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Discover the beauty and history in Tomar
A quick overview
What to see? The city of Tomar is a hidden gem with many sights!
Costs? Many things in Tomar are free, and some are paid.
Where? Tomar is located in the district of Santarém in Central Portugal. It’s located 1,5 hours from Lisbon and 2 hours from Porto.
Worth it? There is a lot to see in Tomar! Tomar is a must-see if you like off-the-beaten-path locations with fewer tourists.
Portuguese history in Tomar in a nutshell
The city Tomar was created within the walls of the Convento de Cristo, or Convent of Christ. The founder was Dom Gualdim Pais (he was the fourth Grand Master in Portugal), a Knight Templar from Amares. He fought alongside King Afonso Henriques against the Moorish and founded Tomar Castle in 1160. The Convent of Christ is located within the castle walls and is famous for its round church.
During the Expulsion of Jews from Spain, many Jews fled to Tomar to find refuge. The Jewish community came with new trades and skills, which became a vital part of the success of the new African trade routes. Under pressure from Spain, the Jewish refugees were not safe here either. The King proclaimed all Jewish people Christians, and they had to give up their Jewish religion for their safety but also forbade them to leave as this would harm the commercial empire. Today, we can still see the long Jewish history, and the Synagogue of Tomar still stand here.
Who were the Knights Templar
Tomar is known as the city of the Knights Templar. Many sights, such as the castle and Convent of Christ, have a link to them. In fact, the whole region of Central Portugal is known for the Order of Christ. Back in the day, they were an elite fighting force. It was a religious order, and they were known as brave soldiers and excellent fighters. Their duty was to protect Europeans travelling to the Holy Land, but the numbers slowly declined. Ultimately, the Templars were charged with heresy, corruption and performing forbidden practices. King Philip IV of France ended the order on Friday, 13 October 1307. They were officially disbanded by Pope Clement in 1312, and many of them were killed and burnt at the stake.
The order continued in the 12th century in Portugal to help Portuguese kings with the Christian Reconquest. The name changed to the Order of Christ, and it’s believed they also helped with the naval discoveries of the Portuguese. Royal Military Order of Our Lord Jesus was founded in 1319 and was protected by King Dinis. In 1789 the order was secularized by Queen Maria I of Portugal. And with the ending of the Portuguese monarchy, the order also got extinguished. With this, Tomar was the last Templar town in the world.
Things to do in Tomar Portugal
It won´t come as a surprise that many sights in Tomar are linked significantly with the Order of Christ, so let´s look at these sights first. Later, you´ll discover the Old Town and many other beautiful spots in Tomar!
Convent of Christ
We start with an incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1983), Convento de Cristo. The Convent of Christ plays a crucial role in Tomar´s history. When you visit Tomar, this will be one of the biggest highlights. It is a former Catholic Convent inside a castle complex that was founded by the Templar Knights in 1118. The castle was part of the defence system and was located on one side of the court. The famous round was built in the 12th century and was inspired by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. When the Knights Templar dissolved, it changed to the Order of Christ and two new cloisters were added to the construction.
The architecture is stunning, and inside are many sights to explore. The entrance is built in the Portuguese Manueline style, as well as the nave. Some highlights are the Charola, the Old Sacristy of St. George, the Round church with Gothic paintings, the chapterhouse window made by Diogo de Arruda, and the Cloister of the Cemetery.
Tickets cost € 6,00 per person, and the building is open from 9 AM until 5.30 PM in winter and 9 AM until 6.30 PM in summer. The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time. Click here to book a tour with a local guide instead.
Read the full story for more information → Convento de Cristo
Castelo de Tomar
The Templar Castle is the next thing to do in Tomar. You can access Castelo de Tomar free of charge, and you can see the next-door convent from other angles. There are two ways to reach the castle. The first is from the car park at the convent. The castle and convent are built on a hill, and from here, you have a beautiful view over Tomar and the Nabão River! The car park isn’t vast so it might be full already. The walk from the Old Town is steep and challenging, but you can also take a bus or taxi to the entrance. The other path leads from Mata Nacional dos Sete, a stunning park in the city’s heart. More about the park later! You can walk around the castle walls for expansive views over the town. The garden is filled with colourful flowers and is the perfect spot for a short break. From here, you can continue your journey towards the aqueduct or back to the historic centre of Tomar.
Aqueduto dos Pegões
The convent also needed a water supply. The cisterns of the Joanine inside were enough to supply the friars with water, but it was not enough to cultivate the surrounding land. When Philip II of Spain was King of Portugal, he commissioned Filipe Terzi to build an aqueduct providing plenty of water for the convent and the ground around the Seven Hills. It was built between 1593 and 1613, and some arches are double-decker!
This work of hydraulic engineering is a whopping 6 kilometres long and reaches over the Pegões valley. The aqueduct consists of 58 full-turn arches, some of which are still clearly visible. You can reach the aqueduct from the castle when walking in the park or from the outside. The structure is especially impressive around Rua Saibreiro, which you can get to by car. The views are also remarkable just off the Leiria road, around 2,5 kilometres from the convent.
Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
When you visit Tomar, seeing the park Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes is a great idea. You can reach the Seven Hills National Forest from the castle or at the Avenida Doutor Cândido Madureira entrance. You’ll also spot a statue and monument for Infante Dom Henrique at this entrance. When entering Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes, it looks like a small park. Trees surround the central area, and there is a small playground. But when you walk toward the back of Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes, you’ll notice you can spend some good time hiking in nature. The park is full of centuries-old cypress trees, oak and olive trees. What a beautiful place to be!
There are several things to see in the Seven Hills National Forest. You can see the Charolina fountain, for example. This is a replica of the lantern towers of the convent. There are some picnic benches as well to enjoy lunch in the shade. Or head over to the Miradouro do Baloiço (Baloiço Panorâmico) for a fantastic view! There is a giant swing, and you can enjoy a stunning view of the surroundings. Next to it, you’ll find Cadeira d’El-Rei, which will lead you towards part of the Pegões Aqueduct.
Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
You can visit Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição or the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception close to the convent. The chapel has a quadrangular shape and was commissioned by Friar António Moniz de Lisboa in 1541. It was designed by the greatest architect of its time, João de Castilho, and after he died in 1553, Diogo de Torralta took over the work. It took another 20 years to complete the building, and the views from this point are just as stunning. The Renaissance Chapel is only open by appointment.
After exploring the Templar’s sights and grounds, it’s time to explore Old Tomar. Tomar is a charming town with many tiny streets and some impressive highlights. There are some shops in this part of town as well as restaurants and cafes. One of the best things to do in Tomar Portugal, is to walk around and explore the many squares, streets and parks.
Praça da República
Praça da República (Republic Square) is the main square in Tomar, and some impressive buildings surround it. On one side of the square, you’ll see Tomar City Hall, or Câmara Municipal de Tomar in Portuguese. In the centre of Praça da República, you’ll discover the statute of Guildim Pais. Igreja de São João Baptista is located on the other side, and the church is free to enter.
Parque do Mouchão
Only a short walk away from the Old Town, you can find Mouchão Park. It’s located right next to the river Nabão and is a welcoming place in the shade with warm weather. Inside the park is also a small cafe where you can get some refreshments. There is a playground for children, and you can even rent a small boat. You have a fantastic view over the old bridge Ponte Velha and the Nabão River. When you crosse the smaller footbridge, you’ll discover the Hydraulic Wheel of the Mouchão and some sports grounds.
Churches in Tomar
There are several churches to visit in Tomar. Let´s take a closer look at the most significant ones.
Igreja de São João Baptista
Igreja de São João Baptista is one of the most notable churches in Tomar, and its the Main Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. King Manuel I commissioned the Catholic Church, which consists of beautiful Manueline architecture. The church was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and is located in the town’s main square. Take a look inside, where you will find the marvellous painting of the Last Supper by Gregório Lopes.
Not far from the square is the Sinagoga de Tomar. The Tomar Synagogue is also free to visit, and it’s the only proto-Renaissance Hebrew temple in Portugal. It was built in the 15th century, and when the Portuguese Jews were expelled in 1496, it closed down. After that, it was converted into a prison, a barn, a grocery store and a storage room. In 1921 the Synagogue became a national monument, and during exactions in 1985, water-heating structures and carvings were discovered.
Igreja do Convento
Igreja do Convento de São Francisco was founded by Franciscan friars in 1624. King Filipe III commissioned it, and the Mannerist-style temple was built around two cloisters. You can find the unique Museum of Matches in one of the cloisters. The building is open daily from 10 AM until 5 PM, except for a lunch break between 12 and 2.
Santa Maria do Olival
The Church of Santa Maria do Olival is another sight in Tomar. This is where members of the Order of Christ of Tomar were buried, including Grand Master Gualdim Pais, who built the church. The church has been a national monument since 1910 and was built in the 12th century. The tomb slab of Pais dates from 1195. The façade has a beautiful rose window, but the interior is simple. You can enter this building free of charge also.
Museums in Tomar
Museu dos Fósforos
One of the most fun museums in Tomar is the Matchbox Museum. Museu dos Fósforos is located in the former Convent of São Francisco, and it is the most extensive collection of matchbox designs in Europe! The private collection has more than 43,000 matchboxes, plus another 16,000 matchbox covers. Aquiles da Mota Lima is the collector and started collecting in 1953. He attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in London when an American woman asked him about some specially designed matchboxes for the occasion. The boxes he collected over the years come from 127 countries, and the oldest matchboxes are from the late 1800s. How amazing!
Moinhos e Lagares d'El-Rei
Another great museum in Tomar Portugal is Moinhos e Lagares d’El-Rei. This museum is next to the river Nabão, and the structure is a beautiful place to photograph. The Moinhos (the windmills) were built in the 12th and 13th centuries by the Knights Templar. The Lagares (the wineries) came later in the 16th century and were commissioned by King D. Manuel I. The power of the running water was used to activate the mills and the olive presses in the cultural complex. The machinery triggered by the mills was used for grinding grain into flour. There are interesting exhibitions in the old factory buildings, and you can see the original old machinery.
Museu Hebraico Abraão Zacuto
The synagogue of Tomar is nowadays a museum where you will learn more about the Jewish heritage in the town. Museu Hebraico Abraão Zacuto is named after a Jewish mathematician and astrologer who assisted Vasco da Gama in planning his voyages and Portuguese overseas expansion. Inside you’ll find Hebraic inscriptions and other objects.
Núcleo De Arte Contemporânea
For those who love contemporary art, you can add Núcleo De Arte Contemporânea to your Portugal itinerary. The Center for Contemporary Art in Tomar was created in 2004 and includes more than 200 works. You’ll discover paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures from the early 1930s until today.
Events in Tomar Portugal
Festa dos Tabuleiros
Festa dos Tabuleiros only happens once every four years, but if you visit Tomar during Festa dos Tabuleiros, you´re in for a colourful treat! The last Festa dos Tabuleiros was in July 2023, so you´ll have to wait until July 2027 for the next chance. The rituals of the Festa dos Tabuleiros date back to the 13th century and are tied to the Culto do Império do Divino Espírito Santo (Cult of the Empire of the Holy Spirit). During Festa dos Tabuleiros (translates to Festival of Trays), Tomar is fully decorated with paper flowers. Every day there are celebrations, such as the Cortejo dos Tabuleiros, the main procession.
The tabuleiro is a sort of wicker basket that holds 30 loaves of bread and flowers. It’s a gigantic tower that women carry on their heads, and they can weigh between 16 and 18 kilos! There is also a big party where wine will flow freely! If you are in Tomar in July 2027, you can mark Festa dos Tabuleiros in your calendar!
Festa Templária in Tomar
Another unique event is Festa Templária. During the Templar Festival the time the Order of the Templars is celebrated, and it is a three-day event that happens every three years. It usually occurs at the start of July, with several happenings. There is a torch-lit Knights Parade, an enactment of the Moorish siege of 1190 and other medieval activities. The next Templar Festival will return in 2024!
Where and what to eat in Tomar Portugal
Many people travel to Portugal to enjoy the food, and luckily Tomar also has plenty of good restaurants. Enjoy a local meal at Casa das Ratas, or try the tasty lunch and diner options at Tasquinha da Mitas. Bela Vista is great for the beautiful view over the river. Gira,sol and Hanne Café have excellent vegetarian and vegan options.
For a sweet treat, visit Estrelas De Tomar. The city has a few traditional culinary highlights you can enjoy here. Try the Queijinhos Doces (A traditional sweet), Estrelas de Tomar (Stars of Tomar), Fatias de Tomar (Tomar Slices), and Beija-me depressa (kiss-me-quicks) with a good cup of coffee!
Things to see close to Tomar Portugal
Not only are there many things to do in Tomar Portugal, but there are also some lovely sights nearby and on the way. When your drive from Lisbon, it’s worth stopping by Almourol Castle. Castelo de Almourol is located next to the river Tagus and the castle makes an excellent backdrop for a romantic stop! The medieval castle is located on a small island in the Tagus River. Or make some trips from Tomar and discover the area in Central Portugal. Towns like Ourém, Batalha, Alcobaça, Óbidos, Fatima, and Santarém are all within reach.
You can also visit the nearby Castelo do Bode dam alongside the Zêzere River. Next to Barragem de Castelo do Bode, it’s also nice to check the lake where you can rent a boat or enjoy some water sports. If you happen to be here in the summer months, it’s a great place to swim! You can even check the Megalithic site Anta Do Vale Da Laje, close to the waterfront. This dolmen was built in the Megalithic Period and is one of the most essential dolmens in the Middle Tagus.
How to get to Tomar Portugal
You can easily reach Tomar from Lisbon and Porto, and if you travel between the two biggest cities in the country, Tomar is an excellent place to stop by. Let´s take a look at transportation options.
The easiest way to travel to Tomar is by train. At Santa Apolónia station in Lisbon is a direct train to Tomar. You can check the train times at Comboios de Portugal or book your tickets online with Omio. The direct trains take less than two hours to reach the city. If you take the train from Porto, there are two transfers, and the route takes upwards of 5 hours. Driving from Porto, or taking a bus, is a faster option.
Aside from the Train, you can also book your bus tickets online with BusBud. The bus leaves from Sete Rios in Lisbon, and the journey to Tomar takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. From Porto, it takes just over three hours.
You can change (free of charge) the date or time up to 3 hours before departure, and you can bring a carry-on bag and checked bag (20 kilos per checked bag) on the bus.
The quickest way to reach Tomar from both cities is by car. Tomar has plenty of free car parking spaces and some paid options. From Lisbon, it takes 1,5 hours, and from Porto, less than two hours. If you want to visit the city, public transport is a great and sustainable way to visit Tomar. But renting a car will be an excellent option if you like to see other nearby places and spend some time in the countryside. DiscoverCars is a trusted company that offers the best services and sharp deals. Check the prices below, or take a look at this post about car rentals in Portugal.
With an excursion
If you’re staying in Lisbon, you also have the option to enjoy a group or private tour. Many guides will stop along the way at Almourol Castle and focus on the history of the Knights Templar. So day trips will also stop in Alcobaça, Batalha or Óbidos. With an organised tour, you can just relax, and you´ll learn a lot about the city during your visit. Check the below options and enjoy a fantastic day in Tomar!
Where to stay in Tomar Portugal
If you would like to spend more time in Tomar, there are plenty of hotels and accommodations. Tomar has a pleasant atmosphere, and day trips from the city are easy to organise. If you prefer to stay in the centre, you can stay in the beautiful Hotel República. All sights are within walking distance from the hotel. For a stay next to the river, Vila Gale Collection Tomar (including a swimming pool) is fabulous! Or enjoy the views from the roof at the Thomar Boutique Hotel. There are some hotels in Tomar as well, but overall the prices are very reasonable and within the same price range.
Tomar has a vibrant history with many sights. You can easily spend a whole day here, and the city is absolutely worth a visit!
Tomar is mainly known as the city of the Knights Templar. If you want to learn more about the Order of Christ and its history, this is the best place to visit in Portugal.
You can see the main sights within a day. A two-day visit will be perfect if you want to visit some gardens, monuments and museums as well.
Tomar is a stunning city in Central Portugal with a relaxed vibe. Add to this some fantastic sights, and a day trip to Tomar is complete! Visit the UNESCO sights linked to the Order of Christ, enjoy a long walk in the park, or visit some quirky museums in town. Or even better, stay overnight and discover some beautiful places nearby.