you find across the country: it reflects a unique feeling of nostalgia, usually celebrated by people who lived and studied in the city of students.

This type of Fado is quite special. It’s considered a modified version of Lisbon’s Fado, more mournful and more nostalgic, and is part of the academic tradition, closely related to academic life and Coimbra’s special Portuguese guitar

4- Monumental Serenade

Where? Sé Velha and Sé Nova 
When? Academic weeks in May and October 

Tradition says that Coimbra’s traditional academic celebration ‘Queima das Fitas’ has to begin at midnight on the dot with the first chords of the Portuguese guitar. This is how the city kicks-off the beautiful Monumental Serenade, held at the Sé Velha. This is the touching moment when freshmen officially become “doctors”

According to the academic ritual, as soon as the guitars start crying and the Fado begins each freshman’s godfather or godmother wraps their protégé with their new black cape for the first time.

This means the freshmen are ready for adulthood, that they have conquered another step in their academic process. The Monumental Serenade is a moment of happiness for some, but also of sadness for others, for whom the Fado sung on the steps of the Sé Velha symbolizes a farewell to academic life.

5- Religious celebrations – The Popular Saints

Where? Downton 
When? June and July 

The Popular Saints are one of the oldest and most important Portuguese traditions, celebrated across the country. In Coimbra, the saints – St. John, St. Peter and St. Anthony – are honored with huge celebrations in the historical city center and in the nearby villages.

People gather around huge bonfires, savoring the typical sardines in a slice of corn bread. Throughout the evening, participants jump over the bonfire to honor the saints

At Coimbra’s downtown, the celebration includes colourful parades with lots of traditional dancing and singing involved. The event usually attracts hundreds of viewers and you might be one of them!

6- Legend of Pedro and Inês

Where? Quinta das Lágrimas 
When? All year 

Inês de Castro was a Galician noblewoman who became Queen of Portugal in the mid-fourteenth century after marrying in secret to Pedro I of Portugal, with whom she had four children. 

After the death of D. Constança, lawful wife of Pedro I, Inês de Castro returned to Portugal and married in secret with the future king of Portugal. However, in 1355, Inês was murdered by three men at the behest of the king Afonso IV, father of D. Pedro I, who had always rejected his son’s secret romance. 

But love was stronger and even after her death, Inês was crowned Queen of Portugal and later buried in the Monastery of Alcobaça. Still, little is known about the life of this noblewoman, but her tragic love story will live forever in Coimbra.

The Legend of Pedro and Inês is closely linked to the Quinta das Lágrimas, a beautiful place located on the left bank of the river Mondego, where the Queen of Portugal was murdered. 

This place is home of the famous Fountain of Love, where Pedro and Inês exchanged promises of eternal love, and Fountain of Tears, where Inês was murdered. To this day, one of the stones in the Fountain of Tears still sports a red spot which, according to legend, is the mark of the queen’s blood spilled by her executioners.

7- Medieval Fair

Where? Sé Velha
When? Beginning of June 

Although this is not exactly an old tradition, Coimbra’s Medieval Fair has turned into a very important event. The city is proud of hosting this annual initiative that attracts dozens of pilgrims, comedians and vendors to the Sé Velha area and is currently one of the country’s most faithful representations of the medieval period.

Actually, it was in this same place, in the 13th and 14th centuries, that the real medieval fair took place. 

During a whole weekend in June, thousands of visitors travel back in time thanks to the amazing work of the many actors that help recreate the ambiance of a real medieval fair.

In addition to the typical snacks and products for sale, the fair also features musicians, acrobats and even a fortune-teller.

Discover more about Coimbra on our blog.

Coimbra traditions

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3000-175 Coimbra, Portugal
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