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It is chilly and windswept all year round and offers superb views. The city was founded in 1197 by Dom Sancho I to guard his borders against both Moors and Spaniards, and though the castle and walls have all but disappeared, its streets and little squares are uniquely picturesque.

The train station is 3km north of the center but there is, fortunately, a connecting bus that meets all the major trains. The bus station is about four hundred meters southeast of the cathedral, in the heart of the old town. Dour and grey, the castellated facade of the cathedral looks like the gateway of a castle, but around the sides the exterior is adorned with flying buttresses, pinnacles, and grimacing gargoyles. Inside it’s surprisingly lofty, with twisted pillars and vaulting influenced by the Manueline style. The huge carved stone retable is by Joao de Rouao, a leading figure in the sixteenth century resurgence of Portuguese sculpture at Coimbra. A short way east there are modern and imaginative displays of local archaeology, art, and sculpture in the Museu de Guarda. On a bleak little hill nearby, only the square keep remains of the old castle, while the walls are recalled by just three surviving gates. The cobbled streets of the old town, however, are fascinating in their own regard. The tangled area between the Porta da Estrela and Porta do Rei, north of the cathedral, has changed little in the past four hundred years.

Information courtesy of Travelnow and Rough City Guides Lda.