I will just come out and say it: Portugal’s Centro region is the best for me. It’s got everything, from university towns to very compelling historical villages like the Schist villages. It’s a transportation hub between the big two Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto. There are mountains and plains. Centro is the surf center of Portugal with big waves to be found at Nazare and Peniche. Beach lovers might look to Figueira da Foz located at the mouth of the River Mondego. The region’s coastline is 279 km long. That’s a lot of coast and beaches.
City Map of the Centro Region
Cities to Visit in Centro
Coimbra was capital of Portugal in the High Middle Ages but after losing power it remained a major intellectual center and its university is one of the oldest and most celebrated in Europe. Kings Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, the first Portuguese Kings, have graves in Coimbra. You’ll enjoy the university’s Joanine Library as well as Coimbra’s unique take on fado music, fados de Coimbra isn’t as dark as some versions.
Cross the mighty Mondango river to discover Quinta das Lágrimas (The Farm of Tears) and stroll through its amazing garden. Just down the way is Portugal dos Pequenitos, a Portugal in miniature for the little ones that dates back nearly three quarters of a century. But we’re not done yet, the ancient monastery called Mosteiro Santa Clara-a-Velha has been restored and readied for your visit; like the gardens the Romanesque church and building ruins are hauntingly beautiful.
Drive a short distance away and you’ll find Conimbriga, a well-preserved Roman archaeological site with fabulous mosaics. Then another short drive brings you to the fabulous Schist Villages, where you can enjoy a very interesting rural experience with river beaches, traditional cuisine, and hiking and mountain biking trails.
Continue east and you’ll Find the Serra de Estrela mountain range. It is way more than an escape from summer heat. Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range in Continental Portugal and if you like hiking, handicrafts and healthy food you should come to this beautiful corner of Portugal to do these things. Just take a room at the fabulous Casa das Penhas Douradas, discover a traditional fabric called Burel, nettle pesto, hiking trails and lakes to make you hungry for a surprising mountain cheese made by a few shepherds called Queijo do Serra. If you want to know the historic climate of these mountains for travel planing, see Penhas Douradas Weather and Climate.
When you’re ready, head down the twisty road to Belmonte, a rather extraordinary village near the Spanish border with a castle, a gourmet pousada, museums that celebrate Portugal’s great explorers and the Crypto Jews that inhabited Belmonte during the Portuguese inquisition.
Viseu’s centerpiece is the Cathedral, is a very good starting point for a visit to the city. The cathedral churchyard is one of the most interesting places in the old town. Art lovers can head for the Grão Vasco National Museum, established in the Três Escalões Palace next to the Cathedral, where the old seminary used to be. The town is famous for Dão Wine and hosts the Dão Wine institute, the Solar do Vinho do Dão. Oddly enough, while most of the larger cities in Centro have railway connections, Viseu does not.
Aviero is a coastal city whose fortune has always been connected with the sea and lagoon. Great food, architecture, canals that run through the town, artisan ice cream and a special desert called Oves Moles you’ll come to crave are just a few of the things you might enjoy in Aveiro. It’s also a university town with several interesting museums.
Fatima, in the south of the region, is a place of pilgrimage. The city became one of the key centers for the Cult of the Virgin Mary in Portugal. Inaugurated in 2007, the modernistic Church of the Most Holy Trinity is situated within the enclosure of the Sanctuary of Fátima, on the opposite side of the Basilica. But Fatima isn’t only about religious architecture and belief, you can also visit Museu do Azeite de Fátima, the Olive Oil Museum.
World Heritage Sites in Centro
- University of Coimbra — Alta and Sofia
- Monastery of Alcobaça
- Monastery of Batalha
- Convent of Christ in Tomar
- Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley
Rail Times Between Coimbra and Lisbon or Porto
Coimbra to Lisbon: 1:35
Porto to Coimbra: 0:58
Find out more about train travel in Portugal.