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As seat of Portugal's oldest university, Coimbra is mainly enlivened by the students who live and study here, but it is also full of historic monuments and interesting sites, with a busy commerce and the vibrant presence of the Mondego, called the «River of Poets» by the local inhabitants and offering visitors the beauty of its banks, besides nurturing the fertile fields of the surrouding valley.

At the heart of the city, it is indispensable to visit the University (founded in 1537) with its Religious Art Museum, the ornate Chapel of Saint Michael and the Biblioteca Joanina (18th-century library in gilt and exotic wood with 300,000 books); the two cathedrals, namely the Romanesque Sé Velha, the 12th-century Almedina Arch and the historic Church of Santa Cruz (where the two first Portuguese kings are buried), among many other historic buildings.

Across the Mondego, the Old and New convents of Saint Clare honour the memory of Coimbra's patron saint, Queen Isabel (1271-1336), and the site is also linked to the unhappy lover of king Pedro, Inês de Castro, who was stabbed to death here in 1355.

Overlooking the Mondego, the largest bothanical garden of Portugal was created in 1772 and includes many rare and exotic species.

Children will like to visit Portugal dos Pequeninos (Portugal for the Little Ones), a park with child-sized models of typical Portuguese houses, mansions, temples and palaces.

Coimbra offers many other sites to explore and events all year round, but it grows specially lively in May, when students celebrate the end of the academic year with the Queima das Fitas (symbolic burning of the faculty ribbons) and lots of music and merry-making in the streets.

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