Sometimes referred to as town of wool and snow, Covilhã is one of the main urban centres of the historical Beira Interior region. The proximity of the mountains offers exquisite scenery and a great environment for those fond of hiking, camping, mountain climbing and skiing.
A school-factory was built by the Count of Ericeira in 1681. On November 1, 1755, Covilhã was shaken by the forces of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that destroyed part of Covilhã's castle walls and its large towers. A Royal Textile Factory, was established in the city by the Marquis of Pombal in 1763, and Covilhã was granted city status in 20 October 1870 by king Luís I of Portugal. Along the two streams that cross the city there are still remains of the old textile factories, which bear witness to the unquestionable importance of this industry for Covilhã's economy, once known as the "Portuguese Manchester".
During the first half of the 19th century, the municipality of Covilhã had about 22,000 inhabitants, and in 1930 it nearly reached 50,000 inhabitants. During the 1960s, Covilhã's municipality surpassed 70,000 inhabitants, but the Portuguese Colonial War (1961 - 1974) and the generalized emigration phenomena of the 1960s to 1980s Portuguese society, its geographical location in the mountainous interior of central Portugal, increasing mechanization and the stagnation of its textile industrial sector, caused a period of decline of its population to nearly 50,000 in the 1990s. A state-run university, UBI - Universidade da Beira Interior, was founded in 1979. The city is still expanding, mainly to the flat part of the valley called Cova da Beira, where some important infrastructures such as the central hospital and the highway are located.
Covilhã is located in the Centro region, Cova da Beira subregion, in central Portugal; 300 km (186 mi) Northeast of Lisbon, Portugal's capital; 100 km (62 mi) East of Coimbra, the regional administrative centre; and at the bottom of the highest Portuguese mountain range, Serra da Estrela. The city of Castelo Branco is located 50 km (31 mi) to the south of Covilhã and the neighbouring town of Fundão, the largest locality in the vicinities of Covilhã, is 20 km (12.4 mi) also to the south.
The city of Covilhã towers between 450 and 800 metres (1,476 and 2,624 feet) above the sea level, thus the mountain landscape is ever present. The larger municipality has 555.6 km² (214.5 sq mi) of territory and includes several localities distributed across 31 civil parishes.
In the municipality of Covilhã but outside the urban area, Penhas da Saúde is one of its highest points. At 1,500 metres (4,821 ft) high, this village and winter resort is located within the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. The climate in Covilhã is temperate, moderately cold in the winter and relatively warm in the summer. There is the Vodafone Ski Resort, the only ski resort in Portugal, 20 km (12.4 mi) away from the city, actually in the neighbouring municipality of Seia.
Covilhã has a public university - the University of Beira Interior (UBI), which was founded in 1979 and awards all university academic degrees (licentiate "licenciatura", master's and doctorate degrees) in several fields ranging from medicine to mathematics to sports sciences to aeronautical engineering to cinema, among many others.
The municipality of Covilhã has several kindergartens for pre-school children between 3 and 6 years of age, and primary education schools. It has also a number of 2nd and 3rd cycle basic and secondary schools: Escola Secundária Frei Heitor Pinto, Escola Básica dos 2º e 3º ciclos de Tortosendo, Escola Básica Integrada de Sao Domingos, Escola Básica dos 2º e 3º ciclos de Paúl, Escola Básica do 2º ciclo de Pêro da Covilhã, Escola Secundária Campos Melo, Escola Secundária da Covilhã, and Escola Básica dos 2º e 3º ciclos de Teixoso.
Major economic activities in the region include textiles, food industry and agriculture. The University of Beira Interior (established in 1979) has a great importance in the city today. The Centro Hospitalar Cova da Beira at Covilhã, a state-run hospital, plays a major role in the region. Covilhã is traditionally a center of wool and textile industries - the university central building was the Royal Textile Factory, established by the Marquis of Pombal in the 18th century. Covilhã has deep industrial roots and is still one of the biggest woollens fabrics producers in Europe. Actually, this industry produces about 40,000 km of fabrics by year, through some textiles companies like Paulo de Oliveira, Penteadora, Tessimax and A. Saraiva, which are supplying of great worldwide textile marks as Hugo Boss, Armani, Zegna, Marks & Spencer, Yves St. Laurent, Calvin Klein and Christian Dior. Tourism is also important, and the city has a role as a winter and mountain resort. Fruit production is important in the region of Cova da Beira, a subregion centered in Covilhã's municipality. Frulact, a Portuguese fruit processing company, has major industrial facilities in the municipality of Covilhã.
In the mid-2000s, Aleia (a joint-venture of the French companies Dyn’Aéro and Equip’Aéro with the Portuguese Spinworks and Plasdan) announced its intention to produce jet planes of four and six places integrally conceived, constructed and mounted in Covilhã as from 2011. The existence of the University of Beira Interior, with its degree of aeronautical engineering, as well as the local aerodrome contributed for the final decision from Aleia to develop an aerospace industry in the town.
There is a large shopping centre in Covilhã, Serra Shopping, and besides a wide variety of shops, it has hypermarket, four cinemas and many restaurants. Hypermarkets and supermarkets located in the lower part of the town include Continente (inside Serra Shopping), Intermarché and Lidl. The Public Market (Mercado Municipal) is another option and an opportunity to buy fresh produce directly from the producers.
There are seven cinemas and one theatre in the city. The Town Hall of Covilhã is responsible for the cultural programming of one of the movie theatres of the town which has a wide variety of activities throughout the year. There are also various theatre companies: Teatrubi, ASTA, Teatro das Beiras and Quarta Parede that stage theatre and multimedia productions throughout the year. A theatre festival is organised by a local theatre company, Teatro das Beiras, in November.
The city hosts several choirs and orchestras, like the well-known university choir and the EPABI orchestra, which is based in the building near the public garden, as well as the Orquestra da Banda Filarmónica. At the university there are some student musical groups that reveal the academic environment and celebrate the traditions. They are called Tunas and each one has particular characteristics. Desertuna, Moçoilas Tuna and J’ B’ubi & To Kokuskopus perform throughout the year and welcome everyone that wants to join in and get into the academic spirit. The city hall organizes some musical events, mainly in Teatro Cine, that is located in the heart of the city centre (Pelourinho).
The theatre company GICC (Companhia de Teatro das Beiras), seated in Travessa da Tapa, offers professional and high quality performances. There are also various amateur drama groups and dance groups performing in several town locations; ASTA and TEATRUBI are just some examples. Conferences, exhibitions, trade fairs, concerts and other kinds of activities are common in the city. Several trade fairs occur throughout the year in a pavilion belonging to the ANIL – National Association of Textile Manufacturers
Like other university towns Covilhã has an intense nightlife. Due to the small dimension of the city, it is safe to go out, thus the resulting atmosphere is familiar and there are many pleasant places to have a drink.
A freshmen reception week, organised by the students's union of the University of Beira Interior (Associação Académica da Universidade da Beira Interior), takes place usually in November and includes a parade through town called Latada and several concerts.
Sporting Clube da Covilhã, a sports club founded in 1923 in Covilhã, is the most important sporting organization in the city. Its football (soccer) team now plays in the secondary national divisions, but in the past played in the top division. It is one of the few clubs of Portugal's interior to have played in the top division of Portuguese football. The football team plays in the Complexo Desportivo da Covilhã, a multi-use stadium able to hold 6,125 people (all-seated).
Covilhã is located, less than 300 km from Lisbon and Porto, the two biggest cities in Portugal and just 400 km from the Spanish capital, Madrid. Several national and international bus routes pass Covilhã, so it is easy and practical to reach almost all destinations. To reach Lisbon it takes 3.5h - 4h of journey, by bus or by train. The bus station is situated in the lower part of the city; and the train station is near, no more than 10 minutes walking. The railway company is CP - Caminhos de Ferro Portugueses and offers various types of services. Inter City (Intercidades) train is recommended to reach Covilhã. There are also car rental companies in the city.
A bus network – Transportes Urbanos da Covilhã (TUC) – covers all the urban area as well as the outskirts of the city making it easy to travel both within and outside the city limits, although the time between buses is big (not less than 1 hour). Several bus lines serve university buildings. Cabs are also an option. They are painted cream and sometimes have a roof-light to identify them. In town they use taximeters, but once outside urban boundaries the service is charged per km.
The Aeródromo da Covilhã, an aerodrome, is used for recreation and aeronautical sports.